Another Week Ends

Well, try and stop David Brooks from being on the site twice in one week […]

Ethan Richardson / 4.24.15

Well, try and stop David Brooks from being on the site twice in one week is what I say. While we’ve all agreed in the office that the cover of his new book isn’t nearly as cool as the one before, his column today is nothing short of a Mockingbird centerfold. It is called “Love and Merit” (!) and deals with the pitfalls of classic, well-intentioned parenting—you know, that strings-attached, perfomance-based, conditional variety of love we all try so hard to avoid doling out.

Brooks nails it on the head. It’s not that we try to be that kind of parent (or that kind of spouse). In fact, we’d be horrified to know the dirty words our love languages are speaking. But, as a wise man once said, it is always what is heard and not what is spoken that makes the difference. For control freaks like you and me, we cannot help but “use love as a tool to exercise control.” Guilty as charged, kemosabe.

Shelf-WhereYouGo_jpg_800x1000_q100These two great trends — greater praise and greater honing — combine in intense ways. Children are bathed in love, but it is often directional love. Parents shower their kids with affection, but it is meritocratic affection. It is intermingled with the desire to help their children achieve worldly success.

Very frequently it is manipulative. Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement. Parents glow with extra fervor when their child studies hard, practices hard, wins first place, gets into a prestigious college.

This sort of love is merit based. It is not simply: I love you. It is, I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam.

The wolf of conditional love is lurking in these homes. The parents don’t perceive this; they feel they love their children in all circumstances. But the children often perceive things differently.

While Brooks is drawing this conditionality in the parent-child relationship, you don’t have to have a kid to know the feeling—that recognition that you’re mistaking your “love” for your deep-rooted desire for control. This happens in romance just as much. And it is not that Brooks is saying we do not personally view these relationships outside the realm of conditionality—we really do love our loved ones beyond what they can prove or earn—it is, instead, that we cannot help but squeak out with each word of love with a suggestion of merit. We just don’t have the vocabulary for it. Thankfully, Christianity does.

The culture of the meritocracy is incredibly powerful. Parents desperately want happiness for their children and naturally want to steer them toward success in every way they can. But the pressures of the meritocracy can sometimes put this love on a false basis. The meritocracy is based on earned success. It is based on talent and achievement. But parental love is supposed to be oblivious to achievement. It’s meant to be an unconditional support — a gift that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of the meritocracy, the closest humans come to grace.

2) Speaking of misconstruing unconditional love, this easily wins Heresy of the Week. It would be sincerely troubling if it wasn’t so ridiculous—on a theological level, sure, but even in the business sector—let’s just say that if I had known that a fruit of the Gospel was omnipotence, I’d have been significantly less impressed with Jim “the Humble” McNeely’s magic demonstrations last weekend.

Imagine a triangle with Consistency on the left, Persistence on the right and Omnipotence at the top. When you are consistent in any belief, attitude or behavior, it develops a spirit of Persistence that empowers you to overcome insurmountable obstacles. What you are consistent in creates an instinctive ability to keep on keeping on (Persistence). The impossible becomes possible. The complex is made simple and transgressing the difficult becomes an instinctive way of life. Think Consistent…Be Persistent…Do Omnipotence.

I don’t know how or why the triangle imagery helps, but I’m doing omnipotence this weekend. Okay, then there’s this Psalm for Haters, over at First Things, which is so good.

…Derp calleth unto derp at the trolling of thy social networks:
all thy two-minute hates and thy hashtag campaigns are gone over me.
Yet Twitchy will command lovingkindness in the daytime,
and in the night #TCOT shall be with me,
and my prayer unto the Gif of my life.

I will say unto my followers, Why hast thou unfollowed me?
why go I mourning because of the oppression of the haters?
As with a sword in my bones, I see my best content go unfaved;
while they say daily unto me, Why can thou not shake it off?…


3) In television, the Paris Review made a great connection between Vince Gilligan and, you guessed it, Caravaggio. They start with the similar shadow-play and the less-than-ideal human details that Caravaggio used in his paintings and the world of Jimmy the guilty lawyer; but then they describe why these details are used (ht AP):

Caravaggio, born in Milan in 1571, is arguably the father of the movement, which challenged the idealized divinity of the Renaissance with distressing darkness and realism. For him, the critical moment to capture on canvas was not the sugarcoated theology of halos and resurrections, but the bitter prelude to this: Christ’s flagellation rather than his return… His goal was not to mock the church, but to bring it down from the heavens by demonstrating that divine light touched everyone, not just saints.

… Painting a biblical allegory of light versus darkness directly onto the faces of its characters, Saul captures life not as a gray marriage of black and white, but as a constant juxtaposition of the two at their purest. There’s no middle-of-the-road Tuco; there’s the man who scrubs his grandmother’s carpets and the man who stains them with blood.

