Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Joy Lessons: Guilt, Shame, and Trajectories of Joy

How does joy relate to guilt and shame? On the surface, it may seem like there is no relationship between joy and guilt or shame, or perhaps an inverse relationship betwen them. And hey, aren't guilt and shame basically the same thing anyway? This post will first deal with the difference between guilt and shame and then will deal with the relationship between joy and guilt and joy and shame.

Guilt and shame may feel similar in the emotional moment. Neither feels all that pleasant. Each indicates the perception of something being wrong. Both may feel like there is no space for joy with them. However, guilt and shame are very different.

Physical pain is unpleasant, but is necessary in that it helps to indicate that there is physical damage or threat. Guilt is emotional pain that serves the same purpose. It is an indicator that something is wrong. Guilt tells a person that a moral or relational violation has occurred. It points to an event or even a series of events that ar by some measure, wrong. Guilt is the beginning of change because whatever the event, there is hope for change. Guilt is the feeling that helps to initiate repair or redemption. Although unpleasant, guilt is the precursor to hope and reconciliation. The trajectory of guilt is hopeful in that something can be done about it.

Shame is different. Shame does not point to an event that was wrong, but is personal. Shame points to the person and says, "wrong." Where guilt says, "that was a mistake," shame says, "you are a mistake." Where guilt says, "there was a failure," shame says, "you are a failure." Guilt points to an event that can be dealt with while shame points to the quality of the person and declares it inadequate. Guilt is the feeling flowing from the belief that something went wrong. Shame is the feeling flowing from the belief that the person is defective. Shame points to the person and says, "You are inadequate, unworthy, incapable, and deficient."

The trajectory of shame is simply more shame. Shame points to the static and unfixable quaity of the person. Shame does not label an event,but labels a person. In short, shame results in hopelessness.

Thus, even though neither guilt nor shame feels good, guilt is the dawn of joy while shame is eternal night. Something good can occur in the context of guilt, but nothing good can happen in the context of shame. As guilt can be instructive to seek redemption or reconciliation, that process builds toward joy. Shame offers no such promise.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Joy Lessons: Where is joy?

Where is joy? Where does one look for it? Is it easy to find or is it an elusive critter? Is it in one place? Is it created and destroyed? Does it wax and wane? Can it be preserved, saved, held for later use? Is it something to be had and possessed? Consumed? Multiplied? Is it contagious?

I want to find joy. I will seek it and search for it in the following places:
  • The Bible
  • My own heart
  • Nature
  • Children
  • Elderly people
  • Art
  • Friendships
  • Families
  • Successes
  • Failures
  • Redemption
  • Forgiveness
  • Music
  • Discovery
  • Creativity
  • Service
  • Humor

Where else would you look?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Joy Lessons

Joy has been on my heart lately. I've even had a dream about it. There are some questions about joy that I think are worth pursuing. I have the sense that there is something weighty and substantial about joy, despite the somewhat lightweight stereotype it has.
  • What is joy?
  • From where does it come?
  • How is it created? Sustained?
  • How is it different from happiness? Euphoria? Humor? Optimism?
  • How can joy be subversive?
  • Is joy inherently a spiritual thing?
  • Who are some people who might serve as legitimate models of joy?
  • What is the oppopsite of joy?
  • Are there different kinds of joy? Different occasions for joy?
  • Is joy a discipline, practice, orf result of effort?
  • Can joy be taught? Learned? Increased? Decreased?
  • Can joy be stolen? Released? Resisted? Imposed?
  • What is the psychology of joy?
  • Are the social systems of joy? That are more likely to produce joy? Withhold joy?
  • Do males and females experience joy differently?
  • Do people from different cultures, ethnicities, races, social classes, religions experience joy differently?

There must be more questions than these, but these are a good start. I would love to hear comments on these questions, additions to the questions, efforts to answer these questions. What do you know about joy?