The Toughies of the Synod

A new revelation is needed to solve this puzzle. The Holy Spirit needs to arise anew upon the land of the Magisterium if a solution to this enigma is to be found soon. This one is not easy. This is the second synod within a year, yet the same concerns and barriers linger. Yes it is about the Synod on the Family currently happening in Rome under the watchful eyes of Pope Francis. The three most burning issues are deemed the “vexed questions” by the media. Here they are: Should divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed to receive the Eucharist? Can the church recognize some positive values in cohabitation? How can the church take a more positive, welcoming approach to homosexuality? For some, the answer to these questions is clear-cut. Others are persuaded that a pastoral solution is possible.

imagesThe dilemma is the following: a) some divorced and remarried or cohabitating catholic couples maintain that they are starved for the Eucharist; b) the world who has gone bombastic about homosexuality in the last five years. Both of these groups are demanding to be given a seat of honor at the cathedral of the church while Jesus says “whoever divorces his wife… and marries or cohabits with another commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). Further yet, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

As of now, there are no pastoral answers for these pressuring questions. So the synod is an effort to discover an answer. That would be swimmingly easy had revelation not been very pronounced on these issues. The Pope, the bishops, every pastor, the faithful understand there is a problem, but everyone who understand revelation also understand that whatever solution we find must be faithful to the living tradition of the church.

Iran1If we were a parliament or congress, we could just reverse the law and move forward. But we are not for good or for ill. Whatever we have to pronounce on this topic must be compatible with the “hierarchy of truth”. That means the solution must be measured against the overarching economy of salvation to see if it fits it. Every element of the faith, every particular issue we decide on takes its meaning and force from the central doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. The Christian life is an ever striving to be conformed to the Trinitarian life, who is an indissoluble communion of persons. Faithful to her duty of being the mirror through which the three persons see themselves, she knows that she has no authority to make decisions that do not correspond to their ideal. Hence, no solution is within our power so far.

The discussion has focused a lot on mercy and rightly so because the ministry of Jesus Christ, continued by the church, has mercy at its center. However, mercy and the truth about the human person are intrinsically linked. Out of mercy for this people who long to receive the sacraments, we must do something, but no matter how merciful we are, we have to act within the limit set by He who is the Truth. Concerns to find a pastoral answer cannot trump the truth. Hopefully, prayer and fasting can provide clarity in this one.

family_0About whether there’s value in the so-called cohabitation with a view to marriage, some African bishops would like this to be dealt with according to each region’s culture. in Africa, marriage is negotiated between families and realized in stages, with the couple living together at a certain point before the formal marriage. The delay in marrying is often linked to the man’s inability to come up with the dowry immediately sometimes— interesting huh! They cohabit with a view to marriage. So culture is very entrenched on the issue; the church in the west needs time, wisdom, and prudence to find the best way to proceed on issues like this. Now should the church recognize Christian value in such cohabitation? What do you say?

In an interesting speech given recently at the synod, Pope Francis reminds everyone “the synod journey culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, [who is] called to speak authoritatively as ‘the Pastor and Teacher of all Christians.’” We hope he also lets the Holy Spirit speak in him. Let us pray while our fingers are crossed in hope of a bright future for the church centered on Christ and his teachings and where people feel they belong and care for.

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A New Tool for Truth

What makes literature so excessively attractive in comparison to philosophy? Why do writers like Albert Camus, Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Dostoyevsky, Nate Hawthorne, Jean Paul Sartre thrive in modernity while Plato, Aristotle, and the scholastics are remembered as ancient and irrelevant? Most prefer to study literature instead of philosophy. Many prefer principles be explicated through novels rather than through philosophical inquiries. Is the modern mind incapable of grasping the depth of the works so they turn to the facile? Do good literary works and philosophical texts not have the same goal? The truth. Although their method of ransacking the truth differs profoundly, they end up at the same destination. Should that not be enough?

albert_camus_quoteAfter all, both help the human person to answer the most salient questions about life. We all want to know what it truly means to be a human being; we want to understand our origin so that we explore better our destiny. We want to know what drives our desires. We hanker to discover the best way to live and why we suffer although we attempt to live a virtuous life. Besides the human experience that provides some insight into the best way to answer these questions, very thoughtful and provocative answers are found in the philosophy inquiries conducted over thousands of years, as well as in literary works developed through the lived-experience of the human person. So in that sense, they stand on the same pedestal. They both teach their students similar things about the school of life.

