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Psychology

Ines Boubakri of Tunisia, left and Nicole Ross of the United States compete in the round of 32 during women's fencing at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Saving Face: the Relational Politics of “I Don’t Know”

This post was co-written by Samantha McKean and Kristen Gunn. Sam is a student at Duke Divinity School, where she’s realizing what she actually does and doesn’t know. Kristen is heavily into words and why we say them, which is how this conversation became a post.

Sam: I say “I don’t know,” a lot. It’s a filler, a tic, the new “um” or “like” that your Com101 professors warned you about. It comes tacked onto the end of my sentences like sad parade banners. Most of the time, I don’t even notice I’m saying it.

I have a friend who always calls…

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David Brooks Goes to the Basement

David Brooks Goes to the Basement

A buzzword like “character” could mean just about anything you want it to mean. Like a lot of reclaimed, lofty words from Ancient Greece or Rome — virtue, beauty, culture — character has picked up a lot of fuzz along the way, enough to become a proverbial lightning rod for just about any self-help guru and pop academic and thought-leader under the sun. Which is why David Brooks’ newest title, The Road to Character, did not exactly grab me like the earlier Bobos in Paradise. It sounded too much like the kind of book a dad pushes on an eighteen-year-old graduate. Or an HR executive plants in her office giftbags.

But Brooks is…

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Hikikomori and a Global Word of Grace

Hikikomori and a Global Word of Grace

Back in 2013, we mentioned a disturbing cultural trend in Japan in one of our weekenders, where culturally disenfranchised youth become shut-ins. The official Japanese word for these shut-ins is Hikikomori- and while examples of this have been observed in other places around the world (including Italy, the US, and South Korea), in Japan, the trend has become a cultural phenomenon. For a multitude of reasons, Hikikomori give up on human interaction, choosing to cloister themselves away from the world rather than interact in it.

The Hikikomori phenomenon is worth bringing up again because new studies suggest that as much as…

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The Mockingbird Issue 5 Out Now!

The Forgiveness Issue is here! Order your (boyfriend’s, stepdad’s, daughter’s) copy today! To check out the Opener and Table of Contents, click here.

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“You Do Not Have to Be Good” and Other Lines That Could Save a Life

“You Do Not Have to Be Good” and Other Lines That Could Save a Life

When the box spring squeals at four in the morning and jolts me into wakefulness—or when the sleeping pill wears off too early and I am dragged just so slowly by life’s tide back onto the shore of Day—I like to pretend God (or the universe, if it’s too early to say God) is trying to turn me into Mary Oliver. Someone patient and attentive—someone who can enjoy a thousand mornings.

Of course when the real me checks the time on her iPhone, the first words on her lips are profanities and not poetry; and she has enjoyed about three in…

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Inside The Forgiveness Issue (Opener and Table of Contents)

Inside The Forgiveness Issue (Opener and Table of Contents)

As Father’s Day rolls around, so does our Forgiveness Issue (purely coincidental). Here’s a teaser to the Fifth Issue of The Mockingbird–the Opener as well as the Table of Contents. Subscriptions and orders can be placed here.

A Cop Out in the Woods

It turns out writing about forgiveness is hard. Maybe we don’t experience it very much, maybe we haven’t had the words to describe it when we have experienced it, but it certainly seems easiest to picture forgiveness by what it isn’t. And there are plenty of examples. Whole genres of film, drama and music have dealt with narratives of…

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Automatic Transmissions and the Phenomenon of “Miswanting”

Automatic Transmissions and the Phenomenon of “Miswanting”

Nicholas Carr has a new book out, called The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, and he opens it by describing his yearning as a young driver for a car with an automatic transmission. It was a new thing at the time, something which allowed drivers the novel experience of multitasking. Those who had automatics had an extra hand for a coke or an eight-track, and an extra foot for thumping the bass line of their favorite Led Zeppelin cut.

