Debunking the Far-Left with Clarity, Terms, & Vocab

Def: Deontological Ethics vs. Consequentialist Ethics

Recently I discovered Professor Gad Saad, a Lebanese-Canadian Evolutionary Psychologist at Concordia University. In an interview with Dave Rubin, he was describing the hostile environment of academia in which he worked. When he began to dig into the roots of the far-leftist agenda, my ears perked up. What follows are two terms he introduced, the short definitions he gave for them, and an expansion and explanation of those definitions, as per my own research. I hope this helps educate and clarify a bit of the mystery of the underpinnings of what has fueled social unrest and cancel culture so intensely this past year.

Deontological Ethics:

Basically means: “It’s never okay to lie. There is absolute truth.” -Prof. Gad Saad

Greek: Deon means “Duty.” Logos means “Study or Science.” We also get the English word “Logic” from Logos.

Definition: An emphasis on the morality of behavior itself, no matter the consequences. Focuses on duties and principles. Allows for the protection of individual and universal rights.

To those familiar with Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, it is rule 7: “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).”

Example:

  • Keeping my word, even to my own hurt.
  • I did it because it was the right thing to do.
  • A good deed is still morally good, even if I get punished instead of rewarded.

Best known as Emmanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative.”

Problem: Can be too rigid, too unforgiving, too difficult to adhere to such a high standard of morality.

Benefit: It is the great arbiter of human conflict. An objective moral standard, existing beyond our individual constructs, is a fair standard of justice. It is not relative. The laws and Constitution of America are based upon deontological ethics. Outside of the plaintiff and defendant, even outside of everyone in the courtroom, there exists a body of laws, instituted to protect the rights and freedoms of the people.

Consequentialist Ethics:

Basically means: “It’s okay to lie, if it’s for a good reason. (Like answering your wife dishonestly when she asks) Do I look fat in these jeans?” -Prof. Gad Saad

Definition: An emphasis on morality based on the consequence of the behavior. Focuses entirely upon the goodness or the badness of the results.

To those familiar with Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, it is the opposite of rule 7: “Pursue what is expedient (not what is meaningful).”

Example:

  • The ends justify the means.
  • It’s not a bad deed if I don’t get caught.
  • It’s not a good deed if I don’t get rewarded for it.

Best known as: Herbert Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerence.”

Problem: Can be too relative. Allows for morality to be re-invented on a moment-by-moment basis, as conditions and consequences change.

Benefit: Immediate gratification. The consequentialist gets to play God, changing the rules of the moral game during game-play itself so he always ends up the winner. He can justify just about anything.

Analysis:

Prof. Gad Saad stated that “All of life is lived navigating the tension of these two sides. But when it comes to elements of truth, you should never become a consequentialist.” Which I take to mean that, when I begin rejecting the fundamental deontological ethical standards of universal human dignity and truth – when I see you not as a person, but as an obstacle – then I can justify lying to you or destroying your stuff under the banner of furthering my own cause, however righteous it may be. If I get my way and you bow to my agenda – if the consequence is good for me – then my riots/burning/looting/assaulting/murdering were good deeds. The subjective ends justify the destructive means.

American Bill of Rights Perspective

Our country was founded upon deontologcial ethics.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

-The Declaration of Independence

The duties and principles of the American citizen were laid out as self-evident truths, existing independently of their consequences. As American citizens, we have natural rights, and it is the duty of both ourselves individually and our government to protect those rights. Whether I like it or not, I may not destroy or steal your stuff without legal consequence. It would violate the self-evident truth of your rights. Your rights to your own life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness exist, whether I like that or not. There is a law existing outside of both you and I. And that law is built upon the natural distribution of individual rights endowed by the Creator Himself.

Marcusean Consequentialist Perspective

Conversely, Antifa, BLM, and other socialist, neo-marxist, protest groups operate upon a consequentialist world view. Truth is relative. Morals change with the tides of trends. The reasoning behind this tracks back to Herbert Marcuse, a mid-century German-American political theorist associated with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. For years social justice groups have gathered at speaking engagements and lectures for the sole purpose of disrupting, intimidating, assaulting, and preventing the event from happening by using any means necessary. What’s more, when they show up at a peaceful lecture, and assault the attendees, they believe they are committing a retaliatory act, and acting in defense of a greater cause. Let me say that again: when they don’t like a speaker’s message, they see the words of that message have literally struck to first blow. Thus, undesirable messages become hate speech, and words are considered violence. They consider that they were sucker-punched… with words. Thus they label the message as oppressive or hateful, raising a righteous banner of both self-defense and defending the oppressed. Now they have permission to destroy your stuff, if they don’t like your language or your ethic. This is what Marcuse called “Repressive Tolerance.” It is the idea that:

Yes, tolerance is good, but not when it comes to people who are intolerant… Marcuse didn’t use the term “hater,” but he invented the argument that it’s legitimate to be hateful against haters. For Marcuse, there were no limits to what could be done to discredit and ruin such people; he wanted the left to defeat them by “any means necessary.”

