Deception, or Shakespeare Takes the Discussions

The works of Ashley Sanders are the stuff of legend. She attended the Lord’s University and majored in philosophy and English. You may recognize her name as the organizer of last year’s alternative commencement. She now works with Sunstone and has a formidable blog of her own that might contextualize some of her guest posts. Quoth Ashley: “I am going to Middlebury bread loaf school of English for a master’s, and applying for a masters in activism and social change at the University of Leeds.” Welcome to our new guest!

Prologue

In my last few blogs at Project Deseret, I have been arguing for conscience as a birthright. But, as my friend George reminded me, “a defense of conscience must also answer the problem of deception”–more specifically, self-deception. He is right. Having created a post title that sounds like a cross between a Jane Austen novel and a Mormon tabloid, I will ply Shakespeare to reckon between perspicacity and perspective. An essay, in five acts.

Act I

Two weeks ago, I saw Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Pioneer Theatre Company. The next night, I went again. It was not just the puckish (literally) fairies and delightfully dim-witted tradesman that required my second patronage; it was that the play was not finished with me, and I could tell. There was something nagging in it, some mirthful, mouthing truth that walks behind the comedies, making faces at predicament. I have noticed the same nag in Much Ado About Nothing, and felt the grim version while reading the tragedies. What was it? I went back to find out.

If you don’t know the story of Midsummer Night’s Dream, you should read it. In the meantime, I’ll help you out: it’s about fairies hexing fairies and courtiers and queens falling for donkeys and everyone getting supremely deluded about who they actually love and what is actually real, while the unseen fairy Puck flies about, confusing everything and then trying to right it all again. The whole mess ends with a play-within-a-play, in which provincial tradesman perform a ‘great drama’ for amused courtiers. The tradesman’s play is, of course, the ultimate in buffoonery—people who think they are wise spewing clichés and otherwise overdoing things—and includes the arch-dupe Bottom, who refers to his stint as a donkey (another of Puck’s hexes) as a great vision that he can’t seem to match with words. The play is watched by patrons of the court, including several couples recently recovered from Puck’s love-hexes (which had caused them to fall in and out of love with each other several times). The patrons spend the tradesman’s play in mocking, delighted at the stupidity of the so-called actors and chortling over their attempts to ‘create’ reality in the form of an illusion: the illusory-real, a play.

The play ends with fairy Puck’s synopsis, which is fitting. After all, the whole comedy has consisted of people mocking people who appear to know less than they do, all the while being meta-mocked by the reality-fairies and the more-knowing of the play and audience. According to Shakespeare, then, the greatest buffoonery is not to be a tradesman, but to be a mocker. The greatest buffoonery is to believe that one has escaped the limitations of perspective and is operating according to reality. Thus, the disdainful courtiers are more stupid than the tradesman precisely because they think they are smarter. As an audience to buffoonery, they have forgotten that they are buffoons to the audience watching them.

Upon second viewing, I started to understand: the Old Bard was trying to teach me something about self-deception. And while Shakespeare isn’t exactly taking the discussions, his comedy should certainly start some, especially amongst religious people. And so, a story: about learning how to be Mormon from a man who never was.

Act II.

Comments

  1. To be honest, Ashley, I don’t know where you’re going with this, though it’s provokative. Of course, I am required to know Shakespeare backwards and forwards because I’m married to Bruce Young. Since I don’t know where these initial observations are headed, I’m going to respond with my own thoughts and memories about Puck.

    In England, my husband taught a Shakespeare class which our son (then age ten) attended. Students were to memorize a monologue and present it the last day of class. Of course, we didn’t expect our son to do it, but after everyone was finished, he said he wanted to present his. He gave Puck’s final monologue.

    If we shadows have offended,
    Think but this, and all is mended,
    That you have but slumb’red here
    While these visions did appear.
    And this weak and idle theme,
    No more yielding than a dream,
    Gentles, do not reprehend.
    If you pardon, we will mend.
    And, as I am an honest Puck,
    If we have unearned luck
    Now to scape the serpent’s tongue,
    We will make amends ere long;
    Else the Puck a liar call.
    So, good night unto you all.
    Give me your hands, if we be friends,
    And Robin shall restore amends.

