FIRST, I FEEL A LITTLE GUILTY writing this. No, I feel very guilty that I’m even raising the subject.

You’ve probably got enough to feel guilty about without me butting in. So, sorry.

But if you quit reading this, will you feel guilty about not finishing what you started?

And if you keep on reading, will you feel guilty about putting off what you should be doing?

THE FACT IS, we live in an Age of Guilt.

We eat too much.

We eat the wrong things.

Drive when we could walk

We don’t walk fast enough

We leave the lights on

Or sit in the dark because National Grid sends us notices that we use more energy than our “more efficient neighbors?”

We spend too much time watching TV

And, now, too much time with our smart phones

What’s wrong with obsessively, constantly staring at a smart phone? It means we’re not paying attention to which of the following:      

  1. Our children
  2. The driver in front of you
  3. The driver behind me
  4. All of our teachers
  5. Our patients (Answers limited to physicians)
  6. Your hamster
  7. Your other hamster

SPEAKING OF PETS, are you feeling guilty because you haven’t given a loving home to a stray dog or cat? 

But if you do adopt a pet, will that cost too much?

Our family spent $3,293 last year for our dog and cat, mostly for food and vet care. Couldn’t that money go to hungry or homeless children?

Speaking of pet guilt, here’s a new wrinkle:

You know how you’re supposed to “pick up” after your dog with a city-supplied plastic bag and place it into the designated trash can, per Ordinance 6.08.050 – G?

The other day, I was at a park doing the right thing, and as I was about to toss the bag into the designated receptacle, a guy came up to me and said:

“Do you have to do that?”

I said, “It’s the law (and the right thing to do).”

But he said: “I  find things that I need in there. But not when you guys put that kind of stuff in there.”

Guilt lurks everywhere.

TAKE CITIZENSHIP. It used to be that being a good citizen meant that you pay attention to politics, keeping up with the news, because Democracy depends on an informed voter.

But now somebody’s come out with a new book that’s created a whole new category of guilt that he calls “political hobbyism.”

According to Eitan Hersh, the problem with consuming huge amounts of political news and constantly arguing about it doesn’t have a real effect.

An assistant professor at Tufts University, Hersh compares people who are politically obsessed to rabid fans, who ardently follow and constantly talk about the Red Sox or the Patriots.

People think they’re “engaged” in politics by watching Fox News or MSNBC or following their favorite Twitterers, when what they’re really doing is treating democracy like a spectator sport.

Judge Hersh suggests you spend less time yakking and more doing something that counts, like helping a candidate who aligns with your issues or joining groups that actually get results. A good place to start, he says, is locally, at your town hall, the state legislature and other lower links of the political food chain, where individuals really do make a difference.

Sorry, Professor, if listening to NPR all day, reading four newspapers, scouring the Internet, checking in with the AP, Buzzfeed and Politico, watching the PBS NewsHour, bookmarking Axios, Vox, and Real Clear Politics isn’t patriotic enough for you. 

Or maybe I’m not being open-minded, and I’m acting too defensively, missing your insight into the reality of democracy, that creating political change takes a lot more than just talk.

So, guilty, I suppose. 

No, guilty, in fact.

BUT MAYBE THE PROFESSOR should take a look in the mirror and see who’s staring back – it’s my turn to coin a new phrase – a “professional guiltyist,” who’s paid to prey on vulnerable people who are wired to feel guilty about practically everything.

But here’s one thing I’m not going to feel guilty about: not buying Eitan Hersh’s book.

For starters, the hardcover edition on Amazon costs $18.72.

Amazon? It’s a virtual sinkhole of guilt for consumers, especially for my fellow one-click-clicking Amazon Prime shoppers, who demand two-day free delivery, then one-day delivery, and now just two-hour orders, an insatiable demand for instant service that puts ever more pressure on warehouse crews, who risk life and limb as they race to keep up with the faster and faster pace, hoping to hold out until Amazon’s ever savvier robots and drones come for their jobs. To say nothing of Amazon’s effect on what used to be known as “stores” that continue to close across America, one click at a time.

But I’m way off course, and I’m using far more words than my editors want, and you need to get back to whatever  you’ve been putting off. My fault. Sorry.

First, I should add that the main reason I’m not buying Professor Hersh’s book is the title, “Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action and Make Real Change.”  That’s way, way too wordy, even for an academic. Shouldn’t you be ashamed? Explain.

Well, that’s it – enough guilt for one day.

Unless it’s not.

Brian C. Jones

Brian C. Jones, a regular contributor to What’s Up Newp, is a retired Providence Journal reporter (35 years) and is the co-founder of the Rhode Island Library Report. Brian resides in Newport, Rhode...