The Problem with Echo Chambers

echo chamberAre you living in an echo chamber? Would you even know if you were?

Sadly, my observations would indicate, no. You wouldn’t know. You might believe you’re “informed,” but you might not be.

Wait a minute. How can I say that?! Oh, the hubris of it!

Actually, no–not really. Hear me out.

I teach critical thinking (among other things). I have observed, both at the high school and college levels (I teach both), a trend of picking a “side” and becoming entrenched. There is no struggle. There is no debate. There is no true belief. There is a parroting of what they are told by the “authorities” of their chosen side.

But this is not isolated to Gen Z. A quick perusal of any social media site will show you it’s rampant in all generations.

These individuals often think they are informed, but I would disagree–doesn’t matter the belief or they “side” they chose. Doesn’t matter if they believe what I believe or not. I would still say they are uniformed.

Why?

Because they live in an echo chamber, and an echo chamber opposes critical thinking.

Most people don’t know what an echo chamber is.

An echo chamber by definition is: “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.”

Most Americans today are very well “informed” on their point of view. They haven’t however, evaluated the opposing view critically. They can parrot back the views of their “side,” but I question that many can honestly tell you what they believe.

How can I say that?

Belief takes critical thinking. It takes personal work.

Let’s look at that word “critically.” What does it mean to think critically.

Study.com puts it this way: “Critical thinking means making reasoned judgments that are logical and well-thought out. It is a way of thinking in which you don’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions you are exposed to but rather have an attitude involving questioning such arguments and conclusions.”

In order to know what you believe you need to think about it. And that requires the questioning of the status quo and varying view points.

You cannot come to an informed decision if you are only hearing one view point. It is the opposite of critical thinking.

True belief requires toil. It requires looking at all sides of an issue.

Wait–that’s not quite right. Not just looking at it–analyzing it. And to analyze requires that we look at it with an open mind.

duel_3208005Too often I see people who wander to the other side of the tracks with guns blazing, ready to insult and sling mud and shoot down the opposition. We call them trolls. They’re not looking to understand, they’re look to stir up trouble, or, at best, to tell them why they’re wrong instead of listening honestly to what they might have right.

This too is a lack of critical thinking. It is a lack of objectivity.

One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard in the arena of politics (and I have firsthand experienced) is the deterioration of debate. Debate requires an open mind. Something all too often lacking in modern politics. Don’t tell me why I’m wrong–convince me why you’re right. This is the basis for intelligent thinking.

tumblingIf we’re honest, it’s rampant on social media. It is an epidemic far more terrifying than any I have observed because it takes thinking human beings and turns them in to sheep.

And we all know that analogy. Sheep will follow their leader (aka authority) right off a cliff.

Don’t be a sheep. Do the work. Seek dissenting opinions and consider what they have to say honestly. Analyze the data, search your soul, and then draw your own conclusion.

I don’t care if you agree with my opinion or not. If you have done the work, I welcome the conversation. Maybe you have something to teach me. Maybe I have something to teach you.

And THAT I can respect.

What if Weakness is the Greatest Strength of All?

People keep telling me how strong I am.

Which is kind of funny, because I feel the opposite of strong most of the time.

I feel weak. Completely and utterly weak. Like a limp, used up dish rag.smelly

And I feel just as disgusting. Hold it out from your body with your fingertips while covering your nose with the other hand kind of disgusting.

Because that kind of weakness is…embarrassing. Humiliating. Horrifying.

haha

It stinks of failure.

And yet they tell me I’m strong.

Strong…

Oh, the irony!

 

I feel worn out. Hollow. So exhausted that moving forward takes an effort of the will, and sometimes, it takes every ounce of that will to not run to my bedroom, pull the covers over my head, and do my best effort at a disappeardisappearing act.

Poof!

No one would really notice I was gone anyway, right?

 

Of course they would, but in that moment I don’t feel that. In that moment, I don’t know it. I certainly don’t believe it.

In these moments I want to quit. Give up. Sayonara suckers! It was nice knowing you!

This is what I feel. But people see strength.

How does that work? How is that possible?

