Stereotypical Vices

"Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart."
-Orson Scott Card
I recently started watching Once Upon A Time. The first episode was atrocious in every way. The writing, the acting, the special effects... I really don't know how in the world they got past a pilot episode. But I'd heard that it gets better, so I continued. It has gotten a bit better (though I've heard that it goes downhill again after season four, so that's where I'm planning to stop) but one of the first thoughts I had was about how two-dimensional the main villain was. She was flat-out cruel and she knew it. Her motivation was revenge, and that was all that drove her: anger and rage, and a desire to bring about pain and suffering. In fact, in one of the episodes that I just watched, a character asked her how she felt about all the misery she had caused. Her answer was that she felt regret- regret that she hadn't caused even more sadness and despair. Such a character is so obviously evil that nobody could possibly hope to relate to her.

This is a stereotypical vice. She's evil. She knows she's evil. Over and over again in the show they say that good will always win, and it terrifies her, because she knows that she's not working with the good guys. But real life isn't like this. People don't identify as villains and set out to cause misery in others. But these villains are easier to handle, because we can identify them easily. People can look at a character in a book, TV show, movie, etc., and identify them as the "bad guy." These are the characters that technically have a motive, but not one that actually makes sense, because only an extremest would take that course of action. It's one thing to say "I hate that person now." It's quite another to say, "I hate that person, so I am going to dedicate my life to making her miserable." People in real life can do the first. They're far less likely to do the latter.

Another example can be found with the homunculi in Fullmetal Alchemist, which are named after the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, and Pride. Of course, these villains were never intended to be, strictly speaking, human. Their motives are entirely different from our own, so it's not really a fair comparison. But they're so unspeakably evil that nobody would sink to their level of obvious villainy. Real people think they're doing what's right- at least, they do on some level. I believe I've used this quotation before, but I like it, so I'll use it again.
"No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks."
-Mary Shelley
In this way, the villains in stories which are supposed to teach us about vice actually cause us to justify ourselves, in that the vice we display isn't as bad as the one from the story. Many times, a person will either refuse to admit that a vice is a vice, or else will claim that they are not displaying that vice. In both cases, the person almost certainly believes what they are saying. Because we refuse to see villains as being exaggerated for the sake of adventure, we sit behind a wall of "I know I'm not perfect" without actually doing anything about our problems. We fail to recognize that in any story, we are rarely the hero, but rather, the villain.
"The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name."
-William Makepeace Thackeray

Worry, Distraction, and Passion

"Lord, I lift my friend to You, I've done all that I know to do
I lift my friend to You"
-Casting Crowns
I spend a decent amount of time on my blog bashing emotions. Not because emotions are bad, but because they shouldn't be used for thinking, and too often, they are. And my blog is, after all, heavily based on logic and analysis. Emotions can easily get in the way of rational thought, and should not be used in the place of logic. However, over the past week or two, I've discovered a benefit to emotions. That is to say, a benefit further than simply "they can feel good." Emotions, I'm learning, can cause an inspiration of the mind. They should not be used in the place of thought, but sometimes, they can urge analysis onward when previously the trail would have remained untrod.

Those of you who are subscribed to my YouTube channel may have noticed that I didn't post a video on Friday. I apologize for that. It was based, in part, on emotions. Lately I've been rather worried about a friend of mine. This happens to me from time to time. I start to worry about a friend, and I find it difficult to think about anything else for a time. Sometimes one friend, sometimes another, sometimes a new reason, sometimes an old... The important part of this is that I get distracted. So when I went to record Friday's video, I couldn't think of anything. Or rather... I could think of plenty of topics, but I couldn't think of what to say about them. I felt uninspired. Of course, the same thing's been happening with my blog, but it's easier for me to fake passion in writing than in video. Here, I can force myself to write, edit, rewrite, until I make something that I consider passable (even if it isn't the same level of quality that I'd like). With a video, if I'm distracted, it will show.

Emotions can, of course, work in the other direction as well. Sometimes I've been talking to one friend or another, and things are going well, in their life and mine. Sometimes, my emotions are in a good place. When that happens, I find myself driven to write. I find that ideas and topics start flowing through my head, whether fiction, non-fiction, articles, videos... While the emotions don't form the ideas or analyze them, they dig them up and show them to me. They ask me, "isn't this something that you'd like to think about?" They don't make me think about things, but they make me desire to think about things. They cause a passion and a burning to break things down and figure out how they work. Emotions, it would seem, can be useful for rational thought, even though they shouldn't be used directly in the thought process.

