Why I Should Become more of a Pansy

“There ain’t nothin scarier than real life. Stephen King ain’t got nothin on this.”

-My landlady

I’ve always been kind of a pansy.

There are plenty of examples that prove this:

I can’t watch The Ring because deep down a part of me is genuinely worried that that girl will climb out of the TV and scare the crap out of me before eating my soul.

Flying around in a pressurized tin can with wings that occasionally look like they’re going to snap off is more than a little unnerving for me, and its no help to remind me that flying is safer than driving because that just makes me feel like I should be more afraid of driving rather than less afraid of flying.

And this is just the “far-fetched” stuff that freaks me out. Now that I’m getting married and graduating with a degree in philosophy, I’ve got some real stuff to get scared about. Did I make the wrong decision by leaving philosophy? Did I make the wrong decision by majoring in philosophy in the first place? How will we make “enough” money? Where will we live? How will we come to agreements about these decisions in the first place?

And even if we get past all of that, there’s still some other things to be afraid of. For example, is it me or does it seem like many (perhaps even most) adults over 40ish are unhappy? Many are working jobs they don’t like or are in marriages that they are less than stoked about or do not have any serious friendships or feel fundamentally disappointed with how their life turned out or… How do I avoid falling into these traps that seem to have snagged so many people?

Now, I’ve never really been ashamed to admit that I’m a pansy or paranoid or whatever. Lately, however, there is something quite shameful that has been happening as a result of my paranoia: I’ve let my fears rule me. I’ve let them come between me and the people that I care about. I’ve let these fears blind me to why I’ve been acting a fool lately. In fact, I’ve even used them to justify my less than loving behavior.

So, I know that this has got to change, and at this point, it may seem that the best solution is to “sack up.” The problem, however, is that I’m a pansy and I am not really sure I know how to do that, nor am I even sure what it even means to sack up. So maybe this solution won’t work for me.

It seems unlikely, moreover, that I’m going to get anywhere by trying to trick myself into believing that life isn’t really that scary and that I’m just overreacting. In real life, bad things happen.  People make decisions that they regret. Or they fail to have any truly satisfying relationships. Or they die in plane crashes. Or get terminally ill. No one is going to convince me that these things don’t happen or that they are not scary when they do happen, so that route isn’t going to work either.

Since the more obvious solutions don’t really seem feasible, I think I’ll try this counter-intuitive solution: I will try to become more of a pansy. I will add one more item to the list of things that freak me out:

I want to be afraid that I will let my fear of everything else get in the way of loving my bride-to-be well while I can, of talking patiently and kindly with her and my family members about how to do this life thing together, of connecting in meaningful ways with the fantastic people around me, of striving to be motivated to help the distant “least of these,” and of appreciating the good times and weathering well the hard times of life.

I want to become more afraid of letting fear get in the way than I am of that girl from The Ring because the worst she can do is eat my soul and the worst I can do is let fear drive me to crush the spirits of those around me. I want to be more afraid of letting my fears damage my relationships than I am of poor career choices or poor housing arrangements or being poor because a wealth of healthy relationships renders irrelevant all poverty. I want to be more afraid of letting fear crowd out love than I am of living with some regrets because not all regrets are created equal.  I want to be more afraid of failing to love well than I am of dying in a plane crash because the best I can hope for in this life is to leave it knowing that I’ve been too much of a pansy to let fear crowd out love.

Why I’m Confused about my Upcoming Wedding

I’m getting married soon.

Of course, I’m super stoked about the upcoming wedding. I cannot wait to start taking the world by storm with my best friend and bride to be. I’m definitely looking forward, moreover, to kicking off our life together by celebrating with a bunch of people I deeply care about.

Perhaps surprisingly, I’m also a little confused and worried about the upcoming wedding. I’m not confused about whether I should wear a bow tie or a straight tie. (The answer is obviously a bow tie.) Nor am I confused about what food to have at the wedding. (BBQ is objectively the best choice.) My confusions and worries stem from the fact that we, as affluent residents of the first world, are constantly living in a Good Samaritan situation. Let me explain what I mean.

