I’m a little late to the game, but I’m sharing this touching audio slide show from The Washington Post about two sisters who have lived together for the last 20 years. It’s a striking story of sibling love and sacrifice that we could all learn from.
Classie Morant, who is 104, took care of her younger sister who was bedridden with Alzheimer’s disease, fulfilling her promise to be by her side until her dying days. Click the title link to watch and listen.
One hangover from living for a time in England is that I am a devotee of BBC radio plays. Thanks to the wonderful world of the Internet, I can continue to listen. I’ll often put a play on in the background as I fold laundry or pay bills or even do busy work in the office.
This week, while we’ve been producing a program on the new science of “neuroeconomics” — exploring the physiology of trust and virtue in economic life — I stumbled on a series in this week’s BBC 4 “Afternoon Plays.” They deal with the human dynamics behind the Enron collapse — a subject on which our neuroeconomist guest Paul Zak has done extensive research.
These two plays were written by a noted British economics correspondent. The first, "Power Play," includes tapes from Senate hearings and the voice of figures like Enron’s CEO Kenneth Lay. The second, "Wilful Blindness," revolves around imagined discussions between Kenneth Lay and a former employee who turns up as his gardener in his Aspen home after this conviction.
I found intriguing echoes here with some of the insights not only of Paul Zak but also of Darius Rejali. A discussion between the gardener and the CEO about how good people are drawn into doing bad things is a wonderful example of how the arts can drive home big ideas as well as any erudite analysis — or illustrate them so that we can truly grasp them.
But, you better listen fast. The material goes offline in a few days!
Suffering and Poetry Larissa Anderson, Poetry Producer
In his essay, "Ecce Homo," Xavier Le Pichon talks about his mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s. He explains that she was aware of her memory loss long before she was diagnosed. After her death, he says he came upon some of her diaries, which revealed how she tried to hide her memory loss.
"The vase where the verbena is dying Was cracked by the blow of a fan. The blow barely grazed it As no noise revealed it. But the light bruise Biting the metal each day With an invisible but sure hand Slowly progressed around it.”
The original French version of the poem, published in 1865, was slightly different. I asked poet Robert Archambeau to translate it. He recommended that his colleague at Lake Forest College, Jean-Luc Garneau, read both the French and English versions of the poem, and talked about Sully Prudhomme — his background, his style of writing, and what he may have been trying to say about suffering in his poem.
It’s interesting to connect Garneau’s comments about Sully Prudhomme to Krista’s interview with Xavier Le Pichon. As Garneau says, Prudhomme, along with a few other poets, started the Parnassian School of poetry, a style of writing that rejected sentimentality for scientific precision and detachment. Prudhomme’s poem centers around the idea of fragility — a vase that was cracked by the slightest breeze from a fan. It’s a crack that not only goes unnoticed, but also renders the vase unable to keep its flowers alive. Garneau points out Prudhomme’s scientific distance in the line “the vase is broken: do not touch,” which, he says, suggests suffering should not be interfered with.
When I hear Garneau discuss the poem, I think about Le Pichon describing how he felt he was so immersed in his scientific pursuits that he was not able to see the suffering of others, and that it is through “walking with the suffering person that has come into your life and that you have not rejected, then your heart progressively gets educated by them. You know, they teach you a new way of being.”
Later in his interview with Krista, Le Pichon recalls what it meant for him to see his mother experience Alzheimer’s: “My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease and I could see what the suffering was and that requires from us to invent a new way to deal with this person, with the suffering, to make their life possible, humane. And at each age you have new challenges and you have to face them. And this is how we build the humanity. The humanity is given to us at the possibility of old age, at each birth, and it has to be constructed. It has to be built. It is hard work.”
As Garneau describes what Prudhomme was communicating through the poem, it strikes me as contradictory to Le Pichon’s belief in facing suffering, engaging with it — his idea that fragility is “at the heart of humanity.” I’d be curious to hear more thoughts about how this poem connects with the show and why it surfaces in Le Pichon’s writing.
