Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lessons to be Learned: Greed, Obsession, Critical Thinking

    In the event featuring Odds Bodkin, we are expertly told in an exciting and fun way the first book of Homer’s epic The Iliad. The story is told with a mix of music and with different voices for the many characters enabling us to more fully engage ourselves in and better visualize the story. The Iliad is an ancient Greek story about the Trojan War brought about when Helen of Sparta, daughter to the king, is kidnaped by Paris of Troy, the prince of Troy, which is also brought about by an argument between the Greek goddesses. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a woman with a psychological condition is made to live in a room that happens to have a yellow wallpaper with and infuriating pattern that serves to further drive the woman mad. In “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a renowned scientist searches for and find a wife who he sees as perfect except for one imperfection, a birthmark that looks like a small hand on the left side of her face; the man then attempts to use his knowledge to remove the mark. In “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth, a man is walking one night feeling alone and notices the stars becoming obsessed with them, whenever he feels alone he just remembers the stars. Many common themes appear in all or most of these works and several values of Jesuit education can even be found in the works.
    One of the common themes in the stories is greed. Greed is one of the Catholic’s seven sins obviously seen as harmful to spirituality but represented in these stories as even physically harmful to oneself and to others. In The Iliad the Trojan war begins as the result of two separate acts of greed and is followed by other acts of greed that are harmful to the Greek army. The war begins when three goddesses are greedily fighting over the apple of discourse and Athena makes a deal with Paris of Troy to say she is the fairest thus getting the apple. In making the deal Paris gets the love of Helen resulting in battle between the Greeks and the Trojans. Nine years later Agamemnon the leader of the Greeks has taken the daughter of a priest and his refusal to return her results in the priest’s patron deity Apollo to strike the camp with a plague resulting in many deaths leaving the army weak. Further weakening the army is the loss of their best warrior Achilles who refuses to fight because after being force to give up the priest’s daughter he selfishly takes Achilles’ lover. In “The Birthmark” Aylmer has what he refers to as the perfect wife except for one small flaw and he is driven by a greed for perfection to remove the mark but in doing so inadvertently kills his wife. This represents the Christian belief that if you are greedy in this life you may amass wealth or power, but in the next life you will be left with nothing. Aspects of greed can even be seen in “The Yellow Wallpaper” when the woman has become obsessed with the paper she decides she will be the only one to “unlock it.” As a result of this she hid what she was doing from the doctor and by the time he discovered this she had already gone mad. This shows that greed can cause mental harm as well as physical and spiritual harm to a person or even to others. This conflicts strongly with the Jesuit values of “Cura Personalis” showing that we need to be generous in our live toward others or risk harm in any of the three aspects that make us who we are.
    The theme of obsession is another theme present in all of the works and is represented as possibly being good or harmful to us depending on whether it consumes use or if we utilize it simply as an asset. In The Iliad men’s obsession of women consumes them Paris of Troy in taking Helen from Sparta begins a war for a single woman that lasts for more than ten years resulting in the deaths of many who may not have wanted the war. Agamemnon is also consumed by an obsession of women and his entire army has a result with the refusal to fight by Achilles and the devastation of a plague in the camp. This shows how a single mans obsession can result in the suffering of many people and disturbing parallels can be drawn toward Hitler, who in his obsession of creating a pure Aryan race, committed genocide of eleven million people, six million of which were Jewish. In “The Yellow Wallpaper the woman becomes obsessed with the wallpaper, always trying to figure out the pattern she drives herself to the breaking point mentally since she was already in a fragile mental state. Today there are people who become obsessed with something such as a sport and as a result may improve greatly but the obsession must be monitored as doing too much can result in malnutrition or in bodily injury. In the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” the man became obsessed with the star as he was feeling lonely and later feeling lonely again remembers the stars to make himself feel better. This is an example where an obsession can appear to be more of a hobby and can aid rather than harm a person. In “The Birthmark” Aylmer is obsessed with getting rid of the Birthmark on his Georgiana’s left cheek and he works for hours persistently trying different concoctions eventually getting one that works. This is another example of how an obsession can be used as an asset as opposed to letting it consume you. Finding something that you are driven to do often means becoming obsessed with it which can be a significant aid in pursuit of that goal but in cases of poor judgment or of overexertion can result in harmful or horrendous results.
    The final thing that almost all of these stories have in common is that each story has a portion in it where there is a lack of critical thinking of what certain actions may bring about. In The Iliad both Paris of Troy and Agamemnon show absolutely no critical thinking of their actions before making them. If Paris had thought about his action of kidnaping the daughter of  a king he would have realized that the king would take it as a personal insult whether Helen, wanted to go or not, and would result in war. If Agamemnon would have thought about the action of insulting a priest of Apollo and even Apollo himself an immortal of Olympus just like Zeus who protects Agamemnon he would not have made this rash decision. The decision resulted in the deaths of many men and devastated the camp. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” If the woman had decided to tell the doctor everything about the wallpaper she would have been taken from the room and would not have kept quiet while she slowly became mad. In “The Birthmark” It is Aylmer’s lack of foresight that allows him to overlook the long term effects of the concoction that he gave to his wife resulting in her death. If he had just decided to check his work he would have save his wife’s life. These stories show that just like greed carelessness or a lack of critical thinking can result in harm not only to ourselves but to others around us.
The works that we have read for class and the first book of The Iliad performed by Bodkin all have very valuable lessons in common that relate to the ideals of Jesuit education. The lesson about obsessions has the most middle ground argument the positives and the negatives are roughly split between the stories. Obsessions with certain things such as an academic subject or a physical activity are perfectly normal and help us to excel in that area of interest. It is important however to keep in mind that everything must be moderated in our lives and if we work too much at something we could harm ourselves or even others. An easy way to help prevent ourselves from harming others is to stop and think, to think critically, about the actions we are about to take. This practice could also be used academically to think about whether we should have fun or finish the work that is due. Finally these stories taught us about another aspect relating to Christian ideals, greed has long been seen as a sin but gained a new level of severity with Judas. These stories almost all represent how harmful greed can be to ourselves and especially to those around us. With these small lessons largely unobserved in the stories by those not looking for them we get a reminder and examples of some good and bad practices and the benefits and repercussions, respectively, that can result.

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