Another Week Ends

1. Lots to talk about this week! First, a profound confessional from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ […]

CJ Green / 3.9.18

1. Lots to talk about this week! First, a profound confessional from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, in which he describes the life-changing experience of a panic attack (mid-game!) and the importance of asking for help. “Everyone Is Going Through Something”:

Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to “be a man.” It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own… So for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different.…

In the short time I’ve been meeting with the therapist, I’ve seen the power of saying things out loud in a setting like that. And it’s not some magical process. It’s terrifying and awkward and hard, at least in my experience so far. I know you don’t just get rid of problems by talking about them, but I’ve learned that over time maybe you can better understand them and make them more manageable. Look, I’m not saying, Everyone go see a therapistThe biggest lesson for me since November wasn’t about a therapist—it was about confronting the fact that I needed help… 

Everyone is going through something that we can’t see.

When he first started therapy, Love says he was surprised when his therapist didn’t really discuss his career in the NBA—there were plenty of other things to unpack: repressed grief, vulnerability, etc. Love concludes: “What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are… I think it’s easy to assume we know ourselves, but once you peel back the layers it’s amazing how much there is to still discover.”

2. Turns out that knowing ourselves, as Love notes above, isn’t so easy. Writer Adam Grant says as much in this week’s Atlantic: “People Don’t Actually Know Themselves Very Well.” Often, Grant argues, our colleagues know us better than we do:

…with the most evaluative traits, you just can’t be trusted. You probably want to convince everyone—and yourself—that you’re smart and creative.

This is why people consistently overestimate their intelligence, a pattern that seems to be more pronounced among men than women. It’s also why people overestimate their generosity: It’s a desirable trait. And it’s why people fall victim to my new favorite bias: the I’m-not-biased bias, where people tend to believe they have fewer biases than the average American. But you can’t judge whether you’re biased, because when it comes to yourself, you’re the most biased judge of all. And the more objective people think they are, the more they discriminate, because they don’t realize how vulnerable they are to bias.

True, maybe we aren’t as intelligent or generous as we’d sometimes like to think. But also, maybe we aren’t as worthless as we might sometimes think. Maybe we’re even more beloved than we could ever imagine. Which is one reason a Bible can be a really nice thing to have around. Or a priest, or a colleague, or whoever might reminds us that “if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” Ultimately, there is one person who gets to tell me who I am.

3. Along similar lines, philosopher Brendan de Kenessey, in a compelling piece for Vox, argues that we often think of addicts as moral failures, if not bad people entirely. (ICYMI: Grace in an Age of Fentanyl.)

deep down, many of us still have trouble avoiding the thought that [addicts] could stop using if they just tried harder. Surely would do better in their situation, we think to ourselves…there’s a part of us that can’t help but see addiction as a symptom of weak character and bad judgment. […]

We tend to view addiction as a moral failure because we are in the grip of a simple but misleading answer to one of the oldest questions of philosophy: Do people always do what they think is best? In other words, do our actions always reflect our beliefs and values? When someone with addiction chooses to take drugs, does this show us what she truly cares about—or might something more complicated be going on?

As de Kenessey explains, “The view of addiction as a moral failure is doing real damage. The stigma against addiction is ‘the single biggest reason America is failing in its response to the opioid epidemic,’ Vox’s German Lopez concluded after a year of reporting on the crisis.” So addicts—and people in general of course—rely deeply on support systems that all too often offer judgment instead of love…which rarely, if ever, aids recovery. De Kenessey continues generously:

As the father decides whether to shoot up or go pick up his kids, two parts of his mind are battling for control: the part that wants heroin more than anything else, and the part that cares far more about his kids. But the father is not a mere bystander in this conflict: He is a participant in it. The father is fighting on the side of the part that cares about his children.

I would go further and say that the father is the part of his mind that cares more about his children. For if we asked him to tell us what, on reflection, he really cares about, he would say that he wants to get sober and take care of his kids. And in this case, words speak louder than actions.

When the desire for heroin unfortunately wins out, that doesn’t mean that the father cares more about getting high than he cares about his children. It means that he lost the struggle: His behavior is being controlled by a part of his mind that is not his true self.

Any addict will tell you that willpower is not a strong enough antidote. Which is why addiction is such a visceral lens through which to view Christianity and the Christian belief about human nature: sin, like addiction, is not something that can be forced into submission. We find recovery in something much more paradoxical.