But, it’s not just “The Broken Vase” that captured Le Pichon’s attention. It is clear from “Ecce Homo” that Le Pichon sees suffering and poetry as intimately linked. He writes:
"As humans are confronted to suffering and death, as mirrors of their own suffering and death, they are confronted to their own fragility and vulnerability and this confrontation forces them to go beyond themselves by entering into a transcendent world that can be metaphysical, artistic and (or) poetic. This has probably been the origin of metaphysics, of art and poetry, which give us the capacity to project ourselves beyond the immediate reality of the difficulties of our life."
A Question From Behind the Glass Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
Most of the time, Krista is not physically in the same room with the person she’s interviewing. This was the case during her recent conversation with geophysicist Xavier Le Pichon, who lives in southern France. She spoke with him from Studio P in Saint Paul while he was an ocean away in another studio in Aix-en-Provence.
A typical Krista Tippett interview lasts 90 minutes, give or take. Mitch, our senior producer, usually handles audio engineering while others take turns transcribing in real-time. In this photo you can get a sense of the set up. This image was taken by Trent on the day of the Le Pichon interview and here you see me transcribing while Colleen listens in the back. Mitch is taking notes and John Scherf, the technical director, makes sure that everything goes smoothly with the recording.
Krista (pictured at right) is situated in the studio while the rest of us listen in the control room. A soundproof glass panel separates us.
As Krista enters the last stretch of the conversation, she’ll usually pause to ask if there’s a question “from behind the glass.” This is our opportunity as production staff to contribute a question or two.
In her conversation with Le Pichon, I noticed that he became animated when Krista first referenced an emerging wave of research on the science of altruism. Le Pichon responded that in addition to altruism, scientists also need to study compassion and empathy “otherwise they will not understand anything. They need to go beyond that.” From there, the conversation took another turn to Dorothy Day and the San Francisco earthquake and then to 9/11. When the behind the glass moment came, I asked if Krista could revisit her earlier discussion about the science of altruism, compassion, and empathy.
You can hear their exchange in the audio clip above. Here Krista mentions that Le Pichon has written about a proposed research study with a colleague on vulnerability and fragility. I couldn’t remember where Krista found this reference so I went back to some of the materials Le Pichon originally forwarded. In one essay he sent, entitled “The Sign of Contradiction,” he references a colleague named Dominique Lambert who teaches at Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix in Namur, Belgium.
Le Pichon writes:
"…we have pleaded for a scientific research program that will try to consider the importance of the fragility and vulnerability of humans in the development of humanity. As I have implied in this short essay we believe that vulnerability and fragility played an essential role in the origin and development of humanity. We believe that the implicit and sometime explicit denial of this fragility and vulnerability in our modern societies put us in great danger of losing the meaning and value of human life."
I haven’t been able to find much about Professor Lambert’s research on fragility and vulnerability beyond this link. If more surfaces, I’ll post it here. Or, if you’re familiar with his research, let us know!
Photos by Trent Gilliss using his hand-dandy Nokia N95!
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The National Association of Evangelicals has found a successor for Richard Cizik. Some are tickled pink with Galen Carey as the choice. His resume leading humanitarian outreach efforts in developing countries and HIV/AIDS activism in Africa is reminiscent of Rick Warren’s work in Africa. I wonder how the two men will be working together in their efforts, and how Carey will carry the mantle of Cizik’s advocacy of climate change issues and “creation care.”
After one works on this show a while, you hear a particular statement or example given by one of Krista’s guests and can’t help but hear echoes from previous interviews. These connections make the world more intimate, smaller. These glimpses also give me a fresh angle of looking at that same memory or story and creating new meaning out of it.
This is exactly what happened in Krista’s conversation with Xavier Le Pichon.
Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa at the Maryhouse office in New York City on June 17, 1979. (photo: Bill Barrett)
Krista cited Dorothy Day’s experience of witnessing the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which immediately made me hearken back to Paul Elie’s conversation, as the impetus for her founding of the Catholic Worker:
Ms. Tippett: You identify with all of these people. I think in each of them there is one sort of vital religious question or yearning around which their pilgrimage hinged. What would you say that is in Dorothy Day?
Mr. Elie: Well, she’s the person who could always imagine society better than it is. It stemmed from her experience in the San Francisco earthquake. She was an eight-year-old girl. She lived in Oakland. She stood on the street watching for the next few days as the people of Oakland helped each other and helped the people of San Francisco who were coming across the bay in boats. And for the rest of her life, she just thought, ‘People helped each other. Why can’t we just keep doing that? Why can’t society be organized so that we can help each other a little more, so that that stranger who asks for food, that I actually recognize that that person is a brother or sister to me in a way?’ So she had a reformer’s imagination of how the world might be other than it is.
Ms. Tippett: You know, what’s so interesting to me about that image of her standing before the San Francisco earthquake, seeing how people could love each other and help one another, you can dismiss that, you can say, ‘Well, that’s one of those extreme moments in life, we’ve all seen that. There’s crisis and then it passes.’ But then what she went on to do is to create communities of that same kind of crisis and intensity on a day-to-day basis with the poor.
Mr. Elie: Well, that’s right, and it’s partly out of the recognition that it doesn’t have to be merely the crisis moments that call forth that love in us, and also the recognition that, at some moment, everyone is having a crisis of that magnitude.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah, that the crisis is among us all the time.
Mr. Elie: Yeah. And that you have to be there when the person is having his or her crisis, and not wait for the city to burn down.
Ms. Tippett: So here’s this reading from the postscript. She says: “We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, ‘We need bread.’ We could not say, ‘Go, be thou filled.’ If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread. We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded. We were just sitting there talking and someone said, ‘Let’s all go live on a farm.’ It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about. It just happened. I found myself, a barren woman, the joyful mother of children. It is not easy always to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight. The most significant thing about the Catholic Worker is poverty, some say. The most significant thing is community, others say. We are not alone any more. But the final word is love. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.”
Why did you send me that piece of hers?
Mr. Elie: Well, it’s one of the most powerfully written things that she did, and as the postscript to her autobiography, it’s one that obviously she considered important and representative. But what it really gets at is something that I think you were pointing toward in all the remarks of the past few minutes. She thought it possible for society to be different than it is because she thought that we’re naturally oriented toward love, we’re made to love one another. That’s natural, and strife and war are a deformity of that. But what we’re created for is to love one another, and to love one another in community. So she was trying to make clear in that passage that though she was a radical and formidable organizer, it was not a programmatic effort that got the Catholic Worker going. It was people doing what came naturally, which was loving one another in community and talking about it.
That was reward in itself, but Le Pichon carried the thought of immersing oneself in the suffering of others — living and understanding the others’ joy and sorrow — and, as you’ll hear in the audio clip, ended with “the heart gets progressively more educated.” That helps me think about empathy and caring in a whole new light.
The learning process is a growth curve; we have that ability to acquire knowledge, but it’s incremental and it needs to be fostered. That same potentiality applies to caring for others even if we can’t relate deeply at first. I need to grow that part of myself and not judge myself too harshly when I fail to act as compassionately as I would like.
My capacity for love and forgiveness is not fully mature, and I like that thought — that I just might be slightly wiser and kinder as I grow older even as my ability to remember and acquire new knowledge is on the decline.
"Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen" » download (mp3, 3:22) Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
I’ve had this song in my head all week. It’s the late Joe Carter’s rendition of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” recorded during Krista’s conversation with Carter in 2003:
One of the stories I seem to remember that she told, it was about — Emancipation Day had come. And there was a group of former slaves now on an island off the coast of South Carolina. And my parents were from South Carolina, all my family. And they were waiting for the emissary of the government to arrive in his little boat to tell them that they had received the deeds to their land, because the government had promised them not only freedom, but 40 acres and a mule.
