All we need is love. I honestly believe this – simple and hippy, as it may sound. But what is love? The word is thrown around a lot without a clear definition. This can lead to societal and personal problems. If we understand “love”, as it has been defined for centuries, we can be attuned to the many false claims about love, and see how a changing definition can confuse our good intentions.
Thomas Aquinas defined love as, “to will the good of the other”, or to make a way for goodness to happen to another. C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
So love, here defined, is more than just a feeling, but it requires some concern, or care, for the long-term welfare of the beloved.
But this is different from the love we hear shouted from the rooftops today “I love you; I just want you to be happy!” The declaration “I want you to be happy” requires no will – no action or investment. You get to be kind, but aren’t tied to any responsibility or consequences. These two “loves” – the willful love and affirmation love – are in great conflict with each other. One says – “I want you on a good path;” the other says, “Choose whatever path you want.” In the friction between these loves, we see the origin of many of our modern battles.
The war is subjectivism vs objectivism. Modern philosophy tends toward postmodern ideas such as, all truth is relative, virtue is socially-constructed, and logic and reason are suspect. Objective truth says that goodness, truth, and beauty are real and the pursuit of these may lead us down different paths, but they all ascend upwards to ultimate truth. Therefore modern philosophy would lead us towards approval of whatever choices we see – because “good choices” are an illusion and consequences random. Objective truth says that we should desire those we love to walk a path of virtue and towards good ends.
Often those that hold firm to objective truth are accused of being “unloving” – but is it loving to sway from truth?
So when we analyze statements about love, or our own “love” for others, let’s ask:
Is this “love” willful encouragement, or blanket affirmation? This introspection can lead us to the underlying philosophy informing the love.
There is certainly a place for happiness-wishing and affirmation. As well as for willful love. Which sentiment we should enact depends entirely on what we are affirming, and what role we play in the life of the beloved.
Willful Love and Affirmation
For example, I care about my daughter. I care about her health. I want to start her out with healthy eating habits, because these will help her down the road. I try and ensure she has nutritious food and understands proper portion size. I do this because I care about her future; I love her and I know the pitfalls of unhealthy eating.
On the other hand, if I use the affirming definition of love, “I want her to be happy” – then I would let her eat whatever she wants. She has made it perfectly clear that candy, not vegetables, makes her happy.
Now, most parents would say that, of course, the willful love is the love that drives their parenting. They want to ensure their children are on the road to a stable and fulfilling future. But it isn’t an easy love, as any mother attempting to get her toddler into a car seat knows – it requires discipline and action and is often in opposition to what the child wants. But they are our children, and it is our role to care for them and seek their long term good.
But there is also a place for saying ‘I want you to be happy”. For example, if I had my daughter’s friend over for dinner and she didn’t want to eat her vegetables but did want to eat her candy, I certainly wouldn’t force the issue. Her immediate happiness is more important to me than her long-term happiness and I don’t have to be around for the sugar-crash. I don’t want to “mother” her; it is not my job. I simply want to be kind, and for her to have a fun time. But I shouldn’t deceive myself into thinking that I am “loving” her by allowing her to eat candy.
Stay in our Lane: When Not to Will
Today our culture is free and loose with the “be happy” kind of love and not so much with the “will your good” kind. If we ever stop short of total acceptance of any behavior, no matter how self-defeating it may be in the long-term, then we are seen as lacking love and compassion.
“Societies are far gone in depravity when toleration is seen as a good in itself, without regard to the thing being tolerated.”
We see much concern for the group – less for the individual. The desire to see others live ‘the life they want’ is often made in broad terms -without much concern for the consequences which may descend upon the individual in said group. This apathy towards the one will lead to an unstable and disjointed society.
“The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.”
While many shout the evils of intolerance, we see a heightened judgmentalness in daily interactions. We share our every action on Social Media, seeking approval or praise. Then when we see others acting “inappropriately” or “unwoke” – we quickly condemn them. I think a lot of this conflict could be alleviated by going back to the good old days of “minding our own business” – and unplugging from the twisted reality online.
It is none of my business if the guy in front of me at the gas station buys cigarettes, but I am not going to encourage my children to. Often it is best to keep our concern geared towards those we have willful love for. I have no right to judge the cigarette smoker ahead of me- I don’t know anything about him. Let’s live and let live. If we find ourselves overly bothered by strangers actions, we are likely ignoring our own. It’s tough enough acting virtuously ourselves; who has the energy to try and get random people to do it.
When dealing with people outside our “charge”, kindness should kick in, through polite thoughtfulness or withholding judgment.
Validating the Wrong: When Not to Affirm
If we do hold responsibility over a person, and we love them, we should not allow affirmation to block them on their path to joy. We should not support that which we feel is wrong or will lead to sorrow. Perhaps it is not our place to say anything – but let’s not lean into the default of “whatever makes you happy”. Kindness does not always equal validation.
“If I am forced into a position where I have to validate your identity… What if your identity is wrong? What if it’s pathological? What if it doesn’t serve you well?…and if I start validating you, do you think I am your friend? I am not your friend at all, I am a mirror for your narcissism.”
I remember in high school my friend “fell in love” with a guy a year older than her. She was obsessed with him. I hate to be blunt, but he was a loser. He did drugs; he was a jerk to her; he was heading down a dark road. Despite these well-known facts, some of my friends decided to just be happy for her. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to ruin my friendship because I could see she adored him but I knew she was being naive. I decided to subtly express my doubts about his character and hope that would be enough for her to start doubting him. After his true colors were shown, it was me she clung to, not her ‘supportive” friends’.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Romans 12:9
There may be times when we may need to let go of our will and lean into “live and let live”, even with members of our family, or close friends. We need to have the humility to realize we may not know the best way to show love, or what the proper path for another may be.
We should accept that people’s choices are their own and we cannot control someone into choosing virtue. Yet, when it becomes apparent that our striving is not helpful or desired, we need not retreat to affirmation of behavior we know to be unwise or unvirtuous. We can disagree with someone’s choices and still love them. We maintain our love and hand the situation over to God. He will never stop striving with His child.
The Love Dilemma
I am currently reading the Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and he skillfully unravels this conflict between affirmation and willful love. He uses the analogy of the “progressive” Grandfather-God and a traditional Father-God. His statement is worth pondering:
“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. But by Love, most of us mean kindness (affirmation) – the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’.
“…Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards* who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. (Hebrews 12:8) It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.”
The Father-God does not shrug off wasted potential, for He sees all possibilities.
A society that has adopted a warped love will produce “bastard children*” (children we aren’t too concerned about “turning out”). This form of love is quite dangerous for it encourages behaviors, not based on their virtue or merit, but on the emotions they produce – happiness. But if we know one thing about ourselves, it is that we don’t have any idea what will really make us happy. We just go from pleasure to pleasure – seeking one that will stick.
“Remember our words, then, and whatever is your aim let virtue be the condition of the attainment of your aim, and know that without this all possessions and pursuits are dishonorable and evil.”
