Sunday, March 27, 2005

Objection 2: "Guilt is a good thing!"

Another objection to my intent to undermine the culture and consciousness of the victim is the conviction that guilt is really a "good thing." It would go something like this: "Gil, you can go off all you want about victim consciousness, but the fact of the matter is that guilt is an important function of the conscience! We'd be in big trouble if it weren't for guilt! When a person does something wrong, they darn well better feel guilty! Unless people feel guilty about something, they'll go and do it again." Actually, I believe it's more important for a person to feel responsible for their behavior than to feel guilty for it. Guilt is the emotion of the person who has not yet taken responsibility for their action. It is different than contrition. Contrition is when you feel sorry for the impact of choices and actions for which you know yourself to be responsible. When a person feels contrition, the desire to make amends soon follows. Making amends is when you attempt to consciously right the imbalance you recognize to have been generated by your actions. For the responsible self, it is not enough to just feel contrition. The satisfying part of personal growth comes when you consciously choose and act in a manner that moves things in a positive direction. If you are in the habit of lying, and you feel guilty for it, chances are that you will continue with your lying. You will be a guilty liar. If you are in the habit of lying, and you feel neither guilt nor responsibility for it, chances are you will also continue with your lying. You will be a brazen liar. Either way, you are in the habit of lying and generating the consequent effects. Guilt is merely the fear of exposure. You know yourself to be in the wrong, but you continue to act in the same way, afraid you will be found out.

If you took responsibility for your actions, you would study the ill effects of your behavior, study how your choices amount to causes which generate effects. If the effects you have caused have hurt someone, a certain sorrow is appropriate, proportionate to the effect. If you impulsively cut someone down verbally, a pang of regret is a good sign, and you can apologize: sincere apology is a form of amends for a small thing: it consititutes the opposite kind of energy to the original slight. If you react all out of proportion to something someone says, because it touched some deeper issue which long pre-existed the triggering comment, and based on that history you "go off" on that person, and make them bear the brunt of past resentments, that might deserve a brief explanation and an apology (as soon as you figure out what happened). Taking responsibility in that case would require observing your reactions enough to notice that a) you were triggered; b) you hold a lot of charge around the issue; c) taking it out on the person who triggered you is like shooting the messenger; d) you need to do some more study around the issue; e) the person who triggered you deserves a thank you for exposing yourself to yourself more than a tongue lashing for happening to have held up a mirror to you; f) having raised your consciousness around the issue your ability in the future to recognize what is going on in the moment will be improved, and you are less likely to "take it out" on some random comment maker; g) you can apologize to that person and say simply, gosh, looking back on my reaction to what I heard you say, I realize it touched some issues I'm needing to look at more closely. I'm sorry I almost bit your head off. Now I am more aware of what was going on for me. I intend to work on diminishing the charge that surrounds the issue for me. Imagine a world where we all operated this way!

Let's say you kill someone on purpose. Now we're into some really heavy stuff. Is guilt appropriate here? In my book, again, guilt will get you nowhere, even in such a worst case scenario. It postpones responsibility, and gets in the way of true grieving. Killing another person is sufficient cause for great sorrow, whether by accident or on purpose: there is a lot of grief to work through there. As my ethics professor in Chicago was keen to point out, even if you are fighting a so called "just war," you are going to feel the devastating impact of taking another human life when it happens, and need to deal with it. Taking responsibility here will involve some detailed analysis of the events leading up to such an act. Your actions will require more than an apology here, as a mere apology is insufficient to balance out such an act. This does not mean you can never move beyond the event either, simply because of its immensity. There may be no one to apologize to, or there may be. Either way, the source of all deserves an apology, for acting contrary to the most basic tenets of life. The amends should be proportionate to the act, and contrary to the act. To make up for taking life, one must consciously enter the process of serving and supporting life. This will generate healing over time. It doesn't mean the family members of someone you murdered will necessarily form a good opinion of you. This is not the goal. They have to take reponsibility for their own grief, anger and loss, relative to their life experience. The basic structure of taking responsibility on your part, however, is the same whether you cut someone off on the highway or cut someone down on the battlefield: responsibility, contrition and amends. If the path of guilt is followed, you will instead constantly be trying (and failing) to justify your actions rather than take responsibility for them. To the extent that you convince yourself that your actions were justified, or deny to yourself that in fact your actions caused the event, you will postpone the actual healing process and continue to feel guilty, and you will endure over time the debilitating effects of that pernicious false emotion on your health and life experience. When you feel guilt, you have reduced yourself to playing the role of victim to circumstances, and you are destined to repeat your behavior under similar circumstances. When you cling to guilt and wallow in it, you pander to the lower-self tendency to self-flagellate (when it's not proclaiming its innocence), and so merely postone responsibility. Such a person may even go to confession but doesn't actually feel "absolved" afterwards. When you assume responsibility, you study those very same circumstances in order to establish how you might master yourself in them next time around.


