Solitude, or being alone with ourselves

Marco Lapi writes on a Communion and Liberation conference on the theme of care of the elderly, and on the themes of loneliness and isolation:

Fr. Julián Carrón, who was entrusted with the theme “Faith and Solitude” … [spoke] on this last “elementary experience of man” as sung by Giacomo Leopardi in his Nocturnal Singing of a Wandering Shepherd of Asia and as described by Emily Dickinson: “There is a solitude of space, a solitude of sea, a solitude of death, but these society shall be compared with that profounder site, that polar privacy, a soul admitted to itself, finite infinity”. Because, added Fr. Carrón, “no solitude is comparable to that of a soul in the presence of itself”. As Fr. Giussani stressed, “the sense of impotence accompanies every serious experience of humanity”, therefore “the more aware man is of the immense dimension of his impotence, the more he realizes that that solitude cannot find an answer in us or in others”.

On the other hand, a different perception of lacking is not lacking in human experience, which revels itself as a “marvellous achievement”, as Gaber sang: Loneliness is not madness, it is essential to be in good company”. It has nothing to do, for example, with the anguish that pervades the two orphans of Pascoli’s the homonymous poem, at night. “A tremendous conquest or a marvellous condemnation?”, Carrón asked himself, referring to how Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz. She also spoke of it: “I know two forms of loneliness: one makes me feel terribly unhappy, lost and without direction; the other makes me strong and happy”. The answer, and the difference, is not to be alone or not, but to live a life full of meaning.

A question of attitude, as the words of the psychiatrist Eugenio Borgna, cited by Carrón, recall: “Loneliness and isolation are two radically different ways of living, even if they are often identified. To be alone does not mean to feel alone, but to be temporarily separated from the world of people and things, from the daily occupations, to enter into one’s inner self or imagination, without losing the desire or nostalgia for the relationship with others, with loved ones, with the tasks that life has entrusted to us. We are isolated, however, when we close ourselves because others reject us or when, more often, we follow the wake of our own indifference, of a gloomy selfishness that is the effect of an arid and dried up heart. Therefore, it is not a condemnation, because there is no lack of testimonies of how it is possible to live any human situation positively. Journalist Marina Corradi, quoted by Carrón, talks about her “crack”, which at a certain point became “severe depression”: “I read Mounier: “God passes through wounds”, he wrote. It made me think that perhaps my crack, like a hole in a waterproof wall, was a necessary laceration? If I did not exist, who am physically healthy, not poor, lucky, I wouldn’t need anything. That broken wall, that flaw, is a salvation. A torrent of grace, uncontrollable, can enter through it and fertilize the dry and hard land.”

“This is the fight in any circumstance”, explained Carrón: “But for what reason do we want rid of it? Only love for ourselves, because, in fact, even the deepest pain can lead us to discover completely unknown horizons. But, to open ourselves up to this possibility we must look at it with that openness that only man can have”. Provided we do not fall into that current emptiness of meaning, described by psychoanalyst Umberto Galimberti, which does not affect “a particular age, because you can already live old age at the age of twenty,” says Carrón.

In order for loneliness to be “experienced as a positive factor of living”, it is necessary to go through it. In order for it to become “the place where to discover the original companionship”, it is necessary “not to block the need for meaning that dwells in the human “. Starting from the fact that we do not make ourselves, as as Etty Hillesum again testifies: “Inside me there is a very deep source. And in that source there is God. Sometimes I can reach it, more often it is covered with stones and sand: then God is buried. Then we must unearth it again”. “Life is, therefore, expressed, above all, as awareness of the relationship with the one who makes it”, continued Carrón, citing Fr. Giussani’s Religious Sense: “Only in this way can solitude be overcome, in the discovery that we are like love that continually gives itself, that makes me, because there is an Other who wants me to be there. Companionship is in the “I” because we do nothing alone, because we are generated by Him in every moment. Every human friendship, every attempt to respond to this loneliness is a reverberation of the original structure of being, that is, of this original companionship that Another makes us by putting us into the world”.

