Critique of the Lyrics in Lorde's song "Royals"

Lyrics-critique-lorde-royalsEarlier this year, the song “Royals,” written by sixteen-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor, reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list. Ella, who goes by the stage name “Lorde,” is from New Zealand and is the first solo artist from her country to achieve such popularity in the United States. When Lorde’s popular song, “Royals,” first played over the airwaves of my car’s radio, I was immediately struck by Lorde’s smooth, rich vocal qualities and her song’s fresh melodic beat. At the same time, perhaps like other people, I was initially a little skeptical about the value of the song’s lyrics. At first listen, lyrics about “jet planes, islands, tigers, on a gold leash” sounded like another shallow line written by another base materialistic hip hop artist, but a closer listen reveals that “Royals” actually contains a not-so-subtle criticism of the MTV glam culture that many of today’s youth aspire to.

Read the lyrics for yourself below, with a few of my thoughts interposed after select lyrics in brackets:

Lyrics from Lorde’s “Royals”

Verse 1
I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom

[I love the above line and transition. It seems to say, “Really? The materialistic fantasy promoted in the media doesn’t align with how I grew up, and I’m supposed to want that?” Her choice of what to portray as representative of the pop culture (decadent gold teeth, drunkeness, drugs) highlights just how grotesque these desires are.]

Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.
And we’ll never be royals (royals).

[Equating these desires with a love affair is a perfect metaphor for the covetous and rapturous nature of the materialistic/sex-driven nature of today’s culture. I love that she takes a stand and says that she won’t get caught up in it — I hope she won’t!]

It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.

[Yes! We were created to love life, to love freedom, to crave something different. We don’t need the “buzz” being pushed on us by pop culture, AKA Big Media]

Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

[From what I can tell, here Ella’s turning pop culture’s esteem of ruling in an air of superiority  and turning it on its head, saying “Follow me to something different. I’ll lead you to a different fantasy.”]

Verse 2
My friends and I—we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,

[The above three lines reveals Ella’s priority: relationships. She and her friends have recognized the lie of consumerism. Instead of taking a “Benz” to the party, they’re riding in a train.]

We didn’t come for money.But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affairAnd we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Ooh ooh oh
We’re bigger than we ever dreamed,

[The alternative to “luxe” is so much better.]

And I’m in love with being queen.
Ooh ooh oh
Life is great without a care

[So true — wealth, materialism, coveting riches — all bring bondage.]

We aren’t caught up in your love affair.

And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Is the “fantasy” or vision Ella alludes to in “Royals” something  we can encourage other young people to pursue? From what I can tell, Ella’s lyrics contain some important truths that pose a stark contrast to the dark myths promulgated by many of today’s “artists.” The lingering question is does “Royals” really contain a thoughtful critique of culture or is it more a reflection of youthful innocence combined with teenage angst? Only time will tell, but I’ll be praying for Ella and hope that her criticism of popular culture will only deepen as she matures. Our worlds need an alternative, a healthier fantasy than the one offered by MTV.

Ella, thanks for reminding us about the vanity of materialism, that people are more important than things, and that there is an alternative to the dominant message communicated by pop culture.
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Originally posted 2013-11-01 09:48:00.

Ditch the news for a better life?

Reading the papersThere are a lot of reasons, real and imagined, that we watch and read the news. Perhaps the loftiest and most common reason given is to stay up to date on current affairs with the hope of making informed political or business decisions. A less noble reason for following the news, one most wouldn’t readily admit to, is the pure entertainment it provides. For whatever reasons we watch or read the news, its popularity is immense. The news industry is a multi billion dollar industry, and has a vast influence on the American population. It’s estimated that approximately 84% of Americans get the news every day in one form or another (PewResearch).

The question is whether or not watching the news on TV or reading it in a newspaper is really a valuable habit. Outside of providing some sort of dark and depressing entertainment that makes us feel better about the relative ease of our own lives, can it help us make better decisions? I would argue that rather than making life better or helping us gain a clearer understanding of the world, watching the news on TV or getting it from a newspaper can actually cloud our understanding and cause us to become more passive. On top of that, at least one study indicates that watching the news can be bad for our health. Read on for a few more in-depth arguments for not getting your news from popular media sources.

Watching the news prevents critical thinking: The way news is televised prevents viewers from actually having time to critically evaluate the news. Our thoughts are constantly interrupted with different news clips, streaming headlines, and commercial breaks. If were not able to think critically about the news, can it really help us make informed decisions?

