Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Why Being “Fake” Can Be Better Than Being “Real”

I recently read a wonderful book, called Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson. He’s an accessible psychology prof who outlines in the book why self-knowledge is impossible to come by. If you want to know yourself, you need other people. And, on a note of hope for self-improvement, he argues that if you want to be a better person in any way, shape, or form, you’ve got to act the part first. In the case of self-improvement, being “fake” is not just helpful. It’s almost necessary.

His conclusion was pretty off-putting to me initially. My culture has taught me that expressing myself–my true self–is the most important thing in the world. (Dammit, it’s so important it’s divine!) My culture guides me in the worship of Myself, and constantly praises and exhorts Me in My personal decisions, regardless of their contribution or destruction to my well-being.

What I’ve recently been struck by is the assumption in all of this that I know myself. Wilson argues that I don’t and, frankly, I agree. Sometimes, I act in ways that I don’t understand. I do things i don’t really want to do. I am, truly, a stranger to myself.

This may sound cliche or sappy, but I’d argue that it’s true for everyone (it’s……UNIVERSAL!!! :O) and thus we better pay it some attention. If I don’t know Me, then maybe I should take “being true to myself” a little less seriously. If myself is an amoeba even to me, its presumable master, then maybe I should try being a little less concerned with the way I think about it (i.e. being ‘real’ and developing an ‘accurate’ concept of self) and focus more on behaving as I believe it should act (i.e. faking it and focusing on controlling my behavior, a still huge, but more modest, task).

Here’s a personal example: I want to be inclined less toward cynicism and more toward genuine kindness. To do that, I’m not going to get caught up in knowing myself, in discovering the deeply rooted cause of my cynical nature and, through some cathartic self reflection, tearing those roots from this little heart of mine. Nope. I’m gonna fake it. Because, as Wilson argues, if you want to be genuinely kind, first you’ve gotta act kind. At first, it won’t be genuine. But, if practiced long enough, it will be. I may feel like a fraud for a while, but I would rather deal with those feelings in my own private, skull-sized prison than continue being my “true” self to the potential detriment of those around me.

Something to think about!

Let Freedom Ring

"The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission."- John F. Kennedy

 
DISCUSSED HERE: 18th amendment, Nancy Hicks, Salvation Army, homelessness, Anglicans, authority, the 1920’s, freedom, Bobby’s dad, unrequited love, Scarface, speakeasies, Susan B. Anthony, “My Country Tis’ Of Thee,” BAC, America, Freedom Fighters, birth, cops, wisdom, anniversaries, beatings, Torrio, alcohol.

Ennnn nowEym drunk azzz FUKKK, kid. U hannt speriensed reel shit yet. U too yung. Jus wateil yur oldur. Den yull c how fuggin ard life rully iz. [tipsy]

On January 16, 1920, the 18th amendment was enacted. There was, needless to say, outrage. Those affected, nearly everyone, felt that their rights had been infringed upon. Appeals to the founding fathers, the principles of liberty and limited government, were frequent. The question was begged: What makes the government think that they have the authority to rid a man of the pleasure liquor brings after a hard days work?

I’m not yet born.

Bobby’s dad: 62. Walking home; hit by car. Driver’s blowing .18.

After the enactment of the 18th amendment, the American populace experienced a reminder of how strongly motivated they were by principle. Freedom, equality, prosperity, keystones upon which the founding fathers molded the country, were shown to be always present, though at times latent, in the American spirit. Around this time, scholars of American History begin to characterize the country as breeding “consumers of liberty.” These ideological foundations tilled the soil for gentlemen like Al Capone (born Alphonse Gabriel Capone, January 17, 1899) to flourish, credited by the masses as an archetypal freedom fighter.

