Sunday, February 22, 2009

Crime and Punishment

Ever read the book Crime and Punishment? No? Ok, well in summary, it's about a man who commits a crime, murder, one that he thinks will benefit both himself and society. He is subsequently mentally tortured by what he has done. It's a Russian novel and is a pretty interesting read, particularly because it contains a universally moral truth. Humans often (not always) do things because they think that it will benefit themselves or others in the short or long term. We do it because it feels good or maybe it might help someone down the road. WE never really know that though. So we go primarily on intentions and give a marginal amount of thought to consequences. Hmmm. Much of same happens between a series of generations. It's a sociological type of crime and punishment, in terms of subsequent generations. Our parents, their government made decisions. Which wars to fight, which races and classes to oppress. Which laws to pass. What kind of legacy to leave. Some of this decisions were and continue to be beneficial, but a couple (well, more than a couple) have been missteps that have altered the course of their and our history.

The crime in all of this? Irresponsible decision making. Irresponsible in the sense that it lacks accountability to the generation that it affects. Moral depravity, high divorce rates, failed economic policy, the decline of family as an institution....the list goes on. These problems didn't just spring out of the ground one day. They are the crimes of a generation, the generational hurdles for which we suffer the punishment.The old saying goes, to whom much is given, much is required. What the heck have we been given but a slate of a problems to fix, problems that we will inevitably be blamed for years down the line?!?! So now we are all having round table discussions about how the generation called sex-driven, pot-smoking, morally amorphous will have to solve the world's biggest problems yet. Gee thanks.

I had dinner with my dad this week, an event necessary in fully reflecting on the state of the world, and he kinda brought me down. A little dad used to be a real idealist. A shoot for the moon and change the world kind of guy (you may know them as community organizers), but life somehow found him hiding in a cave of Hope and assaulted him, punished his idealism with a swift blow of reality. It wasn't just getting married, having kids, and running the rat race of life or any single traumatic event. It was the realization at 25 years old that he and his fellow organizers, in the ghettos of Houston were faced with the impossible odds (punishment) created by decisions (crimes) that were made long before their time. Now in his late 40's he is trying to recapture that same idealism. In this day and age, I fear that the same is being done to many folks of this generation. Not being far from 25, I see that possibility on the horizon. The possibility that I will wake up one morning believing that the odds are insurmountable. I know its seems almost blasphemous coming from an organizer like myself, but it's a possibility worth examining. As we stare down this path of forever, we are haunted (in some part) by everything we know about the world. The issues that we face, the hurdles that we know others have tried so hard to jump and even climb over. But will we have the courage to be different? Have different outcomes so that our kids do not suffer the punishment of our crime of failure?

Further, how soon is too soon to learn about crime and punishment (the sociological kind)? The action-consequence pattern of society. Surely not when we are faced with them head on. I tell the 3 and 4 year olds that I work with, the truth about anything that they can handle. Hey, they wanted and educator and got a social scientist.;-) I tell them at the truth that I've discovered, in hopes that I can put them on the path to finding their own, creating it even. That is what I owe to them, to their generation.

But how essential/necessary is truth when you are a dreamer?? Does truth and the abundance thereof punish our idealist spirit? Much like what happened to my father. Further, how hard is it to dream when you come to the realization that you are living in the aftermath of decisions made for you and that you are making decisions for another generation? For just as hope lives close by fear, so must the idealist spirit must take into account the trends and patterns of the world.

Where does it all end, or spiral out of control? I'd say that it all comes down to our ability to consider both forgiveness and redemption. I read an article by Desmond Tutu and its says this: "without forgiveness there is no future." Simple and true. Without forgiving those who have hurt us, those who have created the conditions of the world that we so readily inherit, we have no future. Whether it's your mother or George Bush, we must forgive. We then owe it to the next generation to give them a world where the truth does not overtake their desire or ability to remake it. Therein lies our redemptive power. More importantly we are to gift them a world better than we found it. The redemptive ability of our generation is vast and deep. Let's use it. Let's set a STANDard.

So, in summation of all of this deep thinking, I ask a simple question: what will you give to those who come after you?

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