August 3, 2007

Because of Kelly Clarkson, and C.S. Lewis

Posted in Culture at 10:49 pm by Caleb Winn

As I drove home this afternoon, I heard Because of You, by Kelly Clarkson, on the radio. For those not familiar with the song, it’s a pretty powerful tirade against her father, blaming him for much of what has gone wrong in her life. The chorus goes:

Because of you
I never stray too far from the sidewalk
Because of you
I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt
Because of you
I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me
Because of you
I am afraid

As I listened to this song, my initial reaction is to say that we, and we alone, are responsible for our character. Other people may certainly act towards us, but they cannot force any reaction to their actions. If somebody treats me poorly, I can respond poorly in kind, but I need not do so. Is my poor reaction, then, really their fault?

Can Kelly Clarkson blame her dad for a life of fear and mistrust, or is she responsible for her responses to his actions?

As I thought about this issue — if you’re stuck in traffic there is little do to but ponder the philosophical implications of pop music — I thought of C.S. Lewis’ argument in The Abolition of Man, regarding waterfalls. His point seems to be that certain phenomenon justify specific emotional responses. The experience of sitting at the bottom should cause me to feel sublime, because the waterfall is sublime. If people do not share in this emotional response (such as those people who dislike children) then it represents an emotional or moral failure on their part, and an inability or unwillingness to bring appropriate responses to bear when confronted with reality. This seems true. If Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are Really Real, then I should react to them in a particular way.

My question, then, is that if this applies negatively as well. If a Beautiful waterfall should cause me to feel a sense of awe, then should a scary experience cause me to be afraid? Should a violation of trust lead me to be mistrustful? Or do we misidentify how we ought to respond to those experiences?

This is a question for which I do not have an answer at this time. I’m not sure that all of my terms are clearly-defined, or are used consistently throughout. I suspect that a bad father shares some responsibility for his children’s maladjustment, but not all — responsibility can be shared, I think. And I also suspect that fear (and mistrust?) can be appropriate in some circumstances, but that we make a mistake in extrapolating those emotions to future relationships as surely as if we retain a sense of beautified awe when leaving the waterfall and walking into an ugly, impoverished slum. If this is the case, Kelly Clarkson’s dad is partially, but not completely, culpable for her fear and mistrust, and she has made an error in treating others with the mistrust that he evoked from her.

But these answers are merely preliminary guesses — I shall have to consider these issues at greater length. And, of course, any feedback is welcome.

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1 Comment »

  1. Mrs. C said,

    I’ve been thinking about this lately (parenthood does that to you). Certainly much of our personality- strengths and flaws alike- is our responsibility. But I look at my daughter and see how malleable she is. She falls down and looks to me to see if she should cry or not. If I am harsh with her (usually more out of my own weakness than any fault of hers), she crumbles and wails with a hurt that usually makes me cry too. If I am gentle with her, even when she tries my patience, she responds with smiles and eager attempts to please.

    If a parent is always harsh and never gentle, and instills fear and hatred rather than love and trust, the child will remember those things when they grow up. Having talked to a number of adults who came from very abusive pasts, I have see nthat even though they know that the fear and anger is wrong, in times of stress that is what they fall back on. They hate it, but struggle to break free.

    Also, I think of Matt. 18:5-6. Surely we are all culpable for our own sin, but what of teaching/inducing a young one to sin? My daughter will be held accountable before God for her own actions, but I shudder to think that I might do anything to lead her toward any sin rather than away from all sin (in so much as that is possible).


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