Sunday Thoughts: Cruel and Heartless World

1797606_747694138582912_1031761939_n

Ever since I saw this quote the other day, I’ve been wrestling with it.  Now, granted, my parents probably took the toughen stance on child raising, so I’m a little partial to it.  I see that.  It’s normal to want to defend how you were raised when you had a great childhood.  But, I think it goes beyond that.  Thus, the wrestling.  I’m asking myself if I’m just defending my own parents, or if there is something deeper?  Am I having a knee-jerk reaction away from something sweet and emotional?  I do that.  I get so fed up with how sweet everything is that I tend to charge in the total opposite direction.  And this is not because I don’t like unicorns or something.  I do.  I own Legend.  This is, I think, a difference in philosophy.  So let’s wrestle with this.

The greatest Unicorn movie every made.

The greatest Unicorn movie every made.

get-attachment.aspx_My first reaction:  This is horrible advice.  Why?  Because the world is cruel and heartless.  The world is a cold, dark, selfish place…and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.  (Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.) If you don’t prepare your kids on some level, they’ll get eaten alive.  If you don’t help your kids be tough, smart, and strong, you’re leaving them open to all kinds of attacks.  I know people this has happened to.  I’ve seen it.  The world is full of dangers and it is your job as a parent to help your kid be ready to face those dangers.  This is why we teach them not to talk to strangers and not to accept candy from strangers.  It doesn’t make the world less cruel and heartless if you don’t teach your children this, it makes them open to kidnapping and worse.  My dad telling me as a young woman not to help men with broken arms didn’t suddenly create more men like Ted Bundy.  It taught me not trust my sense of pity, and to see beyond the surface situation to the dangers underneath.  Ted Bundy was out there.  It would have been horribly derelict of my father not to prepare me for that on some level.

080411_al_bundy_640

Ted Bundy

My second reaction:  This quote shows the loss of our understanding of total depravity.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, humanist still believe that we human beings can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, ignore God, and somehow become this magically enlightened society with no more problems.  Has anyone anywhere ever found this to work?  America has so many different utopian cults attempt this in small communes.  Has any of them every worked?  Even in a small group has anyone managed to eradicate greed, lust, envy, lying, stealing, and all the outcomes of such acts?  I’ve yet to read of any group that has done this to any effect, or in any long-term manner.  It won’t work.  Do you want to know why?  Because us human beings aren’t good.  In our core, down in the dark center of who we are, we aren’t good.  Now, we do good things.  We’re generous.  We forgive.  We heal.  We hold out a hand to those in need.  But that’s all common grace.  And not one bit of that is purely good.  We can all be very selfish while doing good.  We can be proud.  We can be arrogant.  So, it is pure folly to think that we can somehow make the world a good place if we just raise our children right.  You think serial killers don’t have moms?  You think they set out to raise sadistic killers?

My third reaction:  Can’t you do both?  Can’t you raise a warrior who loves?  Is it impossible to raise a boy to be a man who both loves and defends his family?  Is it impossible to raise a daughter who knows how to watch out for bad situations and still helps those in need?  Is it impossible to be tough and gentle?  (It’s not, because my husband is!)  I watched my mom work on toughening my brothers up for years so that they wouldn’t be whiny men.  They are some of the kindest men I have ever known.  She taught them to be tough so that they would learn how to harness their physical power and not hurt those weaker than themselves.  I was a bit on the sickly side as a teen, didn’t do well in my studies, and was honestly a bit on the lazy side.  My mom was hard on me.  She was tough.  We laughed at other home schooled kids.  They had it easy.  Homework in your pajamas? You better be running a fever. I’m so thankful for this now.  I’m so thankful my mom taught me how to keep going even when I wanted to stop.  Now I apply that to serving my church, my husband, and my family.  A child taught only one side or the other is going to be in danger or going to be mean.  You must teach your children self-control and generosity.

My fourth reaction:  This quote makes me want to sing A Boy Named Sue.  Ha!  This sounds like something someone would say who got disciplined as a child by a parent who skated close to the abusive side.  Like they had a dad who spanked but never hugged afterwards.  I get how hard that would be.  I’m thankful my dad did both.  But I see all the kids out there who need discipline so badly and I think this is exactly the mentality their parents must have: kids should be innocent if we want peace in the world.

I think this is one of those quotes that tugs at the old heartstrings.  Who doesn’t want a world less cruel and heartless?  But I think it can be a bit misguiding if you don’t have the right place to hang it.  You have to understand how to balance toughening your kids up to face life and teaching them how to be kind to others.  If you don’t, you’ll either abuse your kids, or you’ll create dangerous situations for them.  Discipline your kids and then hug them.  Teach them to not whine, but to be kind.  Teach them pity and protection.

(And maybe watch Princess Bride with them once in a while.  You’ll find it full of great life lessons!)69199-get-used-to-disappointment-gif-bjgn

Advertisements

Writing Lesson: Angst vs. Agony

seal 1

Seal Team 10: Murphy, Dietz, Axe, and Marcus.

