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Friday, August 7, 2015

Elevating My Motivations

When finishing a book as powerful as "Behind The Beautiful Forevers" (2012), my processing often
interferes with the next thing I try to read. Katherine Boo's startling debut created an additional barrier as I started reading a new book - intense guilt.

I recognize feeling guilt about unrelenting poverty in the developing world - Boo lived in a Mumbai "undercity" for over three years to research this moving non fiction account of the downside to globalization - is a silly a middle class indulgence. But denying my guilt does not make it go away. "The poor blame one another for the choices of governments and markets, and we who are not poor are ready to blame the poor just as harshly."  I'm sure this talented author was aiming higher than inducing guilt in readers. But that sentence - from the end notes - had that effect on me as I closed her book. And I'm not even particularly susceptible to blaming the poor.

Does guilt motivate you? I guess it has moved me to action more than once and perhaps the same thing will happen now that I've read "Behind The Beautiful Forevers". Still, I welcome the day when I'm motivated by something more noble.


  1. Hi Pat,
    first of all, you are killing me with so many thought provoking posts lately, and so little time for me to respond. I will do my best this morning, to be concise (not an easy task for me), so I can get my thoughts out here. Not trying to make you feel guilty! haha!

    I did not read the book you mention, so my response might be way off. But I am responding to your idea of guilt. Guilt in my life is a complete waste of time and energy, and so when I see it rear up, I remind myself that the guilt I feel has so much more to do with me than with whomever it appears to be targeting. So, to use your example, to feel guilt about situations of extreme poverty abroad, while overlooking the children in the same classrooms as my own children, would waste the energy I can put toward having my children bring the extra snack to school each day for their classmate. And the energy I can spend in teaching my children to share their excess naturally with those in need.

    A friend of mine is caring for her two ill and elderly parents in her home. She is up during the night with them while her husband sleeps, and then he takes over during the day while she goes to work. She was lamenting how guilty she feels that her four children are not having a "fun" summer!!! What a waste of her thoughts and energy! Her children will remember this summer for the rest of their lives and are being filled with love. Where does guilt fit into that equation? It doesn't.

    Guilt has it's place only in the hearts of those who are callous and self-centered, and they are not the people who ever can find it.

    The danger in trying to be concise is that I worry that my point is not well constructed. But I am going to go with it. d.

    1. d; Sorry about killing you. But I don't feel guilty! As usual, your comment energizes me. Likr you, I also try to avoid guilt - a zero-sum emotion as you astutely point out. But I'm afraid I am not wholly successful doing this. This exceptional book put me in that unpleasant and unwelcome frame of mind.