A constant flow of news, whether televised or in print, prevents intentional response and leads to passivity. The information overflow and entertainment approach used by most news sources results in an endless state of “the next big thing.” Before we’ve had time to process or respond to one story, it’s already gone and the next big story is being aired. Politicians are known to use this phenomenon to sweep mistakes or unfavorable events under the rug. As long as another big story surfaces quickly enough, a less favorable story will be quickly forgotten. The tendency of news to promote passivity, rather than action, undermines one of the main arguments people make for watching the news.  Can you honestly remember the last time any news story had a real impact on your decisions?  

The news distorts our understanding of reality. While it’s generally known in this day and age that all news can’t be trusted because of propaganda and the spins that news sources are guilty of, there are greater underlying distortions that aren’t always as obvious. The amount of time and space news sources give various types of events can have a significant impact on how we perceive the importance of a topic. For example news broadcasters might direct nationwide attention to a relatively isolated hostage situation, while state-wide arsenic levels in water sources might be having a more significant impact on the welfare of most viewers.

Watching or reading the news can be bad for our health. Studies indicated the watching the news has a negative impact our our psychology, causing negative feelings, pointless stress, and possibly exacerbating depression. Why submit ourselves to this psychological torture we call “following the news” when it’s really not having any positive effects to offset the negatives?

Constant news about tragic events without the ability or opportunity to respond can cause callousness. Nothing surprises us any more; we hear or read the worst representations of humanity on a daily basis. But what do we do? How does it help us or the community in a practical way? After watching the news or reading the paper, most of us simply finish our cup of coffee and head to work, becoming that much more calloused and despairing about the conditions of the world. Instead of having an optimistic outlook or believing in the possibility of a better world, we give up hope and accept the world for how it appears in the news — messed-up.  

Meaningful alternatives for a healthier life and community: So, if we really want to stay informed, but don’t want to be sucked into the system of news propaganda, what do we do? There are a actually a number of ways to stay informed other than by watching TV or reading the paper, sources of information that can promote positive action in one’s personal life and in the surrounding community. Here are a few ideas:

  • Read a journalistic style book on a relevant or interesting topic. Books usually list verifiable sources for important facts and provide the opportunity to think about the topic being addressed.
  • Get involved in a neighborhood association
  • Attend local Board of Supervisors or City Council meetings
  • Talk to neighbors and family members, discuss what’s going on in the world and ways to problem solve
  • Use less cluttered and more meaningful news sources like scholarly journals

Using the above sources of information for current events wastes less time, is less distracting, provides more relevant news, and is more likely to foster creative and hope-filled thinking. With better information and more time to think about it, we can engage our world and focus on the things that matter. One might even see an improvement in his or her health!

Recommended reading: Propaganda by Jacques Ellul

References: PewResearch; “The Negative Psychological Effects of Watchings News on Television,” The International Journal of Behavioral Medicine
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Originally posted 2013-11-01 14:31:01.

Bringing Life to the City

bringing-life-to-the-city

Urbanization — pretty much everyone living in a developed country lives in a city. And the current estimate is that by 2030 60% of the world’s population will be living in an urban environment. It kind of makes sense right? In this day and age there are a lot of reasons to live in a city and very few reasons to live in a rural or wilderness environment. Cities offer jobs, commerce, conveniences, housing, restaurants, and entertainment of all kinds. At the same time, farming and food production have become so mechanized that it only takes a few people to raise food for everyone. Those of us who aren’t farming have to find some other type of work to do for fulfillment and survival, and most work is found in the city.

It’s not inaccurate to say that people have lived in cities for thousands of years, but the percentage of the global population living in cities in unprecedented. We are truly experiencing what can be called an “urban revolution.” 

So what does this mean for us? What does urbanization mean for people seeking to live whole, meaningful, and healthy lives? The city is a place filled with important paradoxes. Here are a few of the dangers and consequences posed by cities and urbanization:

Lots of People but Little Community — Us human beings, we need each other. We are communal beings. Real, authentic, meaning, and reciprocal relationships are vital for our health. When it comes to developing relationships, our individual selfishness is always our worst enemy, whether we live in the city or in a rural environment. The interesting thing about the city, though, is that it’s filled with people at high proximity, offering the illusion of easy community, but it often leaves people feeling even more isolated and lonely than ever.  

What is it that makes the city a place of isolation rather than community? While the answer is somewhat complex, it boils down to the intimate tie between urbanization and technology. Cities are built and shaped around human techniques, with efficiency as the goal, and people often become a mere continuation of that pattern. In the city it’s easy to become merely another cog in the machine. There are millions of people but nobody is responsible for each other. We get lost in the crowd.