We Have No Clue About Happiness
In Leo Tolstoy’s tragic novel, Anna Karenina, Anna left her husband and went after passion – a passion which faded and left her in a state of misery and torment – ending in her suicide. Would Anna Karanina’s friends have been right had they affirmed her desire to “seek happiness” and leave her husband and follow her passion? No, she didn’t know the first thing about her own happiness. But she did know, down to her soul, the difference between deceit and honesty. She knew selfishness was evil and loyalty righteous – and these truths and consequences came back to haunt her long after her “happiness” faded.
“He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires.”
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina- speaking of Vronsky, Anna’s lover
The Danger of Loving Without Caring
When we throw around affirmation to any and all we meet, we may be doing a lot more damage than good. We suffer no consequences for such “loving” – but the “loved” one may be validated to continue down paths that lead to misery.
We may honestly desire to ease the burden of the drug-addicted young man, or the unfaithful woman. Yet too often, we go about it in the wrong way. Our modern solution is not changing behavior- but changing society’s perception of that behavior. Affirming their path. If we could only take the shame away from all actions, then all would be free to be happy. But Anna and her lover’s happiness faded when their passion did and society’s endorsement of adultery would not have prevented it. Emotions are fleeting; right and wrong endures. There are bad paths. There are also many good paths. Not everyone’s path must be the same, for we all have unique gifts and purposes. But stepping into unknown lives without understanding and attempting to make their paths easy, can lead to great suffering.
This piece focuses largely on love’s counterfeits, or what love is not. However, there is a whole world of love open to us, and it will change the world. God wants us to love our neighbor, and the methods we may utilize are varied, and often unexpected. I hope to do another piece soon on what great thinkers have said about accessing Agape, or unconquerable benevolence. This love has no limits – it is for the man in front of us in line, our friend, and our enemy.
*I mean no offense by this term – I use it as it was meant in the scriptures where the connotation was different that it is today. In this situation it means: children whose future we don’t fret about.
“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them.”
Please forgive me for dipping into fear again, butlast week’s fear-quoteshave been swirling in my head all week, so perhaps it warrants another post.
At times it feels our entire world is holding its collective breath, bracing for the next disaster, awaiting inevitable misery and unhappiness. We assume the worst intention behind every action and self-interest behind every decision. We feel justified because so often the cynical view is confirmed. But what other view is there?
The Hopeful View
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst of all are our own fears.”
Fear is a self-fulling prophecy; it is a disease. Once we start seeing the world as a scary and uncertain place – it is difficult to dislodge that belief. The world, and its inhabitants, become hostile and unfamiliar. Fear lies – it only tells us a sliver of what might be, and leaves out all else that could be.
A fearful outlook of the world can be passed down through the generations. Perhaps our own mother saw the world as a dark place – and her mother, and her mother’s mother. Fearful mothers produce fearful children. In order to stop the chain, we need to get a handle on our fear.*
“Through every generation of the human race there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.”
Alexander the Great
We would be naïve if we did not see the reality of pain and imperfection – but hope is not naïve, it is courageous. Mothers know well that our love and self-sacrifice are real, so life is more than vying for power or self-interest. We also know that many of our past worries never materialized, so fear and suspicion are often wrong. Considering the truth “We reap what we sow,” surely it is better to face life with hope and love rather than fear and distrust.*
Water and Hope
We were one of the millions of families impacted by the recent severe winter storm in Texas. We recently moved onto some land and into an older home. I confess that I worried our old pipes would freeze and our well pump would go out. Then my mind settled on the “facts” that all the plumbing supplies would surely be bought up…all the plumbers would be booked out for weeks… they might not find all the cracks… Every woman knows the never-ending pit of worry. I was letting these fears take up long-term residence in my head. I was losing sight of all else.
However, the words of G.K. Chesterton kept coming to mind, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” (See why I love quotes? Others’ wisdom saves me from my own weakness). So I changed course and I took to calling it an “adventure” instead of a hardship. And so it became one. When the power went out, we read “The Lord of the Rings” in front of the fire. The boys chipped away at our pool to get water for flushing toilets; the little girls searched out the best make-shift sleds; and my oldest daughter helped organize emergency supplies. My son’s birthday came and went without electricity or water. He didn’t mind. He said, “This is a birthday I will never forget.” Worries did pop up now and then, but, I diverted my energy to preventing further hardships and appreciating the advantages of our situation. I didn’t miss the joy of adventure in expectation of the difficulty. Pipes can be repaired, unrealized-joy found in moments will pass and be lost forever.
Hope When Fear Speaks Truth
But my fear was justified, at least in part, because the pipes did burst. To be honest, I had actually underestimated the damage and financial hardship the storm would cause. We still don’t have heat. Our AC system was damaged beyond repair due to the frequent power outages. Our barn flooded, my husband sliced his hand open trying to fix pipes, and our pool now has a serious leak. So perhaps our fears aren’t liars. Perhaps my other fears will come to pass? The country will split apart. The political and economic situation are just going to keep getting worse. So is hope futile after all? Yes. If we place our hope in the wrong things.
Think of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings- when he sets off to destroy the ring, he has no clue how scared he should be. He can’t imagine just how bad things will get. If he did know, he would likely stay in his cozy hobbit hole. As he experiences the pain and suffering which accompanies any great quest, he fears what other evils may lie before him – but in stillness there is also something else that propels him forward. Love – for his homeland, for Samwise, for goodness. Faith that there is a plan. And Hope. So he pushes on in hope. Not hope that the Orcs will see the error of their ways, or that some treaty between Mordor and Gondor can be struck. He hopes that good will triumph, and that he can be used toward that end.
In the Bible we hear a description of the “last days” and the fear that enters men’s hearts when they place hope on the things of the world.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity...Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken….And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Luke 21
Hope should not be placed in pipes, not in government, not in an easy life. Hope will triumph if we place it in that which doesn’t fail. Hope in truth, hope in life, and the life to come. Hope that goodness comes to the good, if not now – then eventually – that as Cicero said, virtue is its own reward. Hope cannot be that things will turn out well, but that we can turn out well. Ultimately, our hope is in God.
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Over 2000 years ago there was a woman, like me, who thought of water. She walked to a well to gather her water, like millions of women around the world still must do. She was confident in her well for it had been a reliable source of water since the time of Jacob. But she met a man there who didn’t strengthen her confidence in the water she drew, in fact he made her doubt it.
John 4: Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Physical needs and distresses are real, like thirst, and often we do not have the power to satisfy them. While these needs are important, there is a thirst that transcends physical thirst. A thirst, which if satisfied, can aid us in putting all other thirsts in proper perspective.
I always want to write for a general audience, atheist and theist alike. However, I find (I believe Plato had this same problem) often when I try to “wrap-up” my arguments, they don’t really make sense if you don’t believe in immortality. In Plato’s Phaedo and Apology, the only good reason Socrates could give for feeling hopeful when facing certain death was his belief in immortality. The only way we can face irreconcilable evil, or the unfairness of life, or the fact that much worse than broken pipes is sure to come – is to have faith that we have a soul and that our soul will continue to a place where wrongs will be made right and our goodness will be rewarded with goodness.
