Monday, January 7, 2008

Original Sin, or Turning Away From True Self

The real story about last week which kind of gets lost in the Christmas whine is some new insights from Sharon.

Once upon a time there was a little girl, who was around 5 or 6. One afternoon she was playing in a field behind the houses where all the neighborhood's children played. Her mother and a neighbor woman approached. They asked if she had taken a puppet toy that the neighbor woman's daughter had received as a gift. (It was wooden, and pulling a string above and below made the 'legs' jump). The girl was confused by the question and the nuances of meaning: did they mean had she stolen it? Did they mean had she held it in her hands? Did they mean had she taken it from the girl, played with it briefly, and given it back? They seemed to want an admission that she HAD taken it. She tried to remember, but all she could think of was having 'taken' the toy from the neighbor girl, playing with it a moment. She couldn't remember if she had given it back or not, but these women seemed sure that she hadn't. So perhaps it was true, and so she did what was a point of honor for her: she 'told the truth'. (Truth in a 6 year old's world is not the Truth as adults comprehend it. The contexts before for 'telling the truth' generally meant admitting to something even if the consequences were unpleasant. This situation seemed to match those prior contexts, so she admitted to something she hadn't done.) She then waited for praise for having done the right thing.

Instead, the women grew angrier and began to demand that she produce the toy. The girl's mother began to swat her and it hurt so much to be hit like that. The little girl began to try to guess where the toy might be, and wandered aimlessly around the field, saying, "Maybe I put it here. Maybe over here." In the meantime her mother followed swatting her and she tried to stay ahead of her mother's reach, and tried to protect her bottom with her hands. It grew dark.

Then the girl was home. Apparently the adults had given up for the night. The mother kept demanding to know where the toy was. At one point she threatened to call the police to take her to jail, and even took the phone off the hook as if to dial.

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There are several points of Truth in the story. One was the child's inability to understand what the parents had been asking her for in the first place. Another basic Truth was that she had not stolen the toy, though she'd held it briefly and couldn't remember anything else. She turned from the Truth when she admitted to having taken the toy, because it seemed the field was tipped strongly toward her doing so. The next Truth was that her mother, whose job it was to protect her and advocate for her instead was joining the accusing voice and indeed hitting her as if she deserved punishment. On some level the child realized that she could not count on her mother to protect her. She could not count on the one upon who she depended for life itself. And, the Truth was that her mother was trying to torture the 'truth' out of her by frightening, threatening, and hitting her; and therefore was punishing her for something before knowing the facts, and was punishing her for something she hadn't done.

So was this truth too painful to comprehend or acknowledge? To protect herself from the truth that she could not rely on her mother she had to turn from the Truth and live in a world of doubt, where it was *plausible* that she had done it: maybe she had taken the toy and just didn't remember. The two women seemed so positive she'd done it. She was given a choice, to turn from the Truth to placate this Adult on whose good will her life depended, or to stay with her own Truth which felt so very harsh. Living with that Truth and the feelings it would engender was so painful she chose instead to turn from It; however to completely embrace the lie was also intolerable. She chose a middle ground--living in the realm where it was *possible* she'd done it.

In some ways it's too easy to view this episode as a 'root cause' in the formation of one's personality and foundation of Being. It seems easy to scorn the notion of a child bumbling along in her child-paradise and BOOM--an incident like this changes the course she's on forever. It does seem plausible though to consider that this was one event that stands out of a climate from which events like that can happen. (A climate that believes that a mother's self-worth is dependent on the behavior of her child, or where an accusation is equivalent to guilt and punishable, where it is assumed that a child's conception of reality is equivalent to an adult's, a climate that says another's point of view--"your child stole my child's toy"-- takes precedence over one's protective impulse toward her own child, a climate that believes that children aren't entitled to the same respect that would be accorded to an adult, a climate that believes that violence can result in solutions.)

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An interesting analogy. Years ago my father and I were watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation". In this episode Captain Jean-luc Picard was being tortured. It went this way: he was asked how many fingers the interrogator was holding up. When he said the truth he was punished and it was demanded that he say a different number. And he refused and was punished again.

My father was very interested in this episode and we talked some during commercials and afterward. He said that as part of his training for combat the possibility of capture and torture was covered. He said that many would think it intuitively obvious that the tortured should lie, lie right away and say whatever it was the torturer wanted to hear. There was a reason against this that was counter-intuitive. I can't even remember it now, but it was compelling. I'm going to e-mail him and ask, to see if he remembers that conversation and what the reason was to endure torture instead of giving the tormenter what he wants to hear.

It would appear that as a child I 'broke' pretty quickly and started telling the adults what they wanted to hear in order to stop or prevent physical violence. And the consequence of that is that I've lived in the half-world where I *might* be wrong and at fault, but it wasn't certain. And the consequences of THAT are demonstrated throughout my earlier diaries. I have an idea about posting them: demonstration of the consequences of turning away from the Truth. A demonstration on what a decision to turn away from one's True Self means to the most intimate moments of one's life.

I guess this is enough for now.

3 comments:

Lori said...

I am so glad I was admitted! Your entire blog is a godsend, especially at this time.

I had a hard time getting through this post because I saw it from two perspectives. When I read as the little girl, I felt the emotions you describe.

But the part that got me was the idea that I could also be the Mother.

In between interruptions, I will read through previous posts.

Excellent blog :-)

Lori said...

I forgot to say that I, too, am interested in what your dad has to say about torture.

excavator said...

Thank you, Lori.

I felt a mixture of joy and relief when I read your comment.

Funny you should mention that about the Mother. Earlier today I was thinking that maybe it would be useful to view the scene again through the eyes of a young mother--she was probably only 25, 26-or-so when that happened. I'm curious about what happened just before they encountered me at the park, and curious about her experience in the aftermath--the next day the neighbor woman came over to tell us that while in the process of putting her daughter to bed--well, "There it was!" Dad was overseas at the time; she must have had no one to talk about that with. I would have been devastated to think back over my treatment of my kid the night before and realize it had been for nothing...

A few years ago when I remembered that incident to my mother, it was as if she had always waited for it to come up, and maybe had dreaded it.

When Scott was accused of something 6 months ago I was reminded of my childhood experience. When I told my mother about Scott she immediately remembered what had happened between her and I so long ago.

When I hear back from my dad I'll let you know.