It is 8.20 a.m. and I am getting ready for my day. Suddenly, my phone rings. I pick it up and on the other side is the voice of a royal representative of a community in the Western Cape, South Africa. “Your Royal Highness, how may I serve you today?” I said, greeting her. And she replied, “You will not believe what has just happened!”
“I’m listening, go ahead.”
“It is an accident that just happened in our community,” she said.
“What type of accident?” I asked. “… which actually happened around the educational precinct here,” she seemed to continue with her initial attempt to describe why she was calling.
“How can I help, Your Royal Highness?” I asked for a second time.
“Well, I thought I should call you,” she said. “We know you are working on a project that supports physically challenged or disabled people, and the accident that happened actually involved a disabled person on a wheelchair.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed in response.
She then said: “Though the emergency services team are trying to support, alongside the police here, I thought I should mention it to you as you deepen the research work that you are doing, over which you mentioned the American Psychological Association (APA) Divisional Office Of Disability met with your team, recently.
“Hopefully, it will spotlight the need for us all to think beyond ourselves, and think about how we are disabling people, also,” she concluded.
“Thank you, Your Royal Highness,” I said.
As the call ended, thoughts about, firstly, the disabled person who was on a wheelchair when this accident that I had just been informed about took place. I am wondering what happened to him or her, and also thinking about the thoughts that were possibly running through the mind of the disabled person, and the accompanying trauma that took over; or the re-traumatisation that the incident would have catalysed.
You can call it a trip that is painful and, possibly, a trip that will web into the conscience of the woman or man who knocked off the disabled person.
I shared all of that just to say, this story would possibly remind you reading this, about an encounter you, me, we all have possibly had at one time or the other over the course of our lives, which somehow always manages to take us on a guilt trip.
Though I was not at the scene of the accident mentioned above, I am using my psychological perspective and lenses to take you on a journey, one that I’m hoping you will be open to taking with me.
Let me pause on that for a moment and backtrack to an earlier experience that happened to me the same day I got the call about the accident involving the disabled person.
I had arrived at my gym in Sandton and as I tagged in and requested a face towel, due to the early morning gym classes, there were no more hand towels. So, I went straight to the gym and began my morning workout; and upon conclusion, I returned to the front desk area to request a bath towel. The lady who was on the other side of the counter stretched her hand towards me asking for the face towel I used during my workout.
I opened my hands showing I didn’t have any and she responded, “You have a face towel, can I have it before giving the bath towel?” Her words got me numb and shocked as she spoke confidently, as if she actually gave me a towel. But as I looked closely, you won’t believe what I saw written on her chest.
The name tag read, “Guilty” and so I laughed, and responded: “Guilty, you are trying to make me feel guilty over a towel you didn’t give to me and sounding so confident too. Stop making me feel guilty over it. Get the joke?”
Even though I was never given a face towel, the truth is that, sometimes the name, tag or personality we embody gets expressed unconsciously, subconsciously in some ways as we live out our day. So, the manager walked up to me and said: “Dr. Awesome, you know the story why we swap face towels before giving bath towels.” I smiled at the manager and said, “You’re not listening to me.”
“Please listen.” And she goes on, “Dr Awesome,” and I keep quiet. When she was done talking, I responded, “Would you now kindly listen to me. This lady’s name is Guilty.
“She is actually trying to make me feel guilty over a face towel, which she claims I had that I didn’t.
“I simply asked for a bath towel and she’s making me feel guilty, just like her name.” And it suddenly dawned on the manager the joke and truth I was trying to bring to her attention.
The moral of these true stories: Whether we know it or we don’t, we sometimes get taken on a guilt trip, unconsciously. And many times, we subconsciously go on that trip primarily through an experience.