-Dinesh D’Souza, “The Philosopher of Antifa

The consequentialist ethics of Antifa and BLM sees their destruction as good, because fighting back against (what they see as) oppression justifies destruction of public and private property. Thus they inevitably become the very thing that they oppose. It’s “I hate you because you’re a hater. I will take from you because you (or the system you inhabit) takes from me. I will oppress you because you oppress me. Nevermind the torched businesses in Portland, Seattle, and Kenosha were run by regular members of the communities, largely in the same socio-economic class as the rioters. As a member of a family of small-business owners myself, I can attest that a person who has the tenacity to own and operate their own business (especially as in the democrat-controlled states, where these riots are, small businesses are slapped with cost-prohibitively high tax rates, and layers of bureaucratic regulations) this kind of person is by and large too busy, and too tired to perpetrate the oppression that they are being destroyed for. But this isn’t about the businesses. Or their owners. Or their families. Or any of the other people absorbing the collateral damage of the destruction. It’s about getting the social justice message across. The destruction is worth it if the protesters get their way. This is textbook consequentialism in action.

Whereas deontological ethics are like dealing with a federal judge, consequentialist ethics are like dealing with a tantruming toddler. Perhaps navigating the tension of the two means still holding ourselves and each other to universal moral standards, but allowing for personal dignity when we fail. We can then honestly confess to our own – and forgive each others’ – short-comings when they happen.

Gospel Perspective

From the Christian worldview, this confession and repentance are essential to one’s connection with Jesus (Romans 10:9). For God is perfect – the deontological benchmark, so to speak – and by nature cannot tolerate imperfection. Jesus is placed as the soul’s arbiter, if one accepts His sacrifice on one’s behalf. He has paid the price for all of one’s moral failings, and continues to do so as they occur, in exchange for His Lordship over the individual’s life. The problem is, deontological ethics create a moral structure that is strong enough to set behavioral standards for entire cultures, but far too rigid to allow for personal variance or failure within that moral structure. Jesus does not abolish this structure, as the consequentialist would like. He contributes to it, adding the element of forgiveness to men (Matthew 5:17-18). He can do this, as the fully-God-fully-man hybrid who lived a morally perfect life. His execution was the rightful consequence that each of us deserved, but placed upon his head. He did it on our behalf (no matter our race, class, or political views), so that through Him we could be reconciled to God and fulfill the moral requirements of the law. This whole set-up is based upon our own confession and repentance of our moral short-comings to Him, within the existing deontological framework of His righteous standards.

Socially speaking, this act of confessing and making-it-right – with each other – erases the demand for reparations and revenge. This restores morality and relationships in real time. This allows for human variability, weakness, and behaving badly while still allowing for the support of community, the responsibility of the individual, and the empowerment for each of us to strive to adhere to a standard of morality independent of our own consequences. This deontological ethic is the thread that runs between the political, the spiritual, and the civil spheres of our Western society that make it function properly. If we embrace the consequentialist ethics of the woke far-left as the cure for the evils of society, we do so at our own great peril, both personally and culturally.

Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash

What’s Really Going On Here? And What Should I Do About It?

It began in a February post on social media. I asked a simple, but not easy, question:

“Do you think conscious thought is possible without language?”

It was a question I had been holding up to speculation for months. The responses I received were thoughtful and genuine. One person said that there are those who read and think without an inner voice: instead their brains process with pictures, images, and emotions. Another cited the case of a deaf man in his 30’s from a rural area in Mexico who was never taught sign language. After he learned to sign, he was unable to distinctly remember things before he had language. They cited that the brain is hardware, but language is software. Another person suggested I look up the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It is based upon linguistic relativity, or the claim that the structure of a language affects the speaker’s world view, or cognition, and thus people’s perceptions are relative to their spoken language.

I gathered from these responses that the words we say clarify our memories, and literally shape the structure of our world view. It didn’t appear that all of our consciousness was wrapped up in our own language. We may be aware of our surroundings and feel base sensations such as hunger, pain, warmth, satisfaction, and desire, without language. Babies do that. They posses a pre-verbal, base form of consciousness. From my understanding, our pre-verbal memories are largely emotional: in which we remember the soothing feeling of being held, or the dark feeling of terror sitting alone in a crib at night. As our language develops, the specifics of our memories, and how we interpret those memories, develops. With language, we have a greater understanding of the world and our place in it, as well as a greater sense of agency. After all, when we can speak, we can speak for ourselves.