And so this was going to be a great, wonderful day. And the former slaves had gathered together on the island waiting with bated breath. And finally, they saw the boat of the officer approaching. And they could tell, even from the distance, that his face was not happy and his countenance was somewhat sad. And they said there was a groan that just came from the crowd. And one of the older women from the crowd just stood up and began to make up a song on the spot. She sang, (singing) “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Glory, hallelujah.”
And then she spoke, looking to the people around her, she said, (singing) “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down. Oh, yes, Lord. Sometimes, I’m almost level to the ground. Oh, yes, Lord. Oh, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Glory, hallelujah.”
She looked at the people standing by, and she said, (singing) “Although you see me going along so.” And they answered, (singing) “Oh, yes, Lord.” “I’ve got my trials here below.” And they answered, (singing) “Oh, yes, Lord. Oh, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Glory, hallelujah.”
You can now find mp3s of all of the songs performed by Carter on the Listening Room page for this program. Have a listen, download, and enjoy.
“Only in a state of great powerlessness, weakness, fear, and anxiety does the idea of justified torture sound even remotely reasonable to an otherwise good and moral man.”—
— Geoffrey Cornish, who quotes his father’s friend who helped soldiers escape from Japanese work camps in WWII, in response to our blog post about Darius Rejali’s personal interest in the torture debate.
We’ve been talking about covering the difficult topic of torture for quite a while now, and the idea resurfaced again in staff meetings with the recent release of the Bush administration memos on interrogation techniques. About the time we were renewing our efforts to find a voice on the topic, I opened up the Sunday paper to find Clark Hoyt’s editorial "The Brutal Truth" — an account of the linguistic evolution of The New York Times' torture and interrogation coverage.
Hoyt outlines the decision to use the word “brutal” to describe what the Bush administration had labeled “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the reader mail they received in response. Some thought the word was a cop-out, one reader writing “Why can’t The New York Times call torture by its proper name?” While another writes “The Times has simply placed itself as one actor in a political fight, not a neutral media outlet.”
This sort of criticism was in our heads as we produced this week’s program "The Long Shadow of Torture".” Unlike The Times, we don’t get to hash out our editorial choices over a series of articles — we pretty much have one chance to get it right, and then have to live with our decisions after broadcast. I found that many of the questions asked during production mirrored the ones posed in Hoyt’s editorial; as a journalist, when does your choice of words compromise the integrity of your reporting? Using harsher terminology may seem to impart a biased viewpoint, while softer words might be complicit in obscuring the truth. Is “detainee abuse” more accurate than “torture,” or vice versa?
Perhaps my favorite part of Hoyt’s account is the linguist Deborah Hannon’s response to his presentation of the “brutal” issue:
"The search for words that are not in any way evaluative is hopeless," she told me. "All words have connotations."
This statement makes the prospect of objective journalism a daunting one. What do you think, did we we come out OK on this program? What kind of connotations did we inevitably inject into the conversation?
Whistleblowers, Resistors, and Defectors Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
As I continued to do research for our upcoming program, “The Long Shadow of Torture,” I discovered an Australian public radio documentary that follows up with some of the original participants in Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments from the 1960s. In those experiments, participants were instructed to deliver increasingly intense electric shocks to a 50-something man whenever he answered a word problem incorrectly. Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale University, wanted to see how far ordinary citizens would go in inflicting harm on another person while under direction from an authority figure. What the participants didn’t know is that the whole experiment was rigged — the electroshock machine was a fake and the man receiving the shocks was an actor.
Milgram discovered that under the right social conditions many people will go along with what they’re told to do. One of the people who resisted during the Milgram experiment was WWII veteran and Communist Party activist Joseph Dimow. In his 2008 interview, Dimow says that being persecuted for his involvement with “the CP” gave him “the grit” to challenge authority. But he also wonders about the choices he might have made if the Communist Party had ordered him to things that were similarly harmful. Would he have complied out of a desire to belong and be accepted by the group? In the audio clip above, he contemplates these questions in his own words.
