My Commonplace book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)
The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.
(5 lines omitted to avoid violating copyright)
On this third planet of the sun
Among the signs of bestiality
A clear conscience is Number One.
from In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself (1926)
—by Polish poet Wislawa Symborska (1923-2012) Nobel Prize 1996
Two or three decades ago, confessing to feeling guilty about something you’d done or left undone was disapproved generally, considered unhealthy, virtually prohibited among some self-styled mental health “experts.” Nothing stronger than the word “regret” was allowed among the throng of gurus that swarmed over Berkeley, promising healthy-minded freedom to those who went through their system or embraced their enlightened views.
Symborska’s short poem was a blast of fresh air in that tepid miasma of self-satisfaction. A stab of guilt can be healthy—a warning, a bracing endorsement of responsibility, accountability, decency—reminding us that to be truly human may be uncomfortable because it entails wanting to be better than we are, to do better, to think better, speak better, know better—to evolve.
(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)