“One question that many readers have asked, and that none of the authors under review really answers, is: What is to be done? I don’t pretend to have answers for the humanitarians. But surely at least we who work in journalism can do a public service by treating humanitarianism the same way we treat other powerful public interests that shape our world. Too often the press represents humanitarians with unquestioning admiration. Why not seek to keep them honest? Why should our coverage of them look so much like their own self-representation in fund-raising appeals? Why should we (as many photojournalists and print reporters do) work for humanitarian agencies between journalism jobs, helping them with their official reports and institutional appeals, in a way that we would never consider doing for corporations, political parties, or government agencies? Why should we not regard them as interested parties in the public realms in which they operate, as giant bureaucracies, as public trusts, with long records of getting it wrong with catastrophic consequences, as well as getting it right?”—
The Dalai Lama's Left-Hand Man: A Twitterscript of Geshe Thupten Jinpa Interview
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
While at Emory University for The Summit on Happiness a few weeks ago, Krista sat down with Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s chief English translator, for a one-hour interview. We live-tweeted the conversation and collated them into this Twitterscript for you. Look for our produced show of this interview on our website and podcast this Thursday.
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (center) marches side-by-side with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams (right), demanding action to halve poverty worldwide by 2015. (photo: Cate Gillon/Getty Images)
I interviewed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks twice in our recent days at Emory, and these separate encounters offered an interesting glimpse of the range of this man. If you heard our show with him on stage discussing happiness with the Dalai Lama, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori, and Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, you experienced an exuberant storyteller who captivated a room of 4000. But I first met him for a one-on-one conversation two days earlier, on a Friday afternoon as Sabbath approached. That day, as in the happiness discussion, he offered my favorite new definition of Sabbath — a time to focus on “the things that are important but not urgent.” And he was in an altogether quieter, reflective mode. This is the man you’ll encounter in this show.
I’ve been wanting to interview Jonathan Sacks for several years, intrigued by what I’ve read of him and, in particular, by the evocative and helpful phrase he’s developed: “the dignity of difference.” This suggests a kind of sacred alternative and addendum to the language of “tolerance,” the limits of which I discussed with Evangelical leader Richard Mouw several weeks ago. Jonathan Sacks is in a unique position to ponder faithful, theological approaches to life in a multi-religious, globalized world. The Office of Chief Rabbi was a creation of Victorian-era Britain, a kind of imperial Jewish corollary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is himself an Orthodox Jew, and holds formal religious authority in that community alone. But as chief rabbi, he is the public voice of British Judaism.
And as a deep thinker and wise voice, Jonathan Sacks has carved out his own kind of moral authority in the modern United Kingdom — a relatively secular culture in what remains an officially Christian state. He is asked to advise government ministers and the royal family. He reflects on issues of the day in media and public venues. He is a masterful writer.
I focused in, for this conversation, on his understanding of “difference” in Jewish and religious perspective. For what could be more urgent? Behind our great contemporary political, ecological, and social challenges, we struggle to find new ways to see and live with the “other” — and to understand the well-being of the other as linked to our own. Science itself is revealing that this kind of awareness can make a profound biological and behavioral difference — leading us towards forgiveness over revenge, peace over war. And Jonathan Sacks is one of the most articulate champions I’ve found for intentionally tapping the vast resources of wisdom on “the other” that his tradition has carried forward across time and through no small amount of tragedy.
Some of Jonathan Sacks’ convictions might sound counterintuitive culturally and religiously. The unity of God is itself the source of diversity, he notes, pointing from the Bible to the natural world. And moral imagination in a pluralistic world is about finding more substantive and thoughtful ways to bring the fruits of our particularities to bear. “By being what only I can be,” he says, “I give humanity what only I can give.”
At the depth of our traditions, Jonathan Sacks says to the faithful, we are called to see a God who is bigger than us, who will surprise us, who will show himself in places we never expect God to be: in the face of the stranger, and in the practice of a radically different faith. Jonathan Sacks embodies the mix of humility and boldness, of a passion for both mystery and truth — something I’ve experienced in the wisest individuals I’ve interviewed across the years. Listen, or watch (!), and enjoy.
Moshe Levy's Time to Shyne, But How Does His Conversion to Orthodox Judaism Fit In?
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Dominick Brady got it right. The photo heading The New York Times profile piece of Moses Levi (or is it Moshe Levy Ben-David?), the hip-hop star known as Shyne, is a great photo. But, when it comes to the whys and the hows of Mr. Levy’s path to Orthodox Judaism and his ongoing relationship with the faith — as the headline exploits — the article itself falls short. You’d be better served reading David Brinn’s initial piece or more recently published long-form profile in The Jerusalem Post. Or watching the video above.
Dina Kraft has tapped in to something in the American psyche though. Her article is rapidly spreading online and, as I write this post, it’s the third most emailed article on the Times website. Even several colleagues approached me Thursday wanting to talk about it and proposed posting this pull quote:
“What I do get is boundaries. Definition and form. And that is what Shabbat is. You can’t just do whatever you want to do. You have to set limits for yourself…All these rules, rules, rules…But you know what you have if you don’t have rules? You end up with a bunch of pills in your stomach. When you don’t know when to say when and no one tells you no, you go off the deep.”
This is one of those articles from The New York Times that is so full of promise but leaves the reader with a string of anecdotes and very little understanding. There’s mostly back story; Orthodox Judaism is used as a hook but rarely followed up on here. As I was reading it Wednesday night, I found myself wishing Kraft’s editor would’ve been more generous, and more pressing.
And I found myself feeling a bit empty. Left wanting. Wanting to hear more about the convicted felon’s path to Orthodox Judaism in prison and outside. Wanting to understand why he chose the Orthodox tradition instead of a version of Conservative or Reform Judaism. Wanting to know how the language of the yeshiva is informing his lyrics. Wanting to know more about his Ethiopian Jewish heritage. Wanting to know how he’s living differently because of his new-found faith. Wanting to know more about his current relationship with his father in Belize and his interactions with Jewish communities after being deported from the United States.
We’ll put out a request to get these and other questions answered. And, if you have any of your own, offer up a comment.