Why does literature have the edge? It is because literary scholars draw from the human experience to bring out the truth about the human person whereas philosophers remain bound to the most a priori method to come to that same truth, which, although true, are not grounded in matters of fact. For example, if we ask a philosopher and a literary scholar what makes a person uniquely and authentically human? The philosopher, depending on the period, would explore human nature, the soul, and eventually would probably conclude after endless inquiry that the capacity to give meanings to our daily experience is what makes us human. If he is really sharp and grounded, he might conclude that our humanity lies in the unique and authentic capacity to raise our mind beyond this world to a being greater than our littleness. Not that there is anything wrong with that; far from it, but the method would not connect to the sufferings, struggles, doubts, and fears that we experience in our daily life.

Wise-Quotes-33379-statusmind.com_The literary scholar, on the other hand, would probably tell us a beautiful story narrating our senseless experiences. He or she would include human love, stupid dreams, irrational fear, unfounded doubts, and family willy-nilly to make his points. We would see emotions, sex, fights, successes and failures, laughter and sadness, sunrise and sunset, kicking and jumping, life and death etc. He would present the human person with all his cracked part, which would greatly capture the human reality as we live it. These experiences would lead us to understand what we are about and what matters in life.

From these everydayness realities, we would come to understand that we transcend anything that this world can offer. We would come to see that our life only makes sense when we surrender to a being that offers us something higher than natural life can offer. In telling the story, he would meet readers halfway; they would see themselves in the story; it would be as tough he or she is translating their own experience into words. Anyone can relate to this practical and relatable method. Most would concur with the conclusion of course.Edmund-Husserl-Quotes-5

That’s a method a philosopher like Karol Wojtyla understood very early on. Although he was educated in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas under the tutelage of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (no small feet), and later surveyed German philosophers like Kant, Scheler, and Husserl, he embraced rather phenomenology. The latter is an effort to bring back into philosophy the lived-experience of the human person as lived by the human person. It aims at getting to the truth of things-as-they-are i.e. reality. Why we make the choice we make. What our ultimate longing is.

Phenomenology detects the psychological, moral, physical, and conceptual elements of the human person as he/she experiences them. For example, to the question what it means to be human, a phenomenologist would observe how a person relates to another person. What is unique in their relations compared to other living beings. How the heart reacts when we fall in love. How we approach suffering, death, fear, doubts, sin, and failure. From these observing, he would try to understand what that tells us about the human condition. Clearly, phenomenologists are not literary scholars per se, but they make use of the best method in the world of philosophy and literature i.e. they employ literary method to investigate their topic, and use the pertinence and pointedness of philosophy to discover the truth about the human person. That discovery allows them to speak to people in relevant and perspicacious ways that speak to the human experience.

jpiiWojtyla was deeply realistic about the world and the human capacity to find truth in it. In exploring a question, he would always start with the human experience. Thinking, he believes, starts with the human person grounded in his messy experience of the world. The person alone is aware of his being and capable of wonder. From there, we can explore what our vocation is, how best to build our history etc. He remained deeply committed to reason. Not the kind of reason that traps people in an unrealistic cycle, but reason that illuminates the mind to discover who we are and how we ought to subsequently live.

As a professor, that’s what he tried to inculcate in his students. He always pressed his students to speak freely despite reticence. One of his students, just graduated from law school, crammed with Marxist idea, vehemently attacked Wojtyla’s ideas and the church’s teachings on social teaching to the point where all his classmates thought he should be expelled. He went on for long time while Wojtyla attentively listened. When he finally finished, the whole room was filled with a loud silence. Wojtyla simply processed by saying:” Ladies and Gentlemen, what your colleague has just said here is evidence that he is beginning to think theologically”. His reaction galvanized other students to begin to express their own frustrations about the human condition, God, communism, life etc. Starting from the human condition, they explored together the answers.