Noise — The city represent the epitome of noise: unwanted, purposeless, disorganized sound. From within the city resounds a loud cacophony of anthropocentric sound. The city’s noise takes on many forms, from the contradicting propaganda emitted from shopping center speakers, to the hummings and clangings of cars and other machinery. The overwhelming presence of the city’s noise nearly downs out all sounds of nature, making us feel somehow separate and independent form the rest of creation. At the same time, we hardly have any time to listen to our own thoughts. Creativity and free thinking require concerted effort or withdrawal to rural environments. 

Pollution — The city creates an abundance of concentrated waste, a giant cesspool of filth. In the natural world what could potentially constitute waste in concentrated amounts ends up becoming fertilizer. All waste, whether decomposing trees or animal droppings, are naturally recycled and widely dispersed within the environment. When millions of people are concentrated in one place, however, the waste that results becomes toxic and difficult to recycle or properly dispose. Human sewage would be bad enough, but when you add to that all the waste that results from our technology (garbage, fumes, oil, toxins, paper, plastic, etc) even with mitigation the consequences are on the verge of catastrophic.  

Less Access to Fresh, Real Food — Historically very little food is actually grown in cities. Most of the land is covered with roads and buildings, and the water supplies are limited, so growing food is difficult to do. The city is not a self-sustaining place — it and its denizens are incredibly reliant on outside inputs for survival. As a result, most city dwellers have a difficult time coming by fresh food in the quantities that promote health. Instead, most are left to survive the best they can off of fast food and processed or pre-packaged foods.

Crime — Cities are filled with people, and people commit crimes. In any given community there will always be a few people who committed crimes against others, but in cities this natural tendency is exacerbated. Why? Well, there are two primary reasons: For one, many crimes are committed out of envy or jealousy, and more people at close proximity provides more opportunity for committing wrongs out of envy or hatred of others. Secondly, cities promise to be places of opportunity, but more often than not there aren’t actually enough opportunities (jobs) for all who live there. Before industrialization, virtually everyone was needed to raise food or was employed in some type of meaningful work, but technology changed that. Industrialization created a gaping deficit in employment opportunities, meaning more poverty, and therefore more crime. Moreover, even when technology results in the creation of new jobs, the work environments in urban settings are often unhealthy and disease promoting (think low-light, excessive sitting, monotonous movements, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes). Dis-ease or poor health can further contribute to the cycle of poverty and crime.

Abundance of Meaningless Work — When there are jobs to be found in the city many of them are relatively meaningless. Pushing paper, doing rote jobs, busy-work, little true interaction with people. You might find a job, but there are only a few who privileged enough to find a job that they get any great deal of satisfaction from. Most of us have resorted to looking for meaning outside of work, in our extracurricular involvements, such as through volunteering or participating in some type of organized social group.  

The City Represents Rebellion and Self-Sufficiency — All of the above mentioned dangers of the city are a consequence of the city’s history and true character. The construction of the first city was essentially a rebellion against dependence on God. This truth is portrayed beautifully and clearly in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). Rather than depend on God’s protection and provision, Cain established the first city, where he could provide for and protect himself by dominating nature and using violence. The theme of the city representing rebellion and sin runs throughout the Bible, from Babel to Babylon.  

The Good News: We Can Bring and Experience Life in the City! So what can we do? Are we to leave cities or abandon cities as hopeless places of dis-ease? No. There is hope and we can bring it. By the miracle of Jesus’ love, God can fill and transform the very symbol and place of man’s selfishness and rebellion. There’s no set program or method we can employ, no precise dogma that can be used to change the city — only faith made tangible through love.  

In the Book of Revelation John records his vision of God’s kingdom coming to earth and transforming the city. There’s no temple in the city or religious place of worship, the city itself become the home of God, place where his throne is established and living waters flow, where there’s cleanliness, light, and the tree of life. We don’t know how or when this vision will come to fulfillment, but we can take part in it now, through faith. 

It all starts in our hearts. When we are connect to God, through Jesus Christ, we become and extension of his life, love, and creative power. He is the branch and we are the vine. That we, the selfish people we are, can become vessels of God’s love, is truly a mystery, but it’s a true possibility.  The ways the God’s kingdom can manifest themselves in your city, through you, are only limited by our faith and imagination. How is God speaking to you. Who is in your neighborhood, what darkness in your city needs the light of God in you?  

It’s easy to be so overwhelmed by the whole world’s problems that we don’t take steps to demonstrate God’s love in our own backyard. Whether planting a community garden, mentoring a child in foster care, getting involved in your neighborhood association, or problem solving causes of pollution — you can be a bringer of life in your community. We can’t do it on our own, and we can’t expect to build some man-made utopia, but we can be part of a faith-based revolution. A revolution that grows from within our hearts and expresses itself in faith, with the hope that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.  

