Teens & the Magical Thinking of “I wasn’t doing anything wrong”

There is a common form of thinking about life – if I am careful and do everything “right” then nothing bad will/can happen – which is clearly magical thinking.

Teens exhibit this behavior a lot when they tell their parents not to worry because “nothing bad is going to happen.”   They go off sure of themselves, that simply by doing the right thing, or even by intending to do the right thing, or by assuming they won’t do the wrong thing, that everything will be alright.   Some say it is why we send young people off to war – the old codgers know how badly things can go for the right.

And teens are often stunned by how badly things can go.

But it is not only teens who have this thinking, for it carries into adulthood for many.  If only I am “good” everything will be alright. How astonished people are when bad things happen anyway.  How angry they are at God and the world when things go wrong.

This magical thinking causes them to believe that God must protect them if they do no wrong, or if they haven’t imagined that something could go wrong.  Yet they have car accidents, and people get injured, all because they are sure that nothing bad will happen.  How many people have been shot or shot someone because they didn’t think the gun was loaded?   Nothing bad can happen if you don’t intend to do wrong – right?

But it is purely magical thinking to imagine that accidents don’t happen if you are doing everything “right.”   Or to imagine that Tsunamis and earthquakes and accidental needle stabs don’t happen.

Some however go through life imagining that their “good” behavior is somehow controlling the universe and keeping evil at bay.  In teens this is dangerous because they can’t foresee that bad things might happen anyway.  Be as cautious as you want, but the guy approaching you from the right may be a wild card in the game of life. 

I think the difference between teens who get into lots of trouble and those who don’t lies in the caution that some learn – bad things can happen even if you are trying to do right, so be alert and be cautious; no matter what your intentions are be a defensive driver.  I don’t much believe in luck, though a few seem to get more than a fair share of “passes” in life.  And for some as the song says, if it weren’t for bad luck they’d have no luck at all.  But it also seems like they have a harder time foreseeing some of the bad things that can happen no matter how “right” you are being.

I’m not saying that “being good” is of no value.  It is of the utmost value, but it is not magic.  But many forces in life and many people on earth do not subscribe to its power and the rest of us do not live in a vaccuum.

It is a hard lesson to realize that I am not in control of the universe – that not everything and everyone is relying on me not to be wrong, not to make a mistake.  And it is also true that decisions we make do impact what happens.  “Sh-t happens” – something alcoholics do not connect to their own behavior.   But our intentions and our being right are not the magic that control the universe, even though they can have some influence on a small scale, and even when we can get well into old age imagining that we can ward off evil simply by doing things right.  But read history – invasions happen, so too civil war, floods, fire, plagues and untimely/unprepared for death. 

Being good and choosing the right have their own value – eternally as well as for society.   They are however not magic.  An individual’s having good intentions, following all the rules and not doing anything wrong are in fact valuable for people and relationships and the world.  But they are not an infallible and omnipotent magic that can control all the forces and all the people of the planet.

Jesus is Lord, Just Not a Gentile One

When I think about how bishops behave through scandal which touches their own ranks, I think about this:

“In BIRTH OF THE CHAORDIC AGE, Dee Hock, the founder of the VISA credit card company, illustrates how hierarchical command-and-control institutions alienate and dishearten people within them.  He writes, ‘The organization of the future will be the embodiment of community based on shared purpose calling to the higher aspirations of people.’”   (R. Ascough & C. Cotton, PASSIONATE VISIONARY: LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM THE APOSTLE PAUL)

And I recall our Lord Jesus Christ’s own words:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28)

What Dee Hock thought was the leadership of the future, Christ taught long ago.  What Hock describes as a command-and-control institution is what the Church uncritically adapted from the Constantinian Roman Empire.

The Church is the organization of the future, for it has no other purpose but the Kingdom of Heaven.  But the Church needs to re-embrace the values of the Kingdom of God, rather than following the ways of the world.  Perhaps this is the lesson God is teaching us through the OCA’s scandal, and perhaps He is pointing to the OCA and telling us through this scandal I am giving you opportunity to embrace Gospel leadership rather than imperial leadership.

See also my  Bishops are in the Church not Over It