Inner Restlessness and Unease with Stillness: An Interview with Jane Moss on Lincoln Center's White Light Festival
by Kate Moos, executive producer
This year, Lincoln Center announced that its fall festival for the first time would be produced around a unifying concept: that of “spiritual expression and the illumination of our large, interior universes,” according to Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center’s Vice President of Programming. The series, dubbed the White Light Festival, began October 28th and includes an array of musical experiences and tastes, ranging from Brahms’ requiem to Meredith Monk, to the Tallis Scholars, and from Antony and the Johnsons to the Latvian National Choir.
Last spring, as these ideas were taking shape, Jane Moss asked Krista for her thoughts on the idea and shared a bit of its inception, including her own experience as a creative professional seeking spaciousness. She agreed to answer a few questions via email for the Being Blog.
It seems that your own interest in finding a way to manage life in an increasingly noisy and busy world was part of what prompted you to explore the idea of White Light. How did that happen, and what has changed for you? As is always the case with our programming, the idea for the festival grew out of a confluence of factors. First, I have been very struck over the past five years or so by a dramatic increase in what I would categorize as addictively outer-directed lives — facilitated by technology — and a dramatic decrease in the capacity to fully inhabit the moment. There seemed to be a growing unease with simply being, and being receptive and absorbing all that is around us. These developments were also leading to what I would characterize as an inner restlessness and an increasing unease with stillness.
I feel quite strongly that a full engagement with a work of art is essentially a contemplative act that demands moving inside ourselves and then allowing art to inhabit us and vice versa. So, many of these developments were working against the very engagement that lies at the core of our mission at Lincoln Center.
It also seemed that everyone I knew felt that they were increasingly out of control of their own time. Paralleling the ease of the technology was a sense of having no time for oneself — much less time for a personal, non-cyber connection with a friend. And of course there was/is the problem of everything operating at a profoundly distracting high level of speed.
The Forty-Part Motet at Rose Hall (photo: j-No/Flickr)
And yet I was quite convinced that people were actually seeking more internally nourishing and deeper connections and content in their lives. I also knew that music and arts presentations could offer them that, but we needed to be bold in articulating a context in which that message was clear. Simply stating that a work of music or presentation was, from an aesthetic point of view, “the best” was not enough — a larger statement about the meaning and moments of transcendence that music can offer was what we articulated in the White Light Festival. And strongly presenting that larger context for music has had such resonance for our audiences.
We think of religious or spiritual virtues in terms like humility, compassion, and hospitality. Were there particular spiritual or religious values that helped shape the program itself? Specific themes you were drawn to? The fundamental truth or belief or faith for me personally is that there are vast swathes of consciousness or being or interior life that lie inside ourselves but outside the narrowly defined linguistic confines of our ego. When I use the word transcendence what I mean are our experiences of ourselves that lie outside our ego. And I think it is through those experiences (achieved by a wide variety of means: spiritual practices such as meditation, or religious convictions, falling in love, experiences of nature, or mind-body practices such as yoga, or artistic experiences and creativity in diverse pursuits) of transcending the ego and thereby having access to the far larger universe inside oneself that one discovers compassion and humility and profound connection to others. For many, a central feature of discovering that larger universe is the belief one is connected to a far larger or infinite field of being or consciousness.
Sutra (photo: Feast of Music/Flickr)
Is it likely this idea will live in future programming? What might that look like at Lincoln Center? So the White Light Festival, which will be an ongoing, annual festival, is really focused on transcendence as defined above in its many manifestations. In the first year, we chose overtly spiritual music as our first exploration, but that will not always be the case.
The series reflects an eclectic array of voices and material. As you developed the program, were there any surprises for you in what emerged? Transcendence almost by definition is eclectic because it is available and sought by virtually everyone on the planet regardless of nationality or cultural background. And perhaps the most frequently encountered avenue out of the ego is artistic expression, which is itself remarkably diverse. Great artistic experiences are both deeply personal — somehow you feel less alone — and universal — you feel connected to others who love what you love yet differently. The most surprising discovery for me in our creation of the White Light Festival was the response of the artistic community, who love having their work perceived in a “White Light” context.
And that context is perfectly defined by the composer Arvo Pärt:
"I could compare my music to white light which contains all colors. Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener."
That is how the White Light Festival got its name.
A Twitterscript with the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
On October 15, 2010, Krista interviewed Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, during our trip to Emory University for a conference called “The Pursuit of Happiness” with the Dalai Lama. We are producing an hour-long radio show and podcast of this face-to-face conversation that will be available on Thursday, November 11th.
We streamed live video of this interview and also live-tweeted (@Beingtweets) some of the highlights. We’ve gathered them together for you in the form of a Twitterscript:
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution etched on the doors going into the Mass Media building at Western Kentucky University. (photo: Alan Hudson/Flickr)
Sunday’s New York Times article on schools’ efforts to end bullying seemed an “aw shucks” case-study of the law of unintended consequences. School districts, eager to stop the kind of harassment that led to a recent spate of gay teen suicides, are teaching tolerance. Sounds good, right? But portraying homosexual relations as normal rubs religious conservatives the wrong way. “Of course we’re all against bullying,” one Montana minister told the Times. “But the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is wrong, and Christians don’t want the schools to teach subjects that are repulsive to their values.”
That statement begs for deeper reporting, but like most mainstream news outlets, when it comes to probing conservative religion and religious belief, the Times seldom wants to go there. For example, some of the biblical passages condemning homosexual acts — most notably Leviticus 20:13 — prescribe death for the persons committing the acts. How does the minister in the Times article reconcile what the Bible “clearly says” with the imperative to protect all children, both gay and straight, from violence? And how do the First Amendment’s clauses respecting religion figure into the mix?
Teaching tolerance is not a simple matter if the takeaway is that all people deserve dignity and respect regardless of religious, racial, ethnic or sexual differences. For Times readers — most of whom, it’s safe to say, believe that pluralism and open-mindedness go hand in hand — it’s a particularly hard lesson. But tolerating difference is not the same as condoning it, which is why the Montana minister and many others want to stop schools that “promote acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle” maybe even more than they want to stop bullies.
Ultimately the problem for religious conservatives isn’t just about homosexuality; it’s about tolerating any state-sanctioned deviation from what they consider the norm. From this perspective, any constraints on religious speech in the public sphere, especially when it comes to sexual mores, is a violation of the First Amendment’s clause respecting the free exercise of religion.