The point that this illustration seems downright prehistoric is intended. It was only 40 years ago. 40 years ago we imagined the future with…

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Anders Breivik and the Commandment We See in the Faces of Others

Anders Breivik and the Commandment We See in the Faces of Others

By way of follow-up to yesterday’s post on the problems facing boys, if you haven’t bookmarked Karl Ove Knausgaard’s essay about mass murderer Anders Breivik in last week’s New Yorker, run don’t walk. It may not be beach reading exactly, but nothing’s more edifying than when a great writer tackles a subject that’s worthy of him/her, of which this represents a prime example. The depth of reflection is truly impressive, as is how strenuously Knausgaard works to avoid the word “evil”. But for our purposes, the Norwegian master explores at some length the ‘distancing from self’–or disembodiment–that modern life makes…

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Waffle Makers and Blueberry Forests: Learning to Live Again (in Prison)

Waffle Makers and Blueberry Forests: Learning to Live Again (in Prison)

In the same Sunday issue, The New York Times Magazine published two articles that drew some not-so-subtle conclusions about the American prison system, about its problematic rise in numbers, about its entrenched recidivism, and about its inherent contradictions to the American themes of freedom, opportunity, and hope. Of the two articles, one of them was a character study of ADX in Colorado, “America’s Toughest Federal Prison.”

Since opening in 1994, the ADX has remained not just the only federal supermax but also the apogee of a particular strain of the American penal system, wherein abstract dreams of rehabilitation have been entirely…

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Another Week Ends: Abrahamic Evolution, More Cookie Monster, The Law of Higher Ed, G.K. Chesterton as Saint, and the Puritan Legacy

Another Week Ends: Abrahamic Evolution, More Cookie Monster, The Law of Higher Ed, G.K. Chesterton as Saint, and the Puritan Legacy

1. Over at aeon, Benjamin Grant Purzycki once again demonstrates the poverty of discourse about religion – the fact that little understanding of its required to make grand pronouncements. Anyway, he says some interesting things along the way, and it’s worth a read. First, we’re all biased toward thinking of God as a cosmic judge:

In a 2013 article in Cognition, I reported that Christian students from the University of Connecticut who claim that God knows everything will nonetheless rate His knowledge of moral information (Does God know that Sebastian robs grocery stores?) as better than His knowledge of non-moral information (Does God…

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Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

Birthdays and Broken Cisterns: What Exercise, Adultery, and Suicide Have in Common

This reflection on aging comes to us from Ryan Sanders:

A recent study conducted by two professors at New York University revealed that people are more likely to make big decisions or create big regrets just before milestone birthdays. The study divined that “people audit the meaningfulness of their lives as they approach a new decade in chronological age, further suggesting that people across dozens of countries and cultures are prone to making significant decisions as they approach each new decade.”

This study tells us what we already know: as people face milestone events, they often review their lives and make adjustments. And often,…

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Nadia Bolz-Weber Pawns Off Narcissism as a Virtue

2015 NYC Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrix, is a curious beast: self-deprecating memoir, accidental handbook for church planters, compendium of dark comedy, and loads of inspiration, though not (remotely) the Hallmark variety. Among the many excerpt-worthy passages, one about darkness, light, and self-deception stood out to me. As backstory here, Candace was a fellow alcoholic, though less of a recovering one, whom Nadia tried to support for a while, before her sister accused her of  imprudently squandering her emotional energy just to maintain her idea of herself as a loyal friend:

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Years later, after I had started House for All Sinners and Saints, I thought of Candace when I was writing a sermon about when Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit. (Revised Nadia Version.) I thought of all the time I spent trying to be good and all the time she spent trying to pretend she wasn’t high and how perfectly matched all our crap was. And all it took was my sister speaking the truth about it for light to come in and scatter the darkness. I thought about how, just like Candace, when I want desperately for something about myself to be hidden, for it to stay in the darkness, I am really good at lying. And if I can go an extra step and make it look like I’m actually being good – if I can pawn off narcissism as a virtue – then I win. Like when I am just sick of giving a shit about other people and want to be selfish so I call my two days of watching Netflix and getting mani-pedis ‘self-care.’ Or when I say I’m on ‘a cleanse’ so no one knows I’m really on a diet.

The list goes on, and the last thing I want is for any light to be cast on the darkness that I’ve spent so much energy curating, protecting, enjoying. But it’s not a cleanse. It’s a diet. It’s not about my health, it’s about my vanity.

There’s a popular misconception that religion, Christianity specifically, is about knowing the difference between good and evil so that we can choose the good. But being good has never set me free the way the truth has…

Very often I will avoid the truth until my face goes red like a toddler avoiding her nap; until limp limbed, she finally stops flailing and falls asleep and receives rest – the very thing she needs and the very thing she fights. When someone like me, who will go to superhero lengths to avoid the truth, runs out of options – when I am found out or too exhausted to pretend anymore or maybe just confronted by my sister – it feels like the truth might crush me. And that is right. The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.