Friday, February 25, 2011

"You Are What You Eat"

The school I am studying at, UMKC, specializes in or emphasizes an approach called heterodox economics. That is, they believe in studying economics from different approaches than the mainstream orthodox approach, which is also called neo-classical economics. Orthodox economics emphasizes mathematics and believes economics to be more like a natural science, such as physics, than a social science.

One of the biggest differences is that orthodox approach generally studies individuals and individual behavior while neglecting the role of the environment, or institutions. Institutional economics (one heterodox approach) believes in studying the role of institutions as well as the role of individuals in the economy. I think on this point, they have it right or at least better than the orthodox approach. Individuals never act completely autonomously without influence from other individuals or institutions.

In the intro to Psychology class that I took in undergrad, my professor once gave us a statistic that really shocked me. Like all statistics, one should evaluate it critically, but he said that human behavior is most highly correlated with one's surroundings. That is, about 60% of the time, humans behave based on the influence of their surroundings. Only about 25% of the time do they behave according to their values or beliefs. I couldn't believe that our values and beliefs had such little impact on our behavior. Yet, after thinking about it, I realized how true this was even in my own life.

We are warned time and again about avoiding near occasions of sin, about avoiding things that support sinful living. In my opinion, the saying that you are what you eat is very true in a metaphorical sense. What we take in, listen to, watch, buy, use, consume, etc. all has an effect on us and molds us or influences us. Maybe not after one occasion, but slowly these things wear on us.

As Francis Fernandez, the writer of "In Conversation with God," reminds us the only thing that really matters in life is getting to Heaven.

He says, "We must be ready to give up everything, if necessary, to achieve this goal. We must also be ready to set aside anything that even gets in the way of our achieving it, no matter how valuable or appealing it may seem."

This is especially true of our worldly possessions. In so many ways, our things own us. The media, advertising, and other people make us feel like we NEED certain things, when really all we need is God. If all that we own, buy, use, consume, does not help us get to Heaven, then it becomes an obstacle, something that must be set aside or given up. The coming season of Lent is a great opportunity to do this with fasting and prayer, but don't think that 40 days out of the year is enough. As Jesus tells us, "If thy hand is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off!..." Again from Fernandez, "It is better to lose something as necessary as one's hand, one's foot or one's eye than to lose Heaven."

It is so important to surround ourselves with good people and good things and to not be so attached to our worldly possessions. Fernandez again reminds us that these obstacles may be small things: "what will have to be set aside and cut out are our minor whims and preferences. We shall take prudent steps to correct small breaches of temperance where Our Lord asks us to mortify our taste or our appetite, to control our temper or our moods, to overcome any excessive concern we may have about our health or comfort..."

As Heterodox economics believes, individuals have many external influences and these influences are often a large factor in our behavior. It is important knowing this to put ourselves in good situations with people who will look out for our good as we look out for theirs. It is also imperative to not let our things own us, to "eat" the right things, and order all toward our one final goal: communion with God forever in Heaven. Anything that doesn't help us to do this must be let go.

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