Thursday, 27 January 2011

What's the opposite of guilty?

I was recently asked a great question ‘What’s the opposite of Guilty?’ I immediately took the context to mean when I feel guilty about something what’s the opposite of that – after a bit of thinking I came up with Contentment – which didn’t really feel quite right and encompassed a lot of other feelings, happy with my decisions, knowing I was doing the right thing, understanding why I was doing what I was doing.

Then the question put to me was ‘isn’t innocence the opposite of guilt?’. Which I couldn’t disagree with and it got me thinking about the difference between being guilty and feeling guilty. The first one could be said to be quite simple – in a court of law it works that you are either one or the other. However, being that us Human beings are complicated creatures, all that changes when we start thinking about how we feel. How often have you gone through a customs check, knowing that you’ve not gone over any limits and yet still walk through feeling guilty!

Feeling guilty can come about when we start living by our should, shouldn’t, must, mustn’t rules which normally means we are looking for someone or something to blame for what is happening, or not happening, around us. As with all our feelings they are manifested by us, we choose how we want to feel, so why would we want to choose to feel guilty if it’s not useful to us?

I think the first part of changing how we feel is to take responsibility for our own actions and understand that in each moment we make the decision and act in a way that feels right in that moment – we may learn afterwards that it wasn’t the best decision and we can decide to do things differently in future, surely this is all about us growing as individuals and blaming ourselves or others will only keep us in the same place – is that useful?

So the next time you feel guilty about something, what are you going to do to change how you feel, what feeling would be more useful to you?

And good luck next time you wander through customs!


  1. Strictly speaking, the opposite of guilty, is not guilty.  However, should such a discussion stray toward the grey areas of what is moral and what isn't, it  becomes subjectively messy.

    The first word I chose was "elated".  Not a great fit, but good enough for a start as it describes my general state of mind.  I'm no psychopath, but I choose to spend as few calories feeling guilty about stuff as possible.

    Next in line was "carefree" as in simply not giving a 'rat's behind'.  Perhaps more accurate, but as it is with most moral observations, it's a spectrum -- and a slippery one at that ;-)

    The final word comes from the extreme opposite end of said spectrum: "justified".  Saved for those moments when you're "beyond the pale" of your own normal "moral" behavior... and still, you're feelin' pretty good about how you're conducting your affairs.

  2. Zak Turner Thanks for the comments Zak and I'm glad it prompted you to share your thoughts - I do like your version of carefree - although I would say the state might be more that other people do exist for you and perhaps it comes down more to 'my rules for me and .......' (don't really care what yours are) which is different, for me, than not caring about the person.