Stoning your coworkers to death

There’s this short story called The Lottery (1948), written by Shirley Jackson, originally published in The New Yorker. Basically, there’s this small town, and every year on June 27 the townspeople draw slips of paper. The person with a black dot on her slip of paper gets stoned to death by everyone else.

That’s it. That’s the whole story.

The New Yorker received hate mail left-and-right. That summer Jackson said she received about a dozen letters a day from readers, almost entirely negative. She responded to the criticism in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.”

Indeed The Lottery is shocking, but read symbolically it is not so difficult to pick out the people in our own family, community, workplace, or country that we “stone to death.” It’s the person nobody likes, perhaps reasonably. It’s the person everyone gossips about, complains about, and tries to get fired, shamed, impeached, or, in rare instances, killed.

It’s perhaps easiest to see this behavior today on social media: scroll to the first response or quoted tweet you see and you’re likely to see someone getting their reputation and livelihood destroyed. It’s almost as easy to see it on teams and in workplaces, where gossip unfairly destroys others’ reputations and turns them into a pariah. Over and over again we choose violence over love: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

New Yorker readers did not need to send Jackson hate mail–her story is now considered among the most famous of all time in the American genre–they needed to look at their own lives and ask, “How are my own thoughts, words, and actions prohibiting the formation of a community of love?”

Bad working environments

Love is not a thing that depends on external circumstances. Love depends on things like forgiveness, and charity. If Anne Frank can do it, you can do it.

Toxicity is not a thing one expels from the environment, but from one’s own heart.

Improving

Improving is a lot like falling asleep: the more you fuss about its happening the less likely it is to happen. I wonder if a lot of things aren’t like this.

I’m struck by this observation by HarperOne editor Michael Maudlin about the great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis:

“The best example of what I am getting at comes in chapter 12 in (C.S. Lewis’s) The Great Divorce where the main character witnesses the spectacle of a heavenly parade with shining angels, saints, and animals flowing and dancing around a luminous woman who was so beautiful she was almost “unbearable” to behold. At first the observer thinks she must be Eve or Mary, the mother of Jesus. But he is told that, no, it is Sarah Smith, who lived as a suburban London housewife. In heaven, though, she is counted as one of the “great ones.” How did she get this status? Because in her ordinary life, she became mother to every young man, woman, boy, girl, dog, or cat she encountered, loving them all in a way that made them more loveable and more eager to love others.

Not only did this chapter reset my calculations of what it means to be “great” as a Christian, it also helps us to understand Lewis’s writings as a whole. Lewis sought to help, encourage, and enlighten his readers about the Christian faith, especially in the ways it is seen by others as outdated or out of synch with our modern times. And in those endeavors he was masterful and more successful than he ever imagined. And part of the reason for his success was the fact that instead of desiring to be a great apologist and theologian, he measured himself by how closely he resembled Sarah Smith. And it was because of this humble approach that he did indeed, unknowingly, become a great apologist and theologian.”

How To Be a Christian, p. XV-XVI.

Quote of the day

Just as the assembling and sharing of data is central to the digital culture, so is the familiar gesture of ‘liking’ or ‘unliking.’ We might be tempted to appreciate ‘liking’ as a perhaps less intense form of loving, since both involve the signaling of a positive attitude towards someone or some thing, but this is to miss the crucial difference. When one ‘likes’ another, she’s expressing only the most superficial kind of approbation. This approval does not reach deeply into the other; nor does it come from a profound place of the interiority of the one who grants it. And this very ephemerality and superficiality is what’s made the term so appropriate in the digital space, in which one can casually ‘like’ a posting, or a picture, or a story, and promptly move on to something more interesting. Or one can garner hundreds or thousands of ‘likes’ without ever establishing anything even close to a relationship with the one who bestows the designation. And again, very much like information, ‘likes’ are utterly under the control of the self, since they involve no real commitment to the other, and are bestowed from the safe and antiseptic distance of a computer keyboard.

Now, in sharp contrast to ‘liking,’ is loving, which, in the definition offered by Iris Murdoch is . . . “The extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.” Isn’t that good? The ego is a black hole, I said: it tends to draw all things into itself and under its aegis. To love, see, is to break out of that: the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. And how reminiscent this Murdoch formulation is to Aquinas’s characterization of love: “Willing the good of the other.” To love is to break free of the gravitational pull of the ego; to relocate the self, as it were, in the other. When I ‘like’ you–let’s say on Facebook–I’m in control. When I love you, I’ve given myself to you in such a way that I am no longer in control of our relationship. When I ‘like’ you, you move within the ambit of my desires and preoccupations. When I love you my life is no longer about me. It’s about you.

Robert Barron, Word On Fire episode 344 (7:00-10:00).

Don’t do things shitty

Keep your car clean. Use proper grammar. Make your bed. Exercise. Care about others.

If you let small things slide you’ll soon let big things slide. You’ll get a shitty job in a shitty town, marry someone shitty and raise shitty kids together. Your whole life will be shitty. Lots of peoples’ lives are shitty.

And it all starts with hitting snooze on your alarm.

Thinking of yourself as a good person

Thinking of yourself as a good person is an assured way to become an evil person.

Better to think of yourself as someone with great capacity for evil which you sometimes act out in small ways; that way, you’re on guard against your own evilness. The best people are those best attuned to their own evil acts.

If “I’m okay,” and “You’re okay,” and “We’re all good just how we are,” and “Let’s all accept ourselves,” then it’s only a matter of time before the demogorgons take over Hawkins.