So then my question refined itself into the heart of what I was more specifically asking:

“Do you think conscientious thought is possible without language?”

That is, without language, can a person be self-aware enough to posses a concept of morality? Can they have a metric for doing what is right? Can they wade through the fog of conflicting desires within themselves, and choose how they want to behave? How much of an informed decision can they make without language? In my experience, when I didn’t have the words for what felt threatening, even my own negative emotions, I found there was a link missing in the chain. My brain couldn’t properly process the occurrences of life, both inside and outside myself. Without the language of conscientious thought – words that both defined, and interpreted the unknown – I was left with an inner environment of darkness and suffocation.

Wordless Crisis

In my early 30’s, things were going badly. I was hitting the wall in my marriage. I was losing my memories. I had no idea who I was anymore. I had only an impending sense of doom and an imperative to run away from my whole life. I felt trapped by my children in the little years of motherhood. During sessions in therapy, I talked at length about the problem: my husband, my children, the suffocation of my life. Strangely, this was the life I had always wanted. My husband still loved me. My children were lovely. But I felt the desperate need to get away from it all. My counselor would listen, then ask me how I felt about the problem I was talking about. How I felt about it? I felt bad. She would gently probe, and ask for more specific feelings. Okay, I felt bad… and frustrated. She squinted and pursed her lips. Rifling through papers on her desk, she pulled out one and handed it to me. “This is a list of feeling words. Some people call them soul words,” she said. “I want you to write down the things that come up this week that feel bad. Only, choose some specific words from this list that feel like they more accurately represent how you feel.”

Just like that, I was handed the primer of vocab words that make a marriage work. More than that, these were the words that make an adult life work. Adults must operate in the nuanced complexities of many variables, both known and unknown. Up to that point, though I majored in English at college, I didn’t have the words to understand my feelings, and the thoughts that fueled them. I was an English major, not a Psychology major. Because I didn’t understand myself, there was no way I could understand others. There was no common language of the deep human experience between us. Thus my most important relationships suffered.

Light of Language

Why are we such mysteries to ourselves? Jordan B. Peterson says, “We act, and we wonder why.” The natural state of our brains seems to be one of oblivion, even of our own inner machinations. It is an unknown wilderness, both out there, and in here. Language shines a light into the darkness. What is known cannot become unknown. What we see cannot be unseen. Just as the Bible says of Jesus being the life and light of men, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”(John 1:5)

Why are we such mysteries to ourselves? I’m not sure. But I do know that language is the great revealer of mysteries.

God spoke. The language he used, the creative force of logos, created the world. Jesus, as both the Son of God and the Son of Man, was the Word – the logos – incarnate. John writes, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the Only Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). There is something about Jesus that is wrapped up in language, logos, and the great revealing of mysteries to men.

Light reveals.

Language reveals.

Both make the unknown, known.

God is very interested in this revealing process as well. Which should make us sit up and take note.

Without light, we cannot see what is. Without language, we cannot interpret what is, to ourselves or anyone else.

Both give us the input and interpretive function to figure out what to do.

This is especially important when we encounter an unknown situation: when we hear a strange sound outside in the night, when a deer unexpectedly runs in front of our car, or when news breaks of a novel virus spreading across the world, and we are ordered to shelter-in-place indefinitely, while the sun shines defiantly out the window.

Lock-down

My journey with language exploded in 2020. When the lock-down measures for the Coronavirus hit, I was afraid and uncertain. Everyone was. How bad was this going to be? But as the days and weeks slipped by, something didn’t add up. We didn’t see evidence of this pandemic being as bad as advertised. We didn’t see people dying in the streets. Our friends and family weren’t terribly ill. Though thinking back, many of us got very sick earlier that winter. Hmm. Whatever this was, it didn’t seem to be as deadly as was posited. Many of us may have been exposed to it before it made headlines. None of us died. We began to notice. Our brains shifted out of emergency mode, to interpretation mode. We drew parallel lines between this logical disconnect and the story of the emperor’s new clothes that we were hearing from every major news source. Our own interpretation of the facts of the virus, and our observations may very well be contrary to the loudest experts. The emperor may very well be naked.

Start with the soul words. Look with your eyes. Pull the thread of self-inquiry until the landscape is revealed before you. This is the platform of conscientious thought.

Language is the medium for clarifying and accurately interpreting ourselves and our world. I practiced using the soul words I had learned. When the lock-down hit and the economy ground to a halt, I felt afraid. Uncertain. Indignant. Suspicious. I began to examine my own reactions to the media feed, question their sources, and formulate my own opinions and directions. I discovered how I felt anxious after scrolling through my social media feed. I distanced myself from Facebook and Instagram. I called or texted people instead. I read more broadly. I discovered thinkers, and commentators who surprisingly articulated what I was seeing with my own eyes. The time we were in quarantine afforded me the time and pressure to clarify my own values to myself. I added more words to my vocabulary in order to better interpret this new landscape.

