“Acedia” raises its head alongside COVID-19. And it’s okay.

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Accidia, from Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1450–1515, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Last Four Things, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

COVID-time. The sensation of endless days and weeks that speed by. I lose track of time. The sameness. Same-ness. Same.ness.

Medieval monks knew a similar affliction. They called it acedia after the Greek “akidía.”

Toiling in the desert in the hot afternoon sun with their repetitive tasks, they grew listless; focus and interest faded; energy waned. They sought the oblivion of resting in their cool cells.

Over the centuries, acedia (accedie, accidie, accidia) has shape-shifted. Or, rather, I should say that pinning it down has proven elusive. From its inception, acedia has been infused with the particular culture and knowledge…

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King Philip’s War, Internet Archive Book Images, no restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons; see below for text accompanying image

America is in a battle for who gets to hold the truth

True or false:

A group of Satan-worshipping elites run a child sex ring and are trying to control US politics and media.

When asked, fewer than half of Americans answered false. Seventeen percent claimed it was true and another 37% just weren’t sure. After the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 72% of Republicans still questioned the election results.

I am wondering: how can this be? …

What happens when we refuse to acknowledge the impacts of our actions

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“Lifetime calendar” by SantaRosa OLD SKOOL is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yesterday I cried. That is, as much as my stoic self would allow in these forlorn times.

What would you shout from a mountaintop in the aftermath of an attack on our Capitol? Outrage, fear, grief? Your despondency? An intimate knowing of unsurprise?

My shout is oddball. I want people to understand how change really happens. It is literally killing us not to understand.

“Wake up!” I would shout. “What you do always matters. In ways you may not know.”

The true nature of change

We are often taught that change happens according to an if-then statement.

What we see is what we get

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Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

In a recent post entitled “The ‘racial wealth gap’ is a class gap” Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias writes, “what’s the point of talking about a ‘racial wealth gap’ as opposed to simply a gap between the wealthy and the non-wealthy?” He points out that most white people aren’t wealthy, but very wealthy people tend to be white. The very rich people make the “average” white person look richer than they really are.

That’s true. But the next step he takes is onto a shakier foundation: if you exclude wealthy white people, Black and white wealth looks about the same.


A Christmas letter to the world

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“Monopoly money at Christmas” by HowardLake is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Complex systems are worlds where there is no direct cause and effect, and where small changes can make a big difference. Let’s suppose Jeff Bezos caught the Christmas spirit instead of COVID, and with a small-ish gesture, set in motion a new economic order.

I’ve been thinking.

So many stories warn about greed. There’s Midas, whose love for gold turned his daughter lifeless; the Grinch who stole the kids’ Christmas toys; and Ebenezer Scrooge’s terrifying witness of his future lonely death. All three were redeemed in the end, having learned their lessons.

It’s hard to take those warnings seriously in…

“What we’re finding is power diminishes all varieties of empathy”

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“Private Greed, Social Need” by nyctomanica is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Have you checked out the New York Times’s interactive graphic that lets you see where you are in the line for a COVID-19 vaccine? I’m standing near the end — only 278 million people ahead of me.

We know where there’s a line, there are line jumpers. Oh sure, we have painstakingly deliberated plans for who gets the still rare vaccines and new treatments such as the cocktails Trump received. We’re even starting to ration hospital beds. Watch — reports of line-jumpers will start to come out of the woodwork. …

We must begin to understand and talk about freedom differently

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Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62–123456]

Has the American fixation with individualism met its match in COVID? A friend, whose parents want to see her for Christmas, is struggling with whether or not to travel. She wrote to me “It’s just devastating that I’ve been putting the common good ahead of myself this whole time and there are still so many idiots.”

It is frustrating to sacrifice for the good of others when others do not reciprocate. Imagine being a healthcare worker.

I know nurses who leave work every day and cry in their car before they go home to see their kids. …

Republicans are playing for a victory in name only

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From “A Comic History of Rome, Pyrrhus arrives in Italy with his Troupe,” John Leech, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You probably know the phrase won the battle but lost the war. What about pyrrhic victory?

Around 280 BC, King Pyrrhus of Greece had the audacity to invade Italy. With 25,000 men and 20 elephants, he secured two victories against the Romans. Quite the warrior! But at a heavy cost. He lost 7,500 of his most elite fighters, whom he could not replace. The troops were demoralized for not having vanquished the Romans in the first two campaigns. Pyrrhus lamented “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”

A pyrrhic victory is…

What do we choose not to see?

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photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

I wrote a version of this story back in July, reminded by this powerful narrative of Bruce MacGillis, a nursing home resident in Ohio. I encourage you to read his story, even if you read no further on mine.

When something harrowing happens, like a mass shooting, it is natural to try to make sense of it. That sense-making often lands on “this is not who we are.” It’s comforting to see the violence as an aberration. We need not shift our world view. If the event is singular, then this response might be appropriate.

But when it happens repeatedly…

stacy becker

Offering perspectives on complex problems challenging humankind.

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