Discovered the opposite of guilty! 

I am guilty of making people feel guilty! Initially, I did not know that we shouldn’t make others feel guilty. Later, some wise being said, ‘never talk to anyone in a way that makes them feel like they owe you an apology’. It made sense. But I did not know what was the opposite of making someone feel guilty. If I wasn’t going to make them feel guilty, what should I make them feel instead? I finally had a eureka moment when I figured what’s the opposite of making someone feel guilty.

(Disclaimer – It’s going to be a long read – but it’ll be worth it!)

Firstly, why shouldn’t we make people feel guilty? 

Because guilt is not a great emotion! It’s an un-resourceful emotion. People don’t do better out of guilt. They lose their confidence in themselves. They feel a sense of shame. Once a person feels a sense of shame, the relationship becomes lopsided. One always feels obliged to compensate and the other always feels the necessity to criticize. It suddenly appears like one is bigger and one is smaller in that equation. Hence, it’s an unbalanced relationship. It can’t be steady.

A small amount of remorse with an immediate focus on course-correction is helpful. But prolonged or extreme feelings of guilt are damaging. That’s perhaps why we shouldn’t set out to make people feel guilty often. Common ways in which we make people feel guilty are –

“Why didn’t you call me? I was waiting for your call!”

“You forgot my birthday!”

“I made it especially for you with so much effort, but you did not even try it”.

“Because of you, my life is like this.”

“If you didn’t do this, my life would’ve been so much better by now.”

(And so on and so forth. You can add your list of guilt statements)

Prolonged feelings of guilt slowly pave the way to feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-worth, making a person less resourceful and functional. They can even become defensive or aggressive. In order to escape from their guilt, they may try to make you feel guilty too. (Coping mechanisms!)

Now that we understand making someone feel guilty has such heavy repercussions, let’s explore a healthy and absolutely outstanding alternative to it!

The objective of us stating any of the above statements is to make people realize. Right? But do we want them to realize they were wrong? Or do we want them to understand how they can go right? The thing is, if you harp on proving others wrong, they’ll either admit defeat or wage a war! If you help them understand how they could do better, you are showing them a compelling picture to be drawn towards.  So, how do we do that?

By being gracious!

Being gracious makes people understand their mistakes and learn quickly without getting into drastic un-resourceful states. And when we are gracious, it makes the other person feel grateful for having us in their life. Sounds better, isn’t it? For example, if someone doesn’t return your call, instead of starting your next conversation on a confrontational mode, how about starting with asking how are they?

If someone made a mistake, how about discussing remedial measures with them instead of blaming them?

When we do that, instead of feeling guilty, they’ll feel grateful for having someone like you in their lives! There’s no dearth of people who make us feel guilty in life. If you can be that one understanding person, you’ll be their ray of hope.  

Now, wait! Those of you with high fears in your head of, “what will happen if they take me for granted”, hang in there. There’s more to this.

My dance teacher, Guru Anjana Gupta (Space Academy), is an epitome of graciousness. She said something that was almost unthinkable! I never imagined I’d hear a teacher say that!

She said, “Girls, don’t take the tasks that I give you with the same seriousness that I say!” I was stunned when she said that. Usually, people say the opposite. She said, “I am going to offer you all that I have, you take whatever you can, at a pace that is comfortable and joyful for you. I don’t want you to get stressed about it. Some of you might want to take it as a hobby class and not want further work outside class, some of you might be more passionate, so you want to spend time doing homework. Some of you might want to take it up as a profession, so you might be willing to spend a lot more of your time and energy in honing your skills. I am okay with however you wish to pursue it. I respect that. And I want you to enjoy whatever you do. There’s no rule that you have to learn at a certain speed. Learn at a speed that is comfortable for you.” In saying so, she creates a safe space at ‘Space’ for us to learn, ask questions, and explore not just dance but deeper aspects of ourselves and life too!

I couldn’t believe a teacher was so unconditional to be able to say that! She was teaching out of passion and didn’t have any judgments about her students. She didn’t set rules that people have to be this way or that way to gain acceptance. Just the fact that she said it made me respect her even more. It made me responsible and wanting to live up to my commitments even more.

I figured that’s what makes a great teacher. Being in that role of a teacher myself sometimes, I realize how I may not have been as gracious. How I may have insisted on commitment or learning. But I found her way more powerful. It might not work with everyone. But then again, even the other alternatives don’t work too, right? Nothing works all the time. But something can give you more peace if you wish! You’ll be surrounded by people who absolutely value you and respect you for who you are. Could there be a better gift?

And just to hold that wonderful belief that everyone is doing whatever they can do is such a liberating, calming, and relaxing thought. Not to have a yardstick to measure others makes your mind stress free. She pushes us when we need the push. She gives us rest when she sees that we need it too. It’s a great balance. I am not just learning dance but some valuable life lessons. As I say this, it is not just me but the personal story of many of her students who have often mentioned that they would have quit dancing if it wasn’t for ma’am’s constant kind and encouraging words. They find this as one place that helps them let go of all their stress and forget all their problems and just dance with joy! She never makes any of us feel guilty! When some of us take her for granted, she calmly asks, “tell me if you were in my place what would you do? You tell me how do you want me to respond to this. I will do whatever you say.” The way she makes us responsible for our actions is amazing! We automatically fall in line.

So, not making a person feel guilty doesn’t mean we accept everything that they throw at us. We do communicate displeasure, but not to shame them or crucify them. But more with an objective to educate and help them understand.

I realized that attitude is more inspiring than excellence. If you want people to achieve or be inspired to learn from your excellence, having the right attitude is a must! Attitude is so important that it becomes excellence by itself. A pleasant and understanding person is always inspiring and someone we’d look forward to being around. When our excellence becomes a reason for our arrogance, we lose our capacity to influence people to learn or even cherish our excellence for that matter.

When someone is usually kind and compassionate, the one-off case where they lose their cool, we find it easy to understand and empathize.

For all the teachers out there, a big shout out! Teachers always teach beyond the subject. Teachers teach essential life skills by the way they conduct themselves!

To learn as a student is easy. We take responsibility only for our own learning. But to be a teacher is the biggest task- because learning can never stop when you decide to be on that chair. You have to keep learning and along with your learning is a huge responsibility of enabling others to learn too! The reasons for taking up that role could be anything, but the influence doesn’t change.

As humans in everyday life too, we are constantly influencing and impacting people. Instead of proving them guilty, we can show them that they are worthy. Hearts filled with love are any day more beautiful than hearts filled with guilt!

I have another mind-blowing story to share – but I’ll reserve that for Part-2 of this blog! That story will show us how to respond in a situation where there’s a 100% chance to hold the other person responsible for going wrong – but how do we set a powerful example of graciousness even under those circumstances – and what’s the effect it has! Stay tuned! And as always, thank you for stopping by and reading. It means a lot!

Narmada Rao
[email protected]
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