What counts as a miracle?

handsFor the past year or so my wife and I have hosted prayer gatherings in our home, basically just a small gathering of friends getting together to share food, prayers, readings, reflections, etc. A couple of weekends ago, our theme was “miracles” in honor of Christmastime, which sparked a uniquely vibrant discussion.

Almost everyone present said they’d experienced a miracle at some point in their lives. But what was even more striking for me was the number of stories that were more spiritual in nature than physical. One friend recounted the appearance of a helpful stranger out of nowhere as he struggled to make it back home for a loved one’s funeral. Another talked about the sudden lifting of a burdensome feeling of hate she had harbored for her stepmother, one she’d carried for years after her mother’s passing.

We often hear about miracles, especially around this time of year, but they’re often earthly in nature. Sometime these miracles take the form of diseases that suddenly cure themselves, or serendipitously finding money in a time of financial need, or succeeding against all odds in some competition or in one’s career.

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Is it capitalism that’s so rotten? Or is it us?

Is this really the face of capitalism?

Is this really the face of capitalism?

Economists and other social scientists are familiar with a concept called “framing”. Ask a question one way, and you might get a particular answer. But ask the same question differently, or in a slightly different context, and your answer may change completely.

There are tons of experiments that show the power of framing in influencing our decisions. A recent example I read about in this Atlantic article, however, tells us something important not only about ourselves but about the debate over capitalism.

As the article summarizes, an experiment a few years ago had college students play a classic “prisoner’s dilemma” game — that is, a game between two people where the individual has no incentive to cooperate — and separated the participants into two categories. The behavior of the students in these two groups was strikingly different:

[The researchers] told half the students it was called “Community Game” and the other half that it was called “Wall Street Game.” And that was all it took to turn these undergrads from team players into Gordon Gekkos. Fully 67 percent of the students cooperated when they were told they were playing “Community Game,” but only 33 percent cooperated when they were told they were playing “Wall Street Game.”

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