Sunday, January 20, 2013

Consider which of the ways...

Consider which of the ways to happiness offered by society are truly fulfilling and which are potentially corrupting and destructive. Be discriminating when choosing means of entertainment and information. Resist the desire to acquire possessions or income through unethical investment, speculation or games of chance.

We find ourselves living in a society which seems to place more value on “means of entertainment and information” than any other. Actually it has probably always been so, from the taverns of ancient Rome, through the gossip and broadsheets of the 18th century, to the newsreels and gossip columns of the 1950s and 60s.

For years, now, I have had an instinctive aversion to some streams of “entertainment and information”, fictional as well as factual. I don’t mean a narrow-minded disapproval here, so much as a genuine and at times extreme discomfort with things as various as Eastenders, most television news programmes, crime documentaries, contests, reality shows, and so on.

Trying to work out what was going on, especially in company when not joining in with these things could seem eccentric or priggish, I gradually came to realise that what I was so averse to was having my emotions manipulated by outside forces, whether authorial, editorial or societal. If I am confronted with genuine pain or distress, then by God’s grace I shall have a genuine emotional response, which can lead to a genuine and perhaps useful action on my part - but there is not usually any useful response possible to the distress of someone publicly embarrassed on a singing contest.

Part of this is probably due to what is sometimes pejoratively called hypersensitivity; part to the result of long prayer, which tends to peel away the hardened layers from the heart. Part is due no doubt to a simple instinct for self-preservation. It is terribly easy - and in this the Internet is complicit! - to open oneself to things that, while not obviously wrong or corrupt, readily damage the membranes of the soul; if I would avoid inhaling chlorine, shouldn’t I try and avoid them?

Isaac of Nineveh wrote:

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
Be slandered, but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.
Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.
Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place,
do not destroy their character.

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