Morality for the Broken

I often call myself broken.

I don’t mean that as a bad thing. It’s just a part of who I am. To be honest, I suspect we are all broken. All not quite right. All wounded and scarred from our past, present, or future.

So forgive me if I use that word cavalierly. I use it to refer to any person – or, perhaps, a given moment – where we aren’t quite the person we want to be. Where the traumas of our past impact the realities of the present.

Perhaps you aren’t good at opening up to people. Perhaps you over share. Perhaps you are terrified by loud noises, inexplicably moved to tears, overcome by violent anger, controlled by addictions, paralyzed by fear.

I don’t know how you are broken, but I suspect you probably are.

I know I am.

Mental health issues are serious, and we should take them seriously.

But to remove the stigma of mental health, we also need to normalize mental health issues. We need to give morality back to the broken. Or perhaps we broken need to take morality back.

And make no mistake, there is a moral component to mental health. Michel Foucault traces this well in his work. Sanitoriums were places where the mentally ill were incarcerated with criminals – eventually separated for the protection of criminals, who were seen as morally superior to the mad.

The mentally ill were left exposed in the cold and put out on display for entertainment. The mentally ill were less than human, and the perceived causes of their madness were inextricably linked to the morality of the day.

Perhaps our modern sensibilities have refined since then, but this implication of immorality has not yet faded from view.

There is nothing wrong with you if you are broken. There is nothing wrong about you.

Friedrich Nietzsche argues that aristocrats invented morality. That they created “the good” to be synonymous with their tastes. Eventually, this paradigm shifted, with those who came to power from lower social rungs declaring blessed are the meek.

But if the moral path is consistently reinvented by those in power, who will speak for the broken? Who will define morality for us?

Guilt as a personal check can be good. Guilt as a crippling response seems unhelpful. Grief can be a healthy process, but depression can be devastatingly paralyzing. Anger, too, has value, but undirected rage can be dangerous.

Who is to tell us what feelings are Right?

I am not prepared to be judged immoral for any of my many faults, nor would I presume to judge others for theirs. And yet, giving everyone a pass to determine what is best for them seems dangerous – perhaps there are some deeds we really ought not to condone.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know this – there is a morality for the broken, one that embraces us for who we are and accepts our many flaws. A morality that doesn’t judge how our brokenness manifests, but which understands that it does. A morality that questions what is Right without damning us for our flaws.

A morality for the broken. And we are all of us broken.

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