The manner in which we live our lives, the form our actions take, is based on our biological/relational existence and the principles governing the ways in which value manifests in behavior. Those principles include the view of free-will, the determination of causation and its influence, and the view of human nature. This is true both in our personal lives and our interactions with others.
One of the most pernicious views of human nature is that of an inherent brokenness. In religious terms this is referred to as “original sin.” Our sexuality, our drive for freedom of expression, the expression of our will, these are intrinsic instinctual aspects of our humanity. When we take one of these and twist the perception of it like unto a malignant cancer, we have not only done a disservice to the beauty of our being, we have poisoned the well from which our futures spring. Casting aside this notion allows for an increased degree of freedom in the perception of our potential behavior. We are better than the worst of our ideas.
The journey there…
Looking at the start of a new year, there is an inevitable contemplation of the future, what it holds in silence waiting to be discovered. Whether the sound emerging from those boxes of experience will be joyful or curses is in no small part contingent upon perception. This is not the simplistic declaration of positive thinking to establish control over our lives. The universe is far too big for even the greatest increase of a particular trajectory of thought to influence it in a manner remotely close to control. No, perception isn’t about control. Rather, perception, as the root word indicates, perceives. If something is able to be seen then it must at some level be manifest in our lives. The only difference in general experience is whether any such specifically appears in consciousness. Regardless, the influence will still exist, though the degree of such influence will change.
Imagine the experience of having someone talk negatively behind your back. You’re certainly not aware of it, not in any direct sense, but it still influences you based on the level other people agree with the negative statements and their role in your life. Then imagine having found out what was said, it has now entered or appeared in your conscious life. Despite the fact that the words had existed anyway, the mere inclusion in your conscious experience makes them more real, the power of their influence becoming salient. The same could be said of knowing someone has washed their hands after using the bath-room, we assume that people have but once we’ve actually seen them not do so or been told that they didn’t, the act of shaking their hand takes on a new level of awareness.
Our baseline principles govern the way our values manifest in behavior. We may value life, but how we define it, how each of us determines the means of it reaching the grandest fulfillment, is a powerful variable in determining our behavior. As discussed above, perception perceives, but whether any such principle in guiding values is seen will not remove the influence it has on our lives. A person may speak loud and long about how much they find joy in their lives, but if their internal definition of life is one of inherent wrongness or of being broken or cut off from a divine source, this will inevitably shade any positive protests with a tinge of melancholy. The result is often a life of constant emotional upheavals, a seeming steady stream of joy broken by persistently powerful lamentations.
The ease of acceptance for “original sin” is likely due to an inherent disjointed feeling, emerging from the moment we understand that our caregivers are separate people and not simply extensions of ourselves. Erich Fromm states it in his book Man For Himself: “Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.” When an idea, however false, is delivered from an authority figure, this feeling of uncertain connection can be easily conflated with a negative image. Once accepted, it spreads like an oil on the surface of our self-image.
Fromm noted that an ethic supporting the idea of “original sin” is based on an authoritarian need for controlling people’s basic desires. Small wonder then that the notion appears in society the way it does. Our sexuality is depicted as inherently prone to rape in men and wantonness in women, as if any degree of freedom in sexual expression inevitably leads to a breakdown in society. Our intentional will is met with a predilection for corporal or capital punishment, for children and adults respectively, derived from a notion of free will devoid of any influence other than the choice of the individual, that it inevitably manifests in evil acts. Our drive for progressive realization of our potential is curtailed by a governmental system tied to corporate power in a fascistic desire to control the means of our economic and therefore political development.
We need not fall astray from our human reality, the mobility and nobility of our existence. Each of us must “strive for the experience of unity and oneness in all spheres of their being in order to find a new equilibrium” (Fromm). The doctrine or social more of “original sin” or brokenness can be cast aside through an active engagement with our integral lives. This means no longer looking at our sexuality as malicious but as an avenue for interpersonal expression of connection. This means no longer seeing our choices as cut off from social, historical and relational context but compassionately view our behavior through a lens of empathic forgiveness. This means a government that serves to create ever-widening disparities of opportunity must be replaced with one that actively supports the growth of everyone.
Casting aside “original sin” means looking at our future within the integral framework of our relational reality. We are more than any one of us thinks or acts. The manifest potential for us all is as limitless as our imagination will allow us to perceive.
© David Teachout