When I first started law school (at the University of Illinois), they held a session for the beginning students to get them used to the rigorous academic demands they were about to face. They had passed out a 35-page case in advance we were supposed to read and be prepared to discuss. Sometime during the presentation, one of the deans making the presentation made the point that guilt isn’t always a bad thing, that in moderation a little guilt can serve to motivate.
I don’t think I had ever thought about it that way before. Certainly he was correct; guilt has the potential to serve as a motivational tool, and we see it plied from time to time in both school and work settings. And in the Church, for that matter.
My sense, however, is that we have a tendency to overuse this particular tool in church life. We have a tendency to pull this particular item out of the toolkit much more often than we should. Because if a little guilt judiciously applied has the potential to motivate, a lot of guilt indiscriminately applied has the potential to be debilitating, to make people throw up their hands and perhaps even withdraw.
I’ll be honest with you–I tend not to react well to efforts to manipulate me with guilt trips. In fact, it is unlikely that I would ever leave the Church over the kinds of issues anti-Mormons raise. I already know where all the bodies are buried. If I were ever to leave the Church, for me it would more likely be a case of one straw of guilt too many attempted to be loaded on to my camel’s back.
So now that our orgy of conference-driven commentary is over, I’m curious what others think about this subject, and I would like to hear your stories about the use of guilt in the Church, both positive and negative. When does it work? When does it backfire? Your stories, please.