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot. Praying about it. Even reading what other people have to say about it. And I think I finally have an answer.

We have what we think strength is, and we have what we actually recognize strength to be.

supergirlWe think strength is having it all together. We think it’s facing adversity without flinching. We think it’s the opposite of weakness.

It’s the Superman pose. Head high, face uplifted and sure, hands on hips ready to face anything.

That’s what we think strength is. What it should be. What it should feel like. And when we don’t feel that, we think we are weak.

And weakness, after all, is the opposite of strength. Right?

Or is it?

I certainly don’t face the world with a Superman pose. I don’t face adversity unflinchingly. More like with a whimper and a plea. “Not again, God. Please? Not again?”

I don’t face the world with hands on my hips ready for anything.

weeping 3I do the opposite. I face my weakness. I embrace it. I face the loss, the betrayal, the grief, the unfairness. With tears flowing down my cheeks and a heart full of agony, I face it.

I don’t run. I don’t hide.

I walk into it. I look it in the eyes of my pain, and through a veil of tears, I acknowledge it. And then I keep walking. One step at a time, until I get to the other side.

I’m broken. I’m vulnerable. But I keep walking.

And that is what people recognize as strength.

I face the demons that live within me. The doubts. The insecurities. Not with an upraised fist, but with a quivering chin and eyes that won’t stop leaking. I face the lies and call them what they are. Lies.

Even though they don’t feel like lies. Not then.

They feel like truth.

Unloved.

Lie.

Alone.

Lie.

Failure.

Lie.

And on and on it goes.

Again and again.

Over and over.

Until, finally, the lies start to look like what they really are: Ugly, nasty, foul bits of garbage. The rankest poison. Something to be fought and disposed of, not accepted and embraced.

courageAnd my mouth stops trembling. And my tears dry up. Finally I can meet the lies in the eye and know that they are lies.

Lies. Not truth. LIES.

And it is this we recognize as strength. It is this that, in our deepest places, we know strength to be.

Not having it all together. Not the absence of fear.

Not a fake smile and a photoshopped life.

Strength is embracing the mess. Not hiding from the brokenness. Not running away from the pain.

Strength is being brave enough to face our demons and being brave enough to share that battle with others.

Wait…back up…what? You didn’t mention that earlier. Share it? Can I skip that part? What if I face the lies and face the pain, but I keep it quiet, locked away inside of me so no one else has to know? You know, my own private battle. No one needs to see my weakness. It doesn’t have to be shared to be won.

Nope. Sorry, but that’s not how it works.

Strength requires vulnerability. It requires honesty. It demands that we admit our weakness.

Why?

Because the truth is, we all feel empty and hollowed out sometimes. We all feel broken and unloved. Betrayed and used. And when we see someone who has faced it, our soul recognizes that as strength.

That is the final step of the strong. To brave the judgement of small minded people. To share our humanity. To admit the loneliness. The devastation. The insecurity and the fear. To lay it bare and let the world know that they are not alone.

So am I strong? You can’t hear it, but I can’t help but snort, a dry, humorless laugh at even the thought of that. My gut reaction is still a resounding no to that one. I do not feel strong.

But maybe it isn’t about what I feel. Maybe truth has little to do with feelings. Maybe, sometimes, truth is even the enemy of emotion.

Maybe what I feel and what is are two different things entirely.

The Bible says something about His strength being manifest in our weakness…when I am weak, He is strong.

In the face of my weakness, I have his strength.

His truth.

His promise.

And that makes me brave.

And maybe bravery is the same thing as strength. So maybe I am strong after all…

Be brave enough to face the pain. To acknowledge the lies. To stop running. Stop hiding. Stop pretending.

Turn your face toward truth.

That is strength undefeatable.

The devil in my head…is it you?

A few weeks ago, my daughter told me that I’m the voice in her head.

She said that when she wants to give up, my voice tells her to keep going.

When she thinks she can’t, my voice tells her she can.

When she wants to take the easy road, my voice tells her it’s unhealthy–that the best is always hard.