Tintoretto-CrucifixionThat’s a method that needs to be reintroduced to the intelligentsia today. That would allow us to not only speak to the new generation who is trapped in the whirlwind of technology, but also to discover the kind of truth capable of finding untamed and unexplored territory. The wealth of knowledge left by the ancient and even the modern thinkers cannot be rejected or ignored without doing damage to the future, but I am afraid that’s where we are heading with the new way of doing literature.

It is Wojtyla’s patient way of approaching situations from an observational standpoint that enabled him to have a unique understanding of how to deal with the communists’ unacceptable attitude of oppressing the church in Poland. He has helped shape a new way of thinking with this method, which enabled him to speak to his flock as the bishop of Krakow, Poland despite the pressure of the overly controlling communist government. It is through this lens he understood human dignity, family life, and religious freedom and was able to speak to his flock in ways that made a revolutionary sense for them. It is this method of thinking that guided him in understanding the world he had to deal with as Pope John Paul II. Perhaps, it is this method that will be useful for the new evangelization so desperately needed today.

The Leadership That Marks the World

Deep down, everyone has a deep desire to touch lives, inspire hearts and minds to do the best. We want to do great things. We want to win the great battle. We want to reach the mountaintop. We want to live our ordinary life extraordinarily. We not only want to be these things, we want to point others to them also. The purpose of this paper is to identify some characteristics of an excellent leader.

To be a leader is no walk in the park. We have the arduous task of inspiring ordinary people to attain the extraordinary, and to stir natural man to the supernatural. Leadership demands us to be selfless in the service of others, and to sacrifice our lives to save others; it demands us to act alone sometimes, even if we don’t know most of the consequences— “loneliness of command”. So, that’s why many fail.

Although in the modern world people are reticent to accept things based solely on authority, when someone bold, courageous, fearless, and authentic emerges, they follow him faithfully. Bold leaders who can lead people to greatness inspire people how to win the inner war are followed without question. Young and old, men and women are looking for a leader who can look at them in the eyes and tell them the truth about themselves, about reality and life. They want someone who lives what he teaches. That’s the leader that inspires.

cPeople want a leader who leads by example. Do you ever wonder how was Jesus able to have so many followers, and get 12 uneducated men to set the world on fire through the gospel message? He inspired them through the examples of his life. They remained committed to him because he was never afraid to tell them the truth in love, even when it hurts. Sometimes the truth is so bold and mind boggling, some left, but they returned. “Lord to whom shall we go you have the world of eternal life” (John 6:68).

He was the finest example of authentic leadership. His conviction, humility, oratory skills made him one of the greatest leaders we have ever had. Throughout history, kings, queens, emperors, and presidents send their subjects off to die for them; their servants serve them. Jesus is the only leader who came to serve not to be served, and the only one who died for his subjects. This style of leadership has never been seen before, and I am not sure if any great leader has been wise enough to imitate it. However, the fruit this style bears is more effective than any style we are familiar with. It yields followers who are not afraid to give their lives for him. He has faithful followers in every corner of the earth. Genius huh?

Why was he so successful we may ask? Inspiration is everything. Great ideas and eloquent phrases are indubitably beautiful, but none is more effective than someone capable of inspiring others. The most beautiful speeches that cause change of hearts are not the poetic, and flawlessly written ones; the most effective speeches are demonstrated, and lived. They are the ones that inspire. They are unforgettable.family-driven-faith-3

