The reality of closed schools and a family of four spending six weeks / 24 hours together, produces a lot of guilt. Having to home-school my kids due to the current global situation caused by covid-19, I know by now, I am not a teacher of primary school math. I did poorly in math myself in late high school, because the teacher was boring (blame! She was guilty!) One of my daughters and I have a very sensitive relationship that we can almost read each other’s minds, good in a creative sense and for inspiring conversations and bad when it comes to math. It can explode at an instant, each one of us knowing exactly how to point the finger at the personal vulnerabilities of the other with razor sharp precision. I am impatient - I don’t understand why she doesn’t understand. At the age of 9 she asks when she can move out, blaming me for making her life miserable – yes I am guilty for not doing better, being more understanding and patient towards my own kid. Despite from me blaming her too, I blame the schools (blaming is a desperate try to assign “guilt” to shift responsibility for a situation to someone else, making my own failures go away). It’s the government! The teachers! And why is Germany so backwards analog anyway in its education system? And yes, of course, the virus, which is very guilty right now for a lot of things, only it doesn’t care, there is no consciousness in this thing. It throws the guilt right back to me, because I am the one acting like I do. But pushing guilt over to someone else is a coping mechanism of self defence.
Part of the problem is also: I love my work, hence the impatience for explaining math. I need time, without being asked anything or shown that new scratch by the (obviously guilty) cat. I need to think. There is a constant white noise of having kids, this inner alertness to be of service any minute, to analyze the type of scream (serious / not serious). Since having kids, I feel guilty about loving my work. For wanting that time alone. I feel guilty when I ask myself if I love design more than them. Knowing that it is not the right question to ask and knowing the answer, I still acknowledge that graphic design is a big part of me as a person. I have chosen a path in design where play and joy is a crucial element, I cannot really call it “work” even. It became that area where I want to learn and evolve because it interests me, it’s fun and I enjoy it most of the time. I have to live with that sense of guilt, it’s coexisting with my love for what I am doing.
Luckily for a designer, there are others to blame as well. Usually that is the client. Aren’t they often weak? They don’t know what they want or give unclear briefings. They change their preferences, they ask their spouses for opinions (the worst!). Sometimes they want to control every step, every inch you move that image. And why didn’t they spot that spelling typo on the cover before it went to print? That’s the lulling mechanism of a designer, if a project didn’t turn out as planned. But more often this assigned guilt is bouncing back at me like a boomerang, like from the virus. Because I am painfully aware, it’s often not the client after all, it’s me who wasn’t clear or insisting enough on a proposal, my reasons weren’t explained enough, or the idea really wasn’t that good from the start. And sometimes I should have said no to the job, the client, because if I’d be really honest, I’ve known all along it’s not a match.
As a designer you have to blame and you have to feel guilt equally, it’s a balancing act on top of a steep mountain. Calling someone else guilty can be liberating and increase or keep a healthy level of self-esteem. But it may be a short-lived sensation – it makes you feel good for a split second – sadly it’s a passive situation, you are only the receiver of the good news it wasn’t you who f****d up. But it’s still f****d up. Soon though you’ll have to deal with something else. Only if you are taking on responsibility and that means sometimes admitting guilt (to yourself and others), you can actively do something to change your behaviour and evolve. Equally this might mean a chance for disarming an otherwise charged conflict of blame. I believe there is a strong connection between admitting guilt and taking on responsibility and therefore making way for growth – it goes way beyond design.