They stepped outside, back into the churchyard. Salomon Lachaise said, “When I was a boy, my mother used to say that hell was the painless place where everything has been forgotten.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It couldn’t be worse.”
“Because there’s no love. That’s why there is no pain.”
They walked beneath a milky sky shot with patches of insistent blue. Anselm looked up and asked, “Then what’s heaven?”
“An inferno where you burn, remembering all that should be remembered.”The 6th Lamentation, by William Brodrick, page 182
Believe it or not, many children are congenitally resistant to the natural ways of giving affection and love. They resist eye contact, they do not want to be touched, and they do not care for focused attention. … Many parents eventually resign themselves to what they conclude is “what the child wants.” This is a disastrous mistake. Even the extremely resistant child needs everything we have talked about concerning unconditional love. However, since he is uncomfortable accepting it, we parents must gradually teach this child to receive love comfortably.
[W]hen a child finds something to be quite humorous … parents have the opportunity to make eye contact, physical contact, and focused attention while commenting on the humorous subject. Parents must usually be quick in doing this because the defenses of a truly resistant child are down only briefly. We’ve got to “get in and get out” or a child may defend against similar tactics in the future.
[W]hen a child has accomplished something for which he is justifiably proud … parents can make eye and physical contact (and focused attention if appropriate) while praising a child. Again, we must be careful not to overdo it, especially by prolonging it; “get in and get out.”Dr. Ross Campbell, How to Really Love Your Child, 1977, pp. 119 – 120
Over the years I have asked audiences for a show of hands if they thought their parents loved them. Over 95 percent of the hands went up. It was never 100 percent but it was always a high percentage. Then I asked this question of those who had raised their hands — “Do you think that your parents expressed this love to you adequately?” Only half of the hands remained up. The third question was: “Of those of you who think your parents expressed their love for you adequately, could you have used an even greater expression of love?” All of the hands remained up.Jim Wilson, How to be Free from Bitterness and Other Essays on Christian Relationships, Canon Press, 2007, p. 76
OK, not everything that Nicholas Cage’s character says in this little seduction speech do I endorse. For example,
“I don’t care if I burn in hell. I don’t care if you burn in hell.”
This recklessness is indeed what we sound like when we’re in the grip of headlong love (or lust), but I still don’t recommend saying it to your significant other.
The way he winds up the speech is just … brilliant.
“Love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks our hearts. We are here to ruin ourselves and love the wrong people and break our hearts … and die!”
Right on, Nick! The only thing that loving another guarantees us is heartbreak. No one knows this better than our Lord. He definitely “loved the wrong people” … and it got Him killed. Sure, love wins in the end, but let’s not skip over this part. The stories we tell will ring hollow if we skip the part where love ruins everything.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Today’s post is about cognitive science. But it’s also about love, in ways that will become clear.
In this post, I will regurgitate what Jordan Peterson has said about the Big Five personality traits, and then I will have a comment about them. If you doubt my word, or want to hear the same things said in a much more detailed, professional, and actually egg-headed manner, please feel free to watch the JP video below.
I have posted before about the MBTI, a personality typology which some people find insightful, but which was developed by amateurs. The MBTI makes a lot of intuitive sense to many people, but it was still made up. And it is not the only one with this problem. Peterson points out in this video that most personality typologies started as a theory which the developers then tried to apply to actual people. Not so with the Big Five. These are personality traits that emerge naturally from data. (JP says that much more convincingly than I do, of course.) They vary among individuals within every culture, and they are fairly stable throughout a person’s life. These traits are on a continuum, not binary. Each of us comes into this world falling at a certain point on each of these continua. As we mature, we expand our range along the continuum, but we are never going to move our set point from one end of a continuum to the other.
The Big Five Personality Traits
This will be easier to understand if we look at the Big Five.
Openness (to new experiences)
Very extraverted people draw energy from being around others. Very introverted people are drained by this. (This is the only trait from the Big Five that shows up, with the same terminology, in the MBTI.)
