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How bad are we supposed to feel for the mistake that we are at least partly responsible for?

The awareness of mistakes is crucial to the improvement of self and social development, with the guilt being natural emotional activity. Being able to recognize the problems serves as a significant step of introspectiveness. However, it is not easy to measure how much are we responsible for? And how much guilt should we take for the mistake?


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    Jul 7 2012: Hello Regina,

    thank you for this interesting question.

    In my view, the intensity of personal 'responsibility' should be related to the consequences this 'mistake' had.

    To give you a personal example, even though I was born in 1969 I take on my own responsibility out of the 'mistakes' my ancestors did in world war I & II and tried to learn and understand the principles which made this happen.

    One mechanism in group behaviour is called 'responsibility diffusion', which allow individuals to 'hide' their own misbehaviour towards their own conscience behind the concept, that other people were acting the same. This will cause an individual not to act on their own decisions and moral values which accumulate in NO action at all.

    We can see this behaviour in kindergarten quite often. And if you would ask Peter why he was spitting at Bob, he may justify his action by naming Jim, Rob and Tommy who did the same... Well, some people never leave kindergarten in some respects.

    Take 'global warming' for instance. Most people know that we should reduce the consumption of energy, yet because the majority is not doing it, it becomes easy for an individual to 'diffuse' its own responsibility towards the crowd and does not feel to act irresponsible at all.

    This is part of our 'human nature' to rather 'comfort' our minds than to 'confront' them, yet this 'nature' is no excuse to act happily upon it.

    So as 'badly', as more we take on our part, our 'guilt' of responsibility out of 'common mistakes' as better we will be able to correct our behaviour. And as more people are acting this way, as more this effect will be able to flip around.

    This takes effort and is not going to become easy.
    • Jul 7 2012: Thank you very much for your reply.
      In what you have written so far, I see you explicitly explain a certain paradigm of people following others’ behaviors even knowing these are not supposed to. In my country, china, people are impatient to wait for green light and choose to come across the street when there are not many cars. This scene can be more frequently witnessed when developing into a crowd. Sometimes people feel awkward standing alone therefore choose to follow the crowd crossing the street anyway.
      My concern is about the general mistake under the situation that we have no idea whether is going to work or no at the beginning but end up as a failure. Like if a party was going to be thrown at school, and peter was responsible for getting people to come (assume people were all available that night). While in fact, only a few showed up. And later everyone left early thinking that was a lame party cuz not many people came. So should peter blame himself for just not getting people show up, or making this party a disaster because of his lousy job.
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        Jul 9 2012: Hello Regina,

        your 'red light' example is beautiful! It can also work both ways, that if you were in a hurry and would like to cross on 'red', you would have to overcome hesitation to do so, if there was a whole crowd of people patiently waiting on the other side.

        On this I decided to act on my individual, initial thought and on the situation. Sometimes it happens, that I am the only one waiting for 'green' while a group of people crossing on 'red'. This feels a bit 'stupid' to be left behind, yet if I initially decided to do so, no group is able to 'drag' me with it. Also the opposite. If I am in a hurry and all people are waiting, I go. This also feels kind of 'stupid', yet I have my reason to do so, and this reason was 'initially'. But there is one exception to my initiative - children! As it is important to children to know the rules when and when not to cross the street, my behaviour then becomes exemplary, which in any case is more important than beeing 3 minutes late for a meeting.

        Regarding Peter and the flopped party, to me there is no reason why Peter should blame himself if just a few of the invited people show up. If he spread the invitation to all which were 'targeted' for this event early enough, that's all he could have done and can not be hold responsible if the majority of people did not show up. Why should he, as this is beyond his control.

        Only if he was spreading this information to late, let's say the very day before this party was scheduled, yet he could have done this two weeks in advance, the 'party disaster' would count to his responsibility only, as there is a big chance that most people have made different appointments
        for that day, which you have to avoid to get those people in.

        But if Peter did all he could have done rigt, he is not even partly responsible for the desaster.

        And, by the way, even a small gruop of people should be able to enjoy themselfs, as quantity is no necessity for having a good time... :o)
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      Jul 9 2012: sorry i can not quite follow you with the following sentence. pls

      So as 'badly', as more we take on our part, our 'guilt' of responsibility out of 'common mistakes' as better we will be able to correct our behaviour
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        Jul 9 2012: Hello Antonio,

        what I was trying to say here was, that if an individual manages to take on its very own part out of group-behaviour, only then this individual will be able to change its behaviour. Otherwise 'singular' responsibilities stay diffused within a group and will not initiate personal 'reflection' and 'reconsideration'. This for example is the reason why only a few people are cutting on their energy consumption, even though all of us know that it would be necessary for all of us to stop clima change.

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