One wouldn’t expect a discussion of guilt to be entertaining. But it was.

In a talk this week to several hundred people, psychiatrist Herant Katchadourian noted that guilt has been getting a bad name since Nietszche wrote that morality is slavery and offered instead the alternative of the Übermensch — however, Katchadourian noted, these are “not the kind of people you’d like to have dinner with, so it looks like a dead end.”

Katchadourian, author of Guilt: The Bite of Conscience,  is not against guilt — quite the contrary. He thinks it is “hardwired into us through evolution” and one of the ways of “maintaining ties with other people”:  “Excessive guilt is abnormal, but inadequate guilt makes you into a psychopath,” he said. “You shouldn’t overdo it, but there has to be an internal policeman.”

He called guilt “a weapon of the weak.”  “Genghis Khan does not need to make you feel guilty — he cuts off your head.”  He speculated that that’s why, throughout history, it’s been the ready tool of mums everywhere.

“Ultimately, it drives people away — you can only milk a cow so much,” he said.

Guilt is an equal opportunity employer:  it exists in all six major religions.  “This is not a monopoly — nobody has cornered the market.”0804763615

If Buddhists appear sometimes to be against guilt, he said, it’s because “they’re very sensitive to the fact that wallowing in guilt is of no use,” he said. “Just feeling guilty doesn’t help anybody.”

He dismissed a question about Jewish guilt, noting that “Armenian mothers are exactly the same,” and also that “there are no Jewish mothers in Israel — only in the diaspora.”

“This is the short of it,” he said at end of his talk.  “For the long of it, see my book.”  Then he invited questions:  “There’s no such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid answer — and I will provide those myself.”

During a book signing, Katchadourian remarked on his confused origins:  his Armenian family is from southwestern Turkey, but he was born in French-occupied Syria and educated in Lebanon.  Now he’s here, and several listeners appeared to be grateful:

“I feel surprisingly upbeat now,” said the man next to me, getting up to leave after the applause had died down.

(Katchadourian speaks for himself in guest spot last month on the Washington Post “Short Stack” blog here.)

4 Responses to “Guilty”

  1. Max Taylor Says:

    Love it!

  2. Roseanne Sullivan Says:

    I think I know why the man in the audience said he felt surprisingly upbeat. He was probably relieved that he doesn’t have to feel guilty about feeling guilty any more!

    I agree with Katchadourian that guilt has gotten an undeserved bad reputation. Glad someone is pointing that out.

  3. Ground Beef Recipes Says:

    You’ve inspired me to start cooking again! thanks!

  4. Gayle Buchert Says:

    Thanks. I appreciate what you wrote here.