But that’s not a dilemma that Times readers associate with the America of their day-to-day experience. Rather intolerance of others is someone else’s problem — it’s the French who don’t want schoolchildren wearing religious garb, it’s Saudis who won’t let Christians build churches in their country, it’s Iranians who believe in a worldwide Jewish cabal. They don’t realize that beyond their bubble of blue lies a vast sea of red where an increasing number of conservative voters see the promotion of the liberal values of “tolerance” as an effort to establish secularism as the official American civil religion.
If the absolute conflict of religious absolutes seems to increasingly define global politics, it’s also starting to define our own political culture. Americans, especially self-styled secularists, seem unaware of the religious values to which they are absolutely bound: civility, self-determination, and individualism. Despite some glaring historic exceptions (indigenous Americans, African Americans, Catholics, Jews, Asians, South Asians), our credo has been live and live — and in the twentieth century the circle seemed to grow. But times are changing and what happens when tolerance is no longer tolerated? The Times raises the question, but we need a lot more reporting on possible answers to it.
Diane Winston holds the the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. A national authority on religion and the media, her expertise includes religion, politics, and the news media as well as religion and the entertainment media. A journalist and a scholar, Winston’s current research interests are media coverage of Islam, religion and new media, and the place of religion in American identity. She writes a smart blog called the SCOOP and tweets too.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
This article was reprinted with permission from the author.
The crescent-topped dome of Masjid An-Nasr peeks through trees of a residential neighborhood in Oklahoma City. (photo: Andrew Shockley/Flickr)
Hailing from Canada, where referendums are few and far between, I’m fascinated by some of the questions on the U.S. ballots. This year I was particularly interested in Oklahoma ballot measure 755 [bold emphasis mine]:
"This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.
International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons.
The law of nations is formed by the general assent of civilized nations. Sources of international law also include international agreements, as well as treaties.
Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.
"What most Americans don’t realize is that we already have interpretations of Shari’ah law in our country; or, at least, interpretations of the personal, moral, and ethical components of the law, operating off of individual choice and will. When Muslims pray, they are following interpretations of Shari’ah. Fasting in Ramadan. Giving in charity. Even a smile, the Prophet Muhammad said, is charity. So what this means in real terms is entirely beyond me…"
At a time where civility may be harder to find, I was heartened by his surprisingly optimistic note for the future. A view, however, which is probably out of reach for Muneer Awad, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who filed a lawsuit (PDF of petition) challenging the constitutionality of the measure. A preliminary hearing before U.S. district court judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange is scheduled for today.
This broadcast was ill-timed in the wake of the hate crimes in New York and the suicide at Rutgers. In addition, at a time when SOF is transitioning its brand identity, one would think the choice of material would be less divisive.
I have listened to your show for years. It has brought great comfort and understanding into my life. I will continue to listen, even in the wake of what I consider to be a giant gaffe from a show that I deeply respect. Would the show have given voice to someone who supported Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage laws in 1967, no matter how civil the voice? In my mind, this is what “On Being” did, translating it to 2010.
But civility in the political and religious arena is such an important topic! I wish it had been explored in a way that didn’t highlight one man’s disapproval of gay marriage. I long to be respectful of other folks’ beliefs, struggles and communal aspirations. Regrettably, it is impossible for anyone who believes in equality to reconcile Mr. Mouw’s beliefs on gay marriage. How is it civil to deny someone his or her right to marry the one he or she loves? An on-air apology to your gay and lesbian listeners would be most welcome.
The language used on one of the Facebook posts (“No matter what your opinion on gay rights”) was appalling. While I’m sure it was unintentional, I feel that the show really needs to clear the air.
All the best, Chad Smyser
This critique echoed many other listeners’ reactions to the show. And, we answered as many as we could. But, it was the following exchange between Kate Moos, our executive producer, and Chad that offers an example of what quality conversation can be when we are honest, open, and vulnerable with one another:
Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m sorry the show disappointed you. There has been some follow up on our blog, and there will likely be more. Our internal editorial process was quite fraught along some the same lines of question and concern you describe. The program itself was not designed to be—and wasn’t—a show about the gay marriage and gay civil rights issues. It was aimed at the broader topic of civility. But Mouw’s position on gay marriage colors his authority—in many peoples’ view—for other topics of moral weight.
We argued about this and wrestled with it. Ultimately, we felt it was important to factor in the people with whom Mouw is in a distinct position to have high authority: other conservative Christians, whom he is taking to task and challenging to greater compassion, humility and civility. In fact, we received an email yesterday from one of those conservative Christians who has been paralyzed in her relationships with 2 close family members who are gay. She wrote to thank us because she was heart-broken and felt Mouw gave her a way to be in relationship with them, and in some sense, gave her permission to love them. So that is another impact of this program.
We would not have a guest on our show who would defend inter-racial marriage laws. And yet your point is taken—theological thinkers and religious people have erred badly in the past, and continue to err on matters of central moral gravity, things like slavery, voting rights, and marriage. Some people clearly put Mouw in that category.
The idea was to challenge all of us to keep listening through our most profound disagreements.
Chad, I am a lesbian who is long partnered, and who went to Canada to be married a few years ago—believe me I was challenged in producing this show, to keep listening to a point of view that I find in its essence a condemnation of my life. I am also related to people who share Mouw’s view of gay-lesbian marriage, and of the essential sinfulness of homosexuality. I struggle mightily to keep an open heart for them. This is where we are living, all of us, in this kind of contention.
I am not writing back to you to counter what you say but perhaps to amplify it. We will be posting reflections on this show in the coming days that might help “clear the air.” If you have other thoughts on how we can do that I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for writing, and peace. Kate Moos
And Chad’s reply:
I am deeply touched and grateful for your thoughtful, heartfelt reply. Perhaps this episode struck such a dissonant chord with me because, like you, I struggle with the issue of civility and open mindedness in dealing with folks in my own family and circle of acquaintances. It was Mr. Mouw’s views on homosexuality in the context of creating an open dialogue amongst people of vastly varying viewpoints that really caused my disappointment.
Also, I look to SOF/Being as one of my touchstones to a spiritual life. I was raised evangelical and threw out all things spiritual when I came out. I thought that the two were mutually exclusive. It was really your show that allowed me to find a way back to belief in something bigger than myself. Through SOF I discovered the quiet revolution of Thich Nhat Hahn. I started uncovering the secular movement toward well-being via Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness and Andrew Freear’s architecture. I even felt a deep kinship with Shane Claiborne, although his views on homosexuality certainly aren’t akin to mine. Nevertheless, his spirit of subversive inclusiveness and social justice really appeals to me.