U wanna no wut she sed ta mee? She sed I. DUN. WANNA. BE. WID. YOU. NE. MORE. She sed U. DUN. LISEN……………….U DUN. fuckin THING. STRAIT.  I dun fuggin LISTEN?!?  I dun fuggin THING STRAIT?!? Fugu, I said. ahahahahaha. Fugu, cuz u dunno sheet bout ME! [drunk; emotional]

I’m born on December 16, 1992 to Cam and Nancy Hicks, members of the Salvation Army. I grow up around alcoholics, witnessing to them, offering hope. My family abstains; in joining the Army they took an oath to forgo it. I am too young to take the oath, but I will sign when I can. It’s a good thing to do.

Mark: Blond hair, cut that day. The 22nd. First high school party. Snuck out. Socializing. In. Unconscious by 1. Kids freak out. No one calls cops. No one wants trouble. Last words, muddled, 12:59.

As the battle against prohibition raged on, Al Capone and other rebels fueled the resistance by standardizing the development of speakeasies and brewing of moonshine. Temperance activists resisted these underground tactics by appeals to authority; of note was an undertaking to rewrite the Bible, removing all references to alcoholic beverages. All in all, these attempts were futile. The American people were not going to succumb to a law they found to be illegitimate. Rather, they continued to contribute to Capone’s empire, helping him establish himself as the greatest bootlegger of the 1920’s.

It’s Christmas 1998; I just finished playing a piano duet with my little brother and we’re sitting at a cafeteria table with a bunch of older guys. One of them’s talking about how racist the PoPo is, how they threw him in jail for the night for ‘public drunkenness,’ but he knows it was just because he’s homeless and black. The other guys let out some Mmhmmm’s and It-aint-right’s. I make eye contact with my brother and take a bite of mashed potatoes. They’re pretty dry.

I no I no. u tink i crazy. U tink I dunno wut um tawkin bout cuz u no mi mind aintzactly wurkin rite. Ill tell ya this; ur crazy. UR CRAZY. Ur crazy not to. U kan tell whos rully lived bi ow much they drink. No drinkin, no livin. U cannt fuggin stand up to da world lyyke I ave an not need to jus go home and drinnnnk. You think u strong cuzucanstandtoooofaceitwidoutusinane…..fug…….but you jus dunno what u missin. Wait til ur big n strong, lyykee me. Waidil ur lyykee me. [trashed; reflective]

I’m 16, and I’m on fire for the homeless, and I’m talking with one of them on a street in Philly. He’s telling me about how he got here; how he got involved in the party scene in high school, thought it was worth giving up everything for, and eventually did just that. He’s crying and I’m just sitting there, totally attentive but not really resonating. I think he knows this but just wants to talk, and I guess all I really want to do is listen, so we just keep going. He’s getting all grandfather on me, telling me what he’d do if he was my age, what he wished he’d done differently. He forgets the anniversary of his first marriage and all seven of his kids birthdays, but he remembers the first time he had alcohol. July 4, 1968. That must have been a big deal, I say. Yeah, he says. Yeah it was.

Through partnerships like those of Capone and Johnny Torrio, the resistance against prohibition grew to an overwhelming capacity. As I was preparing the outline for this book, I asked some students in my graduate class what they thought of Mr. Capone. The responses varied immensely, but I was particularly struck by one student’s insights: “Capone was really just one of many social liberators. Thank God for King. Thank Her for Gandhi and for Anthony. With the speakeasies, and the sit-ins, and the protests, and the speeches, and the lobbyists, and the fires, and the dogs, and the beatings, and the self-restraint, and the media, and all that is good, we’ve really made it for ourselves. We pay such a small price for freedom because of people like them.” Another added, “I’ll bet Capone and Torrio had a friend or two who died of alcohol poisoning, and I’ll bet they didn’t care.”

My grandfather, who abandoned my mother: Somewhere in his late 80’s. Blind in his right eye. Back in the day, Sargent in the Salvation Army. Never took the oath. Beat my mother, 12, while he sweat out the toxins. She cried a lot and he pulled her hair. Next day, no memory. Never has apologized; never known what he’s done. Ignorance is bliss.

