Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Denial: The Prequel

(or: “Do Improved Living Standards Make Us More Likely to Engage in Denial?" - This post belongs before the last one.)

So it’s not just me.

It seems people have been worrying and obsessing more. Paula Spencer writes:

Four 11- and 12-year-old girls stood in front of my open pantry, mouths gaping wide. "Look! Fruit Roll-Ups!" "Oh, my God! Chocolate-chip cookies!" "You have regular potato chips? We only get the soy kind!"

After 14 years and four kids, I thought I'd feel comfortable as a mother. Instead, I'm increasingly aware of a prickly new sensation: that I'm some kind of renegade. Who knew that buying potato chips would become a radical act? Or that letting my daughters walk home from school alone would require administration approval? How did I, a middle-of-the-road mom, become a social deviant?

Fear is the new fuel of the American mom. If it's not fear of her child becoming obese, it's the fear of falling behind, missing out on a sports scholarship or winding up with a thin college-rejection envelope……….

Half my kids' friends—who already make A's and B's—had summer tutors in order to "keep it fresh." I thought vacation was for relaxing and recharging. What would our pioneer foremoms think? (You want something to worry about, let me show you frostbite, typhoid and bears!) Heck, what must our own mothers think?

It’s ironic that just as life gets so much safer, we fret more about potential dangers.

Two things have happened:

Science is the new superstition: the anxious energy that used to be channeled into superstition has now found a new home in obscure scientific findings. Even a single study noting the health risks to an everyday behavior will send people scurrying to change their behavior. Potato chips are now the new black cat.

Success has spoiled us: Since we have been able to prevent so many dangers and illnesses, we’ve come to expect science to provide us with immortality. Living in a successful society has left us less capable of coping with difficulties. Reality is that humans are fragile and impermanent. The Bible reminds us:

Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish.

Denial has always been with us. But it’s becoming more common, as progress leads to the delusion that we’re immortal.

And worst of all, while chasing scientific superstitions, we forget to stop and taste the chocolate chip cookies.


Anonymous said...

Have you read "The Blessing of the Skinned Knee"?

Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz said...


I've read parts of it, but never finished the whole book. I thought it was great, though.