I have been intensely busy at work for the last little while, and accordingly not either posted or read much here for several weeks. However, I had the opportunity to read a few threads this morning, and wrote my first extended post in weeks on the “a lost Elder” thread. As I was finishing it, an interesting thought occurred to me for which I thought it was worth creating another thread. So here that is.
I know that people read this board still attend Mormon meetings, teach Sunday school lessons, etc. And, I have from time to time collaborated with friends of this kind, some of whom hold significant Mormon leadership positions, as they prepare talks to be presented at ward conferences, stake conferences, and in more mundane Mormon settings. Don’t let it out that rank apostates sometimes help with the church talks that make everyone feel “the spirit”. That will our little secret.
I used to write talks like this fairly regularly because I thought it was so ironic that I had the chance to do so, and I was always tickled by the positive responses, and to my knowledge, the response was invariably positive. However, eventually this came to feel like how CS Lewis described the experience of writing “The Screwtape Letters”. Lewis said that one of reasons for which he stopped writing the newspaper series that eventually became that book, was that it cost him too much to twist his mind into Satan’s persona. That is, he did not like being in that psychological space, and he did not like the kinds of things that he began to perceive emerging in his behavior, which he attributed to spending too time thinking like a senior devil (Screwtape) mentoring a junior tempter who had been tasked with bringing a particular human being over to the dark side.
Likewise, the further away I find myself from the Mormon mindset and community, the less inclination I have to put myself into the excruciatingly narrow mental framework that is required in order to write what would be a well-received Mormon sacrament meeting talk, for example, while spicing it with concepts that have within them the seeds of greater things.
In any event, as I concluded dictating what I posted on the other thread, it occurred to me that most of it would fit in nicely in a presentation at any Mormon leadership meeting, or other meeting, of which I could think. However, in that setting the wonderful concepts I had just outlined would be applied quite differently than I had intended.
There wonderful irony in this. What I was attempting to explain is the way in which human beings have an immense potential for growth and evolution. Mormons are relegated to a tiny portion of that potential development space by virtue of their belief system. Their use of the ideas that so excite me (and would likely excite many of them) would amount to turning redwood seedlings into one foot tall bonsais. “Wow! Just think what kind of stay at home Mom I could be?!” thinks a young woman who is bright and energetic enough to pick up either a Pulitzer or a Nobel, and maybe both. And by that I do not denigrate stay at home Moms. The same woman, with maximum degrees of freedom, might choose the role of stay at home mom, and I would applaud that. What still makes me weep is the perception of that one foot space as the only space within which a human being must grow. If there is a god, she has surely reserved an especially uncomfortable place in hell (watching endless mormon infomercials?) for those who sell this idea.
In any event, I hereby license anyone who wants to use the ideas below in Mormon meetings to do so. But, you will have to put your own “Mormon wrap” on it. I no longer have the energy for that task.
And I encourage you to encourage those who listen to you, to walk to the edges of their tiny world and see what they can discern through the the miasma that has been purposefully constructed at that border by their Mormon leaders, and the hand-puppet apologists who serve them. (seeÂ http://www.mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs….).
I am a big fan of Kohlberg’s theory regarding moral development. James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith” analysis is useful too (he attributes his ideas to Kohlberg in some ways), as well as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “stages of grief” analysis when it comes to both leaving Mormonism, and the psychological landscape we must navigate once on the outside.
I also agree that the best way to understand our experience is to think in terms of these concepts on a multi-dimensional basis. We are complex systems, and we interface in countless ways with other larger and far more complex systems. These include our intimate relationships; our family relationships; our relationships in the various communities of which we are part; our relationships in the workplace; etc. not to mention our connection to the ecosystem and the rest of reality.
For example, there are infinite possibilities for permutations and combinations of traits between our attributes and those of our single most intimate partner. Multiply that infinity as many times as you wish to understand the nature of the complex space in which we function.
Accordingly, for some purposes our personalities are overdeveloped in some ways, underdeveloped and others. And, different people at different life stages have different capacities for continuing growth and development.