“Those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying, and they fear death least of all men.”
Socrates (Plato’s Phaedo)
The world is a dark and ugly place without this belief. I believe we have been given ample evidence of God, of immorality, of beauty, of goodness – but we will always need faith and hope to fill in the gaps. The only hope outside of Hope in God is Hope in The World – and hope in the world will only lead to disappointment.**
“If you were to destroy the belief in immortality in mankind, not only love but every living force on which the continuation of all life in the world depended, would dry up at once.”
A woman who is seeking living water is not easily confounded by a dry well, or a broken pipe. I am grateful for those little drops of living water that sustained me through our adventure: the memory of a phrase by Chesterton, my daughter discovering the perfect sled in our large metal bowl, the screams of happiness every time the lights suddenly turned on, the love of my family and my God. So yes, a lot of things haven’t gone “well” for me the last few weeks, since the cold descended on Southern Texas. Inconveniences, financial stresses, discomfort, and even stitches – but I retain a greater hope, because my hope was rewarded.
**Let me be clear, I absolutely believe that Atheists can be, and many are, good and moral – and may be more so than some theists. However, the philosophy, or non-philosophy, of Atheism gives us little reason for a hope such as the one Christ describes- a Living hope – one that transcends the disappointments of our immediate physical surroundings.
Note from Author
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I found these two videos insightful – their contrast of the limitations of the Adversary with the Abundance of God.
Great song, Fear is A Liar by Zach Williams.
Jordan Peterson on Trust and walking forward in courage
A recent newspaper article showed a remarkable image, two rival football teams kneeling in prayer after a hard-fought game. American Football fans will know that rivalries and losses are real for these young men – so such displays are rare. The image provides a stark visual contrast to our current political and social polarity, in the United States and many parts of the world. 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 serious to those playing it, dreams and pride are on the line. However, despite its perceived importance, it is still just a game, so we can see how displays of unity are possible. 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 Nietzsche understood well*, this shift away from God does not come without dire consequences. Without God, 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.
We see this often with publicly-displayed breakdowns when our candidate loses, or indiscriminate rioting in the streets when we feel our group is persecuted. We see such isolation in our modern grief. We are told: our nation was build on blood so don’t turn to patriotism for stability; our religions are all hypocritical and intolerant so theology won’t calm you; our political and social leaders are corrupt so don’t seek advice from those lying lips; even the individual standing next to you is simply a product of implicit biases and privilege’s; and God, we are told – He is in our mind – an evolutionary adaptation. So we stand alone in a dark and wicked world.
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. But is this bleak world-view true? In the Scientific Method we know that something is true if it works in experimentation – is this working?
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 see the potential in an angry young man – if he could see the Truth. God is alive, and His workmanship is all around us, hope and joy are available to all. 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.
If you believe in what we are doing here on the Philosophy of Motherhood, please share our website and posts with your friends and family.
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
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
Responses to Covid-19 vary within nations, states, counties, towns, families, and individuals. The new tension within these groups, created by our responses to Covid-19, has created collateral damage in our relationships, financial lives, civic lives, and governance. While, in general, it is easy to criticize strong responses, my interest in this article is not to critique our responses to the crisis, but how to recover from the damage they have caused to our personal relationships. Our relationship lives have been affected by both social distancing and our deeper immersion in the polarized public response to political action. Once the threat and fear of the virus has subsided, we must assume that collateral damages to our relationships will remain. Now what?
CRISIS RESPONSE: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
As is typical in the fog of crisis, it’s hard to see the silver lining. Many families are facing financial ruin due to government-mandated cessation of their revenue. While that subject deserves loud discussion, this article does not intend to focus on that component of the Covid-19 tragedy. Here, I intend to look at some nuanced changes in our social relationships and their implications. It’s not as if there are no positive social outcomes from our response to this pandemic. No doubt, in houses across the USA that have not been visited by medical despair brought on by Covid-19, families have been expressing some positive sentiment about baking more bread at home, reducing expenditures, creating more reliable family rhythms, and increased time spent with nuclear family members. Also, I suspect there is serious upside potential in re-thinking how we educate our children. We are learning a lot about the means of education while schools are closed. And regarding friendships, many families are doubtlessly pleased to find that some friendships are being prioritized while others are fading. This is kind of a study in the Darwinian fitness of our friendships. Only the strong [friendships] will survive while the weaker ones will fade into oblivion. This will allow more decidedly “important” priorities to arise within families. That’s great. But, seeing the upside in the shake-down of our friendships will require us to deal with some negative feelings as well.
Let’s look at how shame fits into this scene. Shame can be either self-imposed or foisted on us by others.
SHAME ON YOU
The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the tension in our already-tense public discourse. Being immersed in strong opinions about political action is not new to us. However, this dynamic has really ramped up and been accentuated with some additional features. Rather than merely each waking moment being an opportunity to shout our opinions about Federal competence, we now have added opportunities to squabble about varying expert medical opinions, failed infection rate models, fiscal and monetary action, the role of scientists in a cohesive advisory body, the costs and benefits of planned economic slowdown, whether or not human safety can be discussed in terms of monetary cost, the effectiveness of our local government’s response in comparison to that of other cities and counties, etc. As if we didn’t have enough to disagree about, Covid-19 is providing ample opportunity for us to further upset each other with differing opinions. Add the risk of lethal infection and observe heightened levels of emotion.
Being worked up about any or all of the changes resulting from our reaction to Covid-19 needs no justification. Change can be hard to accept. Add to that any mistrust or cynicism toward decision makers or community members and it is natural to get frustrated. However, how about when someone close to you starts talking in a way that really irks you? How about when a friend or family member starts talking ignorant nonsense? We are familiar with the admonishment of a person when they say something stupid, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” Maybe they should be. Or maybe you aren’t listening well enough. Thus, the emotional walls can be erected and catapults loaded with burning tar.
When the dust settles after any social display of anger or fear there is always at least one party who is left feeling less than good. Someone is left sweeping up the pieces (maybe under a rug!) and reconciling what just happened. Part of the fallout when someone recognizes that they over-reacted is the feeling of shame.
We often feel ashamed or humiliated from our own public displays of weakness or vulnerability. This is as true for uncontrolled crying in public as it is when we look physically incompetent by stumbling on the sidewalk. We can feel shame when we display any type of incompetence that is seen by strangers. Losing a job can feel shameful if we think the loss makes us appear inadequate. A girlfriend or boyfriend breaking up with us after we admitted love to them makes us feel ashamed. Losing a house to fire can make us vulnerable and ashamed when our projection of competence is interwoven with our possessions. I had a friend who felt deep shame after their home was plundered by burglars. Even on social media, unhinged outbursts and emotional recriminations toward our neighbors fit this description. Losing control is rarely seen as virtuous and many think it is shame-worthy.
