Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We're All Adam and Eve

Over at Faith Barista, Bonnie Gray asks the question, “How do you shake off feelings of guilt?”

I know how it’s done. I’ve seen it, often enough. I’ve done it, too, and if I think hard enough I’ll remember some of those things I’ve done. Well, maybe it’s not that hard but it’s easier to pretend that it is.

And I think of Adam and Eve.

Whether you accept the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as historically true or not, you have to see it is still a marvelously accurate story about human nature.

There’s one tree in the garden Adam and Eve are not supposed to eat from – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent comes along, and entices Eve (“you’ll be as smart as God!”) to take a bite. She does. Adam bumbles into the scene, and Eve convinces him to take a bite, too.

The first thing that happens – they’re ashamed. They know they’ve screwed up. The second thing that happens – they hide. Avoid the truth! Avoid responsibility! And the third thing that happens is that they use words to attempt to play the blame game and absolve themselves of personal responsibility. Eve blames the serpent; Adam blames Eve (and, indirectly, he blames God, too – “You gave me the woman!”).

That’s exactly what we do. We do something bad and wrong, and we’re ashamed – we know what we’ve done. We try to hide – either by avoidance or lying or just ignoring the obvious and bullying our way through. And then we use words, to try to justify what we did, often blaming others.

Many years ago, I knew a HR executive who justified all manner of awful things done to people by use of a mantra: “It’s business, not personal.” What a crock. Of course it’s personal. If it happens to people, it’s personal. If it happens to you, it’s personal. If it’s done by you, it’s personal. Maintaining anything else is an effort to shake off guilt, an attempt to separate you the person from you the perpetrator of your actions, an effort to evade moral responsibility for your actions.

I had a boss who told me I needed to lay someone off (no one in particular, just “someone”) because it would be good for my career development. He’d gotten that particular piece of wisdom from the president of the company.

It doesn’t work. It never works. You may fool yourself for a time, or hide behind a position of authority, but you have destroyed trust and your own credibility.

How do you shake off feelings of guilt?

My short answer is, you don’t.

Photograph: Lightning Strike by Mark Coldren via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


JofIndia said...

I have learnt to cope with guilt by trying to avoid certain trips to the past. I often succeed. But I know the guilt still lies there, bleeding...

Thanks for the posting. It is uncomfortably thought-provoking.

M.L. Gallagher said...

I agree with Jofindia. Uncomfortably thought-provoking.

And an excellent post.

Thanks Glynn

H. Gillham said...

You don't shake it. I agree.

I read somewhere that "guilt is a useless emotion." I wrote it down because I wished to think about that statement.

I know that I have wasting some time feeling guilty, but is it useless?

Glynn, you make me crazy! You're making me think too much.

I would hate to know someone who didn't know guilt.

That would be scary.

Madame Rubies said...

Oh so true. My boys got in trouble for playing in the drainage ditch that borders our yard this weekend. I heard Corey say to them, "You have this entire giant yard to play in and the only thing I asked you not to do was go in that ditch." So, of course, the ditch is where they want to be.

How predictable are we?

Mama Zen said...

I agree. You don't.

Pauline said...

Guilt's useful only if you use it as a jump start to better behavior. Otherwise it's an exercise in futility.

n. davis rosback said...

no amount of shaking will do

Maureen said...

Margaret Wheatley looks at guilt in her little book "Perseverance" and offers something I think is important to share. Drawing a distinction between guilt and regret, she writes:

"... Guilt turns us inward, creating a cauldron of self-hatred that destroys us. People never act wisely from guilt - the intensity of emotions prevents discernment and right action.
"Regret... does not disable us. It gives us the capacity to see clearly, to clarify our future, to change. We can vow to not repeat our mistakes, we can pay attention to what we've learned, we can focus our heart and mind on not causing harm again. We can develop greater insight into who we are, and move forward to become who we'd like to be.
"If guilt and shame are driving us inward, hopefully we can notice this direction and choose... to look outward. . . We can use this time of feeling badly. . . to get beyond our self, and connect with all those other humans with whom we share this dark kinship. If our hearts open to them, what enters us is not more darkness, but the light of compassion."

Laura said...

"If it happens to people, it's personal."

Yes. The way we treat each other matters, no matter what setting we are in. I just finished Scott Cairn's The End of Suffering and his take on restoring the Body of Christ has me sensitive to this right now.

As for guilt...hmmm. How did Adam and Eve get over it?

David Waters said...

wow, well for thought.

June_Butterfly said...

Strikes straight to the heart!Very true.No matter how much you decorate the action with icings of excuses,a wrong done is a wrong done!

Guilt I guess something one can deal but not escape!

Very powerful work!

Hope said...

I agree! Great write up and amazing photo!

thank you

Kathleen Overby said...

Guilt has a bad rap in our culture. But it simply shows when our conscience is in good working order. This is a good thing....a working conscience! :)

Kathleen Overby said...

Wait-I just read Maureen. I agree. There is a wasted guilt that is actually self centered and true remorse that brings about change. Big difference. Great discussion happening here.

Sheryl said...

It's always personal. So true! said...

Ha! I liked your ending. :) I agree, we don't shake it off. God's grace washes it off of us.

Lisa notes... said...

“If it happens to people, it’s personal.” Excellent. And we can’t get rid of our guilt by passing it off on someone else. It’s too easy to blame others, but it doesn’t eliminate the guilt. It’s God’s grace who relieves it or nothing.

Doug Spurling said...

"It’s business, not personal.” What a crock. Of course it’s personal. If it happens to people, it’s personal." True true true.

Guilt can't be shaken - agreed.
We're all guilty in His sight. Thanks be to God His blood removes all the guilt and shame. When we allow the conviction of His Holy Spirit to cleanse us from all the guilt and shame.

Guilt - bad
Conviction - good.

This post - good. very.

Thanks Glynn.

Bonnie Gray said...

This was a really interesting take on business, faith, and personal integrity, Glynn.

"It's a bunch of crock... " Saying it's just business & not personal is being used carte blanche to throw conscience out the window.

And then, you took it from there straight into our hearts in matters of faith.

Thank you for another insightful response to this week's topic of guilt!

Whitesnake said...

The truth hurts and Ya right YOu don't!