Opinion: Legacy of guilt?


Launcelot Gobbo was eager to assign blame, “We carry with us the sins of our fathers.” While playwright William Shakespeare, in his circa 1597 play, “The Merchant of Venice,” was likely inversely paraphrasing the Bible, he effectively used the notion that we are somehow responsible for acts done by our progenitors to famously frame religion. Can one elude the perception of our families by others? Are we able to escape our self-perceptions predicated by our personal beliefs about them? Is it possible to become our own person or are we duly confined, guaranteed to live and re-live the example imprinted upon us in childhood?

Shakespeare inverted the admonishment of Scripture, which almost universally holds that we are each living our own lives abundant with free will to choose a path. The behavior of parents or children is only theirs and not reflective upon the other. One example, Deuteronomy 24:16, reports that “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” Still, the conviction of our associated conscience is claimed by nearly all of us. The Bard knew that in making a statement so directly in conflict would require that his audience engage and challenge the character’s posture.

So, what of our current day? Do we live the guilt of those who came before or do we each hold our own selves to account for no actions but our own? Is it fair to do so? When is an adult offspring no longer the responsibility of the parent, and when does the parent become the obligation of the grown kid? Gobbo is content to assign inherited blame, “For truly I think you are damned.” Are we?


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