With power comes responsibility – why beliefs matter

(I wrote this for a competition for radio 2’s thought for the day – I didn’t win!)

Being Good

The other day I went into my eldest daughter’s school to tell stories of the Amazon for their topic. I had learned a few stories of spirits who live in the jungle who punish people if they cause harm to the trees, the animals or other people. I used a storyteller trick of leaving the punishment to the imagination so they actively used their own minds to come up with “The worst punishment you can possibly imagine”.

At the end the children were all gazing at me wide eyed, the energy and power I felt from so many children hanging off my every word made me feel tremendously responsible. They all wanted more detail about the spirits, especially what the punishment was, I reiterated that it was the worst punishment you can possibly imagine and one little girl mouthed “you die”. My next words needed to give them power over their fears. I made it clear that the spirits only punish those who do the wrong thing so we can be glad as that means they are looking out for us to make sure nobody harms us.(I could have scared them into being good by saying they’ll be fine so long as they never do the wrong thing, but I’m not a catholic)

 

From this I realised 2 very important things, firstly it is what we don’t say that has the most power and secondly, the way we feel about being judged depends if we believe ourselves to be good or bad.

 

We all try to be good as we are taught that being good will earn approval, but if those from whom we seek approval are silent, the power of the silence makes us try even harder to please to the detriment of our true self.

 

That is where faith and religion come in. We need to have faith that we are good and worthy of approval from the start, if we believe it, then it is so. Religions give us the rules to live by, if we break the rules we will be told so we can be forgiven and learn. It is our behaviour that we are judged on and it is our behaviour that we can always change to ensure we are always judged to be good.

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Jonah and Pinocchio

We went to messy church today and the story was Jonah and the Whale. If you don’t know it, basically God told Jonah (or Jonah just dreamed it from his own mind, if that makes it easier to swallow(?!)) to go and spread the word to the Naverenes as they were living badly and said if they didn’t reform in 40 days he’d do something dreadful. Jonah didn’t like the Naverenes so went off somewhere else instead on a boat. God sent a storm, so Jonah asked to be thrown overboard and got swallowed whole by a whale. After 3 days in the whale he got spat out and he went to speak to the Naverenes who mended their ways.

I don’t know if there is any literal truth to the story- has anyone ever survived inside a whale? But the message is simple and relevant:

Jonah is wrong to pass judgement and discriminate against the Naverenes.

God (or good humans if the word God offends) will always forgive wrongdoing once responsibility is taken and people make a change – Jonah and the Naverenes.

I personally don’t like the fact that the original message carries a threat, I think that is wrong as people should be enabled to choose the right path without being forced to as then they will live in fear and may only do the right thing as they are fearful, rather than because they truly believe it is the right thing. I guess Jonah could just tell them the real consequences of their wrongdoing? e.g. being selfish and greedy won’t make you happy, if everyone behaves like this you won’t be able to trust your fellow man so you’ll live in doubt and fear. If everyone behaves selflessly and acts with love for their fellow man, you can trust others and live life in joy and peace. 

So what about Pinocchio? It’s almost the same as Jonah, but more detailed. We accept the story as we know it is made up and respect the author’s intent. It is a simple story of redemption and Pinocchio straying from the path of learning – please note, learning isn’t simply accruing facts, it is also about achieving understanding and empathy for the whole of humanity and our environment. Eventually after a trip to the hellish funfair of delights where he ends up looking an ass he has to sacrifice himself into the sea to learn the truth of the consequences of his actions. Then he becomes a real boy and no longer a puppet.

I wonder if our current capitalist society isn’t making asses of us all as we respond puppetlike to the demands of state, advertising and a selfish (teenage, emotionally immature) society to earn more, want more and sacrifice our children to the same future?

Maybe if we sacrificed our know all attitude that makes us so easy to manipulate (like puppets) and accepted the “real boy/girl” deep in our hearts, we could get off the capitalist wheel of doom and wake up to the truth and beauty of the world around us? Will we encourage our children to follow their own path of learning through life, doing what they enjoy most? Or will we decide for them the path they should take that will lead to a good job at the end? What is more important? Living life in enjoyment with an ever open and inquiring mind? Or getting through life without rocking the boat or standing out as different to end up with status and power/money/knowledge over others?

 

Knowledge without understanding and empathy is useless. Learning isn’t about knowing facts, it is about understanding how to apply those facts for the common good.

 

It’s strange that on the one hand we want our children to be treated as unique individuals, but we also want them to fit in and behave like all the other children so they aren’t bullied for being different. Doesn’t that make them more susceptible to bullying as we teach them to behave as puppets with parents/teachers/authority/peer pressure/selfish society holding the strings? 

I prefer to teach my children that they are different to other children and point out the disadvantages we live with compared to other children in their peer group. However, in truth we are so lucky to have all that we have and we ought to look out for those less fortunate than ourselves. It is wrong to discriminate against people for things they cannot change, but it is perfectly OK to discriminate among children in your class who behave badly towards you. Never be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, even if others think you are wrong, but at the same time be prepared to listen to those who hold different views and allow your understanding to deepen as you accept new ideas.

 

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