When I was a Boy Scout, at one point I was an assistant Den leader for a group of younger Cub Scouts. I don’t recall many details of how or when I started working with the Cubs or what we did, but I do recall very clearly one horrendous incident which, in retrospect, I realize probably led directly to my being quietly and gracefully dropped from the Den.
There was a festival or celebration coming up and each den had to put on a skit, song, or presentation before the entire Pack and their families at the upcoming monthly Pack meeting. The meeting would be held in the elementary school auditorium and each Den had to perform on stage.
In the weeks running up to the big celebration, my Den were struggling with what they could do so I suggested a variation on a gag that I had once seen in an old movie. The boys would start onstage, pulling a rope that led offstage right, obviously in a game of tug-of-war. They would struggle and strain but gradually win as they inched offstage left, leaving only the rope visible as it stretched from wing to wing. Then the same group of boys would struggle from offstage right as they were pulled across the stage (by themselves (presumably offstage left) and off into the wings.
There were no lines to memorize and the sight gag of the Den struggling with themselves in a tug-of-war was clever and sure to elicit a good response. However, we did not plan well and we failed to even rehearse. On the evening of the performance, we tried it for the first time in front of the whole Pack and everyone’s family. In our confidence from the apparent simplicity of gag, we overlooked having someone standing in the wings offstage left to hold the rope while the boys scrambled behind the backdrop to stage right.
However, that wasn’t the critical failure. As soon as the curtain rose and the boys started to tug (with me offstage, holding the other end of the rope), I snapped into a kind of automatic pattern and forgot all about the skit. Perhaps it was the lack of rehearsal, perhaps it was the nervous energy combined with the feel of the rope in my hands and the tug-of-war scenario, but I lost all context and started to pull against the boys in earnest. I even asked a friend who happened to be backstage with me to help!
I remember a few laughs from the audience as we pulled the confused and angry Cubs off stage. I beamed in pleasure over “winning” the game. I didn’t realize how seriously I had misfired until I saw the scowls and heard the angry comments from the Cubs. They had very reasonably surmised that I had perfidiously tricked them. To all appearances I had deliberately made them look like fools to get a few laughs from their families.
As shocked realization rushed into my awareness, I was at a loss to comprehend or convey my bewilderment or ruefulness for what I had done. In the emotional swirl, even my apology, which was the one thing that I was clear about, was lost. I could utter nothing, which naturally did nothing to propitiate bruised Cub Scout egos.
What can be done to heal injury like this that results from actions by another or that someone else suffers because of your actions? Apologies and philosophies like “forgive and forget” seem empty and fruitless, even disingenuous. Indeed, popular “wisdom” views such things as admissions of weakness and recommends against them altogether with aphorisms such as “Never let’em see you sweat.”
But this attitude seems harsh to everyone, including yourself. It certainly has no room for any kind of healing or growth other than the “school of hard knocks” variety, which tends to lead to a hardened, cynical attitude that only promotes further immersion into the ego-drama of a hostile world characterized by a dynamic of “injure and be injured.” Might there be a way to deal with such transgressions in a more open and honest way? Is it possible to heal such injuries so that they don’t fester with guilt, remorse, anger, or worse? What alternative is there to repression or actively ignoring a transgression, especially if it was unintended and/or something that happened many years ago?
There is a prescription for healing the wounds caused by such transgressions, whether they were deliberate or not. It can be initiated as either the wounded party or as the transgressor. It can even be performed if the other party is unavailable due to distance, time, or death.
© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.
”Restitution and Responsibility – I” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.