He Restoreth My Soul: A Review of Guilt and Shame

The closet. It’s a place we store things that we use regularly but want kept out of sight. This could mean spare towels, clothes, and the vacuum or it could be our sexuality, our flaws & fears, or our addictions.

Closets are dark, hidden, isolated and they breed a culture of shame and guilt. When you are guilty about something you hide it. You don’t want people to know that you aren’t the face you put on. WHY do we do this?

Seriously, why do we, as part of human nature, seek to cover our weaknesses, our nakedness before God and each other. More often than not the guilt and personal pride leads us to hide a minor wound and in doing so it festers until it is a giant problem.

A little while ago my mom told me to buy the book “He Restoreth My Soul“. It is an LDS book about recovering from pornography addiction and I recommend it to everyone because one of it’s main points (aside from the deep & vast reach of porn addictions) is that the lack of openness is leading to more problems. In one sentence this book is a practical reminder to live Justice Brandeis’ statement “Sunlight is the greatest of all disinfectants.”

While not in the book, Elder L Tom Perry’s ensign article on discipleship teaches us the same thing. Don’t hide in the dark corners but expose the unclean in the middle of the room.

My mother was a great delegator. Each Saturday morning as my brothers and sisters and I were growing up, we received housecleaning assignments from her. Her instructions to us had been learned from her mother: “Be certain you clean thoroughly in the corners and along the mopboards. If you are going to miss anything, let it be in the center of the room.”

She knew very well if we cleaned the corners, she would never have a problem with what was left in the center of the room. That which is visible to the eye would never be left unclean.

Over the years, my mother’s counsel has had enormous application to me in many different ways. It is especially applicable to the task of spiritual housecleaning. The aspects of our lives that are on public display usually take care of themselves because we want to leave the best impression possible. But it is in the hidden corners of our lives where there are things that only we know about that we must be particularly thorough to ensure that we are clean.

Another example that illustrates this point is the following about aviation from Kathryn Schulz’ book on being wrong.

“The aviation industry has turned itself into what is arguably the safest high-stakes industry in the world by cultivating a productive obsession with error. Aviation personnel are encouraged and in some cases even required to report mistakes, because the industry recognizes that a culture of shame doesn’t discourage error. It merely discourages people from acknowledging and learning from their mistakes. Cockpits are equipped with multiple backup systems – from copilots to autopilots to automated warnings to emergency checklists – to compensate for the most probable sources of human error. And those mistakes that do occur are exhaustively investigated in an effort to prevent them in the future.”

Why do we no haven open honest self evaluations? Why don’t we have redundant systems designed to help aid ourselves? As a human culture we need to learn that we all make mistakes. Enough passing the buck and hiding from responsibility, we need to make life the safest high-stakes endeavor. How do you propose we do that?