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Showing posts from June, 2015

Begin where you are, evolve into yourself

Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek: "Leadership expert Warren Bennis has said that ‘letting the self emerge is the essential task of leaders.’ He cites a study of the advice that top executives would give to younger ones, in which three recommendations surfaced: first, take advantage of every opportunity; second, aggressively search for meaning; and third, know yourself. Authors Bill George and Peter Sims call it finding your ‘true north’ – ‘the internal compass that guides you successfully through life. It represents who you are as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orienting point.’" Uzma Aslam Khan: "I mean, he died the way he needed to, without saying who he was, because he is Zahoor. He is becoming. If you leave behind definable tracks, people first point to them, then own you, then put you in a box. That leaves your poor spirit with an impossible burden. But a soul not bent with the weight of mortals wanders freely. We will remember your

Don't believe everything the sacred book says

Some people say that it is necessary to follow a sacred text so that one has a source of moral standards. A dialogue from Tom Perrotta's novel The Abstinence Teacher : "Say what you want about the Bible, at least it takes a clear position on right and wrong." "See, Ruth told him. "This is what bugs me. The way you people talk, it's like you're the only ones who know how to distinguish right from wrong. Just because my moral system's different from yours, that doesn't mean I don't have one. And by the way, just because something's written down in a book that's a couple of thousand years old, that doesn't necessarily mean it's right." "It does if it's the Word of God." "The last I heard, the Bible wasn't written by God. It was written by human beings. And you gotta admit, some of it's a little nutty." * * * "I'm no scholar," he admitted. "I just feel like, you

Is there a true self?

Martin Laird wrote: "There is a lot of talk in contemporary theology and philosophy about what a "self" is. One wonders how much of it Paul would have been able to follow, or care about for that matter. But he does have something evocative to contribute: your life, your "self," who you truly are, is something that is "hidden in Christ in God." Whatever there is about human identity that can be objectively known, measured, predicted, observed, whether by the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, the tax man, or the omniscient squint of your most insightful aunt, there is a foundational core of what we might as well call identity that remains hidden from scrutiny's grip and somehow utterly caught up in God, 'in whom we live and move and have our being,' in whom our very self is immersed." Uzma Aslam Khan wrote in the novel The Geometry of God : "That is the ultimate goal of his devotion: to revert to his original self. It's a

How could God have created a world like this? When does it get better?

Daniel Dennett wrote in Breaking the Spell: "I, too, want the world to be a better place. This is my reason for wanting people to understand and accept evolutionary theory: I believe that their salvation may depend on it! How so? By opening their eyes to the dangers of pandemics, degradation of the environment, and loss of biodiversity, and by informing them about some of the foibles of human nature. So isn’t my belief that belief in evolution is the path to salvation a religion? No; there is a major difference. We who love evolution do not honor those whose love of evolution prevents them from thinking clearly and rationally about it! On the contrary, we are particularly critical of those whose misunderstandings and romantic misstatements of these great ideas mislead themselves and others. In our view, there is no safe haven for mystery or incomprehensibility. Yes, there is humility, and awe, and sheer delight, at the glory of the evolutionary landscape, but it is not

Quotes on the power of naming

What goes into naming? Steven Pinker: "...naming an object involves recognizing it, looking up its entry in the mental dictionary, accessing its pronunciation, articulating it, and perhaps also monitoring the output for errors by listening to it." This is a major locus of humans' sense of power. Kathleen Dean Moore: "Children bring their dolls to life by giving them names. Names transform animals into family members. In some religions, nobody can have eternal life – not even tiny babies – until they have been baptized, given a name. In a single word – ilira – the Inuit people bring to tangible life the awe and fear that possess them when they see a polar bear approaching across the ice; in another word – kappia – they name the apprehension that seizes them when they cross thin sea ice. In Genesis, all the parts of the universe are drawn out of fluid chaos by their names. “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.”

