.journal 2001.05.07

Now listening to: Tori Amos, Boys for Pele
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Courtney Love: the Real Story
Now playing: Final Fantasy Anthology (Playstation)

With some of the things that have been going on in my life recently, as well as the impending federal execution of Timothy McVeigh, I've been thinking a lot about conscience and how we act on ours.

It may seem odd for me to bring the death penalty into this discussion, but due to it being such a huge current event I can't help but think about it a lot. Even though I was very politically aware when I was growing up, I never really gave much thought to the death penalty; it just wasn't something that registered on my radar. It wasn't until I was an adult that I really considered my own stance on the death penalty, and at first I thought I was okay with the death penalty in very extenuating circustances -- serial killer-type stuff and the like.

As I've grown up, though, I've come to realize that I just can't agree with using the death penalty under any circumstances. There's just something about it which seems so primitive, the kind of thing that we've had for so long that nobody really questions why we have it anymore, and we just support it without thinking about we support it. Unfortunately that's the case in the United States right now, as support for the death penalty is incredibly strong. I know I'm probably not going to get too much support from my readers on my stance, but that's the way it is.

And what's really bothersome is that I'm something of a Japanophile, and due to the wide-spread publicity of the McVeigh execution I'm forced to confront that Japan is the only major industrialized country besides the US that still employs the death penalty. And Japan's system of employing the death penalty is incredibly cruel; instead of setting a date of execution for the condemned, the guards just approach a cell one morning and tell the prisoner, "Your time has come," without informing the family or anything like that. And the only pattern to when executions take place seems to be politically-oriented.

Unfortunately, for all that America has a mob mentality that keeps the death penalty alive, Japan is triply worse. Japan is a most secular nation, and the general attitude of the populace is to let the people in charge of certain things do those things and not question their judgment. And because their national identity is so strong, you really can't approach them from the outside and go, "Hey, the rest of us think you're doing this wrong," because they won't listen at best, and at worst will interpret such a statement as an attack on their country. And waiting for reform inside of the country seems just as pointless, although over the past decade, and especially in light of their most recent economic recession, there does seem to be a lot of pressure for change inside of Japan. Not necessarily in the area of the death penalty, but I can hope.

And I think about these things and I realize that I'm not in the majority when I disagree with the use of the death penalty. But I can't let that change how I think; I believe what I believe for very strong reasons, and just because most other people don't agree with me does not invalidate my beliefs in any way. If people don't agree with me then so be it, but I just hope that people can see past this disagreement and don't use it too heavily to determine their value of me.

My conscience always gets me into trouble, though. Whether with my friends or with people I want nothing to do with, it seems like there are people who will invariably have a strong disagreement with the things I say or the actions I take. And I know it's that way for every person, but it seems there are so many people out there who misunderstand me and misinterpret what I do (sometimes deliberately so) that at times it gets hard for me to accept this as a fact of life.

When it happens with people I don't care for, it doesn't bother me, or at least as much as it used to. But when it happens with a friend, it really bothers me. I realize part of the process of friendship is continuing to learn about each other and that sometimes there will be misunderstandings, but that doesn't make those problems any less painful to deal with. You want to think that the understanding was there, and then when you realize it wasn't there you start to worry about whether your friend can get past the misunderstanding and also accept this new facet that has been uncovered.

I suppose what it comes down to is a matter of just trying to do right, and accepting whatever happens as a result. For me, it comes down to the Wiccan Rede: "An ye none harm, do what ye will." In other words, as long as you don't harm anybody, do what you want. Now, that isn't such an easy concept to grasp, because in practice a lot of times you will run into circumstances where your actions harm when you didn't want them to, or you're forced between a choice of actions that will end up harming somebody no matter what. So a lot of times I'm forced to make judgment calls, and I just have to try to do my best, and if I fail then apologize and try to do better the next time.

Another problem I run into with the Rede is that there are times when I wonder whether I myself am included in that "none." I try to be as giving to the world as I can, but honestly there comes a point where there are certain actions I simply cannot undertake because they would be too damaging to me. And maybe by taking a different course of action I harm someone else, but I have to make those calls as I see them, and what would make me the most comfortable. I always try to put myself in everyone else's shoes, and try to do what I think is best. But still, sometimes I end up taking a lot of grief, and maybe have lingering doubts about the decisions I make.

All I can really do to console myself is to say that I have genuinely tried to do what I have thought best. I've heard a lot of words used to describe some of the actions I've taken, but none could be farther from the truth than "capricious." People are going to disagree with me no matter what I say or do, and I have to accept that. All I can really do is hope that the people who I care about, when they have a problem with what I say or do, will come to me and discuss things in a rational matter, and that hopefully if we cannot resolve the problem then at least we can come to some sort of understanding.

Maybe some of the things I do are wrong. But in my heart I feel they are right. And I can only hope that people can appreciate that.

- Sean