What do we do when we encounter the unknown, the threatening, and the unstable? We use our language to shed light on what is. We open our eyes to what is in front of us. We interpret its meaning. Holding up our up our personal interpretations, we measure them against the plumb lines of Christ and and the wise counsel of loved ones. If their story squares with ours, we just may be seeing and interpreting things accurately, even against the stories the media promulgates. If not, we make adjustments and try again. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Proverbs 12:15

Interpret

This inquiry for truth – and the dilemma of what to do with that truth – always begins with language. Language clarifies and illuminates. Without clarity, the fear of the unknown is crushing. The fog of the unexamined and unexpressed inner-man is a slave master of terrors, base desires and appetites. Without language, you cannot order what’s inside of you in a meaningful way. This must be done first, to most accurately interpret what’s outside of you. There is an essential connection. Start with the soul words. Look with your eyes. Pull the thread of self-inquiry until the landscape is revealed before you. This is the platform of conscientious thought. We cannot deal with what should be until we deal with what is. We must ask God and loved ones for help sorting it out. If the world around us keeps us isolated from each other, either by masks and physical distancing, or heightened ideological and political debates, we must not forget our values. We must be diligent and scrupulous in our language. If conditions really are perilous, and our time here is short, for goodness sake, say what you mean. You must live your life in a way you can stand behind. You matter. It takes guts to say your piece with thought and concision. It takes more guts to listen to an ideological opponent with an ear to learn something new. Perhaps it takes the most guts for us to humble ourselves before the Lord, under whom we are all beholden, and speak with each other from this posture. We must chart our course, choose our words intentionally, and live our lives on purpose. As Jordan B. Peterson writes, “Be careful with what you tell yourself and others about what you have done, what you are doing, and where you are going… Courageous and truthful words will render your reality simple, pristine, well-defined and habitable.” It is the work of conscientious language to build the strongest, most habitable structures of culture. As Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

It’s not like we think.

I’ve had plenty of times when a friend has cared enough to chastise me when I am behaving badly or immaturely. It stings. But, if I’m smart about it, and listen, things go better for me as I course-correct. So then, sharpening seems to be the dream: one where people habitually tell the loving truth, uplifting each other. My mind was wandering over this verse the other day while I was spending time in, well…the bathroom.

Then my children barged in one.

Again.

This was not uplifting.

Suddenly I was yelling, clearly defining my boundaries, sharply chastising them. “What are you doing? No! You are not allowed in here right now!” One kid mumbled that she wanted to ask me a question. “No. I will not answer questions here. You can wait outside and I will answer your question when I come out. This is my time to have some privacy to myself. Please go out now.” Answering specifically, I brought into sharp focus what I would, and would not do. Once I had regained my privacy, I took a few deep breaths to allow my body to come down off of the high alert to which it had spooled.

What just happened?

Whether I liked it or not, I was just sharpened by my children.

Perhaps a sharpening is nothing more than an intentionally clarifying result borne out of pain and conflict.

This is not uplifting.  But it is necessary.

As is often the case in life, I was minding my own business when I was invaded by the unexpected. As Jordan B. Peterson would say, “Order unraveled and chaos emerged. The unknown presented itself.” My brain scrambled to make sense of this intrusion.

Clarifying my position to my children, I immediately began establishing order in the situation – a thing that our brains do expertly, both subliminally and overtly – and brought into sharp focus the moral landscape of my boundaries. The oblivion of their self-centered desires vanished, and they opened their eyes to the world around them. They saw my angry face. The reality of their offense quickly registered for them, and they meekly backed out of the bathroom and closed the door. I required them to practice bearing the weight of deferred gratification, to suspend having my attention for a time. They had to wait to talk to me until I came out.

When dealing with our children, it is our job to clarify our own structures of propriety of behavior, both for ourselves and for them. If we do this work – which is akin to that of a land surveyor of the inner man – we can order our structures of relationships to be well-marked, clearly visible, and easy to navigate. We will not resent them for walking all over us, if we mark out where they may, and may not tread. They will not feel like they are navigating the hidden land mines of an angry parent. The emotional environment will not have dragons hiding invisibly in a foreboding fog. They will know the way, and see the path to success, because you have established it, and are helping them navigate it. They will be taught and supported. We, as parents, will protect and fortify ourselves, and hold the space for them to be themselves as well. We will clearly differentiate who our child is from who we are. In this family construct, everyone has their own identities. Everyone makes their own choices. Everyone has their own freedoms, expectations, successes, responsibilities, and consequences. Order is established and maintained. This clarifying, sharpening process creates tremendous relief for all involved.