    Since then, he has disassociated himself from the Church while Bruce and I have begun serving in the Provo MTC. Several times a month, we welcome new missionaries to our branch. They have put on their missionary “costumes” and are ready–not to deceive, but to become the characters they’ve been singing about since Primary. (“I hope they call me on a mission…”) But there is a lot of role playing, including teaching fake investigators. But even the act of PRETENDING to be more Christlike than our impulses tell us we really are does, in fact, transform the love story. Misdirected love finds correction, and missionaries learn to truly love and be transformed by those they had thought to transform. They may begin with a cynical “What fools these mortals be!”, but they end with a redemptive vision of those they serve, and it turns out that the “audience” comprises brides and grooms, and offers strange but beautiful alliances, where all become “fools for Christ.” The mission passes like a dream, and then a new drama begins.

    Check out this popular You-Tube video and ask yourself why the “preacher” refuses to give his hand. What role is he playing?

  2. Spell check: Make that PROVOCATIVE

  3. Margaret,

    Your message reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s suggestion that acting like that which we hope to be is not hypocrisy. He suggests we are all trying to become “little Christs” in our own way. Eventually by acting we begin to take on those attributes that begin as artifice. I’m not sure how much I believe this argument to its fullest extent, but I suppose the Church does teach us to “be like Jesus”. Even if we’re acting like Him, if the act is based on true principles then the Spirit will confirm it and hopefully we’ll absorb those good attributes.

  4. MattG: At age 52, I find myself in a very big fight with my hormones. I had Bruce buy me some supplements yesterday. I didn’t have my reading glasses on, so I asked him to read me the ingredients and what the pills were supposed to do. He read, “Helps with hot flashes. Helps with MOOD SWINGS!” He grinned. Biggest grin I’ve seen on his sweet face in awhile. (“There is hope!”) My body does not want me to be kind and considerate right now. I would like to bite my youngest son’s head off when he decides to skip a difficult assignment in his biology class. I have to constantly remind myself that this angry person is NOT who I am, certainly not who I want to be or to become. But it is a battle, and my son has some of the battle scars.
    Now juxtapose this with a statement I resist. My bishop, who does not approve of my son’s long hair, recently said (again) that it’s time for a haircut. I consider the length of my son’s hair to be none of his damn business. His reasoning is that my son is a representative of Christ. I disagree. My son is a sixteen-year-old kid who sometimes does do things in Christ’s name, such as helping with the sacrament. But he is not a representative of Christ–not yet. And I don’t want him burdened with that. He’s a kid. Now, when he becomes a missionary and voluntarily wears the badge which includes the name of Christ, I will consider that he does represent Christ in a way. And I do expect him to do things consistent with a vision of who he wants to become. But how much different is his surging testosterone from my frantic menopausal hormones? We are mortals; we are often fools; we often see things wrong. And we need to forgive ourselves and move on.

  5. Margaret, I prefer “provokative”: Russian, forboding. Like that miniseries, Amerika. Or like Red Dawn.

  6. That reveals a lot about you, Steve.

  7. Perhaps I will just post them all and the brave can forge through them! I just didn’t want people to have to read something super long all at one (but I do want people to read something super long in sections, apparently). But they don’t make much sense alone, and it might seem like I am saying something I am not if I leave them in their isolation…

    I wrote these thoughts as a internal counterpoint to some other very sincere (but much more the-other-direction) stuff I have posted on my blog. I am trying to have a very contradictory conversation with myself, leaving as little out as possible. Nothing I say should necessarily be taken as my final (or even temporary) opinion on something; I am mainly trying to explain problems to myself from multiple perspectives. And so, since I have written a lot about our right to conscience in the Church (and how it is frequently abused)I thought I would write something about the shortcomings of conscience, too. Just to put it in context.

  8. I say milk before meat. Let us digest this first act and pontificate about its meanings before you disabuse us of our silly notions.

    Margaret, indeed.

  9. oh, and I should say, I am writing about self-deception, not wilfull deceit. I should change that, since it isn’t clear. I do not mean that people are wilfully trying to deceive each other. I mean that our perspective, and therefore our perception is limited. Sorry!

  10. Margaret,

    That is so true. Sometimes in our sincere desire for our youth to “succeed” in the church, we put an inordinate amount of pressure on them. Let him be a 16-year old. I love the passage in D&C 93 that says in the CK we are “see as we are seen, and know as we are known”. There is no more pretense, no more acting. We see ourselves and each other for who we truly are.