The cloak of privacy that shields our identities on social media doesn’t help matters. I like the analogy of a Mardi-Gras mask and social media. When people don a flamboyant mask (I’m not talking about an N-90 face mask) at Mardi-Gras they might feel more apt to do something out of their ordinary because they feel anonymous. However, committing what you might think is a slimy act while being unrecognized doesn’t change the fact that you observed yourself making that particular decision. Will you feel ashamed at having done so? Maybe. The experience of unfettered freedom does not guarantee the feeling of pride in what you choose to do with it. The same goes for our behavior on social media. Regardless of how the person in question feels, we often think a person’s lack of emotional control is deserving of shame.
Emotional control is certainly virtuous for civilized adults, but hardly something to force in a young toddler. As a first-time parent of a toddler, I had to learn this lesson begrudgingly. If emotional control is required for my children to participate in society, why couldn’t they just learn it early! Since realizing that children can only learn to regulate their emotions from adults who model it, I have (far too often!) found myself in a horribly strange house of mirrors where my frustrations are simultaneously cause and result of difficult moments with my children and wife. Some of these emotionally-complicated moments just feel like a small slice of Hell and shame is not helpful for anyone.
This isn’t to say that shame is never helpful. Even for children, an interior feeling of shame can be both a helpful indicator that they behaved incorrectly, as well as a motivator to not repeat the incorrect action. Self-imposed shame can be felt in big doses and small doses, and can likewise be useful or toxic. As with many things, the “poison is the dose.” It might be that the interior perception of our own shame is useful only in proportion to our capacity for self-reflection and ability to articulate a way forward.
When shame is cast by one upon another, the scenario gets even muddier. Why would someone cast shame on others? Sometimes they deserve it. Casting shame can function as an accountability mechanism in a community of adults who share common interests. To the extent that the interior experience of shame motivates us to avoid shame-worthy behavior, others can signal it in our direction when they think we are toeing the line of inappropriate behavior that jeopardizes our common interests. Beyond this, people can cast shame for all sorts of dark reasons. Maybe they see something in another that they hate about themselves and fight it with casting shame outward. When we shame others, we had better either get it right or apologize quickly.
Shame is often cast on others very hypocritically. In our responses to Covid-19, we have created a lot of opportunity to cast shame on strangers. A good buddy of mine was tide-pooling at a beach with his daughter the other day. There wasn’t a person in sight. Soon, a duo of cyclists cruised by. One of them shouted, scornfully, at my friend, “Social distancing!!” To what benefit? I’m not sure, but the attempt at shame-casting was shame-worthy.
In an environment of heightened emotions, we might think other people are acting shamefully with more regularity than usual. Or maybe, with a little reflection, even our own actions deserve a little shame.
SHAME ON ME
In social distancing, we have agreed to not see people that we would normally spend time around. Some of these people we miss dearly. Others, we are pleased to avoid. Some other social situations we had previously not considered avoiding, but now enjoy their absence. How does this affect us? Usually, when we get enjoyment from an act we “should not” enjoy, (like eating too much cake or avoiding a friend or family member) we feel at least a little bit of shame or guilt. There’s a reason we call it a “guilty pleasure.”
Humor me while I indulge in a hypothetical shaky moment between uncertain friends. Let’s say that you have a monthly dinner date with a friend but the requirements of social distancing prevent you two from meeting this month. Also suppose that you were getting a little tired of this monthly dinner date. The whole idea of monthly meetings was an experiment. He wasn’t really that great of a friend, and you suspect that he benefited more than you did from the monthly meeting. After all, all he did was complain about mutual acquaintances and you found it annoying. While you thought he was a bit broken, you could see that he needed a friend. You were happy to be that friend when it was convenient, but now seems like a great opportunity to duck out of the arrangement. “Thank you, social distancing.” Next month, maybe you’ll feel different.
You’re probably thinking that this relationship was destined to dissolve (and maybe they should try different meds) but that isn’t necessarily true. Government-mandated restrictions on gatherings create a layer of fog between some friends. The veil of ignorance covering the reason for friends not seeing each other (“Have they not visited because of government mandate, or just because they don’t like me?”) creates a prisoner’s dilemma where we can do more harm than good.
The psyche is a bizarre thing. What happens when we observe ourselves wronging a person with whom we have an unsigned contract of friendship? Shame begets mistrust. When we feel a little ashamed about avoiding our friend, our psyche, in a tantrum of projection and blame avoidance, can easily generate mistrust toward the person we wronged. Once we wrong that person (by neglecting our relationship) we assume his willingness to neglect, or betray, the relationship too. Thus, we can begin to mistrust another person when we grow suspicious of their capacity for betrayal. What tipped us off to the idea that they might betray our friendship? Our own betrayal of the relationship… no matter how small it might have been at the time. We assume our friend is unaware of the pleasure we gained from avoiding him. However, this pleasure is not without consequence. In fact, we might begin to mistrust him precisely when we understand that he might get the same guilty pleasure by neglecting our friendship in like fashion. I don’t need to point out the obvious immaturity here. In this example, the root cause of our mistrust toward our friend’s commitment is actually our own shame in choosing to avoid him.
Changes in our psyche are rarely made under our full control. One emotion morphs into another when we see our reflection (no matter how distorted) in another person. In this example, we are obviously not talking about a super high-quality friendship that has weathered many ups and downs. Many friendships can benefit from the endurance of stress. Others whither and disappear, and not without emotional fireworks. While some personalities are far more neurotic and insecure than others, everyone must maintain positive relationships for overall health. Government-mandated social distancing has fertilized the soil for negative feelings between friends. And this can make us ashamed of ourselves.
Cringe-worthy behavior not befitting of our pre-Covid-19 social interactions can yield self-righteous indignation, pity, resentment, belittlement, or self-centered anger. We mustn’t forget that we will see our friends and family again. Even a single moment of resentment or pity toward a community member or family member will silently change the dynamic.
Covid-19 has, indeed, presented additional complications to an already-complex world. One of many results is an increase in potential for shame in our social lives. This additional amount of shame has resulted in damage to our social fabric that is difficult to quantify. How do we mend the fabric, and who is responsible for righting the wrongs?
As an analogy, let’s look at how we recuperate financial losses before looking at social losses. To the extent that we as individuals have taken financial losses due to societal responses to Covid-19, our solution sounds easy; “Give me my money back.” If money is lost, and debt accrued, because of a mandated response, then an appropriate post-crisis recovery includes an attempt to recuperate those financial losses and resolve the debts. Because we can chalk up these losses to either an act of God or to government restrictions on income, choosing the methods by which we are made financially whole is obviously problematic. We have many options, such as renewed personal commitments to save instead of borrow, work extra hours, business ventures that profit from the post-Covid-19 landscape, insistence that governments intervene on our behalf with the redistribution of other’s resources, etc. The possibilities are endless. Nonetheless, quantifying the loss is not impossible, and most of us agree on our desires to recuperate financial losses and pay down personal debts.
