June 02, 2008

A Goodly Inheritance

The reckoning comes when you confront the whole picture of what your parents gave you, the good and the bad. Because, although we should—and many profess to—love our parents, part of love is recognizing your loved one's faults and what those have done—and continue to do—to your unconscious.

For illustration, I won't air dirty laundry here. (Not fair.) Instead, I'll examine a high-profile airing with which we are all familiar.

Mel Gibson's father gifted him with an education in a very serious variant of the Catholic faith. So serious, in fact, that the Vatican doesn't accept it. Some call it misguided, but my point is, it's not a light church in the feel-good-about-yourself strain that keeps so many Christians from getting as close to God as they need to be. Perhaps "uncompromising" is a better term.

That faith laid out a path which Gibson fils followed directly to his life's achievement, The Passion of the Christ. That film will live long after him.

Unfortunately, so will his subsequent drunk-driving arrest.

When the devil starts to lose, he retreats just long enough to change weapons

While in custody, Gibson was quoted railing against Jews he said were out to get him. That outburst echoes Gibson's father, whose anti-Semitic comments are on the record without apology.

This illustrates perhaps the most insidious form of damage a parent can pass along to his child: poisoning his lizard brain.

I don't believe that Gibson was in his right mind that night. Alcohol had turned off his conscience, and with it much of his life's willful learning. What remained active was his childhood programming, the information and attitudes which enter the memory before discernment can parse right from wrong.

In his home, where the sunlight of public view can neither inhibit nor disinfect, his father undoubtedly spoke even more freely against Jews. Mel got a full and regular dose of this, beginning even before he was able to speak.

The crutch of hatred tempts all of us: Blaming others explains so much about the frustrations of the world, especially with regard to those wealthier or more influential than we. Listen closely to the next angry speaker you hear. Odds are, he's talking about people and things beyond his control. That's the bane of personal success, the tendency to focus on what's "out there," rather than what's "in here," in one's own mind, body, soul.

(This may have much to do with why Gibson the elder's religion is not approved by the Roman Catholic church. Orthodox Christianity recognizes the monster within each of us and instructs us to mitigate it every day.)

Perhaps Mel got that part of the Catholic faith correct, and learned, at a certain age, to cut the monster down each time it reared its head. In his career, he would have to: The movie business wouldn't tolerate an anti-Semitic employee.

But, thanks to his father, that particular brand of suspicion and loathing was part of him, and always would be. One thing the devil never does is give up. He's on a battlefield, and when he starts to lose, he retreats just long enough to change weapons.

so, on the fateful night in question, his brain swimming in cocktails, Gibson simply couldn't activate his conscience. (Conscience requires consciousness, which alcohol reduces one step at a time.) His lizard brain took over, programmed from infancy to fight or flight. In this case, he chose to fight, using the words planted in him by his father, whose failure to recognize his own sins would find fertile ground in the vulnerable mind of his son.

That's why I accept Gibson's apology and forgive him his conduct. I've also been slobbering drunk and had my actions recounted to me later, and I recognized the stranger in those stories. It is unfair to take a snapshot of someone in that state and hold it up as his curriculum vitae.

Gibson isn't responsible for his father's programming. But he knows it's in there, and he also should know his limit and stick to it, to keep the monster in check.

Shakespeare wrote, "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones."

Good only occurs when we take the lead in managing ourselves. Depending on our inheritance, that job may be difficult or easy.

Posted by: Michael Rittenhouse at 05:57 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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