This quotation remains profoundly timely and relevant.
Although the writer has an issue with the language of sin and guilt, she nonetheless resonates with the Victor Hugo quotation:-
‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’
There’s a theological definition of ‘sin’ as ‘cut off from God’, or we might see it in terms of being cut off from the divinity or light of our own being, or from our higher selves or, in person-centred language, from organismic experiencing. The ‘soul…left in the darkness’ of a self concept informed by strong conditions of worth.
It seems to us there is a central question here about the apportioning of responsibility:-
‘The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison.’
At many fractals in our cultures, we fall repeatedly into the trap of apportioning responsibility to those who commit ‘derivative crimes’ – without pausing to inquire at any depth into underlying realities about causation. This manifests and perpetuates oppression and injustice.
From a person-centered perspective, personally or relationally destructive behaviour arises from trauma – psychological wounding of one kind or another. So the models of crime and punishment, fault and blame, are fundamentally flawed. It is not possible to punish a wound into healing, or a soul into change and growth – the effect is the opposite. Blaming and punishing may satisfy a personal or cultural need for revenge, a blood lust, but in reality this serves none of us. It is in the presence of the core conditions (empathy, realness, loving relational presence) that healing and growth become possible at a personal level, and conceptually it is not difficult to extrapolate this in terms of social justice – slums and race-based privilege do not feature.
From this perspective, all crimes are ‘derivative crimes’. We hurt others because, then or now, others hurt us. The same phenomenon, whether at a personal level (as explored in the therapy room) or at a societal level (as explored in this quotation).
Thank you to Brent Dean Robbins and the Society for Humanistic Psychology, Division 32 on Facebook.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter