I am an military brat, traveler, reader of Russian literature and non-fiction, and most importantly a mom of five young children. I believe mothers need to take our place as the builders of nations and stop apologizing away our significance. Thinking deeply about great ideas and current societal issues can help us develop the proper Philosophy of Motherhoood.
Allyson Flake Matsoso
As mothers, arriving with our first child, come new and troubling fears. With great love comes great fear. Fear that what we have been given, we may lose. Fear that who we love, may suffer. Fear that we are not worthy of this freely-given love. Yet, we must be aware of these new fears, and the dark roads they may take us – and the worthy roads they may keep us from traveling.
We need not be ashamed of our fear, much of it is beyond our control – but also not allow it to rule our better nature. We must recognize it for what it is, when it inevitably descends on us. Our natural maternal instincts drives us to protect and encourage our precious children. We should. Our feminine spiritual nature desires unity and comfort, building a home of love and sacrifice. A most worthy endeavor. Fear can keep us from reaching these feminine potentials. Rather than encouraging our children to face an often disappointing world, we may let our fear of suffering stifle us – making our children “safe” rather than capable. Fear can twist our desire for comfort into a controlling quest for perfection. Fear, unchecked, infects our beautiful nature and distorts it. The quotes below can help us look at our fear and help us refuse Fear as our Master.
“There is no harm in being afraid. The only harm is in doing what Fear tells you. Fear is not your master! Laugh in his face and he will run away.”
George MacDonald, Lilith
“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“Don’t be overwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid – the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
“To fear death is nothing other than to think oneself wise when one is not; for it is to think one knows what one does not know. No man knows whether death may not even turn out to be the greatest blessing for a human being; and yet people fear it as if they knew for certain that is is the greatest of evil.”
Socrates, Plato’s The Apology
“Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.”
“Let fear once get possession of the soul, and it does not readily yield its place to another sentiment.”
Leo Tolstoy, Sebastopol Sketches
“Fear is Faithlessness.”
“The unhappy person is never present to themselves because they always live in the past or the future.”
Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
“I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain.”
“Don’t be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin!”
Henry David Thoreau
“Face the demands of life voluntarily. Respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for catastrophe.”
“I do so dearly believe that no half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Edith
“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
My dad would often quote Mark Twain to us kids when we complained about doing something out of our comfort zone – “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do”. As a kid we traveled a lot. As we traveled, I remember thinking that my parents must hate speaking to strangers – they always made me do it. “Go ask that guy the way to the metro” “Go buy tickets” “See how long the line is”. I see now they were teaching me to be comfortable speaking with people and handling new situations. Now, in adulthood, when others may find meeting new people and traveling in foreign countries intimidating, I enjoy it. I am certainly nothing but ordinary – but I was pushed into uncomfortable realms that have helped me in this area of life. Put me on a ski slope, and my cowardice will quickly present itself.
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; ‘these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions’; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Will Durant summarizing Aristotle
When we teach our kids to read – we push them to a more difficult book than the one last week – they may whine that it is “too hard” – but we know that progress is made in the extra, not the ease.
Teaching our children to be capable of “heroics” actually comes naturally to parents – we want our children to become strong adults. However, this can be stifled by an excessive desire to make life easy or “happy”.
Sometimes we don’t want to hear the whining. Sometimes we let our anxiety of the unknown, (perhaps because we have not pushed ourselves enough out of our own comfort-zones) keep us from encouraging our children into those “extra five minutes”. We take the safe and flat road, forgetting that strong legs and healthy lungs only develop on steep inclines. If parents are there for anything, it is to encourage our children to climb, and to climb with them.
It may be true that the brave man is simply ordinary, but has become capable in those extra minutes – he likely has been there before. If we want to raise heroes we must encourage our children to step into those “five minutes”, in as many arenas and as many times as we can, so when the time for heroics arrives – they know what to do.
“The good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life… for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.'”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics,Book 2, ch. 4; Book 1, ch. 7.
A few weeks ago as two of my children were rummaging through my pantry, they discovered a rogue candy cane left over from Christmas. This discovery was met with great jubilation – until seconds later when the battle of ownership commenced. My daughter, age 6, claimed it as her own, for she had moved the cereal box and discovered it. My son, age 8, yelled that he had grabbed it first – and speed should count for something. Luckily, good mother that I am, I came to the rescue – with an unparalleled conflict-resolution device – one which is much under-utilized in our society: You cut, I pick. How many wars could have been diverted with this tactic? One party divides the booty, the other gets to pick.
But there was an unforeseen snag. In our previous usage of the You cut, I pick remedy, soft foods were being contested, such as cookies and brownies – so division was simple. The “cutter” would, with the precision of a surgeon, make a cut directly down the middle. Candy canes, on the other hand, are a different animal. I quickly came to understand the applicability of the common cliché – “Them’s the Breaks”.
My naive son opted for cutting – being skilled with a pocket knife. My daughter liked the idea of picking. He examined the cane and attempted to cut it right down the middle (taking into account the bend of the cane of course). But it didn’t break anywhere near his desired location. It snapped off right below the bend of the cane and so left one long piece and one small turn-of- a-piece. My daughter made the obvious choice of the long straight piece and my son was left with the cry, “THAT ISN’T FAIR!”
It’s true. It wasn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. This phrase has a familiar ring to me. As the youngest of seven children, this was one of my mother’s mantras. Attempting to divide up resources and favors equally between seven kids was not easy. Even with her attempts to accommodate all our individual demands for fairness, the nature of life is such that it simply isn’t always possible.
But Life Should Be Fair, Right?
Why do we demand fairness? And we all do. For some reason we come into this world thinking it should be just despite the fact that from the very beginning, we can see it isn’t. “ I am too small to play – this isn’t fair!” “My younger brother is taller than me – that isn’t fair!” “My sister has better hair than I do. That isn’t fair.” “My friends get cell phones and I don’t. This isn’t fair!”
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates examines justice. He even builds a city that operates according to perfect justice. When played out in a city, we see that justice must be the motivator for every actor in that city. Justice cannot live in the world unless it lives in each individual in the world.
“Justice in life and conduct of the state is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.”
Plato, The Republic
Much of our injustice, therefore, is our own fault – meaning the fault of mankind. But Plato also recognizes the injustice of life in general. The “gods’ don’t always dish out favors equally or based on merit and need. Life seems arbitrary sometimes. A devoted mother gets cancer; a jerk wins the lottery. These aren’t small things that we can just toss aside with a laugh. However, they are the nature of existence and wishing it weren’t so, doesn’t help.
Examining Fairness/Justice: Is this really unfair?
First, it might help to examine the particular injustice done to us and see if perhaps we may be misrepresenting it. My ten-year-old daughter, for example, gets upset if we ever let her older brother stay up and watch a football game while she has to go to sleep. Yet, if she were open to the truth, (as I have tried to explain it many times) the reality is not as unfair as she believes. Unfortunately, kids don’t remember the years before they were born – those two years he had to go to sleep early while she got to stay up all night in heaven. He also starts school one hour later than she does, so he can sleep in. He has a great passion for football, and she could care less about it. So as a parent, I try to give “good gifts to my children”. I am attempting to be fair to each, but it looks like unfairness to her. For her own part, she would rather that no one stays up than suffer this injustice. But demanding that he goes to sleep when she does, is unjust to him.
“For it is not because they fear doing unjust deeds, but because they fear suffering them, that those who blame injustice do so.”
Plato, The Republic
I have seen women who get a similar mindset towards men. They see that historically women did not hold many positions of power, that women did not go explore new lands, they didn’t get to study under the Masters in Florence – and they see this as evidence of oppression by men. Wicked men were oppressing women for their own advantage. I am sure there was some of that – but is that the whole story? Many Gender Studies professors suffer from the same disadvantage as my daughter – they don’t remember the way things were and don’t seem overly concerned with understanding intricacies. Not having birth control or menstrual products had a big influence on what women could do. Our technological advances and education have brought freedom for women that was impossible in previous generations. Women’s relative physical weakness has become less important in these comparatively safe times, allowing women more freedom of movement. As the value of children decreases, women make different life choices. So perhaps, with a more complex and open-minded investigation, we may understand that the inequality we see historically between the sexes was not entirely due to the free choice of evil men, but more a function of the nature of reality – and even sometimes out of a desire to protect women.
So would it be fair to kick men out of well-earned jobs to fill a quota? Or have endless education initiatives for young girls and leave behind young boys?* We don’t have to do injustice to some to bring about justice for others.
If it is unfair, then why?
When we examine injustices in our life we seek meaning – we seek a reason and a cause. Sometimes those examinations end in disappointment as we realize “them’s the breaks”. For example, recently I found the book The Gruffalo on my bookcase – a book I had read at least 100 times to my oldest son when he was a toddler. He would ask me to read it to him again and again. I got so sick of reading that book! But I did it because it brought him so much joy. After finding it, I showed it to him so we could reminisce about those days. My son, now 12, could not remember the book at all! At all! Upon this realization, It seemed like all those hours of self-sacrifice dissipated into thin air. So much of mothers’ hardest work: dirty diapers, early morning feedings, potty training trauma – they are all forgotten and unappreciated. Our child loses memory of our hard work and they never look back to ask how they know to use the toilet, or why they have the habit of brushing their teeth. I tried to recount to my son all the hours we had spent reading that book – seeking some kind of appreciation but I could see it fell on deaf ears. My credit was gone with his memory. I felt the harsh unfairness of it all. No wonder mothers have such a low standing in society – none of these people even remember their own mothers greatest sacrifices! I don’t know why we don’t retain these memories of our loving mothers. In the next life perhaps I will discover a good reason. Maybe being a mother is meant to be selfless – perhaps meaning would be lost if we received admiration or glory. I do trust that those hours were not wasted and that he is the good boy he is, in part, because of TheGruffalo.
“To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise.”
