Ditching Guilt and Feeling Better

Thoughts on how we can feel less helpless

6 min readFeb 28, 2024

Many Americans and Western Europeans carry a high level of anxiety over the social issues we read about every day. Left or right, wealthy or not wealthy, and regardless of skin color and cultural provenance, we’re more likely in 2024 to feel haunted by big dark shadows than we were twenty years ago. We feel threatened by domestic enemies, real or perceived. The notion is supported by statistics on depression, anxiety, loneliness, consumer sentiment, opinion polls, academic studies and media surveys. We’re more worried and negative than we used to be.

I want to talk specifically about the common concerns reported by the educated liberal demographic. In another article we could dissect the concerns of the conservative-leaning or blue collar demographic, and we could go deeper into concerns voiced by specific age and financial means demographics.

University educated Americans who live in or near large metropolitan hubs are 65% to 72% Democratic leaning, and they occupy the hefty part of the bell curve of the country’s taxpayers. Most of US income taxes come from people earning $100K to $1 Million annually. We are both the biggest contributors and the biggest hand-wringers, the most concerned that civilization is about to break and that our society is on course for inevitable collapse. The wealthiest Americans don’t worry so much. Partly because they live in a financially segregated bubble, shielded from the rougher edges of life in the high street, and partly because they are — or are closely related to — dragon slaying fearless entrepreneurs, hence they fear no foe because they usually defeat their foes. The less wealthy, and sadly this includes all of the bottom 40% by household income, are too busy surviving day to day to worry about our collective fate, climate change, the end of democracy, or the prospect of global water shortage.

Listening to yet another of my educated friends describe their angst about one or more pet worries, I feel they’re succumbing to doom thinking, and that their fear has turned to anger, maybe because they know they’re completely powerless against the evil they’re seeing in our world. They feel we are victims of disinformation, as large swaths of population believe ‘news’ sources that are patently false and designed to divide us with fear and loathing. The reaction by educated, thoughtful people is one of horror, despair, anger and, yes, hate. Hate directed at far right media and powerful think tanks, manipulators and wealthy funders of insurrectionist agendas.

This is not wrong. But it’s not helpful, and it’s absolutely not working.

We need to nurture a profound sense of optimism, strength and cohesion with our large demographic of educated, hardworking and socially conscious citizens. We are the workhorse of America. We pay most of the taxes. We drive the retail economy. Our spending habits and consumer sentiment dictates home values, investor decisions, and economic predictions. We are the weather. We show up for our local communities by participating in schools, town councils, city planning meetings and nonprofits. The wealthiest people don’t show up for any of this. They’re too absorbed with managing wealth and power and influence, they rarely participate at grassroots level except to make a donation and put their names on a plaque. They also pay much lower taxes as a percentage of income, as they’re (legally) able to offset taxable gains.

America’s economy is roaring. Immigrants are so busy working and are amazed at their own earning potential, and in their free time they’re spending their hard earned money on retail therapy, cars and appliances. The tech sector is recovering well from layoffs and bad press, largely driven by the magnificent seven but also by a generally healthy set of fundamentals driving social media, ecommerce, software-as-a-service, and of course, AI. Banking, leisure, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, all are reporting healthy growth and steadily optimistic outlook.

Our kids are attending the world’s best universities, and will come out well prepared for the demands of the workplace over the next decades. The world is watching in awe as US tames inflation, keeps unemployment under 3.5%, forgives some student debt, and sees its stock markets soar to new historic highs. More people want to immigrate to America than to any other country, including generous welfare states in western Europe. Nobody’s queueing up to get into China, Russia, etc.

Our two biggest problems are:

  1. deep divisions in our political culture and
  2. a loneliness epidemic caused by digital/mobile screen time and — see above — our deep divisions.

We have the ability to create a warm, welcoming, nurturing culture that promotes liberal values, inclusion, optimism and community. The ‘liberal’ narrative currently coming from the media and microjournalism sites is not liberal, not inclusive, not positive or optimistic, and is not effective in creating a movement worth supporting. We’ve lost the mojo of MLK and others in the movement a few decades ago. They were not angry, they had a vision and invited us to see it with them. Instead of filling our schoolchildren’s heads with doom about climate change and racial injustice, we could be boosting their morale with a vision of how they — the future — can build a world where all energy and transportation is carbon neutral, and where color is truly irrelevant in the opportunity landscape. We could be teaching people to speak effectively about the path to an even better society, instead of devoting our energy to passing blame and attacking alleged villains. We could be truly inclusive by inviting republicans and swing voters to join us, instead of chorusing our deep seated mistrust of the GOP and anyone daring to vote red.

We need to jettison the guilt that’s been pined on us. We are not responsible for slavery, the holocaust, the plastic in the ocean, world hunger or America’s homeless epidemic. Our responsibility is limited to recognizing history’s horrors and helping prevent thjeir recurrence. We are not guilty and are not on the line to make reparations for those horrors. We haven’t evicted a family because of their color or religion. We haven’t denied employment to anyone based on race. We haven’t joined white trash marches threatening violence against black and non-white people. We have not even been guilty of silence: we have spoken out against hate groups and have consistently been very clear that we do not support or condone racism. Beyond this, we do not owe a debt of guilt or shame. We’re working hard, caring for our kids and being there for our friends and relatives, trying to be charitable and kind, and on top of this we choose to worry about problems we have no chance of fixing. No wonder we’re stressed, depressed and negative! Any half decent therapist would tell us to stop worrying about problems we can’t control. We need to go beyond this and reject blame falsely assigned to us by villain-seeking academics. We are not the villain — we are the engine of America. We need to support each other and reject the narrative of the loonies on the far left and the far right. They have no part in the amazing success that is America in 2024 and our bright outlook for the years to come. That success is because of you and me, the people who go to work every day and who stretch ourselves in all directions trying to make it work for our kids, relatives, friends and neighbors.

How can I take steps today to lead instead of preaching? I can spend more time with red-leaning members of my local community. Listen and don’t argue. Don’t judge. Don’t retaliate when I hear an anti-democrat barb. I can volunteer and try to help underserved people in some way that brings be into direct contact with the beneficiaries, not isolated and hiding behind a donation. I can practice tolerance in schools, the workplace, sports and recreation, and I can hire more diversely to include people whose politics are obviously not aligned with mine.

If we can do half these things we will be a strong, successful society and we’ll be safe from dictators and organized crime. We’ll wake up feeling optimistic and empowered to chase our personal dreams, while staying kind, caring and inclusive. Our world will be very much the better for our culture upgrade.




San Francisco geek, entrepreneur, wannabe economist, mediocre equestrian