Imagine the world without guilt. I'm sure there would be many people that wouldn't change, due to their impeccable characters and strong moral fibers. But I'd venture to say that a large majority of the planet, without a second thought, would do whatever felt good. Scenario: Chaos.
In my opinion, guilt is among the only things that keeps our society in normal working order. If not for our guilty consciences, we would bring destruction upon ourselves. Call me conservative, but I really think it's true.
I've felt "guilt pangs" in the past, but I'll never forget the one time that I felt truly guilty. In eighth grade I convinced my parents to let me spend my winter vacation with my grandparents in Miami Beach. It was my first time vacationing alone and I was overwhelmed with feelings of pride and the joy of my newly forged independence.
Upon arrival in Miami, I was immediately enveloped in the warmth and loving attention of my grandparents. Palm trees, sun, home cooked meals, and video arcades filled my days in "Pleasantville". I was uninhibited and flying high, perhaps a bit too high.
On the third day of my pleasure-thon, I walked with my grandmother to the pharmacy to pick a prescription and a couple of odds and ends that she needed around the house. As she paid the cashier and shot the breeze with a few of her friends that she had bumped into, I roamed the isles looking for nothing in particular.
The toy section caught my eye, and I cravenly entertained the idea that my grandmother would buy me something. There was nothing more than the typical drugstore fare, but the selection always appears especially exciting in the eyes of a child.
One small key chain grabbed my attention. I don't remember what the key chain did and why I thought it was so special, but I remember exactly what I was thinking when I first saw it: There was no chance that my grandmother would buy it for me.
She would just tell me that it was garbage and that I should put it back. But I thought that it was really cool and I had to have it. I had never thought of stealing anything before then, and it never even crossed my mind again, but as I stood there staring at the key chain, I could think of no other option.
All morality and reason was lost, and for one moment in time, my desires were much more powerful than anything else. My grandmother called for me to come. I panicked. I put it in my pocket.
Years later I'm still ashamed of what I did. No one knew that I had stolen the key chain, but I knew. For months I wasn't able to look my parents in the eyes. If only they knew, they would be so disappointed.
I threw the key chain in the garbage and watched the garbage truck take it away. I was hoping that as long as it was out of sight I would be able to forget about it, but the feelings of guilt didn't go away.
What did I learn from all this?
Having a guilty conscience, as long as it is not overdone, can be used to your advantage. As soon as your "Jimminy Cricket" chirps in, don't try to justify what you've done, rather reassess what has happened and see what can be done to right the situation (before it gets worse).
The whistling is optional, but always let your conscience be your guide.