Talk about humbling.

devil onshoulderAt the time I took it as a parenting win. I reminded myself I needed to be careful to live up to this responsibility, but it was mostly a fleeting thought. A cursory nod.

And then, I moved on.

But today I find myself circling back to this idea.

I am the voice in her head…who’s the voice in mine?

We all have voices in our heads. Some of the voices are uplifting. Some of the voices tear us down.

Some of the voices should be kept and encouraged.

Others we should send packing.

Adios. Sayonara. See you never. Goodbye.

This all ties back around to self-talk which I’ve talked about here.

But this time I found myself thinking of this from a different angle. We all have voices in our heads.

My voice is in Arabelle’s head…who else hears my voice in their head and what is my voice saying?

That’s a crap ton of responsibility. That voice has power. That voice is the bringer of life or death. That voice speaks and I didn’t even know it was speaking and I don’t have a clue what it’s saying.

I want my voice to be a voice of life. Of hope. Of perseverance.

But if I’m honest, I haven’t walked mindfully enough, carefully enough, to know that my voice is always going to be a positive one. It is for Belle, but what if for someone else, my voice doesn’t build up–what if it tears down?

wordsAll of us, each and every one of us, are the voice in someone’s head–most likely several someones. Our voice can build them up.

But it can also tear them down.

I believe  we need to be mindful of the power we hold over others even when we don’t know we hold it. What we’ve said. How we’ve acted. Our abundance or lack of empathy. Our generosity or our stinginess in encouragement. When we listen or choose to be more interested in our phone or our computer. When we walk away in a time of need. Close our eyes to their struggle.

All of these, and so many more, contribute to the voice they hear.

I am convicted. I need to do better. I want my voice to always be a voice of life.

I want my voice to to be a voice of truth.

the helpYou are beautifully and wonderfully made.

You matter.

You are loved.

There is nothing you do that makes you unworthy of that love.

You are enough. Today. Just as you are.

I challenge you to think of who it is that hears your voice, because someone does.

What do you think they hear? Are you okay with it?

Or, like me, do you fear that carelessness may have allowed criticism or negativity to sneak in in places you hadn’t considered?

We need to begin acknowledging the power we hold. And we need to wield that power conscientiously.

Not in anger. Not in carelessness. Not thoughtlessly.

We need to wield it with purpose.

good

Caraval Review

I really wanted to like this book. I expected to like this book. I had heard so many good things about it that I was saving it for a special time when I really needed a good book…but sadly, it did not deliver.

Rating: 2.5 stars

caraval

I loved the concept of the book. Excellent idea with so much potential, but the execution was lackluster at best. I was bored. I kept waiting for it to get good. I kept thinking of everything she could have done to make it better, where she could have gone…which does NOT make for an enjoyable read.

The world building was mediocre. I did not feel pulled into the world. It should have been incredibly fantastical, but I felt like there was little that lent an aura of magic and intrigue. She threw out some absurd details here and there that felt unimaginative in an attempt at world building, but they felt contrived and uninspired and there were just too few of them to give a real sense of setting. Too often her descriptions felt forced and stilted–like she was trying too hard. Since this is one of the most important aspects of the concept…failing to deliver on this front is huge.

The characters. Yikes. Flat, unsympathetic caricatures. One of the most important things in a story for me is well rounded authentic characters and I didn’t feel like there was a single one in this book. I’m going to focus on Scarlett since she was the main character.

Scarlett was weak. She was naive and simplistic. There was no depth of character. She always acted as expected. She was boring, not especially bright, and seemed like an impressionable school girl. She did grow a little by the end of the story, but the growth was not believable. It didn’t fit the character. And a personal annoyance–why did she see emotions as colors? What was the point of that? I kept waiting for it to mean something–but it never did so WHAT WAS THE POINT? Was it a Scarlett thing? Does it indicate some magical ability? Was it a world thing and they all saw color? Something like this needs to have purpose. As it was, it felt like she had this undeveloped idea of “this would be cool” but she lacked the imagination to make something of it.

