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Learning from Tic Toc Tics

The social power on beliefs is rarely recognized in today's Western world. Instead, we celebrate a supposed individualism and autonomy and reason. We assume that I am my own person, making my own individual decisions. We assume that my own use of reason or at least following my own gut is the best way to navigate reality. These common assumptions are based on a series of faulty premises.

John Donne's famous line, "No man is an island," does not come from one of his poems, but from one of his sermons. His point was that we are more connected to each other than we can possibly imagine. We are deeply social beings—without touch we die, we naturally morph to our social settings, our selection of friends will indicate the direction of our lives.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

There is a psycho-social reason many Christian young people lose their faith in college. It is not because they are reading Nietzsche or Russell or Dennett. It is because they are daily breathing the air of skepticism and disenchantment. Our rational choices only comprise about 5% of our behavior. This means that 95% of our behavior is impacted by our unconscious social context. It is culture not reason that is shaping our lives most.

This means that to live a counter-cultural life demands conscious awareness of our psycho-social environment. It takes effort to live a life against the assumptions of the crowds around you. Fall in love with someone from that crowd and you'll find it even harder. For we are intrinsically social creatures. Not surprisingly, the key correlation of whether one maintains one's faith in college is whether the student makes the effort on Sunday morning to get up and go to church. It is not the church experience that makes the difference, rather it is what this effort symbolizes in a culture where this behavior is radically uncommon.

Persons of faith are familiar with the admonition of Paul to "Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God's will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes" (Romans 12:2). We tend to translate this in narrowly cognitive categories—be aware of your beliefs, maintain a Christian worldview, be consistent in your doctrinal affirmations. This is assuming that our lives are framed merely by our cognitive beliefs. They are not. Rather they are shaped by the routines and habits of our lives, like getting up and going to church. It is in the little daily choices where our destiny is determined. Novelist Annie Dillard writes, "How we spend our day is, of course, how we spend our lives." Her point? If you want to know what you will be like in twenty years, take a good look at yourself and your choices today. Your life is the sum of your days. Tomorrow never comes.

Our minds and our loves are tricky and complex realities. We are far more susceptible to our environment than we realize. This is not an argument for isolation or fear, but it is an argument that to avoid the chameleon nature of our lives, we need to abandon the naive assumption that I can as an individual stand against my world, that I can act like I'm an island. You are not.

Evidence of this in demonstrated in the phenomena of Tic Toc induced tics ( Researchers are now suggesting that our lives can be dangerously influenced by our viewing of social media. This is being called the "reverse placebo effect." It is not uncommon to yawn when we see someone else yawn. At stake here is more than a yawn. Knowing how our beliefs are shaped by our environment and avoiding the naive belief that we can go it alone, is a meaningful starting place. The aim is not isolation, as if this is possible, but conscious awareness of our environment and constructive behaviors that counter its unconscious influence. There is more to knowing than knowing itself will ever know. Naivete here is not our friend.


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