To be comfortable with being alone with yourself is something like a superpower—an wholesome aloneness not touched by melancholy or despair, but enriched by a splendid sort of isolation that provides us the necessary space to know ourselves by knowing our creator. The first step toward experiencing this comes from silence, which Robert Cardinal Sarah reflects on in “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.”

We all need this sort of solitude, and to develop a capacity for it if it doesn’t come naturally to us. A capacity for solitude is something to be pursued intentionally precisely because it’s a precondition for our capacity to give of ourselves to others.

“To be alone does not mean to feel alone, but to be temporarily separated from the world of people and things, from the daily occupations, to enter into one’s inner self or imagination, without losing the desire or nostalgia for the relationship with others, with loved ones, with the tasks that life has entrusted to us.”

Trust and emotional resiliency

What’s the number one thing couples fight about? Nothing.

Kyle Benson writes at The Gottman Institute:

In an interview with Anderson Cooper, John Gottman reveals that the number one thing that couples fight about is exactly that: nothing. …

What matters is not the fight itself, and especially not what it is about. What matters is how partners respond to negative emotions in the relationship. If couples see the conflict as an opportunity for growth, they can attune to each other and increase their understanding of one another, which deepens their trust in each other and in the relationship. …

Negative events will always happen in relationships, and couples will always fight, but that isn’t what drives couples to separate. Relationships fail when the Story of Us—a couple’s history, shared beliefs, and overall attitude toward their relationship—is focused on the problems partners create, not the love partners offer, and the overall attitude becomes negative.

What couples need to buffer against that kind of negativity is a “positive perspective” on the relationship. You need to remind yourself of the good things you share in your relationship, how much you admire and appreciate your partner, and how much you accept and understand their flaws despite whatever conflicts arise from them.

However, if you have a negative perspective, you slowly disconnect, sometimes without even realizing it. …

Regrettable incidents like fights, arguments, and interactions that are primarily negative will happen in all relationships. According to our research, both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only 9% of the time. This leaves 91% of our relational interactions ripe for miscommunication.

While many see conflict in a relationship as a sign of incompatibility, it should be seen as a sign that the relationship needs growth and understanding. Conflict is really an opportunity to learn more about your partner. So, when it feels like you’re fighting about nothing and it goes nowhere, there’s likely a lack of understanding. Perhaps you need to discuss how to compromise and share decision-making, or how to recognize and realize deeper life dreams, or how to address core needs that aren’t being met. The fight itself—like arguing about where to have dinner—is about nothing. …

Typical conflicts are merely a reminder that a relationship is two different people working together to understand differences and love each other despite flaws. And the reason why all couples fight is that we’re all a bit different from each other—personalities, needs, likes, dislikes, preferences, life dreams—and many of those differences (69%, to be precise) cannot be resolved.

So, we fight. But that’s okay, because the trick is to learn how to fight in a way that doesn’t cause harm and that increases understanding. …

When conflict occurs in a relationship, partners need to come together to understand each other better. Often times, that means taking a step back and saying something like, “What do you really need from me?” or “What does this mean to you? Tell me more.” It also means that, before you think of a response, or before you want to dismiss something your partner says that you disagree with, you need to really listen to your partner so that you can understand their perspective.

Trust is built when there’s a positive perspective—that, despite the flaws, disagreements, and differences, it’s a good relationship and that each partner is there for each other. Those fights about nothing won’t happen as often when partners can really open up about their needs, concerns, and dreams. They know that they can work through it, even if negative interactions happen here and there. And for that to happen, couples need to intentionally try to understand each other’s perspectives. When understanding happens regularly, connection is built and a positive perspective blossoms.

I’m also thinking of Jordan Peterson’s clinical perspective, which intersects to with the question of how to “fight better” in relationships:

“Most people who trust are naive—and [to be] naive is not a virtue, it’s a fault. It’s partly a fault because if you’re naive, and you run into someone who’s malevolent—including you!—they night do you incalculable damage so that you never recover. That’s not a good thing, so you don’t want to be naive. If you’re not naive, that means you’ve been burned once or twice—or three or four times. And once you’ve been burned in that manner, well then it’s hard to trust! Because you think, ‘Well, why would I trust you or me for that matter, knowing full well that I can be betrayed?’ So then you’re cynical, and you [incorrectly] think that’s an improvement over being naive. You think you’re more mature.