In Krista’s interview with Darius Rejali, he mentions Sgt. Joseph Darby (pictured above), the whistleblower who notified Army Criminal Investigation Command about detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. Rejali says it’s hard to know what moved him. In 2005 Darby received a JFK Profile in Courage Award. Here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech:
I’d like to tell you a small story. When we first entered the country of Iraq, crossing from Kuwait to Iraq, there’s a half mile of no man’s land, a barren desert with no moving vehicles, no people, no life. As we crossed that, I can honestly tell you today that I could not remember why I had left my wife and my family. And I did not know what waited for me on the other side.
But a few weeks later in Hillah, I had an experience that changed that. Our patrol was approached by a small group of children. And a small, unbathed girl around seven in a one-piece dress came and tugged on my uniform and said, “Mister, give me food.”
As I looked into her eyes, my doubt evaporated. I knew why we were there and I knew that we had to be there. And I knew that while we were there, we represented something larger than ourselves. We represented our country, its values, its principles, its morals.
Six months later, I was faced with the toughest decision. On one hand, I had my morals and the morals of my country. On the other, I had my comrades, my brothers in arms.
Today, for the first time since I’ve returned home, I am able to stand here publicly and be proud of my decisions to put the values of my country and its reputation ahead of everything else.
Recently, Krista sent around an e-mail saying she wanted to look into Darius Rejali as a possible show guest to explore the topic of torture. I was about to fire up Google when I realized I was already familiar with Rejali’s voice and ideas. Last year I worked on an American RadioWorks documentary called "What Killed Sergeant Gray" about Iraq veterans who’ve been psychologically devastated by their experiences with detainee abuse. Rejali was tapped as a voice for the program.
In that interview, as well as in his more recent conversation with Krista, I found myself drawn to his discussion of when and why people resist the group-think pressure to go along with what Rejali calls a “torture bureaucracy.” Rejali says that while these resistors haven’t been formally studied, they do seem to have in common an affiliation with a belief system — whether it’s derived from their family, religion, or a political party — that conflicts with whatever the torture bureaucracy is telling them to do.
Above is some audio from the unedited interview from the documentary in which Rejali talks more about these conflicts. Here, Rejali makes reference to French soldiers who refused to perpetrate torture during the French-Algerian war in the 1950s and early 60s. He also mentions social science experiments that would be illegal today but have taught us about the power of social situations in determining people’s propensity to obey or defy authority — specifically the famous Milgram obedience study. We decided to use some audio from the these experiments in our upcoming show.
*Thanks to American RadioWorks for permission to use this source audio and Michael Montgomery, Joshua Phillips, and Catherine Winter.
A Brief Musical Interlude Trent Gilliss, online editor
Working on a show about torture can make one grave, as it should. As I was conferring with Nancy on a couple of upcoming blog posts on the subject, I saw a fellow Tumblr and fan of the show post this delightful tune. It brought a shimmy to my legs and reminded me of the pleasure of doing this work, and of ritual.
So I’m reblogging Nathan’s post and sharing it with you for the lunchtime hour:
A Guest with a Personal Interest in the Torture Debate » download (mp3, 1:00) Trent Gilliss, online editor
As we look for guests for each show, we seek authoritative voices who not only have the expertise to speak about delicate subjects but a personal investment in that subject as well. In this week’s show, “The Long Shadow of Torture” (available via podcast on June 11), we found that voice — Darius Rejali, a professor of Political Science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
He’s written several books on the topic of violence and torture, including Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran and, most recently, Torture and Democracy. In the preface to the latter, Rejali writes about his personal stake on this subject:
Perhaps as a child, I was more disposed to thinking differently about violence than others. My relation to violence was more intimate. On my Iranian side, royal autocrats in my family had no difficulty ordering torture or genocide when it served their interests. Stories of their deeds are, to say the least, unforgettable. On my American side, we remember General Sherman’s march through Georgia. In September 1864, as cannons shelled Atlanta, my ancestor, Harriet Yarbrough, dug a hole in a bank and hid there with her two children. Afterward, she was one of 446 families who stayed behind; she had opposed the war passionately from the outset, but when Union soldiers destroyed the Yarbrough home for firewood, that was the last straw. Undaunted by the situation in which she found herself, she went to find Sherman and unleashed all her fury at him. It did no good, and the site of her home is now part of Olympic Park. She filed for reimbursement from the War Department, and pursued the claim until 1891. She never forgot.
