Sunday, 10 March 2013

Patterns of Destruction

"I'm afraid that we all make mistakes. One of the things that defines our character is how we handle mistakes. If we lie about having made a mistake, then it can't be corrected and it festers. On the other hand, if we give up just because we made a mistake, even a big mistake, none of us would get far in life."
― Terry Goodkind, Confessor
"It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err."
― Mahatma Gandhi
Lent is traditionally a time for reflection, and I've been reviewing some mistakes and errors of judgement that I've made recently. It's nothing illegal; it's just being unwise in something I said. I caused one individual considerable upset, and was rightly reprimanded by another for my hasty words and for being the cause of another's anguish.
I've since apologised, although my lack of good judgement may have damaged some trust in me. I will certainly need to apologise again, face to face. But it is only by acknowledging mistakes that we can move on.

Often the immediate reaction to being told off if you've done something wrong or silly is to react against that. That's how children behave, after all. When a child is caught in some misdemeanour, their instinctive reaction is to protest their innocence, even when they are guilty.
It can all too easily become a pattern. When I did co-counselling with Annie Parmeter and others, one of the most important lessons was how patterns, learned behaviours, often from childhood, can dominate human beings; they can become the automatic way in which we respond to anything that challenges us, or causes upset. We become stuck in a pattern from which we find it difficult to extricate ourselves. We need reflection, and time to see which patterns dominate us.
Patterns of poor behaviour are not, I think, helped by the Internet. As Ramsay Cudlipp (writing in today's JEP) comments, the internet encourages a culture in which very hasty and often vicious judgements are made, often in the kind of language that would not be used face to face. And any criticism of those making that judgement meets with abuse as well.
Lent is a time for reflection, and one of the most important lessons of reflection is that we need to step back, and take time. Haste is the enemy of reflection; it is one of the weaknesses of our culture that we are so quick to make judgments, and with that to ignore the whole person.
A balanced assessment of people is seldom achieved with haste. That's not to say that judgments cannot be made, and critical judgments, but good judgements are seldom made in haste. That runs counter to the prevailing practice where judgements are tweeted around the world without much reflection.
The case of Lord McAlpine, wrongly accused, should give us pause for thought. He was in a position to bring judicial countermeasures against his accusers. How many people are so wealthy as to be in such a position? Guilt by Twitter is one of the worst patterns of modern life.
There's a story of Jesus which has a lot to do with standing in judgement. It's an odd narrative, because it wasn't originally part of a Gospel, but it was still thought to be so authentic that it should not be left out. Although it has some of the characteristics of Luke's Gospel, it eventually arrived in John's gospel, where we find it today.
In the story, Jesus makes the accusers reflect on their own conduct. They can't have the instant gratification of a stoning. They are forced to look into their own hearts, and they are shamed by the experience.
The religious concept of sin has been abused as a mechanism for instilling guilt into people, and rightly so, but post-Freud, the removal of that concept has led to a culture where people learn to ignore their own feelings of guilt, while at the same time, having no problems with instant judgments on other people being guilty. These are not healthy patterns in our culture. They are destructive.
The story in John's gospel is all about guilt and judgment, and reflection before hasty actions. It's about how a particular pattern of response comes up against another pattern, when Jesus draws in the sand, and forces the accusers to reflect. He breaks the patterns of destruction. I think it still has a very relevant message today.
The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all.
"Teacher," they said to Jesus, "this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?" They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him.
But he bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger. As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her."
Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. 

He straightened up and said to her, "Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?" "No one, sir," she answered. "Well, then," Jesus said, "I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again."

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