Our latest podcast with Imani Perry (a scholar of law, culture, race— and hip hop) and the fabric of our identity is the first in a four-part series, “The American Consciousness.”
Ms. Perry acknowledges wise voices who say that we will never get to the promised land of racial equality, writing, “That may very well be true, but it also true that extraordinary things have happened and keep happening in our history. The question is, how do we prepare for and precipitate them?” We took her up on this emboldening question at the Chautauqua Institution, on the cusp of yet a new collective reckoning with the racial fabric of American life.
“The next thing you do today will be the most important thing on your agenda, because, after all, you’re doing it next. Well, perhaps it will be the most urgent thing. Or the easiest. In fact, the most important thing probably isn’t even on your agenda.”—
“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us be men.”—Cesar Chavez, quoted in our upcoming show with Richard Rodriguez
So many NFL players, so many men, carry the festering wound of having been abused themselves. As has so often been said, hurt people hurt people. It’s not until we reveal those wounds, examine them, heal them, that we will actually see a shift in male-perpetrated violence of so many kinds.
No amount of humiliation can accomplish that, and in fact, any amount of humiliation will prevent it. People may make themselves feel better as they tweet away about what a monster Ray Rice is, but they are actually increasing injury in the process.
“For most of his life, my grandfather woke up clean and came home dirty. In between, he accomplished things that were nothing short of miraculous. Some days he might re-shingle a roof. Or rebuild a motor. Or maybe run electricity out to our barn. He helped build the church I went to as a kid, and the farmhouse my brothers and I grew up in. He could fix or build anything, but to my knowledge he never once read the directions. He just knew how stuff worked.”—Mike Rowe, in "The Work We Value, The Intelligence We Ignore."
“It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.”—Billy Collins, from his poem "On Turning Ten"
“To talk about spaces in a diminishing way actually means that you devalue the people there, and it becomes very easy to treat them and their neighborhoods as fungible.”—Imani Perry, from her interview with Krista Tippett at Chautauqua. Can’t wait to launch this in the podcast next week!
We are in the final stages of producing our episode with the classical superstar cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. After more than a decade working on this radio project, I continue to marvel at Krista Tippett’s prowess in creating conversational spaces with the most famous of people and in the magic of the production process. This interview demonstrates how the crafting of a podcast and a radio program can elevate a conversation and elevate the mind. Here’s a two-minute preview to whet the appetite!
“Because while on the one hand I am training my sons to develop resilience in the face of the racial injustice they will encounter, I am also training them to approach the world with full recognition and appreciation of the wide spectrum of human beings, some of whom are quite different from them. They know that they have an ethical responsibility to humanity, animal life, and nature, to care beyond their immediate experiences. We talk about gender and sexual orientation and disability and mental health, along with race, ethnicity, and language. They are encouraged to be critical and analytical, to use those enormous imaginations to journey into the interior lives of others. Together we create gardens of possibility in the parched earth. If we grow the babies up right, they just might redeem us all.”—Imani Perry in "Teaching Trayvon."
“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist…destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”—Thomas Merton, as quoted in Courtney Martin’s weekly column for On Being, "The Spiritual Art of Saying No"
You might know Dan Barber best as the chef of Blue Hill in NYC. But, behind the kitchen maestro, is a big thinker who really gives the farm-to-table movement a whole new meaning. Well worth listening to… especially for the story about the mokkum carrot!
“As I look around, I see the crumbling ruins of civilization like a vast heap of futility, yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in man.”— Rabindranath Tagore, as quoted in this show on his life and modern resonance.
“Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, ‘Never again.’ But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”—Ta’nehisi Coates, as quoted in Courtney E. Martin’s column, "To Be White and Reckon with the Death of Michael Brown"
To be totally honest, I don’t know who I am. And I don’t think people ever will know who they are. We have to be humble enough to learn to live with this mysterious question. Who am I? So, I am a mystery to myself. I am someone who is in this pilgrimage from the moment that I was born to the day to come that I’m going to die. And this is something that I can’t avoid, whether I like it or not, or — I’m going to die.
So, what I have to do is to honor this pilgrimage through life. And so I am this pilgrim — if I can somehow answer your question — who’s constantly amazed by this journey. Who is learning a new thing every single day. But who’s not accumulating knowledge, because then it becomes a very heavy burden in your back. I am this person who is proud to be a pilgrim, and who’s trying to honor his journey.
“None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay.”—
After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages. …
This is a problem much bigger than Facebook. It reminded me of what can go wrong in society, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other. We set up our political and social filter bubbles and they reinforce themselves—the things we read and watch have become hyper-niche and cater to our specific interests. We go down rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden, cursing everyone above ground.
But maybe worse than the fractious political tones my feed took on was how deeply stupid it became.
Recently, I moved from Harvard to a place near Toronto called Daybreak. That is, from an institution for the best and brightest to a community where mentally handicapped people and their assistants try to live together in the spirit of the Beatitudes. In my house, 10 of us form a family. Gradually, I’m forgetting who is handicapped and who is not. We are simply John, Bill, Trevor, Raymond, Rose, Steve, Jane, Naomi, Henri, and Adam.
I want to tell you Adam’s story. After a month of working with Adam, something started to happen to me that had never happened before. This severely handicapped young man, whom outsiders sometimes describe with very hurtful words, started to become my dearest companion. As I carried him into his bath and made waves to let the water run fast around him and told him all sorts of stories, I knew that two friends were communicating far beyond the realm of thought.
Before this, I had come to believe that what makes us human is our mind. But Adam keeps showing me that what makes us human is our heart, the center of our being where God has hidden trust, hope, and love. Whoever sees in Adam merely a burden to society misses the sacred mystery that Adam is fully capable of receiving and giving love. He is fully human—not half human, not nearly human, but fully, completely human because he is all heart. The longer I stay with Adam, the more clearly I see him as a gentle teacher, teaching me what no book or professor ever could.
Once, when Adam’s parents came for a visit I asked, ‘Tell me, during all the years you had Adam in your house, what did he give you?’ His father smiled and said without hesitation, ‘He brought us peace.’ I know he is right. After months of being with Adam, I am discovering within myself an inner quiet that I did not know before. Adam is one of the most broken persons among us, but without doubt our strongest bond. Because of Adam there is always someone home. Because of Adam there is a quiet rhythm in the house. Because of Adam there are moments of silence. Because of Adam there are always words of affection and tenderness. Because of Adam there is patience and endurance. Because of Adam there are smiles and tears visible to all. Because of Adam there is always time and space for forgiveness and healing. Yes, because of Adam there is peace among us.