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A Short Pondering on Feelings of Superiority

I have noticed a trait that is held in common by many people. I have even seen it in myself. Remembering that an unexamined life is not worth living, I began to exam the nature, roots and validity of this characteristic.

Allow me to express it plainly. We all seem to believe that our preferences about any given subject are somehow objectively superior to those of others. Those who have similar tastes to us we immediately take a liking to as though that in itself made them virtuous; those who prefer a slightly different flavor (or prefer custard, God forbid) we look down upon as though that makes them some inferior species of life. For example, I prefer eating off of glass or ceramic to plastic. So I immediately assume that this preference of mine reflects some deep nobility of my character that those who indiscriminately shovel food into their maws off of plastic dishes lack.

Why do we behave this way? Why do I behave this way? The only feasible answer I can give is that it actually reflects how very much our flesh is still very alive in us. The only reason I could think of for artificially inflating myself into a higher position than my neighbor was pride. Because there is no objective standard to judge country music superior to rap. Truly, there is no objective standard for judging some rap crap and some the apex of all music (for those of you who snobbishly dismiss all rap as crap, apply the argument to some other, less offensive genre of music). We might say that some forms of music display more talent in terms of difficulty to perform or accuracy of pitch or rhythm; we can even say that one is objectively more popular than another. Yet I fail to see how even that makes some songs or music objectively better than others. If you prefer those who sing off key or the incredibly simple melodies of, say, Bob Marley or Cat Stevens, does that make you slightly above the sentient level of a sea cucumber? Many of my favorite times of worship have been led by the tone deaf and participated in by the arrhythmic.

Which brings us back to the question, what is “better”? If I’m going to feel superior to the masses based off of the way I choose to interpret my senses I want to have a nice strong definition or rule to basement my judging off of. Interestingly enough, the bible doesn’t say anything about which genres of music are good and which are bad. It doesn’t rank tv shows or flavors of ice cream. Instead it leaves us with such vaguaries as calling creation and its Creator good.

Maybe there’s some other objective measure we can use. But try as I might to justify my innate superiority based off preference; I just can’t. There’s no yardstick to say that it’s better to paint my walls in earth-tones instead of hot pink polka dots. Which is a bummer because I’ve really built my manhood and self-esteem on the fact that I prefer soccer (football to most the world) to volleyball.

Which leads me into wondering if God really made everything good. Maybe where someone else sees beauty I could to. It’s just a thought, but sometimes I catch myself thinking that instead of discrediting someone else’s hobby as a waste of time we should try to see the beauty in it. I mean… the world’s all out there and stuff and God said that it was good. I’d rather be spending my time trying to participate in that goodness than arguing about how it’s actually ugly. I just don’t understand why so many people look at modern art (whatever that means) and dismiss it as being childish instead of seeing beauty in the art of children. The world can be a terribly ugly place. And a lot of times it gets me down. Which means that I’d rather spend my time trying to enjoy eating beetle grubs and admiring sunsets than courtiquing someone else’s enjoyment of brussel sprouts.

Let me pursue this thought just a slight bit further. Does this mean that we should then enjoy everything indiscriminately? Does this mean there is no good and bad? That all music, movies, entertainment is created equal?

I don’t know. But I have a theory. Whether it tastes good or bad, some food is wholesome and some is poison. I think in the same way some of the things we enjoy are edifying and some are (or at least can be) destructive. I’m not concerned with putting everything anybody enjoys into one of those two categories. I don’t know if some music is intrinsically evil. I’m reminded of Frank Zappa putting a facetious warning on one of his albums. Something along the lines of “Nothing said in this album will make you go to the big place of fire where the pointy horn guy lives.” In my estimation, he’s probably right.

The apostle Paul said it more along the lines of “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” Judge (prudently) for yourself what things dominate you and what things are helpful. I know (that is to say I’m learning) what things cause me to stumble, and what things remind me of truths worth remembering. As an ascetic acolyte I won’t judge those who write off all entertainment as something that distracts them from God. But I will disagree with those who condemn it as inherently evil. I truly believe that God created music (just read the psalms), art, books and even movies as things that can bring glory to Him; the ultimate author of all that is good and beautiful.

As for me, even as I strive to remain pure, I want to share in that beauty with anyone who will invite me to.

 

Seaking temperance I sent the above post to my friend Lisa for her opinion. Below is her reply.

 

 

At the beginning you mentioned liking people with similar preferences, and later on touched on whether it is OK to prefer some beauty and tastes to others.  I’ve talked to Amie about some of these ideas, about how some of those deep sea fish are ugly, and I can’t imagine anyone finding them beautiful even though God made them and they must be good in some ferocious and bizarre way.  But I can understand people finding canyons and rock formations pleasing, even though they mostly just make me thirsty.  For some reason I like small rocks in museums and collections, but landscapes made of rock make me run the other way.  And I don’t denounce the rocks or the people who appreciate them.  I just “like” and spend more time with people who share my tastes, so that we can share enjoyment of things.  Obviously I have friends whose taste on some things differs.  Most of my friends love Chipotle and various takes on Mexican food, but not me.  I love pasta, but Michael and Josh and Jesse all don’t and I’m still their friend.  =)  My main point is that I think something God created was limited beings who have unique personalities and tastes, and as long as we leave out unfounded superiority, we can celebrate that, too. 
I was pondering last week why a certain song was unappealing to me even though my friends like it.  I could hear that it was not merely noisy, but had musical integrity.  One thing I noticed was that it didn’t resonate with me.  As much as I could relate to some of the circumstances the song was expressing, the emotional response I have isn’t the same.  I think this is one of the purposes of art, to connect to something a person already senses, and expound on that.  And I don’t think it was a waste to listen to the song, and to ponder my reaction.  What I caught from a single listen was that the song dealt with the daily grind, with a modern George Bailey living a simple drudgery far from where he’d dreamed of being.  And the song’s reaction to this was a music of marching.  Left right, determined, forward, steady, a little tired, a little angry, a little discouraged.  And I can relate even to those adjectives.  But when I feel that way in life, I picture myself either standing firmly, unmoving, faithful – or charging passionately into the work because I must have passion even if the everyday doesn’t inspire as I think it should.  Slight difference.  Or, I hear a sadscape, more the grief of the bleakness than an angry rhythm.  There are songs that resonate on this subject.  Just not this one.  But, I could absolutely see how this music resonates with some of my friends.  It matches their personality differently. 
Anyway, point of that is the value in not just trying to enjoy something you don’t automatically like, but letting the fact that others like it communicate to you something more about them, not so you can judge, but so that you can walk beside with friendship.

Comments

  1. (to finish out the broken ending above:) automatically like, but letting the fact that others like it communicate to you something more about them, not so you can judge, but so that you can walk beside with friendship.

    ~ Lisa

  2. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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