How do you get out of that conundrum? This is crucial to note: You trust people because you’re courageous. It’s the same reason that you’re grateful. It’s a mark of courage. It’s a mark of commitment. … I don’t think there is any other natural resource than trust. And for trust you need courage, and not naiveté. And you’ve got to overcome your cynicism, so that you trust.”

You don’t want to be naive. You don’t want to be cynical. You choose to trust because you’re courageous. It’s a mark of courage.

Because love is an act of the will more than an expression of the sensual emotions (we choose to love, we choose to will the good of the other), we need this courage and we need to regret the critical, negative tendencies of our hearts in our relationships with other people, especially those nearest to our own hearts.

And with respect to ourselves, and our self-judgments, we’ve got to walk the same path between a false naiveté and a toxic cynicism, in order to reach a place of trust and positive perspective where a permanent sort of love and relationship continually takes shape.

Attachment styles

I was listening to Lila Rose’s “The Lila Rose Show” today, and she and her guest were talking about personalities and temperaments. At one point “attachment styles” were brought up, and that led me to Elizabeth Grace Saunders, who writes on the four “attachment styles,” relating to our personalities:

Your better mind knows exactly how to manage your time better at work but a primal, seemingly uncontrollable urge to do the opposite overtakes you.

You know you should say no when you’re asked to take on that new project, but you say yes. Or you know your boss said your report was good enough, but you work until midnight perfecting it. Or you’re just stuck — wanting to do better but unsure that trying will help — so you do nothing.

If you are frustrated with your seemingly irrational behavior, the root issue may be deep subconscious programming known as your “attachment style.” Your attachment style dictates how you relate to other people, particularly in situations that trigger stress.

Attachment style discussions typically arise in relation to the bond between parents and children or romantic partners, but in my work as a time management coach, I’ve seen that individuals can also “attach” differently in the workplace. Here’s how to identify your attachment style, and take control of how you manage your time.

She addresses anxious preoccupied attachment (fear-based), dismissive avoidant attachment (arrogance-based), fearful avoidant attachment (compounding-fear-based), and secure attachment (healthy). Here’s a wider overview of the history of attachment theory.

Home, household, and family life

I spent time in Old Town, Alexandria on Sunday afternoon, which is where I took this photo. I really like little scenes like this, and wonder how often passersby think on what happens above all of the little storefronts—the lives of those unfolding in little apartments, the second floor storerooms for ground floor retailers, the abandoned spaces above some shops, etc. It also reminded me of two pieces from from John Cuddeback that I had read last month. The first is Cuddeback on Aristotle and on a deep aesthetic purpose of home:

Aristotle suggests that the beauty of our home is a way that we serve those around us. And he goes further: building for permanence is an aspect of building for beauty. Perhaps this is one reason that there is always something about a stone house.

Many of us are not in the position to build a new home; and among those that are, financial considerations will often be a real limiting factor in what we can do. Yet it seems Aristotle has given us a special perspective, one from which to appreciate styles that endure, and materials and construction that endure. For the sake of beauty, and for the sake of others, as well as for ourselves.

Regardless of our financial situation we can bear in mind this wonderful, even if challenging aspect of what our houses can be and can mean, right down to their furnishings.

Cuddeback also writes separately in First Things on “reclaiming the household”:

Not long ago, the household was a context of daily life. The arts that provided for the material needs of human life were largely home arts, practiced, developed, and passed on within the four walls, or at least in the immediate ambit of the home. Food, clothing, shelter, as well as nonessential items that gave some embellishment to life, were commonly the fruit of the work of household members, often produced with an eye for beauty as well as utility. This carried into the industrial era. For decades, Singer sold sewing machines to housewives, who bought patterns and made their own clothes. Men built backyard toolsheds. Grandparents put up raspberry jams in Mason jars.