Inspire and educate us! What ways are you getting involved in your community? How can someone discover the needs of his or her community? Do you have any stories of transformation?

Recommended reading: The Meaning of the City by Jacque Ellul and The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
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Originally posted 2013-10-31 14:36:06.

Re-Perceive Stress to Lower Risk of Disease and Death

The Perception of Stress as a Factor of Disease

perception of stress disease factor mortality cuaseIncorrect knowledge is often worse than no-knowledge at all, but it’s the risk we take in the pursuit of better living. This axiom couldn’t be more clearly demonstrated than by the insight I’ve recently gained that’s completely changed my way of thinking about stress and how it affects the human body. You see, I bought into the mainstream idea that mental stress is inherently unhealthy for the body. Well, I didn’t think mental stress was completely bad, all the time (I recognized it serves a purpose and is a normal part of life), but I was convinced that good health depends on eliminating as much stress as possible. I was shocked to learn that current research strongly indicates that it’s precisely the belief that stress is unhealthy for the body that makes stress so unhealthy!

Two Types of Responses to Stress: Threat or Challenge

Here I’ve been trying to be part of the solution to disease by telling people that stress causes disease (and therefore it should be avoided), but this advice was most likely just making things worse. It turns out, stress, in and of itself, isn’t harmful to our bodies. There are two primary ways that we can experience stress physiologically — psychologist call these two responses, threat or challenge responses. While there are overlaps in the way our body responds to what we perceive as a threat or challenge, there are also significant differences that can have a direct impact on our health.  

The primary difference between the two response types is that during a threat, the body begins to shutdown in order to protect itself: the blood vessels constrict, cutting off blood flow, and the heart becomes less efficient. By contrast, during a challenge response the blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the brain and muscles. Whether the mind solicits a threat or challenge response is determined by one’s beliefs, experiences, and perceptions relative to a given situation. 

The Harvard Social Stress Test and the 30,000 Person National Health Interview Analysis

At this point you might be thinking, “What’s new? We already knew that perception affects stress.” The difference is that the effects of perception on stress were previously always studied in regards to external conditions, not to the perception of stress itself. Two recent studies provide compelling evidence that how we think about stress can cause an automatic trigger of the threat or challenge response, regardless of the external circumstances.

In 2011, researchers at Harvard and UC San Francisco performed a social stress test comparing a test group to a control group of volunteer participants. As part of the study, all of the participants in both groups were required to submit to a simulated stressful interview situation, in which they performed a 5-minute presentation while two evaluators provided negative feedback. After giving the presentation, participants were required to complete a series of analytical questions. Before the interview, the test group was told that stress was not harmful and that it would actually help them perform the presentation. The control group wasn’t given any instructions. When the mental and physical responses of both groups were assessed after the interview, the test group had a significantly healthier cardiovascular response and a more positive perception of their completion of their presentation than the control group.  

In another study, researchers analyzed survey answers and fatality rates from about 30,000 people over 8-years.  Unfortunately, stress had a significant affect on the health of a large percentage of the population but only for those who believed it would! The analysis found that those who experienced stress in the previous year and answered the questioned, “Do you believe stress has a negative impact on health?” with a “yes,” had a 43% increase in the risk for early mortality! By contrast, there was no correlation between stress levels and early mortality among those who did not believe that stress has a negative impact on health!

The Take Away: What we see from these studies is that believing stress is bad for health can promote an automatic physiological response that negatively affects cardiovascular health and can even lead to early death. While the implications of this study are tragic for many, they are also exciting. It’s amazing to see how well God designed our bodies. So much of the disease we face as humans is merely “user error.” Our bodies are designed with a built in mechanism to help us rise to the challenge and overcome difficult situations. If we maintain this positive, faith-filled attitude and believe that physiological stress can actually be a good thing, then many of us will be well on our way to better health!

References: “Mind Over Matter: Reappraising Arousal Improves Cardiovascular and
Cognitive Responses to Stress;”
Harvard University; Kelly McGonigal: “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” TedTalk; “Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality,” Health Psychology; “The Upside of Stress,” Kelly McGonigal.
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Originally posted 2013-10-03 13:15:58.

Take Control of Your Weekends

Central Park

I’m sure everyone knows the 1981 song “Working for the Weekend” by the quintessential 80s band Lover Boy. This song outlines the lives of countless Americans: working hated jobs for five days straight, followed by two days of “new romance” and “second chance[s].” While most people simply view this song as a party joke and a common occurrence in movies and television, I view this song as a window into the detriment of many peoples’ lives.

