As it’s been asked by a friend of mine, I should explain why someone might think I’m in an unsavory, or grinchy mood. And here’s one of the reasons – the supposition of the necessity of a humbling experience in order to gain something further down the line, also known as redemptive humility. I….HATE….REDEMPTIVE…HUMILITY. I HATE REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING. I HATE THE CONCEPT OF THE BREAKDOWN TO BUILD UP PATH FOR PEOPLE. And now a brief interlude to explain why.
Morehouse College. Great school. I loved my time there. Fun. Fraternities are on the campus, Ques, Sigmas, Kappas came back my senior year, Iotas, and Alphas. My freshman year I was staunchly anti-black frats and sororities. I felt their existence was moot and was nothing more than enhanced social groupings of mostly well to-do black people that rivaled gangs. As my cousin once told me, it’s similar to a gang initiation. There’s the jumping in, the humiliation, the idea that this is your family, that it’s for life, and that ultimately you get colors, symbols, signs and handshakes – all a secret code so that people know which gang you’re in. It made sense to me at 17. 5 years later, there’s still merit to her theory.
Anyway, I said to people then I wouldn’t pledge nothin. Not a thing. Because I took issue with the process and the methodology of the process. “Break you down to build you up.” Forced humility to make you “look deep down inside of yourself and find….” whatever the hell they expect you to find in order to endure whatever hell they’re giving you. A redemption amidst the suffering. There’s a reason for it all. Or at least, there must be, right? Surely there’s no plausible reason for why someone would use a cane or a paddle on my ass unless there was some greater good to be acquired and this was the sole means of acquiring it? Surely there’s no plausible reason for why I would be humiliated in front of my peers unless there was some brighter future to be gained and this was the only way possible for us to get it? Surely, surely, surely…there are other ways to get there. But there’s a delusion out there that this is the only way, so we swallow the big pill and find a reason for our swallowing. We fabricate a reason so that we may deal with the suffering.
This isn’t meant to crap on black frats and sororities; at this point in my life I’m still not up for joining for a lot of the same reasons I had when I was younger but I’m not so militaristic about my stance, nor as dogmatic. But this is a concrete example of what “humbling” has come to mean – an acceptance of bending over and taking it up the tail pipe because of the ideal that there is a brighter future ahead. We just have to take that pain now. You know, the ol’ “Frontload the work now so on the back end you can relax” theory. It’s got its place, but to endure pain or suffering in the hope of a new future doesn’t resonate so well with me.
Back in my younger days, I mentioned this to a cousin of mine who is a Delta. She didn’t tell me I was wrong, she in fact agreed with me on my commentary on black social life with respect to Greekdom, and then said that it’s why I should join – so I can make it better in the future. And I said no, I have no impetus to go through a process just to change the process; I’d rather the reform be universal, if it’s going to happen. And that’s where we left it – our agreeing that something must be done, but that it makes no sense for me to do it internally if it means having to deal with the “breaking down to build up” concept.
Now don’t get me wrong – there’s truth in that concept. Sometimes the walls of a certain situation need to come crumbling down for a future good.
The Berlin Wall is a physical example of this. Race relations in the United States are a more theoretical example. In both instances, for progress to be made, there had to be a complete overhaul, restructuring, or destruction of what had been in place for so long. But both of these examples could well be considered extraneous. So let’s get right to the individual and his/her (you know, I gotta be honest, it’s much easier to just use his and not have to worry about gender neutrality because I’m speaking so damn generally) experiences with redemptive suffering and “forced humility.”
What’s “forced humility?” When there’s some sort of process in place that endeavors to constrain you, limit you, temper you, makes you submit to it in order to get ahead or through it. It’s “humbling” you. But you don’t know that’s the goal – you expect some sort of nurturing for your growth. No nurture – just humility, being masked as nurturing. So you have no say in this process you’ve stepped into, but you will bend to it. You will bow to it. And you will submit to it, all in the attempt to get ahead, and maybe blaze a path so that the next generation won’t have to be forcibly humbled. But how do we get through this forced humbling? By adopting a redemptive suffering-esque mentality. We tell ourselves that THERE MUST BE A REASON, THERE MUST BE A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL…even if the light is just the ending of the suffering/”humbling process.” Then we must ascribe a use for that light, a reason for that light’s existence – we must make it so that the light has meaning, otherwise we had no reason to go through the process we went through. The human mind is amazing in its ability to trick itself.
So we’re now caught in a loop. We have gotten out of the process and created a meaning for the light at the end of the tunnel. We gave it a meaning in order for us to keep our sanity. We rationalized the process so that there is a rationale, because humans crave rationale and logical reasoning. We hate doing something for no reason, because that just doesn’t make sense. So we’ll have to make it make sense. “If it won’t make sense by itself, then by God it’ll make sense when I’m through with it.” And we force ourselves to live with that decision, because if we found the hypocrisy, we wouldn’t know why we did go through the process and that leads to the realization that the process is reified and that ultimately, there is no reason for it.
There’s something markedly Christian about redemptive suffering. You buy salvation now, but you don’t get it until later. You get tested and tried now, and you find out later if you pass. You get brow-beaten now, and you gain the ultimate gain later. I could come up with a billion similar examples, but it’s clear – the whole “tabbed for something higher” is a very, well Abrahamic-based religious concept. That’s why, for many people, the whole “destined for something greater,” “trials now for success later,” “take the ass-kicking now” mentality fits – it runs right in line with their religious affiliations or pretenses.
Perhaps those who believe in redemptive suffering find enough redemption to warrant their suffering.
But I don’t see why you chance it in the first place. I suppose there’s the faith concept – believe in what you aren’t sure about, because in the end your belief is all you have. From that standpoint, you engage in redemptive suffering because of what you believe to be true – that there is a redemption that far outweighs the suffering. For the neophyte, it’s being a part of that esteemed organization with great brothers and sisters and history and you can call yourself part of it. For the Christian, it’s the everlasting salvation of the kingdom of Heaven.
I don’t see how the suffering can be redeemed though. They seem to be two distinct issues that have a remote causal connection between them, but not a direct one or a necessary one. That’s the big issue I have – the acceptance of its necessity. That, at some point, you must bend over and take it from the system. From the players in the system. From the players who consciously understand the system and still play within its confines. This acceptance goes right in line with redemptive suffering, and pardon me if I don’t just scream hooray for knowing that I’m going to have my will bent for no good damn reason. The common examples have been American chattel slavery and the Holocaust. Both were events with enough suffering for the world over. Where’s the redemption at? And if there’s a redemption, were these horrific events the SOLE means of getting to that end? I would argue no, there are other means to that end, we’re just too lazy to find them.
So it stands – being broken down to be built up, supposedly like the Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin (not the beer swilling retired wrestler, Steve Austin) is the only way apparently for people to gain certain ends in character development and self-knowledge. Well next time you’re forced to take it up the tailpipe, on the ass, or suffer some indignity or humiliation, ask yourself if whatever you’re going to get could have been received some other, less insufferable way.