In surfing idly about beliefnet, I came across the following post:
I am not Jewish, but then I think that the topics addressed in this blog are hardly unique to the Jewish or any other faith.
I found it particularly laudable that the author decries the contemporary “no-fault” outlook of our society whereby we undertake convoluted verbal and psychological contortions in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings or giving the appearance of persecution. This has continued to such an extent that it is no longer socially acceptable to expect anyone to take responsibility for his or her own actions. There is always an excuse…there is always a reason why it’s understandable and even excusable.
The question I would pose is this: why is excusing bad behavior desirable? Why do we look for ways to excuse it, even at the expense of our own social health? What is the benefit to society as a whole, let alone the individual, in finding ways to avoid personal responsibility?
There must have been a reason that we started doing this. Was it simply to avoid conflict? To prevent bloodshed, whether literal or figurative? At what point did we, as a society, decide that it was better to encourage bad behavior than to hurt feelings?
But I digress. The primary reason this blog struck a chord in me was not my own outrage at the permissibility of poor conduct in others, but rather the encouragement by the author for us to examine our own failings and address the need for change in ourselves.
I will admit, in the past few days, to a certain feeling that it is time for me to stop and examine the areas in which I have fallen short of my own expectations and ideas of proper behavior. I tend to shy away from mentally enumerating these failures, because I have a bad habit of becoming mired in guilt and shame rather than making any sort of coherent plan to correct them. Last night, however, upon giving it some real thought, it occurred to me that I need to give myself permission to examine my failures dispassionately. Guilt and shame do not serve any purpose in this process, and I therefore must allow myself to exclude them. I must accept and allow forgiveness of my own shortcomings.
I think that there is immense and powerful value in the practice of examining one’s own behavior and determining what, among those behaviors, is a valuable contribution to the world around us, and what is in fact a damaging or detracting behavior. It is axiomatic that no one’s behavior affects only him or her; everything that I do or say will in some measure affect everyone and everything around me. That being said, there is a real and pressing need for me to take a mental step back and really look at my behaviors, with an eye not only toward whether they are socially, morally or ethically acceptable, but also toward what their impact may be on those around me.
My particular area of focus in this regard is upon my children – what am I doing that is good for them, and what am I doing that is bad? How can I lessen my negative impacts upon them, and increase the positive? I do not mean how can I make them happier, because we all know that discipline and correction, however mild, are absolutely necessary to the learning process, and frankly I don’t know many children who enjoy either! No, what I mean to do is examine how my behaviors are interpreted by them and what the possible effects, both short-term and long-term, may be. Of course no one can possibly know all of the ramifications of any interaction, but it is completely possible to see the major ramifications, if one is capable of examining the situation objectively.
Do not take this as a rallying cry to self-castigation! As I said, guilt and shame have no place in this process. True repentance involves neither, in truth – there is a wonderful post about this here: http://mredcatholic.wordpress.com/2007/08/02/guilt-is-still-very-popular/
(I’m not Catholic, either, but again this is very relevant to all faiths, I think.)
That, then, is my task for the upcoming days and weeks. Though I may not be Jewish, I see no reason why I cannot embrace and join the Jewish custom of approaching this season of the year with a thoughtful examination of my own failings – call them sins if you will – and a true desire to amend and improve – call it repentance.
The labels may change, and indeed will depending upon your religious and societal orientation – but the experience and practice need not.