A true leader is courageous. Courage is a virtue, so it must be acquired. No one was born a leader according to Aristotle. It is a choice just like exercising is a choice. One becomes a strong, courageous, inspiring, and bold leader through practice, sacrifice, and discipline. Jesus was never afraid of the consequences of the truth, like when he was teaching on the Eucharist. The saints are courageous. Was St. Joseph not courageous? Good man, but ordinary man that he was, God asked him to accept Mary as his pregnant wife although he never did the deed; he accepts. Could you believe this? He accepts to take Mary as his wife although he had no idea at first how she became pregnant. That’s bold. That’s courageous. He fulfilled what St. Paul would say years later: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). That’s what kept the saints going among ridicule, doubts, fears, and during periods of the dark night of the souls. They kept their eyes on the goal. They remained grounded on their spiritual Reference Point— God through daily prayer. Consequently, they won the unfading crown prize.

lincolnCourage is the mother of every great moment and movement that has changed the course of history. It is what led Abraham Lincoln to do fight to preserve the union, abolish slavery, strengthen the federal government, and modernize the economy. It is what inspired Gandhi to stand up for freedom through the use of non-violence against the British. It is what led to the passage and ratification of the Constitutional amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote in 1919. It is how the civil rights movement won passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for black Americans. They succeeded because they were not spiritually malnourished. Courage cannot be maintained unless rooted in a prayer life; that is necessary if anything noteworthy is to be accomplished. Courage, perseverance, and the will to fight for what is right till the very end make them a great leader.

A leadership vacuum exists in our culture. The world is in need of leaders. Our church is in desperate need of leaders who can inspire people to boldly embrace the gospel. We need leaders who are not afraid to defend our divine right in the public square. When we speak, even our own people don’t listen. When we get attacked, we don’t have one voice that could present our case for us, although many little voices are trying. We continue to succumb to the pressure of the masses about what to teach in our schools. We accept the fact that the natural law is not a valid argument in the public square. We continue to honor pro-abortion politicians with honorary degrees in our colleges. Our universities, the media, and Hollywood have done a masterful job at ridiculing every Christian virtue and elevating every form of sin as a noble right, cloaked under the guise of rights of freedom of choice.

slide_346602_3652488_freeThis is a direct result of poor leadership. We are all guilty; if we radically live the gospel, people will listen; they would not trample our views underfoot; they would not dare asking us to cover our cross when they are passing by. It does not take too many to change this trend. Just as it did not take too many St. John Vianneys to change the city of Ars, just as it did not need too many Mother Teresas to transform Calcutta, just as it did not take too many John Paul IIs to change Poland, it will not take too many of us to change this trend. But it will take some of us. Don’t ask who will it be? Look in the mirror.

May the Good Lord give rise to courageous leaders capable of leading us out of this mess. Amen.

At the Heart of Our Questionings

Many seem to work from the principle that questions are more important that answers. St Augustine is one of these people. He never misses an opportunity to ask questions. In his attempt to answer a question, he asks more questions. Thus, in this post, I am going to consider two of the many questions he asks in the Confessions. The first questions deals with what it means to ask God to come into us. He wants to know what comes first— to call upon God or to praise God and whether knowing God precedes calling upon God. The second question has to do with how to use the gifts bestowed on us by God. For Augustine, all talents/gifts must be used as a mean to come closer or to give glory to God. So, he questions: what advantage to have a good thing and not to use it well? I want to show that questioning leads him to find the truth— God, and that truth must be given priority over everything.
In answering the first question, he believes first of all that we must know God in order to call upon him. As he puts it, we must know something before we can call on that something; otherwise, we may end up calling on the wrong thing. However, there is no knowing God unless we call him in prayer. So, before we start calling, we need to have faith. In order for faith to grow, preaching is necessary. Unless the message is preached to us, faith cannot be developed (Confessions book I, I, 1). In summary, the message is heard through preaching, then that gives rise to faith. Through faith, we beg God to make his dwelling in us. When he does that, we truly know him. Then, he delves into a series of rhetorical questions about what it means to call God to ‘come into me’. How is he coming in us? He creates heaven and earth, and they cannot contain him. How can he come into us small as we are? Whatever exists has existence because God sustains it into being. So God is in everything (II, 2). How? Is he in everything as a whole or does each thing contain some parts of God? Is God in heaven and earth or is heaven and earth in God? (III, 3) Are we in God or is God in us? Why call on God if he is already in us? He wrestles with that question back and forth. He then concludes that God is incomprehensible and immutable (iv, 4). That tells if a person cares about finding the truth and lets himself be led by reason, he can come to know some of the attributes of God even before he hears the message of the gospel.
The next question that I find interesting is Augustine’s personal reflection of how poorly he had used the immensity of his talent. He realizes he was gifted in the art of speaking and disputing, incisive in the liberal arts, and well versed in music and numbers without the need of a teacher. However, instead of using them to come closer to God, he used them to travel away from God. He feels his capacity causes him more harm than good (book IV, 30-31) because he did not dedicate the vastness of his knowledge to God. In hindsight now, it is clear to him that knowing all these things without knowing God was worthless. A person who knows God is happier than a person who has all the knowledge of the world and yet is ignorant of God. It is infirmity to rely on one’s own strength. The good life is to be in the bosom of God. No knowledge of the sciences and the liberal arts are needed for that(iv, 31). If we do have them and fail to use them for the honor and glory of God, what advantage is that?
Each one of us has an Augustine in us. Deep down, we are all looking for answers. We are all seekers of the truth. Although it would take long period of frustrations and incalculable amounts of time to find, the truth can be found in philosophy, philology, mathematic, physics if we carefully look. But I shall show you an even shorter and more excellent way— Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the answer to your questions. Give him a chance. He is looking for you even more than you are looking for him.

What It Means to Be Human

The human being is the most complex and fascinating phenomenon ever created. All people of knowledge from philosophers, to scientists, sociologists etc. have attempted to come up with propositions capable of summarizing the human being. Some have provided propositions that destroy the very dignity of the human person. Others have come up with more or less acceptable view. I call their view acceptable because they have sustained the test of time and debates in the philosophical arena.
Here, I want to consider Aristotle’s view of the human person, which deals with basics of what a human being is, but lacks what makes us great; and I want to express one of the elements that make us stand apart from all other beings.
In the De Anima, Aristotle argues that the human person is a composite of body and soul. For him, the body cannot be separated from the soul in the same way form cannot be separated from matter. The soul, as he conceives it, is the substantial form of the body; by this, he means that it needs the body for its subsistence, but it is not a body. It is what makes a human being a human being in the same way the ability to cut is what makes an axe an axe, sight is what makes an eye an eye, so the soul is makes a human being what he/she is.
It is noteworthy to mention that the telos of Aristotle in studying the soul is not because he believes that it has some value beyond this life; he is studying it because he believes that it is something fascinating as any philosophical concept. Knowing what something is tells us what it can do. As a result, he defines it as the first actuality of a natural body that potentially has life.
Due to this understanding, he maintains that anything that has life has also a soul. So plants have nutritive soul- meaning the can take in food and so grow; animals have perceptive/sensitive soul, which means that they can do what plants do, and they can also sense and reproduce. Human beings, according to his view, have a rational/intellective soul which is unique to them. Humans have the capacity to do what both plants and animals do, but more importantly, he/she has the capacity to reason. Due to that capacity, human can strive toward a higher telos (end).
How does the body communicate with each other as we observe it? Unlike most thinkers, Aristotle differs between the mind and the soul. The mind is part of the body and so is a physical thing while the soul is an immaterial, non spatial thing that acts in a physical thing (the mind). So the soul interacts with the body by means of the mind. The soul acts on the mind which acts on the body, but it is unaffected by it and has nothing in common with the body. So when the body is deteriorated, the soul remains intact. The soul never gets tired doing what it does. If the mind can be weary thinking, if the body gets tired daily, the soul can never be tired exercising its activity.
A concept that Aristotle was probably never interested in, but which interests me greatly, is that the human person originates from love, by means of love, to become love, and ultimately return to love. As such, he is the only being capable of selflessly giving himself as a gift of love. Actually, love is the only requirement that a person asks of others. We are just to a person if we love him/her. This is true for God as well as human. Love, for a person, excludes the idea that he/she is being treated as object of pleasure. Here, I think Kant would strongly agree with me since he maintains that a person must always be treated as an end in his Categorical Imperative.
Thus, the way we manifest our humanity, the way we echo our identity is when we let love blossom selflessly. It’s in selfless love that we become fully human. As a consequence of this behavior and understanding, before we do anything, we must always question whether or not that elevates the human person to love more deeply and so allows him/her to flourish as a person of dignity. Moreover, the capacity to offer ourselves as a gift of love when we fully know what that involves is a testimony that we are unique and was intentionally given that capacity. It is a witness that we were created as an intrinsic end for a particular purpose. As a result, we must live in a way that bears witness to that. We are truly human when we avoid engaging in what compromises the purpose for which we were made.
So to be human means to be constantly giving ourselves as a selfless gift. In fact, every move we make in life, our cravings, restless effort to succeed, search for friendship, bonding, conviviality, and striving to know the truth and the good are done for the sake of love. Entrust your self to selfless love so we can attain the depth of human existence. Know this. That love you are seeking, the love you have a right to enjoy and should selflessly die for has a name and a face— Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross to give meaning to your life and purpose to your endeavors.