SHAME AS DEBT
To the extent that love and careful attention are a relationship’s currencies of transaction, shameful social action puts us in debt to those with whom we share friendship. Acting shamefully towards our community members is to over-spend our relationship currency, no matter if the act is passionately unwitting or deliberately malicious. Shameful social action is deficit spending; an emotional debt payable to those in our community.
How can we ever pay this back? How can we encourage others to move on and forget our shameful actions? The shameful debtor is in a helpless position. How can we work it off? For the answer, we must put ourselves in the shoes of the person to whom the relationship debt is owed.
The ancient Israelites had a way of dealing with debt that can be useful in this discussion. Every forty-ninth year was a “Year of Jubilee” wherein all debts were forgiven, slaves freed, and prisoners released. This effectively placed a ceiling on how big a debt could grow. Applied to this discussion about emotional debt and the release from shame, we can see how a moment of Jubilee would effectively limit the size of any grudge. (I suggest not waiting forty-nine years.) How does Jubilee translate to personal shame amidst our responses to Covid-19? Show a little mercy.
We must have mercy on those whose actions we think deserve humiliation. I think marriage and parenthood have equipped us with some useful tools here. Routinely in family life, there is somebody over-reacting, freaking out, lashing out, blowing up, or breaking down. Whether the cause is missing an afternoon nap or anger toward political theater is irrelevant. In a family where emotional closeness is requisite for proper function, the forgiveness of ridiculous acts is eventually required. Sometimes, following a shameful act of irrational frustration, a peaceful understanding is reached through explanation and discussion. Other times, blood-sugar is low, sleep deprivation has set in, and work is stressful. In these situations, we constantly say and do ridiculous things that we would never plan on doing after a full night’s rest, hearty breakfast in our belly, and gleeful work environment. When our spouses act in such irrational ways, and we think we understand why, what do we do? Show some mercy. They deserve it.
In stressful times, people freak out. Shall we hold it over their heads? Shall we ransom them with ridicule and reminders? Shall we be the type of debt collector that brutalizes his debtor? Of course, strangers on social media are not the same as family members in our household. Also, some behavior absolutely requires legal response. What I’m talking about is the irrationality that can drive wedges into our social lives due to stressful and extraordinary times. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Show some mercy. A lot of us need it right now.
I am forty years old man with a wife, a 4-year old son, and a 2-year old daughter. We live in the Pacific Northwest. We want our children to become good spouses, parents, reliable employees/employers, and responsible citizens one day. Parenting strategies often permeate conversations that my wife and I have. Like most parents, we are perpetually discussing ways in which we can rear our children properly. We read about discipline, emotional expression, resilience, healthy attachment, and so on.
I suspect there is such a thing as being so deliberate that the “soul” of parenting is eclipsed by external advice. I sometimes wonder about the downside risk for children when their parents over-prioritize their own rationality in the parenting process. But, having said that, what have we learned from “studying” parenting in our household? Certainly, we’ve learned that there is no single “method” which is comprehensively correct.
I remember when our son was very young, I would frequently (and cynically) think this about parenting books: Each person has their own unique combination of neuroses and coping strategies. When two people pair up and create a couple, their neuroses and coping methods mesh (and clash!) to create yet another unique emotional landscape. Now introduce the particular eccentricities of a new-born child’s neuroses and peculiarities into the scene and watch them create what we’ll now call a “family dynamic.” If everyone’s neuroses and coping strategies blend into a perfectly cohesive (including codependent!) flow of emotional ubiquity, one of the parents will write a parenting book about what they did, how they felt about it, and why everyone else should follow suit! For the rest of us, we deal with a perilous emotional landscape of briars and roses, mountains and valleys.
A bit cynical? Sure. Sleep-deprived parents are sometimes prone to cynicism. I don’t mean to say that everyone who writes about parenting has a disturbingly codependent home life. However, it is true, that a cohesive emotional landscape does not have to be a pretty one. A family dynamic can be uniformly terrible. This is to say that a parent doesn’t have to read a ton of parenting books before recognizing conflicting ideas and competing motivations between many books, and the dominance of sometimes narrow perspectives from which any book can be written. The point of being deliberate in our parenting (if we can include studying as deliberation) is not to eventually stumble onto a golden goose that will deliver perfect wisdom to every scenario, but to simply gain perspective, increasing our capacity for wise decisions.
Adding to the ambiguity is a dubious consensus among many Westerners that we are experiencing some broad cultural problems at the moment. If this is the case, and we are acting, learning, and endeavoring in the context of a troubled culture, then why should we put stock in the system? How do we know when we are ingesting others’ psychoses as palliatives? And how do we ensure we don’t disperse our own psychoses to those in distress in the guise of compassionate advice?
Because it is important to take parenting “strategies” and advice with a grain of salt we have to somehow put this recent genre of literature in the context of something much bigger. When saturated with conflicting ideas about parenting, all claiming efficacy, we must pursue more fundamental dynamics. When things become unclear, we must step back and ask what has generated our ideas, and with what intention?
TOWARD FUNDAMENTAL DYNAMICS
One such dynamic that might generate fruitful contemplation is the ancient tension between Being and Becoming. Philosophies and religions have dealt thoroughly with these matters, and with diverse orientations. Most religion and philosophies generally emphasize either Being or Becoming more than the other.
“Being” is a broad philosophical concept referring to objective and subjective essences of both material and immaterial reality. Fixed, absolute, realities.
“Becoming” is a different, just as broad, philosophical concept that asserts everything is impermanent. “No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”
Who was right? Parmenides, when he said “what is-is.” Or Ephesus, when he said nothing in this world is constant, except change and becoming? One can easily get wrapped in pretzels around these questions, but these fundamental questions do, indeed, have effects that influence our daily lives and awareness.
Consider the difference between Zen’s emphasis of meditation on Emptiness (a way to conceptualize/embody/unify with absolute Being) versus an evangelical Christian’s emphasis on being “born again” (a way to conceptualize Becoming as paramount). These are very different approaches to the inner awareness that orients us within an unseen reality. Our immersion in these questions (via methods of inquiring about nature, our religious organizations, social discourse, etc.) does influence how we think about the world, our family, and ourselves.
From the time of Jesus through the end of the fourth century A.D., what was developing into “the Christian tradition,” a rare conceptual and experiential harmony was in place between Being and Becoming. The basic worldview was held between many writers from this time period (and into the following few centuries) that there is indeed mostly ungraspable transcendent Being, and within it, as incomplete expressions of infinite Being, humans Become. Humans can’t fully embody Being, the best we can do is honor it while Becoming. We cannot fully embody an absolute essence, but absolute essences are the context for our inevitable becoming.