Sometimes the dialogue felt forced and stilted. It lacked a feeling of authenticity. The language used seemed to vacillate between too simplistic to trying too hard. It reminded me of students I’ve had in the past who were told that they need to up their vocabulary use and they lose their sense of voice in their attempt to up the level of their writing. It lacks flow and authenticity.

The overall focus of the book was a problem for me. This book should have been about the intrigue–the mystery, but that was an afterthought, a subplot. The clues were simplistic, the mystery in discovering the answers non-existent, and sometimes the conclusions drawn felt completely random or didn’t make sense. I love a good mystery. I love trying to figure things out with the character. This did not happen in this book. It was background for the real focus: an ill conceived romance between the main character and Julian.

Why do I call the romance ill conceived? I could see Scarlett being drawn to Julian, though I don’t think it was in her character to fall in love and trust that quickly. The bigger problem was what in the world about lackluster Scarlett would draw a guy like Julian? Especially given he’s much older than he appears and she is a very naive little girl. That’s downright creepy, and given Julian’s character, I don’t buy it. In other words, the main focus of a book that was supposed to be a fantastical mystery is a teeny bopper romance that lacks authenticity…Ouch.

The ending, which I imagine was supposed to be a big surprise, simply wan’t. I saw it coming from a mile away. I anticipated the deaths and the fact that they weren’t really dead (which felt like a cheap fix) long before either happened. And then for Scarlett, who isn’t trusting, to just accept this man (old man) that it turns out she doesn’t even know…nope. Not buying it. The warm satisfied feelings I should have felt at the end were more reminiscent of dissatisfied grumblings.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting

The ticking clock echoes in my head…

The silence deafening–

Anxiety growing.

Tossing…turning…flipping…flopping…

Reaching in the darkness for the glowing screen

Which does not speak and does not calm.

 

Sighing…worrying…plumping pillows.

Counting an endless stream of sheep.

One, two…twenty-four, twenty-five…sixty-seven, sixty-eight…

On and on, but sleep evades.

 

Mind racing, chasing, caught in an endless cycle of doubt–a game of torment.

Sleep flees–A girl on the playground eluding, dodging…

Refusing to be caught…

 

Because you’re not here.

The bed cold, an ocean that won’t be crossed.

An empty space of isolation–

Of fear.

A slow death at the hand of doubt.

 

Water I can’t drink.

Words that dry and parch,

That leech the life from my trust,

A slow draining, a hollowing out of love.

 

Presence–an empty promise.

Thirsting for answers that won’t come.

Absence unexplained.

Answers filled with breath and air.

No substance–no sustenance.

Limp, fragile, hollow excuses

That leave a bitter taste in my mouth

And nausea in my stomach.

 

Doubt creeping, a whispering shadow,

Suppressing light and instilling dread.

Analyzing every glance–Questioning every word…

The ding of a text–Heart pounding…

A hushed and silenced conversation–dread pulsing…

 

I know…I know–but I don’t.

I believe…I believe–but I won’t.

 

I run from the knowing–

And flee from the believing–

Embracing poorly masked lies.

 

I cling to the disparity– questioning my mind–looking for doubt.

A reason to not believe.

 

It’s me. It’s me–the problem is me.

My fault the decay, my fault the poison that spreads.

The doubts my weakness–the chasm that widens.

It’s me. Not you–It’s me.

 

And you…

     Continue to leave–Continue to text–Continue to talk–

     Continue to cheat.

 

And I blame me.

 

Do You Want the Best or Do You Want Comfortable–You Can’t Have Both

When a parent is asked what she wants for her child, she usually says happiness. Prosperity. Safety. Comfort.

And on the surface, that seems like the right answer.

But I’m beginning to understand it’s really not.

That’s not what I want for my children at all…

I want the best for them.

mouse-trapThe best is not comfortable. It’s not necessarily happiness–though there will be happy times. It’s not safe.

The best requires them to get uncomfortable. It requires risk. And it requires adversity.

My daughter Arabelle is amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of who she is, and yet, I find myself telling her more and more (and praying) she needs to rock her boat. She needs to step out of her comfort zone, confront her fears, and RISK.

