More Than Money
Issue #8
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To Spend Or Not To Spend

Table of Contents

“Taking a Bite Out of Shame”

As I've started to take psychological and fiscal control of my inheritance, one of the most useful insights I've gained is about the difference between shame and guilt.

I define shame as the feeling of negative self-worth resulting from the betrayal of moral expectations others have of me. Guilt, by contrast, is the feeling of negative self-worth resulting from the betrayal of moral expectations I have of myself. The following opposing examples, drawn from my life but somewhat fictionalized, illustrate how I distinguish the two:

Example #1--High Shame/Low Guilt: As a young filmmaker new to New York City and mostly closeted about my wealth, I planned to make a low-budget documentary about an 80-year-old eccentric cousin of mine who lives in New York. I was excited to begin interviews-until my cousin informed me he would be spending the entire summer in Paris! What could I do but gulp and wish him bon voyage?

Then, it dawned on me that there was no good reason I couldn't fly to France and interview him there. No reason except the spectacle of shame I envisioned-that of a neon light pulsating around my neck reading "DILETTANTE RICH-KID ARTISTE," as I writhed before a circle of struggling and much more talented film-making colleagues.

Fortunately, with the help of my therapist, I discovered I had very little actual guilt about the thought of going. Travel to me is an unqualified good and an exotic location could only help my film. To make a long story short, I'm not exactly bragging about my trip to Europe, but I certainly am going.

Example #2--Low Shame/High Guilt: Discombobulated by all the last minute planning for my trip to Paris, I rush to the airport in my car instead of taking public transportation. Two weeks later I arrived at Kennedy Airport to discover the car has been towed and I'm liable for $250 in fines. The ability to buy off one's mistakes is one of the worst-kept secrets of being wealthy. This sum could have provided a month's worth of special transportation for a low-income person with a physical disability, but in this case it supported the laziness of an upper-income person with scheduling disabilities.

The only thing working in my favor is that bragging about vehicular victimization is practically a sport in New York City. Given the proper spin, my experience getting nicked by the Transport Authority for $250 might even earn me a badge of solidarity from the overtaxed, underpaid working guys hanging out at our corner tavern. The irony of the low shame/high guilt experience.

Conclusions: Experience has taught me that shame is secondary--the primary enemy is guilt, as few things are more important in life than reconciling yourself with your conscience. By dividing the effects of shame and guilt within the painful muddle of self-rebuke, I am better able to conquer the enemies of my positive self-worth. When my behavior is squared with my own conscience, I can more easily confront the slings and arrows of shame. .

- anonymous author

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