While working at a physical therapy clinic in South Portland, Maine, I walked to the post office to send our patients’ progress notes to their primary care physicians. I walked passed two homeless men who asked me for money. The Portland area has a large homeless population for a small city, so I was used to saying, “Sorry; no cash,” and going on my way – Maine has the highest percentage of opiate addicts per population in the entire country. A couple hours later I walked down the same street to eat lunch and I saw those same two men reveling in the fruits of their labor: cheap 40 ounce bottles of beer, sharing a pack of cigarettes. They looked ecstatic. Through toothless smiles, they clinked their bottles and mumbled in strong northeast accents. I then realized, when I passed them in the morning they were “working,” now I was witnessing their “weekend.”

As I ate lunch I felt very disheartened. It was a harsh realization that most of the people I surrounded myself with day to day don’t act much differently than these two homeless men. They work for five days straight, followed by two days of drinking too much, eating terrible food and forgetting about their exercise programs; all in the name of “the weekend.” They have homes, jobs, 401Ks, goals and dreams, but still use they weekend as an excuse to act like a completely different people. Between Friday and Saturday night parties and Sunday afternoon football games, these upstanding citizens transform into lazy, self-indulgent people; a far cry from the hard working, focused coworkers I surround myself with the other five days out of the week.

I made a pact with myself that day that I would take control of my weekends; I would not work for the weekend. I would work for the love of work and serving others, and treat my weekends as sacred. Here are my top tips for taking control of your weekends:

  • Wake up around the same time. Your body’s biological clock does not understand a five day work week, weekend parties, and day light savings. It wants to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Don’t be an alarm clock admiral, but don’t sleep 3-4 hours later on Saturday than you did on Friday.
  • Explore new healthy meals. I love using the weekend as a time to try out new exotic meals. I’ve found that cooking something new can be too taxing during the week, but weekends offer extra time to hone new cooking skills. Make it a goal to try out one CBH recipe every weekend.
  • Set clear workout goals. Don’t set outrageous goals – that’s where most people go astray. It’s too easy to set lofty, unreachable goals. Start small, and work your way up. For example, if you’re new to taking control of  your weekends, set the goal of taking a walk Saturday or Sunday if the weather permits.
  • HAVE FUN! It’s the weekend! Don’t mope around and be a slave to your to-do list and BlackBerry… or iPhone… or whatever else we’re slaves to these days. Turn your phone off; it’s liberating. While you’re at it, have fun with your workouts too. Set a goal, but don’t have a plan. Tell yourself you will perform 20 sets; it can be two sets of 10 different exercises, five sets of four exercises, or five sets of four exercises. If it’s difficult, you’re doing it right!
  • Be quiet. Read. Pray. Meditate. Practice yoga. Go for a bike ride in the wilderness without any earphones. Do whatever necessary to reset your mind and soul; the following five days will be much easier and much more fulfilling.

Originally posted 2013-09-30 14:33:58.

Mental Health — What Freud Got Wrong

was sigmund freud rightMuch of modern psychoanalysis, the methods by which we judge mental health, is based on the ideas established by Sigmund Freud during the 1920s.  The term “Oedipus complex” might come to mind, as it should, for Freud’s thoughts about the “Oedipus complex” form the core of his theory and legacy. Few people, however, really know what the Oedipus complex is or how it shapes the ideas of so many of the therapists and psychologists that we blindly trust.  So what is the Oedipus complex? And is the premise of modern psychology an accurate or useful way to analyze the metal health of individuals or society as a whole?  The present state of mental health in America, the West, and many other parts of the world seems to be in dire straits, making this an important issue.

The Oedipus Complex and Modern Myth

For those who aren’t familiar with the story Oedipus Rex, it’s a Greek tragedy by Sophocles, written in the 5th century BC.  The basic plot of the story is that King Laius has a child named Oedipus, but the child is abandoned because of a foreboding prophecy that the child would kill his father and take over the throne.  Then in a twisted turn of events, Oedipus survives into adulthood and kills his own father (like the prophecy predicted) on a country road (not knowing it was his father that he killed). Oedipus is then made king in his father’s place (still not knowing it was his dad he killed) and takes the hand of his own biological mother in marriage. The theme and underlying meaning of the tragedy, along with many other similar tragedies and myths, is the nature of rivalries between close relationships. Freud’s interpretation of this rivalry and the violence between father and son, as told in Oedipus Rex, is the basis of his psychoanalytic theory.

