Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.

 

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September 7th, 2010

daily-affirmations-flashOK, I know I’m a little obsessed with self-control research (see my recent posts on Dogging Self-Control and Commitment Strategies 101) but PsyBlog recently posted a fascinating tidbit: Positive affirmations can replenish your self-control.

In a study published last year in the Journal of Personal Social Psychology, participants were asked to write a short essay about something that was important to them-their core values, their relationships etc. But half of the participants had to write this essay without using the letters ‘a’ and ‘n’ while the other half could use the entire alphabet.

Proving yet again that self-control is a resource that gets depleted over time, when folks were then asked to submerge their hands in a bucket of ice-water, those that didn’t have to previously exert self-control were able to hold their hands in the freezing, painful water for longer.

But here’s where it gets interesting: Among the group that had exerted self-control in their essay writing, some were instructed to reaffirm good things about themselves – thinking about what makes them proud, focusing on the positives – and for those folks, their self-control recovered quickly and they were able to hold their hands in ice-water …

September 2nd, 2010

Friday night was, for the first time in a while, a much-needed night for Shabbat. And while I had plans to go to an 80’s dance party with my one roommate Annie, I still had to ask Farrah what she was doing for Shabbos.

Photo Credit: Sam Felder

Photo Credit: Sam Felder

“I’m going to dinner at this really cool family’s house. Want to come?!”

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I looked for a Shabbos outfit that could somehow translate to 80’s in case I could milk both events for the night. My unruly, curly hair worked out either way.

I got to dinner at 9 pm (Shabbos starts late in the summer) with Stella in hand. About two dozen people were in the apartment, waiting for dinner to start. I was immediately taken back to all the times I kept Shabbat, and how meaningful they were for me.

With phone off, reciting prayers I can only recite with transliteration, good food and meeting new people, I forgot all about the 80’s party I planned to go to, and wasn’t all that upset to miss it. It was past midnight when I left, walking home without thinking about taking the lazier …

August 31st, 2010

lalupe-a_life_of_significanceWe regularly receive the Houston Catholic Worker newspaper and the latest issue contained a big surprise.  The couple that founded Casa Juan Diego, the Houston Catholic Worker, is having another book released in November.

If I tried to tell you about the myriad of services that Casa Juan Diego offers there is really no way of doing it justice.  It is a house of hospitality for undocumented women, children, and men.  They have an ever-growing huge ministry helping the undocumented sick and injured.  They have food and clothing distributions several times a week for the community.  They have clinics with a variety of doctors and dentists that donate their time.  They have a big organic garden that provides food for all these different houses.  They print a newspaper.  And the list goes on and on.  Somehow the couple that runs the place has found time to write another book.  It’s truly amazing.  These people really work and live as if everything depended on it.

After Brandon and I read through this paper and pre-ordered their new book, we just sat in our living room staring at each other.  When you hear about a life like this that is so clearly …

August 27th, 2010

The big thing in the news right now is the debate on the Islamic center in lower Manhattan.  I have to say that I’ve been struggling for a few days with what to say on this topic, but too much has been going on to not say anything.  After all, if I write a blog for an online magazine for spiritual seekers, it’s kind of hard not to comment on an issue that focuses so much on faith.

I do have to say that my first response to this issue was not as of a spiritual seeker, not as someone who is devoting his life to religious life, but as someone who is an American.  It was hard for me to not see this as a freedom of religion issue.  While I do understand the arguments by some who are against this project—those of course who are not obviously using the issue to stoke fear for their own political gain by calling us down to our lowest common denominator instead of up to our highest values—I would still have to argue that the Bill of Rights does not exist because it assumed that people of different faith traditions would usually …

August 26th, 2010

vv-lovetrustonline-flash2bTrust is a crucial element of a successful relationship, experts tell us. But sometimes, as President Ronald Reagan said, “trust but verify.”

According to a new nationally representative study of nearly a thousand British married couples, nearly half the time, at least one member of the couple is snooping on the other’s internet and email activities.

Reports PsyBlog, respondents told researchers it was unacceptable if

their partner fell in love online (90%)
had cybersex with someone else (84%)
flirted with someone else (69%)
or communicated relationship troubles with someone else (70%)

And perhaps unsurprisingly, women were more likely to be concerned about potential online transgressions, and more likely to do the snooping.

Most common ways to snoop?

Reading emails
Reading text messages
Checking web browser history and trolling the cache

Now, remember, this might be a vast under-reporting, because if you’re stealthy enough to do all this snooping, you’re clever enough not to go telling people-even researchers-about the details.