A simplified understanding of the early Judeo-Christian deity is that its name is a somewhat ambiguous conjugation of “to be.” Speaking with the deity, Moses flat-out asks the deity to describe its own name, and the reply was “Eyeh-asher-Eyeh.” This is often translated in English as “I AM”. The Israelites translated their bible from Hebrew into Greek around 250 BC and the same passage got translated as “ego eimi o on,” or, “I am the One Being”. In the ancient world, neighboring tribes deified and made appeals to principalities like rain, war, and lust, each being embodied by a personage, animal, or emblem of some other variety. However, the Israelites humbled themselves under a yet-higher reality, Existence itself. Or, maybe even more poetically, the Israelites formed a relationship with the very possibility of existence. After all, there’s no reason to assume that existence is inevitable. Yet, existence seems “to be” and there is serious utility in humbling ourselves before such a fact. This was a brilliant innovation in how we can orient ourselves in the cosmos. “Being” is real, and we are entirely subject to it. The Israelites often referred to their god as “LORD.” (Christian bibles have maintained the same title.) In the ancient world, where human slavery and servitude were commonplace, referring to the ultimate Cause as LORD reflected the universal inevitability of Humanity’s submission to the forces of nature.
An elaboration of this understanding came when the example of Jesus became understood as the embodiment of the Logos. This heralded a new age and orientation within Reality. Theologically, “Logos” is an expression from the utmost transcendent, an expression from Being itself. Logos is the embodiment of Purpose. This understanding of the finite (human) component of Jesus as the expression of the infinite and unreachable “One Being” closed the circuit in an open debate in Hellenic philosophic circles regarding Being and Becoming. Namely, that personal experiences of “One Being” are largely restricted to peak experiences not common in our daily reality and only described via metaphysical language. The only way for a finite entity to orient itself within an infinite structure of Being is to become. What we are left to do is fully become that which we are; incomplete expressions of the Transcendent. Logos is the momentum of life, fully realized, and it is accessible.
Therefore, it isn’t that Being and Becoming are antagonistic toward one another, but that they are different categories that must be related to with each their due and proper respect. There is a hierarchy of Being within which we exist, and our proper behavior is to Become. Being is a noun that we cannot fully experience. Becoming is an eternal action, a river upon which we drift between two unreachable banks. Life, Growth, Becoming are synonymous.
Modern (and quite pervasive) philosophies, like Deconstruction, have effectively flattened our understanding of the Hierarchy of Being. Deconstruction, in part, informs us that Truth is only relative within an individual and pursuits of truths that transcend an individual’s interpretation are problematic, even dangerous to the “greater good.” Fair enough. We live in a culture confused about how to orient ourselves in a complex universe. Our ancestors worked out that we must orient ourselves as finite creatures destined to Become (for the good or the bad) within a transcendent tapestry of Being. We have no choice but to figure out how to best play the hand we were given. In Modernity, this is now old-fashioned and anathema. The idea is viewed as particularly backwards if a person goes so far as to develop a relationship with that ungraspable existence of Reality, with God. We have lost our orientation within reality and our befuddlement bleeds onto every realm in Modernity.
TO BECOME A PARENT
Let’s explore this disorientation through the lens of the parent/child relationship. If recognition of Being is recognition of that which is, then let’s look at particular ways that we as parents relate to it in our children. We can recognize that which is in our child and react many ways. It is indeed rare that we merely observe our child. When we observe our child, emotional information immediately floods our consciousness. We can like what we observe or dislike it, we can affirm it or reject it. It can cause us to cringe, and it can cause us to want the child to somehow change or continue along the same path. Observing our children can even give us feelings about ourselves. For better or for worse, a child’s being is tangled in their parents’ emotional worlds. Let’s look at two specific parental instincts that are hot topics right now, and I think they correlate with Being and Becoming. Affirmation and confrontation.
WHAT MOTIVATES OUR OUTLOOK?
All “parenting strategies” are complicit with a particular view of Humanity and human nature. Do we primarily see ourselves (and our children) as diversely rich entities requiring recognition and expression (Being)? Or do we primarily see ourselves (and our children) as imperfect creatures who must properly develop within a sometimes-hostile world (Becoming)? If humans develop, what shall they develop towards? What is Humanity? Is Humanity a mere collection of hairless apes in an accidental multiverse? Or is there a transcendent component to Being, within which we must actively orient ourselves? Are Humans just miscellaneous meatballs acting out pre-programmed actions in a deterministic universe, the result of one long chemical reaction and stoichiometric equation? Is parenting a divinely-appointed responsibility? Our actions towards our children reflect our views on these matters.
A person who believes that their child’s personality traits are baked in from day one will parent their children differently from someone who believes children must learn to become civilized. A parent who believes there is no “purpose” to life might look to secular humanism for ethical answers while a person who believes parenting is a divine responsibility might look to spiritual resources for ethical answers. Ethical answers from different sources can conflict. These conflicts are displayed, in part, in the differences between our “parenting strategies.”
What is the most fundamental task of a parent? Is our primary role to affirm our children’s emotions and psychological states? To affirm the emotional Being of a child, just as they are? Or is our role to encourage them to a place beyond where they are currently? To confront them with their own Becoming towards our best understanding of the Human ideal? Of course, like Being and Becoming, the parent’s affirmation of a child and the parent’s encouragement of the child toward confrontation of challenge are two different categories, and therefore require each their own due in fundamentally different realms. But do we ever confuse these two reactions and make the wrong move? Do we ever tell the kid when they know they’ve screwed up, “It’s okay, Sweetheart, you are perfect just the way you are,” when we should have said, “I understand that you’re embarrassed because you handled that poorly, but tell me how you will do that differently next time.” Yes, of course we do. Do we ever get angry at our child because they are not the person we want them to be? Sure. We can fail our children by wanting their essential traits to be different. Likewise, we can fail our children by wanting their passing phases to be frozen in time.
Just as transcendent Being and human Becoming both exist, but at different levels, both affirmation and encouragement to confront change are required of us as parents, but toward different levels of our children’s realities. We must orient ourselves toward these two levels of reality. What, exactly, about our child is permanent? And are those qualities physical, intangible, metaphysical, spiritual, emotional? What about our child is developmental? And are those qualities physical, intangible, metaphysical, spiritual, emotional?
Our stereotypical mother/father roles have largely worked this out on their own. Mothers are very affirming to an infant’s needs. This is necessary and creates a secure and healthy emotional attachment, the foundation upon which the child will build all future relationships. Seen traditionally, fathers generally push their children’s comfort zones to build resilience in a world of uncertainty and risk. There is a time and a place for each.
MANIFESTING DARKNESS, MANIFESTING LIGHT
When the roles of affirmation and confrontation are improperly channeled, unnecessary conflict will result in the household. Here, family dynamics exists in all their nuanced and glorious opaqueness, and things get dicey.
Can a mother’s negativity display itself in smothering the child’s potential through what might appear to be acts of affirmative charity? Sure, we call this woman the “devouring mother.” Think of the witch in Hansel and Gretel and her methods of gaining the trust of children that she consumes. In the fairy tale, we don’t know what dynamics generated her bitterness toward children. However, we do know that she affirms the desires of manipulated children to sustain her bitter existence. Maybe she sacrificed her career to have children only to discover that sometimes it is horribly challenging and miserably frustrating. She gains the trust of naïve children with an endless supply of dopamine and oxytocin. Just as her momentum as a successful career woman was foiled by these little buggers, she gains the children’s trust before her shadow emerges and devours their potential in an outburst of negativity. The more the children look to her for comfort and security, the more gratifying their confusion and pain will be to her when she ambushes them with her dinner plans. It’s her children’s fault that she is now suffering instead of presenting at board meetings, and they will not go unpunished.