If she is going to have the best–be the best, things need to get a bit dicey–that’s how she’ll GROW.

our-pain-god-s-purpose-1Our relationship with God is much the same. It’s not that God wants us to hurt–it’s that He wants us to grow.

The world tends to tell us that if we’re doing things right, we should get more comfortable, more prosperous, and more established.

My faith journey is constantly challenging this concept. Where God leads me feels like it is in complete opposition to what should be–but that’s because I’m listening to the world’s version of success, not God’s.

Put simply, God’s goal for me is simply this: to be more like Jesus.

It’s not success. Or influence (though I believe He puts us in positions of influence as we grow more like him). It’s not money. It’s not happiness.

His desire for me is simple: Be like Jesus.

67c6291c4dfffc67cba784911b2c44e0A few months ago, God called me to step out of comfortability and to follow Him. At first the following wasn’t so hard, because I do trust Him. But He led me to what appeared to be a dead end. He led me to the bank of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army stood before me, the Sea behind me. He led me to a place that appeared impossible.

But He’s the God of the impossible. He parted the Sea.

I still have no real idea where He’s leading me. I have hints. Ideas. Possibilities.

But He said walk, so I walk.

The waves feel like they will overtake me, but that’s only when I focus on the waves and not the God of the waves.

I don’t see what’s ahead. I see where to put the next foot. And the next. And the next. Only as it is time to place that foot down do I see where to place it.

My decision to follow doesn’t make sense. It isn’t practical. And it’s hard–really, really hard.

But I believe, God wants the best for me–and there is no easy path to my best.

I believe He wants the best for you too. That road is not easy. It often hurts. And it might not make sense. But if you follow where He leads–I believe you will find exactly what you never knew you needed. And it will be your best.

 

What monsters are lurking in your basement?

When I was a kid, I had trouble making friends.

I was awkward, insecure, and an introvert. Talk about three huge obstacles to childhood success!

Most of my early report cards had comments like: “Heather has difficulty getting along with the other children” and “Heather doesn’t play well with others.”

Ouch.

bullying-and-teasing-no-laughing-matter-4-3

I didn’t know what made me different, all I knew was I didn’t fit. And, as kids will, they sensed this otherness and my insecurity and they often exploited it. I was picked on, mocked, and yes, in today’s lingo, I suppose I was bullied.

People who know me now, probably have trouble matching up the picture of the early me to the me I am today.

Today I am great with people. I’m an excellent speaker. A great listener. I can be funny and witty. I’m confident.

But that took years of work.

Years of watching. Years of trial and error. Years of learning.

And I did learn. But that learning didn’t erase all the years of error. Of failure. Of rejection.

Those years left their mark.

The new successes don’t really replace the old failures. They might cover them up, but they’re not just gone.

As I learned how to interact better with people, as I slowly gained confidence, I made plenty of friends. By the time I hit High School, I had lots of friends, many of whom I am still friends with today. These days, despite my introversion, I can strike up a conversation with anyone. I can leave any social group with more friends than I had when I came. People tend to just like me.

So don’t my more recent successes make up for the rejections of my childhood?

Yes and no.

When things are going well, the answer is yes. I can go into a meeting where I know no one and walk away with friends. I can go to a party confident that I will be liked.

But when things aren’t going well, I find that perhaps I’m not quite as far past that rejection as I thought.

My early years influenced my structure, the base that I build my life upon. And my early years were filled with rejection. So my “house” was built on a foundation of rejection.

In her book Uninvited, Lysa TerKeurst uses an analogy to describe exactly what I experience.

structureal damage

She describes her kitchen. They had torn it down to the studs preparing for a remodel, and when they did, they found that one of the supporting beams stopped short. They’d had no clue, because the structure on top of it looked great, and the house hadn’t yet experienced any trauma. But when a carpenter friend took her upstairs he showed her how “the second floor dipped and sagged. One good jump or one heavy thing dropped in that area, and the supporting board would likely come apart” (TerKeurst 12).

This describes us so well. We have trauma. Difficulties. Rejections. Pain. And we move on. We build on top of them without fixing the damage.

