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Reframing the Seven Deadly Sins

I have been thinking about the Seven Deadly Sins lately.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps my pondering on repentance during September led me to think of the sins that I’ve committed during the past year. 

 The Seven Deadly Sins are not in the Jewish religion, but I remember hearing about them in elementary school.  I’m not sure if this was in school class.  In elementary school, we recited the Lord’s Prayer in class every morning right after the Pledge of Allegiance.  It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned that the prayer is Jesus’ prayer and is from the New Testament, and the word “Lord” referred to Jesus, and not my Jewish God.  In those days, religion was blended into public schools in very unabashed ways. 

I asked a former Catholic what the Seven Deadly Sins were, expecting the list to rattle off her tongue from Catechism training.  But all she could remember was “lust”.  Maybe she repressed them.  Or tossed them out with a lot of other baggage.  The one I could remember (admittedly, aside from “lust”) was “gluttony”.  I think if you ask different people, you will get different selective memories from each person.

As a mediator, we learn to “reframe” issues.  It’s a way of defusing anger, eliminating hot words, and making sure our mediation clients don’t verbally attack or alienate each other. If you use the reframing technique where applicable, the level of animosity and the negative reactions won’t bubble up and prevent the mediation from working properly.

For instance, if you’re mediating a divorce, and the man says “My wife is lazy; I work all day, and all she does is sit at home.”  That’s not a very helpful or peaceful comment.  It tends to forestall a productive discussion and exploration of the potential terms of a divorce.

So, as the mediator, you might say something like:  “So you feel that much of the responsibility to work and support your family is on your lap …”   This de-escalates the hostility and calms emotions.  It moves from his position (that his wife is slothful, which may or may be true) to his interests and concerns (he’s working very hard, he’s tired, and under pressure).  He feels his wife is not doing her fair share. You have changed hostile language into more neutral language.  Reframing also tamps down the volatile emotions that can derail a mediation. 

I started wondering,  could the Seven Deadly Sins could be reframed into something more positive?  So I searched Wikipedia (my initial “go-to” research source) and found a fine, well-researched and highly informative article on the Seven Deadly Sins.   

They are, to wit:  lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.   I perused them a bit, trying them all on for size.  I found that I might possibly suffer from some (I’m not sharing which), but others have pretty much disappeared with my advanced age.  (Getting older has some wonderful benefits for the mind, although the body becomes more and more compromised.  It’s a trade-off I gladly accept.)

So I started to use my mediation skills to reframe the Seven Deadly Sins.  Maybe they are not so bad after all.

Here ‘s what I came up with:

1.  Lust.  Let’s reframe “lust” as “encountering the physical body of another with love.”  Well, that’s not exactly what it is, because generally, lust is before you meet the person’s physical manifestation.  So what about calling it, “intent or fantasy of meeting the physical manifestation of another”.  Now that’s a more neutral articulation.  Anyway, once you actually physically encounter (or the sex is no longer illicit), lust disappears, and it just becomes boring, routine sex.  Ask anyone.

And think about it – lust must not be so bad, because it’s not listed in the Ten Commandments.  Maybe it’s permissible.  At least it might be permitted if you’re not Catholic, because Catholics have to abide by the Seven Deadly Sins, and others don’t.   And anyway, Jimmy Carter did it (“I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times…”), at least in his mind, where it most always occurs.  And Jimmy Carter is a good person, and in fact, even a Christian.  I think there’s even a library named after him somewhere.

I do laugh at the obsession that the writers of the Bible (both Old and New Testament) have with sex, particularly adultery.  When any sin is mentioned by these writers, the first and generally the only one they trot out is adultery.  Perhaps they were projecting? Too bad Freud was not around at the time the Bible was written to shed light on this.

2.  Gluttony.   One could reframe this as “avidly ingesting edible things”.  For a Christian, you might say, “consuming the bounty of the earth in order to put the spirit of Jesus into practice.”  Or if you’re a Jew, you can focus on “God has given us this wonderful food, and with each mouthful, we must think of God, and thank God for this sustenance.”  Or if you’re a Buddhist you might think:  “This temptation is a challenge to me, and I will practice mindful eating.” Or if you’re a Muslim – no, I won’t go there.  

So maybe even gluttony is not so bad.

3.   Greed.   Sometimes greed might be a good thing, at least if you are not referring to a desire to accumulate things. For instance, is a great desire to read a book, or practice a musical instrument (particularly the pedal organ) bad?   It leads to learning and sharing and improving one’s life and the lives of those around her or him.  The book may be read aloud or discussed.  The music may be shared with others.  All this may lead to greater peace and understanding. Greed to live and share life experiences to the fullest in the limited time we have here may not be a bad thing.

4.   Sloth.   What about reframing “sloth” as “taking it easy”, or “relaxing”.   In our modern life, with everyone working so hard to make a living, we’ve forgotten how to take it easy. We multitask, and we are distracted by multiple inputs of information.   Doing nothing – even being slothful at times — may be a good thing.

5.   Pride.   Self-pride is indeed destructive and generally indicates that a person actually lacks self-confidence and thinks badly of himself or herself.  But what about pride in the accomplishments of another?  That is a virtue.   You can exhibit and articulate pride in the accomplishments and bravery (and generosity) of your family members friends, people in your workplace, and, others you encounter.  For more about this, see my Huffington Post article, “I’m Really Proud of You!”   But note, I’m not really proud of this article, even though I have unabashedly linked you to it. I’m just sharing it with you, as in Facebook.

6.   Wrath. Wrath can even be reframed.  For instance, I recently experienced a flash of wrath, which resulted in my making a joke.  When I looked at what I had done in retrospect, I immediately realized that the joke was not funny, and was actually very critical of the person who elicited my wrath.  I felt so bad about this that I spent at least 3 hours repenting.  The repentance was actually a great opportunity for me to grow as a human being, although in doing so, I hurt myself and probably the other person.  (I sometimes wonder, with all my guilt, if I am Catholic. My spouse wonders, too.) 
In connection of the sin “wrath”,  I also find Rashi’s comment helpful.  He was a renowned Jewish rabbi of the 11th century, who said, “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.” If you follow this, you won’t get angry or wrathful.  In fact, you’ll be a veritable Buddha, not to muddy the religious waters any more than I have.
Note that the “wrath” comes from the old English “tormented” or “twisted”.  Watch out for it.  Use it as an opportunity for growth each time it flashes.

7.   Envy.  This is a difficult one to reframe.   In the earlier versions of the Seven Deadly Sins, this sin was articulated as “sadness” or “despondency”, not “envy”.  These earlier articulations seem to be very different than “envy”, unless it is the sadness caused specifically by the good fortune of another.  But, in general, good fortune is not given to you in life; you have to create it for yourself. So work harder, and things will come to you, and envy will disappear.

So the Seven Deadly Sins are perhaps not so bad (or deadly, if you will).  You just have to “reframe” them.  Then you can commit them with impunity, and still keep safe from the risk of future damnation, including the risk of burning in Hell.  And when you start doing it, you’ll find reframing fun, and useful in all things having to do with your internal life, and with your relationships with others.  

As published in The Huffington Post, 11/15/2012.


Laurie Israel

Laurie Israel is an attorney, consultant, and mediator, concentrating her practice on both prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. She works as a consultant and mediator nationwide. She previously practiced for 35 years in the areas of tax law, divorce, collaborative law, estate planning, probate of estates and trust administration, as well… MORE >

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