I've noticed the word "innocent" showing up a lot in the discourse this past week.
Who is innocent? Are you? I don't think I've ever used that word to describe myself and don't plan to in the future. But we humans love our binaries, don't we? It makes us feel safer in an unsafe world to believe that there are innocent people and evil people. But does it lead to actual safety? Does that binary make anything better for anyone?
Have you killed? Harmed? Shamed? Lied? Stolen? Remained silent when you should've spoken up?
Babies are innocent. Of course. Is a 5 year old? What is your innocence age cutoff? Every 18 year old was a baby once too. On what day of their life were they no longer?
What about the other side of the spectrum? The elderly are innocent. Okay. Our current and most recent presidents were/are both elderly. Is an eighty-year old incapable of doing harm?
I'm a sober person in recovery which colors everything I think, feel, and do and because I'd be dead without my sobriety I put a lot of trust into the process that got me there. I've sat in rooms with people who've done immense harm and had immense harm done to them. One of the things I love about recovery spaces is that people are invited to show up to repair the harm they've done and that's been done to them. And they do. If you don't believe that people can heal, can practice true remorse, and can change, show up to a recovery meeting. It happens there a hundred times a day. We are capable of repair.
An old-timer in one of my meetings spoke up once and said something like this:
"You know, I hear a lot of people who come to meetings say 'If that were me, I would've done this or that.' But you know what I've learned? If that were you, you would be doing the exact same thing. Because you would've had that person's experiences and gifts and challenges. If you'd lived their exact life, you'd make their exact choices."
I no longer say "If that were me, I would..." If that were me, I'd be doing what they are doing.
My yoga teacher told us once that she'd heard a story about people going to Pema Chodron's retreat (Chodron is a famous Buddhist nun). My teacher said something like this:
"People would sit in front of Pema and confess their darkest secrets. The worst things they'd done. The things that made them feel like monsters. And Pema would say to them, 'There's nothing that you just told me that is outside the realm of humanity.'"
In other words, there is good in every, single one of us. And, the potential for evil is in every, single one of us.
We're alike like that. The only difference is our circumstances. One could argue that the defining feature of our species is that we sit on this precipice between good and evil. A good push in either direction is all it takes.
I've learned that trying to change people doesn't work. I've mostly let that go. Trying to change myself is a full-time job in itself. What I'm more interested in is how we change people's circumstances. I'm less interested in deeming some innocent and dooming others to evil.
I am certainly not innocent. I am hopeful that I tilt toward goodness. I am a believer that we are capable of repair, as individuals, as communities, and as a species. But innocent? Not me.
Blogging is back. Or never left. Better put, I'm back to blogging. I want a space of my own for my writing. I want and need to write more and more often. This is a space for my occasional thoughts and feels about higher ed, surviving our volatile era, and how to create things that matter.