Innocence & Pseudoinnocence

Organizations are filled with people who kill the spirits of others. I can tell story after story of abuse and injustice done to others in organization after organization by people with power — and so can you. But we don’t talk about cruelty and unfairness as we should. Instead many of us collude with such behavior.

Many of us consider ourselves to be part of a movement of increased consciousness that we hope will evolve the world to be a better place for all. Yet so many of us also deny the existence of maliciousness in ourselves, in our families, in our organizations, and in the movement we consider ourselves part of. We make excuses for those who choose evil acts to express their fear and impotence. Understanding another’s pain and motives does not excuse the acts they choose to express themselves — nor does compassion excuse accountability.

Rollo May defined a “pseudoinnocent” as someone who is naïve, who has blinders on, and who does not see real dangers. Pseudoinnocents cling to childhood assumptions about the nature of the world. We do not see real dangers. When faced with tough issues, we cower into our innocence and make weakness, helplessness, and powerlessness virtues. Our empathy and understanding are misplaced. We do not want to acknowledge power or aggression or use our own innate power and aggression. We don’t want to be angry, and we want anger to go away as a human drive. We close our eyes to reality to make anger go away. Things then seem simple and easy for us. With this innocence, we can deny the destructiveness to our self or others. Evil denies spirit and kills aliveness; pseudoinnocence denies evil and colludes with wickedness.

Many in today’s movements to transform the world are denigrated as “new agers” in part, I believe, because of this pseudoinnocence. Many seem to believe that if only they could get those invested in the status quo to understand their vision that they would change, and then we would move to a world of peace and tranquility.

To the extent that we espouse utopian visions and do not see what is real and do not take responsibility for confronting injustice, we are not transforming anything. Instead we are avoiding the forces that will make the dreamed-of transformation just another failed change effort. Such pseudoinnocence is irresponsible, colludes with abuse, and, ultimately, brings forth destructiveness in ourselves as we become immune to the suffering of others and lose our empathy and compassion. Such pseudoinnocence is not growth — it is regression.

Health requires that we see reality as it is. Villains and injustice exist. We are surrounded by them in, perhaps, more insidious ways than ever before. Much savagery has become institutionalized and accepted as normal.

If we harm the spirits of others to preserve our own shadow sides, we behave in sinister ways. If we do not bear witness when injustice occurs in front of us, we collude with abuse. If we ignore what is real to sell books, gain consulting contracts, and be seen as a prophet, we are not what we purport ourselves to be. To deny our personal power is to collude with the injustice around us. If we do not use our power for good, we create a vacuum that will be filled by those who use their power to harm others. On the other hand, if we see shadow side behavior for what it is, we may be compelled to do something about immorality. Villains and injustice will not go away because we wish it so.

We need to see life as it is and make wise moral judgments. It is wrong not to. We begin with ourselves and clean up our own inner mess. We accept our own aggression and, instead of pushing it away as something bad, use our energy to claim our own power necessary for life and growth. We use our power to carry out the moral judgments that support and sustain life and spirit — that lead us and others to freedom. Consciousness cannot rest passively. Consciousness must be asserted.

Our experience of the good and the bad of life temper us, deepen our awareness, purge us of our mindlessness, and sharpen our sight. We identify with the suffering and the joy of life. We dream noble visions for the future and remain aware of the lessons of history. We open our sensibilities to all of life, stay the course, and fight powerfully for life itself. As Rollo May wrote we are harmless as doves and wise as serpents. This is spiritual growth.

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