When Others Drive Us Crazy
Building the confidence to resist vice and cooperate with virtue in ourselves and others
A recent study by Microsoft claims that with the advent of the smartphone, a young person’s typical attention span is now one second shorter than that of a goldfish. So, if you’re already wondering how this essay ends, that means the goldfish won!
However, other studies have long indicated that when it comes to regarding the opposite sex, these same young adults persevere like a seven-year cicada. Moreover, when it comes to video games, some can concentrate so long that, like Captain America, they enter a kind of suspended animation. But instead of awakening as a vital youngster, they only wake (between nodding off) with worn eyes and eroded joints once solely typical of their grandparents.
For all preachers, but perhaps especially deacons who are also parents, this poses a question: Why is it that when it comes to vice we all have the patience of Job, but when it comes to virtue we’re as impatient as Jonah? How might deacons better understand vice and virtue in daily life?
Good Draws Us
I found a helpful guide on a cassette tape so long ago that, unfortunately, I cannot remember enough to credit the authors. However, they made an alliterative distinction that I’ve always remembered: While evil drives us, good draws us. Good, like the true, the beautiful and the loving, always draws us and calls us, but never controls us. Good entreats with love; appeals with truth; and attracts with beauty. Evil, however, entices with temptation, deceives with manipulation and finally imprisons through habituation. Good, like God, draws us while always respecting and ever increasing our freedom. But evil always drives us like slaves, ever decreasing our freedom by slowly habituating us to vices that become restrictive, compulsive and addictive.
Consider the following examples of virtues that draw us into freedom, and the attendant opposite vices that drive us into oppression. As you do so, consider the corresponding biblical figures that you may have found difficult to understand and what was driving them to drive others crazy, as well as how God’s grace finally freed them from vice and for virtue.
For example, the same person may be drawn to the virtue of justice, and yet when challenged driven to self-righteousness. Think of the apostle Paul, who went from imprisoning Christians to being imprisoned for Christ. Another person may be drawn to express his own uniqueness, which can also drive him to endless selfies.
Ponder the patriarch Joseph who extolled himself as he recounted a dream to his brothers all the while dressed in his distinctively colored cloak. Later, that same unique gift endeared him to the Pharaoh, thus empowering him to help his relatives.
Or someone might be drawn to the cool clarity of reason, only to find himself driven into an ivory tower of rationalization. Does doubting Thomas come to mind? However, a pious tradition in India holds that later it was Thomas who believed the empty tomb of the Assumed Virgin Mary when the other apostles doubted.
Perhaps by nature, one is drawn to friendships yet easily driven to jealousy. Contemplate the elder brother of the prodigal son who had friends, but was envious of his brother, who had none, and yet whose father loved both.
Some of us are drawn by optimism and spontaneity yet are driven by impulsiveness and excess. Peter the Apostle was both Jesus’ deserter and his most enthusiastic follower, whether with tears or cheers.
Still, others are drawn to straight-talking, no-nonsense honesty, but when confronted with ambiguity or nuance are driven to intimidating others. Consider Martha, who first seems a bit of a bully to Mary, yet upon the death of Lazarus she confesses that Jesus is Lord and Messiah.
Sadly, some people sincerely drawn to service can also be driven to succeed. Recall Jacob, who robbed his brother of his father Isaac’s blessing, but later admits to his brother how he has driven himself, his flock and his family almost to death: He can serve as Israel only after Esau forgives him.
Some drawn to bravery are also driven by insecurity or anxiety. Reflect upon Eve who had everything until an appeal to her insecurity and anxiety overcame her; however, recall also that Adam sinned simply upon the word of a woman while it took the devil himself to tempt the bold Eve!
Perhaps you’ve known someone who seems drawn to protect the weak one moment, yet are driven to aggression the next. Someone like the Gerasen, the demoniac. He is feared by the townspeople, but himself warns the seemingly vulnerable Christ about the uncontrollable demons within him. Everyone is amazed when he becomes a docile disciple to the Decapolis.
Finally, we may be drawn to virtuous commitment, but also sometimes driven to stubbornness. Mull the mulish Jonah who simply believed he knew better than God how to treat those darned Ninevites, but he never doubted God himself.
Scripture is replete with as many examples as our own lived experiences of how we are both attracted to virtue and enticed by vice; sometimes the difference is as little as the width between the two faces of the same coin.
Resisting Vice and Cooperating with Virtue
Deacons who act as spiritual directors or preachers may use this insight to help others discern what drives and enslaves them to serious sins. However, it may also indicate a penchant for the opposite virtue. Preaching is an opportunity to remind our parishioners, perhaps with biblical examples such as those above, how evil ensnares and entraps, and how as we accommodate it we become accustomed to it. Slowly, the trap becomes so comfy and familiar we don’t even feel the constricting effect of sin.
Deacons, like all Church leaders, might pray for the confidence to resist vice and cooperate with virtue. We need both confidence in ourselves and faith in Christ. Remember: Although we may have the attention span of a fruit fly, God’s love is everlasting.
We may be easily distracted, but God’s mercy is forever constant. Thus whether in daily interaction with parishioners or publicly preaching at the pulpit, deacons, like their patron St. Stephen, the first martyr, might use this insight to delineate the thin difference between what drives and what draws all humans, to help them pray with their patron: “Lay not this sin to their charge.” Such prayer robs vice of its power and empowers virtue with its example. Then, vice that drives others to drive you crazy may become a virtue that draws you to the witness of prayerful forgiveness.
FATHER KENNETH G. DAVIS, OFM Conv., has published and taught extensively on many aspects of ministerial formation. He is currently prefect of formation for his province.
Virtues from the Catechism
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1803, speaks of the virtues: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.