Return to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Forty-Six

Latter Days/Lonely Nights

Author: Willownut
Disclaimer: Blah, blah, blah. Many characters are Joss Whedon's. Yada, yada, yada. No harm intended with the use of these revered characters. Peas and carrots, peas and carrots.

(Day 11 - Sunday, November 18, 1984)

"Guilt is funny. Not funny ha ha, but funny ironic or funny bone funny, which isn't really funny at all. Funny bone funny is painful, and annoying, and persistent; its sting reverberates well after the initial ache has subsided - an echo of an unfortunately placed whack."

Tara smiled at the analogy. She thought the professor was cute. She seemed too young to be in such a position, but Tara welcomed her enthusiasm and the cheery tone she set in her class. It was a welcome change from some of the other classes she'd had in the past.

The instructor continued, "Guilt is the consequence of defiance of conscience."

"Concepts of right and wrong are cultivated with social constructs. Language and imagery, community law, legends, media, literature and other forms of art, proverbs, fairy tales, mythology and lore, all shape and reinforce these ideas. Socialization of values may not be obvious to the casual observer, but it is systematic and pervasive." Tara wiggled a little in her seat. "Conscience is then refined by interpersonal experiences within groups."

Tara took a short breath and jotted down something on her pad.

"Individuals belong to many different groups varying in size and purpose. Membership may be inherited, coincidental, forced, or chosen." The teacher turned on an overhead for the class.

Tara looked around the room at the other students. Most sat silently in their seats, nearly hypnotized by the instructor's lesson. A few were taking notes. The girl next to her was preoccupied with something stuck to her desk. She scraped at it with her fingernail, then her pen.

The teacher revealed a diagram with concentric circles some larger than others. Tara copied the diagram on her own pad. "Gender, ethnicity, nationality, or religion are some of the larger communities. Those groups with which we find important shared characteristics (or shared "differences") are how we identify our uniqueness - our identity - who we are - how we fit in the world."

The teacher handed a stack of papers to a student in the corner who took one and passed the rest behind him. "The smallest of groups, family, friends, and certain associates, are those in which we have the closest relationships. The stronger the attachment is, the greater the need to be accepted."

Tara continued to look at the girl compassionately. She was very determined to clear off the item from the desk. She pulled out a small ruler to use against it. She is persistent ... and a little quirky.

"To achieve acceptance requires compliance with certain principles - group values - which translate into a code of acceptable behaviors - group rules. Some rules are very formal; many are not. Most are obvious, and some are more obscure. Think about some of the groups you belong to and the rules you are expected to follow because of them." A discussion ensued. The teacher wrote down the groups and rules that the students suggested. After awhile, the teacher put down the chalk and resumed a position leaning against her desk.

Tara faced forward and absent-mindedly duplicated the blackboard notes to her own. She kept a watchful eye on the girl beside her as she carefully applied the ruler's edge against the desk. The item suddenly flicked free and shot into the hair of the blond girl in front of her. Tara struggled not to giggle.

"The group defines the hierarchy of what is ‘good/bad' and ‘right/wrong' by degree of reward for compliance and reprisal for infringements."

Tara glanced over at the girl and smiled gently. She looked embarrassed, but welcomed the gesture. Another student sitting diagonally in her seat glowered slightly at them both.

"Rewards for proper behaviors generally lead to neutral or positive emotional experiences. Retribution may be subtle, a casual roll of the eyes or a sharp word, or more extreme, violent and merciless. Rejection by someone within a favored group elicits guilt and shame."

Tara continued to listen, but watched helplessly as the blond girl felt in her hair and discovered the thing lodged there. She turned and glared accusingly behind her.

"Guilt and shame are related. Breaching group standards produces internal consequences: guilt - about what we have done, and shame - about who we are."

Tara hid behind her hair. She wasn't sure she agreed with the definitions, but while in class, there wasn't time to process what it all meant. She wrote the terms down on her pad.

A student asked a question. There was a discussion going on. Tara couldn't seem to follow it. The teacher went to another board. She drew a diagram with arrows and circled words. Tara felt like she was drowning so she took a cleansing breath.

"Negative emotions are the internal consequence for those who seek approval within a group and fail. Guilt and shame also strengthen each other and make our assumptions about our values feel more correct. Therefore, guilt, shame and conscience are connected; guilt and shame reinforce conscience, and failure to follow conscience leads to additional guilt and shame. Remember, this is about the socialization process, not the psychology resulting from it."

The teacher allowed a moment for the students to let the statement soak in. Then she looked quickly back to her notes and resumed speaking. "Some may argue that guilt is a positive instrument of socialization, that it benefits society by teaching proper behavior. Others would say that guilt and shame are tools to exert social control."

A student raised her hand to ask a question. Tara couldn't make out what she was saying either, as if her words jumbled together. She had received the handout and was reading over it. It looked like an assignment - a paper: "Socialization and Identity."

The teacher continued. "Yes, shame is a powerful weapon in interpersonal settings and relationships. Those who feel unworthy are less likely to stand up for themselves against oppressors - even in the event that personal values may conflict with the larger social rule. Try to keep these things in mind as you're preparing to complete your assignment."

Tara tried to digest what she had heard. She looked toward the window and let the words sink in Social constructs, guilt, shame, and identity. In a blink of an eye, the landscape changed, she was in a different room listening to her psychology professor.

