Cycle of Guilt

I hear myself say the most ridiculous things at times. It is almost like I cannot grasp the moment these words escape my mouth. It feels as if I am simply repeating them from a far off memory only to escape into the universe. I find myself guilt tripping friends to make them do what I want.

Ethiopians are well versed in guilt tripping; it has become an art of its own accord.

One of my closest friends would usually end a sentence with, “I do not ask for much,” without paying attention to the fact in repeating that sentence week-after-week it is actually too much.

I know many of my family and friends use this art form to make people do things for them. I believe the concept of Yilugnta, or selflessness, even comes from a deep-rotted culture of guilt.

It is good to be nice; but it would be much better to be honest. I have a relative that has severe health issues but would accept invitations to gatherings of all sorts, for the sake of not offending anyone.

What kind of life is this? Where is the line we draw in choosing our own comfort over that of others?

I do not believe that rejecting certain foods would offend someone, yet I am surprised each time it happens. The social dance begins with one person talking about the food they made and how the guests must try it.

If someone shows reluctance to eat whatever has been served, even for health reasons, that person is nonetheless promised that just a slice will not hurt. It starts in that manner, with the guest having lost all will of putting one’s health before others’ happiness.

I am in disbelief each time this happens for if the host fails to insist, then that person is suspected of having bad social manners. And adamantly declining the questions of the host makes one a hard guest to please. It does not register with anyone that a guest sometimes just wants to have a chat, and perhaps a cup of coffee, without the dinner that is served at 4pm.

It, of course, does not seem as such a bad problem to have in a society that is increasingly becoming individualised.

But such a tradition has also pervaded our professional lives. Often when one is working on a deadline, and knows they cannot deliver on time, that person would try to avoid customers’ calls. At times, even lie about the delivery date in the hope that the contractee would not feel bad. Yet, at the end of the day, when one does not have the final product at hand by said time this becomes a problem.

The worst part of it is that the clients are not informed of how late the delivery will likely be. The communication between the two parties is very poor, which is detrimental since the client needs to know if something is not going well just as much as when things were running on time. A person needs to make realistic expectations. Yet in an effort not to have the client “feel bad”, false information would be given.

This behavior also affects other parts of the work. Many in the work force do not take constructive criticism well. But to grow and develop as a professional of any kind, it is important to get feedback from those working around us. And when one is not able to take constructive criticism about their work, then this means there is a culture that needs to be re-evaluated.

I think this stems from wanting to please those who work with us and not having a culture of positive engagement. If we, as a country, are expected to rise, this is a part of our culture we need to overhaul.

The comfort of our guests should, of course, come first. But it should not matter if a person would eat meat, shiro, kitfo , salad or nothing. The important part is that this person has taken the time out of a busy schedule to spend a moment with us. There is a lot of ego in how some host others, disguising themselves as gracious and welcoming.

In the work place, let us check our cultural constructs. It is important to open up circumstances where communication could contribute to a positive working environment. This could be in calling a client to let them know in advance that a product will be late, or taking the criticism that there are few things we should improve on.

There is no reason this should affect our kindness to one another – our culture has taught us to go the extra mile for friends and family. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, caring for one self is not selfish, it is important.


By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Feb 17,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 929]



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