Delight or Disdain: The Choice of Our Times

I was there when God put the skies in place, when he stretched the horizon over the oceans, when he made the clouds above and put the deep underground springs in place. I was there when he ordered the sea not to go beyond the borders he had set. I was there when he laid the earth’s foundation. I was like a child by his side. I was delighted every day, enjoying his presence all the time, enjoying the whole world, and delighted with all its people.”  (Proverbs 8:27-31)

Life is complicated.

Events come at us sometimes from out of nowhere, barreling down the highway of destiny right at us, and there’s nothing we can do to avoid the impending collision. There’s much about life in the body that is in flux and in constant change, no matter how strict the control systems are that we have in place.

There is, however, one thing that is completely ours to choose, and that’s our state of mind. We can look at this world and at one another with delight, intrigue, and curiosity. Or we can gaze with eyes narrowed, disdainful of all we don’t agree with, and hell bent on proving ourselves correct and still in control, no matter what the cost.

A lot has been written about why we should quit social media, including studies that show less time on Facebook and other apps like it actually makes us happier. I think this is correct, but not because the algorithms create our dis-ease. We create our dis-ease through the constant arguing and disdain for one another. This behavior has rendered social media useless to me. I haven’t deleted it, I simply never enjoy my time on it anymore. Because every damn thing is a crisis, an opportunity for someone to get all riled up. Even the most innocent post can make the masses writhe in self-righteousness, as if their comment is going to save the poster from falling into the abyss of stupidity.

There are people who live in constant fear of the President setting off WWIII, while others are terrified that a member of Congress is going to create a Stalinist state. A weekday Tweet or Instagram post will raise the collective blood pressure to a state nearing a national emergency. And that’s just politics. Refuse the flu shot, and get attacked as stupid and unscientific, even if you’ve had every other vaccine in the book. Enjoy praying the Rosary, and be called a misogynist for propping up the Catholic Church. Like a local restaurant, and be condemned for eating there because maybe the owner donated to the KKK forty years ago. Post something about the importance of homemakers and childcare, you’ll start a mommy war in ten seconds flat.

And yet, under all of this constant online complaining and criticizing is our desire to be happy. Self-help gurus are making millions telling you how to be happy when perhaps the answer lies within your own mind, your own heart, and your own will. What if the secret to happiness can be summed up thus: either you delight in life, or you disdain it. The results of that decision will be clear, I can promise you that.

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

W. H. AUden

The transition from my career to staying home with my kids was hard for me.

I was pregnant with my second child when my nanny quit, and while interviewing others to take her place, I found that perhaps I was the one meant to have the job. Only in hindsight can I admit that some part of me wanted to be with my children all day, even if it wasn’t as stimulating as my job. But back then, I never would have admitted such a thing, for to admit it would have been a defeat. When I told people of my decision to stay home, the standard response was, “Oh, I could never do that, I’d go crazy all day with nothing but the kids. Good for you thinking you can.”

While I knew part of me wanted to be with my babies, for I delighted in their company, the other part of me disdained everything motherhood stood for. And that was the part of me that had to be corrected if I were to be satisfied in that situation. For delight doesn’t mean constant joy, it means finding satisfaction in the work that life requires of us.

I turned off the TV and the news, for the world was filled with disdain. I threw out the Pottery Barn and clothing catalogs, for I could no longer afford such things. I traded in Working Mother for Mothering magazine, since I needed to be surrounded by literature that supported mothering in this way. I surrounded myself with parenting literature like Mindfulness Parenting and You are Your Child’s First Teacher. It was a slow process. It took two years of effort and a good shrink to finally find peace with my decision, and while I’ve never learned to live fully in the now, I do know that I can live with more delight, if only I chose to focus on the beauty in the chaos that defines life.

Even when the affection isn’t equal, choosing to be the more loving one is the way to peace. This is especially true in the divided, snarky, arguing and mistrustful society we currently reside in.

The Devil vs. Wisdom

It is written that when God created the world, Wisdom delighted in it. She danced above the waters, adored the animals, and delighted in all its peoples. She loved life, for she was life, and as such, loved herself. This is the essence of wisdom, and something that most of us miss: to look upon another with delight is to delight in one’s self. The opposite is also true: to disdain others is to disdain yourself.

In most traditions, disdain for mankind is the Devil’s MO. In his great masterpiece, Faust, the German poet Goethe uses the devilish Mephistopheles to show us just how this part of our psyche disdains us, for all our gods and devils are reflections of our own consciousness.

“About suns and worlds I don’t know beans, I only see

How mortals find their lives pure misery.

Earth’s little gods shaped out of the same old clay,

He’s the same queer fish he was on the first day.

He’d be much better off, in my opinion, without

The bit of heavenly light you dealt him out.

He calls it Reason, and the use he puts it to?

To act more beastly than the beasts ever do.”

Mephistopheles in faust, johann wolfgang von goethe

It seems that as a culture, to be snarky and disdainful is in, and to delight is seen as childish, naïve and foolish. Everyone rushes to cut the other down, to make sure their criticisms are heard. Even common dialogue is veiled sarcasm. I’m used to my father arguing with my every plan–it’s a game we play–but a world full of Debbie Downers is truly exhausting.

After fifteen years of being a teacher and novelist, I’ve begun to return to tech and I’ve noticed that when I share this decision with others, they tend to be negative. “Are you sure you want to do that?” “Women in tech are treated so horribly.” “Who wants to be a code monkey all day?” “They work developers to the bone, you’ll never have time for anything else.” Honestly, when I left tech, all anyone could say was how could you, yet now when I return, they say it’s horrible and I should stay away?

Methinks it has nothing to do with tech, or career, or work, or family. It has to do with the fact that to judge one another is the way of humanity, and it’s holding us back from taking our evolution to the next level. Which is a shame, because it just proves Mephistopheles right.

I myself would rather delight with Wisdom as the world changes.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. How can you change the media influences in your life to focus more on the truth, beauty, and goodness of the world?

2. What sort of Facebook or other social media groups do you belong to? Do they align with a more joyful life, or do they focus on the negative?

3. What can you do to contribute to a more beautiful world online? Can you commit to commenting in positive ways, refraining from debate, and instead turning to common ground?

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