Can a father’s projection of his own inner-turmoil and weakness justify his own cruelty toward his son? Yes. Can the father justify his actions as a necessary hurdle that will build strength in the child? You bet! We call this man the “tyrannical father.” He acts out the idea that even accidental cruelty toward his son will serve as a helpful aid when his son enters a hostile world beyond the front door. For generation after generation fathers can justify their own bad tempers and dark tendencies as that which build character in their sons. This justification is generally performed in post-blowup moments of shame-turned-excuse and is a convenient mechanism for deferring our own development. Of course, in maintaining willingness to keep this inner-darkness in our unconscious we are perpetrators of future bad deeds toward our children and spouses. To paraphrase Jung, the origin of the child’s neurosis is the unconscious of the parent. Our behavior effects our child’s understanding of the world and their mechanisms for engaging with it; their becoming.
These exact perversions occur in households daily and they perpetuate personality and behavioral challenges that echo for generations. They result from misorientations toward Being and Becoming. In these narrow examples, we over-esteem a very low form of our own Being and project the need to Become on those around us. However, once confronted with knowledge of our own dark proclivities to violence, rage, malice, resentment, and general miscreance, it is our responsibility to integrate these traits in ways that no longer subjects others to suffering. This is difficult work, and is merely one more category lumped into the phenomena known as “becoming an adult.” To become an adult in the Modern West is to do so in the context of ideologically-possessed public discourse and eviscerated religious structures. Dicey, for sure.
PROPERLY AFFIRM, PROPERLY CONFRONT
An element that is relevant to both parenting and self-care is the way which we orient ourselves toward Being (which transcends our own individuality) and Becoming (individual, family, community development). Recognize the spark of Being in all people, and positively participate in their inevitable tendency to Become. Said non-metaphysically: Affirm human dignity and encourage proper human development. Do not merely affirm weakness and confusion when encouragement will improve the situation. Growth is Life. Life is Growth. When children are confused or in trouble, they need an adult to help them with the tyranny of painful immaturity. This help often comes in the form of a broader perspective or a re-statement in your belief the child’s ability to survive the situation and maybe even improve it. After all, to encourage someone means to instill courage in that person, to conjure their inner-strength out into the world.
A spectacular example of a parent’s proper alignment with Being and Becoming is the story of Mary with her son Jesus at the wedding of Cana. I will paraphrase. They are at a wedding party. Jesus had not yet unleashed his potential as Logos and was apparently a little uncertain about the matter. Mary, who was aware of his potential and his latent capabilities, felt the urge to prompt her son out of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, the party runs out of wine. Mary tells her son, “Hey, son, they ran out of wine.” Her son, perhaps feeling a little self-conscious about his mother’s expectations of him, says, “I’m not ready yet. It isn’t my time.” Because Mary knows her son so well, and knows what type of pushing, and how much, will end poorly, she doesn’t push him directly any more. She has provided a space of possibility for him. She has informed her son that she knows the seed that is growing within him needs water and sunshine. She provided some. She tells the servants at the party, “do whatever my son asks you to do.” She might as well have told her son, “I have known you since before you could talk and I know who you are. You might be uneasy with yourself, but I am not. You are great, and this is a chance to show yourself to the world. Be the Logos that can transform the mundane to the spiritual. Son, turn water into wine.” The rest is history. Mary honored his Being while prompting his Becoming. She affirmed his dignity while encouraging his growth. Nearby were six stone jars used to hold liquids for Jewish rites of purification. Jesus told the servants, “Fill them with water!” After they did so, Jesus told them to pour some out and give it to the chief steward. After tasting it, the chief steward declared that this water for traditional Jewish purification has been transformed to a “spirit,” wine. At his mother’s prompting, Jesus revealed the transformative power of Logos. Atta girl, Mary. A serious parenting “win.”
We sometimes talk of the “character” we instill in our children. The Greek root of character is “kharássō,” or, “I scratch, engrave.” As a noun, “kharaktḗr,” is an engraving instrument, a person who engraves, or a stamp. To have “good character” or “bad character” is to have been “well-etched” or “poorly etched” during your life. Good character is not instilled via passive affirmation. If we can agree that instilling “good character” is desirable then we must investigate what generates good character. Is it merely affirming our children’s qualities as sufficient? No! It does no good to delude them with the impression that their current manifestation as fragile and larval selves is sufficient to engage with a hostile and thorny world. They must obtain the necessary tools and garments with which to face the world beyond our front doors. Yes, affirmation is critical for a child. We must affirm their potential. We must affirm their sacred and fragile spark of Humanity while carefully fanning it. We must affirm the Being within them while encouraging their Becoming. For their own well-being, we must simultaneously honor their innocence while conjuring their potential. Confrontation with the world, affirmation of fragility, Being and Becoming are not mutually exclusive but must be artfully employed and honored in the right dimensions. Only a parent has the amount of love and dedication required to work out such intricacies.
Suppose every individual has a particular capacity, unique to them, for resilience and strength of character. (There is room for debate over that idea, but bear with me.) Resilience and strength of character are not merely generated by will. They are tapped, conjured, called upon, only in the personal confrontation with challenge, difficulty, and complication. If strength of character and resilience are manifest only through confrontation and engagement, and every individual has a unique capacity for resilience, then there must be, for every individual, a given volume of duress required for the child to manifest their latent potential. Let me rephrase that. To maximize a person’s resilience is to optimize their exposure to challenge. Notice I didn’t say “maximize their exposure to challenge.” Optimize. One of our primary parental duties is to know our children so well that we know what kind of challenges and how much of those challenges will foster their optimal development. We can only gain such knowledge after we first affirm their individual sovereignty. After we honor the Being within them, we get insight into how to best help them Become. The parents’ broader world view will invariably affect the process.
An important consideration, that we often apply unconsciously, is that when we interact with a child, we are not simply interacting with them at their current age and role. When we interact with our child, we are interacting with multiple people simultaneously. When we offer guidance, for example, we are actually becoming involved with the future child. At all moments, we are dealing with the present child, future student and her study habits, the future girlfriend and her emotional fortitude, the future spouse (and her ideal husband!), the future employee and her reliability, et cetera. To get really spacey, we are actually even dealing, maybe too much sometimes, with a child from the past who lives only in our imagination and hopes. The point here is that the desired outcome of parenting is not merely a pleasant child, but a competent adult.
COMFORTABLE DECAY VS. UNCOMFORTABLE GROWTH
In a culture of immediate gratification, resilience is under attack. The attack is not coming from individuals as much as it is from conditions of material well-being and ease. I don’t know anyone who would debate that in the face of flamboyant material wealth we are experiencing a problematic volume of psychological dis-ease. In such a world, might a customized austerity be the best gift we can give our children? In an absurdly cruel irony, material and physical well-being might just be the source of our unhappiness. Now, perhaps more than ever, we must grapple with our responsibilities towards our children’s needs to Become. Paradoxically, this modern era of material fecundity is confronting adults with the inner, immaterial, realm as the location where we are to confront our most productive challenges. If meaning can be generated by physical deprivation what generates meaning in physical opulence? The Modern landscape for making meaning and Becoming must lay largely inside ourselves.