This has caused me to realize something else as well. I have friends that talk to me about this trouble or that, stuff that's going on in their lives. I'm always willing to listen. In fact, sometimes, based on the situation, I'll even pursue answers to figure out what's going on specifically. People often tell me that they don't want to inconvenience me, and I always tell them that it's not an inconvenience. I've realized that this is truer than I'd thought, and also that it's not as true as I'd thought. When someone I care about starts telling me about what's going on, I start to worry about them. In this sense, I'm realizing that it is an inconvenience. If I didn't think anything was going on, I'd only worry about them in the minimal way that I worry about all my friends. But if I know that something is going on, then telling me exactly what it is is the best way to alleviate my worry. If I know that something's going on, but I keep getting answers about "it's nothing" or "I'm fine," that makes me worried that it's so much worse. It makes me think about it even more.

I should note that the situation that's been happening lately is one of the latter. That is to say, I'm worried because there's something going on that I don't fully understand. If someone needs to talk to me... Well. I would rather you talk to me about it than not. Because not talking to me about it for my sake won't accomplish anything, because I'll be able to tell, and that will just make me worry more. And that, of course, will cause me to spend time worrying about you instead of listening to you, which will turn a passive concern into a distracting worry, which will cause my emotions to go haywire. And that won't help anyone, will it? But when people are honest with me, when I don't have to worry about not knowing what's going on with someone, emotions can be like a compass, in a sense, that drive me with passion to find a topic to analyze.
"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength."
-Corrie ten Boom

INT Types, Emotions, and Star Trek

"Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions."
-Elizabeth Gilbert
I recently came across an interesting description of INTx personality types. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, I'm referring to an extensive personality test called the Myers-Briggs test (developed, of course, by Myers and Briggs). This test can be taken for free at any number of websites online, if you're interested. It sorts people according to sixteen different personality types with letters. There are two letters available for each position, and can come up in any number of combinations, from INTj to ENFp. While this test is looked down upon by some professionals, I do think that it can be mildly helpful as a basic tool when getting to know people (while keeping in mind, of course, that people are more complex than just sixteen different types). For this post, I'll be looking most intently at INT types. Introvert, iNtuitive, and Thinking (as opposed to Extrovert, Sensing, and Feeling).

I should mention that I'm not an expert regarding this test. Somehow, I always seem to forget exactly what the difference is between N and S, as well as between j (judging) and p (perceiving). (In case anyone's curious, the last letters are lowercase because they weren't part of the original test- they were added later. Some forms of the test include even more variables, but that's another topic.) Every time I've taken the test anywhere it's given me INTj, except for the most recent time (several months ago now) when I got INTp. So, for now, I've been calling myself an INTx. But the reason I'm discussing this is because of a comparison that I saw recently. INTjs were compared to "the coldest human," while INTps were compared to "the warmest robot."

What really interested me about this comparison was a comment from a guy named Jared Vincent (who has a wonderful name, by the way) who compared this to Star Trek. (While he says that the comparison itself has been done before, the specific way he chose to look at it was original.) He illustrated INTp, the coldest human, with Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager. As a human child, she was assimilated by the borg. (For those of you who don't know the Star Trek lingo, she was basically turned into a cyborg, more robot than human.) After she was restored to a human state (with some robotic pieces still necessary for her continued survival) she retained a robotic personality. She was human, but she was cold. This coldness is just a shell, though. She has emotions. Not fabricated emotions, but emotions that she intentionally tried to suppress. She didn't want to be a slave to her emotions, she wanted to always act in a way that made sense, not based on some passing feeling that would be detrimental.

On the other side, Jared illustrates INTj, the warmest robot, with the android Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Data, as a robot, has never felt emotions. But they fascinate him. He doesn't sit there all cold and logical because he hates emotions, but rather, because he doesn't understand them. He tries, though. He wants to show emotions, he wants to understand the emotions of others, but it doesn't come naturally to him.

I think part of the reason that I've gotten both INTj and INTp is because I can understand both of those. I'm human, so I have emotions, but how I act on those emotions is different than many. On one hand, I try to suppress the emotions I have in order to think rationally. I don't want to make stupid decisions based on passing urges. I want to take every thought captive. If I am slave to my emotions and my emotions are slave to my thoughts, then I must make my thoughts slave as well, and control my emotions.
On the other hand, I oftentimes don't understand emotions in others, or even my own emotions. I don't want to eradicate my emotions (though there was a time that I did), I just don't want to be a slave to them. But to love somebody, to show them affection, and any number of other emotions as well are good things. This is part of why (as I've mentioned in a previous post) I prefer hugs to handshakes. They're warmer. But I don't always understand emotions. Sometimes when I try to, I get it wrong, or sometimes I overlook the ways people are feeling.

