If you are dedicated to being a “good person,” you will be a Good Man or Woman, a Good Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or other sectarian. You will be a Good Teacher, Police, or Banker. You will make Good Decisions, and act in a way that does no harm, or when necessary, no more harm than is absolutely and unavoidably necessary. You will feed the world through great acts of love and righteousness.
Yet, as a person, you will make mistakes of varying magnitude. Sometimes, you will cause harm. In every transaction, we must accept that we are capable of both, every single one of us. We must embrace that we will launch efforts from a place of best intent, and sometimes we will screw it up in such a horrendous way, that we will want to crawl into ourselves and simply disappear. We can’t.
Know this. Embrace this. Do not let it turn you into a bird with its head in the sand for eternity. At any point, in any transaction, there are thoughts and feelings about what is taking place. If circumstances turn on you, and what you thought to be true becomes another truth, and you find yourself on the side of unnecessary harm, those at your mercy have no time for your self-protective shame.
Yes, I said self-protective. Once your innate self-protective system tips into shame, and you decide, somewhere in your system, that you might be doing harm, a few things can happen. It is impossible to list them all, because I’m sure there are defenses I’ve never even heard of. The fragile human psyche is inevitably capable of conjuring up the most amazing bullshit and denial, and some may never break free from its illusion of control.
In short, the ones easy to capture and articulate: 1) You turn into a fist, and punch the transaction through to get it done faster, or 2) You become frozen, watching a movie pass by you, but it is of your life, and you are simply a bystander who is watching a distant and opaque version of yourself do the harm, or 3) You become incapacitated by shame and turn into a robotic version of yourself that can’t stop being horrible, truly horrible.
Suffice to say, at the point any of these take place, you are taking care of yourself, and no longer the person you are harming. I say again, Once you are ashamed, you are taking care of yourself, not the person you’re harming. And we come wired this way. Yes, our default is to harm or even kill another, rather then assault our own fragile psyche.
We must work to gain a pause. We must work to hear our inner compasses, who are happy to say, “Stop! What the fuck are you doing?” and loudly. We must work to kick our own selfish pride, right in its face, and set down our bullshit, and step back. We must work to accept that we slipped off the path we are meant to be on, and then work tirelessly to get right back onto it, as quickly as possible. There is no time for self pity.
We must work so hard to overcome pride, and stand up and say, “Oh my God, I am so sorry, this is not what I thought it would be.” In all of our endeavors, we must attune to our society and behaviors. I am talking about creating a safer world, though only Relative Safety is ever possible. Darkness will never die, no it will not, and it will continue to crawl into our daily affairs. Shamelessly.
So pledge to live a life of goodness, of nonviolence. Or don’t. Or pledge to live a life of service to nonviolence, which I believe is the work our police and military undertake. It is the pledge I once took, to protect the rights and very existence of nonviolence–even if that means ultimately using force to block the actions of those who would do harm against the keepers of nonviolence.
And once you have made your pledge, honor it with reverence, and never, never lose sight of your goodness. Let nothing come between you and your goodness, for you are on the same side. And when you find yourself on the wrong side of your own good way, listen to it, for it will let you know.
We must be willing to let go of the idea of “good guys,” and only ourselves as such. There are only men and women, complexly flawed mortals. We are all here together, and fucking up immeasurably, all the time.
One year from now, facebook will remind me of the posts on my feed. I will read them with gentle reverence for the black money snake that served us well by mirroring our inherent human fragility–our tendency to punch a fist through our own inner voice of goodness that might have whispered, “Stop.” Our ability to tune out the cries of, “Stop.” Our tendency to justify why we ignored this scream of “Stop,” with the angry retort, “but you didn’t say stop until now, so we’re going to finish this and we will happily take what we want and crush you in the process.”
Yes, there are some parallels here. One year from now, I hope you are able to reconcile with the posts you’ve made, and I hope you do not find yourself opaque, robotic, head in the sand, or hard fisted. I hope instead, you are able to see where you may have contributed to harm, and accept it, and turn back into your own, very personal place of goodness. And if you have harmed in a way that is irreversible, then I hope you may find moments of peace, and use them to shamelessly advocate against any individual person ever repeating your mistake.