I’ve always been fascinated by placebos — details about EphXacy below. I’m intrigued that our brains can create morphine and drugs more powerful than the drug companies can, just because we think we can. I’m fascinated that the more expensive a placebo is, the
better it works. (Of course, that makes logical sense – the more you buy into it, the better – but wow!)
Studies have long shown the placebo effect is real. There is plenty of scientific documentation to back it up. But a new study recently revealed that you can even know you’re taking a placebo and still show signs of improvement. Isn’t that amazing? (Since it’s a newer study, they still have to replicate it. But still – wow.)
What does this have to do with spiritual-religious life?
Placebo means “I will please” — and this can be problematic.
When we please someone at our own expense, that’s a problem. It’s what I refer to as “OY thinking.” OY stands for:
There are times when it’s appropriate to put others first, and times when it’s inappropriate. When we habitually or unthinkingly please others, we risk doing so at our own expense.
All kids, like we did, learn that part of being in a community means sublimating our own immediate wants and desires for the benefit of the larger group. We learned to please others in order to fit into our community. We internalized that the greatest good for the greatest number is the greatest good and takes precedence over our self-care.
The problem is that some of us learned this too well. For some of us, unlearning this and putting ourselves before others seems hardly possible.
As adults, sometimes it’s hard for us to maintain our boundaries. If my wife and I are having guests over for dinner and I’m tired, and I don’t want people to be visiting anymore – it’s hard for me to say, “Guys, I’m tired. I need you to leave now.” Instead, we all put on a good face, and we pretend. We please them. Easier in the short term, harder in the long run.
The recently deceased sage Thomas Merton wrote:
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of
conflicting concerns, to surrender oneself to too many
demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want
to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.
More than that, it is cooperation in violence. It destroys
your own inner capacity for peace. It destroys
the fruitfulness of your own work, because it kills the
root of inner wisdom, which makes the work beautiful.
As they say on airlines, put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on others. (I’ve spoken with a pilot who told me that if that mask falls you only have about 30 seconds before you lose consciousness, so for God’s sake, put on your own mask first.)
Think about when you please others at your own expense. What does that do to you? What does that do to them?
A group of second-semester seniors were entrusted to me. They were the self-proclaimed “dummy-class” of the school. I was supposed to teach them ‘College Algebra,’ but found that to be difficult.
This group of students were cruel to each other. They were both verbally and physically abusive. With the blessing of the administration, I detoured in my lessons of math qua math and made instilling kindness in them my highest priority.
How does one teach kindness?
The answer: marketing placebos.
Here is how I did it:
- How does one teach kindness?
- Kindness does not happen without empathy.
- Therefore, I needed to teach about empathy.
- How does one teach empathy?
- Sales! One cannot sell without understanding another’s point of view.
We spent a few weeks packaging and writing the copy for a novelty product we called “Ephxacy — the all purpose placebo.”
First, we had to sell the administration on the idea that we should be allowed to sell it to students — which involved us committing to donating the proceeds back to the school. Second, we learned about elevator-pitches and then sold it! So much fun.
Stop by De La Salle North Catholic in Portland and pick up a bottle for $5. Proceeds go to help buy bus-passes for students in need.
If you are outside of Portland, there is a minimum order of 5 bottles plus a shipping charge.