Riding the Elephant


Thinking about this teaching sabbatical I'm on, one of the reasons for it was made clearer to me by a recent entry in Skye Jethani's excellent daily devotional series. Talking about idolatry, Jethani quotes a metaphor he found in The Happiness Hypothesis by psychologist Jonathan Haidt:
He says our emotional side is like an elephant and our rational side is like a rider straddling it. While the tiny rider may think he’s in control, “anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose. He’s completely overmatched.” In other words, our lives are directed by our hearts, our emotions, and our affections. We then use logic and reason to rationalize the decisions of our heart in order to maintain our illusion of control. 
This is useful, because it explains a lot of my own experience. I'm hardwired to respond to things rationally rather than emotionally, but that (unfortunately?) doesn't make me a Vulcan. It takes more effort for something to engage my heart, but once it does, I completely relate to Haidt's analogy of being carried away by an elephant I thought I was controlling. I remember relationships in my teens and early twenties when I was very aware that what my head knew I should do was in opposition to what my heart wanted to do. 100% of the time, my heart won out and my head would struggle to rationalize the decision.

Jethani relates this to idolatry by pointing out that knowledge of God is no defense against the temptation to pursue other objects of worship. The only defense is to know God intimately by turning our hearts toward him. By disengaging my teaching brain from my Bible study, that's what I'm hoping to do while I'm on this break.

It's going to take a while though. I process information by repeating it aloud, either orally or through writing, so whenever I read I'm always thinking about how I can share this information with someone else. What that does though is turns me into just a conduit for thoughts and ideas. Some of it seeps into my being, but I don't internalize enough of it. Maybe I need to change the way I process. I don't even know if that's possible. But my hope is that once I get out of the habit of thinking about how I'm going to share what I've studied, I'll be able to just drink it in and let it nourish me.

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