How can this translate outward? How can this sharpening mechanism be utilized to protect and clarify our own positions in our communities in this current landscape of social unrest? After all, everyone is offending everyone.

We must remember: an offense forces a choice. 

We can use the offense to sharpen the image of ourselves, clarifying our own position in relationship to the offender. We see the riots sparking up on the news, and feel uneasy. We hear people we are friends with on social media decrying things as evil/racist/sexist that we thought were not so bad. Why are we uneasy? What do we really think about the value of memorial statues, the value of black lives, the value of the American project? The important part of this inquiry is that nobody else is allowed to answer for you. You have your own priorities, your own convictions, and your own experiences to guide you. This appears terribly useful in today’s climate of pre-election polarizing frenzy.

Every time we have the opportunity to mold and clarify our position in response to abrasion, we stay in practice. We test our views against other perspectives. We discover what is stout about our worldviews. We discover what is brittle. This practice of sharpening is essentially our search for truth: a truth that will withstand brutal cross-examination. The more self-examination we can bear, the sturdier our own bearing. If we first risk jumping on the bridge we built ourselves, and it does not collapse, it may bear up under the weight of others too.

Perhaps another interpretation of the above verse could read: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man causes another to clarify/specify/bring-sharply-into-focus his boundaries and convictions.”

One man causes another to clarify himself. He causes him to define more specifically who he is, and who he isn’t. What he will accept, and what he won’t. What he will do, and what he will not do. This is a terribly personal process, but it is the bedrock for living happily in society, as it clarifies where I stand in relation to you. This truth-telling is a tremendous relief for all involved. We may live among boorish, myopic, neighbors. If we don’t develop our own characters, we will behave no better. We are raising tiny immature humans who naturally behave as selfish, pushy dictators. With any luck, we will teach them to grow into contributing, conscientious adults, with a keen sense of self-examination, and a capacity for creating clarity. These days people are watching us – especially those of us who claim to belong to Jesus. My hope is that they will see us engaging in the hard work of following Him authentically, practicing wisdom in our own sharpening process, responding with clarity and understanding to muddy situations. We will grow into His likeness as we practice establishing order out of the chaos around us, wherever we are, for His glory.

In a podcast a friend shared with me, Miracle Whips (a prominent roller derby player in Toronto) sparked to life as she discussed the personal philosophies of this growing sport. At one point she asked us through her French-Canadian accent:

“Why did you get into roller derby? And why do you play now?”

The other day I went on an outdoor trail skate with a handful of girls from my roller derby league. Hungry for more, I asked one girl who had been skating for a few years, about her take on the sport. She talked of seeing new skaters coming in, wide-eyed and afraid. She confessed to her own misgivings when she signed up for her first roller derby boot camp. But the conclusions she came to still stick in my mind:

“Roller derby is so unique, because it creates a space for women to be whatever they want to be.”

These encounters fed my hunger for trying to piece together this strange new pursuit I’ve gotten myself into.

It all began with a dare. A dare to myself.

It was a rainy Friday afternoon in January. I was skating with my family at the local roller rink. The music was pulsing, the neon wall decor was aglow, and my children’s cheeks flushed pink with another lap around the rink, waving to us as they passed. My husband and I took turns skating with the girls, while the other watched our toddler in the adjacent arcade area.

Once when it was my turn in the arcade, my tiny boy stood on tip-toe to reach the cue ball on the pool table. While he toyed with this, I decided he was safe enough and began looking around. Hugging my sides, I meandered along the wall, perusing the cork-board shadowboxes showcasing other events and programs held at the rink. Speed skating. The Artistic Club. Birthday parties. I stopped when I came to the glass enclosure holding posters of roller derby. My mind flashed to the few stories I had heard: once a roller derby league hosted a mud-wrestling event at a local bar, only to have one of the girls break her arm and have to go to the hospital. No thanks. Not my scene.

The rest of that winter was unusually rainy, and we found ourselves at the rink week after week, giving the kids (and ourselves) time to exercise indoor and play together as a family. Every week I perused the posters, lingering at the roller derby ones of girls in colored hair and face paint: looking fierce in this shot, laughing at each other in that shot. There was a stack of flyers on the skate rental counter advertising introductory roller derby practices for new skaters. I picked one up: “Fresh Meat Nights,” it read, “Tuesday nights at 8pm.” It sounded like some terrifying double-dare on wheels. I exhaled, looked around, and folded the flyer into my pocket.

But I wondered.

Could I make it as a roller derby girl? Did I have what it takes?

Of course I wasn’t aggressive enough.

