Tag Archives: New York TImes

Is ‘Just Be Yourself’ Really Terrible Advice?

The New York Times has had some great opinion pieces lately, providing lots of opportunities to think deeply about some of our ingrained cultural mindsets. “Just be yourself” was brought up this week by writer Adam Grant. He says this:

“We are in the Age of Authenticity, where “be yourself” is the defining advice in life, love and career. Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, defines it, authenticity is “the choice to let our true selves be seen.”

We want to live authentic lives, marry authentic partners, work for an authentic boss, vote for an authentic president. In university commencement speeches, “Be true to yourself” is one of the most common themes (behind “Expand your horizons,” and just ahead of “Never give up”).

“I certainly had no idea that being your authentic self could get you as rich as I have become,” Oprah Winfrey said jokingly a few years ago. “If I’d known that, I’d have tried it a lot earlier.”

But for most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.

If I can be authentic for a moment: Nobody wants to see your true self. We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken.”

Is a Child with Microcephaly Useless to Society?

Read any health section in a newspaper and you’ll find news of the Zika virus and its effects everywhere. Gaining more media attention as of late is the fact that as more babies are born with microcephaly, more countries are having to think about changing their abortion laws. One article in the New York Times made me abruptly pause while reading, surprised and shocked at the words of a major hospital director in Colombia. He was “firm that any woman whose fetuses showed signs of the condition would be offered [an abortion]. No woman, he said, should be forced to carry “a child that, in a few words, is useless to society.”’

But as I thought further, maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked at what he said, at his view of a child with a birth defect. After all, we are a society that values the powerful, the clever, and the beautiful. We have reality TV shows that exalt the “survivor,” while the weak, vulnerable, and dispensable are mere liabilities. As we age, we do all we can to conquer the enemies of gray hair and wrinkles – advertisers play on our expectations that we can eliminate pain and imperfection. Chronic weaknesses of body, mind, or soul are to be dealt with and quickly moved past or covered up. It’s as if we are saying, to be human is to be powerful and capable and self-sufficient. 

A Window into the Way We Think About Religion

If you want to read something that will give you all kinds of insight into the way our culture thinks about religion and its implications (or lack thereof), you can hardly do better than a short article from Elizabeth Weil in the New York Times called “The Unexpected Bat Mitzvah.” Weil comes from a Jewish background, while her husband has Christian roots, though neither faith apparently plays much of a role in their day-to-day lives. As she puts it in the piece:

 The Weil-Duane narrative, as we had plotted it, involved outsourcing religion: celebrating Jewish holidays with my family, Christian ones with Dan’s. Inside our nuclear family, we placed our faith in love, books, nature, generosity: the standard liberal, coastal stuff.

 Not exactly a revolutionary approach in present day America. Enter Weil’s twelve-year-old daughter, who decides that she wants to have a bat mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age ceremony (the term means “daughter of the commandment”). Weil and her husband are understandably surprised by their daughter’s request, and the bulk of the article then deals with how the family navigates their way forward.

Reading through the article (which I’d highly encourage you to do) a couple of times, I was struck by all the ways it offered a glimpse into how we tend to think. Here are a few:

Worried, Anxious, and Holding a College Degree?

“Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers,” reads the title of a recent article in the NY Times. I work with college students so this wasn’t a surprising fact to read, but it caught my attention nonetheless. The university is in many ways a melting pot for all kinds of students – international students from Asia, the guy in cowboy boots majoring in agriculture, the partier on East Campus, the graduate student dressed to impress. All these students seem to have little in common, yet if this article is true, 1 in 6 of them have “been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a student who hasn’t struggled with anxiety in some form throughout their 4 (or 5) years.

The Fickleness of Our Consuming Hearts

17mastiff_watching-videoSixteenByNine540-v3 In 2013, one of these Tibetan mastiffs was one of the most prized dogs you could buy for yourself in China. The New York Times explains:

“There once was a time, during the frenzied heights of China’s Tibetan mastiff craze, when a droopy-eyed slobbering giant like Nibble [pictured above] might have fetched $200,000 and ended up roaming the landscaped grounds of some coal tycoon’s suburban villa… At the peak of the mastiff mania, some breeders pumped their studs with silicone to make them look more powerful; in early 2013, the owner of one promising moneymaker sued a Beijing animal clinic for $140,000 after his dog died on the operating table during face-lift surgery. But Tibetan mastiffs are so 2013.”

Today in 2015, just two years later, the lucky ones would be sold for less than $2,000 while the unlucky ones would be packed away in small crates and delivered to a slaughterhouse, “where, at roughly $5 a head, they would have been rendered into hot pot ingredients, imitation leather and the lining for winter gloves.” The article goes on:

Truth Vs. Opinions

Is it actually wrong to steal someone’s car for fun? How about cheating on a test in school, or treating someone poorly because of the their skin color?

For many of us in the United States—particularly kids in school—answering “yes” those questions might be more complicated than we might think.

In a recent piece for the New York Times, philosophy professor Justin McBrayer (who received his Ph.D. at Mizzou and attended The Crossing) writes of discovering two signs on the bulletin board of his son’s second grade class. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

Note that these definitions apparently suggest that claims must either be a fact or an opinion. What’s the problem with that? McBrayer explains:

A Man Rising From the Dead? We’re So Much More Sensible Now

The New York Times recently published an article describig the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem as “the site where many Christians believe that Jesus is buried.” Really, they did. (The line has since been amended online.)

It’s an amusing gaffe. Possibly, it was born out of simple habit, one that reasonably thinks of people who died as still being dead. Or it might point to a misunderstanding of a central doctrine of the Christian religion. I can’t help but wonder, however, if it points to something even more than that. Perhaps the reason for the error is an underlying conception of the world that can’t begin to allow for the possibility that a man died–genuinely died–and then rose bodily from the dead.

I can’t get into the head of the article’s author of course, but there’s little doubt that there are many, many people in the world today that would role their eyes at the thought of a Jesus, or any other truly dead person for that matter, walking out of his or her tomb.

Foolishness, they say. When have any of us observed someone rising from the dead? No, this Christian supernaturalism is merely a myth, something akin to Zeus throwing thunderbolts. Sure, it was once a quaint story to buck up the masses, but it simply won’t stand up in our day. The modern mind is so much more grounded in reason and observable data, and consequently, far less likely to fall into serious errors about the ultimate nature of reality.

And so those who are willing to put away childish things now ascribe to a different, modern creed:

Does Space Argue Against God?

What comes to mind when you stare into the starry skies? What do you think about when you hear descriptions about the enormity of the universe, or the billions and billions of stars that reside within it? Do you ever wonder how all of it got here, or maybe even where its “going”? And of course the big one: how does all of this relate to the question of God?

No doubt different people will offer different answers to the above questions. But we can count Tim Maudlin, professor of philosophy at New York University, as someone who believes modern cosmology has “refuted” the traditional biblical account of the origin of the cosmos. Though after reading an interview with him in the New York Times I’m not sure that his case is as persuasive as he suggests. Going point by point is beyond the scope here, but I’ll mention a few things.