Mea Culpa, Again

I’ve done it again.

I’ve done something “bad.”

And I didn’t even know it, at least not until more than year after the fact. And I certainly didn’t do it with any malicious intent. But in the world of ethics, maybe that doesn’t matter.

I’ve written before about doing bad things. I will own up to having committed immoral, unethical, and illegal acts in the past. I don’t think the current transgression qualifies, but perhaps my flawed, selfish nature precludes me from properly assessing the situation. All I know is, I don’t like this feeling of having done something wrong, even if I’m not sure I did.

I know Catholic guilt plays a part here. As does perhaps genetics and my early experiences with authority. I started thinking this morning about what it means to do bad things, when you consider yourself a basically good person. But can a “good” person do the wrongs I know I have done? Are we the sum of the bad things, doomed to be defined by the hurt we cause, or can we transcend that? Would all the decidedly good and moral people I call my friends choose to associate with me if I were truly a bad person? Do most people worry about these things as much as I do?

Then I think about my father. Loved by all his family and many whose path he crossed, he did not seemingly have a sinful bone in his body. But I know he did things some people would call questionable, from an ethical basis. And perhaps in his heart he knew some stretched the limits of allowable behavior. But no one who knew him would ever say he was a bad person. So maybe good people can still do “bad” things.

Whether it’s because of my Catholic upbringing or Buddhist leaning or just a sense of the Golden Rule, which is cherished across most cultures, I want to be a good person and not harm others in any way. Or perhaps more accurately, I want others to perceive me as a good person, while I secretly conduct my self-serving thuggery. No, no, I’m joking. Mostly.

I do want to do what’s right. But I am human, at times pathetically and humorously so. I am not highly developed, like the few saints and martyrs among us. I make mistakes. I try to recognize them and atone for them. I try to apologize when I’ve sinned to the one sinned against, if not to a higher power. And not one of those celebrity/politician bullshit apologies: “I’m sorry if my lying/cheating/beating you upside the head offended you or hurt you.” No, an apology means saying, “I know I hurt you, I did something wrong, and I’m sorry.”

Like the apology I plan to deliver tonight, though the person receiving it doesn’t know it’s coming. I will be seeing someone for the first time in more than ten years. I know I hurt her and made her life miserable in the past. Maybe it’s a little late, hmm, this planned apology? Or maybe better late than never. Maybe she thinks it’s no longer necessary. Maybe she’ll be glad. Maybe I only plan to do it to make myself feel better; is that what all apologies do? Assuming you actually feel some remorse and want to clear the air. Otherwise it’s just words.

Implicit, I guess, in any apology, even the fake ones, is a craving for forgiveness. Absolution so I can go forth with a clear conscience, and hopefully sin no more. Maybe that expectation again has Catholic roots – confess your sins, do your penance, and everything’s square between you and the Big Guy. Only I doubt the person I’m seeing tonight will make me do penance. I don’t think anyone who has forgiven me for something has, or I anyone I have forgiven. How does that stuff work when God is not involved?

As I write, I feel the nuances of all this are beyond me, someone obviously not well versed in ethics from either an intellectual or practical vantage point. But a quick Google led me to the International Forgiveness Institute (no shit, follow the link) and a brief understanding that forgiveness is healthy for both parties involved in a dispute. “As we give the gift of forgiveness we ourselves are healed.” But I  know it’s a gift not everyone can easily give, myself included. I’m gonna try anyway. And then I’m gonna work harder on not doing bad things in the first place.

But I wouldn’t put too much money on it.


~ by mburgan on September 23, 2009.

3 Responses to “Mea Culpa, Again”

  1. Good Luck.

  2. Did you feel forgiven?

  3. I did, yes. Thanks for asking.

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