Saturday, June 30, 2012

Willing Away my Sin

Is there something about writing a blog that makes the hypothetical materialize? I mentioned that Cory Booker is my spotless hero, and suddenly he's ducking brickbats for saying hyperbolic attacks on Mitt Romney's venture capital experience are "nauseating."

I write that it is difficult to find a thoughtful "third way" to respond to personal attacks in the heat of an argument and BOOM... I find myself in a nasty fight with the neighbors over the hedgerow.

And, at the outset of this blog, I speak of wanting to pursue a way of grace through life -- "Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries." And abruptly find myself stewing over showing off by writing a blog; worrying about my legacy; worrying about not getting that freelance assignment I was so hoping for; constantly suspecting that if I'm not somebody, I'm nobody -- just taking up space on the planet.

Before claiming my hypocrisy, I'm going to let Cory Booker off the hook. Or, better yet, just point to a blog that does it ... what he (Scott Blakeman) says!

Cory Booker was right. All of this is nauseating. It is not treasonous for Democrats to call Mitt Romney a nice guy. It is the right thing to say, and the respectable term to use. And Mitt Romney should continue to refer to President Obama as a nice guy, despite the protests from mean-spirited supporters and some conservative pundits.
That certainly doesn't mean that Republicans and Democrats should pull their punches when it comes to the issues. An aggressive, spirited and factual debate on what is best for our country is the hallmark of a democracy. And it is fair and civil to passionately oppose cruel Republican policies that make the most vulnerable in our society carry the burden of budget cuts.

I am uncomfortable thinking about growing disparities in income; lower tax rates for the very wealthy; and ongoing cuts in government services that are making life incredibly difficult for the poor, the young, the unemployed. My instinct is to jump on the bandwagon trashing of Romney as another wealthy carpetbagger; his Bain Capital using another scheme to sell working people up the river through the (perfectly legal) money-making legerdemain of private equity partnerships.  Robert Reich, explains it a lot better than I can.

But then again, Booker's criticizing his own side is worthy. Surely Mitt Romney is not a horrible person. Not all venture capital is heartless and my tarring all that Bain did with the same brush as other economic travesties, such as the sellout of LandRover or the banking collapse is guilt by association. Possibly nauseating. Afterall, maybe people at the companies that went bust under Bain were helped, found new jobs, got severance packages? Maybe if elected president, Romney will not be be heartlessly dedicated to making more money for the wealthy at the expense of the working class. Maybe Bain was not a reflection of the values Romney would demonstrate were he President.

I think I've managed to smooth things over a bit with my neighbors. I've tried to make more effort to express my appreciation when things go well.

But with respect to the last-mentioned manifestation of my fears, I'm still coming to terms. That is the sense that in trying to "blog" about equipoise and grace, I am actually destroying these blessings and caving in to another of the sins that is always waiting to snare me, writer's vanity.

I find myself trying to reconcile being a good writer with being a good person. To be a good writer is to entertain, to dazzle -- ideally in the name of offering readers insight, understanding, beauty, laughter, truth. But when I'm honest with myself, I see little thought of others at the core of my writing, and an abundance of thought of myself.

I tell myself that I shouldn't care what others think; just be content that I am the very one that I am (or, translated into religion-speak, "a beloved child of God.") I tell myself the only person anyone really competes with is oneself. I tell myself my writing is just solving puzzles; creating something. What can be wrong with that? What can be wrong with wanting to make your writing as good as it can be?

I've stumbled across a new favorite scientific journal that seems to be full of psychological research on subjects that fascinate me these days: the forces that motivate people; positive psychology;  how people work best in groups; how to get people to cooperate; what correlates with happiness?

A report on a study in that journal described a series of experiments leading the researchers to conclude that being respected -- one's perceived standing in a group -- is more important to happiness /life satisfaction than socioeconomic status. This rings true to me. Studies of our closest animal relatives underscore the importance of dominance hierarchies. Social position ties into differences in hormones, brain chemistry, reproductive success and behavior for animals that live at different ends of the hierarchy.

Is the desire to win the respect of respected others the human version of this? Is it so fundamental to our animal nature as to be inescapable--virtually hardwired into us? Part of the way of nature, not the way of grace.... something that comes to us naturally, spontaneously, intuitively.

But then again, perhaps it's something we can make efforts to push to the back burner while we intentionally pull other things to the fore. Perhaps I can acknowledge that I have this drive, am susceptible to this sin, but hold it in equipoise with motivations that I choose intentionally.

I will tell myself that I write not for status, but because (back to Rob Bell) it is how I pursue the happiness of creative "flow"; responding in-kind to the gift of The Creator. I will write because it helps me tune in more intensely to the world--to meet and read and see and think and find patterns that I wouldn't otherwise.  If my writing helps others... that's gravy.

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