Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Monday, September 20, 2010

"No one is good enough."

We all know what Camus said was the "only... serious philosophical question." I've sometimes said that I can't really relate to someone who's made it to adulthood and never considered suicide--of all the ways of dividing the world into "two kinds of people," this one seems to me one of the few real fault-lines.

Of course there is another line, between those who commit suicide, and those who survive them. Today I read a blog post at Among the Poseidonians which drove home the freezing, flailing helplessness of those on the near side of that line, and the uncanniness of despair--despair that can seem almost banal to the onlooker--that pulls people across to the far side, like an undertow.

The only thing I want to say about this is that as a parent, as a teacher, and as a thinker, this has made me think very hard (and not merely think); not about a puzzle to be solved, but about the truth of relationships we live. Other than that, I don't want to smother this in commentary, so I will just say, read this.


  1. Yes, terrible.The rest of us must say in the presence of the depressed that we would be very angry if that were visited on us and that the world would not be a better place for their being gone, that there is no summing up to be forced on the relict. Nobody has the right to drop anyone into that ocean of guilt. Now with the latest recession the figures for suicide (Ireland)are going up and the media love to lay on the misery. The radio is particularly full of it. It does no good.

  2. Very interesting post (I'm sorry I am reacting just now). I understand the point about having considered suicide and of the depth of these considerations. Not having asked oneself the question seems to imply a naive approach to life. What can we "offer" in place of that? On the one hand, I believe, the *fact* that one's wellbeing (and happiness) is possibly his/her most important contribution to the world around him/her. On the other, the belief that Judas has not been condemned for his betrayal, but for his lack of faith. What arguments do you use, as teacher, parent, etc.?

  3. Hi Elisa. Thank you for this. I am glad to get responses to posts at any time. Sometimes I wind up revisiting my conclusions and considerably modifying them.

    You raise more than one issue. Theologically, I think the story of Judas is one of the dark and troubling corners of the Christian narrative. The longer you look into it, the deeper and more unsettling it gets. It is not by chance that people were so fired up by the appearance of the so-called "Gospel of Judas" a while back; we had been primed during the 20th century by a large number of reinterpretations of Judas (from Kazantzakis to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber). To my mind the most striking instance of such modern midrash is Mario Brelich's The Work of Betrayal. In short, while I think it is true that the theologians' consensus is that Judas despaired, I am not sure the Gospels themselves uphold this; it seems quite clear in John's Gospel at least that the betrayal is front and center, and indeed fated.

    As to what one says as a teacher: mercifully, I have not yet been put through the fire of being confronted by a suicidal student. I am keenly aware that there are such, though. I am very wary of "clinicizing" the issue -- of barging into young people's lives with hamfisted concerns, armed with pamphlets. As Poseidonian's post makes clear, it is not always enough to try to cultivate an honest relationship with youth, and yet I do not have a better answer than that honest, attuned care for each student that comes my way. If that sounds lame, it may well be. One thing I would say in its defense is that my educational model does nothing but cultivate relationships with students; it is not concerned with grades, or core curriculum, or anything but a long-term back-and-forth friendship between two human beings. In such a context it is far easier to talk about suicide (or, say, sex, or any other traditionally awkward topic) than it is in the public school context.

    I am also a strong supporter of Dan Savage's brilliant It Gets Better campaign (which to be sure targets only a subset of potential teen suicides, but a large one and an easily identifiable one); and I am interested in Contextual-Conceptual Therapy, being developed by Fredric Matteson. (I am wary of claims about "conceptual breakthroughs," but Matteson's presentation is at least prima facie compelling.)

    I should also respond to something Ombhurbhuva said which, I note, I let go by at the time: "the media love to lay on the misery. The radio is particularly full of it. It does no good." He is referring to news stories, but it brought to mind a remark I read recently (from High Fidelity by Nick Hornby):

    People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands — literally thousands — of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.

    I am not about to banish the poets, but I think Hornby (or rather Rob, his narrator) raises a legitimate question.

  4. Sorry for asking an OT question, but how do you cope with performance-oriented students and parents? How do you answer to reproaches such as that your person-to-person approach takes time out of frontal teaching and the like?