Basically what Freud tries to answer with the “Oedipus complex” is the question of the origin of desires that cause human conflicts. For example, why is it that a child desires the same objects that his parents desire?  In the exaggerated case of Oedipus, the underlying implication is that a boy desires his own mother. But why? In his earliest works, Freud places the origin of this desire with the child’s identification with his parents. In other words, a child learns desire based on seeing what his parents desire and wanting to be like them. Later, however, Freud hypothesizes that desire arises from innate, physical desires, rather than from imitating a model (such as a parent). Ultimately Freud comes to the bizarre conclusion that at some point, a boy will suddenly become conscious of an innate desire for his mother, which he will then suppress in his subconscious mind. This suppressed consciousness, however, is supposed to influence other aspects of life and desire.

The upshot is that modern psychology is built on a couple of underlying Freudian assumptions:  For one, it’s believed that desires, even desires beyond basic biological functions, are primarily innate and focused purely on an object. A healthy, socially-adjusted individual then is one who successfully recognizes and suppresses his or her desires for socially inappropriate objects (whether actual objects or people). Secondly, innate desires are considered highly individualistic, and individualism just so happens to be highly praised in Western society. Scholars, businessmen, artists — we all strive to be unique individuals, and we tend to deny the dynamics and influences of the group. Such denial, however, makes us even more susceptible to group think, advertisements, and propaganda.  Personally, I’m convinced that for those in therapy, these two assumptions can also cause a deterioration rather than an improvement in mental health!

Mimetic Desire and Ancient Knowledge

In his work Violence and the Sacred (which this article is largely based on), the renowned scholar Rene Girard argues that the real origin of desire and the cause of human conflict (whether mental or physical) is something he calls mimetic desire.  While the idea of mimetic desire isn’t really new (it can be argued that it’s something the Bible refers to as sin or covetousness), Girard provides a scientific explanation of the formation of desires, rivalry, and even what might be referred to today as “poor mental health.” Essentially, mimetic desire is as old as Adam and Eve or Cain and Able.  

Ancient stories, such as Cain and Able, teach us that desires come from an outside source, from a model, someone that can be imitated (hence the word mimetic in Girard’s theory). In other words, our desire for a particular object isn’t innate and doesn’t come from the appeal of the object itself, rather an object is made desirable by the person that possesses it. If you don’t think that’s accurate, think about any of the most effective television commercials. They’re never really selling an object; they’re selling the appeal of who one could become by acquiring possession of a particular object. For example, with the right luxury watch, any man might become as successful, rich, and handsome, as the man in the commercial.

The next truth stories like Cain and Able teach us (and human history will attest to), is that desire creates conflict. The reason desire creates conflict is because we don’t just desire the same object that our model possesses, we desire to actually become the model. The problem is that there are two obstacles to becoming or becoming like the model: the model himself and the model’s possession of the desired object. Mimetic desire, fully played out, thus results in depression, jealousy, rivalry, covetousness, and ultimately murder (all consequences of a disturbed mental state). In order to become like the model, the subject has to either steal the object from the model and/or murder the model; the model is the chief obstacle preventing the subject from obtaining the model’s elusive state of being.  

The psychological implications of mimetic desire are paramount. If our desires are not innate physical whims but formed by the imitation of role models, then more often than not our desires are neither fixed nor reasonable.  They’re not fixed because a role model’s possessions and interests may change over time, and they’re not reasonable because one can never obtain the state of being of another human. These two obstacles result in continued frustration, depression, high and lows, violence, and generally “poor mental health.”  Thankfully there is a solution to the primary cause of most our mental dis-ease.  

The Real Cure to Many of Our Mental Health Problems 

Girard argues that there are essentially two solutions to mimetic desire, though the first solution is really more of a band-aid than a cure. First, the relational distance between a subject and his role model has a direct affect on the amount of mental stress and physical violence that might result from a given relationship. Relational distance might explain why the fiercest jealousy or violence often occurs between the closest friends or the most intimate lovers. If one chooses role models that are at a greater distance, however, like a sports hero on a professional team instead of a high school teammate, the tension caused by mimetic rivalry is lessoned.  Our society tacitly acknowledges this benefit by constant emphasizing the importance of positive role models for children.

The second solution is receiving and following in the steps of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial love.  Instead of turning to violence and being controlled by the crowd, Jesus revealed that laying down one’s own life brings freedom and escape from the mimetic cycle. The ability to lay down one’s life, to surrender one’s desire (formed by imitation and ultimately resulting in a hatred for others), is only obtained by believing in the unconditional love of Jesus.  Love, which is sacrificial, can only be given after it is received.  In other words, those who believe, Jesus sets free from a mimesis that spirals towards death and leads into a mimesis towards life. Sacrificial love brings freedom from mental anguish, fear, jealousy, narcissism, concern over what people think, anxiety, depression, and a plethora of other mental health problems.