Being an Iranian aristocrat — American Southerner, a Shiite Muslim — Calvinist with a keen sense of history, presents unique intellectual and moral challenges. If you had told me early in childhood that I would write a book on Iranian torture — as I did — I would not have believed you. And I am just as surprised, I think, that this new book is also on torture.
But it seems my family’s tales of the dark side of human life have put me in a good position to understand where we find ourselves today. Exactly a hundred years ago, my Iranian great-grandfather fought to defend his autocratic way of life. He did not hesitate to turn cannons on crowds or torture people he considered terrorists and anarchists. His opponents said, there you see, his way of life is a sham, and these people disguise barbaric force behind high-minded talk of honorable values. And who was to say they were wrong? For if honorable men cannot fight fairly and win, who on earth are they, and what do they represent? In the end no one, except a handful of sycophants, mourned the passing of his way of life.
A hundred years later, believers in democracy seem to be ready to make the same mistake as my autocratic ancestor, and I am here to urge them not to. I hope I have written a story that makes us take a second look at ourselves as we enter a new century primed to treat our enemies inhumanely.
A few days ago, a “Speaking of Faith” Google alert highlighted Kaye Thompson’s blog entry about her first year in Lesotho, Africa. Her reflections on serving in the Peace Corps is refreshing, honest, and vulnerable. I appreciate that. And, I found her description of cooperation among medical professionals and local healers hopeful and inspiring:
I helped my clinic sponsor a day- long meeting between the traditional healers of the area (35 came) and the clinic staff. Because the head of the clinic is a wise and open-minded nurse, she stayed out of any judgment towards the healers and honest sharing was encouraged. The healers come from a variety of traditions to include intuitive healers, those that speak with the ancestors, those that have apprenticeships with other healers, and those that go to a program to receive more formalized training. They work with dreams, herbs, spirits and prayers. Unfortunately some of the practices are harmful and impede healing with Western medecines. The healers spoke of their feelings of being marginalized by the medical community, their belief that they can cure AIDS, their wish to be able to work more collaboratively with the clinic, and an overall sense of relief that these two communities were finally in dialogue. It was a huge success with hopes for a repeat in the future.
We’ve begun a new First Person initiative asking Muslims to share their perspectives for a project we’ll be working on during the coming months. We pay a lot of attention to the wording and phrasing of invitations like this because we want it to be generous and open-ended but maintain a focus. We also want to do something special, something inherent to the sensibilities of Speaking of Faith.
For this call-out, the phrase “the Muslim world” came up in initial drafts — which made me uneasy because of the broad brush implications. This article from Foreign Policy reminded me of why I became uncomfortable when the phrase was suggested:
To see the trouble with the term “Muslim world,” one needs only to try and define it. Who is included in the Muslim world? What countries — or individuals — make the cut, and who defines it?
"Muslim world" unfairly and singularly assigns adherents of Islam into a figurative ghetto. And particularly in the post-September 11, this relegation carries a real moral hazard: By lumping together extremists, secularists, and everyone in between, the term "Muslim world" legitimizes the idea that all of the group’s members are locked in deadly conflict with the non-Islamic world.
