All the Little Things

So, I’ve been following the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy since it first came out, and if you haven’t heard about what’s going on, it’s well worth a good look. However, as I was reading up on this controversy, I came across several articles about Driscoll’s views on women, focusing specifically on his highly questionable teaching that Esther was, among other things, a selfish slut who seduced King Xerxes into making her the most powerful woman in Persia. This interpretation has a number of obvious flaws, probably the most egregious of which is the idea that Esther had the option to deny Xerxes anything. However, after reading some of Driscoll’s personal testimony about his own history with women (excerpts from his book Real Marriage), I can understand how his views were formed. Driscoll relates that every girl he dated cheated on him, including his wife (though he didn’t discover this until after they were married).

Right or wrong, the way we are treated forms our opinions of people. If you’ve only ever known blacks who were angry gang members, then chances are that you don’t much like black people. Similarly, if you’ve only ever know women who cheat, then chances are you assume that women cheat. We’re often told to avoid forming such prejudices. The problem is that avoiding such prejudices isn’t really possible. What is possible is handling such prejudices. See, if you’ve only ever known hypocritical, selfish Christians, then you’re going to see all Christians as hypocritical and selfish, and interpret their actions in this way. Recognizing this kind of basic assumption is difficult because the assumption itself is such a small thing, but its a small thing that fundamentally shapes the way you see the world. Changing this kind of fundamental assumption is incredibly difficult and often we need help to do so. I’m not convinced that we can actually change them without meeting positive examples of whatever group we are prejudiced against, and even then we must be open to allowing our minds and hearts to change.

So, why am I talking about this? Because sometimes I see women as nothing more than deceptive harpies who live to destroy good people. I know that this image isn’t true, and there are examples of women who are fundamentally not the above, which helps me in my struggle. However, I’ve also been influenced by a lot of women who were exactly that, add to this the fact that almost every woman I’ve dated has left me feeling lied to, betrayed, and broken and you begin to understand where this particular struggle comes from. While I have some experiences that tell me that women can be good, honest, beautiful people, I have a lot more experiences that tell me they are not.

Does this make me a misogynist? No, it doesn’t. It does mean that I sometimes struggle with misogyny though, and that I probably need more examples of good, caring women in my life to help me in that struggle. The problem is, I can seem to find any under 35…

That’s probably a post for another time.

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What is Wisdom?

So, I promised that I’d write more about each of the virtues that I’d put forth concerning masculinity. I already wrote a little about courage, though probably not nearly enough, and the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be wise. This is not to say that I’ve actually come to a conclusion about it, but I have some thoughts. First, I think we often confuse knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Every journalist knows that there are six (not five) important questions: who, what, when, where, how, and why. I think that these questions also provide a good progressive exemplar for the differences between the above terms. Knowledge is simple information that has been memorized. A person with knowledge can determine the who, what, or where of a question, perhaps the when of a historical question, but he can’t go beyond this point. The knowledgeable man has only plain information at his disposal. A man with understanding not only can determine the who and what, but also the where and importantly the how of a question. While knowledge provides only rote information, understanding brings with it the ability to apply that information. For instance, a man with the knowledge of punching may be able to tell you what a punch is or where to hit someone, but he can’t show you how to actually throw an effective punch. This requires understanding. Understanding moves this person from simple knowledge of what a punch is to the ability to use that knowledge effectively. Wisdom, however, adds a third dimension: the when and why.

That is to say, in my example of the punching man, a man with wisdom will not only be able to throw an effective punch, but will be able to determine when it is good to throw that punch. He can answer the question ‘why would you punch someone’. This is, I think, exceedingly rare. Many people, like Richard Dawkins, dismiss the why questions of life as entirely unimportant (perhaps one of the greatest mistakes I’ve seen anyone make). Many others never even reach the point of considering the why questions of life. It’s not that these people have dismissed the questions as unimportant, it’s that they’ve never even considered whether the why questions might be important. So, having said this, I’m not at all sure that I’m wise. Being wise requires not only knowing enough to ask the why questions, but being able to answer them. Honestly, I don’t think that I have many meaningful answers. I can pretty easily give a lecture about what lots of other people think about a particular question, and there are some question that I can even tell you what I think, but to actually answer a why question. I don’t know about that.

About a week ago a friend called me ‘a wise man’. I responded by saying, ‘I make too many mistakes to be wise’. He asked, ‘Isn’t that how you become wise?’ When he asked that question I realized that I honestly didn’t have an answer. I have the beginnings of an idea of what wisdom is, but I can’t really say how one actually becomes wise. There are lots of people in the world with lots of opinions, and I’m fairly sure that wisdom means ignoring 90% of them. However, even with that tongue in cheek definition, I’m not entirely sure how to actually do that. Don’t get me wrong, I can ignore people with the best of them, but actually knowing who to ignore and who to listen to is another issue entirely. Take the current scandal involving Mark Driscoll, while it’s fairly clear that Driscoll hasn’t been particularly careful with his writing, there are a hundred different opinions ranging from people screaming for his resignation to people claiming that he didn’t do it in the first place to people claiming that even if he did, it wasn’t wrong. The sheer amount of voices is quickly overwhelming (I spent 3 hours last night just reading about this), not to mention the people connecting this to his teaching on Esther and his views of women in general.

So, how do we begin to parse this situation? Does a wise man simply sit back and wait? Perhaps for a while, but certainly not forever. A wise man is not an eternally passive man. However, we can say that the wise man knows when to act. A man with understanding might know what to do, but a wise man can see when to do it. He knows when to wait and when to step forward. He knows when to listen and when to speak. This isn’t an easy thing. I think that’s all I’ve got for now. I definitely need to think about this more.