The Twins That Do Not See Eye to Eye

Truths found by mean of faith cannot be contradicted by truths found through philosophy for they aim at the same thing— truth. Since truth cannot be contradicted by truth, it is logical to say that philosophy and theology are non contradictory (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles). Averroes, an Arabic philosopher, say there is nothing inherently contradictory between philosophy and theology; it is the means used to reach the truth that conduct the pursuer in confusion. “Theologians deal with revealed truth with regards to God as the Creator and His relation with His creation. Lovers of wisdom, on the other hand, seek truth and permanence in a constantly changing world (The Decisive Treatise, 18).” So for Averroes the means employed by these seekers may throw them off track, but if both philosophy and theology are done rightly, they cannot find contradictory conclusion pursing the same thing.

One interesting observation made by Pascal, who came long after these masters were gone, signaled that “There are three kinds of people in the world; those who have sought God and found Him and now serve Him, those who are seeking Him but have not yet found Him, and those who neither seek Him nor find Him. The first are reasonable and happy, the second reasonable and unhappy, and the third unreasonable and unhappy”. The truth remains that today’s society has to deal with these people. This issue spurs me to ask: what went wrong? Why is the more one plunged into philosophy the further away he or she tends to browse from the truth? Why were only the ancients able to find truth through philosophy?  Let me be more direct; why does philosophy not lead to truth anymore?

Anyone who has studied philosophy knows that philosophy remains what it is regardless of culture. It asks the same fundamental questions that have always been pervaded humanity for eternity: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life etc? In fact, these questions are not merely peculiar to philosophy; we find them in the Bible, in Islam, in ancient philosophy, in religion like Confucius and Lao-Tze, and in the preaching of Tirthankara and Buddha; they appear in the poetry of Homer and in the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles, as they do in the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle. Blessed Pope John Paul II noticed that these are questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart. The answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives. So why do most people fail to take the right road then?

JPII seems to strike at the heart of the issue. “Reason,” He says,” in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth that transcends them”.

JPII—It has happened therefore that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned. This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread skepticism. While philosophical thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue issues—existential, hermeneutical or linguistic—that ignore the radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being and about God.

Philosophy has clearly then lost its aim. It bitterly fails to pursue the beautiful original path traced by the ancients. Of course it can no longer cohabit with theology in this environment. They become like a divorce husband and wife that can neither stay away from each other nor get along. Philosophers ask questions known by only theologians. Rather they prefer to reject all insights that come from theology. The reason why today’s philosophers find not the truth is because they don’t accept the theologians’ answers. Though they do acknowledge the limit of their science, they reject theological answers because they use a tool that had never been employed before then, namely the tool of revelation. Why else would philosophers not want to work with theologians? Sheer arrogance. Do you now see why philosophy does not conduct to truth anymore? The day philosophers finally understand that it is sine qua non to work with theologians, no longer will there be unhappy and unreasonable people out there.