Might TV Contribute to Millennials’ Emotional Fragility?

Image resultDavid Brooks has noted that Millennials, while more accomplished, are more “emotionally fragile” than previous generations. He is backed up by this article which includes reports from Psychology Today, that “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

This fits with my experience. People my age have battled spiraling depression and anxiety since early adolescence or before. I do agree with Brooks that it’s in large part because many of us lack deep convictions and a narrative about what is really meaningful.

In his book, “The Road to Character,” he identifies inside everyone an “Adam I” and an “Adam II.” Adam I is the external person, the face we show to the world, the bearer of “resume virtues,” as he puts it. Adam II is the internal person, the inner compass of wisdom, maturity and kindness or of fragility, shallowness and self-righteousness. Adam II is bearer of the “eulogy virtues.” Brooks says and I agree that the great struggle of being a good person is to bring these two aspects of ourselves together.

I would like to introduce a contributing factor that Brooks does not explore: the saturation of TV, movies and visual media in our lives. In my (limited) experience, development of the Adam II, the inner person, relies on refining our emotional processing of external realities. Yet, in our culture, we almost lack entirely a vocabulary to express this inner thought process and dialogue. Our language is much better suited to the roles of Adam I – naming nouns, like rocks and buildings, and discussing clear, observable markers of achievement such as job titles and salaries. If our words have trouble explaining Adam II, our visual mediums struggle even more and this contributes to the difficulty we have in developing Adam II.

In mediums such as TV shows and films where characters hash out their differences or conquer adventures in visual theatrics, there is almost no method for depicting the inner-transformations that go on in order to develop that wisdom and maturity that characterizes Adam II. Even writers, artists of the silent medium, today criticize older models of novel-writing that spent paragraphs and paragraphs detailing a character’s motivation. In today’s sitcoms or romantic comedies, a character experiencing emotional distress almost always runs away and pouts–be it a child nervous before a performance or a woman scorned. Then, the father, teacher or boyfriend character seeks out the distressed child or girlfriend, listens patiently, gets passed the walls and offers reassurance. This is the model of any TeenDisney or Jude Apatow movie.

From an artistic standpoint, it makes sense. When two characters interact, there is something to display on the screen. When they speak to one another, their thoughts and emotions can be revealed. Dialogue is the Holy Grail of good story-telling.

But when this example permeates our lives, we encounter a problem: it is not realistic. These portrayals set-up the expectation that there will always be a kind mentor to rescue us from our emotional distress or at least help us to process it. But in real life, the mature person must often process her own emotions rather than expect others to do it for her. (It’s not that we can never ask for help, but that sometimes we can do it ourselves and we grow when we try).

When our real-life father, teacher and boyfriend (or opposite sex) figures do not always deliver the expected emotional rescue, we are often left distraught, without options–hence the spiral of depression and anxiety. The Washington Post describes the story of Amy, a 30-year-old in therapy who suffered break-downs in college “unable to do laundry and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents’ keeping track of her schedule.” We have few models for healthy self-reliance and care in our cultural models of TV and film.  It’s not as simple as pointing the finger at mom and dad, though. The issue is more pervasive. If TV and movies are our cultural models, and I think they are, there are no cultural models even to guide parents for effective development of Adam II, of healthy maturation or emotional processing.  Continue reading

3 Modes of Impartiality/Personal Engagement

Reading and reflecting recently on how people talk to one another, here are some recent observations of mine on how people share and address the impartiality/personal aspect of conversation. Most of David Brooks’ people of character, from his new book The Road to Character, likely fall into the “Quiet” category of mine.

The academic gold-standard is impartiality– to appear impersonal and objective, presenting only the facts. But this is not the mode that most of us interact in, which is perfectly reasonable.

Most of us are affected by and drawn to personal stories, things that resonate with our own experiences. In books, these are novels and memoirs.

I’ve noticed that there are (seem to be) three ways most of us deal with impartiality/personal when speaking, and I think most of us shift between each one though one may tend to dominate.

