I am an expert eavesdropper. I am of the opinion that if a conversation is had in public, it is fair game to all who are within earshot. One such time I sat at a table, casually drinking coffee, when I heard a loud voice from the table next to me begin to speak in the sort of tone one assumes when speaking from authority. The young man who spoke declared that he had one piece of wisdom after having lived out his life thus far. With swaggering bravado he stated that in order to be happy, all you have to do is not care about what other people think, feel, or believe and just be yourself. Act out your desires and what you think ought to happen, and the rest of the world will get in line or get out of the way.
Balin was a knight of Arthur. Balin managed to pull a magic sword from an enchanted scabbard that only one of the strongest knights could pull from. Needless to say, Balin was a powerful knight. Anyone who is successful, however, will attract jealous rivals, and Balin was no exception. Lancelor, an Irish knight, was filled with envy at the success of Balin. So envious was Lancelor that he challenged Balin to combat. Thus, in self defense, Balin slew his attacker. Immediately after the death of Lancelor, a woman approached the scene in great sorrow, shouting
“O Balin, two bodies thou hast slain and one heart, and two hearts in one body, and two souls thou hast lost”
~Thomas Malory Le Morte D’Arthur Book 2 Chapter 6
She then took the sword of her dead lover, and slew herself over his body.
Uwain was a knight of Arthur. Uwain decided to go on a journey. He ventured to a magic spring, where he was told that to pour a basin of water onto a mysterious stone was to create a massive storm. He promptly did so, and caused a thunderous tempest which sent him into a great terror. Soon after, a lord rode up to the spring, fuming with anger. Uwain’s curiosity had caused great destruction to the lands of this lord, devastating his crops. This lord then challenged Uwain to combat. Thus, in self defense, Uwain slew his attacker. Soon after, due to his being chased by the lord’s men, Uwain hid in the castle of the slain lord, where he had to sit and watch in anguish as the wife of this lord grieved and mourned the loss of her beloved husband. As she extolled the now lost virtues of this man,
“She beat at herself, and tore
At everything her hands could reach.
And lord Yvain suffered
Such pain, it was hard, no matter
What happened, to keep from running
To grasp her hands.
Yvain The Knight of the Lion, Chretien de Troyes, Trans. Burton Raffel, lines 1300-1305.
Both Balin and Uwain acted well within their rights. They defended themselves and only struck out when challenged. Both Balin and Uwain did no wrong in the eyes of the law with their actions. But something else condemned them. Their actions, while permitted by their rights, had grave consequences. Every body they cut down had hopes, dreams, friends, and love behind them. They cut down more than a man, they cut down a world. These two stories illustrate a concept present in the Pentecostal Oath. The weeping maiden and weeping wife of the men slain by Balin and Uwain are the medals won by acting as my Starbucks philosopher dictated. Acting based on who you are alone leads to destruction. Your will, desires, and rights are not to be the principle decision maker for your actions. Having a right does not give you license to act.
The knights who swore the Pentecostal Oath were forfeiting their freedom to liberally use their power in order protect those who needed protection. They sacrificed their freedom for the construction of a better world. You, just as Balin and Uwain, are responsible for the consequences of your actions. The way you express your emotions and self should be conscious of how that expression affects others. When you exercise your right to speak, you are responsible for how those words affect others. The utterer of a rape joke has supported a system and culture of disgusting abuse. The voter is responsible for the ballot they cast. The abstainer is responsible for the ballot they didn’t cast. The speaker is responsible for the words that their audience takes to heart. Even the Facebooker is responsible for how their statuses affect others. Every action we take is charged with meaning and significance, and to some degree we are responsible for what those actions bring about. This is a great deal of responsibility. This Atlas-load is easy to shirk off under the herald of self-expression, but the consequences of this shirking are widespread and painful. Perhaps some would declare that I am sacrificing freedom in the name of “political correctness” or a hyper-sensitive culture. Rather than in the names of these causes, I ask that we sacrifice our freedom in the names of the weeping maiden of Lancelor and the mourning widow of Uwain’s attacker. Let us withhold for the sake of compassion lest we, by acting, cause greater tragedy.