Blogger Bob Howard said...

The classic objection to reincarnation, at least from a religious perspective, and the reason it was removed from christian teaching in the third (or so) century was purely for control reasons, no? If people believed that they lived again and again they would be less likely to do as they're told, and less likely to feel all the guilt of victimhood that you've been talking about. They might believe that their actions held no consequences. There is a tacit assumption by those in charge that the masses cannot be tamed without the belief that they will be eternally punished for their transgressions. Religion as a means of control instead of as a means of spiritual truth-finding at its finest.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Gil :-) said...

Reincarnation was taught by the fathers of the church (and by its mothers as well, I am certain) for the first three hundred or so years. Justinian, Origen and friends debated the nuances of the issue as a matter of course. Jesus didn't seem to have much of a problem with it either. He chastized his followers for not recognizing John the Baptist to have been the prophet Elisha returned, and for mistaking him to be the prophet Elisha returned. He didn't shame them for believing in reincarnation, but for mixing up who had reincarnated as who!

Because the victim consciousness and the consciousness of self mastery are all encompassing worldviews, it is possible of course to view reincarnation through either lense and interpret accordingly. As for the church ruling against the belief some three centuries into teaching it, at a council called not by the bishops but by the emperor, and poorly attended, one must legitimately suspect the motives of the ruling. On paper, it certainly looks like a move to consolidate power over the people, forcibly converted as whole nation-states to an essentially foreign religion, recently rewritten to allow you only one life, and the certainty of eternal hell following it apart from submitting to xyz rules, regs, dogmas, taxes, etc., controlled by the rich and powerful of the day posing as the singular mouthpiece of the holy spirit. What's amazing is that folks bit for this, but perhaps not so amazing, given the "believe or we kill you" constructs of the day.

So while yes, the elimination of reincarnation from the set of accepted christian beliefs represents a move for control, I don't think it is because people would otherwise feel less guilt or believe their actions have no consequences. Go to India and check in. They believe their actions have consequences. Reincarnation simply extends (relative to one-lifers) the time frame in which you work out the implications of the consequences of your actions. By eliminating that time frame, and stacking the deck 100% in favor of submission to the rule of church and state NOW to guarantee staying out of hell, the mass mind control manipulators of the day arrived at a pretty brilliant, however false, formula whereby the masses could be subdued. At points like this I always like to underscore my belief that in spite of the machinations of the "worldly powerful," the more powerful human spirit shines through neverthless, and no church has ever been able to utterly squeeze the mystic from its midst entirely, despite its concerted effort to do so, usually while pretending to cultivate the same!

8:31 PM  
Blogger Bob Howard said...

That's pretty much what I was trying to say, I think--though you, of course, said it better.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Gil :-) said...

Actually, rereading this thread this AM I realize I meant to say, twice above in the response to your succinct comment, "Elijah" as opposed to "Elisha"...there were actually two of these fellows in the elder scriptures, Elijah and Elisha. I was thinking Elijah and typing Elisha. So thanks for following up, elsewise I would have not reread, I would have missed the error, and would have been posted here with my proverbial fly down, as it were. :-)

7:19 AM  

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