The psychologist and author Rollo May (1909-1994) in his 1972 book, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, lays out a compelling argument for investigating a relationship between power, powerlessness, violence and innocence.
The word innocence comes from the “Latin in and nocens, literally, not harmful, to be free from guilt or sin, guiless, pure and in actions it means with out evil influence or effect, or not arising from evil intention” (May, p. 48).
May identifies two kinds of innocence that is played out in adulthood:
Authentic innocence & pseudo innocence
1). Authentic innocence
May cites the playwright Arthur Miller definition of authentic innocence as conscious innocence that has “complicity with evil. This innocence keeps this childlike attitude of creative wonderment developmentally into adulthood even as one maintains an awareness of the realistic knowledge of evil in the world. In describing authentic innocence he uses words such as clarity and bright, with the quality of imagination of the poet or artist that can lead toward spirituality within one’s life span.
May describes as a type of innocence that does not lead to spirituality and instead is blind to evil. He calls it a “childishness rather than childlikeness” (p.49). Pseudo-innocence’s naiveté about evil makes a virtue of powerlessness, weakness and helplessness.
This innocence believes in the utopianism of the glorious past, making things too simple and easy instead of bright and clear. It is this type of pseudo-innocence that “cannot come to terms with the destructiveness in one’s self or others” (p.49).
Pseudo-innocence “is the common defense against admitting or confronting one’s own power?” says May (p. p.50). There is a parallel between innocence and the denial of one’s own power. Acknowledgement of one’s actual power leads to a sense of responsibility.