I am moved by the response of one of your conservative Christian listeners who struggles to find a way to have a relationship with her gay relatives. Perhaps this one outcome is worth all the confusion and anger gays and lesbians may have felt. Furthermore, I suppose this episode has truly challenged my views on civility and dealing with those whose views I know are empirically wrong when it comes to homosexuality, yet with whom I must find a way to reconcile. There is nothing more human than failure. I would be well advised to accept others’ failure as well as my own.
I continue to look forward to the journey from “Faith” to “Being.” Airing your and the staff’s own struggles with this episode would be a great help to your gay and lesbian listeners. Understanding your journey has profoundly affected mine.
Of course we are sensitive to these types of personal conversations, so I requested Chad’s permission to publish the exchange, to which he replied with a graceful note:
Yes, you may publish our correspondence. I am very grateful for Kate’s response, and I imagine that it will speak to others. It really helped me to understand the spirit behind Krista’s conversation with Mr. Mouw, along with the editorial struggles that went into its production.
Grazia Cesarini Sforza (pictured in red above) is one of the stars of Mid-August Lunch, a lovely Italian film about a middle-aged bachelor who takes care of four elderly women — each with distinct and sometimes conflicting temperaments — during Italy’s annual August holiday. Sforza, like most of the cast, had never appeared on screen before. Reflecting on the film’s success and her own experience being part of the production, she echoes Rabbi Sacks’ sentiment:
"The film was … one of life’s gifts that you don’t expect at the age of 90. At 90 what’s gone is gone. … And then the success that it’s had and the friends I’ve made, the people I’ve met is something really. I hadn’t imagined anything like that."
What experiences come to mind in when you think about an unexpected happiness that landed in your lap?
A basketball court transformed by flowers and incandescent light. Four thousand people in attendance. Four global religious leaders. I have never concentrated as hard as I did in the two hours I spent on that stage. But it was, in the end, a delight. And it was fascinating as an encounter as much as a conversation. The Dalai Lama’s embodied joy, his radiant and playful presence, was as defining as the words he spoke.
The biggest challenge with discussing “happiness” in this culture might be finding our way back to the substance of that word itself — a substance that has been hollowed out by its uses in culture. I found myself very much planted in the definition of happiness that the French-born Tibetan Buddhist scientist/monk Matthieu Ricard offered on this program and podcast in 2009. He defines happiness as “genuine flourishing” — not a pleasurable sensation or mood, but a way of being in the world that can encompass the fullness of human experience — joy and pleasure as well as suffering and loss.
Professor Nasr, Bishop Jefferts Schori, and Rabbi Sacks all added to that definition as they laid out the virtues and habits, the spiritual technologies, that their traditions have carried forward in time. They all described corollaries, in a sense, to the Dalai Lama’s joyful yet disciplined teachings on cultivating compassion and calmness in the mind as way of flourishing in and amidst all of life’s experiences. But the most exciting part of interreligious encounter, for me, is not rushing to hear similarities but savoring particularities — the distinctive vocabularies of thought and practice, the beautiful and intriguing differences that come to light even as we may seem to be circling towards the same goal.
And so among my favorite moments are Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s explication of beauty as inextricably linked to virtue and happiness in Muslim tradition. Beauty, he says, makes the soul happy. Bishop Jefferts Schori talked about the long tradition in Christianity of practicing gratitude and “the presence of God” in the midst of ordinary activities of life. Rabbi Sacks evoked sabbath as a space to focus on the things in life that are “important but not urgent.” He described the extraordinary power of pausing to let life’s “blessings” — an awareness of the deepest sources of our happiness — “catch up with us.” Such reflections unsettle notions of happiness as a “right” and as something to be “pursued.”
A discussion of happiness is intrinsically serious, too. As we were also reminded in the course of this discussion, spiritual happiness is never merely personal in nature. It is linked to an awareness of the suffering and pleasure of others. And at the same time, it is something we cultivate in our bodies as well as our minds. It communicates itself in our very presence.
There was, fittingly, a great deal of laughter on this stage of religious dignitaries seated center court at Emory. There was a festive atmosphere in the room altogether. Listen, and watch, for yourself. Ponder, and enjoy this dynamic discussion to get a full flavor of the physical and engaged presence of these prominent religious leaders as they contemplate the meaning of happiness.
"But what if the next Dalai Lama is a woman? Would she, or even could she, offer the world the same grounding wisdom? Inspire compassion within people of all cultures? Properly navigate Tibet’s troublesome relationship with the Chinese government?
History tells us it’s possible, but will current Tibetan culture and China’s political players approve?
“Until religious people understand the spirit of the Word, especially the nature of unconditional love, they are trapped in an ethical prison. In the meantime, people can use Scripture to support any opinion. Why bother? Why not just go directly to what is right?”—
— Shepherd Hoodwin, in response to Krista’s recent interview with Richard Mouw in “Restoring Political Civility.”
Understanding Happiness with the Dalai Lama, a British Rabbi, an Episcopal Bishop, a Muslim Scholar: A Twitterscript
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
On October 17 of this year, Krista led a lively conversation with four dynamic religious leaders: the His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr on “Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society.”
Trent and I sat in the media section of the Woodruff Physical Education Center at Emory University and our live-tweeted some of the special gems from discussion. You can also listen to the event’s full audio.
