Conscience – and guilt

The role of guilt in shaping a child’s behavior

Guilt is supposed to help people acknowledge wrongdoing, feel a sense of responsibility towards the person that has been wronged, and want to make things better between them. Apparently then,  guilt is constructive for children’s development because it generates empathy and understanding, an ability to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

When we  correct a child we are actually appealing to his innate goodness, and hope he gets what we are trying to explain. A little bit of guilt is inevitable, however hard we may try not to lay a guilt trip on him. Over many, many little incidents a child begins to understand that others’ feelings and wishes are important too. In due course, his conscience  takes over as his moral compass. He gains a perspective on his place in the scheme of things.

Without a conscience to guide him,  how will he gain this perspective? In his skewed little world, where what he wants is the only thing that counts, how will he relate to others when he grows up?

A thumbnail sketch of him as an adult would be something like this:

-seems like a charming, helpful person who wins the trust of unsuspecting people, so he can get what he wants from them,

– uses people to get what he wants, without considering their emotions,

– he feels no remorse when he cheats or hurts someone,

-doesn’t love anyone, doesn’t care for respect, affection or acceptance.

The list can go on. . .

Every time we read  news reports of horrifying crimes we can’t help but wonder: “Not so long ago this criminal was an innocent baby. . .What happened along the way?


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