We are building on a broken structure. “Broken boards can’t provide stability” (TerKeurst 12).

My early rejection left me with a core belief that there was something wrong with me. All the friends I gained didn’t fix this belief. They hid it. And most of the time I wasn’t even aware I believed it at all.

Except with guys. I’ve always been much more aware of the structural damage in this area when it comes to guys.

My Dad and I didn’t have a great relationship when I was growing up and we tended to miscommunicate. The end result was that I felt very insecure in my relationship with him, which left me very insecure with males in general (My Dad and I are fine now btw–miscommunication can do a lot of damage when it’s not addressed. We addressed it and now we have a good relationship.)

My core belief was that there was something wrong with me that made me unlovable by men. Guys might like me on the surface, but when it came down to it, when they got to know me, I would be rejected.

In high school, guys liked how I looked–it wasn’t uncommon for them to stare at me…but they never asked me out. I went to Prom with my best friend in lieu of a date.

This reinforced this core belief.

In college things got a little better. I did get asked out. But usually not by the guys I wanted to ask me out. Still, I gained a little confidence, but I still had a core expectation of rejection. They liked what was on the surface, but they didn’t like me–because me is not how I look, it’s who I am.

But finally, I found a guy who liked me not just for the way I looked, but also for who I was. He proved that this core belief was incorrect. I wasn’t unlovable!

No surprise, I married the guy.

And for years, the rejection monster slept.

dragon sleepingHe slept–but he wasn’t dead.

Eventually he opened an eye. And then he lifted his head.  Then he stretched, prowled around my heart, and let out a mighty roar.

My husband, the more he got to know me, the less he liked me–or at least that’s the lie I told myself.

Whatever the case was, in the end, he rejected me and shacked up with someone else. (Most likely the result of his own broken foundation)

The rejection monster was alive and well and wreaking havoc in my life.

Mostly, I’m a secure, independent, and confident woman, but underneath, deep down, I’ve been building on a broken structure.

Add to this the perils of online dating…

Plenty who like how I look, but once again…not interested in who I am.

But in a way I’m glad.

I’m glad, because it’s forced me to acknowledge this broken part of myself, this part that needs attention. I need to know that there is nothing wrong with me, that I am worthy, that I am lovable, not because anyone else out there says it, but because God Himself says it.

I need to go back to the broken boards in my structure. I need to stop pretending they’re not there, and I need to let God heal them, and heal me.

Until I do, I will always be one trauma away from a cave in.

I think, when we’re honest, we all have these broken parts of ourselves. Parts we ignore or parts we’ve forgotten about. Sometimes we bury them, because they’re too painful. Sometimes we ignore them, because it’s easier. And sometimes we simply forget about them, because we think we are past them.

But if we never dealt we them, they are still there, broken, unable to support this life, this person, we have built–and eventually something or someone will put stress on exactly that area to remind us that we never got around to fixing it.

Where has the past left you damaged? Are you one trauma away from a cave-in?

Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the core beliefs that are lurking beneath the surface.

 

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

This book was fantastic–5 full stars. Go out and get it. Read it. Think about it. Let it change the way you think, live, and interact with the people around you.

eleanor oliphant

As a Psychology professor, I am aware of just how devastating loneliness can be. I teach it. I read articles and watch Ted Talks about it. I know the statistics: how it literally takes years from your life and the growing epidemic it is becoming in this digital age that fosters skin deep relationships that leave people feeling incredibly alone.

Unlike many, I really do get it on a conceptual level. And heck, I’m not a stranger to feeling lonely. We all feel it sometimes.

But understanding it conceptually, and even feeling it upon occasion, is not enough to really understand just how awful it is for someone who lives in that place day in and day out.

I feel like, having read this book, I understand a little bit better. No, a lot better.

In my opinion, the book did start a little slow. It is a character driven novel, and Eleanor is very awkward and has limited interactions in the beginning. There wasn’t much plot initially. But that was kind of the point. Despite being slow at the beginning, it was still amusing and it kept me reading, and as the book developed, it was very clear that Honeyman started this way with purpose, and it very much worked in the end.

