From the time most of us were young children, we have been taught that we are supposed to do certain things in a certain way. The language of teaching youngsters is often done in the subjunctive voice, using words like ‘˜would,’ ‘˜should,’ ‘˜must’ and ‘˜have to.’ It is the voice of obligation. The result of not adhering to these obligations is what we call blame.
Our own health and wellness and that of those dependent on us is at stake in choosing which of these pathways to follow.
As children grow older, their well being is enhanced by beginning to substitute this Obligation-Blame continuum with one of Choices and Consequences. We make choices based on our best judgment and the consequence for erring is not blame, shame or loss of salvation, but earned experience from which we can learn and adjust our behaviors should we choose to.
Religious teachings and dogma are not uncommonly predicated on the teaching of the ‘˜should.’ Many systems of theological thought embrace and perpetuate the idea that there are right and wrong ways to do things and that which is which has been predetermined. Faith requires compliance; otherwise, the cost is blame and guilt — Sometimes, perhaps even eternal damnation.
It is important to point out that not all religious teachings are thus predicated in this way on rote learned compliance and deeply and deliberately taught and instilled senses of obligation — But, many are.
Many years ago, on Sproul Plaza on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, a Bishop in the Universal Life Church asked me if I would like to be ordained. He said here were two requirements, 1) A donation of one dollar and 2) An oath to always do what I honestly believed to be right. That dollar is long gone, but the deceptively simple oath had great meaning (and still does) to me some 40+ years later.
When we do something because we feel we must, or are obliged to, the work of our own decision making capacities and sentience of our own will power are compromised for fear of being ‘˜bad.’ The result of failure is guilt, not an opportunity to learn and grow.
So, although the more prevalent paradigm in our culture revolves around the idea old Obligation and Blame, replacing it, through the power of personal decision and willfulness, with one of Choice and Consequence can be a greater key to self learning and genuine responsibility that has previously been credited by many.
Being a good person does not always mean doing what one was taught for fear of suffering the blame associated with not doing so. It is, increasingly often, a condition fostered by using our own judgment, making our best choices and learning as we go through life by the consequences those choices cause to ourselves and to others.
It is time to retire or at least to addend the Obligation-Blame idea that we somehow required to assist in our basic training as civilized humans when we were children with the dynamic pairing of Choices and Consequences in our continuing adult lives.
Few people achieve a completely balanced state that has a role for each, but in the struggle to arrive at it, human growth and development inevitably blossoms.