Decidedly

Musings on decisions and factors that drive them.

'Tis the season to feel...um, guilty?

The Commercial Christmas -- leveraging guilt and obligation

Phil Donahue is credited with the remark "December 25th has become guilt and obligation." He is not alone in this opinion.


We have watched the "holiday season" evolve over time from being merely "days" of guilt and obligation to one spanning several months.  This expanded duration certainly has the footprint of expert and subtle marketing...er, "building on proven success."  Meet the commercial side of the holidays.

Of interest is the coupling of the two words "guilt" and "obligation."

Our clients know that the nuances of wording can ultimately have huge impact over one's choices.  So, it is worth examining more closely the interrelationship of these two words.  If one were asked "Is it worse to feel guilty or to feel obligated," would the person answering feel a difference? Is one better or worse than the other?  If the question were "Is it worse to be guilty, or to be obligated?" is the sense of difference in the words clearer? When using words as the basis for some judgment or actions, finding their emotional "tenor" can be important.

It is apparent that "obligation" itself is not a "bad" thing.  There is a certain tone to it that indicates being bound, either morally or legally.  "Guilt," however, does not carry the same flavor, but rather suggests a feeling of having committed a wrong, or having failed.

No one likes to feel guilty.  So, if marketeers play too much with strategies that make persons feel guilty, they are playing with fire, and are definitely courting backlash. Marketeers have also tainted the more noble aspects of "obligation." They have in fact created a mundane, dislikable composite, i.e. "guilty obligation."  Or "guilting into obligation."

A simple definition might begin to set things right.  The word "gift."  Its definition is "a thing given willingly to someone without payment." Assuaging guilt is a form of payment.  Seeking relief of an obligation, repaying an obligation.  These are not the "giving" of "gifts."  If objects are purchased with these factors as the motivation, those things serve commercial purposes only. The spirit, soul or heart of either persons or the holiday itself are overlooked.  Definitions help find one's true purpose.  'Tis the season to be wary...
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