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John Bradshaw: A Sober Teacher for Our Troubled Times (Book Review)

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) July 9, 2010 -- John Bradshaw's RECLAIMING VIRTUE: HOW WE CAN DEVELOP THE MORAL INTELLIGENCE TO DO THE RIGHT THING AT THE RIGHT TIME FOR THE RIGHT REASON is the most important meditation on certain key points in Aristotle's thought since Bernard Lonergan's INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (1957) and Eugene Garver's ARISTOTLE'S RHETORIC: AN ART OF CHARACTER (1994). (Disclosure: Most of my publications are meditations on Aristotle's points about act and potency. I agree with Dante's characterization of Aristotle as the master of those who know.)

A former seminarian for the Roman Catholic priesthood and a recovering alcoholic, Bradshaw is also the author of three self-help books about recovering from a dysfunctional family that became #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers:


(2) HOMECOMING (1990)

(3) CREATING LOVE (1992).

Bradshaw's remarkable book HEALING THE SHAME THAT BINDS YOU (1988; rev. ed. 2005) was also a NEW YORK TIMES bestseller, but never #1.

Because Bradshaw himself was for nine years a seminarian for the Roman Catholic priesthood, as I myself was also for about eight years, we should note that the morally bankrupt Roman Catholic moral tradition brought us the priest sex-abuse scandal -- the scandal of abusive priests enabled by enabler bishops. So Bradshaw's book RECLAIMING VIRTUE should be required reading for the morally bankrupt bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI, and the other morally bankrupt Roman Catholic bishops.

Now, because many members of Congress have drinking problems, as Bradshaw once had, the United States is governed by a bunch of drunks. Therefore, sober Americans should urge those drunks in Congress with drinking problems to stop drinking and sober up, as Bradshaw has done.

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Now, if President Obama and members of Congress were truly virtuous persons, their properly ordered anger would move them to stop the unjust American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible, instead of perpetuating them well beyond the point where any reasonable good might come to the United States from them. But, alas, President Obama and members of Congress are not truly virtuous. On the contrary, they are spineless placaters placating American war lovers. They should be ashamed of themselves for prolonging the unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, they evidently do not have a healthy sense of shame.

In any event, Bradshaw's RECLAIMING VIRTUE is reader friendly, including an ample index. From cover to cover, the sentences and paragraphs in the fifteen chapters of this ambitious book are clearly written and accessible. Each chapter is divided into bite-sized subsections introduced by suitable subheadings. However, even people who are familiar with Bradshaw's thought in his previous books may find this 500-page text daunting to read because of the sheer number of topics covered in the various subsections. Slow reading may be the best approach to reading this book.

Bradshaw's new 500-page magnum opus is his grand synthesis of what he has learned during his life from his own personal experience as an alcoholic, from his professional experiences as a teacher and as a psychotherapist, and from his extensive reading. As a teacher, Bradshaw has mastered the rather extensive body of reading material about which he writes.

As the subtitle of Bradshaw's book intimates, Aristotle's NICOMACHEAN ETHICS is one of the anchors and cornerstones of Bradshaw's book. For example, Bradshaw quotes Aristotle on page 51: "Anybody can become angry that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."

Mutatis mutandi, anybody can be helpful that is easy, but to be helpful with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way that is not within everybody's power and is not easy. Nevertheless, this is exactly the kind of help that psychotherapists and spiritual directors hope to provide the individual persons they work with.

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Do you get the idea? In short, deliberate virtuous acts represent the excellence of human flourishing, because virtue represents the developed strength of human nature. Centuries before Paul the Apostle and Augustine of Hippo conspired to produce the Christian doctrine of original sin, ancient Greeks such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle understood that we humans are not born virtuous. As a result, we need to cultivate virtue.

Regarding anger, Bradshaw himself makes his own distinctive contribution to our understanding of anger when he says that "anger must be tempered by healthy shame" (page 180). Unfortunately, many of us do not have a healthy sense of shame. Instead, we have an unhealthy sense of shame, which Bradshaw refers to as toxic shame.

Toxic shame skews not only our expression of anger but also our expression of other emotions as well. Bradshaw's central claim is that toxic shame binds our emotions. In plain English, our emotions are frozen in the past. As a result, "we overreact or react in other inappropriate ways" not only with respect to anger but also with respect to other emotions as well (page 249). Thus we do not do the right thing at the right time for the right reason.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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This country is ruled by a bunch of drunks in Cong... by Thomas Farrell on Saturday, Jul 10, 2010 at 2:00:27 PM
...but glad to see old John Bradshaw is still arou... by Ned Lud on Sunday, Jul 11, 2010 at 8:44:29 AM