The household involves more than just work. Porch times, lawn times, and by-the-fire times punctuated the more serious endeavors, and were often occasions of leisurely work, too, such as carving, fine needlework, and other hobbies. Meals called for setting aside work, as of course did prayer. These habits were times of mutual presence. To a great extent, family life meant being with at least some other members of the household for most of the day.

Recounting these things, once taken for granted, highlights how remote a household is from the home life of today. Even those who intentionally seek to have a “traditional” family life, in fact, often lack the ability to comprehend the reality of a household that is not simply “traditional,” but ancient and profoundly human. They set out to start a family in a virtual vacuum. The husband and father usually sallies forth to a remote job, and the wife and mother attempts to manage the day-to-day work of child-rearing—a project the real nature of which is elusive—while wondering what place she too might have “out there.” Intangible pressures on parents and children seem inexorably to draw their attention and their time to activities outside of the home. Junior gets taken to soccer practice. Mom goes to a spin class.

A renewal of family life will require a renewal of the household, especially as a place of shared work and a center of shared experience and belonging. We are missing out on truly human living because we fail to live together. …

Because the need to restore households is not separable or even really distinct from the effort to protect or restore families, those concerned with the plight of the family today undermine their efforts when they lose sight of the household. Not thinking in terms of households misconstrues both the family and the broader societies to which it belongs.

I’ve been thinking about the physical structure of American communities for a few years now, particularly in the context of what a more life-affirming and more human American society might look like. That is, how much of the badness and error in our politics is a result of the physically and structurally deficient nature of how we’ve built both our towns and neighborhoods as well as our daily family lives?

Raising the aspirations of others

Tyler Cowen writes that one of the best gifts you can give is raising the aspirations of those around you:

Yesterday I had lunch with a former Ph.D student of mine, who is now highly successful and tenured at a very good school. I was reminded that, over twenty years ago, I was Graduate Director of Admissions. One of my favorite strategies was to take strong candidates who applied for Masters and also offer them Ph.D admissions, suggesting they might to do the latter. My lunch partner was a beneficiary of this de facto policy.

At least two of our very best students went down this route. Ex ante, neither realized that it was common simply to apply straight to a Ph.D program, skipping over the Masters. I believe this is now better known, but the point is this.

At critical moments in time, you can raise the aspirations of other people significantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind. It costs you relatively little to do this, but the benefit to them, and to the broader world, may be enormous.

This rings true, based on my own experiences so far. Fortunate to have had many men and women do this for me in various ways. When we stay silent about what those around us are capable of doing, I think it’s probably true that that silence “takes something out of the fabric of what should’ve been“.

Rilke on love and relationships

Maria Popova writes on Rainer Maria Rilke and the contrasting pulls “of autonomy and togetherness” that characterize so many healthy relationships. Rilke writes to a young correspondent:

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.

And Rilke writes elsewhere on healthy togetherness and boundaries, where he movingly expands on the idea of our “willingness to stand guard over the solitude” of the other, and in so doing balance between the two poles of love, autonomy and forfeiture.

It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow. A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of his fullest freedom and development. But, once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky!

Therefore this too must be the standard for rejection or choice: whether one is willing to stand guard over the solitude of a person and whether one is inclined to set this same person at the gate of one’s own solitude, of which he learns only through that which steps, festively clothed, out of the great darkness.

And on properly giving of oneself, and on having a self to give:

All companionship can consist only in the strengthening of two neighboring solitudes, whereas everything that one is wont to call giving oneself is by nature harmful to companionship: for when a person abandons himself, he is no longer anything, and when two people both give themselves up in order to come close to each other, there is no longer any ground beneath them and their being together is a continual falling… Once there is disunity between them, the confusion grows with every day; neither of the two has anything unbroken, pure, and unspoiled about him any longer… They who wanted to do each other good are now handling one another in an imperious and intolerant manner, and in the struggle somehow to get out of their untenable and unbearable state of confusion, they commit the greatest fault that can happen to human relationships: they become impatient. …

We’re think of ourselves as romantics, but we seem to know little about love.

