Among the signs of brutality, writes the Polish Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska, a clear conscience is number one.
The superficialists — pop-psychologists who know more about catch phrases than souls — tell us all the time that guilt and shame and remorse, are useless emotions. They sap the vital energies we need to live. Judaism does not believe that we are made better by forgetting our own capacity for wrong. Gossip that wounds others, cruel speech, theft, callousness — these are daily transgressions; ignoring the hurt they cause does not make uninhibited, just inhuman.
The insensitive person feels less pain himself and inflicts more on others. Remorse is not a waste, but an acknowledgment of another’s feelings and fragility. We should not morbidly dwell on our faults — to do so is less a moral trait than a character disorder. Equally however, an inability to feel guilt, to admit what one has done to another, is a spiritual sickness. As the high holidays approach we should remember that the beginning of repentance is regret.