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SAW 19: Safety vs Risk
1. Please describe some of the risks you’ve been exposed to in the course of your life and how they (or your responses to them) have affected and formed you.
I was too unprotected as a young teen, was hurt, and grew somewhat toughened as a result. It was hard to learn to trust in God’s protection, and to believe I was worth protecting.
2. How have you been protected from dangers? How have the protective actions/structures/strategies/substances affected you?
I’ve been protected by parents who were decent people with decent friends, and so not exposed to porn and sexual abuse, or awful horror movies and such. I was not exposed to a lot of worthless literature, or trashy music. My hearing was protected…no loud concerts or headphones for me. I’m sure that prayers I don’t even know about have often protected me. I’m now healthy, well-organized, frugal…all qualities protected for me, to some degree, by parenting. I avoid scary places, and have had our home blessed, but otherwise am not terribly concerned about dangers. My approach to Drivers Ed with my own kids reflects the fact that I feel I was driving too early, with too little real instruction. My own teens are more restricted than I was, but also more free in some ways. My exposure to public schools was full enough of problems that I have wanted to protect them both from its dangers and from its unnecessary restrictions on their freedom. Because my husband is faithful, I’ve been protected from heartbreak and disease. I’ve often thanked God for his good driving, as I’ve never felt afraid when he was at the wheel. We’ve been protected from poverty through his job and responsibility. I feel keenly how blessed we are to live in a country that is not at war, and is stable and protective of freedom, to some degree. I can recall God steering me away from several people who I now realize were dipping into occult practices that would have been dangerous for me. Even an injury of mine prevented me following some plans that may have been problematic…so He may have used that to protect me.
3. What dangers have you sought actively or chosen freely? What were the results or ramifications?
Living in the city, driving, traveling, public speaking, blogging, committing to marriage, having babies, and asking others for help are different kinds of risks I’ve taken. For the most part, each has helped me to become a confident adult, and to trust God in all things. Some have led to disappointment and hurt feelings, to which my response was often anger. I had to learn to forgive, to let go and not resent, to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger,” with God’s help. And then…to trust again or be vulnerable again to people. I’ve had to face my fear of failure over and over again, and so am less afraid of it now.
4. What is your approach to “error” or to dangerous beliefs and teachings? Can you give some examples? (For instance, how you deal with those who question your faith; how you handle dialogue with people whose beliefs seem “alien” or false; whether you seek out, study, and respond to the opposition’s position; whether or not you read books by people you consider wrongheaded; how you limit your exposure to falsehood and diabolical influence.)
When I talk to a person who holds such beliefs, I try to stay in unity with them as persons and dialogue in love to the extent they are open. If I can find common ground – books we both like, something we both believe – I start there, using it to strengthen their sense of safety with me. If I read something problematic, I may comment, if the author seems open, but in general refrain from any online communication. With written material, I do have an interior conversation with the author/text, and may write my own take on the subject as a result of developing my arguments about their position. If someone seems so ‘way out’ as to have no way in to conversation, I try to listen to hear about the underlying brokenness, and to find what is their need, or how are they seeking answers. For them, as with children, all I can really do is be loving, and be present in case they emerge and want to talk.
I don’t actively seek out all the many views that oppose my own, but will read something a friend considers truly meaningful, even if I strongly disagree with it. Nothing could influence me to read anything diabolical or horrific, but there is a great deal written in these days that has some partial truth, and is an attempt by someone to make sense of the world, or to help others. I won’t read Catholic-bashing, but will consider non-Catholic work when it is a window to the thought of someone I care about.
5. How is this approach (to error, above) different when it comes to protecting/teaching children, students, or anyone weaker (in regard to faith, intellect, maturity, etc.) than yourself? How were you helped (or, how do you help your children) to move from childhood’s to adulthood’s approach?
I would not let people spouting grave errors teach my children. I would be respectful, but teach my children during our own private time together why I have problems with this person’s beliefs, and why I’m not arguing about them (so my kids won’t think my respectful listening implies agreement). As they get older, my kids see a lot of this, and learn both to argue well when that kind of opportunity presents itself, and also to not force that on anyone…to say what may be helpful or lead to more openness, and to forebear to say most of what comes to mind. I try to keep conversations about ideas, rather than about the persons themselves.
I have sometimes read aloud with my kids something to demonstrate where good thinking goes wrong. Because we discuss it right along with the reading, this is a great learning experience, whereas sending them off to read it themselves (and, possibly, to become confused by it) would not be a good idea.