We’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s panel w/ @, @RabbiSacks, Rev. Schori, + Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Intros are beginning; discussion to start soon. 17 Oct
Krista and religious leaders have taken the stage, followed by the @DalaiLama. All are standing in silence with one pair of hands clapping. 17 Oct
The topic of this session: understanding and promoting happiness in today’s society. Smiles everyone! 17 Oct
"The reason different religious traditions developed is not for misery but for deep satisfaction (happiness). That’s very clear."-@DalaiLama 17 Oct
The @DalaiLama finally put on his classic deep red visor. He said to Krista - “Now I can see you clearer. There is a bright light in here.” 17 Oct
"If we could learn 1 thing from you - how to laugh the way you do - it would increase the happiness in the world." @rabbisacks to @dalailama 17 Oct
"Simha tells us that happiness is part of the tenure and texture of relationships." @rabbisacks on Jewish definition of a shared happiness 17 Oct
"Consumerism making us feel bad for what we lack is the most efficient system for the manufacturing+distribution of unhappiness" @rabbisacks 17 Oct
"The paradox of the world is that to listen to a lecture on #happiness people have to stand in line unhappily for 2 hours to get in.” -Nasr 17 Oct
“#Happiness comes from this right relationship - from knowing you are not God and therefore not putting yourself in the center.” -Rev Schori 17 Oct
Some people have the idea that just following the truth is enough. #Islambelieves what’s important is to attain #happiness.”-Seyyed H. Nasr 17 Oct
"The environmental crisis is due to this substitution - believing #happiness is to have, want more and more.” - Seyyed Hossein Nasr 17 Oct
"Once it was asked to a great #Sufi master ‘What do you want?’ He said ‘I want not to want?’ That’s the epitome of #happiness.” -Seyyed Nasr 17 Oct
"Happiness is a permanent state of the soul, and we are here to attain it." -Seyyed H. Nasr to the @DalaiLama 17 Oct
"That’s why all the pain can lead to #happiness when you say to the bad times: I will not let you go until you bless me.” - @rabbisacks 17 Oct
"Happiness is not finding joy in death. It’s taking what is, and insisting that great happiness for all is possible." - Rev. Schori 17 Oct
RT @EmoryUniversity ”Say to the bad times, I will not let you go until you bless me.”—-Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks 17 Oct
"In Arabic, beauty and virtue — and the word goodness — are all the same word." -Seyyed H. Nasr 17 Oct
"The #Arabic word for beauty, virtue, and goodness is the same. Beauty drives us to the divine…Beauty makes the soul happy.” - Seyyed Nasr 17 Oct
"Just by existing, we’re responsible towards other creatures, humans, nature, and God himself." -Seyyed Hossein Nasr 17 Oct
"Buddhism is in some ways atheist, but some say atheism means anti-God. In that sense, #Buddhism has respect for all traditions.” @DalaiLama 17 Oct
"Sometimes we don’t have to pursue happiness, we have to pause and let it catch up to us." - @rabbisacks 17 Oct
"There is a religious challenge in things that don’t look beautiful." -@RabbiSacks 17 Oct
"Happiness is a right. The purpose of our life is happiness. It may be simple but it’s what I think!" @DalaiLama 17 Oct
"When a person lives with hopelessness, they commit suicide. So our life depends on hope for happiness." @DalaiLama 17 Oct
A nice segue by Krista from @RabbiSacks' fabulous point about slowing down for happiness to the @DalaiLama's teachings on meditation. 17 Oct
"I almost drowned on my honeymoon, so when I wake up, I know what it means to pray: Thank you #God for giving me back my life.” @RabbiSacks 17 Oct
"We can face the future of fear if we know we do not face it alone." @RabbiSackson praying to #God and knowing God is with you 17 Oct
Just realized there’s a person signing this wonderful discussion at Emory. Her just to hear + translate must be incredibly difficult. Kudos. 17 Oct
"Our modern culture makes it very hard to fail." -@RabbiSacks at The Interfaith Summit on Happiness 17 Oct
"Train the body so the mind, the self, and the soul can do it’s job more effectively." - Rev. Schori on #running as body meditation 17 Oct
“Violence pretty much forces a silence on people. When everyone sees a violent act, the first reaction they have to it is, ‘Well, it’s bad and it should stop.’ And then that’s kind of where the brain ends. There’s a lot of moral torture talk…but the ability to turn around and confront, not the torture talk, … but to actually look at the practice, pay attention to it, understand its details, consider what would it take if I took a tool and I did this to such a person, what would its effects be, that’s a pretty horrifying thing. Nobody really wants to go there.”—
With new reports of detainee abuse in Iraq emanating from WikiLeaks, we’re going to broadcast/podcast an encore version of Krista’s interview with Rejali in the coming weeks. Rejali argues that, with the right circumstances in place, torture is a likely outcome and that it’s the “situation, not the disposition, that makes people evil.”
“There are many inventors whose personal life is just subsumed into their projects. That’s Atanasoff. That why he had a happy life: not because he was or wasn’t recognized, but because the things he built turned out to be what he thought they were going to be.”—
— Jane Smiley, from her interview with Gary Wolf in the November 2010 issue of Wired.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist discusses the protagonist of her new book titled The Man Who Invented the Computer, a biography on John Vincent Atanasoff. The quotation above is a helpful reminder that curiosity and achievement is a joy in and of itself. To create something and be right (or maybe even fail?) is a reward that accumulates over time, even if it’s not measurable in external adulation.
(I would have linked to the article, but it’s not ready yet.)
Thinking of My Past Education and of Those to Come
by Krista Tippett, host
(photo: Trent Gilliss)
Adele Diamond is a formative figure in the emerging field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. And she is the kind of person I love to interview — a person with an important body of knowledge who never stops growing and asking new questions and making big ideas come to life in her person. She has nurtured a lifelong love of dancing alongside her love of learning, and so she embodies the delightfully challenging story her research has to tell.
Here, in a very simplified nutshell, is that story — the piece of it that I have been able to internalize, in any case, and that has fundamentally changed the way I think about the education I received and what I want for my own children. Among other things, breakthroughs in neuroscience are helping us understand the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the latest part of the brain to develop in our species (“the new kid on the block,” as Adele Diamond puts it) and the last to fully mature — as late as our 20s — in every individual life.
The prefrontal cortex is vital to how we learn more than what we learn. It controls the cognitive disciplines and flexibility we need to access, apply, and creatively build on what we learn across our life spans. Such skills are a manifestation of the brain’s capacity for what neuroscientists call “executive function.” Adele Diamond’s groundbreaking research has focused on an educational approach called "Tools of the Mind" that strengthens executive function in pre-school age children. It has also shown intriguing promise for children with autism and ADHD, and for helping close the achievement gap between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Serious ideas, all. Yet, wonderfully, play is at the heart of this show. Tools of the Mind and related science-inspired initiatives encourage a child’s natural inclination for dramatic play. They mine that experience for the discipline it holds: of creativity, of putting oneself in another’s shoes, of listening and yielding to others, of character and perseverance.
Cutting-edge science is bringing us back to some very traditional, intuitive, and — as it turns out — educationally savvy modes of human interaction in and beyond school. It is scientifically explaining the educational power of things like drama, music, and physical activity. It is revealing memorization as a form of exercise for the brain and demonstrating that joyful environments are also more efficacious. Stress shuts down the prefrontal cortex. And the kinds of mental discipline the prefrontal cortex enables — manifest, for example, in a child’s ability to interact with others in play at an early age — is a more definitive indicator of future thriving, academic and otherwise, than IQ.