This isn’t to say that all mental health problems are solved by escaping mimetic desire, or that we’re ever fully free from mimetic desire. Looking to others for the cues for our desires is a constant struggle, one that requires daily returning to the love of Jesus and remembering his sacrifice through sharing communion with others. It’s also important to note that some mental health problems are caused by biology or the physical environment, such as when depression is caused by being inside for too long or when bi-polar disease is triggered by a nutrient deficiency.  But this brings up another point, most mental health problems, in one way or another, are  a result of not living the way God created us to live. The first and most important aspect to life and good mental health is love, after that, exercise, sunshine, fresh-air, and healthy foods all have a substantial impact on mental health.

The take away: It’s a Western myth that we are complete individuals with innate and unique desires. While the idea of the “stalwart individual” might be appealing, our mental health is intimately tied to our relationships with others.  We get our desires from the people around us (whether friends, family, peers, advertisers, movies, etc), and our ability (or inability) to realize these desires is the principle cause of mental dis-ease.  The only way to escape the bi-polar high and lows of desire is unconditional, sacrificial love.

What are your thoughts on mental health? 

Do you have any questions about mimetic desire?

Primary Reference and Suggested Reading: Violence and the Sacred, by Rene Girard.

Violence and the Sacred by Rene Girard recommendation review 

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Originally posted 2013-09-26 16:03:06.

The Benefits I've Gained from the Online Health Community

benefits of online running community health livingThe benefits of community are numerous.

A community is basically a network of people that can form a support system that benefits the entire group. Sometimes when you are living in a way that is out of the ordinary, a community like this is just what’s needed to help make good choices that fly in face of the status quo.

Although I wish it were different, trying to live a healthy lifestyle is out of the norm. I love learning about nutrition, trying new foods that are good for me and staying active, but not everyone in my immediate family or among my friends share this same passion. When I happen to stumble upon a group that does have an excitement for healthy living, I was over-joyed.  Where did I find this group?  Online.

This “virtual” healthy living community I’m now part of (that I found in the blogging world) has taught me so much.  For one, I’ve learned that “healthy” is a little bit different for everyone. While in the medical community, “healthy” means “not at risk for disease,” for the average individual it could just mean eating veggies and working out a few days per week. I’ve learned to be less judgmental about foods that people eat as well as to be more open to trying what I used to think of as “weird” foods. I’ve learned that no matter the size or shape, that most people have insecurities with their bodies.

I learned to love running through the online community.

I was also introduced to running through community. Yes, I had heard of running. Yes, I had trudged through the mile run we had to do in high school to assess our fitness level. But through the online healthy living community, I’ve found people who have a passion for running. These people actually like lacing up their shoes and running for miles at a time. They sign up for races, paying money to run distances I couldn’t even fathom of running.

I learned to love pulling on my Asics and pounding out frustration on the pavement. I learned that I could have some really awesome moments of worship during these runs. I learned I could spend time with my Creator and be grateful for the ability to have use of all of my limbs.

[See my running articles: 13.1 Reasons to Sign Up for a Half-Marathon, Ladies’ Guide to Warm Weather Running Clothes, 5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners]

I have also had the opportunity to meet some of the people who have inspired me over the years in person, and I can hardly describe what happens when we all come together. The feelings of community and mutual understanding are overpowering. There is such peace in knowing that we are no longer the oddball but part of a group of people that shares similar beliefs and past-times.

According to the Mayo Clinic, being a part of a healthy community can reduce stress and depression. It will help you feel less alone in tough times. Being part of a community also provides opportunities for mutual learning and new ideas shared. The support and encouragement gained will motivate you to do things you would have never thought of doing. A community like this will benefit you in ways you never imagined.

The importance and value of community is also mentioned  in the bible. It’s called the church. There’s a reason that we are told to be part of a church — we were made to be around people and to have the love and support from like-minded individuals.  We were created for community.  

So if you feel like you are the only one in your immediate group who cares about your health and well-being, seek out those with similar interests. Find a group, whether it be at a gym, a church, or online, that shares your passions in life. Believe me, you won’t regret it.

Questions:

Are you a part of a healthy community?

What are benefits you find from gathering with like-minded individuals?

Links:

References: Mayo Clinic: Support Groups

Originally posted 2013-09-24 17:00:22.

The Vital Difference Between Truth and Reality

In our culture, words like “truth,” “lie,”fact,” and “error,” are used on a constant basis.  These words are heard in the news, in the classroom, at the job, in church, and in the courtroom.  We insist on seeing the evidence and getting to the bottom of things.  This desire for a clear understanding of the facts or of the truth is found in both the secular and religious world.  In fact, it’s often a disagreement over the “facts” that causes irreconcilable differences between Christians and atheists, christians and other christians, creationists and evolutionists, or scientists and other scientists.  