"These are the things we want. Simple things. Comfort, sex, shelter, food. We always want them and we want them all the time." Tara felt disoriented. She didn't remember finishing her last class, yet the assignment paper was in her notebook. She wasn't even sure when it was due. She tried to focus on the professor who was still speaking. "The id doesn't learn, it doesn't grow up. It has the ego telling it what it can't have and it has the superego telling it what it should want."

Tara had a sense that she'd heard the lecture before, but she couldn't place it. She doodled on her pad. Superego = conscience?

"But the id works solely out of the pleasure principle. It wants."

Tara wondered for a moment what the Church's position was on Freud and the other theorists about whom she would be learning. As the teacher continued, Tara thought she might ask her bishop the next time she had an interview with him.

The professor droned on, "Whatever social skills you've learned, however much we've evolved, the pleasure principal is at work in all of us. So, how does this conflict with the ego manifest itself in the psyche? What do we do when we can't have what we want?"

An image of Willow's face flashed in Tara's mind. Feel guilty, she answered to herself. Tara glanced up at the clock. Class was nearly over. She looked at her notes. She didn't have anything other than the one comment written down.

"We'll be talking about several theorists over the next few weeks, Jung, Maslow and some others whom you may have heard of. If you didn't already, make sure you hand in your project assignments and we'll see you next week," the teacher concluded the class.

Tara panicked. She hadn't completed the task. She wasn't even sure what her proposal was, so having an outline and annotated bibliography ready was laughable. She was still obsessing about the other paper that she had to complete and this added stress was not helping.

Tara walked to the psych instructor's desk and lingered. After the other students left, she began. "I didn't hand in my assignment," Tara hid behind her hair. She felt like she was doing that a lot lately.

The teacher didn't look up, "Oh, why is that, Tara?"

"I'm interested in quite a few things and I'm having trouble focusing on one theme."

"I find that hard to believe." The instructor started shuffling through some papers on her desk.

"You do?" Tara was puzzled.

"Tara, you are a level headed person. You ask intelligent questions in class and you seem to be clear in what direction you are taking your learning."

"I do?" Tara lifted her head a little to look through her blonde curtain.

"Your questions always revolve around how we make decisions, and what makes us do the things we do." Tara watched as the instructor placed her notes for the next class out and closed her folder on the others.

Tara moved a bit of hair behind her ear, "That seems pretty vague to me."

"I suppose from your perspective it would, but I set no limits on the length of these papers." The teacher finally made direct eye contact with Tara. "Each of the theories we're studying are a means of clarifying these ideas."

"But none of them explain it fully." Tara was perplexed.

The teacher smiled. That's why I think your paper will be an interesting read. "There's no reason why you can't select a topic and discuss each of the theories we're studying. You don't have to ascribe to any one ideology." The teacher started to wipe off the boards she'd used in her prior class.

Tara thought back to her other course. "I think it will still be incomplete without the context of sociology as well."

"So discuss that too." Other students started coming in for the next class. The teacher nodded toward them as they made eye contact with her.

Tara contemplated this idea. She rarely had an instructor invite her to explore ideas from outside the specific course. That certainly was the case in the first class.

"Just make sure that the crux of your discussion involves the theories we study in here and if they fall short, site some references and assert your own ideas. You are allowed to have opinions and even disagree with me if you justify your argument."

No, that can't be. Can I do that? Suddenly an image of Willow flashed through her mind. The teacher was still speaking. "Just put down some ideas and a list of sources you already expect to have. You can add more as you progress." Tara felt dismissed when the instructor started speaking to another student.

Tara went back, sat down at her desk and started to put away her belongings. When she opened her book-bag, several items fell out with a clatter. She felt as though she put away her pen three times, but it kept reappearing on the desk. Her notebook wouldn't fit back in the bag. Nothing was going right. Tara was getting more and more frustrated. The next class was already starting and the teacher was beginning the lecture.

I've gotta get out of here. She struggled to regain her composure and get her bag packed up and under control.

"So this is what it is, talking about communication, talking about language, not the same thing. It's about inspiration; not the idea, but the moment before the idea when it's total, when it blossoms in your mind and connects to everything. It's about the thoughts and experiences that we don't have a word for."

Finally, Tara was able to stand up. Unfortunately, her chair leg scraped loudly against the floor. She was mortified. The students all looked at her accusingly. She hunched her shoulders and tried to run from the class but her legs wouldn't carry her fast enough. She clung to her book-bag.

Suddenly, she felt a moment of clarity and stopped trying to walk. She realized she was squeezing a pillow. Tara started to pull away from the dream back to pre-consciousness. She nestled in and tried to let her mind drift away from the panic and insecurity she was feeling.

She considered the message of the last instructor for a moment. There was something important in the lectures and she didn't want to miss anything. It was something about inspiration, the idea before the thought, no, the moment before the idea that we don't have words for. We were talking about guilt and groups, socialization and identity, that was the assignment...and social constructs. Language. Language was a social construct, it's limiting. That paper was about theories, but theories are part of social constructs too. Her head was swimming with random thoughts. The images from her dream were slowly coming back to her. Who was that girl? Was that supposed to be Willow?

Even though she gained some perspective, she was still feeling insecure. Okay, I need to resolve this. Maybe it's ... She opened her eyes and glanced at the clock. Great. She frowned against her pillow. There's no time to have a better one now... She had to get up to prepare for the day. Tara turned over with a big thump. Great way to start the day, Tara.

Continue to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Forty-Eight

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