One of the most important conclusions coming out of the recent work related to personal productivity and satisfaction with life, both in the workplace and elsewhere, is that we are usually better off focusing on expanding our capacity in those areas where we have demonstrated both special strength, and interest. Evolution seems to have designed us to be interested, not coincidently, in those areas where we have strengths that are deemed useful in our place and time. See Martin Seligman “Authentic Happiness” for some of this (www.authentichappiness.com).
Conversely, it seems to be counterproductive in a variety of ways to spend very much energy trying to change basic character attributes that might be characterized as weaknesses. Rather, we are usually best off finding ways to protect ourselves from these (if you are disorganized, hire a good admin assistant; if you are Bill Clintonesque and want to stay in a single, intimate relationship … I don’t know what you do …)And of course, these traits are to a large degree a function of social and other circumstance.
In some societies, for example, certain traits are considered to be strengths, whereas in others the same traits are liabilities. In many cases, these considerations are rooted in what at least once where survival imperatives.
For example, I have a very quick metabolism. At almost age 50, I can still eat more than I probably should and get away with it without exercising as much as I should, while still seeming to remain relatively fit. In our environment of abundance, my biology in this regard is advantageous in many ways. However, were I living during a time of famine, my need to consume relatively large amounts of calories in relation to the energy I put out would probably make me a social and survival liability relative to my group, and likely drive me into starvation much sooner than people whose bodies make more efficient use of the calories they take in.
In any event, in my opinion one of the most important concepts to bear in mind is that the complexity I described above is not a cause for lamentation. Rather, it demonstrates a fundamental fecundity in the reality of which we are part that is so exciting that sometimes it makes me feel like I want to get up and dance around my desk (or wherever).
We have so much potential for continued growth or personal evolution when combined with those whom we love the most, not to mention the rest of this incredible reality from which we have emerged. That is one of science’s basic lessons for us — that brand-new stuff continually emerges as a result of some kind of yet not understood creative force that operates within all aspects of reality (from the smallest — quantum physics — up to the largest — cosmology –, and at every known level in between). We are one manifestation of that creative push. And from within us, and each of our social relationships, the same creative push wells up and from time to time produces new, cool stuff.
Think of it. Put any two living things together in a relationship, and a brand-new creative push comes into being. Remove one living thing from a complex relationship, this changes the relationship and so a brand new creative push comes into being. If energy is directed toward that, we can expect brand-new stuff to simply pop into existence. To the extent that we have the ability to control the nature of the energy directed into the relationship, the nature of the conditions that influence the relationship, etc., we have some ability to control the kind of “new stuff” that pops out.
Life is way better than Christmas every day, when you think about it in these terms.
Not all of the new stuff that pops out will please us, but much of it will end, we are capable of training ourselves to focus for the most part on what pleases us, is useful to us, etc. We can, in this limited sense, construct our own reality. Jon Haidt’s chapter with regard to Buddhism (see “the happiest hypothesis”) was very helpful to me in that regard. He differentiates in a clear and easy to understand fashion between reality as it is (including the real nature of our social relationships) and the web of values, memories, imperfect perceptions, and other lenses through which we must interpret that reality.
The better we understand the way in which our minds work in this regard, the more likely it is that we will be able to both deal with reality as it is a functional way, as well as constructing for ourselves lenses that will enable us to shape and enjoy this wonderful ride.
As is the case with most aspects of life, some of us have greater natural talent to bring to this task than others. However, Haidt and scholars that work in his field (positive psychology and its social psychology branches) are developing an increasingly impressive suite of tools that are likely to improve each of our perception of life.
The bottom line in all of this, in my view, is that we participate in, and are an integral part of, an ongoing miracle.
In any event, the best we can hope for from theories of the type discussed above (Kohlberg, Fowler, Kubler Ross, Piaget, and countless others) is a basic idea with regard to how things fit together.
And, most importantly, exploring the potential for how our lives could be – literally choosing and then constructing our lives – is exciting, and endlessly fascinating.
I just got up and danced around my desk, and then tried to see if I could jump high enough to touch my head to the ceiling, as I used to be easily able to do as evidence of what used to be a 30+ inch vertical. Could not quite make it. Got to start working out again …
Life is good.