We perceive justice and fairness with such limited vision. The world cannot be divided down the middle. We develop different strengths, unique experiences, and perspectives precisely because of the unfairness of the world. Do we really want to make everything equal? No, and we can’t anyway. My shorter son has developed ball handling skills that my taller son doesn’t bother with. My daughter’s friends get cellphones but she has more time to develop her talents, and less drama. “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
So we see that fairness is not easily discerned by us – my daughter still can’t comprehend it after many attempts to explain. That is because we don’t have the big picture. We can’t see the end from the beginning. We don’t see what we really need or how unfairness now, may one day be for our benefit. But we can trust that our Transcendent God does know how to dish out justice – now and in eternity. What we are asked to do is simple: “Do unto others as we would have them do to us”. That is how we act in fairness and justice.
Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
If dealt with unjustly, act justly
Although life can’t be fair and we are often treated unjustly – we can deal justly. We can treat people the way we want to be treated, and teach our children to do the same.
“If it were necessary either to do wrong or to suffer it, I should choose to suffer rather than do it.”
If we believe in the eternal nature of our soul, we see that it really doesn’t matter, ultimately, how unjustly others may treat us – only what we do to them. We have faith that virtue will win and that happiness comes from living virtuously.
“It is a small thing to a man whether or not his neighbor be merciful to him; it is life or death to him whether or not he be merciful to his neighbor.”
When I look back at the last 12 years of motherhood, the episodes I most regret usually involve failed attempts to make things fair. In attempting to make everybody happy – more often than not we end up with everyone unhappy. With different ages, personalities, and preference, we simply can’t please everyone. So we end up disappointing one child and then to make them happier, we disappoint another child. We cannot let our desire to make peace allow us to give bad gifts to our children.
When we discover unfairness – such as the candy cane breaking unevenly – we want to swoop in and try and make things fair. And that is just what I did. I chiseled away at that candy cane to try and make it perfectly even until it was mostly shards and a pile of sugar dust and both children were crying at the unfairness of life.
There are times when we should try and make life fair for our children, but this was not one of them, for it meant doing another injustice. This one perpetrated by my own will.
If I could do it again, I would have told my son – after some comforting: “Them’s the breaks. You chose to cut – and that is how it broke. This is unfortunately how life works out. Sometimes we don’t have as much control as we think. I will not do further injustice to your sister by breaking the code of “You cut, I pick”. It is sad, but at least, now you don’t have to ingest as much sugar which is actually to your benefit.
But instead my poor daughter wept, her trust in You cut, I pick may be gone forever – for I had been unjust and broken the rules of the game. We cannot correct the unfairness of life by perpetrating more unfairness. We cannot bring justice to women by being unjust to men. We cannot make life better for a sorrowful child by taking the joy from a happy child.
A ridiculous topic?
So why discuss justice and fairness? After all, this is a topic that has confused the world for at least 3000 years. Because it is important to recognize what we don’t always understand, for acting without understanding can do great damage to the world. As this clip shows, using the tragic history of Ukrainian Kulak’s as our example, schemes to cure inequity can swiftly result in resentment-fueled injustice for the labeled “oppressor” and dire consequences for society.
Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.
Life is complicated. We don’t have the memory, knowledge, and perspective to be perfect arbiters of justice. When discussing fairness we, and our children, can easily be taken up by feelings of envy or resentment which cloud our judgement.
“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”
So as we seek meaning for the unfairness we encounter, such as hours of unremembered sacrifice for a demanding toddler, we must seek solace in faith. Faith that goodness wins, that justice is rewarded, and that God knows what gifts are good.
“You will never come to any harm in the practice of virtue, if you are a really good and true man (or woman).”
As mothers, we should seek justice and fairness within our homes. I believe that we have a God-given ability to discern what is best for our children – if we clear our own minds of an inordinate need for to make everyone happy, we can discover the best path forward in times of conflict or confusion.
My own mother tried to make life as fair as she could for her children. She prayed and pondered the best ways to accomplish it – but sometimes she had to tell us that “life isn’t fair”. This was a perspective we needed, even if it stung a bit. It’s a perspective I still need. As my pile of sugar dust and crying children demonstrate.
The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men, Christina Hoff Sommers
InTolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo contemplates the ruinous world he faces. He tells his wise and patient teacher,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I often find myself wishing, as Frodo did, that “it need not have happened in my time.” That I could raise my children in a more stable age.
Sometimes we may exaggerate the difficulty and divisiveness of our modern life – especially when compared with the horrific conditions of most of human history. Perspective is often helpful in calming our fears. Yet, as a mother, it is evident that in many ways the world is becoming increasingly divisive, immoral, and selfish. We seem to be headed down well-trodden paths of conflict – roads laid down generations ago and marked with blood and destruction. We are willfully repeating lessons we should have learned long ago. Concerned parents look on in dread as our society descends into tribalism and self interest. We see greed and envy driving public policy; leaders usurping power; distrust and suspicion increasing; cultural unity and patriotism dissipating; faith and humility abandoned…Darkness looms…but Tolkien reminds us, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
As mothers, we must not be naïve – we must face the darkness. We must strengthen ourselves for the journey. Wishing things were different will not accomplish anything. We must act. But how? Our world is starving for virtue. We must accept our role as the Teacher-of-Virtue.
Absent moral and virtuous individuals, societies inevitably degrade. Who can shape the morality of a populace if not its mothers? The world may deny our influence, but the power of a strong mother endures.
