Tag Archives: youth

I’d Rather Laugh with the Sinners…

The 1977 Billy Joel song Only the Good Die Young was controversial for its time because many perceived it as anti-Catholic.  Joel himself is quoted as saying that he didn’t so much intend to write a song that was anti-Catholic as he intended to write a song about being “pro-lust”…

Compared to the sexually graphic lyrics in most of the mainstream songs these days, this song from the 70s is hardly even on the register for being inappropriate.  The reason I choose to talk about this song rather than, say, any rap song from the past 3 years, is because I think that Only the Good Die Young hits right on the head the appeal of what all of the other songs are getting at when it says:

“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.  …The sinners are much more fun.”

It’s an appeal to pleasure, to simple fun…and it’s a pretty typical way of looking at things.  We have in our minds these images of the saints as being dreary old people frozen in icons with their hands perpetually folded in prayer.  In contrast to that, we see the fast-paced lifestyles of our favorite characters in TV shows portrayed as fun and fulfilling.  What are we supposed to think of this?  We naturally deduce that either fun is “evil”, or the moral authority is lying to us, and things like lust aren’t really that bad for us.  I mean, if it makes you feel happy, it can’t be a bad thing, right?

If you think about that question for more than 3 seconds, you should be able to conclude that it’s a bad way to approach making decisions.  The alcoholic finds that getting drunk makes him feel happy, and then he ends up destroying his life for the sake of his “happiness”.   The drug addict, the cheater and the liar all can justify their behavior by the simple fact that their choices make them “happy” because they feel good in the short-term.  We have no ground to stand on for disagreeing with their actions if we’re using the same logic to justify our own behavior when we give into base inclinations like lust.

So why do we have these inclinations at all if they are “bad”?  Why can’t we just give into every desire we have?  If you read my post from last Thursday, then you remember that I said that simply by virtue of the fact that we are human, we are called to be great.  Greatness is not easy.  It requires discipline and hard work.  Like an athlete training for a tournament, we must all train and work hard to be the great men and women we are created to be.

Yes, we do have natural inclinations for things like food, sex, and sleep; and so do animals.  The difference is that animals are subject to these inclinations.  Their life is lived merely in service of them.  The life of a pig is to eat, sleep, and reproduce.  But we are meant for more.  We are meant for greatness, which means being in control of our inclinations, not merely slaves to them.

So to Joel’s “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints”, I quote the 19th century philosopher, John Stuart Mill, and say:

“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”

And PS – if you read the lives of the saints of the Catholic Church, you will meet some of the most fulfilled and authentically happy people in the history of the world.  Freedom from slavery to our base passions means freedom for living the lives we were meant to live.

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Article first published as I’d Rather Laugh With the Sinners… on Technorati.

What I have learned from my friends…

To tell the truth, I haven’t always been the best at being a friend.  I even used to think that I could get by without really having close friends at all.  I enjoy time to myself, and close relationships are kind of scary, so it was easy to tell myself I could do without close friendships.  But experience (and Philosophy class) has taught me otherwise.  We need friends in our lives.  Most people seem to know that this is true, but fewer people really understand the reason why.

Friends are there to help us become better people.  They do this by helping us think clearly.  The true friend knows who we are; he understands the way we think, and so he is able to help us come to conclusions we could not see on our own.

In a way, this is contrary to what a lot of people my age seem to think about friends.  We think friends are there to “watch our back” or to save us from our boredom.  In reality, a lot of our “friendships” do the exact opposite of helping us think clearly.

I have had my share of both good and bad friendships, so I thought I would draw from my own experience and put together a list of some of the qualities I have found to be most necessary in a true friend (and most lacking in a bad friend).

1.)  The true friend talks to you about things that matter

Talking about the weather is nice, and I love a good conversation about last night’s episode of Modern Family, but these aren’t the conversations I most look forward to having with my friends.  My closest friends are the people I can talk to seriously about what my goals for the future are, what I am struggling with, or go to for advice on any number of topics.  We may joke around and talk about trivial things at times as well, but a real friend tends to elevate the conversation.

2.)  A friend has no problem calling you out

I am the biggest baby when it comes to any type of criticism.  My feelings get hurt and I may become upset and defensive with the person giving the feedback, but this doesn’t stop my closest friends from calling it like they see it.  Despite how I may initially react, I am so thankful for this.  The real friend isn’t worried about hurting your ego a little bit if it means you seeing the truth.

3.)  Friends don’t ask or expect you to lie for their sake

Sometimes it takes losing a relationship in order to be a real friend.  The true friend won’t agree to lie in order to cover for someone else, even if asked.  Lying is damaging to us on so many levels.  The truth always comes out eventually, and a lot of hurt can usually be avoided if it comes out sooner rather than later.

4.)  Finally, the true friend is striving to be a good person himself

You can’t expect someone to be a good friend if they are not a good person.  The true friend will help you become a better person, so it follows that someone who is not a good person already can’t help you to become one yourself.  Friendships involve a give and take.  We both learn from our friends as well as teach them.  Make sure you are learning from teachers who know what they are talking about.

Getting Rid of a Bad Friend:

So what do you do if you find yourself in a friendship that is not good for you?  You run.

Aristotle says that getting rid of a bad friend is like getting rid of a bad habit.  And anyone who has tried knows that getting rid of a bad habit is extremely difficult.  In a similar way, getting rid of a friendship, especially one that has been a part of us for so long, can feel as excruciating as cutting off an arm that has been infected with gangrene.   But you really have no other option.  If you don’t amputate, the infection will spread throughout the whole body and eventually will cost you your life.

