From Thomas Merton's essay "Love and Solitude," contained in the collection entitled "Love and Living":
The power of genuine love is so deep and so strong that it cannot be deflected from its true aim even by the silliest of wrong ideas. When love is alive and mature in a person, it does not matter if he has a false idea of himself and of life: love will guide him according to its own inner truth and will correct his ideas in spite of him. That may be dangerous, but the danger is nothing new and the human race has lived with it for a million-odd years. The trouble is, though, that our wrong ideas may prevent love from growing and maturing in our lives. Once we love, our love can change our thinking. But wrong thinking can inhibit love. Overemphasis on the aspects of need and fulfillment, and obsessions which encourage a self-conscious and narcissistic fixation on one's own pleasure, can easily blight or misdirect the growth of love. That is why the advertising imagery which associates sexual fulfillment with all the most trivial forms of satisfaction-in order to separate the buyer from his dollar-creates a mental and moral climate that is unfavorable to genuine love. Unconsciously the power that should go into creative and positive love for the other person is being short-circuited by images of infantile oral fulfillment and other narcissistic symbols. The lover then becomes the beautiful glowing icon of self-satisfaction, the desirable, slick, and infinitely happy package, rather than the warm presence of one who responds totally to the value and being of the beloved. Even the advertising images of those beatified couples, for whom the years of early middle age are an unending ball, do not convince us of the reality of love: they merely enshrine the cool and consummated deal that our society believes in with superstitious reverence.
What are we going to do about it? Well, for one thing, we can be aware of these immature and inadequate ideas. We do not have to let ourselves be dominated by them. We are free to think in better terms. Of course, we cannot do this all by ourselves. We need the help of articulate voices, themselves taught and inspired by love. This is the mission of the poet, the artist, the prophet. Unfortunately, the confusion of our world has made the message of our poets obscure and our prophets seem to be altogether silent-unless they are devoting their talents to the praise of toothpaste.
Meanwhile, as our media become more sophisticated and more subtle, there is no reason why they should not also create for us a better and saner climate of thought-and present us with a less fallacious fantasy world of symbolic fulfillments.
There is no reason except, of course, that it is easier to make money by exploiting human weakness!
Running around town on business the other day, flipping radio channels to find something to dampen the embers of road rage threatening to flicker into flames, I heard conservative talk show host Dennis Prager express wonder at how parents could hope to counteract the influence of the popular culture on their children. As he put it, children swim all day in "the cesspool that is our popular culture." I wonder about that myself. I certainly don't have the answers, and wouldn't dream of advising parents, inasmuch as I'm not one.
One the other hand, parents could do worse than focus on first things first: "to be aware of these immature and inadequate ideas" and to realize that neither they, or their children, need to be dominated by them. On a deeper and perhaps more fundamental level, parents could spend time contemplating what constitutes "genuine love"--the "agape" that Pope Benedict XVI so eloquently addressed in his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est"--and what influences of our popular culture, in fact, of our entire way of life, produce "wrong ideas" that "may prevent love from growing and maturing in our lives." That will be a difficult task, subject to understandable bouts of rationalization, denial, and all the other roadblocks we throw in the way of the Truth and in defense of the immature and inadequate physical and emotional gratifications served by our immature and inadequate ideas.
I may not know kids, but I know about "wrong ideas" and the way to obtain and sustain them, and I understand the ceaseless struggle required to overcome them. That said, Merton's on to something about the power of genuine love and its self-correcting power. I see it working, hour by hour, day by day, even in the seemingly worst of us. Even in what appear to be hopeless cases.