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August 2016 posts

Vonnegut on Stories

By Jonathan B. Wight

A younger friend gently chastised me for never having read Harry Potter, which is clearly a virtue-ethics kind of book series.  There are strong demarcations between good and evil, and clear virtues that our hero must learn to develop. 

VonnegutA virtues ethics approach relies on telling stories, generally about things going badly wrong—mistakes made and hopefully some positive resolution at the end. The Potter series is credited with getting younger children to read again (I have no idea if this is so), but I hope that some of the virtues highlighted—hard work, honesty, bravery, and justice—will linger in the minds of readers.

Kurt Vonnegut provides a wonderful short video on the visual shapes of stories leading to plot resolution.  His three “models” work surprisingly well, at least so far as in reading Potter.

[Thanks to Eryka Fiedler for the link!]

False and True Selves

By Jonathan B. Wight

Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation is one of those delightful books that you stumble upon and wonder, how did this book find me?  It discovered me at a yard sale in Nashville when I was in graduate school, and what a delightful day I spent reading it.

Here’s a quote that seems more relevant today than ever:

Whenever you are offended, it's usually because your self-image has not been worshiped or it has been momentarily exposed. The false self will quickly react with a vengeance to any offenses against it because all it has is its own fragile assumptions about itself. Narcissists have a lot of asserting and defending to do, moment by moment. (p. 36)

By contrast:

Don't waste much time defending your ego. The True Self is untouchable, or as Paul puts it "it takes no offense" (1 Corinthians 13:5). People who can live from their True Selves are genuinely happy. (Ibid.)

It is easy to find the first sort in the political world.  The latter sort come along rarely, but they are so impactful because they do not demand our deification, only to be on the journey together.

[Thanks to Richard Rohr for bringing these passages to mind.]