6. How comfortable are you with debate, conflict, or argument? Does it make a difference what the topic is? Or who the “opponent” is? Please give examples of situations from your own experience.
I love debate/argument where there is real interest in getting to truth, maintaining courtesy and respect. I hate pointless argument, cynicism, conflict that escalates to mean-spirited jabs. Examples: a friend of my son, devout Protestant, came to our home often over their undergraduate years and we thoroughly enjoyed discussing his objections to Catholicism. He was open to Truth, and is now a priest. I would now and then need to say, “That’s enough for now,” when I thought the tone of the conversation changed negatively. Another person in my life, whenever I see him/her, seems to want to bait me into an argument about Faith. So, I try to laugh these off and not rise to the bait. One other enjoys taking contrary positions just to get everyone inflamed, and is not actually at all interested in the Church’s teachings, or in Truth. So, again, I try to stay out of those conversations by changing the subject, or asking directly if we could please move on.
7. How comfortable are you with emotional vulnerability (for example, exposing faults, expressing your feelings, crying openly, asking for/accepting forgiveness, reconciling with someone who has hurt you)? What factors increase or decrease your willingness to take emotional risk? Please give examples from your experience.
I’m the ‘weeper’ at Mass – and it took many years of holding in my feelings to be able to just let that happen and not hold on tightly when deeply moved. I find it very difficult to feel in conflict with people, and usually would rather just deal with it internally than risk further conflict by asking them to be open about it and work out our differences. If I need to ask forgiveness, it helps much to know that they love me, and I try to make sure people I love have that sense of security even when/especially when they’ve offended me. The hardest thing for me is to risk emotional exposure to someone who has already hurt me, or to risk saying to them, “You’ve hurt my feelings.”
8. In what ways are you exposed, or do you expose yourself, to the scrutiny/feedback/judgment/authority of others? How has criticism, or your response to it, affected and formed you?
In spiritual direction, I have this kind of reflection. My writing is scrutinized by editors (God bless them!) and publishers, and by the public, or clients. Sometimes I receive feedback from an audience when I speak – usually the positive, but sometimes a suggestion for improvement. The IRS scrutinizes my finances and my husband sees clear reports of all the budget-and-bills work I do. A couple of friends care about the Joy Foundation and watch for reports on my work there. Another cares about whether I’m putting in work on getting speaking engagements. Of course, in confession, my sins are exposed to my priest.
It has been good for me to receive correction and not to be defensive about it. In ‘another life,’ I received performance evaluations from employers and teachers that glowed, so it was hard for me to have areas that needed a lot of work even to shine!
9. Please give examples of times when you’ve completely changed your mind; when you’ve been proved dead wrong; when you’ve realized that your position’s foundation was weak; when you’ve “seen the light.”
My conversion to Christianity involved admitting I’d been quite wrong (and nasty!) about Christianity. Then, on converting to Catholicism, I made further adjustments. It was hard for me to accept the Church’s stance on the death penalty, but God had already changed my mind about birth control. At one point I returned to work and then regretted it, but it was another year and a half before I could get home to stay. During that time, I had placed one son in a school and later regretted that decision and pulled him out. I changed my mind a couple of times about what it meant to dress modestly, and have settled into a way of dressing that is more ‘easy’ than well-thought-out, or well-put-together. I know I am not fully sharing the Church’s views on immigration. I get the position intellectually, but have not taken the time for real learning to penetrate old prejudices and a Texan perspective.
10. If you ranked all your beliefs/judgments/opinions on a scale from 10 (“absolute/unshakeable confidence”) to 1 (“lightly held/very open to new evidence or influence”), what would be some of your 10s? 5s? 1s? What does it take to move from 1 to 10? What kinds of evidence/proof/feelings/authority increase your confidence and undergird your 10s?
10’s: Catholic, pro-life
5’s: Don’t legalize drugs, teach school classes in English
1’s: Expand the food stamp program???, Vote Republican???
To move from 1 to 10, I’d have to have the Church’s teachings involved. Any opinion that does not involve faith is, for me, by definition, going to rank lower because I am at least theoretically open to change per adequate proof of the Catholic position. The authority of most experts and opinion-shapers matters very little to me, unless I do know they take a strong, well-informed, Catholic stance toward whatever positions they hold. I have a sense how well, or ill-informed I am about something, and can hold my opinions pretty lightly when I know I am uninformed. The Pope, the Catholic Catechism, encyclicals, St. Thomas Aquinas and G. K. Chesterton weigh heavily with me in terms of authority.
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