Or racy enough.

Or punk enough.

Or goth enough.

I was a conservative Christian writer and stay-at-home-mom. I had no tattoos. I spent my evenings with sinks of dishes and meal-plans. I liked my life. I loved my family. I staked my heart to the Lord and was building a beautiful future together with my husband. This crazy idea wasn’t a life-line to save me. It was a dare. My life was full. I just wanted to see if I could do this too. It was like a great, weird, life experiment. On wheels.

But I wondered. I thought about their low-slung skates as I packed the kids’ lunches. I pictured their shiny helmets as I did my hair in the morning.

I dared to talk it over with my husband.

Then… I showed up to a fresh meat night. Then another one, a few weeks later. Then again the next week.

By the way, do you even know how old I am?!

Miracle Whips asked, “Why did you join roller derby?”

Why did I?

Because I dared myself to.

I felt like an impostor, starting out. But this, I discovered, was part of the learning process.

Fall well, and get back up.

Let me tell you a secret of starting out in roller derby:

The physical part isn’t the hardest. Sure, you fall a million times, and have to learn to skate forward/backward/sideways/upside-down/inside-out, but that’s not the hardest part.

The mental part is the hardest.

Showing up, only to fall down, doesn’t feel inspiring. It hurts the confidence more than the tailbone. I had no point of reference for it. I didn’t picture myself as a “tough derby girl in training.” That wasn’t a concept in my mind. I felt more accurately like an aging, flop-bellied mama cheating her role at home to roll around on wheels for a few hours, like a nine-year-old.

We all have our loud reasons for feeling like inadequate failures-in-waiting.

Carol Dweck, a research professor at Stanford, calls this a “fixed mind-set:” a belief that talent is something innate and natural – something we are just born with…or without. Those who are good at something are “naturals.” Those who are bad at something are “just not made for it.” This fatalistic belief dangerously removes any difference that practice and effort would make. After all, why try? I’m just not good at it.

Conversely, she found that a person who believes they can improve with effort and practice has a “growth mind-set.” Matthew Syed calls it the “mastery-oriented” (growth) vs.“helpless” (fixed) mindset. Everything comes out of this. Entire lifelong beliefs are based on these ideas. Can you guess what their respective results produce?

A growth mindset will try, fall, and get back up. It will see failures not as a death-sentence, but as a learning experience. It understands that sustained practice is the key to mastery in anything, anything we do. Those who are naturals may have an initial leg-up, but it is we who practice, who are persevere and try again, who will gain the understanding, skill, and muscle memory of mastery. We keep trying. We know we will fall. We fall well, and get back up.

Sport vs. Lifestyle

So how does this sport fit into my life? How do I belong here?

Roller derby is an interesting amalgam of a sport and a lifestyle. It is an international sport, with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) overseeing its rules, regulations, leagues and recognized tournaments. The sport’s current structure was birthed in the early 2000’s in Texas, after lying dormant for over 20 years. It has come a long way from the brutal antics of televised roller derby in the 70’s that smacked of WWF theatrics. The parameters now are global. The skill requirements are standardized worldwide. The players are athletes, logging countless hours training and cross-training.

But even as the sport is standardized, the roller derby lifestyle is completely open to interpretation. As my friend said, “Roller derby creates a space for women to be whatever they want to be.” The leagues still have their fair share of counter-culture feminist vibes that the sport was founded on. Naturally. It is a full-contact women’s sport. Aggresive personalities gravitate here. And, it also attracts more quiet personalities, nerds, gamers, hippies, mommies, working women, and students.

My teammates are teachers, scientists, journalists, nurses, and fellow stay-at-home-moms. Some go out and party. Some stay in. And for the record, I have felt zero pressure to go mud wrestling.

What I’ve found is this: I’m still me. I just like to do this too.

I still love Jesus. And I like to skate too.

I still adore my husband. And I train among other women too.

I still parent and care for my children. And I’m learning hip-check and blocking techniques on the side.

And why do you play now?

Miracle Whips asked, “Why did you get into roller derby? And why do you play now?

It’s been about a year since I’ve dared myself to learn roller derby. The reasons will morph over time, as life changes. But why do I skate right now?

Because it is loads of fun. I am surprised by how much I cannot stop smiling.

Because I get to tap into that brain-body connection I had long ago, as a gymnast and an athlete. I get to feel like I’m a kid again. I get to feel at home in my body again.

Because my teammates are such a joy to skate with, as I get to know them.

But mostly it’s because the resilient themes between derby and life skills run too deep to be ignored. The physical training, the pressing in, the focus, the engaging of the core, the flexibility, the boundaries, the aggression, the playfulness, the laughter, it all has a place in life too. As I become a better skater and teammate, I become a better wife and mother too.

