Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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Life Lessons from North Korea

The recent hubabulu with North Korea hacking Sony Pictures, releasing copies of current films, damaging emails, publishing financial document and threatening US theaters that premier the film has created a tense situation in the entertainment world in the last few weeks. The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco infiltrate and kill the Supreme Ruler of the most closed society on earth seems almost like a work of fan fiction for the Bush doctrine…and that is probably how N. Korea should take it…a real life version of Team America viewed by folks like Rogen.

Now the last time I checked, post college (or college dropout) stoners lacked in militant organization and violent insurrection…semper fi is not the first thing they say when they are ordering pizza at 1am. The threat The Interview posses towards N. Korea’s national security is about as powerful as a SNL skit. But when you live in isolation and fear, molehills quickly become mountains.


In a recent conversation with some parents of adolescent and grown children we broached the subject of honesty with your kids. One parent’s approach to honesty with their kids was continual support, encouragement and positive reinforcement with little to no reality…i.e. “you are good at everything and everyone loves you”. The other parent was equally supportive and encouraging but tried to balance that with a healthier dose of honesty. They would tell their kids when they were being obnoxious or level with them about their strengths and weaknesses. The result was that the first group of children group up feeling very loved and very sensitive to any criticism…making it harder for them to fold into society where you will have performance reviews, fights and failures. The second group felt equal loved, but a little more equipped to deal with real life by having a bit tougher skin. Interestingly fear was a major component to this first group who tried to shelter their children…they tend not to handle things too well.


What does all that have to do with N. Korea? The dictatorship of Kim Jong Un is a macro specimen of what happens to us individually when we live in isolation and fear. Hacking the picture studios and threatening to attack U.S. theaters seems like…an overreaction, but they’ve gone a step further this week. Apparently the Korean government has issued threats against the White House, Pentagon and the U.S. mainland. This is equivalent to the rich kid who’s parents bought friendships and popularity trying out for a sports team in college, being told he isn’t good enough and then threatening to get the coach fired…oh wait and then burn down the school and poison the local drinking water.

When we isolate and shut of from criticism we become devastatingly unaware of our real strengths and weaknesses. When we win popularity through coercion or bribery insecurity lives in the recesses of our personality…making us more irrational and desperate. When we make fear the determining factor for our decision process paranoia and control take over. So parents take a note…a healthy dose of reality for your children could keep them from becoming the next totalitarian dictator…unless that is what you’re going for.

Much of our isolation is self-chosen . . . This self-reliance has many attractions. It gives us a sense of power, it allows us to move quickly, it offers us the satisfaction of being our own boss, and it praises many rewards and prizes. However, the underside of this self-reliance is loneliness, isolation and a constant fear of not making it in life.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now

2-16-14 Disciples: Dog

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Being a disciple of Jesus means exchanging our right to Self-Validation, Relativism and Isolation for Humility, Community and Receptivity

Loneliness and Isolation, Solitude

After posting a misunderstood comment about people eating alone and trying to respond in comment form…It is apparent a blog is needed.

While waiting for a friend at a local bar last night, I noted that there was a regular crowd of patrons eating in this rather fancy establishment…the unique (or not unique) thing about these diners was that they were eating alone, at the bar and seemed to do so with frequency. This struck me as tragic, not because I have a problem eating alone or with loneliness at all, but with the idea of isolation! So I think some definitions are in order:

  • Loneliness: An essential part of the human condition…I believe it is a disease. The English word Sex comes from the Latin sexus – that is the idea that in this act, we join what was separated. The core of our human condition is separation from God. Of all the quotes out there on “loneliness” I found one by Claire Danes the most interesting: “Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.” This is a problem we try to cure through thousands of different avenues.
  • Isolation: If loneliness is the feeling, isolation is the result…this is the destination that our loneliness leads to. The more we try and cope with loneliness through unhealthy means (workaholism, substances, food, shopping, entertainment, etc.) the more deformed we become from such coping mechanisms. Ultimately this can lead to extreme isolation from others…a lack of community
  • Solitude: The healthy antithesis to Isolation. We can be completely isolated and lonely even when surrounded by people. Indeed, this is perhaps when we can feel the most isolated. We can also feel whole and complete when completely alone. Solitude is the balancing act of knowing thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόνI) and knowing who you are supposed to be.

When we can hold these two notions together we move towards wholeness…and I believe wholeness is impossible without solitude. Usually we are only good at one of these two: 1. An acute awareness of our own self can often lead to narcissistic, self-congratulatory, morally relative person. 2. An inflamed sense of who they were created to become often produces a guilt laden, works driven personality that never ends up doing enough.

The guru of solitude, Henri Nouwen, puts this in such beautiful prose: “To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out

With regards to my solo dining experience, the thing that strikes me as tragic is not the singleness of the good people eating next to me…it is the isolation that their loneliness has produced. That isolation is perhaps more obvious with the folks next to me, but it is so prevalent in our culture. We will continue to be fragmented and isolated without the depth that solitude produces (which includes introspection and direction from God) and the sustenance that community provides we are quite hopeless to see the disease of isolation retreat.