The Way of Breaking Glass

In martial arts there are many ‘ways’. Aikido means ‘The Way of the Harmonious Spirit’, Karatedo means ‘The Way of the Empty Hand’, Tae Kwon Do means ‘The Way of Fist and Foot’, Kendo means ‘The Way of the Sword’, Tang Soo Do means ‘The Way of the Chinese Hand’, Judo means ‘The Gentle Way’, Kuntai means ‘The Way of the Fist’, Ninjutsu means ‘The Way of Stealth’, etc. Obviously there are many martial arts that don’t include ‘way’ in the name, but each includes it’s own philosophy or fundamental concept. Of course, we all have a philosophy of life as well which might also be described as a ‘way’, and every culture has a philosophical underlay that might be described as a ‘way’.

The title of this post is, I think, the best way to describe the underlying philosophy of American culture for the past three or so generations. Just like the names of many of the above martial arts, I chose this name for a specific purpose. Just like glass the philosophy of American culture emphasizes appearances over strength or usefulness. American culture develops people that generally look good, but are very fragile. In part this is because we emphasize self-esteem over confidence. As a culture we have convinced ourselves that self-esteem is the most important part of human development. However, self-esteem is based on our view of ourselves in comparison to others. We build our self-esteem by being ‘better’ that someone else.

I am reminded of a woman I passed in the park perhaps a year ago. This was a minor incident, but one that has stuck in my mind. This woman was walking with her child, trying to reassure him because he wasn’t doing well in math. The boy was suitably distraught, feeling that he was dumb and worthless, but the mother, instead of guiding him to areas in which he excelled, consoling him that math wasn’t the end all and be all of everything, or explaining to him that our worth doesn’t come from our appearance or abilities, exclaimed the he was the ‘smartest fifth grader in the world!’ A claim that obviously wasn’t true, even to the boy himself. Instead of actually reassuring her son that perhaps he didn’t have to be the best in math, the woman propped up a demonstrably false and very fragile image of excellence. We train ourselves to ‘look like the best’, instead of understanding that being ‘my’ best at something doesn’t necessarily mean being ‘the’ best as something.

Similarly, like broken glass, Americans are full of sharp edges. In general we are fragile, easily broken, and very quick to hurt others in order to boost our own self-images. In focusing so heavily on appearances we have developed into a culture filled with insecure people who look good, but have very little to offer. We have to be right, we have to be the best, we have to excel, and if anyone tells us that we aren’t or don’t then we accuse them of jealousy, bigotry, targeting us, or any number of other horrible things. We seek out people that are weaker, dumber, poorer, uglier, or in some other way ‘less’ than ourselves, and trade the ability to actually ‘get’ better for the questionable boon of spending time with people who make us look good. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to actually help others, but there is something wrong with avoiding the chance to be better in order to avoid looking worse.

I use the word ‘breaking’ instead of the word ‘broken’ to emphasize the continual nature of this insecurity. We are continually breaking and repairing our images, continually hurting others to rebuild our own broken pride. I have used the term ‘we’ throughout this post because, while I’ve been the recipient of immature, insecure behavior plenty of times, I’ve also dished it out plenty of times. I recognize this way in my own life and, while I’m trying to change it, I’ve been seeing lately how much work I have left to do.

I’ve come a long way over the past decade, but I have so much farther to go that sometimes the distance simply staggers me. I am consistently amazed by God’s patience, love, and intent in my life, and eternally thankful for the time that he has and is putting into me.