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Guilt isn't always a bad thing

POSTED December 5, 2013 9:30 p.m.

I'm not usually one to prattle on about the supposed deterioration of society. It's my belief that only those over 40 exhort the "good old days" and they do so in an effort to avoid any change. I don't know if it's because I turned 40 last month, or that society has actually started its downward fall, in either case, I'm going to give my first "good old days" tirade.

When I was young, my grandparents had an honored place in my family. They were the source of wisdom, unconditional love and infinite embarrassing stories about when my parents were young and stupid. Even though we didn't live in the same town — or the same state, in the case of my mom's father — regular phone calls and visits kept us in touch.

No matter how busy we got, the holidays weren't complete without a trip to grandmother's house (which, in Indiana was 'over the river and through the wood' and often through 'white and drifted snow'). Visits to my grandmother on Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of my favorite childhood memories, which is probably why I had a minor conniption fit when I read a recent press release from Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services.

This Baltimore-based agency started its press release by citing the following disturbing statistics:

Roughly 1 in 4 seniors (age 65 or older) suffers from depression. More than 70 percent of older Americans feel isolated and lonely. And, nearly one-third of all non-institutionalized older Americans live alone.More than half of doctors’ visits by the elderly involve complaints of emotional distress (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society).Depression is one of the major causes of decline in health-related quality of life (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society).The population of Americans 90 years and older nearly tripled over the past three decades and that population is expected to more than quadruple by 2050 (U.S. Census Bureau Reporter, November 2011).

After reading those statistics, it made me feel guilty that I haven't spoken to my grandparents in awhile — then I remembered they had all passed on, but I still felt guilty somehow. I assumed the Visiting Angels company wanted to remind people to check in on their elderly loved ones. Wrong.

"Don’t know what to get Grandma or Grandpa for Christmas? How about a friend, or better yet, an angel — a Visiting Angel that is! A holiday companion is also a priceless gift that adult children can give themselves this year – Visiting Angels can provide them with an angel to tend to their senior loved ones’ every need as they prepare for a house full of guests or holiday event."

Yes, Visiting Angels is giving families a way to get out of that pesky obligation of spending time with grandma and grandpa. I'm sure nana won't know the difference between a stranger paid to reminisce about family get-togethers of the past, and her actual family members. Wow.

I can't even express how offensive I found this press release. But, I have to believe that any company with the resources to hire a public relations firm to compose a press release and send it out nationwide must be doing moderately well. Which means that there are families out there hiring complete strangers to visit with grandma and grandpa during the holidays.

I have pondered over how people could possibly find this acceptable behavior. The only thing I came up with is that society has found a way to ignore that emotion that drives each of us to do the right thing, even if we really don't want to — guilt.

Guilt isn't necessarily a bad thing, according to Thomas G. Plante in his Psychology Today article titled, "Do the Right Thing."

"Guilt, in appropriate and reasonable doses, helps us all to act in prosocial ways that can be constructive, healthy, and community building. Many people who experience at least a little bit of guilt are more likely to help their neighbors, care for loved ones, act honestly and with integrity, offer gracious and kind expressions to others, recycle, and so forth. A little guilt helps us to do the right thing at times," writes Plante, the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

"Without any guilt whatsoever, we likely would have a much more challenging social environment and narcissistic world to live in."

Maybe society needs a little more guilt, just like in the "good old days"...

What do you think? Contact Kristina Hacker at khacker@turlockjournal.com.

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