  11. BTW, Red Dawn rocks. We watched it for a teacher’s quorum activity once. Thanks for the flashback, Steve.

  12. Steve is absolutely right, Ashley. Please let us digest this completely before you tell us what we’ve actually eaten. It’s far more fun that way.

    Don’t be hard on yourself, Ashley. There are all sorts of provocative ideas in your post, even though it’s only the first act. (Or, as Steve would say at one of the Red State [multiple meanings--but probably not referring to Republicans] conferences, OCHEN KRASNAYA.

  13. Ah, echoes of Eugene England, and Shakespeare’s uniquely Christian vision in his plays!

    Well, I know something of self deception myself. I sometimes tell stories to my family and friends, and find that I am placing myself in places I really wasn’t, or doing things that others really did. But they are great stories! Since we are discussing Shakespeare, though, Hamlet played out the part of being mad, until perhaps even he couldn’t tell the difference, being consumed by revenge. There is something about acting in a way we want to become, and then actually becoming it, that is intellectually honest, I believe, when done positively, or dangerous in the extreme, if we act out bad roles.

    For you Red Dawn fans, my reaction is that all Patrick Swayze movies are cut from the same, cheap, polyester cloth. Except Ghost, because he was dead, and I thought Whoopie Goldberg stole the show. How hard is it to play a dead person?

  14. Kevinf,

    It is precisely Swayze’s cheesiness that makes me love that movie, as well as the collective cheesiness of all the other brat-packers that were in the film. That and the playing off the 80′s Red Scare anxiety that we all grew up with in America. It’s a campy classic. Sorry for the threadjack, now back to the regular programming…

  15. Ashley, I found your synopsis delightful. Can’t wait to see where you’re going with it…

  16. Kevinf: How hard is it to play a dead person? Depends on the length of the show. The not breathing part is difficult. Your eyes get dry after keeping them half-open for two hours. You start getting thirsty because your mouth has been open for so long. It’s not too hard if you’re covered with a sheet.

    There was a movie made in the 1950s about an actor who plays _Othello_ and ends up taking the role so internally that he kills his lover. And there’s that great _Monk_ episode where the actor who’s playing Monk BECOMES Monk and nearly kills someone.
    Then there’s all the speculation about how playing The Joker in the next Batman movie had a part in Heath Ledger’s death.

    I do believe that the roles we take, either in our real lives or in our more dramatic lives, have a palpable effect on us. When the brilliant movie _The Painted Veil_ was being filmed in China, residents of the city insisted that rituals be performed to cast out evil spirits because so much of the movie involved death.

  17. Stephanie says:

    Margaret, are you my mom? :)

  18. There was a sister in my mission who always smiled, and I mean always. I heard someone ask her how she could be so happy all the time. Her answer hit me hard, and it made a real impact on my current outlook. She said:

    “When I wake up, if I am happy I smile; if I am not happy I smile until I have convinced myself that I am happy.” I understand there are limitations on this for some people, but I have found that when I focus on becoming “something”, I am given or find or recognize opportunities to do so.

    For example, I have learned that I do not become meek simply through the natural process of life. I become meek by focusing on it – by understanding what it means to be meek (gentle, forgiving, kindly generous), by praying for help in becoming more meek, by thinking about it constantly and by allowing my cognizance of it to change the way I otherwise would act as I experience normal life. Once I stop focusing on it, I stop growing as steadily in that way.

    Since there are so many characteristics of godliness that I want to acquire more fully, I focus on one at a time, month-by-month – and truly am amazed by the experience. Iow, to echo Margaret, I find I am becoming what I “pretend” to be.

  19. “Fake it til you make it” has been my favorite saying since high school. {I don’t remember where I heard that} I felt in high school that everyone was faking it all the time and at church and just everywhere. I was sick of it. And then I realized that in order for anyone to ever be anything good they had to fake it at first… no one is ever just good normally. If we all did what we really wanted to… it wouldn’t be good. So we are all faking it on some level. Until we make it in the end we will always be faking it.

