By Jim Towey
Opinion writers by nature are critical. Both the Latin and Greek roots of the word evoke the qualities of discerning and judging and not simply fault-finding. Critical thinking is not negative thinking. It is the exercise of reason in pursuit of the truth. It is situated in reality. When society diverges from reality, it courts mental illness and grave division.
For example, those who believe the metaverse is real and non-fungible tokens are of value ignore reality and instead actively court fantasy and foolishness. All fruits from the tree of delusion are poisonous. Witness how some people referred to Mother’s Day Sunday as “Birthing Person’s Day,” or consider Apple’s heavily-promoted launch of its emoji of a pregnant man. Such denial of reality and embrace of fantasy divert attention from the real and pressing needs of our elderly, disabled, mentally ill and poor. The homeless and lonely do not inhabit a parallel universe as avatars. They are flesh and blood, living just up the street, and they crave our companionship.
I have written extensively on how the Covid pandemic attacked our nation’s mental health every bit as perniciously as it did our immune systems. We can’t wish the consequences of irrational policies away. In the future we must utilize our God-given abilities to think rationally and independently if we are to meet emerging challenges.
A critical thinker – one who judges and discerns – will necessarily find much to fault in our world today. But he or she also will discover the grandeur and beauty that surround our every waking moment. Being situated in reality is to be grateful.
I read a piece yesterday in the Wall Street Journal about Drew Barrymore and a practice the actress instituted with her two young children: gratitude journaling. She challenges her girls to periodically write down what they are grateful for. She said such journaling changed her family’s life because they now were “recognizing behavior and moments and people in a way we weren’t before.”
This made me ask myself: what recent behavior and moments and people make me thankful? In no particular order, here goes:
- The teenage waitress at the Silver Diner yesterday who was gracious and cheerful even though when I plopped into her booth she had been on her feet for five hours without a moment’s rest;
- The overworked guy in his 20’s at the U-Haul store that same afternoon who because of staff shortages had to answer phones, check in and check out truck renters, and handle supply purchasers like me, and yet remained professional. He probably makes entry-level wages. He doesn’t complain;
- Sunday’s evening email and photo announcing the engagement of my niece, and the glow of a woman in love that is unmistakable;
- A phone conversation with an 81-year-old woman who doesn’t simply care for her 39-year-old adopted daughter with Down’s Syndrome but delights in her company, who told me that they just powered through Covid infections successfully;
- The moment during a round of golf with my son when a blue bird lighted on the 14th hole marker and didn’t rush away when we approached;
- The radiance of my wife on Mother’s Day and the realization that the five children she gave me have made all the difference in my life;
- The sweet anticipation of a third grandchild on the way as my daughter-in-law’s paunch grows; and
- The warmth and wit of the priest after Mass on Sunday as he greeted the old and young alike on the steps of the parish church he has revitalized.
This isn’t a “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” list. It is a quick reminder to me that a thinker is not critical if he or she only finds fault and not gratitude. There are among us so many hidden saints, natural wonders, and experiences of quiet loveliness gloriously situated in reality, every day. Can we recognize them?
To borrow nine titles from Drew Barrymore’s 55 movie credits, here’s my advice: You don’t have to go far from home, like E.T. the extra-terrestrial, or live in an altered-state with no place to hide, or succumb to wishful thinking, to go beyond irreconcilable differences and discover the big miracle where everybody’s fine, ever after.