When I told my fiance what my intended subject was for this evening, she scoffed at me. "I'm going to write about redemption," I told her.
"Of course you are," she snickered.
Redemption. It's the story of the guilty mans life. An overarching concept that drives and motivates. Guilt, disappointment, regret: the feelings of the affliction.
These are feelings, and emotions that we don't like to experience. We avoid them at all costs. That of course, is a good thing. The motivation to avoid having to deal with the agonizing reality of those emotions can be phenomenally beneficial. So in order to avoid them, we attempt to do good.
As people I think we like to believe we are motivated to do good for the sake of good itself. It's so much more endearing and romantic, this notion that we are inherently good people who constantly strive to do right by others. I won't dispute that this is occasionally true. There are certainly times when I will do good for the sake of doing good. You know, because it's the right thing to do. You could tie it back into our discussion of moral compass from a few days ago if you'd like. We all have a compass that will lead us to do our share of unprompted good.
Still, I believe the single greatest motivating factor in anyone's life, isn't the desire to do good. It's fear. Fear of failure drives us to achieve. The fear of losing our jobs drives us to succeed. The fear of losing someones love and respect drives us to chose to value their feelings. In turn, we decide not to lie or cheat.
Scientists know this of course and you can see it in full display in your everyday lives. From what you'll read about in a newspaper on see on your local TV news, to the politicians campaign, to the way religion convinces you of the pains of damnation. Fear motivates the masses, and people have intrinsically known this for all of time. Fear is, far and away, the greatest method of convincing someone to do something they might not otherwise be persuaded to do.
Still, there comes a time in everyone's life when that fear fails us. When the knowledge that doing wrong (or what society tells us is wrong) will cause us either physical, mental, or emotional anguish to someone else. Of course, in that instant, we rarely realize that in hurting someone else, we are likely hurting ourselves as well. When you get into a heated fight with a friend or loved one and say something you just know will sting, you do so because you want them to hurt. You never realize in the moment that you'll regret it the next day.
All too often our actions have lifelong impacts on the people we're wronging. The significant other who's trust is broken. The rape or beating victim who is forced to go through the rest of their life in fear. The mother who no longer understands what her life is about since her child was taken from her. The husband who can't let go of the loss of his wife.
The actions and effects needn't be that significant either. While most of us will never perpetrate an action that will approach the significance of the examples listed above, we all know we've wronged people. Assuming you've done so, it's probably also fair to assume that you carry the guilt of at least a few of those wrongs with you to this day.
For most of our wrongs, we'll have an opportunity to seek forgiveness and clear our conscience. To face those who've crossed and make reparations for our crimes. But what about those times when we can't face the people we've wronged? What happens when we're left to carry that burden?
In many ways, it depends completely upon who you are. For some, the guilt of the things we've done can crush us. It can lead someone into a life of substance addition and abuse, then spiral hopelessly out of control. For others, the guilt becomes a life-long motivator, and driving force for good in the quest for something unattainable.
I know that I've done wrong in my life. I'm not certain if I've done more than most, or if my wrongs are really all the grievous. I know that my wrongs feel grievous to me. I also know that I carry guilt from some of those wrongs with me and in all likelihood, I'll probably never let some of it go. I'm fairly confident that any mental health expert would advise me that it isn't healthy, and I'm sure they're right. But convincing that someone that a behavior is unhealthy rarely makes them stop (See: Cigarettes).
So it is with guilt and our quest for redemption.
The unfortunate fact is that redemption is not a battle that can be won on it's own, it's an affect of making atonement or receiving forgiveness. So much goes into that fight that it's hard to enumerate all the complexities involved, but suffice it to say that when we cannot seek out forgiveness from the source, we are left to either carry our burden or to find some way to forgive ourselves.
Still, redemption is attainable for those who seek it. Whether you're given the forgiveness by the person you hurt, or you finally do enough good to feel as though you've atoned, your can find salvation within yourself. I can't promise that it'll come easy. Forgiveness can be a long road to travel, and the guilt at times can be heavy enough on your shoulders to be emotionally crushing. The path cannot be cheated. There are no shortcuts.
No, the journey to redemption isn't easy, but you don't walk alone. We're all travelers on this journey of moral plight. And as long as we remain steadfast in our resolution, redemption will find us all.
Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.