“What a mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin.”
Henry Ward Beecher
The solution to our anxieties and to the world’s division, lies in strengthening our families.
“The family is the basis of society. As the family is, so is the society.”
Today, I felt discouraged about the future, about the world my children are inheriting. To cope, I distracted myself from the news and social media, and instead reflected on the love of my husband and children. As I hugged my daughter and read with my son, the day seemed brighter – we made it brighter. Fear will return when my thoughts inevitably rest on harsh realities, but I know what I can do to calm my fears – be a mother that puts her will and energy into raising resilient, educated, and virtuous children.
“Men are what their mothers made them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Frodo expresses his fears to Gandalf – as a child would to a parent – he gazes into the flames and wishes them away. Gandalf acknowledges and empathizes with those fears, but he knows the solution will not be found in staring into the fire. Instead, he pushes Frodo towards the only firm hope he has – his own action. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The world may burn, but we will not do the burning, we will do the building.
“Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”
As mothers, we must have faith in our influence. We can wisely use the time given us. The future is unsure – there will always be anxiety when facing the unknown. But our world will improve when we mothers decide – decide to replace that fear with faith and action, and intentionally teach our children to do the same.
“Pick up the cross of your tragedy and betrayal. Accept its terrible weight….We are all fallen creatures—and we all know it. We are all separated from what should be and thrown into the world of death and despair. We are all brutally crucified on the cross that is the reality of life itself….And the Christian command? To act out the proposition that courage and truth and love are more powerful than death and despair.”
I believe that a society built around Honor and Virtue are crucial if we want to shift our current trajectory. We must be willing to applaud goodness and condemn wickedness. We simply cannot say that all beliefs, actions, and choices are of equal worth and virtue, and still have a society where good can triumph.
I enjoyed the podcast episode below from Young Heretics. It brings a good perspective on the utility of Honor and Virtue, using Roman society as a case-study.
“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis
To me, this image of two rival football teams kneeling in prayer after a hard-fought game provides a contrast to our current polarity. Can we kneel together, despite our differences, despite having opposing goals? Is our society leaving a space for such an act of unity?
First we have to ask ourselves, why would these young men do such a thing? A football game is very real and important to those playing it and a loss is not easily overcome when dreams are on the line. However, we know it is a game so perhaps it is not all that shocking that they can shake off a loss and come together to pray. But real life, with real stakes, surely, is something different. But is it?
In WWI in a remarkable event known as the Christmas Day Truce, young men from both sides, (German and British), despite orders to stay put from their superiors, jumped out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy. They sang together, exchanged gifts, and celebrated the birth of their common Savior. The day before, these young men had been shooting at each other. But somehow, as we imagine those young men grasping hands in 1914, it seems that war had been a game after all, and the Truce was something more real – it was a glimpse of potential. We imagine an opening of truth to these young men, just as the football players experienced something real in that prayer-circle, after what had been just a game. But in order to get those glimpses of peace and unity, there has to be a unifier.
These two groups of young men would go on fighting, go on playing the game – and there is purpose in their conflict, there are lessons that needed to be learned therein. But conflict itself is not the purpose, and they knew this. There was something that made them stop fighting – a power above the disputes of the world. They paused and prayed together to their common God, they celebrated the birth of Christ. Belief in this transcendent truth is crucial for our sense of perspective and our ability to cope in a life full of suffering and strife. There must be something above to give meaning to the things below.
In the late 1800s Friedrich Nietzsche made the bold declaration that “God is dead, and we have killed Him.”* With rising secularism, we see that many, unfortunately, believe in Nietzsche’s unbelief, and live their lives without God. But, as Nietzche understood well, this shift away from God does not come without dire consequences. How, now, are we motivated to come together after a football game, or shake hands during a war? Where can we see the growth in tragedy, or let go of grievances without any hope of eventual victory?
The philosophies of men are like man, limited and finite. They are doomed to follow our follies, our imperfections, and our short-sightedness. We need a guiding philosophy that transcends man, one that humbles us, that emanates from beyond ourselves. Something that falls on all of us – good or bad, Boise State or BYU, German or British. This is the truth that fell on these young men.
There simply is no earth-bound philosophy that can do this. In a post-truth society, there is nothing to bring opposing teams together; no unifier, no comforter. Secular individuals may seek out a worthy existence in a post-truth world, without examining how or why they seek worthiness – but societies will fall.
So what are we left with, without God? Everything is now much more serious. This is no test; there are no games anymore. The end is coming hard and fast. There is no hope for a day of eventual unity and no moral good to strive towards. All beauty, goodness, and truth are simply illusions. There will always be a conflicting philosophy that keeps us from kneeling with an “enemy”. There will always be offenses too distressing to let-go of, with no belief that someone greater can take the burden.
People suffer when their God has died. Our souls become starved as we grasp for meaning and purpose while caught in a downward spiral. We become cogs in a machine. We become our own Superman but with no one to save. Our modern world shows the signs of this secular suffering. We see how people react when their “world” comes falling down, when their political party fails, and when their dreams are shattered. Rather than seeking a hopeful eternal perspective, they must face the bleak world before them. They are less able to laugh at the tragic game of life, less able to forgive, more judgmental, less resilient, and more selfish. It is not necessarily them I blame – these are the natural reactions of a person living in a Godless world.