Deleting social media accounts

Jaron Lanier’s “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts” is worth reading as an introduction to the problem of behavior-manipulating internet platforms. I’m more looking forward to Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” book coming out sometime next year, because I suspect it might provide a less extreme response to the problem of excessive social content creation and consumption and attendant advertising and user manipulation. In any event, here’s a bit from Lanier sharing some background on his thesis:

It might not seem like it at first, but I’m an optimist. I don’t think we have to throw the whole digital world away. But there is one particular hi-tech thing that is toxic even in small quantities.

The issue isn’t only that internet users are crammed into environments that can bring out the worst in us, or that so much power has concentrated into a tiny number of hands that control giant cloud computers. A bigger problem is that we are all carrying around devices that are suitable for mass behaviour modification. For example, with old-fashioned advertising, you could measure whether a product did better after an ad was run, but now companies are measuring whether individuals change their behaviours as they browse, and the feeds for each person are constantly tweaked to get the desired result. In short, your behaviour has been turned into a product – and corporate and political clients are lining up to modify it.

Finally, we can draw a circle around the real danger we face. If we could just get rid of the deleterious business model, then the underlying technology might not be so bad.

Some have compared social media to the tobacco industry, but I will not. The better analogy is paint that contains lead. When it became undeniable that lead was harmful, no one declared that houses should never be painted again. Instead, after pressure and legislation, lead-free paints became the new standard. …

Seems like a good moment to coin an acronym, so how about “Behaviours of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent”? Bummer.

Bummer is a machine, a statistical machine that lives in the computing clouds. Since its influence is statistical, the menace is a little like climate change. You can’t say climate change is responsible for a particular storm, flood, or drought, but you can say it changes the odds that they’ll happen. In the longer term, the most horrible stuff like sea level rise and the need to relocate most people and find new sources of food would be attributable to climate change, but by then the argument would have been lost.

Similarly, I can’t prove that any particular person has been made worse by Bummer, nor can I prove that any particular degradation of our society would not have happened anyway. There’s no certain way to know if it has changed your behaviour, but if you use Bummer platforms, you’ve probably been changed at least a little.

While we can’t know what details in our world would be different without Bummer, we can know about the big picture. Like climate change, it will lead us into hell if we don’t self-correct.

“It might sound like a contradiction at first, but,” Lanier writes at one point, “collective processes make the best sense when participants are acting as individuals.” This syncs with something I read years ago, which put forward the idea that referring to the public (individuals collectively) as “the masses” is basically derogatory, because it reduces individuals to mass behavior rather than focusing on (and seeking to elevate) individual experience, goodness, etc.

I deleted my Snapchat account earlier this summer, and deactivated my Facebook account a few weeks ago.

Literary societies

I recently came across Lawrence Biemiller’s March 1997 profile of two Lancaster, Pennsylvania college literary societies. Biemiller’s piece appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I’m excerpting some of it below.

In the 19th century, many American colleges brilliantly combined the humanities (liberal arts) with the mechanical-industrial (servile arts) to create a new form of education meant to be accessible to any young person—not only the elite that the Ivy League institutions had long catered to. What’s less well known is the extent to which young people themselves often led the way in creating, shaping, and really breathing life into this new model. Biemiller’s piece tells some of that story as it related to Franklin & Marshall College:

Generations of Students Learned Oratory and Debate in 2 Literary Societies

Lancaster, PA. In the Goethean Literary Society’s first formal debate, in June of 1835, students argued the question, “Ought imprisonment for debt to be abolished?” The debate took place in York, Pa., at what was then called the High School of the Theological Seminary of the German Reformed Church. The society’s minutes record that the question “was decided in favor of the negative both as to the merits of the arguments and those of the question.” Afterward the members chose a topic for the following week’s discussion: “Has not the civilization of mankind been as much affected by the influence of the fair Sex as by any other cause whatever?”