  1. The Know it All – Impartial as attempt to impress, appear objective and knowledgeable
    1. This is so evident in young people, especially ambitious young people (I can get pretty embarrassed when I think about how often I’ve here) who will happily prattle on about all the things he or she knows or has done or plans to accomplish.
    2. Other times, this surfaces through excessive criticism.
    3. The goal, often unconscious, is to appear learned and accomplished from an objective point of view while hiding the inner self.
    4. Ironically, it stems from a place of insecurity, of wanting very badly to be liked and appear well before others.  Older and mature people see through it right away, but are often very charitable and encouraging.
    5. That being said, the insights and criticisms can be very accurate, though not always.
    6. The Know-It-All is less a fault than a stepping stone in a path of growth.
  2. The Personal – When we becoming willing to show our selves
    1. At some point, most of us become willing to share our true selves, our actual opinions and experience without overt regard to its appearance to others.
    2. Here or elsewhere, we realize that even objective information is filtered through our own experience, so even when we try to be impersonal, it is often more revealing and personal than we realize.
    3. This is how we share with those close to us. Sometimes, public figures will share in this way. But most often, actors and politicians will keep it to the Know-it-All or be a totally the closed-book.
    4. Sometimes, this personal share loses an appropriateness filter and we can ramble on and on about ourselves and our experiences without enough regard to the actual subject of the conversation
    5. This is a normal mode, at least sometimes, in most people. It can be both deeply illuminating or shallow and myopic.
  3. The Quiet – Speaks when necessary
    1. The quiet person has learned that wrongly-placed or careless speech can be incredibly damaging.
    2. This person weighs the entire situation: the participants, their temperaments, the social setting, before adding his or her voice
    3. This quiet one is no longer concerned with the approval of others and uses his or her speech to clarify necessities, put others at ease, or add something edifying without regard for getting credit for it
    4. The quiet person may actually speak quite a lot if it is called for in the situation, but it will always be in balance.

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8 Things that Make a Good Day

To tell the truth, I often agonize over how to spend my time: what is the right balance of work/play/socializing, etc etc etc. But there is something that helps me. The moral philosophers from Aristotle into the present day always ask what is the good–that which promotes man’s flourishing?

So I ask myself: what is good? What is flourishing? I think monks flourish. It’s no secret that I admire the avowed religious life very much.  But I think everyday lay people in cities and countries can flourish too. So what’s that like?

But what are the actual daily activities that comprise a life well spent?

  1. Loving relationships-spouse, friends, children, parents, churches, organizations, civic life. The people we love tie us together and are worth spending time with and enjoying.
  2. Cooking and eating – food is part of life, and a good part. Cooking it, enjoying and it and sharing it combine an connection with the source of food and sustenance, enjoyment and community, a chance to share partake in those relationships mentioned in 1.
  3. Enjoying art – music, books, visual art, etc. Beautiful things, natural or man-made, invite us to appreciate life simply as it is and sometimes to contemplate the source of the beauty. Man-made art adds a layer of human reflection to contemplation.
  4. Maintaining the goods of our lives – our homes, our tools, our clothes, aspects of our communities etc. It shows care and gratitude to repair and clean the things that contribute to our lives. It keeps us grounded to provide for own physical needs and that of others.
  5. Creating – contributing our gifts to something new and meaningful, be it pottery, gardening, painting, writing, carpentry. This work also contributes to our community and engenders mutual flourishing
  6. Exercising – Care for the body that allows us to live and move is so important
  7. Being in nature, even if it’s just the yard or garden, or gazing at the sky from our city balcony. Watching and interacting with creation is both an appreciation of beauty, and it reminds us of what it real and the forces of the earth which are more powerful than we are.
  8. Spirituality – in addition to appreciating the beautiful and loving one another, to attempt to and to commune with God, the source of all, restorer of all and our own maker, is the simplest grounding there can be.  (PS there is a short-cut, the sacraments, the Bible and the Catechism)

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The 1 Biggest Reason Nature Matters in our Spiritual Lives–from a Modern Point of View

 

iStock_000057827554_MediumBeing outside is one of the great pleasures in life, particularly in good weather. I love pulling weeds, planting seeds, pushing the kids around for a walk or run and even the occasional hike; (see my picture of Skellig Michael in Ireland above).

But I don’t consider the “why,” very often, as I do with a lot of other things.

This short article really hit-home for me about some of the reasons being outside feels so good and is so good for us.

“God created humans in the wild and placed us in a garden. We’re meant to live a substantial portion of our lives outdoors—and it’s a unique place to experience our Creator and restore our spirits.” – Michael Hyatt

In a sense, this is so obvious, and yet we don’t hear it enough. Our love for natural boils down to a simply, basic spiritual reality.