  20. Peter LLC says:
  21. Are you all honestly suggesting lying through your teeth to yourself, about yourself, is a good thing? Self-deception as the highest good? I realize you phrased it somewhat less negative terms, but really? Trying to be a better person, trying to do the right thing even when you don’t want to doesn’t require the sort of fakery I see advocated on this thread. Self-enforced “faking it until you make it” does create the sort of scarey fake-smiley slightly disturbing people we all know and try to avoid in the hallways. Don’t smile all the time. Sheesh. Feel bad occassionally, be honest. Be real.

    Honestly, this plus the overt and completely, blithely, unconcious smugness exhibited on the “no swearing” thread (besides being shamefully entertaining in a delightful ‘unreliable narrator’ sort of way) is seriously scaring me.

    Another Shakspeare quote is coming to mind…

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    Thanks, djinn.

    I _think_ people here have been overstating, or making statments without neccesary qualifications. I doubt if anyone actually believes that you should be a phony until you’re not. I certainly don’t believe that pretending to love people, habitually, for instance, often leads to actually loving them. But there may be something in the idea that oen should act in loving ways even when no real love is felt, and that those actions may have a tendancy to plant love, so to speak. Kind of a different thing.

    ~

  23. “Another Shakspeare quote is coming to mind…”

    Out, damned spot!

  24. Margaret, # 16,

    Obviously with your theater background, you’ve had more experience with playing a dead person on stage than I have. I suppose I should be less harsh on Patrick Swayze, but I guess as far as B movie actors go, he’s alright.

    “Fake it till you make it” is not a phrase I like, but the principle of acting in the manner to which you aspire, I believe, actually works. Obviously, if you aim high, your motivations and actions will follow, and the converse is true. Aim low, sink lower. Wait, no

    But now, on to Act II!

  25. Djinn,

    I don’t think anyone’s advocating hypocrisy or self-delusion. As Thomas mentioned, it’s more of acting the way you want to be, not what your natural tendency is. This requires a clear understanding of your own limitations, and a desire to improve them.

  26. Forgive my powdered sugar, but sometimes I think who I am and how I feel are two different things. When I “force” myself to be pleasant, helpful, good when I’m feeling surly, I at times experience a sense of liberation, as if the nice Dave just escaped a hostage situation. Take Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Bernie LaPlante in the movie “Hero.” A more misanthropic character we’d be hard-pressed to find, but when his hand was forced to do the right thing, he shone like a Harry Anderson painting (he’s one of my all-time favorite film characters). I don’t believe deception is involved in being good when you don’t feel like it. I’m not always comfortable in my clothes when I do it, but I never feel bad about myself when the effort’s met with gratitude or reciprocation.

  27. Kevinf–my sixteen-year-old has no theater experience and has mastered the art of playing dead. The words, “Have you cleaned your room?” or “Don’t you have homework?” are the cues. It is a remarkable act. Better than anything I have ever done on stage.

    Steve Evans (23): I am appalled, offended, and deeply disappointed that you, an administrator of BCC, which has just taken a bold stance (maybe even a wide stance) against swearing, would choose a quote from Shakespeare which includes a swearword. Out of all the possibilities, why would you stoop so low? Please have some integrity and ban yourself. Delete your comment. You can be better than this. At the very least, you can fake it.

    Stephanie (17) Is that you? Have you made your bed?

    Djinn: All the world’s a stage…

  28. Steve Evans says:

    Margaret, that was smb’s damned fool post, not mine. To hell with that idea!

  29. Taking off the Mask

    Ashley, Love your series so far–the posts are just the right length and it’s kind of cool to be able to ruminate on one and anticipate the next.

  30. Margaret, you’re right. I used to play dead as a teenager as well, so I’m back on my anti-Swayze bandwagon again. Playing dead obviously is not a tough act.

    All of this talk about acting in a way brought back a flashback from the 60′s or 70′s and Maxwell Maltz’s book Psycocybernetics, where the main principle was to imagine yourself in certain situations, and when you actually had the real experience, it would be old hat. I used to imagine myself being a good student. I should have known something was up if he couldn’t spell psycho properly. That then brings up the ugly visage of The Secret. Which of course is all wrong, just like Patrick Swayze’s tough guy act in Roadhouse.

