More things are accomplished by guilt than we admit. Behind most unexpected gifts a wife receives is a guilty husband. Not necessarily one who has strayed. It is often simply one who forgot to switch off the porch light or pick up the meat on his way back from work.
It is guilt, not love, that makes the world go round. No one has written a poem about it, but that does not make it any less true. The reason is simple. More things rhyme with ‘love’ than with ‘guilt’. The Beatles, who sang Love is All You Need or even Love, Love, Love, would not have been as successful had they sung Guilt is All You Need. Or indeed, Guilt, Guilt, Guilt.
Guilt is a great motivator. If I goof off on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then work hard on Thursday and Friday, I could still rescue my weekend. Otherwise it will be painted in the colours of guilt. The thing about guilt is that it not only affects you, it also – through you – affects everyone around. Most sentences then tend to begin with "I should have…" which is not guaranteed to keep the family cheerful and happy. Want to avoid guilt? Then work.
Guilt – and its first cousin shame – is the basis of all religion. Haven’t eaten your vegetables? Then prepare for something terrible about to happen. And it does, soon enough. There’s an earthquake on the other side of the world. And you, the child, feels personally responsible for it because you didn’t eat your vegetables. Then you grow up and read what Kafka said: guilt is never to be doubted. And you realise you were right to feel responsible all along.
Guilt helps retain relationships. How often have we heard someone say, "I haven’t called my mother for many days now, I feel guilty." Mothers are called regularly just to avoid guilt.
Guilt leads to great literature (also its opposite, but let’s ignore that). Shakespeare was 24, married, and full of guilt for not having written a play. "I have a talent which is Shakespearean," he thought, "but I haven’t done anything about it." A year later wrote Henry VI (Part I), and was on his way.
Guilt maintains law and order. Recently someone paid a fine for jumping a red light the previous week. You can imagine the torment and anguish he must have gone through.
Guilt keeps neighbours friendly. Your cat messes up your neighbour’s porch or your dog chews up his petunias. And you tell yourself, "I had better be nice to this guy."
Guilt is like gravity, keeping that delicate balance between earthly bodies. Ignore it and everything goes haywire.