I am also naturally drawn to the spiritual implications of Adele Diamond’s work. Her emphasis is as much on reflection as on information. The kind of science she and others are doing has led the school system of British Columbia to incorporate reflection as a part of the development of whole, healthy human beings within its educational philosophy. I hear echoes of my conversation with Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan in Los Angeles, who are cultivating curiosity and listening between Muslims and Jews as a civic discipline that can enlarge our souls and our practical ability to be present to difference and possibility in ourselves and in the world.
Adele Diamond herself references Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as well as the Dalai Lama as she reflects on the spiritual connections she uncovers between learning, doing, and being. Her robust Jewish identity flows into the way she makes sense of the larger meaning of what she does, and she has also been deeply influenced by her encounter with the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Institute conversations between scientists and spiritual thinkers. In fact, I met her at a conference in Vancouver, where she interacted with the Dalai Lama and other scientists, educators, and spiritual thinkers.
And next week, we’ll bring another, recent encounter with the Dalai Lama and religious leaders — the chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and a preeminent Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr. I moderated that public discussion, on the subject of human happiness. It was a lively and felicitously unpredictable conversation, and I hope you’ll listen in.
The Dalai Lama and Compassion Science: A Twitterscript
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
During our trip to Emory University this past October, we sat in on several conversations between the Dalai Lama and leading scientists. We tweeted some of our favorite comments and now are aggregating them into this transcript:
Excited to be able to tweet scientists (including R. Davidson + Frans de Waal) discussing the latest research on mindfulness with @DalaiLama 8:33 AM Oct 18th
@DalaiLama conference and had been joking about buying HHDL swag. It ends up there’s a Tibetan Bazaar setup in the lobby! 8:57 AM Oct 18th
“When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.”—
I happened upon this blog post by Dr. Mohler after reading this Seattle Times article by Janet Tu in which Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, followed up on on the Evangelical leader’s statements with this comment:
"Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic. If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class."
Richard Mouw recently told Krista that the antichrist has changed over his lifetime: from the pope to communism to Stalin and now Islam. These articles are worth a read if you’re interested in learning about some conservative Christians’ views on how cultural trends may be diluting their faith. Perhaps yoga is one of those antichrists?
I have known Richard Mouw for 15 years and interviewed him on this program in its early days. Other Evangelical Christian leaders have been more visible in American political and media life: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and on the more progressive side Jim Wallis and Richard Cizik. I have followed them, but I have also always kept my ear and eye on quieter figures like Richard Mouw. As president of Fuller Theological Seminary, with more than 4000 students from 70 countries and over 100 denominations, he is training generations of Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors and global leaders.
And in this political season, in which values have once again — and with a new edge of hysteria — come to be a rallying cry for viciousness, I wanted to speak with him again. A book he first wrote in 1992, Uncomon Decency, has just been released in a revised version with the subtitle, “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” Mouw has long been a kind of bridge person — theologically conservative on some issues and more progressive on others — but he most fervently insists that the way people are treated is a greater measure of Christian virtue than the positions one takes.
I’ve wondered rhetorically how our political life would have evolved differently if the Christian re-emergence into politics in the late 20th century had modeled a practical love of enemies. My own deepest despair at present is not about the vitriol and division per se — as alarming as they are. It is about the fact that we seem to be losing any connective tissue for engaging at all, on a human level, across ruptures of disagreement. Across the political spectrum, many increasingly turn to journalism not for knowledge but to confirm individual pre-existing points of view. What we once called the red state, blue state divide is now more like two parallel universes where understandings of plain fact are no longer remotely aligned. This leads to a diminishing sense of the humanity of those who think and live differently than we do. And that is the ultimate moral slippery slope, for everyone on it and for the fabric of our civic life.
Richard Mouw lays out the imperative to all kinds of Christians for gentleness, reverence, humanity, and “honor” of the different other at the heart of the Bible and the life of Jesus. But this is not a feel-good plea for harmony. Even as he calls for civility and gentleness, Mouw reasserts his public and private opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. The civility he calls for would not minimize difference, at least at the outset, but would create a different space for discussing and navigating it — indeed for bringing differences into public life with virtue and vitality of expression. Picking up on a phrase coined by Christian historian Martin Marty, Richard Mouw builds upon this idea of “convicted civility.”
We had impassioned and difficult discussions on our production team about his ideas, and the complications and contradictions they present. When he says that, as a Christian, he sees other human beings as “works of divine art,” can that genuinely apply to a person whose sexual identity he defines as fundamentally wrong? And then, in the thick of creating this show, the Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide — one of a string of suicides of gay youth. This sharpened a question of whether religious views condemning homosexuality — however civilly expressed — inevitably fuel hateful, even fatal, behavior.
With all of this on my mind, I was struck by an open letter the Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler wrote in direct response to those teen suicides. Though Mohler is to the right of Richard Mouw theologically and culturally, his letter takes an unexpectedly kindred tone. Mohler leads the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and one of the most conservative. He spends the first few paragraphs of his statement reiterating his firm theological conviction that homosexuality is a sin. But in words that echo a search for a new way of “convicted civility,” Mohler confesses, “Much of our response to homosexuality is rooted in ignorance and fear.” And he asks, of the faithful and of his church leaders, “What if Tyler Clementi had been in your church? Would he have heard biblical truth presented in a context of humble truth-telling and gospel urgency, or would he have heard irresponsible slander, sarcastic jabs, and moralistic self-congratulation?” I read in Mohler’s statement a profound shift of tone, if not of position — and an opening to new ways of being.
This all drives towards a question I pursue in so many of my conversations: How does social change happen? We will not all be “on the same page,” as Americans like to be, on sexuality or many other issues for generations to come. The 21st century has opened up questions Western civilization thought it had put to rest. Some of them are intimate and raw, terrifying in every life at some point and therefore all the more unsettling when we are forced to ponder them out in the open together. Same-sex marriage is but the tip of an iceberg of human redefinition: What is relationship? What is marriage? What is friendship? What constitutes a family? In this messy moment, we retain our rights and responsibilities as human beings and citizens to discern our truths and live by them. But we have no choice, at the same time, if we want this to end well, to search for new ways to discern our multiple truths while living together.
