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.

The Importance of Foundations

If you’ve ever spent any time in construction you’ll have some idea how important a good foundation is. It’s the first thing you lay down because everything else relies on the foundation. If your foundation is week, then your building is weak. If you don’t have a foundation, then your building falls down pretty quickly.

This is true in building, and it’s also true in life. Christ tells the story of the wise man who builds his house on the rock, and obviously the rock is him. This is an important foundation for any Christian to understand. However, another important foundation is philosophy and theology.

Many people don’t actually understand what they believe. They have no clear concept of their outlook on the world, their understanding of God, or why they actually believe any of the things they believe. Even those who have some concept often don’t really have a complete or consistent understanding of their view of the world. This is something of a problem.

I’ll be honest, I’m exhausted right now, and I just had a pretty awesome date with not-Sarah (that’s right, she called me back), so I don’t really have a lot to say about the issue right now. However, think about this: why? Why do you believe what you believe? Why does God exist? Why is scripture trustworthy? Why is the world a good, bad, beautiful, or ugly place? Why does it even matter? These are the most important questions that you can ask: why, why, why, why, why?

Sleep

I am exhausted. Have you ever been at that point where you’re just too tired to think? Where you can’t even figure out what it is that you need to do next? That’s where I am right now. I know that I still have some grading to do today… I’m sure of it… I think… my classroom is down anyway so I don’t suppose it matters even if I do still have grading to do. I probably need the break anyway.

Honestly, I feel like the Sunday before last (June… something) was a month or two ago. Between cleaning, grading, bills, conversations, etc, etc, etc, I have had an incredibly long week. It’s been good though. I was talking to one of my students this week about the difference between hedonism and utilitarianism. Both philosophies tend to operate on a basic ‘pleasure=good/pain=bad’ mentality that is really truly simple to understand. There are variations of each that focus on this concept in different ways. For instance, some hedonists pursue long-term pleasures even if these involve short term pains (a position John Piper argues for inĀ Desiring God). Utilitarians tend to argue that the greatest pleasure for the greatest number is good (i.e. seek the greatest good not the personal good), but pleasure is still associated with good.

I have a problem with this fundamental argument. The last week has not been pleasant for me. It has not been enjoyable, pleasurable, happy (I’ve been fairly happy, but circumstances certainly haven’t), etc. It has been difficult, exhausting, expensive, frustrating, and quite thoroughly painful. That being said, it has also been very good. I’ve seen growth in myself that I hadn’t realized was there. I’ve been tested, and I’ve been happy, even though nothing about my circumstances encouraged me to be. So, I have a difficult time accepting the notion that ‘good’ and ‘pleasure’ are linked together. Pain can be good, and pleasure can most certainly be bad. This doesn’t mean that they always are, but it does mean that good/bad and pleasure/pain are not synonyms, or necessarily even comparable.

Honestly, I’m tired enough that I’m not really sure I’m even making sense here. Oh, and I also learned from a friend today that apparently asking a girl to lunch means you just want to be friends. I never would have realized this, and I’m glad my friend told me because I was planning to ask not-Sarah to lunch tomorrow. Instead I called her and left a message asking if she wanted to get coffee some evening this week. I really hope that there isn’t some secret woman message in leaving a voicemail…

I think I like it better when I can just grunt at people.