Honeyman does an excellent job of taking us into the psyche of someone who is so lonely that it is killing her–a very real problem according to recent Psychology research. Eleanor is certainly not your typical heroine. She is painfully awkward, very eccentric, and at times downright rude. And yet, as you get to know Eleanor, you come to love her, and your heart begins to break, little by little, until you just want to take her home and show her what love and family really should look like.

This book is not a fun read, despite it’s humor (and I did laugh out loud many times).

It was an important read, and I think it is one of the most impacting books I have read in a very long time. It hit on the very real topic of loneliness and what life is like for many people in this crazy, hectic, and sometimes isolated world we live in.

I cried like a baby and wanted to go out and find people who feel like Eleanor because no one should feel that way. It made me more aware of the people around me, and it also reminded me of how incredibly lucky I am to have the family and friends I have.

Thank you Honeyman, for helping me understand. Even though I’m a Psychology professor and understand the power of loneliness, I didn’t understand it enough. I plan to be much more vigilant as I watch the people around me. Hopefully I can make the Eleanors of this world feel a little less alone.

What we think BECOMES

I’ve been pondering how the choices we make can impact our lives in very big, and very real, ways.

Most choices are so small, so innocuous, so seemingly innocent, that we often make them without really thinking at all.

We dismiss the voice of caution. We disregard the impulse to wait, to think it through. We get swept up in the moment, and it seems harmless enough, so we just go with it.

What really got me started on this journey was my second book. Many years ago, I became intrigued by a question. I had heard of a young mom who had cheated on her husband. To all casual observers, they seemed like a happy couple. They were in love. They had a beautiful family. She was a good person.

What does it take to get a person, a good person who loves his/her spouse, to take that step?

I wasn’t curious about the casual cheaters; that’s a whole different animal, but the ones who aren’t wired that way, who aren’t narcissistic, who do try to do the right thing–how do they choose such a devastating path?

As I contemplated, I attempted to put myself in the head of a person like this. It very quickly became obvious to me that it isn’t a single decision; it’s a slow slide into a choice. It’s not one choice made in a vacuum. No one wakes up and decides to take that step unless they have already been riding the landslide of dissatisfaction.

It starts with the little choices. The seemingly innocuous ones. It starts in the mind.

Depending on the person and the situation, that journey can look, and be, very different, but I believe, it all starts with careless thinking.

the mind1As a Psychology professor, I have long had a fascination with the mind. The mind is powerful. What we think can literally change who we are and how we live.

I’ve explored this topic multiple times in terms of self-talk, the lies we tell ourselves, and the false narratives that we adopt as truth, but I think there is another angle that gets less attention. It’s even more subtle, and it is a breeding ground for dissatisfaction.

Our daydreams. Our wishes. And our comparisons.

Alicia Britt Chole puts it this way in her book Anonymous.

Consider a new parent drowning in diapers who daydreams about the freedom and time he would have if he were still single or childless…who wakes up with less patience and more resentment toward his spouse and children. Or a woman lost in daydreams of being swept away by an attentive Prince Charming…who wakes up, rolls over, and wonders why her husband is looking more and more like a frog. Or a young professional smiling, lost in a daydream about high-profile companies fighting over him with ever-increasing pay scales…who wakes up somehow less satisfied and motivated in his current job (Chole 122).

Thoughts like these start the landslide. They fester. They breed dissatisfaction.

Not everyone has the affair, chooses a divorce, or makes a huge devastating choice of one kind or another, but MANY live in a haze of discontentment. Dissatisfaction that steals their joy and kills the love.

And it starts with such small choices.

Reading too many romance novels.

Chatting with someone who isn’t your significant other through social media (hey, it’s just talking–no harm no foul).

Daydreaming about the what if’s (what if I hadn’t married her? What if I’d stayed with so-and-so? What if I’d taken that job instead?).

Comparing your spouse to your friend’s spouse, or your job to the job someone else has–social media is terrible in this regard. The photoshopped version of our “friends” lives always make the grass seem greener somewhere else…anywhere else.

And before you know it, dissatisfaction has begun to grow.