So began an extraordinary run of debates and orations that continued on three different campuses for more than a hundred years, from Andrew Jackson’s Presidency to Dwight Eisenhower’s. Along with its twin sister, the Diagnothian Literary Society, the Goethean Society prospered as the “high school” moved to Mercersburg and changed its name to Marshall College. At weekly meetings the societies’ members delivered speeches and poems and argued the issues of the day, from whether women should hold public office and whether the Roman Catholic Church was “an enemy to liberty” to whether man “is the creator of his own destiny.”

Both societies assembled libraries and built Greek-revival meeting halls. There they met for hours each Saturday morning, mixing parliamentary procedure with splashes of ritual and secrecy and with floods of declamation. In January and February of 1842, for example, the Goetheans addressed a range of issues. “Would it be beneficial for the United States to admit Texas to the Union?” “Is England justified in carrying on war against China?” “Would it promote the interests of the United States to elect Henry Clay, President?” The minutes for February 23 add a contemporary-sounding note: “A Resolution was offered by Geo. L. Staley, prohibiting the chewing of Tobacco in Society on the ground of its disrespect and insult to the dignity of Society.” The resolution failed, but “Mr. Brewer then moved a vote of censure to Mr. Staley for presuming to offer such a resolution.” It, too, failed, and the members moved on to choosing the next question for debate: “Would it be beneficial for the Northern and Southern States, if they were peaceably disunited?”

The two societies continued to thrive after Marshall merged with Franklin College in 1853. The new institution, Franklin and Marshall, commissioned a Gothic-revival building with a soaring tower here in Lancaster; the literary societies put up matching halls, one on either side. The halls had first-floor rooms for the societies’ libraries—larger than the college’s—and also rooms for their “cabinets,” or museums. Upstairs were the spacious meeting rooms, frescoed by local artists. The college’s curriculum was then centered on classical texts, history, and mathematics, but the societies offered students opportunities to practice writing and public speaking and to consider subjects from politics to the nature of mankind.

In those years orators and debaters were judged more on composition and delivery than on content. Henry Kyd Douglas, a Diagnothian who attended the college in the 1850s, reported in his diary on speeches at the society’s programs: “…5th Oration, J. B. Tredwell on ‘The Dawn of a New Era.’ This was nicely written and nicely spoken. Jim is a pleasant speaker but has not enough animation. 6th Oration, ‘Christian Martyrdom,’ by J. M. Mickly. This was a first rate speech and although he did well last year, he has made quite an improvement. His production gave evidence of thought…” Douglas’s own oration that day—May 28, 1858—was titled “Tombs of the Illustrious Dead,” and it was well received. “I never saw such an abundance of bouquets,” he wrote. “I got 12, and Mr. Tredwell even more. They came in showers.”

The few orations that survive are more interesting as samples of 19th-century writing than because they offer insights into their authors’ lives; even the poems are almost entirely impersonal. The topics are general and often grand: “Marriage,” “Justice,” “The Past Character and Recent Prospects of Pennsylvanians.” The prose is confident. …

The Goetheans, whose records are more complete, elected and received acceptance letters from John James Audubon, James Buchanan, Samuel T. Clemens, Grover Cleveland, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Ulysses S. Grant, Washington Irving, Thomas Mann, Jean Sibelius, and Daniel Webster, among others. …

The museum curator noted the acquisition of a tortoise shell, a bottled snake, a rock from “a cave in Minnesota territory,” and “a specimen of peacock coal, beautifully colored.” The curator added that Professor Agassiz, as yet, has given us no information concerning the gar-fishes he borrowed from us several years ago.” The corresponding secretary, the curator added, had written to the professor “in a style not to be mistaken.”

The literary societies at F&M outlived most, remaining active into the 1950s. Like societies at Davidson College and Princeton University, they left behind handsome halls that still carry their names, perhaps reminding current students of the charge with Edmund Eck opened an oration titled “Who Are College Students?” It begins beautifully: “We are the embryo of stars, in the process of development, which are to illuminate the dark world when those before us have disappeared.”

This caught my attention because of Penn State’s experience with the Washington and Cresson Literary Societies. These were forerunners of both Penn State’s fraternity and sorority systems, and Penn State’s library, and much like Franklin & Marshall’s societies these provided the basis for bringing many young people together to form a critical and “unplanned” part of their collegiate experience.

