Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fun with Monsters, The Burden of Gratitude, and It’s Too Sunny for all of this Moral Relativism

Walter White, by Tony Santiago
I’ve had a wintry temper in the midst of all the shiny-shiny Seattle sunshine, making me wonder why I can’t just lighten up and be grateful for the good weather like everyone else. But I’m not. I want storm clouds and thunder and long, howling nights of wind and rain. All the light is making me mentally restless, and I go to bed too late and awaken too early. To calm my brain last night, I downloaded an absurd game in which you play a cartoon monster who is called upon to make a series of moral choices that will affect the outcome of a brewing war between humankind and the monster world. It’s high silliness, but also interesting in that the writers didn’t always default to easy formulas—sometimes the well-intended or obviously moral choice creates a bad outcome.

Speaking of bad outcomes, Mr. Typist and I, always on the bleeding edge of pop culture, finally started watching “Breaking Bad” from the Season One a few weeks ago. What became a distraction activity to take our minds off the heat has now become an uneasy obsession for me. At first, I was all on board with Walter White wielding his long-repressed inner bad-ass in the name of caring for his family after his impending death, but now, partway into Season Three, I find him to be evil, self-deluded, and power-hungry. Here is this normally meek person who got a little bit of juice and went crazy with it. Someone who didn’t stop while he was ahead. Someone who I suspect is secretly enjoying all of the chaos he’s created. The situation his actions have caused is so horrendously awful, and he himself now so stomach-turningly rageful and immoral, the right thing to do is for me to just stop watching. But I can’t. I find the whole thing weirdly seductive and compelling. And even though he’s turned not just temporarily, innocuously bad, but truly, nihilistically bad, some part of me is still pulling for him to win. I think…I don’t know! See what this is doing to me? It’s driving me crazy. It’s too summery, too purely July, to grapple to with this level of moral relativism. I need a mental palate cleanser. I think I’ll load up a few episodes of 30 Rock. There has to be one show left in the world that doesn’t force me to come to terms with my own moral duality and the nature of human evil. (Et tu, “Dexter”!)

For various reasons, I was reading an Ethnomed article on Vietnamese culture this week, and one of the sections talked about gift-giving. Apparently in Vietnam, gifts are often refused because of “the burden of gratitude.” For a long time now, I’ve had complicated feelings about the concept of gratitude. I think that gratitude is essential in connecting us to our spirituality and our moral center. I also think it can be wielded as a blunt-force object to keep us from seeking more of what we want in our lives. We’re told over and over again from an early age that if we’re not grateful for what we have, it will be taken away from us. The implication is that asking for more than what we have is the essence of greed, which I suppose it is. I think that gratitude can be fear-based—if I dare ask more, I will lose what I have. I will stay small and quiet and humble and be happy with what is in front of me. Asking for more would be hubris. But, as a friend ebulliently stated in a recent e-mail, DREAMS ARE GOOD! And dreams, I've had a few. I’m going to start using gratitude as it’s intended—as a means to finding joy in the moment, rather than as a reason to keep me from pursuing what I want in my life.

--Kristen McHenry

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