In my last post, I shared thoughts about bullying and self-consciousness or “self” awareness. A couple years ago when I was on Facebook an upper classman when I was in Jr. High at my small Arkansas high school shared his shame and regret about bullying a helpless, self-conscious, insecure lad in his class. This gentleman had been a star athlete himself, later to have a tryout with the Arkansas Razorbacks; he was handsome, intelligent, and headed to success in his life. On Facebook he shared about his effort to reach out to this man he had bullied to apologize but had received no response. This gentleman had found awareness and now sincerely rued his cruel behavior to this “nerdy” and perhaps handicapped classmate.
Self “awareness” is something we mature into, slowly becoming aware of the “presence” of other people in our world and becoming sensitive to their reality. There are times, however, when this maturity never comes and, furthermore, there are times when people are ensconced in a social milieu where this “self” awareness is discouraged. The best example I find of this occurred in the New Testament with the crucifixion of Jesus, as explained by Fr. Richard Rohr who interpreted the famous words of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” as, “Father, forgive them for they are not aware (or conscious) of what they do.”
These men did not awaken that morning, convene down at Starbucks, and suddenly decide, “Hey, let’s be mean and nasty, violent and brutal, and put that guy to death who does not see this world as we do.” They had many meetings at that coffee shop in planning their deed and came to the firm conclusion that they were going to do the right thing, the “lord’s will,” if you please. They were firm in their convictions and many of them I’m sure were morally upright men, probably in a respectable position down at the local church….or, “synagogue” in that day. They were probably members of the school board, members of the Lions Club, active in what used to be called, “benevolent societies,” and faithfully they bought Girl Scout cookies each spring. And I’m sure that there were young, unmarried men in the mix also, those who avowed that they didn’t, “smoke, drink, chew…or go with the girls they do.” But it is possible for good men to do bad things when they are driven merely by ideology, steeped with preconceived ideas about their world and the deep-seated conviction that they objectively understand the world. When men and women are addicted to their ideas, regardless of how “noble” those ideas may be, they lack “awareness” and are capable of great evil in what they deem as service to the good. T.S. Eliot summarized this problem, “Oh the shame of motives late revealed, and the awareness of things ill done, and done to others harm, which once we took for exercise of virtue.”