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Dear Kiantha: Turn guilt over past actions into energy for self-assessment

Dear Kiantha,

I grew up in a small rural town. There was one Black family. The oldest son was in my graduating class. In honesty, I wasn’t very kind to him because he was different. I graduated over 50 years ago and I’m sure my classmate wouldn’t even remember me, but I still carry a bit of guilt behind my behavior.

Dear Friend,

Guilt in this context is an energy. An energy that does not serve you nor your classmate. Consider letting go of the feelings of guilt and instead using that same energy to do the internal (soulful) work of understanding why you behaved the way you did toward your Black classmate.

While I do not advise sitting in guilt, accepting responsibility for any level of pain you may have caused that young man is necessary. Take a moment to imagine the implications of your behavior from his perspective.

We as human beings have a subconscious and sometimes very conscious desire to dismiss our wrongdoings because doing so allows us to dismiss the negative impact of our actions. What if your classmate does remember you? What if your actions toward him were in fact more than unkind? What if they were traumatizing?

It is likely that your Black classmate and his family experienced “unkind” behavior from many students and adults living in your small town. I can imagine for him and his family that being the “only” came with a hefty dose of fear coupled with informal safety plans to navigate those moments when community members showed up as unkind.

Guilt does not shift nor stop unkind behavior. What cures these behaviors is sitting in truth and fully understanding and accepting the impact your actions have/had on another human being’s life.

Focusing on how you can use your remaining days on this earth to think and show up differently is the play. Be intentional about being kind to those who are different than you and always think critically about the lasting impact your actions may have in another person’s story.

Know better, do better.

Soul to soul,


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