  31. Ray said in 18:

    There was a sister in my mission who always smiled, and I mean always. I heard someone ask her how she could be so happy all the time. Her answer hit me hard, and it made a real impact on my current outlook. She said:

    “When I wake up, if I am happy I smile; if I am not happy I smile until I have convinced myself that I am happy.” I understand there are limitations on this for some people, but I have found that when I focus on becoming “something”, I am given or find or recognize opportunities to do so.

    Sorry, Ashley, for the digression, but I just have to say that I was this sister’s companion, and it was among the longest, most miserable months of my life. Every night I prayed, in increasing desperation, for (1) charity and (2) a transfer. The transfer was granted; the charity, not so much.

    There is certainly something powerful to a kind of aspirational role-playing people have been discussing on the thread, and it’s only good manners not to inflict random people with the “honesty” of one’s emotional toxic waste. That said, I think in Mormon culture we sometimes mistakenly view happiness, or the appearance thereof, as a moral imperative. At some point chronic happiness can become self-righteous and coercive, and we start denying our own sorrow and anger and condemning other people for failing to smile. It’s too bad we’ve let certain popular wisdom invade our religion to the point that we fail to summon the faith and courage to face the fallen world and instead hang around at the gate pretending we’re still in Eden.

    As for me and my house, the God I worship weeps and is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

    Now back to your regularly scheduled discussion.

  32. C’mon Eve, accentuate the positive!

  33. #30 – Thanks for that comment, Eve. In the other places that I have mentioned this experience, I have made the point explicit that I do not try to teach a rosy, always smiling standard for life.

    For example, I added the following on another blog:

    “Please, everyone, realize that I am NOT saying that everyone should be happy all the time. I understand depression and stress and having kids . . . and I would NEVER want to make it seem like anyone should feel guilty about not smiling all the time. I shared this experience here simply to talk about the overall issue of recognizing the amazing gift of the Gospel – that sometimes gets lost in the crap of our daily lives.”

    I didn’t add that disclaimer here, so your point is needed.

  34. OK, Steve, having written a footnoted personal mission statement and cross-referenced it with my scriptures to go for the gold, think like a winner, awaken my inner financial and gastrointestinal giants, exercise the courage to be rich, and follow the dating rules which will allow me to draw a husband to me by the sheer force of immense personal charisma even though I am over 35 (whoops, don’t tell my husband!), I hereby attempt to accentuate the positives of my aforementioned companionship:

    (1) She had a really BIG smile. I was daily, hourly, minutely presented with all the benefits of assiduous dental hygiene and orthodonture. Good reminders to floss.

    (2) I didn’t kill her, or even inflict any bodily harm. That would have liked really bad on my church resume (RM +! Murder in the first degree, – ), and a prison term would likely have interfered with my post-mission dating life.

    (3) I was transferred. I know that prayers are answered. Sometimes God doesn’t call us to greater fortitude of character but mercifully ends our suffering, evidently in the infinite foreknowledge that greater fortitude of character cannot be extracted from the squirming human subject at the present time. Also, perhaps, in the foreknowledge that #2 above might be imminent.

    Whadayaknow? I’m smiling uncontrollably! (Sick, sick, sick. Somebody make it stop.)

  35. Ray, thanks, as always, for your kind and measured response.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    LOL, Eve — we should compare notes on comps. I had a couple like that. Hell, I was probably like that myself too.

  37. Hell, I was probably like that myself too.

    As a lifelong curmudgeon I’ve never been much tempted by the positive-thinking thing, but I was even weirder in other ways. Somewhere out there I’m sure there are former companions preparing their unvarnished survivor memoirs.

    As Russell said recently at T&S, at 19 we’re all idiots. I was 22, and I was an idiot. Heaven help me if I’d actually gone at 19.

  38. My secret shame is that at 40 I’m still an idiot.

    Dang.

    I’m such an idiot for admitting that…

  39. Clark, my secret shame is that at 36 I know that in just a few years (say, when I’m 40) I’ll be stunned and humiliated by my current state of idiocy, but at the present time I simply cannot discern its precise nature, although I know from sad experience it’s there.

    I hate those inevitable retrospective revelations, but I fully expect to be having them for the rest of my life. When I’m 70 I have no doubt I’ll be horrified by the limitations of perspective that characterized by 60-year-old self.

    However, God has not yet seen fit to answer my prayers that my idiocy be removed from me. So I have little else to do but carry on.

