“Seek Perspective” Sub-Pages:
Ideal vs. Necessary
Sometimes we get mixed up in our heads between what is ideal (or perceived to be ideal) and what is morally necessary.
There are many things which families decide is good, or even “the best” for their family and implement with enthusiasm. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. Here are a few real-life examples (these may or may not occur in our own family!):
- avoid television
- (for the gals) wear skirts all the time (or not)
- shop (or don’t shop) at some particular store
- read (or don’t read) some particular book
- eat organic foods or unpasteurized milk
- attend your local parish (or not)
- homeschool (or not)
- attachment parent (or not)
The problem lies not in making such decisions for our own families, but starting to judge other families who have decided otherwise. There are certainly arguments for and against each idea and some people may choose naively, but this should never be cause for ostracizing them. In fact wouldn’t that have the opposite effect of influencing them for the good anyway? These are the sorts of things that can be considered “ideal” by many for various reasons (or – in some cases – even goals to strive towards), but are definitely not “morally necessary”. It sure is nice to have the authority of the Church to help us make such distinctions!
For some reason it is often tragedy that puts such things in perspective. Things like this:
- The death of a child
- Natural disasters that kill thousands of people
- A friend or family member suffering from terminal illness
- The persecution of Christians in certain parts of the world
- The reality of evil
I sometimes wonder if some of the squabbling comes because we’re spoiled. We’re spoiled by amazingly good health and low death rates, we’re spoiled by a myriad of choices in clothing and education and food and more. But for some reason this often leads to fear rather than gratitude and appreciation.
Perhaps because we do have so many choices to make (certainly to the point, at times, of being overwhelmed by decision-making), we start taking ourselves too seriously and feel like it all depends on us.
We all (me too!) need to foster gratitude and appreciation in ourselves which, really, is a good antidote to taking ourselves too seriously and neglecting the appreciation we owe to God and the help we owe to those less fortunate than ourselves.
Here are just a few of the things I need to remind myself to be grateful for.
- Being able to worship freely, openly and without fear.
- Being able to choose how and where to educate my children.
- For the children God has given me.
- Food, shelter and clothing in abundance.
- Good friends, good books, good movies and many happy times.
The Problem of the News Media
Many people are aware of the problems of media bias. The “liberal” media is biased toward their issues and their candidates and the “conservative” media toward their issues and their candidates. I will not deny that there are problems in this realm, but I think that our awareness of this bias can overwhelm what can be a much larger problem, and that is the way that the news media in general tends to skew our view of the world.
The news media is a competitive business, and in order to succeed, they need to draw us into consuming more and more news. Naturally some of the news might be information we really should have, or at least would reasonably want to know. But in order to fill their news quotas, and keep their cable channels, websites, newspapers and magazines filled with fresh content, they go out looking for the most sensational and exciting stories they can find.
Consumers who are unaware of how all of the things happening in the entire world get filtered into these news sources (many of which focus on things like the most horrendous crimes and celebrity gossip), will likely start to build their view of reality upon what they see in the news. It is easy to develop an overly-gloomy view of the world when getting sucked into too much of the news media whirl.
Also, because there is so much news media focus on what is happening at a global level, our focus can get shifted away from what is close to us, which is where we have the best chance of doing something about it, and toward things that are farther away from us, which we often can’t do much about. This seems like a pretty sure recipe for lots of hand-wringing, depression and apathy.
Many news stories are indistinguishable from rumors. I noticed something really interesting while reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Thinsg Can Make a Big Difference. In it, he discusses the phenomenon of rumors. He identifies three “directions” in which a story gets distorted in order to cause a rumor. (My own paraphrasing of the ideas, with apologies to Mr. Gladwell.)
- The story is “leveled”: Many details that would provide context to understanding the situation are left out.
- The story is “sharpened”: Certain details are altered, and often made more exciting.
- The story goes through a process of “assimilation”: Key details get changed according to what makes sense to those telling the story.
My experience has been that these three distortions are present in many news articles.
Seeking Perspective in a Balanced Way
It’s important to remember that these various concepts are interconnected to each other.
Perspective is a beautiful and helpful thing, but it needs to be applied to your world in a balanced way. For example, just because there are miserable people in the world doesn’t mean that we should avoid being joyful. And just because some people in the world have experienced unimaginable grief and loss doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to grieve the loss of a loved one.