So we return to our properly-aligned young men. Their displays of unity won’t be applauded by all. Those driving the will of our will-less world will not take it kindly, for it is threatening. They see these football teams kneeling before God and are appalled. They want to stop such displays of religiosity – stop the so-called brainwashing. They portray this display of belief simply as intolerance of other beliefs. Once Truth is discarded, reminders of it tend to sting. The “Conditioners”, as C.S. Lewis calls them – replace our outdated Truth with man-made imitations. And what weak replacements they turn out to be. Their fuel is envy and resentment, their compassion is apathy, and their motivation is power and greed. Postmodernism, Marxism, Subjectivism, Materialism are all designed to tear down all our Christmases, all our prayers on the football field, even our love of our homeland or shared admiration for a historical figure. Nothing can be shared, nothing can be held in common or above the struggle.
But it is a lie. There is a force that unites us all. A truth from above that ignites our inner goodness. We are brothers and sisters. And we know this – it is written in our hearts. We have urgings for love; we desire peace; we feel that loyalty is a virtue. We know that an angry young man is wasting himself. We know that laughter heals. Our deep morality and kinship remain, and these demonstrations, by young and ordinary men, show that there is hope in our deeper natures – for we are always called by higher things.
Note: You may ask, what does this have to do with motherhood? It is crucial that mothers see these dynamics, that we understand the state and direction of the world. When we see the ditches in front of us, we can step around them. When we understand what deception sounds like, we can teach our children to recognize the lies, and to seek out goodness instead. It is so crucial that we mothers don’t follow the destructive philosophies that surround us. It is up to us to ensure that, in our method of mothering, our children will build a future where truth, goodness, and beauty are allowed to thrive.
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Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
A highly informative clip on Nietzsche (the whole video is great) – that helps us understand his worldview and start to see the results of his shift in perspective.
Good clip on Postmodernism, Nietzsche, and conflicting philosophy
There is no such thing as “my truth” or “your truth”. There is “my perspective” or “my interpretation” but “The Truth” is fact, and much more. It is reality. It is what we are all seeking to find. Unique individuals see and experience the truth differently – like a feather and stone experience gravity differently – but they are being pulled by the same force. We have subjective experience with objective truth*. It is useful to try and see things from others perspective because the more sides you see of the truth, the more you grasp it. But perspective is not independent truth.
I think the “my truth” trend is the most dangerous idea being perpetrated on our society today, particularly for our youth and children. Telling our children to find “your truth” gives them absolutely no grounding in life, no ideal to work toward, and no standard to measure their or others behavior. It’s sending our children into the dark woods without a light, map, or destination, and crossing our fingers that they won’t get devoured by wolves. As they venture out into those woods of unbounded “truths”, “their truth” will quickly and inevitably collide with others “truths’”. No one can thrive in such chaos and uncertainly. They cannot know if they have succeeded, if they should feel pride or shame, or if they are right or wrong. In their confusion, they are likely to latch on to a more stable truth – a confident wolf in sheep’s clothing- an ideology they can join minds with, to navigate the chaos. It may be Marxism, Ethno-nationalism, Gender or Sexual Identitarinism….something to make their path more certain.
When we spread the lie of relative truth we are not being inclusive and liberal – we are manipulating reality in order to allow all people to act however they want, perhaps in an effort to free ourselves of guilt for acting out our own basest instincts. This will not lead to love and happiness, but narcissism and broken relationships. We all have a moral code buried deep in our psyche, a sense of right and wrong – we can dull it with neglect and indoctrination- but we will never truly feel peace of conscience, never feel we have progressed, never feel we are “good” – while untethered to The Truth.
C.S. Lewis said, “I want God, not my idea of God.” I want the Truth, not my idea of truth. So next time you hear the phrase “my truth” or “your truth”, let it bother you – because it should.
*Objective truth = truth does not originate from our own mind, there is an external source of truth. My truth = truth is what I decide. “My truth” is most often communicated to mean, “I set my own rules.” This is incorrect. However, this does not mean God’s will is the same for all of us, or always looks the same. He is The Truth, and He dishes it out according to his plan and purpose. Yet He leaves us with many tools to discover it. I plan on doing another post, pulling from great thinkers, clarifying what “The Truth” really means.
The US election is today. Many of us fear for the future of our nation. I find the news, with its dire predictions and “worst-case scenarios”, disquieting. America’s chaotic situation is beyond my control. My thoughts and actions ARE within my control.
“Misery is almost always the result of thinking.”
As I look at my children, I want to be a strength to them. I hope to guide them through these storms as an example of fortitude. I want to be a light in darkness.
“Light unshared is darkness. To be light indeed, it must shine out. It is of the very essence of light, that it is for others.”
