Saturday, February 20, 2010

Becoming moral

I have already waxed poetic about Radiolab. Because they do not make enough new podcasts for all my commutin', I have been listening to oooold episodes. Today on my run (3 miles! woo!) I listened to this one about morality. One of the stories is about a woman who has been haunted by the way she behaved while playing a frontier simulation game back in 4th grade. She talks to various people and finds out that a lot of people have a memory like this. The first time you remember being really embarrassed by your behavior, a time when you did not do what was right that you can't forget and you keep coming back to it.

Some suggest that these times are so memorable, in that they help us remain moral being later on. Once you experience the terrible shame of knowing you did something wrong, you want to avoid that as much as possible. Sometimes these episodes might really impact who you are years later, as you swear to never repeat it.

Anyway, I was struck by this idea and could immediately think of two times when I was about 10 when I behaved in a way that, to this day, I am still really not proud of. Even though I know I was really young and I probably wouldn't blame an actual 10 year old for behaving this way, I am ashamed of what I did at the time.

1) When I was 10 my family moved across the country to a new state. I started a new school in 5th grade. A lot of the other kids had grown up together, and it was the first time I was the "new kid". I was really worried about fitting in. One girl was really nice and welcoming to me so I sat with her at lunch for a couple of days. Until somehow I got in with the more "popular" girls, and they told me if I ever wanted any friends not to hang out with this girl any more. So I didn't. I totally stopped and even joined in when others make fun of her. Today, that seems so unlike me that I am mortified that I ever did it. But maybe doing it, and feeling bad about it, is part of what makes that something I would not do today.

2) This one is not about interpersonal relationships, but about beliefs. It also happened around the same age. When we moved, I also moved from public school to Catholic school. I have mostly good things to say about Catholic education, and attribute a lot of my academic success to my time in Catholic school, but this was not one of its shining moments. I was in religion class and we were reading in the New Testament where Jesus is sending his disciples out into the world he tells them that they, the disciples, are worth more to him than sparrows (Matthew 10:31, if you are interested. I had to use a concordance to look this up. Lucky I have a husband who studies religion!). Anyway, somehow the class got into a discussion of how this meant God loved humans more than animals, and that lead to the fact that animals didn't have souls and would therefore just be dead when they were dead. I have always really loved animals, and at this time had both a dog and especially a cat (Tiger, may he rest in peace) that I totally loved so I just could not deal. Also, it seemed really mean of God to not make an animal heaven. I have never been shy about speaking in class so I asked something about this, or expressed my doubt that animals lacked souls, and the teacher was really not happy. Eventually, she made me stand up and repeat after her that "animals do not have souls." It was terrible and I was embarrassed I ended up giving in and saying something I really vehemently did not believe to avoid getting into trouble.

So those are my stories -- two instances when I was just figuring out how to behave, that have really stuck with me and taught me what it feels like to really know something is wrong and do it anyway. Do you have stories like this?

7 comments:

Doug said...

Thanks for turning me to Radiolab, but I am astounded by how SLOWLY the episodes download on iTunes. NPR Cartalk downloads in a minute or two, Radiolab takes hours for each one - WTF?

Laurie said...

That is weird. Radiolab downloads on iTunes for me at the same speed as all my other podcasts...

Glad you like it, though!

michellespidermonkey said...

#2 reminds me of the first time I decided that the CCD/church teachings were wrong. Around fifth grade, our CCD class had to do this stupid exercise where we identify what had a soul and what didn't--and it made me really mad because I hated that the teacher insisted that animals have no souls (and thus essentially are in the same category as trees and rocks as the activity went, as opposed to humans)

Corbett said...

I remember learning about evolution and wondering what implications it had for heaven. When was God's cut-off point? Homo erectus? Do Neanderthals go to heaven? Monkeys? Do slugs have souls? I guess that's one reason evolution has such frightening implications for some Christians. Luckily it won't matter for me: I won't be able to see the animals through all that fire and brimstone ;)

Sarah said...

I have a similar story from elementary/middle school time: my friends deciding that our former friend wouldn't be our friend anymore and me going along with it. I really sucked right then. I kind of agree that I have been pretty attuned to NOT doing that kind of thing since then -- so it may have been a good lesson but still sucky. Also, the same thing happened to me in high school with a couple friends and I guess I kind of figured it was my just deserts...I think it was a bit easier that way.

girl_in_greenwood said...

This is kind of dumb, but when I was in high school I was in the all-girl show choir. We went around and performed at elementary schools in the area, and in one of our songs, the choreography called for us to pick out a little boy and bring him up to dance. But one time I accidentally picked out a little GIRL who had a tomboyish haircut. I felt terrible about it, worried that I gave this little girl a complex, and I'm still embarrassed about it!

Breena said...

I do like Radiolab, even though I think they sometimes overdo it with the sound effects.

Your second example wasn't really your fault. I mean you were a kid and what were you suppose to do against a teacher?