Guilt and Honesty

Forfeiting penance and leaving a trail of truth


Guilt is that terrible feeling that we have all experienced. It happens when we act inconsistently with our values, make a mistake that is avoidable, or most commonly, when we cause pain to someone else.

It is a stomach-turning affair that weighs on us and wears us down.

When we experience guilt, we wish we could go back in time and make a correction or a slight adjustment that could have changed the course of our actions. We pray the feeling passes quickly and that whatever is causing the guilt to arise is resolved as soon as possible.

Guilt has its merits. It can be a compass that directs us to make better decisions in the future.

When our actions cause someone else pain, it is natural to feel guilty. The recommended path forward is to focus our efforts on alleviating as much of the pain that we have caused as possible. This is a healthy way to use guilt as a corrective mechanism.

On the flip side, guilt can be a trickster in disguise and if we over-indulge in it, it can be extremely self-serving.

When we overindulge in feelings of guilt, we take away from the pain that we have caused someone else and redirect it towards ourselves. This is very subtle but insidious.

Guilt tricks us into believing that the pain that we incur re-distributes the pain that we have caused more evenly. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When we interact with guilt in this way, we reduce our overall responsibility to make things right because we assume that since we are feeling guilty for our actions, we have done our part. If we do this, we may not be committed to fixing the damage that we have caused.

Essentially, we have made something that is about someone else, about us.

If we focus too heavily on how we are terrible people for doing what we did, and indulging in our own suffering, we take away from the person that we have hurt.

Feelings of regret and remorse can be important, but we have to make sure that when we feel guilt, we use it to direct us towards actions that are congruent with our values rather than dwelling on our mistakes and thinking that we are alleviating the suffering of someone else when in fact we are not.

The Benefits of Honesty:

My best friend and I booked a property for a pre-build back in 2019 and at the time we had planned to live in the condo for a year before renting it out to avoid paying the high sales taxes that are mandatory when you are renting out a property that is not your primary place of residence.

There are also additional land transfer fees associated and penalties to be paid on your RRSP for early withdrawal of the money when it doesn’t meet the criteria of the First Time Home Buyers Act. One of the criteria is that the home being purchased has to be the person’s primary residence. All in all, there are significant financial costs to using a property as an investment vehicle in Canada if you are planning to rent it out.

Most people work around this by forwarding their mail to the condo/home pretending that it is their primary residence, benefit from the tax breaks, and enjoy the government support that comes from it. This is unless or until they are audited by the CRA and fined, or never audited and continue to have their renters enjoy the sunsets with their south-west facing views.

We were faced with this dilemma; on the one side, there were short-term costs that were going to incur but we would be privy to peace of mind. On the other side, there were no costs, and there were multiple benefits, but we would have to live with a lingering sense of paranoia that the CRA might audit us and then fine us.

Almost every person we spoke to said, “just say it is your primary residence. You are first time homebuyers; you won’t get audited.” Even the lawyer said, “don’t tell me if you are planning on using it as an investment property but if one of your friends was doing it… this is what I would say to them. Blah blah blah, do whatever you want, but you might get caught and if you do, no one is going to help you.”

Every time we thought about taking this route, the “what if” was enough to make us reconsider. We had to decide how we were going to proceed.

We stopped thinking in terms of costs, benefits, and risks and started thinking in terms of values.

Once we made that switch, the decision was easy. We decided that we were going to go back to the builder, the lawyer and the bank to get it all cleared up and make sure everything was done legitimately.

We decided to go with the value of honesty, and it made me appreciate the benefits that it brings.

For starters, we wouldn’t have to look over our shoulders. Secondly, we wouldn’t have to wait for the CRA or anyone else to come knocking on our door. In fact, it is kind of like we went knocking on their door and let them know what had happened and straightened things out. If any audits were to happen, the truth was on our side and what I have learned is that the truth leaves a trail too.

When we are honest, it is our way of saying to the world, “we are ready to take things head on.” We are not going to curl up and cry when someone comes knocking on our door because we won’t be at home. We will be on our way to their house to let them know what happened, and if they are not there, we will leave a note on the door that says “give me a call,” along with our contact information.


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