Outside Your Norm. Not Outside Your Priorities.

I have a question for you: Have you ever dared yourself to do something before?

Let me rephrase that question: What would you dare yourself to try, if you had the chance?

Often we don’t dare because it’s not worth it to us. At least not initially. Newness hurts too much. Being a beginner – especially as an adult – is terribly uncomfortable. It feels crazy. What if none of your friends are into it? What if your loved ones don’t get it? How would you fit it into your life? You don’t have the time. Or the bandwidth. I totally understand.

But the fun thing about a dare, is that it’s an opportunity. It’s disorienting. It’s sprung on you. Suddenly you’re considering. You’re integrating the new idea into your pre-existing idea of the way you are and the way things are. You’re evaluating what can be adjusted and what cannot be touched. It’s outside your norm, but is it outside your priorities? How does it fit with your stated goals of who you are and how you want to be?

Think about how you see yourself, or how you want to see yourself. Are you athletic? Creative? Inquisitive? Active in social issues? Generous? Adventurous? Resilient? Would it be against your life-vision to engage in new ways in these areas? No. It would be outside your norm. But not outside your priorities. It might cost you in time and money, both of which must be responsibly budgeted. But if it’s not contrary to your values, then it might possibly be a good dare for you.

If you get to exist in your own life too, what dare would you give yourself, that would be within the boundary lines of your values?

As I’ve begun this journey into skating and derby, I’ve found that I can still be me, and do something entirely new. As a younger pup, I got it into my head that in order to begin a new endeavor, I had to leave at the door that part that made me, me. That was a great way to justify a protectionist posture for life. That was a fixed-mindset. That was a great reason for never doing anything. It was suffocating. My life itself wasn’t suffocating, but my attitude about my life suffocated me. If trying new things threatened who I was at my core, then it was far too dangerous to go there.

But life, God, and my own heart have proven to be so much bigger than I ever imagined! And my dare to myself to try roller derby has helped me learn this valuable lesson.

The Dare

So in light of this, how about a dare?

Try a new thing. And when you’re disoriented with the newness, hold onto yourself. Do not turn against yourself in criticism of your awkward performance. Hold your own hand. Talk it out with your trusted people. Cheer yourself on. Keep trying. Fall well. Pay attention to all you’re learning, both on and off the track. This is your growth-mindset at work.

I didn’t set out to change the world, to revolutionize the sport, or to abandon my family. I simply wanted to try it out. To see if I could hack it. I was 50/50 about whether I could or not. But there came a point a month or so in when I looked around and thought, “Oh, this is it? I have loads to learn still, but these ladies seem just like me. If they can do I, I can too.”

The game of life is much bigger and broader than we think. Jesus still reigns in my heart as I skate in racing circles around the track. People of all beliefs and lifestyles skate alongside me. I’ve discovered we’re all stressed out and self-conscious and sweaty. I can love them just as Jesus commands. We each hold onto ourselves as we practice together, clapping for each fall, and reaching out to help up. The falls are evidence of trying. This is common knowledge among us.

What is your dare to yourself? What if you told somebody about it? What if you researched how to begin? What if you could still hold onto yourself in the disorienting space of a beginner? What if you could hold onto “who you are” while expanding the scope of “what you can do?”

Go on. I dare you to dare yourself.

Photo by Jacqueline Martinez on Unsplash

Photo by hieu vo on Unsplash

What is the light you hold to get you through this dark cold season?

It’s my grand experiment with connection. I feel like a mad scientist toying with something as impossible as time-travel. This has the danger of sounding kind of awesome, a little cool, and fairly evolved.

But let me tell you: it’s not cool. Not by any stretch. Not at first.

It’s trading the reliable drug of hiding and isolation for the cold shower of reality. It’s the panicky deep breathing of feeling vulnerable that forces oxygen deep into my lungs. It’s the rush of my plaintive gaze being met with a steady look of love and acceptance. It’s as unbelievable as that blasted time machine actually popping through history.

As I hold this light of practicing connection, it’s terrible. I feel the familiar drag of hiding, but also see the spark of something long ago familiar, like a conscience, on the other side. From behind there is the greasy tug at my skirts to come away, far far away, to the place where unworthy things go. And there is a trembling flame ahead that barely lights the next step forward into connection. In that place, all I can ever see is the next step. This feels more like a dare, than a step. Like a lumberjack wearing ballet shoes because he lost a bet to his drinking buddies. Hardly graceful.

Let me be clear: in my experience, the next right step always feels more like a stumble.