While there are undoubtedly some important disagreements around “the facts,” I’d like to contend (along with the philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul) that the disagreements that exist in our society aren’t as much a result of inaccurate “facts” as they are a result of a fundamental confusion between the concepts of “truth” and “reality.”  This confusion is a product of the Scientific Age.  

Scientism, the belief that the only things that have merit are the things that we can “observe, measure, and repeat,” is pervasive in our culture.  The result is that everything that depends on words for explanation is looked down upon, while everything that can be seen (photos, videos, artifacts, repeatable research) is prioritized and given legitimacy.  The priority given to the visible even influences how people read the Bible.  Instead of seeking to understand the meaning of a passage or the moral lesson, emphasis is often placed on the literal reading of the text.  Looking at Biblical texts literally, as if they were science reports, can result in missing the primary purpose of the texts.  

Here’s the kicker, reality, that which can be seen, touched, or heard, has no meaning without truth.  Truth is the realm of the spoken word, the realm of meaning, purpose, love, faith, hope.  These are the spiritual aspects of life that can never be proven with a scientific experiment.  Truth and reality exist side by side.  Truth gives value to reality.  The realm of truth (which can be contaminated by lies, hate, doubt) also has a powerful impact on the real world.  For example, when we care about someone, that care can be seen and felt by others.  On rare occasions truth and reality fully intersect, like when Jesus came to earth, “the Word made flesh,” or when God’s kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven.” 

At this point, you might be wondering what “truth versus reality” has to do with health.  Well, to start with, the emphasis on reality is part of the reason the health industry is so focused on image, rather than holistic health.  The health goal portrayed by the media is that we should look like super models and that we should live a really long time.  Hardly anything is said about quality of life, spiritual well-being, or overall health down to the cellular level.  Mainstream health is all about getting “ripped,” having “a six pack,” “looking young,” or completing some obstacle course race for bragging rights on social media.  

Then there’s the lack of purpose in the health movement.  And what’s the point of having good physical health if you don’t have some greater spiritual purpose in life?  Purpose is something that doesn’t come from the physical world (reality) or science — it’s something that comes from belief or faith, which belong to the realm of truth.  According to the scriptures, abundant life comes from living with a purpose.  We were created to live freely and to live in God’s love! 

The next time you here someone talking about “truth,” ask yourself, “are they really talking about truth or facts?” If what they’re talking about gives meaning to the world around us, then they’re discussing something within the realm of truth.  If what they’re saying merely describes the world around us, then they’re just providing facts.  

For further reading on truth versus reality, I highly recommend The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul.

 

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Originally posted 2013-09-16 20:38:41.

The Life-Giving Power of Generosity

Olivia Making a DonationProverbs 11:25-
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

It’s a human tendency to self-protect and hold onto things we might need in the future.  From a survival standpoint, holding on to resources just makes sense.  After all, if one has more…fill in the blank…he’ll be better able to enjoy life or take care of himself down the road. 

Fortunately, the truth of generosity is much more paradoxical and freeing than the simple logic of self-preservation.  

We read in the Bible that “he who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Christ’s sake will gain it.”  The idea that self-sacrifice, or the giving of one’s self, is essential for life is central to Jesus’ message.  Today, many people have expounded upon this truth with messages about positive thinking, “paying it forward,” etc.  

While generosity certainly isn’t a tool for getting what one wants, it is a way of life that resonates with who we were created to be as humans.

Thankfully, what resonates with our purpose as humans is almost always good for our bodies.  And while we really didn’t need anyone to tell us that giving to others makes us “feel good,” a number of scientific studies have found that the “good feelings” that result from sacrificially giving to others translate into significant health benefits.  

One of those studies looked at 423 elderly couples over 5 years to determine what factors most highly affected their well-being.  The individuals who reported regularly giving tangible help to their family members, friends and neighbors had a 50% lower death rate than those who didn’t!  Research obtained in the making of a documentary about longevity (sponsored by National Geographic) further confirmed the importance of generosity to health, as one of the things the longest living people have in common is a sense of purpose and importance in the lives of others.  

So, while it might seem counter-intuitive that giving sacrificially to others would be good for one’s health, the truth of generosity is backed by the reality of good health. We were created to love, to give, and to be involved in the lives of others.  

References: Philanthropy Across Generations, The Creation-Based Keys to Longevity

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Originally posted 2013-08-02 09:01:01.