At some point in the past few weeks, you might have found yourself scrolling through the TV options, searching for something to unwind with at the end of the day. Headline News? Too intense. "Seinfeld?" You've seen them all. What's this "Honey Boo Boo" show? It's on TLC, which used to be known as The Learning Channel -- so it must be good for you. Plus, people keep talking about it. So you tune in just to help you better understand Leno's latest topical punchlines.
Watching the adventures of a first-grader who competes in beauty pageants and her family, which is raising a pig, riding four-wheelers and eating cheese puffs for breakfast, you are in no way inspired or edified. Yet it's really, really hard to look away.
"Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" might be an extreme example, but there is no lack of "reality" to watch on television. We've come a long way since the originals -- "Real World" and "Road Rules" on MTV. Once limited to footage of college students partying in loft apartments, reality TV has expanded to programing on topics like the Amish, nail salons and cupcakes.
If this isn't a sign of progress, what are you waiting for? A phone you can read email on?
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I, too, fall captive to reality television. Whether it's the lessons of "What Not to Wear" or the drama of finally saying "yes" to the dress, reality TV is engrossing. But if you've spent even a few minutes watching it, you probably also find yourself wondering, "Why can't I bring myself to turn this off?"
The more I watch, the more I compare myself with what I'm watching and, unlike a movie -- where the airbrushed appearances of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt leave me feeling frumpy, to say the least, my self esteem soars after watching a farting contest on TLC. I think that's why it's so popular. We're not discovering models we can't relate to. We're often finding average Joes who make us look really, really good. But where does this leave us in our reality?
The pursuit of goodness, of being the best version of ourselves, requires constant vigilance and effort on our part. If you've ever attempted to implement any self-improvement regime -- a diet, exercise routine, learning a language, living on a budget -- you know that temptations to "cheat" abound. Our tendency to allow our bodies to do the exact opposite of what we want to do -- eat a doughnut, sleep in, skip practice -- was described by St. Paul when he wrote to the Romans and admitted, "I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want" (Romans 7:19).
Assuming you are attempting to grow as an individual, one of the greatest threats to your progress is comparison with others. You think, "Well, I'm not working out this morning -- but I've still done two more sessions than Susie!" Or, "I'm having one doughnut -- but Charlie's had three, so I'm good!" We know all too well that stroking our lack of discipline might provide temporary relief to our conscience, but fails us when we examine our actual progress.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ didn't instruct his followers to "try to be the best person in your neighborhood." His command, rather, was to "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). While this may seem demanding, a world that is at least aspiring to this would be a pretty great place to be. So before you turn on the TV, be sure your goals are based on who is above you -- not beside you.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.