There is indeed, largely ungraspable, transcendent Being, and within it, as incomplete expressions of the infinite, humans Become. But become what, exactly? Exploring that question is our parental task. If parenting a child is a window into a reality bigger than ourselves, then the only proper response is our own personal transformation toward the highest ideal.
Am I suggesting that we abandon our pursuit of practical parenting tips for meditation upon ancient abstractions? Of course not. But while we might busily read books and worry often about our children, we must not confuse motion with progress. Let us remain tuned to the more fundamental frequencies that govern our lives and listen through the static of the culture’s conflicting manifestations of noise. Let us, from time to time, deliberate upon our understanding of Humanity and what our fundamental parental responsibilities are. Let us, from time to time, deliberate upon our personal orientations with Being and Becoming. If we live in an expanding universe, then a part of ourselves is expanding as part of it. We can’t help but Become. Let’s do it properly.
 This is how Plato summarized Heraclitus’ position in his dialogue, Cratylus.
 Evelyn Underhill’s magnificent treatise on the subject, The Mystic Way (J. M. Dent and Sons, 1913), focuses squarely on the time period of Christ through the end of the fourth century A.D., while the theology of what was to become The New Testament was being hotly debated and ironed out. She carefully puts the psychology and spiritual practice of the early Christian mystic in the context of the then-current spiritual, ritual, and philosophical trends and leanings.
 This is evident in the Johannine biblical writings, many biblical Pauline passages, and writings of Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, Plotinus, and Proclus, to name a few.
 Exodus 3:14. See discussion in Jewish Publication Society’s Torah Commentary: Exodus.
 Exodus 3:14. King James Bible,New Revised Standard Bible.
 Exodus 3:14. This exact translation is used in the Apostolic Bible Polyglot, Second Edition, 2013.
 See especially, preface to gospel of John where the metaphysics of relations between Logos and ultimate Reality are elaborated. For more on Logos, read Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BC). There is ongoing debate regarding whether or not the Johannine gospel grew out of ancient Greek questions or ancient Hebrew wisdom literature. That is beyond the scope of this article.
 See an appendix in David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament for a thorough treatment on the prologue to the gospel of John and a look at Logos.
 See Pauliina Remes, Plotinus on Self: The Philosophy of the ‘We’, Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007, where in the first chapter, the author explores Plotinus’ ontology of eternal existence and the fluidity of temporal becoming within the human composite.
 Moses’ encounter with I AM in a cloud. Also, the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor and Christ’s Ascension.
 For example, Jesus’ seven “I Am” statements in John, and Paul’s description of physical versus metaphysical existence (I Corinthians, chap. 15).
 For a comprehensive discussion regarding both the dignity of Modernity (differentiation of art, morality, science) and disaster of Modernity (dissociation of art, morality, science) see Ken Wilber’s books, especially The Marriage of Sense and Soul.
 Much is made about the absurdities in the denial of anything transcendent so I will not belabor the point here.
 Consider that Rousseau’s interpretation of “blank slate” as it relates to the un-cultured mind of a child as effectively worshipping the child’s Being. His ideas of the uncorrupted “noble savage” also apply to the uncivilized child. Here, instead of looking above the child for ultimate value, he either flattens the hierarchy of Being, or deifies the child’s innocence (both moves are effectively the same.)
 “There can be no doubt that that it is of the utmost value for parents to view their children’s symptoms in light of their own problems and conflicts. It is their duty as parents to do so. Their responsibility in this respect carries with it the obligation to do everything in their power not to lead a life that could harm the children… Parents should always be conscious of the fact that they themselves are the principle cause of neurosis in their children.” C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 17, par 84.
“What usually has the strongest psychic effect on the child is the life which the parents… have not lived. This statement would be rather too perfunctory and superficial if we did not add by way of qualification: that part of their lives which might have been lived had not certain somewhat threadbare excuses prevented the parents from doing so. To put it bluntly, it is that part of life which they have always shirked, probably by means of a pious lie, that sows the most virulent germs.” Ibid, par 87
“Parental influence only becomes a moral problem in face of conditions which might have been changed by the parents, but were not, either from gross negligence, slothfulness, neurotic anxiety, or soulless conventionality. In this matter a grave responsibility often rests with the parents. And nature has no use for the plea that one ‘did not know.’” Ibid, par 91
 “Every individual needs revolution, inner division, overthrow of the existing order, and renewal, but not by forcing these things upon his neighbors under the hypocritical cloak of Christian love or the sense of social responsibility or any of the other beautiful euphemisms for unconscious urges to personal power. Individual self-reflection, return of the individual to the ground of human nature, to his own deepest being with its individual and social destiny here is the beginning of a cure for that blindness which reigns at the present hour.” C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 7, p. 5
“Every advance in culture is, psychologically, an extension of consciousness, a coming to consciousness that can take place only through discrimination. Therefore, an advance always begins with individuation, that is to say with the individual, conscious of his isolation, cutting a new path through hitherto untrodden territory. To do this he must first return to the fundamental facts of his own being, irrespective of all authority and tradition, and allow himself to become conscious of his distinctiveness. If he succeeds in giving collective validity to his widened consciousness, he creates a tension of opposites that provides the stimulation which culture needs for its further progress.” C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 8, p. 111
“We do not sufficiently distinguish between Individualism and individuation. Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity, rather than to collective considerations and obligations. But individuation means precisely the better and more complete fulfilment of the collective qualities of the human being, since adequate consideration of the peculiarity of the individual is more conducive to better social achievement than when the peculiarity is neglected or suppressed.” Collected Works, Vol 7, p. 267
 “It is not possible to live too long amid infantile surroundings, or in the bosom of the family, without endangering one’s psychic health. Life calls us forth to independence, and anyone who does not heed this call because of childish laziness or timidity is threatened with neurosis. And once this has broken out, it becomes an increasingly valid reason for running away from life and remaining forever in the morally poisonous atmosphere of infancy.” C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 461
 A modern dilemma is the treatment of young people’s ideas about sexual preferences and gender identity. We know positively that parental abuse can affect psycho-sexual development in children. In public discourse, it seems we know more about how to identify certain types of abuse and how it affects our children’s psycho-sexual development than we know about proper adult handling of the child’s confusion and uncertainty on such matters. What is the opposite of abuse when our child surprises us with questions or statements about their own identity? When does guidance become hurtful (and is that hurt harmful)? When does affirmation become abusive?
 “Psychological insecurity, however, increases in proportion to social security, unconsciously at first, causing neuroses, then consciously, bringing with it separations, discord, divorces, and other marital disorders.” C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol 17, par. 343
 Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Warning to the West, Gulag Archipelago.