I hope in the coming days, instead of ruminating on my own worries – I will share the light I do possess with those that may need it. We all have untapped strength. The political system may be failing – but we have a spouse we love, or children we cherish. Maybe our candidate loses, but we still have our faith in God. We can find confidence in our gratitude. We can use that as a point of strength to help others. The more we stop thinking of our own concerns, and focus on others – the brighter our light. We will be active in relieving suffering, rather than dwelling on our own. So this week, let’s distract ourselves with well-doing. As we sacrifice our own fear, we will bring peace and light to this chaotic world.
I am not going to tell you who I voted for. I am not going to advise you on how you should vote. The answer to the former is likely of little interest to you, and the latter is none of my business. We each have our own mind, our own will, and our own perceptions. We each have in us the ability to seek the truth and make the right choice. I am no lover of politics – perhaps there is no truth to be found therein. However, the problem in our ever-political social environment is what others have called “The Closing of the American Mind”* or “The Coddling of the American Mind.”* Many of us have lost our ability to have an “open mind” – perhaps due to our education, or upbringing, or just laziness.
Having an open-mind means considering contrasting opinions, being willing to have our minds changed, and refusing to castigate those that arrive at different opinions. Instead, we increasingly see the other side as bigots, Godless, or just stupid. We are told “This time is different;” “The stakes are too high;” and “They are too wrong.” That same belief has driven many before us. It drove the atrocities of the Soviet and French Revolution and Nazi Germany. This election may be unique in many ways, but human nature has not changed. Our proclivity towards exaggeration, tribal division, envy, anger, and pride remain the same.
I have been shocked to see people I once respected hop on every social media bandwagon and become judge and jury to their fellow humans. This is not entirely their fault as “the facts” are hard to comeby in our modern climate. I have myself been too quick to assume news as fact. But we must be more conscious in seeking out opposing viewpoints – they are always there – and get the full picture before we jump to outrage.
“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”
We are often told the “other side” is driven by vile motivations or ignorance. The truth is this, all people have similar motivations, and we are all plagued by ignorance. We tend to believe our “enemies” are motivated by bigotry or power and we by love and compassion. The truth is more complicated. We are not as angelic as we would like to believe and they are not as devilish.
The Contempt of Labels
In the last few years we have seen such division in our nation and the world. Much of this division is caused by a true conflict of ideas – Atheist vs Theist, Capitalist vs Socialist, Republican vs Democrat. However, I maintain that it is often the label itself which creates the wedge between us.
Let’s imagine, for example, an open-minded young college student who takes an interest in socialism. He studies it privately. He seeks out opposing viewpoints. He interviews those who have lived under socialism. He researches its history and present-day operation. He does not fear putting socialism under close scrutiny because he is seeking truth, not a label. He remains humble and open to having his mind changed as new information is discovered.
“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.”
George Eliot, Middlemarch
By contrast, what we frequently see is a rush to label and denounce. Take the compassionate and suggestable young man who hears of the goodness of socialism from his one-sided professor. “Socialism is about equality and fairness.” Of course he supports equality and fairness, he would be wicked not to. After a few more episodes of indoctrination, he announces on Facebook that he is a Socialist. He joins groups and organizations promoting Socialism – building an echo-chamber around him. He avoids the opinions of the opposition – “They are greedy, they are not compassionate”. He becomes dogmatic and unwilling to admit to any of the downsides to his new tribe. He defends or ignores dictators and historical atrocities for fear it would poke holes in his ideology, which is safe and comfortable and filled with friends and supporters fighting a common enemy – an evil one. To lose that ideology, after it has become his identity and he has pronounced it to the world, would require an immense amount of humility and introspection – traits he traded in for comfort and safety.
“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There’s not one of them which won’t make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.”
The world is infinitely complicated – and so are we. There is such a shallowness in today’s perspective of identity politics and ideology. There are so many facets to our nature and thinking to examine in life. The more we dig, the deeper and more interesting we and others become. If, instead, I define myself by my political ideology – first and foremost – then when someone I love disagrees with my politics, I must shun or vilify them. When information or actual life experience contradicts my viewpoint, I refuse to integrate it. Once a political, social, or radical philosophy becomes our identity, the chance of changing course is unlikely – for an entire identity is a traumatic thing to lose.
“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”
Corrie Ten Boom
And so it is in 2020 as we approach our presidential election. We pick our labels and we stick to them. We build our ideological walls around us and view outsiders as a threat and anything that contradicts our own viewpoint as “hateful” or “ignorant”.
“We don’t have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem. . . . If you listen to how people talk to each other in political life today, you notice it is with pure contempt. When somebody around you treats you with contempt, you never quite forget it. So if we want to solve the problem of polarization today, we have to solve the contempt problem.”
Arthur C. Brooks
I have seen good Christian women, friends who previously I could not imagine saying a hurtful word, now labeling an entire voting block as racist and cowards. I have seen journalists say that anyone who votes for — is just plain stupid. This is insane and illiberal. These declarations simplify life to black and white- because that is what ideology does. But it is a lie. Life is complex and multifaceted, with various factors and motivations affecting people’s decisions.
“We must never forget that human motives are generally far more complicated than we are apt to suppose, and that we can very rarely accurately describe the motives of another.”
