Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Conscience, and shame.

There are many things one sees in the shadows, many trials of conscience. To look out and see what has occurred, and continues to occur is difficult, and to know one's self powerless against the shadows is also difficult.

The trials are many, and varied, and deliniated not by codes, nor regulations, but by one's own understanding of ethics, and what is right, and what is wrong.

Sometimes there are many shades of gray in our world.. the colors blur together, in a melange of possibilities and half-truths, and we stand at the crux of it all and look deep into our own hearts, wondering, "how did I come here?"

When something bad happens near us, we wonder "Why didn't I do something?" often this 'something' is written clearly in our minds, why didn't I hear my neighbor being harmed, why didn't I notice my child being hurt? Why didn't I see my own blindness?

This guilt, this powerful harm, comes to us from seemingly nowhere and everywhere. Every eye turns upon us, in our own minds, and we find ourselves wanting. Why didn't I see? The answer... is because you were blind. One cannot hold a blind man to see... nor can we see and hear through walls, nor walk through them save by the door. But yet we feel guilt, and shame, unassuaged by knowledge, a burning conscience that compels us to act.

Sometimes we find ourselves hunting for some way to relieve the burning, relieve the shame, the guilt, the hurt. We blame God, we blame Lucifer, we blame Republicans, we blame Democrats, we blame everyone. Ultimately, the trial and guilt belongs to the person who engaged in the act. We are not responsible for what we do not see, do not hear, and cannot know of.

Yet, still, deep within us, there is a voice that whispers, "You should have done this." or "If only you'd been 'better' somehow, this wouldn't have happened." It boils down to "This (occurrence) is my fault." But can any man be held to the responsibilities for the acts of another that are not only outside his control, but outside his knowledge as well?

It is one thing to hold a man responsible for his actions, his choosing not to see what was before his nose, his choices to ignore things that were very visible, it is quite another to hold him responsible for things outside his control. Is it not a work of love to love others? Is it not equally difficult, however, to love ourselves? Can we release ourselves from that shame, that self-anger, self-hatred, and anguish?

Is this not that for which many seek? A release from the pent-up shames of a lifetime, the nagging feelings of inadequacy, of doubt, questioning all that is for anything true, just to find solace from those inner feelings?

How many who have lost a loved one to an accident, in their grief and anger, seek retribution? Retribution against the company that made the ladder upon which they stood, the sidewalk, the city, the county... retribution against the shoe maker. How many of them steadied the ladder? How many failed to watch their loved ones while they were climbing that ladder? And how many feel that shame to the core?

It's easier to strike out at 'known' problems, than to look at the shame of our own souls. It's easier to target someone else that expresses that shame for us, who has become an 'ok' target for that hatred. It focuses us, drives us to do things and commit obscenities and irrational behavior that we would never have dreamed possible.

But is it right? When we, in fear, in anger, in grief, in shame, attack others, is it not truly an attack upon ourselves? If we feel we are unworthy of love, is it not so much harder to extend it to others? If we believe ourselves to be guilty, and to be beyond redemption... how many will reach to redeem others?

Redemption... comes from many places. Change, as well, comes from many places. Reaching inside one's own heart, one's own soul, we find the truth that we've been seeking. In truth, we blame ourselves for the acts of others... and we judge them by our own feelings of guilt.

When that guilt grows stronger, we become angry with others... sometimes even to the point of hatred. It becomes an irrational, burning crusade that leaves naught but ashes in its wake. We attack, and in that attack may expose and destroy what we see as an enemy, but it leaves the ashes bitter in our throats... and more guilt yet, should a moment of lucidity allow us to look upon it. Those bitter ashes poison our hearts, our minds, and more guilt, anger, and self-hatred grows, and to combat it, we need new targets, new scapegoats for the flagellation of our conscience.

But what is truly our role in these things? We feel horror that it occurred... but was it in our control? Could we have actually done something, knowing what we know afterward? Without knowing it at the time, did we truly have any power at that time?

And yet, the news screams to us of horrors and abominations... it cajoles us into that shame cycle, claiming our lack of action is the cause of these things occurring, shaming us, blaming us, saying we are bad, because things happened that are out of our control. But.. yet are these news sources not also tainted? They are not only from us, they are part of us. They're an externalization of that shame as much as anything else. We look on with sick horror, "At least it didn't happen here" and then turn back to our lives, ashamed of being glad it happened to someone else, God forbid it happen here. We hope, we fear, we pray, and in that praying attempt to give up our faults, while holding onto them deep in our hearts. The shame and burden burn ever more brightly, the load heavier.

If only I had done otherwise, or done more, or less, or made some change. Ultimately, that time is gone, and cannot be retrieved. We cannot change the actions in the past, we can only work through the present to create a future.

We cannot judge others for their past, that time is done. For this reason punishments are made upon the earth, for a time, in order to make amends for a wrong. No wrong can be corrected that is criminal... only made amends for. This is the purpose of punishment.

When we ask for more punishment, we're not seeking to correct the wrong done... we're saying that the hurt was greater to the society. When we extend that punishment, we're not preventing further wrongs, only increasing the weight of the old wrongs.

When we look around, how much of what we see is viewed through that inner focus of old hurts we've done ourselves, and others? How many tears are shed for things unable to be changed? How much time is lost, outside of that system of punishment which is just and necessary, as an additional punishment by society? How is ostracism not a punishment?

When a man has done a wrong.. is it not often that he seeks to hide within himself, closing off his route to the outside world? As that isolation continues, is it not the truth that any such man will grow less and less connected to others? Is this not both a trigger for criminal behavior, as well as part of the cycle? Why, then, the ostracism? Is it not because we feel guilty for what they have done, and what we ourselves have done?

If we see in them things in ourselves, and it hurts us, is it not easier to push them aside, and bury them away from us? Prevent them from becoming again a part of what is 'us', and to make them a separate person, 'them', who is visible for an external target of our own self-anger?

Is this right, or just?

And is my argument wrong? Is there a reason to demand outside punishment, save for what we fear in our own hearts?

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