I had a conversation with a hurting mom recently. We were bemoaning certain aspects of youth culture and how broken it has become, and how damaged it makes our young people in return. She was seeing how the wider culture was robbing her son of dignity and innocence. Even more startling, she told me how he was seeing it too and felt overwhelmed by his inability to escape it.
It was then that a comment I had heard a month or so ago took on new light.
I was listening to a podcast recently that was on website development, which usually leads to personal topics about life, work and happiness. The woman being interviewed made a powerful statement that has stuck with me, even though I can't find that particular podcast anymore. In response to the interviewer's comment on how many achievements she made and how strong of a work ethic she has, she responded with this comment.
"I don't know when, but somewhere along the line in recent history we decided to substitute Comfort for Happiness."
She had refused to follow this trend, seeing Happiness as something having to do with lifelong achievement and dedication, and not in pleasure alone. I think I have used that quote at least three thousand times since then.
But it took a deeper turn when speaking with this hurting mom in my office. I realized that, in a culture that switched out Happiness and all that it entails with the idea of Comfort, there would be little to no room for discipline. Discipline becomes a dirty word, a punch line, militaristic, or a relic of some by-gone past. Discipline, after all, is anything but comfortable.
St. Thomas Aquinas once said that the key to virtue is the moderation of pleasures that cannot be had without self-discipline, but in the kingdom of comfort discipline is treason.
I don't know if there is or could ever be one definition of happiness that American youth culture adopts wholesale, but I'm thinking that Comfort is dangerously close to this level. And once it takes hold for any individual, subculture, or civilization, it must be a death sentence, for creativity, ingenuity, planning, dedication, hard work, even play takes discipline.
Some evangelists may turn their head at the thought of using Thomistic philosophy in their work, but they would be the fools for doing so. Thomism gives us a beautiful definition of human happiness for which every soul longs to possess, and from that understanding flows his brilliant moral framework that can only be called the art of living.
That mother's grief showed me the necessity of inculturation, which is the endgame of the new evangelization. Right now we are losing the battle for the definition of happiness in the hearts and minds of our youth. And with this slips away any sort of recognizable moral vision of life that comes from the Gospel. And thus, no place for authentic discipline or for the greatness that springs from it.
Instead of the art of living, we get the techniques of pleasure-getting. Instead of joy, we get high. Instead of hope, we have the lottery. And instead of a happy, healthy son, this mother has to deal with the wounded heart of a culture without discipline.
The new evangelization tells us: "There is another way. His name is Jesus."