Tag Archives: guilt

Flight Shame

In the last few weeks I’ve seen the words ‘flight shame’ used to describe the motivation for people flying less. I can’t point at any sources off the top of my head, but people are flying a bit less in Europe by the sounds of things, and this is being attributed to flight shame. It’s also worth noting that (and I got these stats from MEP Molly Scott Cato) 70% of flights are taken by 15% of fliers, so if those people cut back it will have maximum impact.

Flight shame is clearly a good thing. Flight shaming is not something I’ve managed to do. I have a fair few friends who fly – some for leisure, some for work, some because their families aren’t all in the same country. I don’t call them out when they tell me about it. I do not flight-shame them and I am undecided as to whether I should. Flying is so desperately bad for life on Earth. But, if we did it a bit more modestly, it might be feasible. If those who had most took less, it would perhaps be viable for some people to spend the odd few hours in the air now and then. The flight-shame of people who seldom flew anyway might not be a game changer.

My suspicion is that the people who are most easily persuaded to be uncomfortable about their less-sustainable choices are the people who weren’t so very bad in the first place. It’s the folk who jet off regularly who are least likely to feel uncomfortable with their choices – I suspect. I have little evidence aside from the way, this morning, I’m seeing people with a lot of money proclaiming their lack of flight guilt as Greta Thunberg sets off to cross the Atlantic in a boat.

But perhaps that need to assert the ‘no guilt’ over flying shows that flight-shame is creeping in. You don’t have to speak up to justify something that doesn’t need justifying.

The greatest harm to the planet is caused by the smallest number of people. Many of us are living within the planet’s means already. Many of us who are not living in a passably sustainable way would not need to make massive changes to achieve that. How can it possibly be tolerable that those who have most are allowed to take so much at such a cost to life as a whole? When that becomes shameful behaviour, and when we treat it with derision rather than admiring it, things may change. We could do this quickly. I’m not generally into using shame as a way to change behaviour, but we’re talking about people with monstrous levels of privilege who are choosing to do obscene amounts of damage – and they really should be ashamed of that and pressured to change.


Warning: contains naval gazing

I lost most of yesterday afternoon and evening to a welling up of pain. It’s left me feeling sore and disorientated today. I’m in a place of unpretty introspection. It isn’t what other people do that haunts me, it is the fear of having got it wrong, of not having given enough when it was needed, not being able to offer a sufficiently tolerant and open heart, not being able to take the knocks. I’m a creature of finite resource, no kind of saint, and alert to the ways in which I could have done a better job. Yesterday I was caught in a web of ghosts and mistakes, trying to figure out where I could have done better, in the hopes of not repeating any of it.

I’m fascinated by people who shrug of mistakes and failures, of any magnitude, and move on. I’ve encountered a few folk down the years who were remarkably untroubled by their errors of judgement and acts of unintended cruelty. I’ve met people who genuinely didn’t seem to care when they caused pain. I have noticed an interesting discrepancy though, because the people who feel they should be able to shrug off their mistakes and move on seldom take the same attitude when they feel hurt. If they are suffering, it matters and needs taking seriously. It has also been my experience that people who make less fuss about their own discomfort are often more compassionate when other people are hurting.

I’ve learned the painful way that guilt and regret are the things I am least able to bear. Being hurt by someone else is as nothing compared to what I carry over mistakes I cannot fix, things I cannot undo, or unsay. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way. Poor judgement calls, misplaced expectation, dodgy interpretation… Nothing a person would wind up in court for, just regular human failure born of not seeing clearly, not knowing myself well enough, not getting it right. I pick over these like a scavenger picking bones. If there is a means to put right, I’ll try and do it. At least I can learn, with a view to making new and different mistakes next time.

My most problematic reoccurring mistake goes like this: I accept people as they present themselves, so I fall foul of miss-selling. There are qualities I’m drawn to, and if someone fakes those, I can be suckered in. The bitterness that comes from realising it was all pretend, is horrible. I find it hard to forgive in those circumstances, but I realise it may often be the case that people do not realise they are faking it. They have learned the language of passion and intensity. They’ve learned what sounds dramatic, poetic, inspired and wild. They like the image. Perhaps they do not realise that all they have is a shiny surface. The shock of realising they do not know how to live what they are voicing cannot be comfortable for some of them. The ease with which the shrugging and walking away often follows though, suggests to me that they mostly do not care. They only ever wanted to look the part.

How I let myself get into one of these again? How was I bewitched by the surface appearance, by an illusion of authenticity? Is there some magical way of discerning between people who truly speak from the heart, and people who know how to sound that way? I haven’t found it yet. Do I become cynical and mistrustful, and keep at a distance those who do come into my life open hearted, honest and full of integrity, so as to also keep away the players of games? I oscillate. There are days (yesterday was one such) when I feel no confidence in my ability to relate to people at all, and the call of hermitude is strong. But there are those few souls who were not faking, who have brought depth and wonder into my life, and I would not have that if I’d carefully insisted on keeping everyone at arm’s length.

I’ve been told that I expect too much of people. I have unreasonably high standards, am demanding and unfair. I expect so much that I set people up to fail; they can never be enough to meet my outrageous demands. I’ve looked long and hard at those accusations over a lot of years. There is some truth in it. I can be decidedly all or nothing. I do ask a lot, but I ask no more of others than I ask of myself. Just occasionally, I find someone who isn’t affronted by how I am, someone who does not disappoint, or turn out to be more hot air than substance. In the meantime, what I get is the guilt of feeling that my being let down is a measure of my unreasonableness. The uncomfortable sense that I ask too much and judge too harshly, and that if only I could seek for less, I could enjoy the easy, non-committal, shrug off the mistakes approach of others. I would have to be someone else. Still, there are losses that I grieve, and mistakes that haunt me.