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Where we embrace determinism

In some aspects of popular psychology, we doggedly embrace free will. Those who are not happy are choosing that state of mind. And happiness is the new American Dream. We gain status by posting evidence of our abundant happiness to be liked by “friends”, only some of whom we’ve ever shared a secret, an intimate moment with.

This first part perhaps makes the second part even worse. On my walk to work a couple of days ago, listening to a podcast, I heard an author explain her villain. “Well, she hasn’t had a good life.” Because this issue is personal to me, I bristled, though I wasn’t surprised. This is the most common explanation for evil we have.

We accept this determinism, because it’s an easy explanation for violence and cruelty. And we need an explanation so we can be less afraid. So we create pockets of false safety for those come from “good families”.

But those kids who get beat up by a parental figure, whose parents drown themselves in alcohol or drugs. Those kids with parents in prison, literal or figurative. Their fortunes are read to them early on. They know how their story is expected to go.

This tacit truth caused me so much anxiety as a child. It’s never fully gone away. I didn’t have a good life; everyone agreed. I felt like a ticking time bomb, prayed I might be the exception, not the rule.

One of the favorite parts of my job as a high school teacher is to regard those kids, the ones you know have not had a good life, with the same expectations for success that I do the most nurtured kids. Not in a coddling or condescending way. In the same way. To engage with them often, assume the best of them, and, especially, challenge them.

Class is in part the issue here. Happiness is a choice, but the materials, experience, and education one must have to make that choice supposedly can be bought. At least, is sold every day.

I want more Heroes from bad backgrounds, more privileged villains. I think we’d be much closer to the truth.


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