  40. Steve Evans says:

    But Eve, idiocy is a GIFT! Savor in dumbness. Let a smile be your umbrella! etc., etc. blech.

    On the other hand, we may be equally in danger of deceiving ourselves through negativity as we are though overly-positive thinking. At least, that’s what the pessimist in me says.

  41. 30: Certainly someone that is always happy, especially with feigned happiness, can be a bit obnoxious. But I would think that most people would rather be around someone that is generally upbeat and positive than someone that is generally gloomy.

    And perhaps I misunderstood you, but I don’t think it is accurate to portray God as one that is prone to weeping, sorrowing, and grieving. Those are experienced as part of life, but I think as “agents” we are expected to seek those things that lead us to joy.

  42. But Eve, idiocy is a GIFT! Savor in dumbness. Let a smile be your umbrella! etc., etc. blech.

    Indeed it is! I like to think of myself as a fool for Christ, a la St. Paul. Better than being a fool for nothing.

    On the other hand, we may be equally in danger of deceiving ourselves through negativity as we are though overly-positive thinking. At least, that’s what the pessimist in me says.

    Yeah, true enough. My siblings and I sometimes refer to the Church of the Holy Hairshirt, in which all pleasure is deeply suspect and suffering is the definitive sign of righteousness. It’s just the flip side of the cult of positive thinking, really, and it too has made inroads into our collective religious life–maybe especially for women?

  43. Hi, Jim. I guess for me it depends–there are grumps whose company I prefer to that of the upbeat and positive crowd. It depends entirely on the nature of the grumpiness, so to speak, and on the nature of the happiness. My personal Exhibit A from the Bloggernacle is annegb, who calls it as she sees it in a sometimes deliciously curmudgeonly mode that leaves me laughing so hard I’m gasping for breath. In a feminine culture that tends to overvalue niceness, a little annegb is just the ticket. (I would pay solid gold to sit next to that woman in Relief Society). Our contemporary culture sometimes overdoes happiness, and one of the things I like about the Old Testament in particular is that it offers up some refreshingly curmudgeonly and downright strange figures. Say what you will of Jeremiah, for instance, a pile of giggles he was not. And let’s not even get into Ezekiel who would no doubt be locked up in a psychiatric hospital were he to appear in contemporary North America.

    I didn’t mean to suggest God is constantly sobbing and wringing his hands over our idiocy (not to blame him if he did!)–just that God seems to be capable of experiencing the full emotional range, even the emotions we humans sometimes deny and repress. God weeps and then comforts Enoch, just as we humans weep and rage and then find comfort and peace and then weep and rage and find peace again.

    My, I’m in an alarmingly garrulous mood today. I’d better sign off and get my dratted state taxes done. Thanks to all for the chat and most of all to Ashley for involuntarily hosting it.

  44. I’ve always thought a good healthy dose of cynicism metabolizes the syrupy sweetness that sometimes infects us. Ah, a fine balance it is.

  45. To put a rather serious face on this–I know someone who seems perpetually happy. He is a good friend. But several months ago, he dropped by my house to talk to Bruce and me. I assumed he’d try to sell us something, but suddenly he was weeping. He then told us what was happening in his life (some real tragedy), and how long he had been trying to smile through it.

    Today, I taught Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Highly recommended. I had my students do an exercise in character building (the way we fiction writers do it), where a character is defined by what they carry–which might be physical or might be another kind burden. Somebody asked me a month ago how I manage to always be so happy. I almost laughed. He had absolutely no idea.

  46. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m with Eve #42. Happiness is certainly the purpose of our creation, and joy is even a better word for it. But neither of these is synonymous with unremitting cheerfulness. I beleive they are meant to denote the ability to actually engage with reality as a _fully_ living being. In fact, the word fullness is one that we have describing both the Father’s condition, and our aspiration in becoming like Him. I think fulness denotes, in a way, a complete repetoire of responces to what reality deals us. I note in myself a _happy sad_, that is a sadness that still deeply values and even enjoys the reality of existence, of my experience, even the sadness itself; and a _miserable sad_, which is the opposite.

