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From Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote

Last week, DZ posted from Oliver Burkeman’s excellent article on time management and the law of unread emails. I just finished up his 2012 book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, and, boy, good points of connection abound. Trying to get to the bottom of why we have such difficulty doing what we are told to do, or, rather, not doing what we are told not to do, Burkeman uses a study conducted by Daniel Wegner at Harvard’s ‘Mental Control Laboratory.’

When you try not to think of a white bear, you may experience some success in forcing alternative thoughts into your mind. At the same time, though, a metacognitive monitoring process will crank into action, to scan your mind for evidence of whether you are succeeding or failing at the task. And this is where things get perilous, because if you try too hard – or, Wegner’s studies suggest, if you are tired, stressed, depressed, attempting to multi-task, or otherwise suffering from ‘mental load’ – metacognition will frequently go wrong. The monantidote-oliver-burkemanitoring process will start to occupy more than its fair share of limelight on the cognitive stage. It will jump to the forefront of consciousness – and suddenly, all you will be able to think about is white bears, and how badly you’re doing at not thinking about them.

Could it be that … our efforts to feel positive seem so frequently to bring about the opposite result? … When experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss. Our efforts at mental suppression fail in the sexual arena, too: people instructed not to think about sex exhibit greater arousal, as measured by the electrical conductivity of their skin, than those instructed to suppress such thoughts.

He concludes this chapter, entitled “On Trying Too Hard to be Happy,” with the metaphor of a Chinese finger trap. In the case of striving for our own happiness, he writes, “‘doing the presumably sensible thing is counterproductive.’ Following the negative path to happiness is about doing the other thing – the presumably illogical thing – instead.” In other words, try to climb out of that ditch and before long human nature kicks in, handing down a shovel.

Martin Luther King, Jr: “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart”

This an excerpt from the conclusion to MLK’s 1959 sermon, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.”

8f582_MLK-Home-thumb-400xauto-29178[1]I am thankful that we worship a God who is both tough minded and tenderhearted.  If God were only tough minded, he would be a cold, passionless despot sitting in some far-off Heaven “contemplating all,” as Tennyson puts it in “The Palace of Art.”  He would be Aristotle’s “unmoved mover,” self-knowing but not other-loving.  But if God were only tenderhearted, he would be too soft and sentimental to function when things go wrong and incapable of controlling what he has made.  He would be like H. G. Well’s loveable God in God, the Invisible King, who is strongly desirous of making a good world but finds himself helpless before the surging powers of evil.  God is neither hardhearted nor soft minded.  He is tough minded enough to transcend the world; he is tenderhearted enough to live in it.  He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles.  He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.

At times we need to know that the Lord is a God of justice.  When slumbering giants of injustice emerge in the Earth, we need to know that there is a God of power who can cut them down like the grass and leave them withering like the Greek herb.  When our most tireless efforts fail to stop the surging sweep of oppression, we need to know that in this universe is a God whose matchless strength is a fit contrast to the sordid weakness of man.  But there are also times when we need to know that God possesses love and mercy.  When we are staggered by the chilly winds of adversity and battered by the raging storms of disappointment and when through our folly and sin we stray into some destructive far country and are frustrated because of a strange feeling of homesickness, we need to know that there is Someone who loves us, cares for us, understands us, and will give us another chance.  When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice that will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

Time Precious Time: On Unread Emails and Productivity Panics

Time Precious Time: On Unread Emails and Productivity Panics

Our phones were piled on top of each other on the table near the charger. Not just mine and my wife’s but those of the four friends who had dropped by for dinner. People had been showing each other photos earlier in the evening and someone had suggested we leave our devices in the kitchen while we ate. How disciplined of us!

When it was time to go, the first guest grabbed the one on top, clicked it on and… nearly jumped out of her skin. The little number next to the email icon read “2448”. Needless to say, it was…

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The Top Ten Films of 2016

The Top Ten Films of 2016

Listen, 2016 has been…difficult. From political turmoil to national racial unrest, and the deaths of many beloved pop-icons such as Bowie, Prince, and, most recently, one of the more daring heroines the cine-verse has ever known, Carrie Fisher. But, as Sarah Condon so gracefully pointed out, 2016 wasn’t the worst year ever. As both the enthusiastic cinephile and the average moviegoer can attest, 2016 provided an admirable follow-up to an excellent year of film in 2015. Listed below are the ten best films that I saw in 2016. With a variety of genres and production levels represented, there is truly something for everyone! I hope you enjoy,…

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The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

Violent Ends in the Season 1 Finale of Westworld

Spoilers abound.