I come to my husband, holding in my head a herky-jerky script hard won over the years of doing everything wrong. Buzz words like “I feel,” “I need help,” “Please hug me,” ring out. After I gauge his level of safety, it usually all tumbles out something like: “Though I know it’s all baloney, and I’m probably baloney for feeling this way, I’m pretty sure I just mess everything up in our family all the time and I’m feeling like I should just go away and hide, but instead I’m being stupid and telling you all of this like an idiot and I’m sure you agree with me.” My voice gets higher as it goes. And louder.

Then he dazzles me by a blinding tenderness. He coos at me and welcomes me in like I just discovered our secret meeting spot carved from a thicket in the woods. “You found it! I’ve been waiting for you. You said the secret password. Come in! I brought snacks.”

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Revelations 3:20

Sometimes it’s all in my head. Sometimes it’s not. Sort of. Sometimes I’ve committed legit offenses that we talk through. But always with tenderness. When I come to him naked of soul and feeling utterly stupid, he doesn’t recoil. Though I recoil from myself, he just doesn’t.

And I find myself at the cross of Jesus. I recognize the greasy pull of hiding was the accuser of my soul. I see the spark of conscience was the Holy Spirit in me, drawing me into the light.

And suddenly I’m living the Bible:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:7

Oh, so THIS is fellowship. It’s pretty terrible: all this shining light revealing my SELF. But I’ve heard to be loved is to be seen: every sagging, wrinkling, suspicious, self-righteous part. I’m learning to step toward the light of connection, and hold on tight. Lord help me. Help us all. And bless those who welcome us out of hiding into the light of godly connection.

God bless our big burly emotional and spiritual midwives.

–Photo by hieu vo on Unsplash

What do you have the muscle memory of? What are you in the habit of doing? Where do your thoughts go when you’re not paying attention? Mine were spiraling into the best-meaning abyss of single-mindedness.

But motherhood was defined by interruption. I’m not talking about mindfulness. I’m talking about obsession. I’m talking about avoidance. I’m talking about holding the posture of “taking from” instead of “giving to” my people. I’m talking about a dangerous road to travel.

But hat if not-writing was just as essential as writing? I’m not even talking about the creative process. I’m talking about life. What if forcing and obsessing over becoming a working writer over-loaded my brain’s kitchen table with too many of the wrong things?

I’ve felt the load. Obeying all the talking heads and podcasts. Cultivating the single-mindedness of a working writer. Feeding my social media like a goldfish. Obsessing like a gold-star winner.

I couldn’t see any more counter space. My eyes blurred out the shapes of the people right in front of me. Everything I did became in relation to writing. Every situation I grabbed onto with the question: how can I milk this moment like a dairy cow: squeezing content into my steaming bucket? My husband and children started avoiding me. They didn’t like how I in turn neglected, then used them for my creative purposes. I found my life littered with too much of my own pursuits that it crowded out any space for them to sit.

They were mad.

I was shocked.

I had to stop.

Which meant: I had to clear the table.

Leaning hard forward, I stretched my arm over the kitchen table of my life and swept everything off with the back of my hand. It makes a terrible crash when all of my priorities clatter onto the tile. Nothing makes sense. For a brief moment, I don’t know who I am, or where I am going. I see nothing but rubble, and hear nothing but the noise of impact.

After the big sweep, I spend time sifting and carefully picking up the items I still want to keep: my marriage. My children. My home. Our one direction together as a family toward the Lord.

Writing is a part of my DNA, but done out of proportion to the rest of my priorities, it can be an insidious excuse to neglect my own life, and the people therein. Writing is built into me. It feels like a steaming pot pie out of the oven. Satisfying. Heartening. The work of my hands. But I had dangerously begun to worship it, instead of the Lord. The center was coming undone. The pile was swelling and teetering.

Take my advice: let the pendulum swing back.

Eat all the crow. Forgive yourself. Lean hard forward with your outstretched arm, and do the sweep and the spare rebuild. Only a few items are allowed back on the table. Writing can have its place, but it must play well with others. When you become wildly successful in your creative pursuit, you want your husband by your side.

Here’s the secret:

I want to be successful. I want to become a working writer: supporting myself with my craft. If I crowd out my priorities – my people and my foundation – then I will crowd out my support system. When fame and money comes, I will fall. My character will be too weak and lonely. I will not be able to hold all that is poured into my lap. I will break.

Wealth and success only magnifies whatever is within a man’s heart. If he is already a generous man, he will become more generous. If he is already prone to medicate his problems, he will become more of an addict. If he has built a strong foundation, he can raise a secure life for himself and his children.

Keep this long-game in mind.

Clear the table often.

Vote for your people with your time and attention.

Create space for Not-Writing, so that when you Do-Write, your words will shine with the wisdom learned off the page. When you become famous, your character will have the muscle memory of your true priorities.

Photo by Fabio C. on Unsplash