Great saints have said similar things, “The Heavens are singing the glory of God” -St. Francis.

Hyatt ‘s blog connects it with business and personal development, which is nice in this case because sometimes it helps to hear things in a contemporary context. And he has research and studies about how being in or even just seeing nature aids your mind, concentration, sleep habits, physical fitness and also spiritual life.  Continue reading

Catholic Theologian Takes Own Life. My essay from T&C

man-1394395_640-300x199My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum: Mourning Stephen Webb.

Depression and faith have a complicated relationship.

Original posted here. 

“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”

“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts”
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From T&C: The Communists are right! (About the family’s problems, but wrong about the solutions).

This article appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum of HLI.

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/the-communists-are-right-the-family-is-the-basic-cell-of-society-but-here-is-why-their-solution-is-wrong/

The Communists were right about a good many things, but often misguided in their solutions. In Friedrich Engels’ account of the family from “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” accuses monogamous marriage as the beginning of class oppression in society, and he describes the family as “the cellular form of civilized society.” In the latter sentiment, he is correct: the family is the basic cell of society. But in the wider sense, the Communists have the answer painfully reversed.

Engels argued in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:

The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamous marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth, it opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others. It is the cellular form of civilized society, in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be already studied.

Viewing the family as a vehicle for power relations and nothing more, Marx and Engels argued for its dissolution.

familyIn the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that “On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.”

Ironically, he rightly points out hypocrisy so present in upper-middle class families, i.e. the bourgeois, where adultery and use of prostitutes is present; and he is also right that family relations among the poor are looser with more children born out of wedlock, something we still see today. Marx’s solution is to abolish the family, or more accurately, he argued that it would disappear as private property was abolished.

Though their analysis is largely correct about problems in the family, it does not mean that the family is intrinsically bad or the source of disorder.

Precisely because the family is the basic unit of society, the answer to society’s problems is not to dismantle the family, but to heal it. Continue reading

Recalling my first Ash Wednesday, an uncomfortable day

[This essay first ran on Ethika Politika. Full article available there]

My first Lent, I wandered around campus wondering if anyone would notice the smudge on my forehead. I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia and had recently stumbled across the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her seemingly outrageous claims to truth. Encountering both the man who would become my husband and then the Church Fathers had led me to the troubling realization that maybe everything was not relative: that perhaps man’s darkness was real and that there was a real salvation, that perhaps God did exist and that truth, goodness, and beauty were more than romantic ideals.

A disinterested rationalism ruled the day on campus, the idea that all traditions and practices are something the educated person stands apart from, that she observes from a distance and perhaps with curiosity. This was well-known to any “critical thinker” and to the newly, ardently atheistic coeds in my residence hall. Actually to take part in a tradition, to claim it for oneself, is the only modern-day heresy there is.

Though intellectual commitments are often frowned upon by universities, they are inescapably human. All of us are born into complex networks of family, national, ethnic, religious, political, and other relationships that modern man tends to dismiss, viewing humans only as atomized, disconnected units. It turns out that claiming a tradition is not so radical after all.

Full Article Here:

https://ethikapolitika.org/2016/02/09/lents-bodily-exposure/

What was your most memorable Ash Wednesday experience? Or even just a time that you saw someone wearing ashes. I’d love to hear from you!

Local Book Shop Showcase #1: Potter’s House in Adam’s Morgan, DC

In the spirit of getting out more, and in keeping with the Catholic and booky themes of this blog, I present a small series on neat, local bookstores, which for me is Northern Virginia and Washington DC.

First stop: Potter’s House in Adam’s Morgan of Washington DC, a book shop/ coffee house that focuses on Christian spirituality and social justice. Anyone can get a cup of coffee and a soup for whatever he or she can pay, even if that is nothing. I will say that several of theology offerings are a bit suspect, but the shop never claims to be orthodox Catholic. So I don’t endorse every book in there. But that being said, they really did have a wealth of titles, especially of thinkers and ideas I may not have run into otherwise. Browsing there was a joy. Here are few highlights.   There is a lot to learn from that place.

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Thanks to my good friend Kate for discovering it and inviting me out.

I’d also like to point out that cool cookbook and there is a book there on Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh, who teaches at UVA, my alma mater.

Two Reasons Cleaning is Not Below You

Are you a feminist? A modern woman (or man) who knows who you are, who takes yourself seriously, who works hard and expects a lot.