People with high neuroticism are more susceptible to negative emotion.
People with high agreeableness want to please others. Less agreeable people are less motivated to please others and more motivated to reach their own goals.
People with high conscientiousness are more industrious and more orderly than people without.
People with high openness tend to be creative types. They are also more likely to be politically liberal. (I am high openness, but due to a long personal journey, not politically leftist. My politics are spite of my temperament. This does mean that typical conservative arguments often don’t appeal to me.)
The Big Five and the Sexes
This is an aside, but Peterson often refers to the Big Five traits when talking about average differences between men and women. Women are, on average, more agreeable than men, higher in neuroticism, and slightly higher in conscientiousness. It is easy to see why these traits would flow from being designed to be moms. Even a greater tendency to negative emotion is an advantage when you’re taking care of preverbal children and you have to be sensitive to their distress.
These Are Factory Settings
It’s easy to see how a person could feel inferior by virtue of having any given one of these traits. It’s also easy to imagine how people who are proud of their trait could think there is something seriously wrong with people on the other end of the continuum.
- Why don’t you want to be around other people?/ Why can’t you ever entertain yourself? (Extraversion)
- Why are you so sensitive?/so insensitive? (Neuroticism)
- Why are you so domineering?/so wishy-washy? (Agreeableness)
- Why are you so lazy and irresponsible/so uptight and controlling? (Conscientiousness)
- Why are you such a stick-in-the-mud/a hippie? (Openness)
All of us have character flaws. And sure, they fall along the fault lines of our Big Five traits, no doubt. But having any given one of these traits is not the same thing as having a sin nature. Conversely, not a single one of these traits will make the bearer a perfect person, either. These are just the factory settings.
And now we get to the love.
I was thinking about these traits as I sat in a Sunday School lesson about the love of God. To be specific, I was bemoaning that my natural tendency is to be low in conscientiousness. This has often caused me trouble with loved ones who are higher in conscientiousness. How can that be a good thing? Why didn’t God set my natural conscientiousness level a little higher? What was He thinking?
In a move typical of people who are high in openness but low in conscientiousness, I was lost in my thoughts rather than paying close attention. But then, the topic of the Sunday School lesson abruptly broke in upon my consciousness.
He loves me.
He loves me, and He made me, and, for some reason, He chose to make a person who is a bit low in conscientiousness. In fact, He chose to make people with all different Big Five factory settings. Ergo, all of these factory settings are by design. He must think we need all kinds.
Ergo, He likes your settings. Even if someone else doesn’t. Even if no one else does.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his plans beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory for ever!
Amen.Romans 11:33 – 36, NIV
Be Kind to Yourself
Because you’ve gotta learn to love your enemies too.
I’d like to say that everything will be all right
from the time you’re startin’ out in the mornin’
to the time you fall asleep in the sweet moonlight.
I’d like to say that the world is fair,
that you can face it from an easy chair.
I’d like to say it, but it’s just not true.
You do your best, but it’s not always up to you.
So hand it over to hands that are stronger.
His hand is on you if you’ll hand it over.
The Orangutan Librarian tagged me for this post that applies the “Seven Heavenly Virtues” to the world of our reading.
By the way. The Seven Deadly Sins are easy to remember, in groups of two, three, and two. There’s The World (Envy, Greed); The Flesh (Lust, Gluttony, Sloth); and The Devil (Anger … and the granddaddy, Pride). The seven virtues are the flip side of these.
Once when I was at university, the theme of our homecoming week was the extremely creative “We’ve Got Pride.” I will always love my fellow English majors who named their contribution to the parade “Beyond pride: the seven deadly sins.” They wanted to show that “[our university] also gots Envy, Greed, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, and Anger.” And of course it was true.
CHASTITY: Which author/book/series you wish you had never read?
Hmm. It’s rare that I go on wishing I had never read a book. Usually if it stuns me with some horror, I hate it at the time, but as my mind assimilates the idea, I’m glad to have encountered it in a book so that I can grapple with that aspect of the world.