We live on a pretty broken planet. Some children starvesome women are forced into sexual slavery, and some men persecute those who are powerless, which often causes more starving and more slavery. This is nothing new.

We also live on a pretty connected planet. We know that the world is broken because we get live updates on our televisions, computers, smartphones, and whatever else the kids are using these days. We also have the means to intervene, to save lives, and to give people the gift of freedom with very little sacrifice on our part.

Now, here’s where I start to get confused: when I consider that the world is both broken and connected, I realize that I am always faced with a choice, a choice that is not unlike the one that the Good Samaritan faced: I, while surfing on the web, can click that button and order a DJ for my upcoming wedding or I can click that other button on that other page and send a dehydration pack to a dying child in Cambodia. Every DJ I hire is, in virtue of my residence in this broken and connected world, also a choice to let a child die. I’m constantly in a Good Samaritan situation.

Those last few sentences will probably sound crazy to most readers, but I think that this is just because the fact that we are constantly in a Good Samaritan situation is, unlike the fact that we live in a broken world, a relatively recent development. The proliferation of technology over the past few decades has been truly breathtaking, and while we have managed to pause long enough to figure out how to capitalize on the benefits of living in this connected world, we have rarely taken that additional moment to consider that these new connections might bring new challenges and new responsibilities.

…And now there’s a wedding to plan. I can choose to hire a DJ for my wedding. Or, I can take that same money and free an Indian slave. The Good Samaritan situation invited himself my wedding. Rude.

So, now you can probably start to see why I’m confused: I’m supposed to be getting married. This is supposed to be a very special day during which I have license to indulge myself, but do I really have such a licence? Do I really have the right to choose the musical delight of 150 of my closest compadres over the freedom of a human being?

At this point, some may think that my confusions and worries are misplaced. Some of my own family members have thought that I was literally slightly insane to be thinking about these sorts of questions while discussing wedding plans. (That’s ok. Their concerns about my sanity places me in good company.) So, let me for a moment try to convince you that I am not completely off my rocker.

Some might think that I’m a little off because I need to be reminded of how difficult it is to solve these problems that make up our broken world. “Poverty, slavery, and tyranny cannot be ended merely by foregoing a DJ for your wedding,” some might say, “so don’t be concerned about starving children on your wedding day.”

My reply: that’s a fair observation with a not-so-fair conclusion. Yes, poverty will not be solved by telling DJ Diggity-Dawg to go home, but I’m not talking about solving every problem ever. I’m just talking about the opportunity to give one child medical attention that may allow her to grow into adulthood or the opportunity show one person that there’s more to life than her master’s will. So, even though my choice to forego the DJ does not entirely change the world, it can definitely change someone’s life, and so, there is reason, I think, to be confused and worried about planning a wedding with a DJ in the world in which we live.

Other readers might point out that my confusions lead to “absurd” conclusions, and they might use this “fact” to show that we shouldn’t be confused about our role in this broken, connected world at all. “If what you are saying is correct,” they might say, “then that means that we shouldn’t buy anything ever and just spend all of our time and money helping poor, sick, enslaved, people. But that’s a crazy conclusion!” To such an argument, I think we might justly reply: “That’s a crazy conclusion? Are we sure about that? Because a life spent being devoted the least of these sounds an awful lot like the life that Jesus led, and aren’t we all trying to live a life that’s more like that anyway?”¹

Of course, these responses do not exhaust all of the questions some may have about my sanity, but answering all of those questions would no doubt exhaust more than all of the space that I had for this article. So, let me just say, by way of conclusion, that I don’t know the way to resolve these confusions and quiet these worries. I’m just sort of trying to figure things out as the wedding draws closer. I do know, however, that they are confusions worth exploring and worries worth praying about, and for that reason, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to share them with you.

Notes:

1. There’s a way to respond to this objection without whipping out the Jesus card. Peter Singer does a good job with this somewhere in this article. In fact, everything that I’ve said here has pretty much already been said by him. Turns out there’s not much that’s new under the sun.