I’m 17 and I go to an Anglican church where they take communion and the Blood’s not Welchs. The sour taste penetrates my tongue, evoking sharp fears within me. My mother liked to talk about how one of her friends had never had alcohol in her life, but she tried it once—once—and found herself addicted. Moral: Best to just avoid it. But now I’m in church, and I haven’t avoided it, and I’m kneeling in a pew, supposed to be confessing my sins, and all I can think is “Oh my God, I’m gonna be an addict,” and I’m feeling a lot of animosity toward these Anglicans for putting me in this position.

I NO WUT IM DOOIN ISN GEWD BUT I DUN CARE. WHY SHOULDI? SHE DUN LUV ME N SHE NVR GUNNA. SHE DUN WANNN ME. OHHHH FUCKKKKKKKK SHE DONNNNN WANNNNNN MEEEEEEE. [wasted; revelatory]

It’s been two years since I was defiled by the Anglicans, and I guess I’ve changed a bit. I’m walking that fine line that my mother always talked about, and I’m pretty confident that, at least compared to other college students, I’m in really good shape. I intentionally expose myself to those PSA’s that warn against drinking, just to keep myself in check. For months at a time, I’ll abstain. My mother and I have a good relationship, and she knows about every sip. Surprisingly, she’s not too worried; she knows I learn through experimentation and that I have a good head on my shoulders. I’m not worried either—what’s adolescence but a time to learn and grow? To molt some authority and think for yourself?

“My country, ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!”
                   –A.C., before he’s Scarface, humming along with the radio while he
                    sweeps the stray hairs off the floor of his mother’s barbershop.
 
[out cold]

Revelations on Revolution

"The most important of all revolutions; a revolution of sentiments, manners, and moral opinions"- Edmund Burke

Revelations on Revolution
By David Hicks

         I want to stop Kony, and I want to do it right. No child should be forced to kill, and the process of stopping such atrocities should be as honorable as the goal itself. I am inspired by people who are passionate, and I am inspired by those who channel their passions in a sophisticated way.
 
         Accordingly, I had to spend some time wrestling with “KONY 2012,” the viral Youtube video sponsored by the organization Invisible Children.
 
         With stunning visuals, touching personal narratives, and epinephrine-producing dubstep (each reinforcing my suspicion that the IC producers are cool in a way that is not of this world), the video labored to convince me that Joseph Kony is evil incarnate. Then, it argued that he could only be stopped if I, an American, a participant of democracy, issued from my fledgling voice a resolute “NO!” and proceeded to vandalize the streets of the nearest major city.
 
         Initially onboard, I was stopped short by the criticisms that soon began circulating the media. I learned that the information in the video was misleading, that IC is a questionable steward of the money they receive, that the activism IC calls for doesn’t allow the Ugandan people to solve their own problems, and that the steps that IC is taking to stop Kony are morally ambiguous themselves.
 
         Gordon students are understandably divided about IC’s program. While I am hesitant to show my support for the organization, I respect those who champion the KONY cause. However, regardless of how one feels about the film, “KONY 2012” provides a good starting point for discussion about how Christians should approach issues of social justice.
 
         While Christians are not free to avoid doing justice, we are free to choose how. Choosing how we are going to get involved in serious moral issues, whether it’s fighting Kony or joining the Occupy campaign for the poor, is fraught with complexity. We live in an intricate world, with complex problems and complicated solutions.
 
         Christians must do their research before aligning themselves with any organization. We must be intentional about understanding what an organization is doing and how they will go about doing it. Finding answers to these questions is not always easy, but it is always necessary.
 
         “KONY 2012” also taught us the huge potential of Generation Z. Movements like KONY and Occupy are social oximeters of our generation’s energetic pulse; we live in an era that wants change, and has the tools to bring it about. Today’s Christians have the power of social media at their fingertips and the ready support of a zealous generation.
         
