Leaving innocence: the child's dilemma

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

—Rumi

 

Reading between the lines in the Bible...

We are told that the reason for Eve's (and humanity's) fall from grace and innocence and her entry into the House of Good and Bad was her curiosity and her interest in understanding more ("opening your eyes," as the serpent promised).

It doesn't happen that way. Every child, often from an early age, begins to learn about the world of good and bad and how it can make them feel safer and help them feel more "hope" and predictability.

The world of innocence

In the world of innocence, the child is frightened sometimes, but they never resist their fear. In this world, the child feels and expresses anger sometimes, but it is never mixed or collapsed with blame. They haven't learned blame yet.

This child, from time to time, feels fear. It flows through him or her, they take whatever action, and then it's gone. They feel anger and it's expressed and then it's gone. The rest of the time the child lives in happiness, adventure, play, anticipation, curiosity, with an unbounded sense of their future. This is their world of innocence.

Why would the child give that up? How could the child be seduced into the House of Good and Bad?

Early observations

First off, this innocent child has made some important observations. He or she notices how older children and adults have so much power in comparison with themselves. They are like gods. And, at times, the child feels at the mercies and whims of these gods. 

This child observes the expressions of fear in these gods. Yes, maybe they have some fear, but it seems to be much more under control, perhaps because they know to fight with their fear and overcome it, because they are so powerful.

 

Yes, the gods get angry, but their anger has a different flavor to it (the flavor of righteousness). This type of anger seems more powerful and ruthless than their own anger.

It's a three-way dilemma (if you thought of it as something that could be consciously considered by the child)

In their attempts to negotiate the world of other people (and most especially their parents), sometimes the child feels at a loss as to what to do. They often feel a lot of fear, pain, and unpredictability in trying to get what they want and avoid what they don't want.

Two paths out of the dilemma mean they will leave the world of innocence and step into the House of Good and Bad, whether quickly or more gradually.

1) To blame themselves, to feel guilty (thereby entering the House of Good and Bad)

This gives them some possible hope for the future. If they can "fix themselves," if they can "be good enough or smart enough," then they will be able to get what they want and their parents (or others) will stop being upset with them and will think that they are great. They think that someday they will be "good enough," never suspecting that once they enter the House of Good and Bad (where they believe themselves to be the bad one), it is a hope that will never be fulfilled. The more they try to prove or show that they are good enough, the more it reinforces that belief, no matter what external evidence they get to the contrary.

Another benefit they discover is, if they blame themselves, then others are likely to go easier on them because they already feel bad about that they did or didn't do. This makes them feel more in control. They beat others to the punch, most often their parents or caretakers ("look, I'm already feeling bad, go easy on me"). In essence they discover that by feeling guilty, they don't feel so frightened and out of control.

2) to blame others, to make their parents or others the "bad guys" (thereby entering the House of Good and Bad)

This option is not usually chosen at a younger age, although sometimes it is. If the child discovers that his or her caretakers can be frightened, threatened and/or blamed into doing that the child wants, the child gets a lot of evidence quickly. All they have to do is blame, sulk, withdraw, dig in their heels, hit, or threaten...you name it. If they do it long and consistent enough, they feel powerful by either getting what they want or at least by causing suffering and fear. They are the good guy and others are the bad guys. What a power trip that is!

Blaming others may not be the primary strategy for feeling safer and in control at a younger age (it's pretty scary to blame those gods, often better to blame yourself). But as the child matures and is influenced by others outside of their immediate caretakers and the gods don't seem as powerful as before, they may begin to cash-in on blaming others, especially their early caretakers. I've heard of many counselors who comforted their clients by encouraging them to blame their mother or father, rather than continuing to think that they were at fault in the things that were "done to them" when they were a child. Given that the counselor is also living inside the House of Good and Bad, it's the best advice they know how to give. Better to blame others than yourself. 

Of course, very few of us only blame ourselves, thinking all others are completely innocent. Nor vice versa. Some of us cash in more on the self-blame approach in order to have an added sense of being in control (these will often be seen as more "accommodating"). Others, to feel more in control and more powerful, will become more adept at believing the fault is with the other guy (these will often be seen as more "assertive"). There is nothing like feeling righteous about someone else to give one a sense of power (no matter how illusory it may be). It's an addiction with a lot of payoff.

3) everybody's doing their best, including me (and thereby NOT entering into the House of Good and Bad)

This option for trying to negotiate the circumstances of childhood and later years gives the least sense of hope, power, and control. The child (or adult) can feel powerless in many circumstances. "Everybody's already doing their best, given what they know and believe. Life's just messy. Maybe I got dealt some caretakers who haven't got a clue. Their being upset with me is the best they that can figure out what to do. When they get upset with me or criticize me or even beat me, it means nothing about me. I'm great. Always have been and always will be. Maybe I will be happy and able to change my behavior so they are less likely to be upset with me (and maybe even praise me). And maybe I won't. Maybe I can figure out some ways to get more of what I want and to avoid what I don't want. Maybe it will work. Maybe not."

It's no wonder a child doesn't "choose" this world perspective, even though it fits reality and is much more empowering, especially in the long run.

Are you interested in discovering how to leave the House of Good and Bad?

Start with Undoing Shoulds: Before Adam, Eve, and the Apple

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COPYRIGHT 2018-2021 BY DWIGHT GOLDWINDE