Don’t confuse wow factor with edification.
Because edification usually involves ‘internal’ experiences as opposed to external ones, we come to associate that which ‘moves us’ internally, as edifying. If something is emotionally powerful, we can easily identify a change or a ‘capture’ of our internal attention. We might consider it edifying because it’s not an ‘external/forced’ change… but not all “emotionally powerful” experiences are necessarily edifying ones.
I mention this specifically because it’s something I didn’t really understand, at least not to the point of being able to contrast such experiences until perhaps the last couple of years. Most of my identifiable/powerful ‘edifying experiences’ I can genuinely feel a change inside me (I often consider it something like a matrix-styled ‘installation’ of truth, in a fashion) and in each instance I could say that it ‘feels good’.
The differentiating point I’ve come to realise however, is that many of those seemingly ‘good’ feelings in such experiences aren’t that edifying after all. This is actually something I started to realise/experience many years ago when I started to identify just how much influence music has over my moods and mental state. Music, perhaps more than any other media/stimuli might be the hardest for me to distinguish between gratifying and edifying, when I have powerful experiences because it seems to have such deep and powerful reach into my being.
To tell you a little of my history with it, I used to listen to music all day and all night. I would sleep with music playing (usually CD albums on repeat), I would shower with music playing (had a CD player in the bathroom), I would listen to music on the bus to and from school and basically everywhere I went. After a while I started to realise a ‘cycle’ that I was continually going through. I would listen to anything and everything that had that ‘initial’ “oh this is great!” feeling. If that happened, it was added to my playlist…
Eventually I would have an enormous library and I would get to a point of ‘drowning’ for lack of a better word, in the mashed up confusion of voices/stories that all the songs were trying to say. Simply put, it would make me annoyed and even depressed. Eventually I would realise it (once again) and then clean out my library and only stick to those songs I knew were ‘edifying’ (even though I wasn’t calling them that at the time). Things would then begin improving once more and the sun would be shining again. Given some time however, and before you know it I’m right back to adding all those classics I loved/experienced in the past, once again forgetting the ‘wash’ of confusion and frustration they all came accompanied with.
The problem I was having is that SO many of those songs were gratifying. Either while listening to them, or the mood they put me into after listening to them, was not an improved one. It was a stifled, or handicapped one. They kept making it on to my playlist because of that initial “oh yeah” feeling they provided as soon as I heard them. They were emotionally powerful. They brought back memories, feelings, thoughts, and did so easily. However not all of those memories, feelings or thoughts were ones that helped me be more functional. Emotionally powerful yes, but often not in edifying ways.
I continue to experience this to some degree today. There are a number of songs I’ve heard just in the past few months that have had a near overwhelming effect on me as I’ve initially heard them and subsequently listened to them again and again, only to discover that they’re gratifying. They’re gratifying me. I’m gratifying myself with them. Much like the junkie after the buzz, the songs ‘took me away’ to feelings and mental planes that were fun or enjoyable to visit, but when all was said and done decreased my ability to deal with the day.
I’ve experienced similar things with Movies, TV Shows, and even people. Providing that “quick/fast/prompt buzz” yet afterwards left me worse off than prior to interacting with it in the first place. To be honest there are still things that I find and initially go “oh that’s edifying” so add it to my lists, and then given some time, perhaps days/weeks or even months come across that again and realise “no, that’s actually a quick-buzz gratifier, not a ‘function-increasing’ edifier”. Due to the “shock” of the initial gratification it can be more confusing than one would assume or expect. Experience certainly wises up my perspective but I still get it wrong from time to time. There’s certainly more instances now, however, where I come across and old song I used to have and the moment I find myself thinking “I’ve not heard this in ages” I quickly go to “that’s probably because I removed it from my playlists intentionally”.
Back to the point. It’s something we must be very careful about. There are a great many gratifying things that remain so “shockingly” influential in their initial contact that too many people give way, thinking that they should let it in. Failing to remember that gratifying very often seems ‘better’ than edification, initially, due to the nature of it’s expense.
Sometimes those magical experiences, paradigm shifts or ‘aha’ moments actually require a little time and digestion before you can really tell if it’s edifying. I’m confident however, that with honest effort to differentiate, it is discernible.
As you’ve been reading this article, what experiences came to your mind where you initially thought ‘this is great’ but discovered with time that it was more harmful than good?
I’ve begun keeping music lists that include ‘edifying death’ where the content is harsh truths that need to be taken in small doses to ensure they’re actually helpful, like a ‘controlled burning’. I’ve also got a ‘gratifying life’ list where it’s up-beat music but full of shallow lies. Perhaps doing something similar might help you?