Punishment beyond the sentence

Whenever I had to go to the small and charming village located at the foot of the mountain that is home to the monastery, I would not miss the chance to visit Loureiro, the elegant shoemaker, who loved books and wines. Mending leather was his trade; sewing ideas, his art. Not always I could find him, because his shop was open at random hours. On that day, at the end of the afternoon, I was happy to see his vintage bicycle leaning against the light pole in front of the store. That was a good sign. My good friend asked me to wait a little while he finished the job he was doing; then we went to a quite tavern to chat over a glass of red. He asked the waiter to bring us some cheese of a well-known brand to pair with our wine. I immediately told him that the owner of that dairy company had been convicted of a serious felony. I said I did not feel comfortable to eat that brand, and I suggested we order something else. Puzzled, the craftsman asked: “Eating that cheese will make you an accomplice of the crime?” I replied that I was not going to flagrantly condone it, and that it was my conscience that dictated me to do so. He looked at me with kindness before speaking: “Yes, we should act according to our finest reasons, always. It is really too bad when that does not occur. However, allowing your conscience to expand beyond social and cultural conditionings will always be an exercise for transformation and lightness. So, the question we should ask is: what is the feeling that moves us? Because we define who we are from the choices we make.”

I told him that my wish to see justice served led me to that decision. Loureiro retorted with a new question: “Isn’t the guy already serving time as decided by a judge when he was found guilty in a court of law and sentenced to jail? Every society is regulated by a set of laws that establish rights and duties; rules and limits for harmonious relationships among people.” I interrupted him claiming that many laws are unfair, some too strict, some too lax. Not to mention those that benefit some particular groups over others. “It is true,” the cobbler agreed, and added: “However, every body of laws reflects the stage of evolution of a society. This only moves forward from multiple personal transformations. To impose changes without proper awareness is like a building with no foundation: it does not support itself. Each one should act in a way that faithfully portrays the society they wish for. Laws will obviously come, with some delay, in the wake of the advances. This means, we change society in the precise measure of our individual transformations.”

I insisted that my refusing in eating that brand of cheese reflected my disgust with the criminal behavior of the dairy company’s owner. The cobbler reasoned: “The dividing line between barbarism and civilization is the law. In the beginning of times the lack of law led to disorder and injustice. Currently, going beyond the parameters of the law lead to the same harmful consequences. It reflects, in a crooked way, the vigilante behavior, by assuming the law is not effective. This is but heinous revenge,” Loureiro tried to explain.

“In the Middle Ages, Sunday entertainment was going to the city square to watch the hanging of a poor soul. And if hanging and death weren’t enough, that person had to walk to the scaffold in the middle of the crowd. The mob, excited by the misery of others, cursed, threw rotten food, spat, threw punches and stones, a catharsis prompted by a huge collective shadow. Most times, people didn’t even know the reason for the hanging, the reasons that led that person to do what he or she did, or even if they were innocent.” He sipped a little wine and continued: “In the case of the dairy company owner, wasn’t the guy found guilty according to the law? Isn’t he already placed in an absurd human cage? Do you have any idea of the suffering of this man? If it weren’t enough, there is this wish of destroying all that is related to his life. Can’t you see there are no limits in the desire of punishing the other? Worse, there is a will to destroy the individual, or whatever is left of him.” He paused briefly to complete: “The difference between revenge and justice is the amount of love that led to that decision.”

I argued that I had a moral code of my own, and I would remain loyal to the ethical values it established. The craftsman cast me a kind gaze and spoke with composure: “Often we mistake morality for moralism. There is no latitude in moralism in regards to moral ideas about behavior, which hampers the proper assessment of each fact. Moralism comes when we nourish morality with our shadows. For morality not to turn into a whip that lashes us indiscriminately, it must always be coated with the noble feelings of love and its variations: forgiveness, mercy, compassion and patience, in addition to humility. Or else the Middle Ages will still be inside us.”

“Love is the ingredient that makes morality rise to the level of dignity.”

“To boycott that guy’s company until it goes bankrupt is making the sentencing even harsher, because it will affect the hundreds of employees who will be condemned to unemployment without having anything to do with the criminal action. To cast the family of the convict to moral and financial proscription as if they were co perpetrators of the crime is, likewise, to punish beyond the sentencing, reaching innocent third parties.”

“The consequences of the sentence are personal, nontransferable. Or else they will be arbitrary, based on absurdities of moralism and barbaric feelings of revenge. This is all too violent, and may well be a greater evil than the crime that was committed.”

I was still uncomfortable, and said that eating cheese of that brand was like condoning the crime. Loureiro opened his eyes as if baffled by what I said and immediately rebuked: “Absolutely not. Why should you waste the opportunity of offering the other cheek? Why should a second chance be denied? Why should the old bellicose ‘scorched earth’ tactics be enforced? Can’t you realize you confound crime with perpetrator in your rejection?”

I said I had not understood his point. The good cobbler tried to explain: “Evil must be fought with the necessary strength in each case, no exceptions made, there is no question about that. However, the wrongdoer must be helped in order to shed light on his own shadows. Can you realize that his battle is, ultimately, the same you and I fight, each according to one’s own mistakes? We have all erred, and will continue to do so. To err is part of learning and of the process of evolution, but to that end, numberless new chances are required. To begin again is an unchangeable law of the Light. It is up to a modern society to establish and hone the conditions for that. The destruction of the other is like eternal condemnation, an attitude that is closely connected to the shadows, a reminder of the brutality that still dwells within ourselves.”

I lowered my eyes and quietly remembered my past, like a film that fast-forwarded in my mind. There is no question I had to be grateful for the many opportunities I had to start over, or else I would not be there. Without second chances the planet would be a desert of men and women. The craftsman realized my embarrassment and helped me with his typical sweetness: “I challenge anyone to open the Penal Code and sincerely point out all illegal actions they have committed and how many times they repeated them. Check the minimum sentencing established for each one and then add. The best among us will have a term of many years in jail.” I recalled the Old Man had already made this drill at the monastery, a lesson of humility he called “The Thorn in the Flesh”, for us to recall our own imperfections before pointing out those of others’.

Loureiro added to complete: “Our shadows, with the delusional intent to protect us, make us believe, even subconsciously, that if we have a poor image of the other we will feel good. Hence, they deceive us and hamper the unavoidable march forward. By turning our gaze to the stumbles of others instead of focusing on our own limitations, we withdraw from the good fight. However, believing the other is worse than us does not make us better. Fighting evil will always be the toil of the Path walker, who should begin by illuminating the darkness hidden in his or her own gut. To understand that is to sincerely know yourself, and that will set the indispensable metamorphosis in motion which will provide the wings for the fantastic flight to the High Lands of Being where peace resides.”

I gladly accepted the cheese the waiter had brought and I thoroughly enjoyed its taste. We raised our glasses and Loureiro proposed the toast: “That we may be, at the same time, Gardener and flower, sowing and beautifying this wonderful Garden we call Earth!”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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