    Two personal things:

    When I first seperated from my first wife, I was diagnosed by a ‘counselor’ as ‘depressed.’ I was relieved to think my perpetual sadness and lack of hope might be solvable pharmeceutically, and agreed to meet with a psychiatrist who had the ability to prescribe anti-depressants. (This would have been about 1990.) The Dr. asked me a lot of questions about my life, and I gave the unhappy details. He said, ‘You have a lot to be depressed about, go out and do something about that.’ As much as I was hopeful at the thought of a drug to help my problems, I was even more relieved to consider that sadness was actually a reasonable responce to the facts of my life – that nothing was wrong with me just because I wasn’t happy.

    Second. I used to joke with one friend of mine about being a curmedgeonly old man. The punch line was often “get the **** off my lawn! Did you hear me, get the **** off my lawn.” And, we’d laugh that laugh of the miserable in a good mood. Later, when my current wife got pregnant, I became hyperaware of curmudgeonliness towards children. Many of our friends were ‘child-free.’ Really bitter people, many of them. Then, we’d go to Boise, quite a different world, and be in the supermarket and have people smile at us. And, I slowly realized I did NOT want to be that old bastard that makes kids miserable because kids are walking on his lawn. Rather I want to be able to smile on realities of existence: people’s children, thier hopes, their fears, their suffering – I want to feel that the whole thing is deeply meaningful and, most of all, worth it. I think _that_ is something like the happiness that is the purpose we were created for.

    ~

  47. re #21
    Okay, I’m joining the club late, but I just wanted to respond really quickly to #21. Self-deception can’t be conscious. So, if we are aware that we are faking it, it isn’t self-deception, it’s other deception. So, we all want to change, and to change purposefully. In order to do that, there will be some moments where we act like something we aren’t in order to become it. How do you stay authentic (and thus avoid self-deception) while doing that? I don’t have an easy response to that, but I do have a response, but I don’t want to articulate it right now. Suffice it to say that I think it has more to do with motives than with actual actions.

    General comment: where do you think Holden Caufield would weigh in on this conversation?

  48. Eric Russell says:

    Rachel is right. I think the problem here is that what Ashley is talking about and what everyone else on this thread is talking about are two entirely different things. Welcome to the old ship bloggernacle, folks; this boat has no wheel – once it sets sail it goes wherever the winds take it.

    Suffice it to say that I think it has more to do with motives than with actual actions.

    Exactly.

  49. Eric, baby, it’s all good!

  50. Eric, your comment about the old ship bloggernacle made me smile- something I don’t do nearly often enough.

    So to continue the voyage, thanks to Eve and Thomas for additional insights into happiness.

    The beauty is that we are so unique in how we feel and express our happiness or lack thereof. For me, by outward appearance, no one would suspect that I’m happy at all. But inside, when I realize all that I’ve been given, I can’t help but be mostly happy- it just doesn’t show. Someone else may seem happy (as Margaret points out), but on the inside may really be struggling. We never really know what another may be going through, so best not to judge and to make assumptions….

  51. #48 – In true irony, I was talking specifically about motives (the effort and attitude and perspective that precede the action) – not actions in and of themselves.

  52. Steve Evans says:

    Rain on yer wedding day, Ray.

  53. and snow, actually.

    How did you know, Steve?

  54. Steve heard it in a really depressing song which, if sung correctly, is belted out as loudly as possible while one is doing the dishes–which someone else should have done. Win the lottery and die. (However, Alanis Morisette does not really understand the meaning of irony. She’s just singing about bad luck.)

    And to bring it back to _A Midsummer Night’s Dream_… The most beautiful woman in the world falls in love with you and then you realize you’re actually an ass. It happens. (And visa versa.)

  55. Stephanie says:

    47 – Rachel, I’m pretty sure that Holden would not be a fan of the whole “smile ’til you’re happy” ideology! That’s why I love him.

    Smiling until your happy is certainly not self-deception. You know you’re not happy, you’re not fooling yourself. Rather, you are making a conscious decision to change your mood.

    If I were to think about self-deception in a religious context, I think I would first think about doubt. What do we do when we experience doubt? My first instinct is certainly not to share it with others. I think a lot of people see doubt as a sign of weakness. I would expect that a common response to doubt would be to suppress it, to ignore it. That would be a form of self-deception in my eyes. Don’t indulge your doubt, just try to convince yourself it doesn’t exist…

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