Chole puts it this way:

Vain imaginations make us discontent…we often dismiss our daydreams as harmless, as though our minds were some sort of locked vault (Chole 122).

The thing is, we know better. Psychology has shown us again and again that our mind is a HUGE influencer. What we think is what becomes. What we think infiltrates our emotions, our lives, our decisions, our families.

Our minds are not contained environments; they are controlling environments (Chole 122).

We need to pay attention to the stray thoughts we think, to our daydreams, to the comparisons we make–because they influence everything.

Terrible life destroying decisions start here.

Perpetual dissatisfaction and discontent start here.

Our tomorrow starts here.

We need to pay more attention to these stray wishes and dreams. And sometimes, we need to make a choice to stop wishing, stop dreaming, and to remember why we chose to be exactly where we are–because there was a reason, and very possibly that reason still exists if we only take the time to remember it.

the mind

 

Review: The Ghost Orchid

Rating: 3.5 stars

I enjoyed this book. I did. But, there were a couple of very large flaws that prevented me from loving it.

ghost orchidThe book is the type that typically pulls me in completely. The premise, including its duel timeline where the present is unraveling an incident or mystery from the past, accompanied by excellently written prose, is one of my favorites. The plot was interesting, even if the mystery was pretty predictable–I anticipated every single “aha” well in advance of its unveiling. Still, I enjoyed it despite this, and had it not been for a critical couple of factors, I likely could have loved the book despite this. Goodman’s style reminds me very much of Susanna Kearsely who happens to be one of my favorite authors. That being said, she does differ from Kearsley in a couple of regards. The first being her characterization.

Characterization, or a lack thereof, was one of the fatal flaws in this novel. Goodman has a full cast of characters, both in the past timeline and in the present one, and she doesn’t do a good job of developing any of them. For the first third of the book, I felt entirely detached from the characters. Things got marginally better as the novel progressed, but not by much. I didn’t feel like I knew any of the characters which meant that I didn’t care overly much what happened to them. As a writer myself, I’ve always seen characterization as being absolutely integral to the immersion aspect of a story. A reader has to care. A reader must understand why a character is doing what they’re doing. I felt like Goodman only got skin deep, even with her main characters. Like I said, it wasn’t non-existent, but it certainly wasn’t well developed either.

My other big issue was with the Ne’Moss-i-Ne and Jacynta angle. I felt like this aspect of the story dangled. It wasn’t fully established. Ne’Moss-i-Ne didn’t really tie in to the past timeline at all–except through Corinth’s heritage. Why was Aurora drawn to her story? Why would she build a fountain essentially honoring her? There were hints that Bosco had been cursed by Ne’Moss-i-Ne…was this why? It really wasn’t established.

And why would Ne’Moss-i-Ne, a wronged young woman, lure other women to their deaths? It wasn’t in her character. Wouldn’t she have felt more inclined to protect them? Especially Corinth and Ellis who were her descendants? It just didn’t make sense. Especially with the whole raven feather protection aspect of the story. These ideas seemed to be at odds with one another.

The Jacynta idea was just left hanging there completely undeveloped. What was the point of this “character” if you can call it that? Just symbolic of the haunting of Bosco? It didn’t add anything to the story.

Because of this, I very felt dissatisfied by the ending. Ending by fusing Corinth and Ne’Moss-i-Ne together through symbolism didn’t really make sense. It just didn’t work for me. Ne’Moss-i-Ne tried to kill Corinth and her baby, but now that Corinth is dead, they’re buddies? And why would Ne’Moss-i-Ne care that Ellis had figured out Corinth’s story? Why would she appear at this time to Ellis? And who the hell is the man supposed to represent? Tom? Ne’Moss-i-Ne’s betraying lover? I have no clue. Goodman was trying too hard with her symbolism here. I like the idea of the Ne’Moss-i-Ne myth, but it just didn’t work, not as she wrote it.

That being said, despite these shortcomings, I did enjoy the book. I do, however, feel that, with a little bit of revision and tweaking, it could have been a truly excellent book rather than just an okay/good one.