The soul, Plato writes, is like a chariot. The charioteer, Reason, tries his best to guide the chariot along the road of virtue. But his horse, Appetite, is stubborn, “deaf as a post” and may gallop off the road at any moment. “Chariot-driving in our case,” Plato concludes, “is inevitably a painfully difficult business.” If we take that to heart, maybe we will start giving the addicted what they need to get their lives back under control.

In other words, a low anthropology actually precipitates compassion, and then, often, change. Judgement, by contrast, just doesn’t work.

4. All of that seems plenty interesting, I’m sure, but HERE is the super important longread everyone is talking about. Peruse this thing and “you’ll feel as though everything—literally every question you’ve ever had about the world—has suddenly clicked into place… All you have to do is read the rest of these 18,564 words.” Tehe…

More humor includes, from The Onion, “New Body Negativity Campaign Promotes Idea That Ugliness Comes In All Shapes And Sizes.” And “The Toddler Feelings Helpline.”

5. In the bleak-but-crucial-studies department, this week brought lots of commentary following the publication of what is being considered to-date the most comprehensive study on the hows and whys of viral falsehoods…AKA fake news. A thorough write-up: The Grim Conclusions on the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News by Robinson Meyer. That’s right…another super important longread. Lucky for you, I’ve excerpted some of the most zingery zingers, here:

“It seems to be pretty clear [from our study] that false information outperforms true information,” said Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at MIT who has studied fake news since 2013 and who led this study. “And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.” […] Twitter users seem almost to prefer sharing falsehoods. […]

…falsehoods are too seductive not to succeed: The thrill of novelty is too alluring, the titillation of disgust too difficult to transcend. After a long and aggravating day, even the most staid user might find themselves lunging for the politically advantageous rumor. Amid an anxious election season, even the most public-minded user might subvert their higher interest to win an argument.

Fake news, it seems, isn’t the result of our political “moment.” It’s a result of human beings engaging in what is proving to be an unruly medium of communication: social media. Which is only repeating what we’ve said so many times before: not that social media is “bad,” per se, but that humans are largely incapable of dealing in a healthy way. Meyer’s conclusion is that we live in “a dangerous moment for any system of government premised on a common public reality.” Yet another gut-punching anthropology-check, and one which would be genuinely unsettling without some of the conclusions drawn in the following link:

6. This piece from the LA Review of Books, by Brad East, is so much more than a book review. It’s a complete religio-sociological disquisition. (Fair warning, much of what comes in its first half could be pretty uninteresting to many—but certainly not all!—of our readers.) But I wouldn’t recommend skimping out on the concluding portion, which relies heavily on James K.A. Smith’s recent book, Awaiting the King, and Augustine’s City of God.

It’s a great rejoinder to the somewhat scary conclusion drawn by the “fake news” study above (and modern politics/anxiety in general). We may feel like we’re in the worst of times but, as East says, according to Augustine, the church need not be so tremulous:

The African bishop [Augustine] knew all too well the limits of human perfectibility. The effects of original sin bear on society as much as they do on the individual. In his pastoral role, Augustine once wrote to a believer who served as a Roman General that “we ought not to want to live ahead of time with only the saints and the righteous.” That sort of purity is a dangerous mirage. The church is an ark for souls, sinners all. In its earthly sojourn, it is a mixed body: the church is in the world and the world is in the church. There is no escaping the age in which one lives, or its imperfections…

To follow Augustine means to allow for the tragic. The arc of history does not bend toward justice; it bent and cracked long ago under the weight of another Empire’s injustice, under Pontius Pilate; now it wends in unknown and sometimes wicked ways, under our own disordered direction. Faith confesses that it has been and will be righted, once for all, but we know not when or how the denouement will come; only that it will be beyond history. Until then, even our most well-meaning attempts to bend it aright will confound our intentions, come to naught, unleash some strange fire on generations yet unborn. Christians hope in spite of, not because of, the course that history takes; like hope, trust in providence means faith in what is unseen.

7. Podcasters take note! In addition to today’s fresh episode of The Mockingcast, your ears will delight in Pelican Pie, with hosts Nick Lannon and Jady Koch. “Episode 1: Phillip Cary” went live this morning—an interview with the author of “Good News for Anxious Christians: Ten Practical Things You Don’t Have to Do.” They talk Luther, anxiety, the pitfalls of practical advice, and much more. Take this killer quote as a taster:

People have this notion that a sermon is giving you a theory that then you have to practically apply to your life. But the Gospel is not a theory that you apply to your life. The Gospel is good news; it’s more like music than like a theory. And if you say, ‘How do I apply this beautiful music to my life?’…you’re kind of not hearing the music.