Angst and agony are sort of related, but also two very different things. They often remind me of the difference between romance and love. One is a passing feeling and one is an act. Angst is often self-focused, selfish, and fades unless perpetually fed. Agony is something horrible which happens to us. It can be empathized with by others even if they’re not in the situation, even if they’re only an observer. Angst is an emotion. Agony is an act. Twilight is angst. The Time Traveler’s Wife is agony. As much as I love it, the Breakfast Club is angst while 3000 Degrees is agony. Listening to your brother firefighter’s last transmission over the radio knowing it is his last is agony. Agony is Marcus Luttrell’s fellow SEAL, Dietz, shot and killed while Marcus held him. Then, having Murphy scream Marcus’ name, scream for help, when Marcus couldn’t reach him. Agony is looking Axe in the eye as he dies before a grenade blows him apart and flings Marcus off a cliff. That’s agony. Just like love, agony involves an act. Love involves generally gaining something we desire. Agony generally involves the pain of losing something we desire. (This can be used, just like love, to build believable protagonist and antagonists.)

Angst is a sappy, repetitive praise song pleading not for God, but for our emotions to increase. Agony is “it is well with my soul”. Angst is griping because of a mixed up Starbucks order, agony is having your church blown up by a suicide bomber. Angst is feeling misunderstood. Agony is dying on a roman cross. See one isn’t always true. Angst could be just your point of view and a far cry from reality. Agony, real agony, can’t be missed. You’ll know it when you feel it, experience it, hear of it.

photoline

The firefighters who died in a fire on Dec. 3, 1999.

I don’t like angsty things. They tend to annoy me. I do enjoy reading about agony. Agony reminds me to look beyond my relatively easy life and see what’s been sacrificed for me. Agony keeps me thankful, humble, and willing to serve. Agony, either my own, or read about, helps me think about others. It floods me with pity for both the seen and unseen pain of those around me. I have yet to see Angst do that in any way. Angst, from what I’ve seen, shuts people off. It closes them away, trapped by what they think is bad in their life until they can’t see beyond the end of their own nose and their own suffering. Angst makes those who dwell on it more selfish.

It’s not that angst is wrong. It’s no more wrong than romance. What’s wrong is over indulging in them, and making it more important than their far more significant counterparts: Agony and Love.

See, I don’t want Christ to experience angst for my sin any more than I want Him to have a passing romance for me. I want Christ to suffer agony for me, not because I’m a sadist, but because that’s the only way I’m going to be saved. I want Christ to love me, not as a feeling of warm fuzzies, but as an act, a choice.

It may seem like splitting hairs, but as writers it’s very important that we split those hairs and understand the difference. It doesn’t work if you don’t handle the difference between romance and love correctly. It doesn’t work if you mistake angst for agony. Say you have a character who is being belittled, not bullied, just belittled, and another who is tortured. Don’t equate those. Being belittled isn’t the same as being tortured. But, if you know the difference, then you can start having fun. You can have the person who has suffered physical torture overcome that through strength of character and you can have the belittle person cave under the pressure of what he has mistaken for agony. Only when you know the difference can you start having fun mixing things up.

thor_and_loki_background__by_quinae-d3fjcb7

This can also help you define the difference between heroes and villains. Villains are quite often those who don’t handle agony, angst, love, or romance well. They mistake them, mix them up, give them more weight than they deserve. They never overcome the hurdles thrown at them. Loki has this bit of angst mixed in with him while Thor is more agony based. Loki is the bad-guy and Thor is the good-guy. Loki complains about his adoption, while Thor learns from his mistakes to control his power. In Labyrinth and Legend, the heroines are both wrapped up in angst which leads them to experience some real agony and helps them become the great characters we all love. That’s good storytelling. You can have someone start with love and add in romance. That makes for really powerful stories. Arrange a marriage that turns into true romance. Or maybe have a husband/wife duo that rediscover their romance due to circumstances which have to be faced together. You can have a character suffer agony and then spiral into angst only to suffer a greater agony which pulls them out of the angst and sets them on a path to help others.

Legend

Legend

So much can be done when you see the difference between agony and angst. It keeps you from giving incorrect weight to one or the other. It keeps you from encouraging something which is totally unhealthy—read between the lines here and interject 90% of YA fiction. It gives you more tools in your tool belt for storytelling. It may keep you from writing the next fad, but it will help you write something which will resonate with audiences far longer. Lord of the Rings sold second only to the Bible in the 20th century. If the book had been angst and romance instead of agony and love, do you think it would have echoed through the masses, crossing cultural and linguistical lines? Do you think we, the elect, would be saved if Christ just felt really bad about our sin, kinda stressed out, and really really liked us? Nope. It took death on a cross. It took bearing the wrath of God. It took real agony driven by real love to save sinners.

Agony and angst are different. This is a good thing.

Can you think of other similar, closely aligned concepts often mistaken for one another? Comment below with your thoughts!

Labyrinth

Labyrinth