In the opening episode of HBO’s Westworld, Dolores Abernathy (played by Evan Rachel Wood), in a state of robotic semi-unconsciousness, says this: “Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world, the disarray. I choose to see the beauty, to believe there is an order to our days, a purpose…the newcomers are just looking for the same thing we are…a place to be free.”

Dolores (Spanish for “sorrows”) is a humanoid robot, and this is her script.

David Peterson wrote a wonderful article for Mockingbird last month reviewing the initial episodes of Westworld. As he noted, the show is loosely…

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On Failing French and Prayer

On Failing French and Prayer

 This one comes to us from our friend, Cort Gatliff.

When my wife, Abby, and I were dating, she told me not to bother trying to marry her unless I was willing to move to France, where she could perfect her near-fluent command of the French language. Assuming this ultimatum fell into the category of “things idealistic twentysomethings say after two glasses of wine,” I agreed. But just a year into our marriage, she called my bluff. We’re now living in an attic apartment above a pharmacy in a small, grey town in northern France.

Abby, who is teaching English at a…

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A Love Letter from King George

A Love Letter from King George

I recently caved and jumped on the Hamilton bandwagon. The two-and-a-half-hour hip-hop soundtrack took me about four days to listen to all the way through, and, I must admit, I now understand and appreciate what the hype is about. Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and winner of eleven Tony Awards, tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton: how he came to America, his role in founding our country, and all the (romantic) drama in between.

One of my favorite songs at the moment—which is probably very telling about my taste in music—is “You’ll Be Back.” King George (Jonathan Groff) sings…

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Arrival and the Problem with Drawing Lines

Arrival and the Problem with Drawing Lines

“Plenty of directors make violent movies. Denis Villeneuve makes movies about violence, which is not quite the same thing,” writes A.O. Scott in a review of last year’s Sicario. That film followed Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent enlisted in an off-the-record task force fighting cartels. Another Villeneuve film, Prisoners, featured Hugh Jackman as a blue-collar father seeking vigilante justice for his children’s kidnappers. In both, characters decide to draw their own morality lines, using their better judgment and a perceived “greater good” as barometers for action. In Sicario, we see the effect of this thinking in institutions whereas in Prisoners…

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Yesterday’s News

Yesterday’s News

“Shellshocked” is the only way to describe the feeling at our bus stop the morning after the election. Parents hobbled out of their homes, disoriented and bewildered, in obvious need of more caffeine. My neighbor hailed me and my son as we made the walk to the bench where the kids all congregate. “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re living in an alternate universe now.”

It was too early to filter my thoughts, so I blurted out that maybe yesterday was the alternate universe, and today is reality. Really helpful.

You see, we live in a university town where the possibility of Trump winning…

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Some Very Helpful Words from RFC

Some Very Helpful Words from RFC

I was on duty for the 7am chapel service at my church this morning and wasn’t quite sure what to say, especially since the Gospel reading contained Jesus’ famously opaque words about “salt of the earth” (Mt 5.13). I had a copy of Robert Farrar Capon’s Kingdom, Grace, Judgment on my desk, and looked to see what wisdom he might offer. As usual, RFC was enormously helpful, both for those of us who are feeling like “winners” and “losers” today, who feel “dead” and “alive.”

Consider the imagery. Salt seasons and salt preserves, but in any significant quantity, it is not of itself edible, nourishing,…

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Never-Ending Performance Measurement & The Pitfalls of Taylorism

Never-Ending Performance Measurement & The Pitfalls of Taylorism

This one comes to us from our friend Matthew Wilkins.

I first learned about the work of Frederick Taylor in a Public Administration course I took as an undergraduate. His book, The Principles of Scientific Management, first published in 1911, signaled a seismic shift in the way companies and organizations thought about workplace efficiency.

I remember being particularly fascinated by Taylor’s project. Think about it: here was a man who took the emerging disciplines of social science and applied them to the real world. For me as a burgeoning political scientist this meant better, more efficient government and therefore better services, better…

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Halloween Is For All the Saints

Halloween Is For All the Saints

Do I love Halloween because I love darkness? That’s a trick question, albeit an unintentional one. Do I love darkness? Yes. Every son and daughter of Adam loves darkness, John records for us in the light of Nicodemus’ bumbling nighttime interview with Jesus. Our inheritance as a race is a disavowal of the light and an embrace of gloom and death. So am I somehow an exception that escapes the charge? Not at all. But is this affirmation the bottom line for why I delight in Halloween? For some the answer will be an obvious “Yes”, but I think the…

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