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The Big Answer

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Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

a book by Thomas Moore

(our site's book review)

This is a book of psychological advice and spiritual guidance. Moore says: “It is remarkable how the family is experienced on two levels: the façade of happiness and normality, and the behind-the-scenes reality of craziness and abuse.” But then he says that care of the soul is not about understanding, figuring out, and making better; rather, it resuscitates images of family life as an enrichment of identity. This sounds like an apologist for the harm of dysfunctionality.

True spirituality can never be the product of conformity and respect for/fear of authority—if it isn’t a product of finding oneself, it isn’t real
True spirituality can never be the product of conformity and respect for/fear of authority—if it isn’t a product of finding oneself, it isn’t real

He’s right when he says it’s helpful to think of the family as raw material from which one can make a life rather than the determining influences that shape one. But since the latter is so much more the case for most people than the former, he may be leading us astray with his lack of a cause-and-effect context.

People’s most important need is for self-actualization and autonomy, being at cause rather than at effect, and running their lives rather than having their lives run them. But most families’ defective life quality and ineffective communication habits have such a large impact on their members that the result is to seriously limit the potentials, hopes, and thinking abilities of those involved. The few people from normal families that really thrive do so in spite of their past, not because of it. Most people’s outcomes are determined by their pasts.

Moore is right to try to get people to fight this determinism. But teaching people to put their head in the sand regarding an unacceptable situation and to try to have a good attitude in spite of the deprivations and traumas they’ve known seems a bit too reactive to us. He needs more proactiveness and more prevention and less acceptance of the inevitability of “craziness and abuse.”

head in the sand
Head in the sand

Another look at his accurate perception of reality: “Some people believe the images of normality [on TV] and maintain the secret of their family’s corruption, wishing they had been elsewhere in a land of bliss.” Moore offers no follow-through, here. Moore is too willing to accept this reality of rampant dysfunction at face value without thinking about prevention, but instead do soul-work on the casualties of these sick family systems. Abuse and oppression will never be addressed if our society takes them as givens to be accepted.

Moore looks at the alienation of people and their disconnectedness from each other, and then discusses how many people feel so alone they either contemplate or attempt suicide. People are afraid of intimacy and yet crave it. They want to be close and yet often don’t have the courage to take the risk. If only their upbringings didn’t wound them, scare them, and close them down so much so their lives could be about how they thrived, grew, loved and learned, rather than how they hid, missed opportunities for love and closeness, and let their insecurities hold them back from a full life . . .

out of the starting gate
Out of the starting gate

What if, instead of all this deterministic, courageous acceptance of inevitable negativity in life that cripples us before we get three feet out of the starting gate, we intentionally set up life in such a way that it wasn’t about licking wounds and turning the other cheek, but about inspiring nurturance, an environment full of healthy and benevolent choices, and a community of people that actually communicated well with each other—a community that worked well peopled with families that worked well that contained individuals who were truly functional? [Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.]

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match