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During a recent stint of substitute teaching, I was struck in a brand new way with a certain behavioral phenomenon which was endlessly repeated in the classroom. I would set some specific guidelines of acceptable behavior, and make sure that everyone understood exactly what was expected from them and for how long this behavior would be expected to last. For example, I would ask the children to remain seated during the reading lesson. Invariably, a child would hop up out of the seat as the class material was being explained. I would turn to the child and ask him to sit down. Without exception, the child would explain that he was not at fault. The child sitting behind him (or ahead, or to the right), was responsible for the infraction, having broken the lead of the offending child's pencil, which necessitated an immediate trip to the pencil sharpener. The situations varied, but never did the scapegoating vary.
At first, I thought that the behavior was due to the age of the children in the classroom, but I covered the gamut of the ages in that school, and that particular behavior was across the board. Of course, every child knows that a substitute is easy prey in the classroom, and some of the behavior was surely a direct result of my being in that unfortunate position. However, the consistency amazed me.
Whatever happened to the concept that we are responsible for our own behavior? When I was in school, I was held responsible for my own actions, and, horror of horrors, we were even held accountable for each other's wrong actions. If one child misbehaved, every child in the class had to stay after school! I always felt that was very unjust; nevertheless, you could rest assured it would happen.
Blaming your behavior on someone else was an exercise in futility. Immediately you were asked, "Well, if Bobby jumped off a bridge, would you?" Which ended that discussion.
Suddenly, I was struck with the realization that such behavior was as old as human beings. It must have been one of the first behaviors to be recognized as universal. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Isn't that exactly what was going on there? Yahweh comes into the garden to walk and talk with them, and finds them hiding. Of course, He knew exactly where they were. How can you hide from Yahweh? The great I AM?
He immediately says, in effect, "Why are you hiding? And what have you done to learn that you were naked? Did you eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge?"
Adam says, "Well, the woman made me do it!"
And Eve asserts, "Well, the serpent made me do it!"
Original sin was immediately followed by another sin - to refuse to face the fact that we are responsible for our own behavior. Are we born with this desire to blame our behaviors on someone else or some outside circumstance? It was at this point that Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden.
This brought me to think of David. God called David "a man after [His] own heart." After David gave in to the temptation to have Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan came to him and told David a parable about a man who stole a precious little lamb from a poor man. David, of course, did not relate this parable to himself. (Have you ever noticed how we can read Scripture faithfully, but always apply what we have read to someone else? This effectively prevents us from having to look at ourselves and recognize that we need to change.) David immediately becomes angry at what this "other" man did, and says to Nathan that the man deserves to die, and must make fourfold restitution!
Nathan said, in effect, "The man is YOU!"
David's response? "I have sinned against God!" He didn't blame his behavior on Bathsheba, on the flesh, nor on the devil. He stood up and admitted that he alone had sinned against God. He had made a decision and acted upon it, and he accepted total responsibility for it!
Many people believe that the Book of Genesis is a myth, and that it gives the mythical beginnings of a people and their relationship with God. Many others believe that it is an accounting of actual occurrences. I would hesitate to join that debate, because I don't think it really matters - it just divides people who are supposed to be loving children of the Father, and is another path of subtle, or not so subtle, one-upmanship. (I believe the right way, and you believe the wrong way!) And I am not sure that it really matters. What seems to me to be important is that a millennia ago and longer, people recognized that what separates us from God is our unwillingness to stand honestly before Him and admit our wrong actions. It is also responsible for separating us from one another.
Looking at Genesis either historically or mythically, I wonder, "What would have happened if Adam and Eve had each said, "Father, I have sinned against you. Please forgive me and make me and mold me into who and what You want me to be?" Would all of mankind's future have been different? What if we now began to look inside, and say, "Father, we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Forgive us and lead us in Your paths that we may know Your ways"? Would there be a transformation on the face of this earth? Would we all become "persons after God's own heart"?
Or perhaps this is the journey of "everyman" - as we grow and change, perhaps a part of the maturation process is beginning to recognize our decision-making and accept responsibility for how we have decided to act. We stop blaming it on the way we were raised, or on the lack of love in our lives, or on our fear of death, or on our fears of inadequacies, and all the myriad other causative factors we can find.
I am not denying that many negative influences have come to bear on every person. As Saint Philo said, "Be very gentle with all you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle." Negative influences need to be recognized. It is our very denial of life's painful experiences that allows them power over us. When we repress or deny our inner experiences, they will control our behaviors. The only way to eliminate their control is to allow the Lord to reveal to us what we have repressed and denied, and walk us through those experiences, touching them and redeeming them. He will gladly do it, for isn't He the God who heals the brokenhearted?
I shared all these thoughts with the children one day. Months and months later, I saw one of the children at a restaurant with his parents. He looked at me and said, "Ms. Anderson, I still remember the story you told us about Adam and David."
I don't know if any of the subjects on which I tried to teach were remembered - reading or writing or math or science. But it could be that a seed of accepting responsibility for the children's own actions was planted, and that may last through a lifetime. I know it will for me.
by Joan S. Anderson
E-mail comments to the author at: JAnd7367@aol.com