So are you being watched by someone who claims to love and trust you? Probably. Does that weird you out? Join the club.…

August 25th, 2010

bacon-lightswitchesIf only it were that simple. If only considering to live with a non-observant Jew and a Catholic was only about not cooking bacon in the apartment and keeping the light on in the bathroom during Shabbat.

I spent an hour on the phone with Monica gauging Annie’s love of bacon and her knowledge of the rules of the Sabbath. Even before my kosher-keeping days I’ve had an aversion to bacon. Once, while staying with a friend and her then boyfriend, I sat on top of their couch with my head hanging out the window while they made Sunday brunch: eggs and bacon. While complaining about my bacon-induced nausea, Monica confessed her distaste for shrimp after a college roommate had Costco-sized cravings. Okay. No shellfish, no pork. Check.

“But what about Shabbat?” I asked. Would Annie find it odd that I wouldn’t turn the lights on and off from sundown Friday till nightfall Saturday? “Annie is the nicest, most easy-going person. She won’t think you’re crazy,” Monica reassured me. Okay. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. Until, of course, I was left with my thoughts and over a week later it dawned on me – what about

August 24th, 2010

sweatlodgeIt’s been nearly a year since three people died and dozens more were injured during a self-help retreat led by the now-infamous James Arthur Ray. At the time, I wrote a piece in The Washington Post and was outspoken about the fact that, although we’d like to write them off as New Age wackos, the folks who stayed in a steamy sweat lodge well past when it was physically safe were just like you and me: Seekers who were smart, educated and interested in pushing themselves to achieve greater things.

In this month’s SELF magazine Shepelavy has a terrific piece about the lessons we can all learn from last year’s deaths. Roxanne and I logged in several hours of talk time over the last few months as she crafted the piece, “When Self-Help Harms,” and she did an excellent job. (Yes, I’m quoted extensively, but I don’t rave about all the pieces that quote me, lemme tell ya!)

Check it out here—and, because it’s always more fun to read glossy magazines than words on a screen, buy the September issue in hard copy.

Self-help doesn’t have to be harmful, but too often gurus lead enthusiastic people astray. I …

August 20th, 2010

You may have been following my adventures at Rendezvous with G-d, from covering a website for religious Jews seeking extramarital affairs, to interviewing Muslim women and their views on wearing veils. You might remember stories about my personal life, some of which were so personal I chose to later take it down. And today, I close a small chapter of this blog, and open a new one as I move out again. This time I am moving to Brooklyn with a (non-practicing) Catholic and (semi) observant Jew. And more difficult than finding the apartment, might be how to live in the apartment with such varying religious traditions.
So meet the girls who have decided to take this interreligious journey with me. They too will now be contributing to Rendezvous with G-d, as the three of us use our day-to-day living as material for this blog. What will happen if one of us forgets and breaks an important law during Shabbat? Will we get scared of the religious man torching our kitchen in order to make it Kosher? Will one of us become more, or less, religious during this experience? These are all the questions we ourselves are curious to …

August 19th, 2010

emailforwards-flashThe dreaded email forwards.  Pictures of puppies wearing hats, drawings of angels, images of sunsets.  I don’t get a lot of these emails except for the occasional prayer chain letter from my mom.  But poor Brandon gets a lot of them.  I think it’s because he likes computers so people think he will like any email sent to him.   Usually they are pretty harmless.  The ones that I can’t stand are the ones the spread ignorance and intolerance.

Brandon recently received an email forward from a person that he knows in a professional capacity.  I won’t repeat the exact email but it was a joke about Mexicans that insinuated that they are all lazy and should go back to Mexico.

Let’s put aside for a moment that this man sent this email to my husband knowing full well that I’m Mexican-American.

What makes me mad is that the people who write things and forward things like this are not putting any thought into their opinion.  They are not making logical arguments or good points or adding anything to the immigration debate except unfiltered xenophobia and prejudice.  There are many opinions about immigration and many different solutions but calling immigrants lazy …

August 19th, 2010

market-morality-flashAre Shoppers Fairer? asked John Tierney in his New York Times column and blog.

Do markets and morality – as we like to definite fairness in modern societies – reinforce one another? Does shopping at Wal-Mart, as the fair-minded people in Missouri do, strengthen one’s tendency to follow the golden rule in dealing with strangers?

Turns out that in a multi-country anthropological experiment, Americans shoppers scored higher in a test of fairness toward strangers than those surveyed in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The researchers played the game “dictator” with folks around the world: The person who is in the “dictator” role is given a sum of money and told they can keep it all, give it all away or share some part of it with another player, whose identity remains secret.

