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.