Human emotions are one of the biggest mysteries of life. Within the seemingly calm surface of the lake of human conscious awareness hide the ripples of emotional upheavals. Time to time these ripples disturb the deceiving calmness of the surface and plunge us into a labyrinth of memories. These disturbances, like seismic activity continue for days together.

Two such emotions are Guilt and Repentance. Dictionary definition indicate:

Guilt: the act of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime

Repentance: Act of sincere regret or remorse

Words are incapable of capturing the true essence of any human emotion. Observe the definition of these two words closely, while they do capture what stems these emotions but they fail to capture what it means emotionally for an individual to experience them.  That’s a linguistic limitation that we have to live with.

Let’s look at these emotions beyond the linguistic framework. In life it’s a given that we would err and hence intentionally or unintentionally offend people as well. Most of us with a moderate sense of morality and ethics would experience one of the aforesaid emotion. Interestingly, I think, these two emotions are disparate yet sequential in nature.

After we have erred the first emotion that humans experience is that of guilt, which involves ingredients like disbelief, denial, self-pity, fear, ignorance and recurrence. With conscious and unconscious analysis of the situation this feeling of guilt gives way to repentance which involves ingredients like acceptance, self-assurance, learning and closure. In the fire of true repentance feeling of guilt ends and from it emerges a liberating wisdom. The general human tendency though is to wallow in guilt and languish in the improbable proposition of rolling back time and correcting the error. Unless one accepts that everybody is fallible and learn from the experience one can’t progress towards the stage of repentance and hence liberate from the incident.

No matter how strong the urge of the ego to believe it is right and deny the error, the longer the feeling of guilt lingers and prevents true repentance. Because:

  • Guilt is egoistic. Repentance is Humility
  • Guilt is denial. Repentance is acceptance
  • Guilt is open ended. Repentance is a closure
  • Guilt is ignorance; Repentance is Knowledge
  • Guilt is binding. Repentance is liberating

Next time when faced with a situation one could make the wise choice of progressing to repentance so that one could gain freedom from the incident only after gaining the wisdom.