Do you think cleaning is below you? Does folding clothes, dusting, scrubbing a scummy dryer, vacuuming, wiping windows or otherwise performing manual labor in your home bother you?

It does for me sometimes.

But I am also a Christian and a believer in social justice and the truth of the Gospel that Jesus came for everyone, including the poorest of the poor.

And there is something very fishy about finding or believing oneself to be above any sort of manual labor (provided it isn’t inherently unethical…such as mafia hit man).

The truth of Christ is the truth about all men, and it was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as this: we are “created equal.” This equality does not include all abilities, but includes our value and worth. In the Christian tradition, we say all people are created in the Image of God.

1) To believe that I shouldn’t have to clean my house or do my laundry is to believe that I am better than such activities, but I am not. It is often a subtle expression of a deeper classism, or the idea that I am not the type of person who has to do demeaning work like cleaning toilets. That’s for other (aka lower) people.

But while classism is real, even in America where we pretend it isn’t, classism is never true. That is, it does not describe the true reality. The reality is no group of people are better or worse than others, especially because of such things as race, income, or geographic location or education level. The reality is that we are all interconnected individuals who have gifts and hardships, who are trying to seek the good, regardless of how warped any person’s perception may have become. (The warped search for the good is what sin is).

Many people put air in their own tires; some people do it for a living. This type of technical maintenance is not irrelevant or inconsequential. On the contrary, it is the stuff of life itself; it provides the raw matter which philosophers philosophize about. And it takes care of us, of our family and friends.

To sweep a floor or cook a meal can be a great act of love, of care-taking, of gratitude for the kitchen and home that we have.

To believe ourselves above such work is to take our gifts for granted.

[Caveat: If we pay someone to help clean that house, that may not be bad provided we respect the gift they are providing us, that we pay fairly because we understand that their work is valuable and helps support him or her and their family, and if we acknowledge that we are not above such work even we do not do it ourselves.]

2) Mother Teresa said, “If you want world peace, go home and love your family.”

Johann Goethe said, “Let each man sweep in front of his own front door and the whole world will be clean.”

What these mean is that if we take care of our part, of our tiny slice of the world, of those around who are in need, the whole world would change. So often, we view actions as meaningless because they do not impact the entire global state of affairs. But the opposite is really true. If we do a tiny thing, but do it earnestly and truly, those are the actions that change the world. If we all did our part, all would be healed.

Jesus said, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

And he is God! So what we do to those around us is how we respond to God, which is about as big a deal as you could possibly get.

So then, to clean your own house, to do things that seem below you is to express in a small way a gratitude and a type of solidarity with all people who work. There is of course much more to living the Gospel than cleaning one’s house, but it is a small piece, and every piece counts.

So let me rehash this phrase yet again, “If you want social justice, go home and clean your house.”

 

Yellow Day: Fighting the Dark Side in Real Life

Characters with dark backgrounds, who have experienced loss, abuse, alcoholism, or who simply live with a disability are around us more often than polite conversation would lead us to believe. And such characters populate Yellow Day, a new film opening Christmas for teens and their parents that plunges unafraid into the darkness of our fallen world with the fresh hope of the light, Jesus.

The stories of a young man and woman who meet through chance in a locked church unfold interspersed with “the good man’s” search for his love at Camp Grace on the Yellow Day, a retreat camp founded by a wealthy philanthropist to support and uplift children who suffer in different ways; young people with disabilities and who suffer from abuse are featured prominently. Yellow Day, like the real-life Camp Grace, focuses on celebrating life, forgiving those who have hurt us, and finding courage to carry on despite deep pain. In so doing, it offers chance to approach dark realities with compassion for one another.

The film’s creator, Jeff Galle, explained that after working in entertainment and performance for 16 years, he grew a good deal in his own faith and “wanted to be a part of something that expressed different values than what I saw in the marketplace. I wanted to make a quality film that provided kids and parents something they could discuss together. It’s a film with weight to show that entertainment can be more than just a distraction and that within the family space, we can confront issues that are difficult.”

Yellow Day showcases tough situations through flawed but good characters who receive help and love at Camp Grace and grow from it. John, the “good man,” seeking his true love, at one point explains that “You asked me who the good and the bad man is. Honestly, I think we’re all both. But we should always try to move ahead, towards the Yellow Day.”

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