Continuing my story…
In short, I could only step outside this cycle of harm-caused and scapegoating once I saw myself as a person who was thoroughly to blame for the cycle. This does not mean I was the only person to blame. It simply means that my part played a significant role in the community’s problems. It’s impossible for us to truly measure which person caused the most harm, or whose role was the most significant in causing a community’s problems so we need not try. Instead, each of us needs to see ourselves as a major player without trying to do all the math.
How did I grow to see myself as a wrongdoer and not simply a victim? It was a series of things. It was my conversations with the friend who we had scapegoated previously. That was a deeply moving experience for me as I was learning what it meant to feel what he felt. I didn’t have to imagine walking a mile in his shoes, I was doing it. I couldn’t conceive of the pain of being banished from community until I had been banished from one. Only then did I realize what a terrible thing it is to force someone else to be an outsider.
The other piece of the puzzle is something far more difficult to explain. I spent many nights alone. In that time, I couldn’t help but reflect on where my life had been and where it was going. I had never before realized the extent to which I was capable of destroying others’ lives in addition to my own. This meant I was incredibly fearful about where I was headed from this point forward. Was this just a horrible moment in my life or would it be the status quo?
I was in some kind of Old Testament class at the time and was working on some reading assignment or other. I can’t remember what passage I was reading, something biblical of course, and I felt the profoundest sense of conviction I’ve ever experienced. I felt a tremendous grief. I knew at that moment that I was not innocent and that God’s spirit awakened me to the reality of who I was. Ironically, I did not feel shame. I grieved because I realized for the first time that I was not “good”, but I wasn’t ashamed of this realization. I saw myself accurately for the first time and, somehow, in that moment, realized that I didn’t need to escape this reality I simply needed to acknowledge it and live differently because of it.