Finding a Good Friend:

Also as with habits, it is not enough to simply try and get rid of the bad friendship.  You have to replace it with a good friendship.  Otherwise, you will fall back into the old one.  We have to be picky about choosing our friends.  We can’t be so naive as to think the people we spend our time with have no effect on us.  So in choosing your friends, look for people who have the characteristics described above.  Look for people who challenge you to be a better person.

"It's Complicated"

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Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’ve used this line, or something to the effect of this line, to describe a relationship I’ve been in before.  (“Well it wasn’t exactly a relationshi– blah blah blah.  It’s complicated”)

But since then, I have grown and become wise (…right).  So allow me to share just a kernel of that wisdom with you:

Relationships are not supposed to be complicated.

They are supposed to be work at times, yes.  But complicated to the extent that you don’t even know what to tell people who ask if you’re seeing someone?  No, never.

A “complicated” relationship is basically a relationship that is not, for whatever reason, given the title of “relationship”.  In my experience, there are two primary reasons why someone wouldn’t want to just come right out call it what it is:

1.) One (or both) of the people say they don’t want anything serious.  They don’t want to hurt the other person; they’re afraid of getting hurt themselves.  It just feels less risky to be really really super-close friends.

Guess what.  It’s not.  In fact, it’s more risky.  You run the risk of the other person changing their mind or losing interest.  And since you’re “just friends”, no harm done, right?  Unfortunately, that’s never the case in “complicated” relationships.  It usually hurts more because you feel stupid for getting so upset over someone who was “just a friend”.

If they really cared about you, they’d want everyone else to know it, no matter the apparent risks.  And if they don’t want other people to know?  Well then you shouldn’t really want to be with that person in the first place.

2.) There is some apparent outside force preventing these two star-crossed lovers from being together.  (It’s SO Romeo and Juliet!)

Whether it be the rules of a parent or the fact that one of the parties just broke up with someone close to the other, sometimes there are outside forces that seem to stand in the way of slapping the title on a relationship.  And these may be valid reasons.  I would certainly never advise anyone to break the rules of their parents.  But just because you’re not officially saying you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you’re not in a relationship.

I think parents especially need to hear this.  If you don’t want your son or daughter to have a significant other until they’re a certain age, that is perfectly fine.  But realize this.  Having a significant other means much more than just having someone to call “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”.  It means much more than hand-holding or kissing.  I don’t even think you REALLY need those things to be considered in a relationship.

If you’re texting someone every second of every day… if you spend hours on the phone together… if you think about them nonstop… and you’ll use any excuse to be with each other… you’re in a relationship, whether there are the physical things like hand-holding or kissing or not.

And parents, when you allow these kinds of relationships without allowing your teenagers to put a title on them, think about what you’re teaching them.  You’re saying there isn’t anything different or special about this relationship.  …But would you really be happy if your husband or wife had that kind of relationship with someone of the opposite sex?  Hopefully not.  So I would encourage you to either tighten up your rules about “no relationships”, or allow your son or daughter to learn the real responsibilities of a relationship by putting the appropriate title on it.

But teens, if this is you, and your parents do have that rule, respect it.  And just as important, respect yourself and your significant other, and don’t have a relationship at all if you’re not able to call it what it is.

"No Regrets"

I’m not sure if this is unique to my generation or not, but I’ve found that it is really unpopular to admit to having regrets.  I remember the last semester I was in high school, we were having a discussion in English class about the book Tuesdays with Morrie.  I said to my teacher, and to my whole class, that I don’t see anything wrong with having regrets.

My teacher and most of my classmates looked at me as if I had just said a curse word.

To most people, the word “regret” has a very negative connotation.  In the world of Facebook and MySpace, countless teens post as their statuses or headlines “No Regrets”.  We hear songs on the radio like Angels and Airwaves’ Rite of Spring, or even Rascal Flatts’ Here, all about the past heartaches, mistakes, pain, and poor choices.  But the resolve at the end is always the same: “No Regrets”…  “I wouldn’t change a thing”, etc.

Well, let me be counter-cultural for a moment and say that I am not afraid of having regrets.  There are things in my past I wish I could change.  And I think it’s harder to admit that than it is to slap a headline on your MySpace that says, “No Regrets”.  I really believe that, if everyone was truly honest with themselves, we’d all admit to having regrets.

The arguments for the “No Regrets” claim are out there.  “But Mary,” you may say, “If I hadn’t done x, y, or z….I would never have learned [insert valuable life lesson here]”.  That may be true.  But I think it’s very dangerous to start thinking of past mistakes as positive events.  For example, if someone gets drunk and gets into a car accident that injures or kills someone else, they will have (hopefully) learned to not drink and drive…but it would have been better had they learned that without actually making such a terrible mistake.

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It is healthy to realize that we have messed up in the past.  What is unhealthy is pretending our past is perfect because it “made us who we are today”.  Regret is the realization that we have done something wrong, and knowing that if we had the opportunity to go back, we would have done things differently.

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I regret any decisions I have made that caused myself unnecessary pain.  More importantly, I regret every time one of my actions ever caused someone else pain.

However, as I’ve said many times before, we cannot change the past.  We should not dwell on our past mistakes but rather learn from them.  And we can take away lessons from a mistake in our past while still acknowledging it as one.