From a systemic perspective, guilt and innocence take on meanings that differ from what most people learn as children from parents, teachers, or the church—that guilt and innocence are synonymous with good and evil, or at least bad or good. However, many of history’s worst atrocities were committed by individuals or countries with a clear conscience. Guilt is the result when a behavior threatens the survival of the tribe, or the family.
Feelings of guilt and innocence are the basis of conscience, and are often represented as the moral principles of good and evil. Contrary to earlier lessons from church and family, these morals are not necessarily a component of conscience. Conscience serves to satisfy three basic needs—the need to belong, the need for equilibrium, balancing give and take, and the need for order, safety and predictability. The most successful relationships adhere to these basic principles or drives. When an individual does not honor these drives, guilt is the result, so the conscience struggles with the need for safety and belonging, against the desire to satisfy personal wants or desires.
Conscience creates bonds with the people or the community the individual needs for survival. However, different groups have different criteria that define the norms of the community—therefore, different criteria is required to define guilt and innocence—and ultimately, conscience. When an individual wants to belong to more than one group at a time, confusion of conscience is the result.
Different groups have different criteria that define the norms of the group and what it takes to belong, resulting in different consciences for every group. The conscience that allows an individual to remain connected to his or her parents may not be conducive to survival in the larger community of school or business, so the conscience must accommodate vastly different criteria. What promotes feelings of innocence in one group brings feelings of guilt in another.
Young people experience struggles with conscience when their desire or need to belong to a group or community is at odds with their need to remain connected to parents. This is especially true if the individual is weak or dependent. If so, he or she must remain obedient and loyal to the group that is necessary for that individual’s survival. This is the existential position of all children, and those in the lower ranks of the military, as well as in business and industry.
When conscience acts in the service of belonging to one group, it often excludes the individual from another group. Those who are perceived as different are excluded because it is believed they are a threat to the overall survival of the entire group. Conscience is therefore, not about good or evil—and war and terrorism demonstrate this in the extreme.
The ongoing Facilitator Training Group meets Saturdays 3:00–5:00 p.m. at Liz’s Office, through 3/19/14. A new series begins in early May. For information about facilitator training or constellations workshops in Ann Arbor and Detroit, please contact Liz Jelinek, PhD© at 734-646-4886 or firstname.lastname@example.org, www.lizjelinek.com.
Liz Jelinek, PhD© | Founder & Director
The MIDWEST INSTITUTE FOR SYSTEMIC CONSTELLATIONS was founded by Liz Jelinek as a Training Institute for Constellations Facilitators & to bring this amazing process to everyone!