         Eventually, Kony will be stopped and Occupy will fade. But the lessons we learn from these revolutions will remain important as we maintain and refine our efforts toward social sanctification.

What Happened to Changing the World?

Me (right), Charles (center), and Mark (right) in LOVE park during the heyday of Project 25:35. Mark and I set up the group in high school to help the homeless in Philadelphia.

This piece was published in the Washington Post last week, in response to the question “What is the number one thing our current generation of leaders can stand to learn from the next generation?” I’d like to use this space to point out that my good friend Mark Spooner played a significant role in helping Charles get off the streets. However, I had to omit it from the final product in consideration of space and focus. 

What happened to changing the world?
By David Hicks

My loftiest dreams seemed to die when I went to college. Perhaps it was inevitable. Hard realities and cold calculations, the very foundation of scholarly pursuits, sometimes have an eerie effect on the imagination.

But only a few years before, it was this imagination that Charles liked about me. I wanted to change the world. I was passionate, visionary, angsty—and I knew it.

Charles had been homeless for 28 years, and he thrived off the Saturday mornings when a group of students would bring sandwiches and social contact. He told us our spirit was contagious. It gave him a certain hope that he didn’t find with older, more mature, people.

I met Charles in the summer of my junior year of high school, during one of my first trips into Philadelphia. I wanted to understand homelessness. He was sitting on a bench in Love Park with an approachable aura. He was 64 and black, with a huge smile that lit his tired face and forced you to smile too.

Charles’ story fueled my fantastical pursuit of world justice: 28 years ago he had lost his factory job in the city due to health issues, initiating a downhill spiral of events that included separation from his six children and the death of his wife. His life embodied my stereotype of the homeless.

Because of this, my interactions with Charles were significant for reasons that went beyond him. This homeless man, with his big grin and tragic story, was an image of unjust suffering, backed into a corner by circumstances beyond his control. I imagined that he and I, working together, would recover the shards of his broken life, and reassemble them. In so doing, we would conquer the injustices of society in the name of the homeless everywhere.

If I could repossess my youthful imagination from those high-school days, I would do it in a second.

But when I began college and visited Boston’s homeless, my visits no longer summoned the hopeful energy of my time in high school. The analytical rigor of my classroom life now prohibited me from showing men like Charles genuine warmth. My studies of the world were somehow keeping me from being a true part of it.

Overcoming this intellectual handicap on my imagination has taken a lot of work. Only recently have I begun to recover the freedom to dream again. Attaining that freedom—escaping from my calculative approach to learning—has taken conscious efforts: Now, I set aside time each day to write creatively, improvise on the piano or read some good fiction. Somehow, it helps.

Taking a break from the occasional heaviness of critical thinking has been a good thing. It lets me dream beyond the possible. It’s not about what the dream is—I find my vision of justice-for-all-of-the-homeless to be pretty unrealistic—but it’s the dreaming that is important. Dreaming invigorates our intellectual pursuits.

While the pragmatism of our elders has largely benefited society as we know it, it seems to operate without the youthful creativity that once inspired it. My generation blames these leaders for today’s problems. We look at poverty, violence, suffering, and see little more than failed systems propagated by conventional leadership. We are wary skeptics and impassioned critics. We are enemies of the same Enemy, working together to imagine alternatives to the way things are.

And while we may be impractical, we are good at dreaming. We see the value in opening our minds to what can look like pipe dreams to others. Sometimes we appear naïve, because we are naïve. But neither school, nor the larger institutional contexts of our lives as we grow up, should be designed to convince us that such naïveté is wholly a bad thing.

Charles moved to North Carolina to live with his daughter in 2009. He found her after my dad, a businessman, helped me locate and contact his daughter, raise money for his travel expenses, and prepare some information he would need on his arrival. I couldn’t have done it without my father, who understood how the world works—and he wouldn’t have done it without me, who fretted about a world that doesn’t work.

A marriage of the imaginative creativity of my generation and the practicality of my elders would be a very, very good thing.