Richard Mouw suggests that we need to start some of our conversations again from the beginning, certainly the conversation about sexuality. He believes that only by naming our hopes and our fears, articulating them among ourselves, revealing them to each other, can we begin to recreate something called a common life, which can contain, and not be destroyed by, our differences. I want to believe him, to believe that this is one answer to the question of how social change happens. If I didn’t believe that a new kind of conversation can also be a starting point for walking forwards together — living together, differently — I would not do what I do.
And yet, maybe another reality we have to live with is that these critical new conversations will start small, in many places, compelling us to connect dots for a while in lieu of convening the sweeping dialogue we might hope for. I’d point to a few that we’ve pulled together at onBeing.org with this show, including Albert Mohler’s letter in its entirety as well as a Religion Dispatchesreport about an historic meeting between a senior Mormon elder and LGBT Mormons.
We’ve also posted a piece we admire by fellow journalist Sasha Aslanian titled "Sex, Death, and Secrets" — featuring an interview with two lesbian pastors who’ve experienced a roller coaster ride of discernment within their own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
And we’ve posted another kind of contribution to civility, an act of care for “despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future” —
a video project called “It Gets Better” that was created by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry. Both come from families with conservative religious roots, and we see photographs that bespeak the embrace they’ve both received as members of these families. They are photographs of love that has overcome convictions — or chosen to live in a gracious, loving tension alongside them. This too is possible. Please add your thoughts, stories, and pictures — your dots, if you will — to this difficult, dispersed, essential conversation.
How we deal with the things, people, and ideas that push our disagreement and irritation buttons is at the heart of this week’s show with Evangelical thought leader and educator Richard Mouw. In the audio above (download mp3, 2:49), Mouw shares a story of Thérèse of Lisieux, a late 19th-century French Carmelite nun who couldn’t stand another nun in her convent. Lisieux found solace in the idea that the nun who irked her was God’s creation and should be appreciated as a divine work of art.
In her spiritual journal The Story of a Soul, published posthumously in 1989, Lisieux wrote these lines:
"I felt that this was very pleasing to Our Lord, for there is no artist who is not gratified when his works are praised…"
Mouw’s story about her reminds me of Krista’s conversations with Columba Stewart and Shane Claiborne, two monastics who speak to the real irritations pious people experience in daily communal living. Take these lines from Fr. Stewart, for example, about finding Christ in all things — even those things that might repel or rub us the wrong way:
"And if, as Benedict says, everyone we meet conveys Christ to us — so the guest, the sick, the pilgrim, our fellow monks whom we meet on a daily basis, as challenging as it can sometimes be to recognize Christ in someone with whom I disagree.
I must confess that these ideas about divine “art appreciation” and finding Christ in all things are pretty foreign to me. I grew up in a mostly secular Jewish family that was highly practiced in the art of complaint. When I listen to Mouw express awelike admiration for Thérèse of Lisieux, I imagine my father smirking, shaking his head, and cracking a sarcastic joke about the virtues of embracing one’s inner curmudgeon. In a twist on Mouw’s ideas, it’s the very strangeness of his perspective that captivates rather than repels me.
“As Muslim parents, it seems like the choices we make raising children are more critical and have a much more lasting impact than the average American family. We can not necessarily rely on mainstream society to help us enforce values and increase self acceptance in our children. And, with families being so far apart and nuclear families being the norm, there is a lot of pressure on parents to take full responsibility in raising children by themselves. I sometimes wonder if the modern lifestyle and the mentality that we are somehow able to ‘have it all’ just sets us up for failure.”—
— Hanieh Razzagh, a new mother reflects on raising her daughter in this post from the Ink Paper Mosaic blog.
Parents of two young boys, my wife and I no longer live near our extended families. Although we are of European and Roman Catholic heritage, we have similar concerns about raising family in contemporary life with social expectations. It can be quite exhausting, but, we also feel fortunate that they have wonderful teachers and caretakers at a local Jewish community center. They help us fill a bit of that void of not being able to daily hug their grandparents, visit with their aunts and uncles, and play with all their cousins.
On January 1, 1990, Jeff Johnson, a gay man and pastor of First United Lutheran Church, and Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, lesbian pastors of St. Francis Lutheran Church are ordained in San Francisco. Both churches were suspended in 1990 and expelled by the ELCA in 1996. (photo courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries)
My old English prof used to say “The Victorians were obsessed with death. We’re obsessed with sex.” I made an unexpected discovery on a recent assignment: sex and death have something in common: secrets.
In August of 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as pastors. As a reporter for MPR News, my assignment was to follow up a year later on the impact of the vote. I stumbled into a news story: the church was in the process of reconciling with partnered gays and lesbians who had previously been unwelcome. In July of this year, the ELCA added seven people back to its roster in San Francisco. Then, this September, they did the same with three women in Minnesota.
Two of the Minnesota women, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, were the first lesbian couple to be ordained without the blessing of the ELCA in San Francisco in 1990. They invited me to their home for an interview.
For the next 70 minutes, their story spilled out, spanning a sweeping slice of a social revolution moving rapidly through in our times. They told of coming out, falling in love, losing jobs then gaining them, and feeling God work through them during the AIDS crisis and hospice chaplaincy. Their story transcends Lutheranism. It’s personal, yet tethered to movements on both coasts, inside churches, seminaries, universities, courthouses, and workplaces.
"When you’re a change agent," said Frost, "you act where you are. Some people do in the secular arena: political activists, social activists. Our arena was the church. I’m third-generation Lutheran clergy."
For me, the unexpected part of their story was how they connected their work in hospice with the battle for inclusion in the Church. Zillhart and Frost began their ministry in San Francisco just as AIDS was ravaging the city. As they plunged in to help the men, their partners, and their families prepare for death, the two women saw opportunities for forgiveness, reconciliation, respect, acceptance, and love.
The “tape” at the top of this post is my favorite, but I had to leave it out of the final radio version. My news piece needed to cover the ordination, expulsion, and eventual embrace — already a tall order — and I wasn’t sure my editor would let me wander into end-of-life stuff at all. Thankfully she did, and it gave the story more depth. I think it also showed what Frost and Zillhart have been striving to show all along: there’s more that unites people than divides them. We all have secrets. Death is a universal unburdening of secrets.
