Friday, August 30, 2019

Let's go Jesuit on it

Andy Pettitte by Keith Allison on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0,
"You hypocrite!" I have always wanted to avoid that label. I think of myself as a person of principles, trying to "walk the walk," live out what I believe, follow my principles. If I did not do that, I would be a hypocrite, right?

This 3-part podcast series made me think more deeply about following principles. Have you heard of casuistry (KAZ you is tree)? I never had.

Malcolm Gladwell did a 3-part series about casuistry on his podcast. Fairly short episodes and they give you a good overall definition, with examples (stories and interviews).

"Revisionist History" (Malcolm Gladwell's podcast - "About things overlooked or misunderstood")

"How to make sense of novel problems" series:

1 of 3 - The Standard Case - Season 4 - Episode 5 - 42 min.
2 of 3 - Dr. Rock's Taxonomy - Season 4 - Episode 6 - 43 min.
3 of 3 - Descend into the Particular - Season 4 - Episode 7 - 42 min.

At one point, Gladwell talks about principles. He says when you are facing a new problem, principles are not helpful. They are based on past experiences and they are only helpful in the world those past experiences helped create. When you are facing a novel problem, the Jesuits say you have to proceed on a case by case basis (paraphrased).

Of course, I've heard of looking at things on a case by case basis, but this is different. There's more to it. Using casuistry, you first look for other cases that are similar, and see what case this novel problem is most like. Then you determine which case is most like the one you are considering, and how your thoughts and decisions about one might help you figure out what to think about the other.

One story he used as an example was about a baseball player taking drugs. One ball player, Andy Pettitte, was injured and his doctor injected him with growth hormones to help him heal. He was called out as cheating because he took a drugs. However, Gladwell compares it to other similar cases, such as Barry Bonds. A key difference is that Bonds took drugs to quickly get better at ball playing than he ever was before. Pettitte took drugs to heal an injury and was no better at ball playing afterward. The principle is that sports people should not take drugs, but when you get into the specifics, that principle does not apply to all cases.

Not sticking to your principles at all costs. Not sticking to your principles to avoid being a hypocrite. Lots of places this comes into consideration -- my own life, my life online, political discussions, religious discussions, on and on.

Listen to the podcast -- it's stories and people with wry commentary from Gladwell. He talks about casuistry in a much more engaging way than I ever could. It made me laugh when he said, "Next, let's go Jesuit on the case..." Yes! I plan to add that to my vocabulary: "Let's go Jesuit."
Church of the Gesu, Rome, Italy

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