Firm in Truth – While Seeking and Understanding
Does that mean we don’t stand firm in anything and just toss with “every wind of doctrine”? As a Christian, of course, I say no, we must find the truth and feel safe therein. If we feel angry or fearful, we are not in truth.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32
But none of us have arrived at ultimate truth; we are all still seeking. We all benefit from different perspectives and from seeing others in their humanity, despite their differences. If we are right on an issue then opposing views won’t harm us because our truth will stand firm against their falsehood. However, if we are wrong then it would be nice to find out rather than continue believing and living out a lie.
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The experience we have on earth is subjective. A child raised on the streets of India will not see the same world as the daughter of a president. Does that mean there is no bridging the gap or that there is no “real” truth to be found? No. We are all having subjective experiences with objective truth. A feather falls differently than a stone. The quest is to discover the force that works on both of them – gravity. The truth is law, despite our unique experiences with it. We must allow our experience, our suffering, our passions to inform our view, but not close our view.
However, when we are confident we have found an aspect of truth, a moral principle that we should stand firm defending, we do not allow opposition or changing culture to sway us. There is truth to be found, when we find it, we hold it precious.
“Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
However, we also refuse to stereotype our opposition. We are eternal beings having a worldly experience, let’s not allow passing disputes to affect our eternal souls. Let us save space for humility, for places we can say – “I disagree, but I will listen with an open-mind and respect my eternal brother or sister.” When we are respectful of others we are more likely to open their minds to the truths we have discovered.
So how do we decide who to vote for? We decide with an open-mind.
Often when I listen to a fiery sermon, I go away thinking – “I wish Susie could have heard that. Maybe she would clue in to her judgmentalness!” But the fact is this: the sermon was meant for me. I hope instead of considering how others need to drop their anger, stop stereotyping, or closing their minds, we can see how we ourselves need to change. I know I am as guilty as anyone.
We cannot gain truth if we refuse to seek it, in whatever “dark” corner it may dwell. Let’s consider unconsidered reasons why the “other side” may support their candidate. Let’s see the humanity in their choice. Let’s look beyond those things we have previously focused on to discover what policies may entice people. We should not fear such questions – it is a much greater risk to stay angry or ignorant than to let go of some self-imposed label or misperception. Perhaps we will not change our vote, but we will lighten our load.
The world will keep spinning no matter who wins this election- but it will only be bearable to live here if we can seek to understand those that interpret that spinning in a different way.
(We greatly appreciate you sharing this with anyone you feel would benefit. To my wonderful international readers, please forgive the American-focus, I hope you may glean things for your own benefit as well – as political division is universal.)
Quotes on Open-Mindedness
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.
Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
It is never too late to give up your prejudices
Henry David Thoreau
Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Autocrat of the Breakfast Table
Yesterday was my youngest child’s 4th birthday. She followed me around all day asking for details on her cake, ice cream, and presents. To each response she would squeeze my leg and say, “You are the best mom EVER!” Her siblings came home from school and bounded in the door excitedly, yelling “Happy Birthday!” She gave them each a hug, in turn, and said, “You are the best sister(or brother)…ever!” We had a wonderful evening celebrating our enthusiastic, loving, and intelligent little girl. She is our fifth child and despite my children’s pleas for more siblings – my five c-sections and general weariness demands she be the last.
Babies as a scourge.
As I saw this image on my Facebook and read the caption, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet little 4-year old. What would life be like if, like a scene from The Avengers, we snapped our fingers and she, and three of her siblings, vanished – leaving us with only our oldest? Life, for us, would be instantly transformed. However, I highly doubt we, or the environment, would be better off in their absence. Our family would have much more money – more resources to buy new cars, a bigger house, more trips. Is that better? It seems likely that our now smaller family – with our excess – may end up being a bigger strain on the environment. Our demands always seem to exceed our supply. All the resources my four additional children consume – mostly in the form of peanut butter sandwiches and second hand clothes – are unlikely to equal the burden to fulfill the desires of a bored and wealthier family of three. Children help us be content with less stuff – we made the trade for more life.
The other thing that struck me from this billboard, was the image of that sweet black baby. It took me back to my days working with cute babies in Eastern and South Africa. While doing my research and service work, I encountered many pregnant women or new mothers, often in the most destitute circumstances. I would sometimes question the wisdom of these women’s choice to have a child in such conditions. “Isn’t it irresponsible to get pregnant when you couldn’t even afford wood floors for your shack?” However, despite my reservations, these African women took a different view. They would always refer to their babies as a blessing. A new child is always met with celebration in African villages. In contrast, we, in the West, produce billboards featuring black children with a caption encouraging less children. I only pray those of African ancestry stick with the culture of abundance, rather the culture of scarcity we find in the affluent West. (Talk about Neocolonialsims and exporting bad ideas…)
The reality of life with our fifth child seems a direct contradiction to the popular idea of today – “humans are a parasite on the earth”. The earth, they say, is at risk of collapse and each additional child brings it one step closer to destruction. The “scarcity-doctrine” in popular culture has convinced many to either have no children or very few. China went so far as to limit each couple to one child. They came close to creating a sibling-less, cousin-less, aunt and uncle-less society. Is this the path to stability? What stability? Won’t we just need more resources to fill our new lack, in a spiritually and emotionally disconnected planet?
