This Sunday, we begin another season of Advent. Apparently, I’ve got a lot of questions about this.
They say around your mid twenties, your prefrontal cortex in your brain finally completes its process of growing. This is a why teens make impulsive and reactionary decisions, don’t wear sunscreen, wear impractical clothing, and have higher car insurance payments. In other words, the part of the brain that makes judiciary decisions literally doesn’t exist (in full) yet.
In the last couple of years I can point out specific events and actions that prove my prefrontal cortex has probably completed its development. After getting in our fender bender earlier this year, I drive extra safe and don’t take chances on the road. I remember in my teen years unthinkingly believing that a car wouldn’t actually hit me. (Spoiler alert, they can and do.) I will grab my umbrella even the if the chance of rain is slim. Bring the extra jacket. Wear the comfy shoes. I’ve got 27 years of experience here and one too many blisters.
This past Thanksgiving was a time of reflection for me. I was able to see the holiday through my child’s eyes – not unlike how I experienced it as a kid. There was seemingly unending football on the TV. Lots of pie and sweets. A photo shoot at the quick-studio in the mall. As far as she was concerned, the daily routine from home had fallen to the wayside and it was party time. Fun was the name of the game and there was not much more to be thought on the subject.
My semi-newly developed prefrontal cortex sees things differently. On the one hand – it’s good. I’m growing, becoming less reactive, becoming more confident in the things that matter, and less certain of the things I once thought were unquestionable. But it was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving for me this year.
The Macy’s day parade used to be a silly fun thing to watch. This year, I couldn’t deny it was just one giant commercial. Black Friday – just another ploy to get you to spend more money. Football, once a significant part of my culture and life, and glue for bonding with my father, wasn’t so easy to stomach with knowledge of not just the concussion controversies, but the corruption within the system as a whole. Even the turkey and pie didn’t taste as good knowing that someone, somewhere was hungry and cold. Yes, I’ve known these things all along, but somehow this time around, they over-shadowed the holiday.
I have a theory (that I haven’t fully developed yet) about religion manifesting one way or another in society. If it’s not Christianity or Islam, it’s Veganism or Social Change. We want to feel like someone can save the world, supernatural or not, because we have to cling to hope for something. Otherwise why would we press on?
Religion provides society with a moral code, an uplifting message – a pep talk if you will, community in which to live, thrive, and connect with, and most importantly, a redemptive factor that promises we can and should try to be the best people we can. Even after we have failed to do so. If we aren’t receiving these virtues through an organized religion per se, they still find a way to reach us.
Catholic guilt gets a bad rap. But I find guilt has nestled its way into our culture regardless of who or what you pray to. You can barely enjoy anything these days without someone shaking their finger and giving you a lecture about it. Fast fashion, factory farming, class disparities. All important topics in grave need of attention. Guilt serves a purpose, but unlike in the Catholic faith, guilt in the secular world has no reconciliation. The message of redemption, forgiveness and absolution lies in the wild west of earthly things. We know the human spirit, full of goodness, is also full of imperfection and vice. Can humanity, alone, save humanity? To be honest, we don’t have a great track record.
As Catholics, especially, we have an urgent responsibility to care for each other. Last week’s reading was quite clear. But different people have different vocations and even different seasons in our lives call for different types of giving. We aren’t all called to be Martin Luther Kings, Mother Theresas and Pope Francises but we are all called to be and do something. The vastness and uniqueness the saints are wonderful inspiration for finding our individual vocations. On a philosophical level, I frequently struggle with the best way to give. (Is this fiscally? Is this in action? Does the action necessarily have to yield obvious benefits? To give a very simple case, is giving the dollar to the homeless person on the subway a duty? Does it matter that the dollar may not actually help them? Perhaps it is in the act of giving that matters, not the end result?) I’m inconclusive, constantly journeying through this query.
In the spirit of advent season, it’s a time to gather, celebrate, and most importantly, give. My prefrontal cortex wants desperately to do it right. But how do you give and simultaneously enjoy your blessings? The last thing I want is for guilt and shame to overshadow the magic of the season (guilt has never been all that productive of an emotion anyways) – and particularly for my child with whom I want to share the unadulterated and innocent joy with. There has to be a balance I can strike here. I’m genuinely interested in this conversation and would love to hear your thoughts. (If you’ve somehow miraculously made it this far in this long, far too pensive blog post.)
How do you reconcile social responsibility and the advantages you might have?