Sexual orientation can be just one of them.
"There isn’t a family that doesn’t have a secret that they yearn to share and talk about the hurts and hopes we all have," said Zillhart. "Our difference is more obvious, more politically charged, people do a lot of fund-raising around how scary we seem — that feels electrifying — but the differences we have are all among us. The commonalities are so much deeper."
Frost adds with a note of amused exasperation, “I would love to get past being an issue in the church as a lesbian. I’ve been a professional Lutheran lesbian all my life. It’s time to be meeting one another in deeper ways than that affords.”
Frost and Zillhart show just where that depth can take us.
Unedited Interview with Frost and Zillhart(mp3, 71:00) This interview is what I call “a spigot interview” — the story spilled forth with very little coaxing. Their narrative connects their individual lives to a larger canvas of social and religious history.
Sasha Aslanian is a reporter for MPR News and creator of MPR News’ Youth Radio Series. From 2000 to 2008, she produced documentaries for American RadioWorks, the national documentary unit of American Public Media. Aslanian has won awards named for famous news men: Edward R. Murrow, Lowell Thomas, Heywood Broun and Eric Sevareid. She is a graduate of Grinnell College.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
We Americans Can Learn Something from the Chilean Celebration of Miners Rescued
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A satellite image shows the relief efforts to reach the trapped miners in the San Jose Mine in Copiapo, Chile. (credit: DigitalGlobe/Flickr)
Watching those miners emerge in a steel-cage projectile from the collapsed mine in Chile is miraculous. It’s risky business and it has been done with aplomb. What I’ve been struck with is the celebratory spirit of the event. Chileans gather in a central plaza waving Chile’s flag and laughing and cheering; rescued miners surface to quickly embrace their loved ones and then play to the surrounding crowd, pumping fists and yelling and urging supporters on.
Locals cheer in Copiapo square before the start of a risky rescue operation to hoist the 33 trapped miners from the bottom of a collapsed mine. (photo: Bruno Sepulveda/AFP/Getty Images)
I don’t think we would see that type of celebration here in the United States. I imagine a sense of solemnity and solitary viewing might take place. We Americans would silently be waiting for the news of disaster avoided rather than success achieved. And, for me, this is the lesson: acknowledge our frailty as human beings and revere how we move forward and do incredible things in spite of it — with our fists pumping in the air.
And, since I’m a father and a brother, these following three images really grabbed me. They are not shots of the first rescued miner, Florencio Avalos, but of his father and brother thanking the stars, embracing the moment and each other with amazement, and weeping over a loved one who will be coming home again.
Alfonso Avalos, father of Chilean miner Florencio Avalos, celebrates after his son was brought to the surface on October 13, 2010. (photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
Alfonso Avalos (right) and his son Wilson embrace after learning Florencio successfully made it to the surface after spending 10 weeks trapped in a collapsed mine 800 km north of Santiago, Chile. (photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
When Choice Means Different Things to Different People: Sheena Iyengar on Sources of Control
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
"It depends on how you define control. If you define control as ‘I will entirely write my script,’ that could be one way of thinking of having control. Another way to think about having control is to say ‘Look I was given this script, and I executed it with great aplomb.’ And there’s nothing to say that that means you don’t have control, it’s just a different kind of control."
Sheena Iyengar, a business professor at Columbia University and author of The Art of Choosing, has come to view cultural and religious rules as “life scripts.” She says they are empowering rather than stifling. In Krista’s interview with her earlier this year, Sheena Iyengar describes her journey to this revelation.
In the audio above (download mp3), she starts by describing a study that shows that religious followers are less depressed than atheists. Sheena Iyengar then talks about another study that demonstrates most Asian children are more motivated and performed tasks better when their mothers made choices for them, whereas the converse is true for most Anglo-American children: they were more motivated if they were able to choose the task themselves.
And, she explains that her interest in examining culture’s role in choice was especially informed by her own Sikh background.
Here, for example, she discusses whether an arranged marriage, such as that of her parents, is in fact devoid of choice. You can listen to the clip to the left (or download the mp3) of this portion of their conversation as well, and then share with us examples of how your culture has influenced your view of choice.
“Ten years later, it’s still tough. You never get away from it. It’s like losing family, you know? You could try to fill the hole, but you’re always going to feel the loss.”—
— U.S. Navy Supply Officer Robert Overturf
I had an NPR driveway moment yesterday listening to producer Matthew Ozug’s non-narrated piece featuring the voices of USS Cole crew members whose ship was bombed by al-Qaida 10 years ago today. I particularly like the pacing, and the use of music and the closing lines featured in the quote above.
“Writing a Torah, in general, energizes a community. It unifies people. It is not based on who you are. Everyone is equal.”—
— Rabbi Moshe Druin, a sofer stam on the restoration of a 17th-century Torah scroll with an incredible history.
The Los Angeles Times has this hopeful story about Temple Ahavat Shalom’s restoration of a 300-year-old manuscript. The sacred scroll was first created for a small Jewish community in what was then Czechoslovakia, then survived the Holocaust while warehoused in Prague, then moved to London by way of a wealthy benefactor, and finally found a permanent home again at the congregation in Northridge, California. Each member of the synagogue will be able to write a letter into the Torah during the process.
Benjamin Busch, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who served two combat tours in Iraq, writes a challenging essay for NPR on the nature of war games — with toy soldiers, in video games, on the battlefield:
"When I was a boy, I was given plastic army men. I arranged them in the sandbox behind our house, and I killed them. I voiced their commands and made the sounds of their suffering. I imagined their war — and I controlled it. But I lost those magical powers as a Marine in Iraq.
We know children are immersed in digital interactivity now, and the soldier of today has grown up on video games. It is becoming a new literacy of sorts. Playing and risking your life are different things. In the video war, there may be some manipulation of anxiety, some adrenaline to the heart, but absolutely nothing is at stake.
I honestly don’t like that Medal of Honor depicts the war in Afghanistan right now, because — even as fiction — it equates the war with the leisure of games. Changing the name of the enemy doesn’t change who it is.
But what nation or military has the right to govern fiction? Banning the representation of an enemy is imposing nationalism on entertainment. The game cannot train its players to be actual skilled special operations soldiers, nor is it likely to lure anyone into Islamic fundamentalism. It can grant neither heroism nor martyrdom. What it does do is make modern war into participatory cinema. That is its business.”