How much would you give? Half? A bit less than half?

That’s what standard American ideas of fair would suggest… but that’s not necessarily everyone’s definition of equity. Some nomad communities would only share a quarter of the prize. Indeed, the study finds, “most hunter-gatherers, foragers and subsistence farmers were less inclined to share.”

Why? Tierney explains:

In explaining attitudes toward fairness, Dr. …

August 18th, 2010

How does the Church really feel about games of chance? Tune in to hear what Fr. Larry and Fr. Dave have to say……

August 17th, 2010

narcissism-flashAre college students today more narcissistic than their peers from previous generations?

Based on the results of the narcissistic personality inventory, a standardized test that has been given to students at the University of South Alabama over the last 15 years, the answer is a resounding yes.

“I’m extremely confident,” San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge told Discovery News. “I think these analyses end the debate completely. It’s clear narcissism is rising.”

But is this inventory the best judge of narcissism-and what does that really even mean? Narcissistic personalities are usually defined as people who think very highly of themselves, are self-absorbed and have unrealistic views about their own qualities and little regard for others.

Sounds like every Millennial you know, right? Well, you may fit the bill, too.

Take the inventory for yourself here and here.

Narcissism is most certainly not a virtue. But as a vice, it may be one of most common throughout history. Younger Americans, however, have been raised on a steady diet of self-esteem boosting. After getting a gold star for every effort, no wonder young-adults are tipping the scales of this inventory.

Regardless of your age, if you’re a true …

August 13th, 2010

isitworthit-flashI recently had a conversation with an old friend who was thinking about making some major life decisions without telling her family about it.  She knew they would disapprove and she didn’t want to deal with them.  She justified it by saying that she believed in what she was doing and just wanted to do it and tell everyone later.

This is a tough issue.  There is great tension between wanting to be independent, to be your own person, to make your own decisions and your responsibility to your family.

After 25 years of having to figure out what to share and not share with my family, it’s still a tough call each time.  I know that I don’t want to have to lie to my family so I try not hide things that I’ll have to lie about to cover it up but at the same time I don’t tell them every detail about my life.  It’s one thing to get a tattoo that you never tell mom about because hopefully she’ll never see it.  It’s quite another thing to elope and move out of state saying adios to the family through your rear view mirror as your drive …

August 12th, 2010

courageunderpressure-flashIf the pilot of your plane has a heart attack mid-air, could you land the plane? With the help of some calm, fast-thinking air traffic controllers, Doug White of Archibald, La., was able to land the plane — saving both his own life and the life of his family.

You probably didn’t hear about this story–from more than a year ago–or the brief media mentions of the Archie League Medal of Safety Award that the National Air Traffic Controllers Association gave Brian Norton and Lisa Grimm for talking Mr. White through a harrowing situation on Easter Sunday 2009. But when I come across stories of courage like this, I think it’s important to highlight them, no matter when they happened.

Mr. White knew how to fly a smaller, less complex type of aircraft, so that helped, but in the audio tapes of the event, you can hear the fear in his voice. 

According to CBS News, the controllers on the ground stayed calm, instructing

GRIMM: “We’re going to have you hand-fly the plane…Hold the yoke level and disengage the autopilot.”
WHITE: “Alright, I disengaged it. I’m flying the airplane by hand… You find me the …

August 11th, 2010

Part of our Catholic tradition involves a concept known as “natural law,” a term used to describe a “right” ordering to the universe.  As a life-long Yankees fan I had never had any trouble understanding that concept, especially during the late nineties, where World Championships were like Christmas… they happened every year.  It was a “right ordering” of the universe that had never really been challenged: some teams are usually up, some teams are usually down, and no matter how good the Boston Red Sox ever get, they will always play second fiddle to the greatest sports franchise in world history (Manchester United be damned).

So you can imagine my… my… what’s the word… “shock” and “surprise” just seem too soft to describe the experience of having one’s entire universe re-ordered… abject horror when, in 2004 the Boston Red Sox overcame a three game deficit—something NO TEAM had ever done in either baseball or basketball—to win the American League Championship Series (ALCS) against my beloved Bronx Bombers.

Fenway_CrowdBut it didn’t make sense to me…. in years past it seemed as though that the Lord Almighty always intervened to ensure that His favorite team on the planet would end up …

August 10th, 2010

Beerbelly-flashHere’s some visual amusement — to make you laugh or cry.

Check out this map, from the good folks at Sociological Images. The red parts of the map are locations where there are more bars than grocery stores. The yellow parts of the map are where grocery stores outnumber bars.

