By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"Over-Solving"

It's the wrong approach, and yet we do it all of the time.

1. You want a good education, and so the obsession is to kill oneself to get into an elite college where you will likely be unhappy. But you expertly pretend to be happy to delude yourself and others.

2. You are lonely, so you go the promiscuous route. The solution becomes self-destructive and creates more loneliness. The friendship alternative is not even considered realistic.

3. You want a nice house, so you go for the "mansion" when there are many modest and delightful alternatives.

4. You want people to be, let us say, more Catholic, so you become a theological and canonical policeman and are frustrated when people are not moved or persuaded. Only agape persuades and moves.

These are just a few examples of our tendency to "over-solve" and to end up with the opposite of what we seek. Self-restraint is a better route. Another way to say it: we let the apparently perfect destroy the real good.



(Image in public domain)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Is Success?

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parabola (Photo credit: pixelthing)
That is an important question because seeking success defines the lives of most people, especially in neurotic, highly competitive societies such as the U.S. Two experiences come to mind in formulating my definition of success.

1. I visit my old high school in my hometown after many years. There in the hallway I spot an old teacher of mine. Yet, nothing stirs in me to step forward to greet him after decades of having been his student. Why? Because his personality was sarcastic. Well, that's failure for Teacher X.

So, I define success in part as having a personality that people are eager to reconnect with after many years have passed. I know of other people with whom even some of their closest relatives do not want to reconnect after many years. That's unmistakable failure in the eyes of people who know you the best.

2. I see people worrying about things that are distant and abstract, things that do not affect their daily quality of life. That irrational sort of anxiety equals throwing away the daily gift of life. The old saying, from a very highly placed source, is that fools strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I am amazed at how many do that daily. 

So, I also define success as knowing what to be genuinely concerned about and knowing what to disdain as trivial, knowing the difference between what is important and what is unworthy of your concern. I must add that conspicuous consumption whether in housing or in other goods is one of those things unworthy of concern--it's chasing a chimera that has little effect on your daily quality of life. I recall an author pointing out how prestige goods follow an upside down U curve because after a certain point, additional accumulation of such goods actually reduces happiness. This upside down or inverted U curve can be applied to goods such as status and to money in general.

Notice how these definitions of success are so very different from our usual social markers of success: money and status. Many sarcastic people (failures under my definition) have both. Many of those concerned with the trivial (again, failures under my definition) have both. Success, in my view, is success in life, not success in money or in elections or in a job title or in getting your way in trivial matters.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why the Condescension?

I find it puzzling that so many famous and less famous Catholic theological conservatives are, in varying degrees, so pompous, condescending, and patronizing. The late Fr. Richard Neuhaus comes to mind as does the still active George Weigel. Then there are the legions of superorthodox bloggers who can't resist revealing the definitive truth to us on all matters large and small from their little Mt. Sinai's, which are in fact little Towers of Babel.

This pompous and patronizing style is not even remotely Christian. We have a great paradox here.

Compare link.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Do Not Hide Your Health

You meet all sorts of people. I meet many who are severely wounded. You see the signs--cynicism, sarcasm, lack of etiquette, social withdrawal, fear of others, argumentative, angry, hostile, insulting.

What do you do then? If you have a robustly good temperament, do you adapt to these negative traits, or do you persist? I think we have no choice but to persist. The good temperament is the medicine that challenges--not by overpowering or attacking--but by kindness, joy, and a sincere (not an artificial or cheap) smile. If health is in us, we cannot hide it. The unhealthy need to see health and maybe be healed by encountering the healthy.

And so I remind myself: "The healthy should not adapt to the sick, but rather the sick should adapt to the healthy." A false humility that caters to and appeases and, worst of all, imitates the worst traits of others merely spreads the disease.



(Image with credit under Fair Use Doctrine)

Monday, May 5, 2014

You Can Go Home

In my case, going home means visiting New Orleans. But not the New Orleans of Uptown's clownish snobs (but I do go uptown to visit and reminisce at my Jesuit college which gave me a wonderful education, especially in philosophy). I also go to my old Jesuit high school in a blue collar neighborhood to sneak into the halls and see where I first received a classical education and to revisit an old, small chapel with its Hispano-Moorish windows. Finally, I revisit the now gritty, historic neighborhood close to the French Quarter where my immigrant parents first lived and whose leafy avenues I recall walking as a child. I especially recall my childhood wonder at the grotto dedicated to the Annunciation at the historic, humble, and now vacant Catholic church where my brother was baptized. I say I first lived very close to heaven because we were so close to Elysian Fields Avenue (classicists will appreciate the pun).

That is the New Orleans I call home--not the New Orleans of exclusive clubs or Mardi Gras krewes or of the surreal obtuseness and caricature called uptown snobbery or of entrenched racism and classism. And I bet my New Orleans in the most profound sense of the term is the "richest" part of the city.
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