A long time ago, in the dark days of middle school, someone called me innocent. She meant that I had never touched alcohol, had sex, or done anything remotely rebellious. Which was… really really true. Still, it struck me as kind of the wrong word to use. Call me geeky, call me socially awkward, call me a huge fucking nerd! These are all true. But innocent? Of what?
I haven’t subscribed to any doctrinal belief in years, but I do have a kind of concept of sin, or “badness”. I don’t really believe that alcohol and sex = INHERENT BADNESS. Sex is natural and good for you, as long as it is safe and consensual, after all. And alcohol is an enjoyable recreational drink for many people.* I have a much vaguer morality, a kind of rule of thumb that I do my best to uphold. Here it is:
It’s our duty, as human beings, to not hurt each other or ourselves.
It’s kind of minimalist morality, but there you go. I’m a modern gal. And obviously there are a zillion occasions where it’s impossible to uphold, of course there are conditions every day where we cause each other pain with offhand comments, or are forced to do something painful for a greater good. As we go through the world, we hurt each other. We also inspire and heal and love each other, but we also cause each other great amounts of pain.
Innocence, to me, doesn’t mean that you’ve never had sexy thoughts or drank a Pabst at a college party. What is means to me is that you are free of the knowledge that your existence has caused someone pain. Or maybe you are free of intention to hurt anyone. All I know is that nothing makes me feel more ugly, less innocent, than the knowledge I have hurt someone.
This is why innocence belongs to children. We can’t retain this because the world, for all its beauty, is also a place where you will be hurt, painfully and sometimes permanently. Although seeing ugliness in other people is awful and hurtful, I kind of think that it’s harder to deal with ugliness you don’t want to recognize in yourself. We all start out believing we are the good guy, after all. Very few of us like to believe they are the antagonist in someone else’s story. Let me make an example here:
Best friends, who know all each other’s weaknesses and insecurities, get into an argument. In the moment, one of them tells the other one that she [fat, a slut, or anything other wounding word]. Not only does this hurt the person that was insulted, but unless her friend is utterly remorseless, she now has to live with the fact that she hurt someone she loves.
Do you see what I mean? As I grow up, I’m finding ways to get along with people better, to mend problems with people, but I still don’t know how to live with the guilt of my selfish actions. For those of us who do not have a confession booth to go to, how do we live with ourselves?
*Although I don’t deny they can be problems that get out control for some