The Good Men Project runs a small series on “male guilt” today. My column is here: Guilt Is Good, but Responsibility Is Better. Excerpt:
“It’s not your guilt I want, it’s your responsibility!” I often quote that line from Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy to my students who complain of feeling male guilt. I try to always say it with a smile to soften what would otherwise come across as unsympathetic hectoring. I’m not so old I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a young man overwhelmed by a troubled conscience, unsure of the degree of my own collaboration in the Great Crime. Shame is useless, I remind them; but in the end, guilt is only a little less so. Analysis paralysis doesn’t change the world. What changes the world is accepting responsibility.
Responsibility means giving up the excuse of biology or culture to explain behavior that hurts, demeans, or exploits others. Taking responsibility means forgoing the temptation to explain away our bad behavior with appeals to evolutionary psychology, testosterone, or our Y chromosome. It means recovering the capacity for self-reflection, empathy, and articulate self-expression that we suppressed as boys in order to fit in with the other guys. It means talking about the things we were warned not to talk about.
If we’re not willing to do that work because we think it’s too difficult—or not worth doing—then we’re shirking the charge to grow up and become fully human. And if we evade that responsibility, then guilt is exactly what we should feel.