Quotes on the sanctity of trees

Thomas Moore: "Trees provide a rudimentary lesson in enchantment: We need not cling anxiously to our own subjectivity, will, and desire; instead we can place trust in the beings around us who demonstrate many alternative ways to be a contributing, outstanding individual. A tree tells us what gives us pleasure, and it is so good at offering us benefits beyond measure that we have no reason not to surrender ourselves to it. We can sit on a tree's limb, rest against its trunk, enjoy its fruits and nuts, sit under its shade, and watch it dance in the wind. The lessons we can learn from a tree are infinite, and its pleasures indescribable. There are moments in anyone's life when to be like a tree – tall, straight, fertile, rooted, branching, expressive, and solid – would be the most effective therapy." Christine Valters Paintner: "Perhaps this is why we feel so drawn to trees. Groves of redwoods and beeches are often compared to the naves of great cathedrals:

Young people joining a violent group in a search for meaning

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – as described by Emily Esfahani Smith in 2013 – shows that forty percent of Americans "either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose." The government agency knows that a sense of purpose contributes to mental and physical welfare. Indeed, as Smith notes, in Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl's 1946 book Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl said that a sense of meaning in one's life enabled many to survive. In a forthcoming study by Roy Baumeister in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Smith said, "participants reported deriving meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group." Furthermore, while happiness was found in the present moment, meaning was found in thinking about the past and the future. Thus, meaning is about transcendence, both of "the self" and &qu

Dr. Josephine Jackson on the perils of homosexuality (1937)

Guiding Your Life , a 1937 sexual education book by Dr. Josephine Jackson, claims that homosexuality is a "deadly perversion" and a "sickening futility." Homosexuals are doomed to unhappiness because, even if they try heterosexual mating, they are unable to appreciate "the great mission of reproduction." Homosexual apologists are just "following the law of compensation" when they tout their own virtues and talents; their sexual identity "clothes itself in the guise of artistry, calls itself the badge of genius, makes claim for freedom of action but leads finally to utter hopelessness and frustration." Parents should watch for signs of homosexuality just as they'd watch for signs of measles, for, while no one is immune to these diseases, infection can be effectively guarded against. The symptoms of homosexuality are "devotion" to a same-sex friend, where the devotion is of "unwarranted degree, persistence, and exclu

Should we be 'happy'?

The Monks of New Skete wrote: "It's totally unreasonable to believe that God would make any intelligent being except for its happiness. Only a theologian could think up such a thing. No, happiness is ours for the taking. And we have to take it.
" But what is meant by happiness? There are surely different kinds, and different people would report that different things make them "happy." Joseph Epstein said, "The good life has a great deal to do with contentment and satisfaction – and nothing whatsoever to do with that fool’s gold called happiness." But what is contentment and satisfaction? Where do they come from? An article in The Week in 2013 referred to research that suggests that they come from helping others: Human beings appear to be genetically engineered to be happiest and healthiest when we spend a lot of time selflessly helping others – and unhealthy when we're mostly devoted to self-gratification. That's the eye-opening conclusio

Must excessive wealth change who one is?

Some studies have shown that power or perceived power – including excess wealth – changes the way people think and make decisions, especially in the ethical realm. Guy Kawasaki said that being a mensch (a good person) is an important part of developing business skills, and yet: "This doesn’t mean that a mensch has to be wealthy. In fact, money usually renders a person unmenschionable. (If you ever want to understand what God thinks of money, look at who He gives it to.)" In David Vann's novel Aquarium, a character says: "I’ve never believed the rich are unhappy. I think they close their doors on us and then can’t stop laughing." Apart from how people behave when they are rich, some perceive it as immodest to be significantly richer than others. R. H. Tawney, who taught at the London School of Economics, wrote in 1920: “The manager of a great enterprise who is paid $400,000 a year, might similarly be described as a hundred-family man, since he receives the

A stereotype of a castrato (London, 1784)

The following passage in an 18th-century magazine of prurient interest shows how castrati were perceived in England. The universalized "Signior Castrati" is portrayed as vain, "frequently viewing" himself in a mirror. He is "deprived of the grand essence of manhood" and is an "apology for a man," yet, as a singer, he is "almost deified" by his women admirers. Furthermore, as a sexless "piece of neutrality," he appeals sexually to both men and women, the latter especially because he cannot cause them to fall pregnant. That, said Dick Ton, (as we were sipping our coffee at the Prince of Orange) who just came in the room, is Signior Castrati, who, you will observe, frequently viewing his pretty smock face features in a pocket glass. He is one of those mortals, who is deprived of the grand essence of manhood, in order to qualify him for the amusement of the delicate and polite part of mankind in the vocal way. He is descended f