“With each new baby, the whole universe is again put on trial”
In America, we recently saw Amy Coney Barrett, a woman with seven children, nominated to the Supreme Court. Rather than feminists celebrating in the streets at this momentous sign of societal progression, we see questions about her choice to have a large family. Some call her irresponsible for having so many children; others question her motives in adopting children from Haiti. The concepts of “love” “goodness” and “self-sacrifice”are starkly absent in such perspectives.
Does each human soul detract from the world or enhance it? Michelangelo, one of five children, did consume materials from the earth to build the dome of St. Peter’s, but is the world worse off for it?
“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.”
I am the youngest of seven. My eldest brother still recalls my Dad lining up all the kids after my birth and introducing them to their new little sister. He told the children, “This baby is perfect, let’s try not to corrupt her.” They did – and I reveled in the corruption. We had a great childhood. Now we seven live all over the world, but we have a cherished bond that still stabilizes me.
“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply.”
Is the world collapsing?
We certainly need to carefully consider if and when we should have child. But according to Prince Harry, he, a happily-married prince, would be irresponsible to have more than two children…“for the sake of the planet”. But is all this panic and guilt-tripping about population growth actually based in fact? No. The truth is, our world is headed into a demographic winter. The population is decreasing at a rate that is not sustainable. The choice of how many children a couple should have is very personal and should not be dictated or judged by outsiders. However, from society’s point of view – responsible and loving parents should be having more children, not less.
The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population ; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.
It is, of course, true that more people will eat up more resources. This is something we should be aware of and adapt with. My university degree is in Environmental Studies. Sustainable development and conservation are topics I am passionate about. The environment should be protected and parents need to be the primary educators of their children in how and why we care for the earth. But the idea that we are headed towards population disaster is only true if you mean we will have too few people to support the existing ones. We don’t need any encouragement to have fewer babies. We are already choosing not to at alarming rates.* Ultimately the difference between those advocating for a sibling-less society and those, like my African friends, that see each child as a blessing, is perspective. One says “Humans are the scourge of the earth”, the other “Humans are the caretakers of the earth.”
The reality of love.
In order to live in the truth, we cannot allow ourselves to become detached from the spiritual and emotional realities of life. If we exist in a purely material world, reality becomes warped. Statements like “humans are a parasite” don’t sound horrific anymore. Love and goodness are mythical because a material world only runs on power and envy. Such a materialistic life will only lead to misery. We need connection – the more we get, the better life becomes.
Our lives are only full when we have love and a purpose to which we can dedicate our lives. Children fill our lives with love. They are the reason for our striving. They do not take our time, they are the reason we were given time. Every day with my youngest child is a day I get to experience more of life. Her laughter, cries, and the unfolding of her personality are priceless. Her siblings are more emphatic, considerate, wise, humble, and entertained because she exists. As a mother, I teach my children to care and protect the earth and be the solution to environmental problems. They will not be a source of scarcity, but contributors to the abundance of this planet.
So in answer to this ad, I say – Less joy, less excitement, less life, is not the gift you want to bestow on your child. Give them a sibling, and see the Earth flourish as a result.
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The sun had not yet risen but the small lamp in the room revealed a slight curve of hope in the corner of his mouth.
“Okay,” I responded, swinging my feet to the side of the mattress. I knew the moment I stood I’d have to make the bed. It was my way of ‘burning the ships’ and going forward with the day. What I wanted to tell him was that I was tired and sad, maybe a little nervous by all that surrounded me in the year 2020. I resolved with, “I’m not sure what’s next.”
I placed the final two pillows, straightened the corners of the covers, and my husband walked back into the bedroom with two cups of coffee in his hands.
“Come,” he said softly and motioned to the chair beside him.
As I made my way to him, I felt the word resonate on every level of my being and I found myself staggering through the voices of those who came before me. In Dickens where the Ghost of Christmas Present bursts with, “Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol).* Or when Odysseus seeks hospitality from strangers in the Odyssey, “Come, take some food and drink some wine, rest here the livelong day and then, tomorrow at daybreak, you must sail. But I will set you a course and chart each seamark, so neither on sea nor land will some new trap ensure you in trouble, make you suffer more (Homer, The Odyssey).** And Jesus to those weary saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).***
At least once in our lives those closest, our neighbors, and the strangest of strangers, will find themselves curious, tired, or in need. As a social media-driven society we are taught to connect and tag; to highlight possible solutions and disconnect from anything further than our custom feeds. But there is a practice, a unique patience, that used to be implemented in bearing the weight of a present situation or problem.
Xenia is the Greek term for generous courtesy and hospitality. We know its opposite very well as xenophobia, the fear of someone who is perceived to be foreign or strange. As we awake within our nations day to day, how many of us are receiving those with different thoughts and lifestyles in love?
C.S. Lewis writes, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life––the life God is sending one day by day.” (Yours, Jack)
What if, through what we consider interruptions and unpleasant, we focused on the possible friendship of those within our present, instead of the fear? What if our first words each morning, despite how we felt or what’s surrounding us, began with, “Come”?