by Michael McGinnis

'Taboo' calls up thoughts of insistent drums in the humid, dark of the African night, and of forbidden mysteries of the tribal witch doctors. Though we pride ourselves on living in an open and rational society, Canadians have as many taboos as Africans.

When I lived in Africa I learned that some things were 'taboo' a wise person did not upset people by referring to them. From the viewpoint of a Canadian, some of these things were silly in fact, the word "silly" was a small taboo. In Ghana, it was considered extremely rude to call someone silly.

We might look down at Africans with their peculiar taboos if we didn't have our own. Now, some of our taboos are very helpful such as the taboos for murder or walking around nude in public. But there are many more which hurt us.

A disappearing taboo often suggests developing awareness. Fifty years ago, it was appalling for a woman to have a baby without being married. Of course, sometimes it happened, but people pretended it didn't and went to great lengths to hide it. This taboo caused much suffering, and unwed pregnant women even committed suicide. Our society has moved forward by discarding this taboo, and today single mothers are common

Another harmful taboo is reincarnation. From many examples, psychologist Ian Stevenson has collected very strong evidence supporting the idea that people are reborn from one body into another. Children, in particular, can sometimes recall past lives before the age of six. In spite of the evidence, scientists are largely unwilling to seriously consider this possibility. This taboo is a large roadblock to our understanding of life, as well as to our comprehension of the true reach of cause and effect. How do you think society would change if the taboo about past lives was lifted, and the idea of reincarnation was commonly accepted?

Responsibility is practically a taboo subject. Almost exclusively, the press and the social consciousness talks about individual or group 'rights' what others owe to us, rather than what we owe to ourselves. Example: the absurd position taken by the justice system that a person can be responsible for murder, except when he is drunk. Responsibility is not a part-time job, not voluntary, and not open to plea-bargaining. Further example: on one hand people have a 'right' to adequate food, water and shelter, while on the other hand, it is taboo to discuss the responsibility people have to limit the number of children they can care for without overburdening the planet in the future. One more: society finds that environmental activists have the 'right' to protest about logging or mining, but it is taboo to consider their responsibility for the economic effects of the protest when other people are thrown out of work as a result of environmental actions. Generally, any group of 'victims' or 'activists' has a taboo area of responsibility that they choose to ignore.

Some social taboos can work against the welfare of our society, but we also have our own personal taboos that bear looking at. Anyone who supports a "cause" is generally acknowledging only one side of a question. There is ALWAYS more than one side to any question. As we become more mature, we should develop greater flexibility in understanding other's points of view. It is good mental exercise to look carefully for the positive aspects to anything you oppose. The positive elements can always be found by looking at life as a learning experience. The worst taboo we face is our reluctance to challenge our most deeply-held opinions or prejudices.

Each person lives in his own state of consciousness, and one's taboos are a part of his consciousness. Like a fish unaware that it is swimming in murky water, our taboos often feel natural and right to us, as long as we maintain the same state of awareness. When our awareness expands, we can start to discard some of the taboos that we have outgrown. People can do this collectively as a society as it did for unwed mothers or people can outgrow their taboos as individuals. The heart that is open to receiving instruction from Divine Spirit unlocks the mind which is imprisoned by its own judgments and taboos.

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