If you are Muslim, we’d like to understand more about the complexity and diversity of your personal and cultural expression of Muslim identity. What does being Muslim mean to you? What do you find beautiful about Islam and how does this find expression in your daily life? What hopes questions and fears are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition? Share your stories and images with us.
This report from Daily News Egypt provides a variety of views and perspectives about President Obama choosing Cairo University as the location for tomorrow’s speech. It gives you a sense of the dialogue happening on the ground — and the difficulty of choosing one place over another to give a seminal speech.
I can’t read Arabic, but if you have other interesting articles with an international perspective that you’d recommend, point me in the right direction. Or, better yet, paste the URLs for the Arabic-language pieces and I’ll see what sense I can make of them through Google Translate.
Repossessing Virtue: Chery Cutler on the Art and Practice of Improvisation » download(mp3, 16:11) Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
I love to dance. After spending my work week plugged into screens, headphones, and all things Microsoft Outlook, I seek spirit and solace in movement. Most Saturdays you’ll find me sweating it out at an African dance class in downtown Minneapolis.
In April I traveled to the Pacific Northwest to participate in a weekend-long improvisational dance workshop on Vashon Island, near Seattle. To call it a dance workshop is actually something of a misnomer. I and my fellow improvisers weren’t there to perfect our dance technique. Our charge was to learn to listen without fear — or put differently, to practice the art of “creative listening” which is to pay attention to whatever is happening in the present moment of an unscripted dance. I think that Jon Kabat-Zinn would give it a thumb’s up.
I was so jazzed by the experience of the workshop that a few days after I got back I decided to interview one of the facilitators, dance veteran Chery Cutler. In a book she co-authored, Creative Listening: Overcoming Fear in Life & Work, Chery describes creative listening as “learning to quiet fear and listen three-dimensionally — to one’s own inner voice, to others, and to the environment…”
Slight in stature but super-sized in spirit, Chery is now retired from Wesleyan University where she founded the dance department and worked as a professor for over three decades. She recently told me that past SOF guest Majora Carter took her class back in the day.
So much of what Chery says about improvisation and creative listening echoes the conversations we’ve been having as part of our Repossessing Virtue project. She calls this moment of economic collapse “an extremely exciting time” that has the potential to unleash creativity if we can just stop, listen, and resist the urge to willfully dance to the beat of our pesky fear-driven agendas.
We recently wrapped production on Living Differently, Beyond Economic Crisis — the latest installment in our Repossessing Virtue series. This program features the reflections of eight SOF listeners and scores of others online. Soon we’ll be posting more audio interviews to fatten the growing RV archive. I think this conversation with Chery makes for a nice addition to this growing chorus of voices. Let me know what you think.
[I’ve included a picture of my fellow creative listening improvisers here. As the lone Minnesota representative, I’m the only one wearing a coat — not quite fully trusting that it’s safe to venture outside without a down-filled garment. Chery is the one crouched in front, smiling broadly and wearing a black hoodie.]
Speaking of... religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas?
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Update: Added a short list of possible new titles (KM, 3:04pm)
We had our first formal meeting here at the SoF ranch yesterday to allow for some brainstorming around the idea of changing the title of the program. This is an idea in its first exploratory stages, and it may or may not lead to a new name for the show and for the Web site.
But we’ve felt the impulse to examine the possibility of a new name for some time. “Speaking of Faith” sounds too narrowing to some ears, too exclusively “Christian” for a show that covers all religious thought and a lot of areligious or nonreligious thought as well, to others. Our so-called “tag language” says we are the “conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.” Throw in a strip mall and the kitchen sink, and that’s a pretty big topic area, inclusive of almost every imaginable subject. And we like that inclusiveness, that expansiveness, and want out title to capture that.
The possibilities that follow presume Krista’s name as part of the title: First Person; How We Live; Common Life; The Conversation; Listening Generously; The Human Condition; Consider This; Outreach Speaking … with Krista Tippett.
Please — weigh in! Tell us what you think! What should we call this conversation with Krista Tippett? What do you think of the options listed above?