I really don’t know where I heard this from but it didn’t come from me; the idea that guilt, before we act, is in essence what morality is. I had a google to find the thinker but it seems to be intertwined in some serious academic journals and I’ve been consciously staying away from all of that since I left Uni – cause I’m worth it. Not really, I just can’t keep my brain alert and end up not even skimming it but what I’d call ‘would-be skimming’. Where you think you are skim reading, I mean you seem to be mouthing the words so at least 30% of the content must be registering right? But spending 10 minutes doing so, you find nothing actually did.
Guilt – I often find myself using it interchangeably with regret. As in, even if you regret not taking an opportunity, if you are now suffering the consequences of the omission, you feel guilt which then forms into fully-fledged regret because of the outcome. So, guilt is perhaps the feeling before the act and regret is how you package it up and carry with you.
Useful? I think so. Up to a point of course. Guilt is what makes sure you are less likely to repeat mistakes. Whether it is guilt because you broke your own moral code or guilt derived solely the outcome. The latter means you may have acted in good faith (or at least believed you weren’t doing anything outwardly wrong) but the outcome changed the meaning of the action. An ‘Oops’ moment. ‘Didn’t think that would happen’. This has connections with a mere accident because there was no intent, not even awareness. I think you may be right to blame one for carelessness but not for malicious intent. So, there are likely practical lessons to be learned, but your morality doesn’t need the upgrade. Turning this into regret is pointless. Just process the guilt and derive the lesson – the midpoint is unnecessary.
It is probably more useful if you feel guilt before an act; take it as a warning. You are supposed to read into it and react. An indication that maybe you are about to do something that doesn’t align to your moral values, maybe it is time to rethink. Regret, down the line, also serves a purpose, the same as guilt does but not if you decide to carry regrets for far longer than you need to. Not if you’ve already learned the lessons.
The intent, guilt, regret, action and inaction = all part of the cycle, where you choose what’s important and for how long.