Hmmmm.

After nearly three years at the University of Iowa, this map seems about accurate: Midwestern college towns must have bars outnumbering grocery stores by a margin of 10 to 1. Indeed, it’s fitting that this research comes out of the University of Wisconsin:

beerbelly-mapAccording to my totally unscientific online research, La Crosse, Wisconsin is home to more than 360 bars and holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most bars per capita and most bars on one street. In Medford, Wisconsin, apparently there’s one bar for every 455 people.

And I see a little cluster around what might be my current hometown in Pittsburgh. Indeed, given how hard it is to buy alcohol outside of a bar in Pennsylvania, I’d expect to see the whole state light up red.

While you might think that places with more grocery stores than bars would be more virtuous, …

August 9th, 2010

KS_EatPrayAustinI had exactly seven days left in Austin and I had not yet eaten the second greatest burger in Texas according to Texas Monthly Magazine.  Why I thought I would have room in my stomach for the second greatest burger in Texas I do not know… the last few weeks had been a gastrointestinal marathon of good-bye lunches, dinners, and breakfasts with the good parishioners of St. Austin Parish.  Not that I was an unwilling participant in all of restaurant hopping, mind you.

One of my favorite Paulist preachers here in Washington, DC used to be the rector of our parish in Rome.  One of the reasons I like his preaching so much is that he usually has great stories to tell, especially on the topic of saints; he almost always comes up with some interesting aspect of the saint’s life that’s not usually found in the official listing.  But it is obvious where his heart is because many of his homilies start out with the phrase, “There is this church in Rome…”  I only bring that up here because I can imagine a time in the future in which I repeatedly fall into the trap of starting most …

August 6th, 2010

lalupe-pilgrimage-flashWe’ve all heard that life is a great pilgrimage.  But a pilgrimage to what?  The pastor of a church here in Austin has in his email signature line “Working to beat hell”.  That’s what I hope my pilgrimage is.  To heaven.  To God.  To Infinite Love.  Sometimes we have to make specific journeys to find this more deeply, though.

I’ve been lucky to find some great friends and to find love in these communities but there is something different about feeling the love of family.  It’s a different connection; a blood connection; a connection that is part of you.  I know a lot of people probably don’t feel this all the time and I am one of them.  Family relationships can be complicated and messy sometimes.

I have a huge extended family with 14 aunts and uncles and countless cousins and everyone in everyone else’s business.  They aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I love them dearly.  I’ve always felt on the outside of them but have always really ached for their approval and affection.

Whenever we go back to El Paso to visit La Lupe and the fam I always feel like it is a pilgrimage.  …

August 5th, 2010

help-flashIn the last year, at least six Cornell University students have committed suicide, with the most recent death in March. Back in the late 1990s, there was a similar wave of suicides, giving the university a reputation as a “suicide school.” While that’s a little bit unfair–yes, it’s cold and dark and dreary in Ithaca during the winters–Cornell has developed an admirably open and proactive mental health approach to its problem.

Suicides are awful — and suicides among young, bright students with so much potential? It’s that much more heart-wrenching. Yet somehow, news of these deaths has sparked excellent conversations about recognizing depression in teens.

Amid these recent tragedies, Cornell president David Skorton wrote a beautiful letter to his community, reminding them:

If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and strength.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are about 7 suicides for every 100,000 college students each year. As a college professor, I try to be open and available to my students if they want to talk about personal problems-and in my classes, we discuss the encouraging social change toward open discussion of …

July 29th, 2010

Over the past few weeks, I have been on a culinary tear through the “Cheap Eats” Capital of the world: Austin, Texas .  You see, on the east Coast, cupcakes are NOT served out of a trailer.  On the east Coast, our idea of barbecue involves defrosting hot dogs in a microwave. On the East Coast, a breakfast taco is simply when you eat leftovers from Chili’s the following morning.  So I have been spending these last days in Austin frantically visiting all of my favorite places… Amy’s Ice Cream, Torchy’s Tacos, Taco Deli, Iron Works… you name it.  Someday I’m going to write a book about my experiences over these past few weeks: I’m going to call it “Eat, Pray, Austin.”

But if I stop to reflect, there’s a reason I have been so frantic about visiting all of my favorite Austin eateries.  That’s because I’m imagining a day in the not-too-distant future… when I’m back in my seminary in DC… a day in which I will be craving a jalapeno-and-cheese sausage… and it will be chicken again for dinner.  On that day, all I will be left with will be the eternal words of Mick Jagger: “You Can’t …

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