Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mental Hygiene

I can’t find it now, but I once read a conversation on Amazon in which a teenage girl, a home-schooled Christian, whose reading materials had to be approved by her parents, asked for book recommendations. Many people replied, slyly recommending "subversive" books (like Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy) or criticizing her family for keeping her closed off from the world.

Another man answered these people (the girl was probably long gone by then) and said it was right for the girl’s parents to censor her books. He used the phrase “mental hygiene,” and said the Christian theory, or at least his version of it, was for parents to strictly control their children so that, when they were adults, they would retain the shape the parents had in mind for them. He said if the girl read “inappropriate” books, she wouldn’t learn from them, they would only “dirty” her mind.

Let me stress: I don’t agree with this.

However, this concept of “mental hygiene,” of keeping an eye on mental well-being, has something to it.

When I waste time on the internet (which is often), I sometimes amuse myself by going to peopleofwalmart and looking at all the sightings of bizarre people.

Or I go to the Sartorialist and look at this fashion photographer’s beautiful photos of people he sees on the street and read the comments by other people in the fashion industry as they discuss why that outfit looks as good as it does.

If I have recently been to peopleofwalmart, I find myself noting the ugliness and sadness around me.

If I have been to the Sartorialist, I find myself seeing the beauty.

What I've been looking at trains my eye to see more of the same. And what I've been seeing affects what I think and feel.

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