Another intriguing review, in the New Republic, deals with our conflicted bias in the Superman vs. Batman conflict, the alien, farmboy good-guy and the entitled, orphaned dark knight. Why do we hate Superman? Part of our favoritism with the Caped Crusader has to do with a desire to see a flawless superhero reach the depths of humanity. The writer may not have known the prescience of this paragraph for Christianity.

But Batman v Superman suggests that fear of an alien superbeing is not just an excuse for violence and international intervention. It’s a pleasure in itself. Superheroes may be empowerment fantasies, but they’re disempowerment fantasies too. It’s just as fun to imagine the strong becoming weak as it is the other way around. With just a bit of ingenuity, you can locate the dangerous Superman anywhere, which means you can hit whoever you want and feel good about it.


4) Hilarious, per usual, from the Onion: “Study Finds Those With Deceased Family Members At High Risk Of Dying Themselves”.

According to the study’s authors, the likelihood of future mortality remains high regardless of whether one’s immediate family members have died, or whether only more distant relations have passed on. Based on their findings, researchers hypothesize that death is handed down through individual lineages, becoming a devastating family curse that is passed from parent to child and which tends not to skip a generation…In addition, a separate study of some 8,000 individuals who died in the Hartford, CT area found that every one of the deceased had ancestors who had died before them, further suggesting a family link.

And Star Wars brass, making everything better, as the A/V Club reminds us (the personal testimony at the bottom is priceless!).

5) Christianity Today film writer Alissa Wilkinson talks about a film based on David Foster Wallace’s book tour, starring a disheveled Jason Segel, The End of the Tour. In her piece, though, she takes the time to reflect on some of DFW’s greatest and profoundest pieces of writing which, if you’re a Wallace snob, you might have read before. But if you’re not—I’ve not read much—her reflection is a tremendous piece of writing. She points to the speech at Kenyon as his swan song, the major statement he wanted to believe about the banality of life, and the banality of belief. At the end of that speech, Wallace disclaims that any of it necessarily has to do with religion or dogma or what have you, but Wilkinson calls him out:

Except it totally is, and he knows that, because he also says this: “Here’s something else that’s weird but true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” You can read his earlier declaration about religion at face value, or you can know that Wallace is always trying to connect with his audience, and detect a characteristic hyper-awareness of his listeners’ prejudices in his stretch to imprint something on their brains. What we worship, the thing we stretch for beyond ourselves that gets us closer to fullness, is his obsession.


6) And let’s close out with a New York Times one-two punch, shall we? Much akin to DZ’s mindfulness post a few weeks back, this one from Virginia Heffernan in the Magazine describes the amoebic meaning of the term “mindfulness” in today’s wider culture. As a movement, its borders have seemed to spread to unknowable and, thus, unhelpful reaches. By meaning anything, it’s gone on to mean nothing but one more rung of performance maintenance.

Mindfulness as “keeping in tune” has a nice ring to it. But it’s “focused on the task at hand” that appeals to managers, like [Knicks’ owner, Phil] Jackson, who are conscious of performance goals. Might workplace mindfulness — in the cubicle or on the court — be just another way to keep employees undistracted and to get them to work harder for nothing but airy rewards? In this context of performance enhancement, “mindfulness” seems perilously close to doggerel from the same playbook that brought us corny affirmations, inner children and vision boards.

1101140203_600And then, to cap it all off, what connection lies between that article and this one, about depression, and the tendency to flank depression off with a conversation about willpower? A very important and frank self-diagnosis from Diana Spechler in the Op-Ed section this past week (ht CB):

“I often teach about happiness,” Tamara Star wrote in “7 Habits of Chronically Unhappy People” on the Huffington Post last fall. According to Star, life is hard only if you make yourself its victim; happy people “take responsibility for how they got themselves into a mess, and focus on getting themselves out of it as soon as possible.” Her list includes “Your default belief is that life is hard” and “you concentrate on what’s wrong in this world versus what’s right.” It’s a not-so-subtle assertion: Depressed people should just stop being so depressed already. Star doesn’t weigh in on antidepressants, so I wonder: Do meds qualify as an active escape from the “mess”? Are we, the dutifully medicated, “taking responsibility”? Are those too depressed to get out of bed “irresponsible”? What about those who can’t transcend their messes — those born into extreme poverty or strife, or those afflicted with terminal illness? Are they “irresponsible”? I don’t mean to single Star out; her piece reflects a widespread attitude — that depression is a failure of will.

P.S. A couple very happy housekeeping points: First, that the Olmsted Salon is hosting Dan Siedell next Wednesday in NYC, who will be giving a talk about modern art and, specifically, the work of one artist, Charley Friedman, who Dan has worked with now for over 15 years.

Another note. Earlier this week we mentioned a group rate for Jamin Warren’s conference in May, Two5Six. It sounds like it’s going to be a killer event, and you can sign up with this discount code. The conference is the only thing that costs money, the Arcade they will have up is free!