I think my theme for this week is: life is getting better.
If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, you might remember the episode after Rory and Dean had their affair, the one in which Dean’s wife Lindsay discovers Rory’s “heinous letter in Dean’s jacket.” Oy f***in’ vey! See, this is what happens when children grow up only on the outside.
And Rory and Lorelai, walking through the town common, almost run into Lindsay and her mother (whose name apparently is Theresa). At which point Theresa begins tearing into Rory, ignoring Lorelai’s urges to calm down, escalating her tone to the point of “You little monster!”
At this point in the story, I imagine Lorelai turns into the Godfather. (In my fantasies, Lorelai often turns into the Godfather.) She smiles calmly and confidently, takes Theresa aside, and explains to her, “If you tear into my little girl like that again… Well, I think you might want to avoid the inevitable chain of consequences that would follow. I know I certainly do.” Why? Because Dean and Rory did something really, really, really stupid, and they hurt Lindsay— Both of them together did this. And the question now, as parents, is: How do we go on from here? How do we live the rest of our lives? So does it really help Lindsay to see her mother, whom she loves and respects and looks up to, losing it and flying off the handle in public in the middle of town? Especially in this time of great affliction?
I think we might have found part of the problem.
Is Chick-fil-A Still Flapping?
Recently, we’ve seen this problem in the recent Chick-fil-A flap. See, I thought we had cheap-and-crispy chicken sandwiches and we had “I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” free speech. But apparently, I was wrong. Rather, the whole freakin’ civilization is about to blow up in our faces! (Gee, that does sound bad, doesn’t it?) We see this pattern in politics al the time, black-and-white politics. (And if you think that’s a racial slur, I think we may have found another part of the problem.) In reality, not everything is about good-versus-evil and us-versus-them. Sometimes ordinary people do something great one moment and say something abhorrent the next, and it’s okay to support the one and criticize the other, and you don’t have to pull out a bazooka just because you’re upset.
Elijah, You Silly Boy!
We also see the phenomenon turned inward. Remember when Elijah was running from Jezebel? Distraught, he hid at Mount Horeb. He wanted to die. And when God asked him what he was doing there, he said, “They’ve killed all your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!”
And God sighed and said, “Go back and finish your job. Because I have reserved seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal.”
In his panic, Elijah lost sight of the big picture. He was unable to think nuanced thoughts. And he became depressed and despondent. He flew off the handle, and it got the better of him.
Dave Ramsey talks about how if you’re behind on repaying a debt, the collector who calls will usually try to make you angry or scared. And they’re very good at it, too. “They know if they can get you all worked up that you will act on that emotion and do something stupid, like pay them instead of buying groceries… Be calm, and don’t let some kid in a cubical 500 miles away take control of your life.” (And he’s serious about the “groceries” thing, too. That isn’t just a figure of speech.)
Strong emotions tend to block out our ability to think. This is a matter of instinctive survival. If a man-eating lion is coming after you, you don’t have time to sit down calmly and assess the situation. You need to act, now!, and almost any course of action is going to give you a better chance than no action. So our brains have a special fast-acting circuit, which invokes the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The problem is that we allow this brain circuit to be activated even when there is no immediate threat. We allow ourselves to become panicked, even when we ought to sit down and calmly assess.
This cripples our mental processes. Our minds become unable to engage in nuanced thinking. We become unable to distinguish between…
- …the general and the specific.
- …the whole and the parts.
- …the rule and the prescription.
- …the promise and the reality.
- …the facts and the implications.
- …the truth and the emotion.
Instead, what we ought to do is to emulate Mr. Spock. In the Star Trek universe, the Vulcans are an exceptionally spiritual people. They have all the same emotions we humans do. In fact, they feel them even more intensely. But they have practiced calming those emotions, to the point that they can deny emotion even exists.
Okay, I’m not proposing that we deny our feelings exist. Because feelings are not good or evil. They’re just there.
But what I am saying, I have found that calm—meditation, deep breathing, scented candles, soft jazz; your mileage may vary—together with purposeful, intentional, nuanced thinking, it inspires hope, because it allows us to see possibilities that we had been blind to. And hope is the opposite of depression and despondency.
Life is getting better.