Kamloops: The difference between guilt and shame and how one of them is making you afraid of reconciliation

A project the grade 4s made this past week at the beautiful school I work at in order to pay their respect.

215 kids in British Columbia hits too close to home. I can’t begin to process the fact that it could’ve been some of the many students I work with today, who have Indigenous roots, attending the school in Kamloops between 1915-1963… it very well could have been them – only wrong place, wrong time.

This is barely even a century ago.

And the thought that many more regions need to be dug up today…

May their souls rest in power.


As an immigrant there’s a sense of extreme gratitude to be in a country like Canada, and yet I almost feel like I’ve been cheated this abundant life at the expense of communities who now carry intergenerational trauma. Iraqi Christians are no strangers to intergenerational trauma, being indigenous peoples to the land of Iraq ourselves.

I’m slowly learning how to empathize today.

Now many of us move from our countries in the quest for a better life but, who said life was perfect over here? Who said we overcome the brokenness of humanity, and the human condition (sinful nature) by coming to the West?

It is grief and disappointment I feel at the fact that, Christians, especially, took part in the violence inflicted on a people group. Some say maybe they didn’t know any better at the time, but what about now? As Christians, what are we doing about it now? Let’s also not act like we are immune to acting in the same way. We are flawed people susceptible to repeating history, and it is quite naive to think otherwise.

First things first, let’s denounce the actions of humans and let’s reiterate that they have anything to do with the personhood of Christ. They do not reflect who he is. Neither do I, and neither do you. The only way to know who Jesus is, is to get to know him yourself. I have to say the strongest people I’ve watched speak up during this time are Indigenous Christians who denounce the actions of their once Christian oppressors. Their backbone of compassion is mind-blowing.

Second, the church as an institution is absolutely at fault for allowing this genocide to carry through (because let’s call it as it is). It’s uncomfortable to realize we’re living on tainted land, but this is reality. We must be willing to make peace with our past for the good of our future.

The interesting thing about healing is the need for an exchange. An exchange of forgiveness.

How many times have you experienced pain inflicted by a friend and when they ask for forgiveness, it leaves you feeling soulagement (relief)? Or how many times have you yearned for an apology that you never received? It can be difficult to move on without this. What if someone was to ask for forgiveness on the prosecutor’s behalf? Could that also potentially help heal the wound?

Nobody is saying, “Take the blame for what your ancestors did even though you have nothing to do with it today.” We’re saying, if our identity today has been used to justify atrocious behaviour and unjustifiable treatment in the past, let us ask for forgiveness, because it relays the message that we empathize with your pain, and it is a promise that we will never carry forward in the same way again. When a crime is committed, someone has to own up to it and pay the price. That’s the way the world works.

Let’s talk about guilt versus shame for a second. Because, I have a feeling this is why we find ourselves stuck. It’s why we cannot bring ourselves to seek reconciliation and atonement. It might even explain why you didn’t seek forgiveness from your friend or sibling for a mistake you made. And it’s why there’s discomfort whenever you hear about the history of Indigenous people.

Here’s a beautiful distinction between the two, and I’ll bet you can place yourself in one or the other. Wait till you find out which one is actually psychologically beneficial and which one kinda sucks:

Reference and more information at this link here.

Guilt allows you to feel remorse and take action to make things better. Meanwhile, shame, because it is rooted in self-esteem, stunts your capacity to face your mistakes (making mistakes is inevitable and normal by the way).

The guilt I feel for living freely on land that isn’t mine while neglecting to honour its descendants, is different from the shame I could be feeling. If I was to allow shame to dictate my day to day, I wouldn’t be able to write this today. Shame tells you, “You suck. You’re awful for neglecting this and that. You said something horrible and now you’re a horrible person.” Guilt allows you to take a step back, realize you hurt somebody, and bring yourself to ask for forgiveness.

In short; when you’re feeling ashamed, you’re less likely to admit your shortcomings because there’s a sense of “Everyone will know I’m as horrible as I think I am.” When you’re feeling guilty, you’re motivated to make amends because you recognize the mistake and that it doesn’t automatically cancel you.

I’d encourage you to look further into Brené Brown’s work on shame VS guilt here. She’s the inspiration behind the distinction we’re making between the two.

Now with the knowledge I have today, how do I reconcile the reverence and respect I have for a country with the same country that carries a gruesome history and even a poor present-day reality for some today? Where does one begin to check themselves and help carry the burdens of their neighbours? 

I hope this is a start. 

I hope realizing that guilt is healthy, and can help you and I make peace with the turmoil within and with our fellow human beings.

Let’s make sure we dig up those hundreds of other residential schools (figuratively and physically). Let’s hold institutions and governments accountable. Let’s admit that we are benefiting from colonialism.

Let’s grieve together.

We must face reality, and we must move past shame into the quest for atonement. Shame keeps us stuck because it makes it about ourselves. Guilt motivates us because it makes it about the greater good.

May the guilt push us toward doing and being better.


“I am a settler, and I stand in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. I recognize my role as an individual in the work of reconciliation with Indigenous people. I commit to doing the work and to learning more.” – @oncanadaproject on Instagram

Check out the above mentioned Instagram account to educate yourself further today. (I am not affiliated with them, I’ve just been finding their recent content on this topic digestible and powerful.)


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