Shifting from tasks to feelings

Eli J. Finkel, in his “All or Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work,” highlights an under appreciated shift in marriage in the 20th century:

In the two centuries preceding the Industrial Revolution, developments in political theory, the social contract, Enlightenment thinking, the freedom to use one’s intelligence, gender relations (separate spheres), and romantic beliefs (the primary of authentic emotional experience), set the stage for a new martial ideal. This ideal shifted the basis of marriage from sharing tasks to sharing feelings

The older view that wives and husbands were workmates gave way to the idea that they were soulmates. It’s easy to see why many Americans preferred this new ideal to the more impersonal, patriarchal ideal it replaced. But ideals and behaviors are not the same thing. And the transition from the pragmatic ideal to the love-based ideal was slow. As long as American society was predominantly agricultural, with the individual farmhouse serving as the primary unit of production, it was virtually impossible to complete the transition. There were too many other, more essential, demands on the relationship. However, it wouldn’t take long for industrialization and urbanization to crush the pragmatic model of marriage. These forces sharply increased the proportion of houses that subsisted on wage labor rather than farming and domestic production. In doing so, they created a social and economic context well suited to the ideology of separate spheres. They also reduced restrictions on individual freedoms, and people used these freedoms to marry for love.

It’s in this sense, Finkel writes elsewhere, that contemporary marriages far less practically speaking than marriages of the past, and far more than marriages of the past in the sense of very heightened expectations of meaning and fulfillment.

Disney and Springsteen as misfits

Dan Pallotta offers a perspective on creativity. He identifies vulnerability and the willingness to be a misfit as two traits of visionaries:

Imagine Walt Disney at the age of nineteen. His uncle asks him what he plans to do with his life, and he pulls out a drawing of a mouse and says, “I think this has a lot of potential.”

Or Springsteen. In a concert he once told the story of how he and his dad used to go at it—how his father hated his guitar. Late one night, Springsteen came home to find his father waiting up for him in the kitchen. His father asked him what he thought he was doing with himself. “And the worst part about it,” Springsteen says, “was I never knew how to explain it to him.” How does he tell his father, “I’m going to be Bruce Springsteen?”

Someone interviewed me a few months back for an entrepreneurship project, and he mentioned that in his conversations the thing that stood out most was the willingness of great entrepreneurs to be vulnerable. It’s not the first association you’d make with an entrepreneur. Words like “driven,” “ambitious,” and “persistent” usually come to mind. But the moment he said it I knew he’d hit the nail on the head.

Vulnerability. It is the most poignant quality in every entrepreneur I know.

There’s a misfit in each of us, and it’s the most delicate, precious thing that we have. Sadly, most people make it their life’s mission to hide it, to cover it over in the same clothes, the same work, the same “regurgitations,” as Thomas Merton wrote, as everyone else. This virus of homogenization has infected the landscape. Our backdrop in real life now mimics the scenery repetition you’d see in a Fred Flintstone cartoon as he drove down the street. But now it’s Home Depot-Walmart-McDonalds-Starbucks; Home Depot-Walmart-McDonalds-Starbucks; Home Depot-Walmart-McDonalds-Starbucks.

Ironic that all those enterprises were begun by entrepreneurs trying to do something different. And poignant that in the absence of Walt Disney himself, the Walt Disney Company just keeps building more Disneylands.

I used to visit the merry-go-round in Griffith Park in Los Angeles where Disney once took his daughters, asking himself, “Is this all there is? There has to be a better place to take my children.” And the rest is history. The great entrepreneur — the entrepreneur who really changes things — is the one who, in 2010, goes to Disneyland and asks the same question: “Is this all there is?” And the new world she or he will create as a result of that audacious inquiry is one that cannot possibly be conceived by people busy trying to fit into the world as it is.

To question the hegemony of merry-go-rounds — to actually care that there should be something more magnificent than a merry-go-round — is to be a misfit. I mean, who worries about these things?

“Vulnerability is the absence of cynicism,” writes Pallotta. “And the absence of cynicism is love.”