Emotions can be tricky things. Even if you understand them and think something should be obvious, not everyone may be on the same page. This is part of why I believe that emotions are for feeling, not for thinking. This is part of why we shouldn't let our emotions carry us away while we ride along, helpless to do anything. INTx types aren't perfect when it comes to emotions, but it doesn't meant that we don't care. Some just don't understand, and others attempt to show that they care in ways that seem a bit colder. In either case, understanding how a person operates on the emotional level can help us relate to them better (even if they aren't quite sure how to do the same).
"I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them."
-Oscar Wilde

Depression Doesn't Leave

"There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, 'There now, hang on, you'll get over it.' Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer."
-Barbara Kingsolver
Last year, on the first Tuesday of February, I made a post called The Depression Culture. Over the past few months, I've been considering the nature of depression and the importance of the topic within our culture. Because of this I've decided that, for the time being, I will dedicate the post on the first Tuesday of February to depression. Let me tell you right now, this is one of the few posts that will be ridiculously easy to write. It's late on Tuesday night as I write the beginning of this post- the last Tuesday of January. I've just posted my post on chopsticks. And these past three days have been misery. I don't want to even try to finish the week. Things were going just swell up through Saturday, and then Sunday came and I hit a brick wall. But at least I'm right here where I need to be in order to write this post. Because for the duration of the foreseeable future, the first Tuesday of February will be a day of darkness, gloom, and despair on my blog. And in order to write it, I have to know it.
Psalm 139:8b, 11-12 (NASB)
"If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,

And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You."
Before I get into the meat of today's topic, I need to explain exactly why I'm covering this. After all, as Christians, we believe that there's always a light. So why focus on the doom and despair of depression? I have two main reasons for looking at this. First, for the sake of contrast. Light is always more brilliant when it shines in the darkness. Second, and more directly, for the sake of the people caught in depression. We live in a fallen world, and inhabit sinful and broken bodies. In many cases, our brains have chemical disorders which cause depression. This is not necessarily a sign of spiritual need, but rather, a sign of our broken bodies which will someday be replaced. Because we live in a sinful and fallen world, we need to know how to deal with it, rather than pretending that it doesn't exist.
Romans 8:23-25 (NASB)
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Now, into the topic itself. A while ago, there was a "copy/paste" status going around on Facebook meant to tell people who struggle with depression that you're there for them. I believe I mentioned something similar in last year's post. While it is good to let friends know that you're there for them, there are two problems with this type of declaration. The first was covered last year: people who are depressed are unlikely to believe you. The second is that if they believe you, it won't actually cure them.

Imagine a person with depression as a magic dump truck. Every day, a new load of dirt (read: depression) is piled into the back. Now, other trucks are going around from place to place with maybe a covering of dust, but not the same load of junk that the dump truck has. The dump truck can only get rid of this dirt by dumping it into other trucks. But typically, the dump truck will not do so. It could be out of pride, or it could be out of consideration for the other trucks, but he doesn't dump out the depression. Eventually, however, he has to break his custom. His tires are about to burst, his entire being is about to fall apart, so, because it's an emergency, he asks for help. And he dumps it into one of the ordinary trucks, or maybe two or three. Now, these other trucks are able to go to the landfill and dump in their junk. It's not pleasant for them, but unlike the poor dump truck, they at least have the ability. They don't reach the height limit that blocks access to the landfill for the dump truck. Because of this, at first, the other trucks are perfectly willing to help the dump truck. "You can dump stuff out whenever you need to," they say. "We can transport it to the landfill for you." They have the best intent. But after a while, they notice something. The dump truck's load isn't getting smaller. They thought that they were helping heal the dump truck. They thought that, little by little, the dump truck would be on the path to recovery. But after a while, they start to realize, "isn't this the same dirt that we've already helped you with so many times already? Shouldn't this issue be gone by now?"

A number of things have happened in the past few days that hurt. Some of them are big things, some of them are little silly things, but either way, these past few days have not been happy ones. It's easy for me (and much more so for somebody looking at the situation from the outside) to look at the situation and say, "if it weren't for this, this, and this, then I could be happy." The problem is that there will always be one more thing. Something will always come along, and if nothing comes along that's worthy of causing depression, the depression will come anyway, and I'll just find something to blame it on. No matter how consistently you listen to me, no matter how faithfully you stay by my side, you cannot make my depression go away forever.

Now, this doesn't mean, of course, that we should just abandon people who have depression. Listening helps. What I'm saying is that it doesn't help in the same way that's expected. It doesn't make the depression go away, but it still relieves some of the pressure and lets the person who's affected have some time to breathe. I'm also not saying that we should devote our lives to listening to somebody who's depressed. As humans, we wear out. We get tired. Sometimes, we need a break of our own. And in situations like this, we should be able to go to the person who's depressed and say that we need a break- not that we no longer love them or that we'll never come back, but that we need to rest and relieve some pressure of our own.

God can heal depression, just like He can heal an amputated limb. But that doesn't mean that He'll choose to just yet. And just like somebody missing a leg needs somebody to lean on, people with depression need someone to lean on as well. Leaning on someone won't cause healing, but it will help. And understanding this will benefit people on both sides of the issue. It will help the person with depression because understand this and care about them anyway, and it will help you because you won't become discouraged when you don't see the depression going away after months or years. Depression isn't fun, but with a proper understanding of what it is and how it works, we can at least help to make it bearable.
"If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do."
-Stephen Fry