A good example is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. A major part of the plot is a sexual assault. It’s described graphically. The creepy lead-up and the lengthy aftermath include scenes from the point of view of both the victim and rapist. When I read this, it was the first time I’d read a rape described in detail (or, at least, the first time I understood what I was reading). It was very traumatic, and it led to lots of crying and praying for women who were real-life victims. So, as you can see, it bore some good fruit almost immediately.
Later I read another book by Ken Follett in a completely different genre, and it also featured a serial stalker and rapist, with many scenes written from his point of view. At that point I decided that I would not read any more books by Ken Follett, nor would I ever get on an elevator with the man.
TEMPERANCE: Which book/series did you find so good, that you didn’t want to read it all at once, and you read it in doses just to make the pleasure last longer?
I don’t usually show temperance when it comes to serious, emotional reads. … OK, I actually don’t have much temperance at all. I once stayed up all night finishing Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.
However, with comic series, I find that if you binge on them they can become wearing, whereas if you read one every once in a while, they are refreshing. For example, P.G. Wodehouse’e Bertie Wooster books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.
CHARITY: Which book/series/author do you tirelessly push to others, telling them about it or even giving away spare copies bought for that reason?
Well this question will contain no surprises to anyone who knows me or has followed my blog for any length of time.
The Emberverse series by S.M Stirling: I recommend this often because it encompasses a wide range of interests. The first few books are post-apocalyptic, and then it becomes more of a fantasy series. I’ve recommended it to people because it’s set in the Northwest (Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, northern California). Recently I recommended it to someone who is interested in retro martial arts such as sword fighting and archery, because there is a ton of that in these books, including descriptions of how the weapons are made and gripping battle scenes. The research on these books is both wide and deep, from ecology to botany to anthropology to martial arts to Celtic mythology.
‘Til We Have Faces: A searing, emotional novel about friendship, identity, divided loyalty, and religion. One of C.S. Lewis’s less famous works.
The Everlasting Man (non-fiction): G.K. Chesterton discusses paganism and why it expresses important things about being human … with the cheery paradoxes that only he can bring.
The Divine Conspiracy(non-fiction): With wit and wisdom, Dallas Willard applies the Gospels in a fresh way (which we all need frequently). This is so well-written that it’s a pleasure to read, and you just sail through it even though it’s quite thick.
Now, go forth and read these!
DILIGENCE: Which series/author you follow no matter what happens and how long you have to wait?
Agatha Christie. She has such a large corpus of work that even though I think I’ve read all her novels, I’m never sure.
Also, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.
Also anything by Tony Hillerman or Dick Francis.
It looks like formula mysteries are my genre for this.
PATIENCE: Is there an author/book/series you’ve read that improved with time the most, starting out unpromising, but ultimately proving rewarding?
Watership Down. It is gripping from the first, don’t get me wrong, but it is so long. Then when you get to the end, you discover that the author is doing things with it that only a really long book can do.
KINDNESS: Which fictitious character would you consider your role-model in the hassle of everyday life?
Any strong, quiet, capable character who consistently takes care of others. Durnik in the Belgariad; Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies series; Bardia in ‘Til We Have Faces; Sam Gamgee, Aragorn, Gandalf, Aslan. And, of course, Zillah from my own books.
Unfortunately my gifts and personality are almost opposite from all these characters. But I’ve always wanted to be strong, quiet, calm, and capable.
HUMILITY: Which book/series/author do you find most under-rated?
This is a hard one to answer because I don’t always have a real great idea of what other people are reading. How can I know that the gem I’ve “discovered” hasn’t also been discovered by a bunch of others?
Apparently Thomas Sowell has a bunch of great books about economics and society that have helped the people who’ve read them greatly … but I have not read them, only watched videos of him speaking. There are many such examples.
I hesitate to tag people because it seems to freak them out. But if you get inspired by any of the questions in this tag, please answer them either at your own blog or in the comments.