In the first of her monthly column, Dubaibased Devinder Bains says feeling guilty is good for our emotional health.
Equality, persecution, natural disasters? What should this first column be about? It should be about something important, right? Something that’s not Celebrity Love Island or Bake Off. Definitely not Taylor Swift’s new song and certainly not the two-year hiatus from Jon Snow, that’s breaking my heart into a gazillion tiny pieces, right?
These were my thoughts when making my list of column ideas. I feel strongly about female empowerment and gender equality. I’m an environmentalist who has cut down her carbon footprint by walking everywhere – even in 50 degree heat. I turn off the water in the shower to shave my legs, I’ve dropped meat, palm oil and most of all… fun, from my diet in an effort to delay the scariest of ‘C’ words: climate change. My eyes fill with tears when I see the news images of human displacement and poverty as a result of war. So, I should be writing about one of these issues, right? Just pick one and go for it. Open the Macbook, start typing and Bob’s your favourite uncle again.
But within seconds I’m wondering whether it’s okay to eat pasta when I haven’t been to the gym today. I mean I could go for glutenfree… maybe I should just stick to beetroot and chickpea salad again. Oh my word, stop! Back to the column. So, which topic is most important to me right now, what are my friends here in Dubai talking about when we meet up? The last serious conversation I remember went something like this: “Do you think Kit Harington would be attractive if he wasn’t in Game of Thrones?’
What’s wrong with me? Why hadn’t we been worrying about Hurricane Harvey? Why hadn’t my sister, who also lives in Dubai, and I been discussing Mum’s bad back or Dad’s swollen shoulder instead of having a brutal Beyonce vs JLO argument over our (vegan) dinner?
So, now I feel bad. Pangs of guilt for being so far away from my family in the UK, especially my nephews who are growing up seeing ‘Auntie Dee’ once every four months, my parents who are ageing before my eyes – but via pictures on WhatsApp rather than in person. I’m feeling guilty that I’m so far removed from what’s happening in the ‘real world’. The wars and winds are so far away, emotionally and geographically, that they don’t even register in every day conversations. And with every carefree thought, comes this guilt… and it’s pretty much every day.
And, I’m not alone, this feeling of getting on with life while feeling distanced from everything that’s ‘important’ to us and ‘important’ in the world is rife amongst my peers here in Dubai. This inward stigma of having a nice life while others suffer, the guilt of life passing by easily while our families are a thousand miles away, getting older without us ageing alongside them.
So, what can we do? Embrace the guilt… yep, that was the answer from ‘Jeeves’. Because feeling guilty is a sign that you care, it means that you are thinking about these things. A study earlier this year by Nottingham University in the UK found that guilt-trips are good for you, ‘they encourage people to repair a situation and lead to cooperation’. I guess this is true. When I feel guilty I do end up calling my parents to ask if they still think eating white toast soaked in butter is the healthy option for dinner, to check in on my blind dog’s bad ear, ask if my sister’s neighbours still have that monstrously weird, eyesore of a red phone booth in their driveway! And even when I feel guilty about what I eat, it makes me swap bad, bad cheesecake for good good Gourmet by Kcal (if you don’t love the banana sushi dessert… I’m afraid we can’t be friends).
So, there you go, feeling guilty is good for you and as we’re all feeling guilty, all the time, we’re all good people.
With that happy thought in mind, I’ll get back to watching Game of Thrones, from season one, all over again.