After the Tucson shooting — which is when we first aired my interview with Elizabeth Alexander — phrases like “social healing,” “moral imagination,” and “civil discourse” entered our public life for a brief moment.
But those words themselves couldn’t address the divisions and hostilities in American culture now. We have no prominent models, no public habits of navigating difference, that demonstrate what social healing would look like. We’ve locked historic discussions of our meaning and purpose as a nation, as well as large intimate open questions of sexuality and family, into adversarial debates. We don’t merely disagree; we demonize, making the bridging of gulfs between us unthinkable. And now we are watching this play itself out in the halls of Congress in an extreme and tragic way.
So this summer we’ve pulled together our civil conversations of the past year as a well of cumulative wisdom. For the next six weeks, we’ll offer them up side by side as a resource of ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces.
As far back as the election of 2010, the Evangelical thinker and educator Richard Mouw put a fine point on what became an animating question for this series. I’d offer this as a fine question for our public life moving forward: Can we find new ways to treat each other, to live together, even while holding passionate disagreement? The hard truth is, we are not going to reach agreement on many of the issues before us any time soon.
Indeed, from inside one of the most fractious of all issues — that of abortion — Frances Kissling provocatively suggests that our single-minded fixation on resolving conflict, of getting on the same page, “works against really understanding each other, and we don’t understand each other.”
The pragmatism and hopefulness of these conversations start there — in pointing us at basic action, new beginnings we can set in motion, that bring us back from the impossible task of resolving lightning rod issues by bringing others around to our point of view.
The philosopher Anthony Appiah, who has studied how seemingly impossible social change happens in societies across time, proposes "sidling up" to difference. What we need more than agreement, he says, are simple habits of association with different others, encounters that breed familiarity. There is real social and even moral value to be had when we connect with others even on the most mundane topics of who we are and how we spend our days — whether it be soccer or football, shared hobbies or parenting. In fact, Anthony Appiah says, this kind of human exchange — as much a matter of presence as of words — is the old-fashioned meaning of the word “conversation.”
The magnificent civil rights elder and veteran Vincent Harding reminds us gently that we should not be surprised that this kind of simple association with real difference is hard. We are “a developing nation” when it comes to navigating the 21st century’s magnitude of pluralism and change. He has unexpected, hopeful thoughts on how the leadership for this new era will surprise us too.
And Sherry Turkle, who created MIT’s evocatively titled Initiative on Technology and Self, is an empowering voice with her insight into how technology is shaping human relationship on private and public levels. She insists that we can and must shape it to human purposes.
We begin the series, though, with Elizabeth Alexander’s exquisite wisdom on the power of words to be weapons and to be tools in reaching across the puzzling, utterly predictable “gulf” between human beings. By way of poetry, she asks, “Are we not of interest to each other?” If this question accompanied our more usual focus on who is right and who is wrong — even in our most embattled political spaces — how could it change our debates, our approaches to each other, the possibilities we might live into? For that is the challenge before us — to transform these things in the service of the common life we want for ourselves and our children.
We hope this series will be a contribution to it. And we’d love to hear from you.
Still frame from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
In addition to providing me with a least a decade’s worth of entertainment, J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series has also given me a fresh and hopefully meaningful way to explain my not-always-easy-to explain religion to others. And given that practically half the world has either read or seen the last installment of this epic series, I feel comfortable doing so without fear of spoiling the ending.
But first a little background…
As a Christian Scientist, I’m often confronted, by others and within myself, with some pretty tough questions about my faith — questions like, “If you believe that God is all good, all-powerful, and ever-present, how do you explain natural disasters, famine, war, and violent rampages? What about sickness, disease, and death? Why do bad things happen to good people?”
In short, “How do you deal with the question of evil?”
Although I’m very far from having anything even approaching a complete answer, I can tell you that one thing I don’t do is close my eyes and pretend it’s not there. Simply avoiding evil or wishing, hoping, praying that it just goes away is not the answer.
On the other hand, something I’d like to think I am getting better at over the years is choosing between what I consider to be effective and not-so-effective ways to defeat evil.
And this is where Harry Potter comes in.
As every Potterphile knows, there comes a time in Book Seven when Harry has to choose between two courses of action in his quest to deal with the evil Lord Voldemort, aka “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
One path involves the acquisition of three “Deathly Hallows.” These include the immensely powerful “Elder Wand;” the death-defying “Resurrection Stone;” and the “Cloak of Invisibility” which, as the name implies, enables the one who possesses it to become completely invisible.
The other path — and the course Harry ultimately chooses — is to track down and destroy seven hidden “Horcruxes.” These are objects in which Voldemort has placed a part of his soul as a means of achieving immortality.
Now, I realize that any analogy between Harry’s strategy for defeating “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” and the practice of Christian Science may seem a little loose at this point. But hear me out on this.
You see, Christian Science is all about getting at the root of the problem. No, not by tracking down bits and pieces of an evil wizard’s soul (if this were even possible) but by addressing the mental nature of all evil, sickness and disease included — not with magic, but through inspired prayer. In this sense, Christian Scientists like myself are in league with increasing numbers in the medical field who acknowledge the direct connection between mind and body.
By challenging long-held assumptions about God as unknowable and man as essentially biological — even the apparent invincibility and inevitability of evil itself — I’ve found that I’m able to confront and defeat evil in much the same way as many folks in the Bible did.
Although modest by comparison, the physical healings I’ve experienced include a wide variety of problems — everything from everyday aches and pains to more serious, life-threatening conditions. The result of this process, this battle if you will, is the destruction of at least some small element of evil that would suggest that man has separated himself, by choice or by design, from God’s care.
Getting back to Harry, perhaps the biggest lesson for him, and for us, is what these evil-defeating experiences can teach us about the presence and power of love — a word that Episcopal priest and Yale lecturer Danielle Tumminio in her superb analysis of the Potter books equates with God.
But still we’re left with at least one unanswered question: If what Christian Science teaches is true, how come we still have all this evil to deal with?
This is a question I continue to contend with. While I may not have entirely grasped the why of evil, I’m grateful to have caught at least a glimpse of the how of its destruction. And I have no doubt that there will come a time when we’ll all discover, as did Harry, that evil in whatever form it presents itself can and will be defeated once and for all.
Eric Nelson is from Los Altos, California. In addition to his work as a Christian Science practitioner, he also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.
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.
“Whole Foods has become the first prominent supermarket chain to run a Ramadan marketing campaign—and they’re hoping Muslim customers will return the favor as they break fast. Even though Muslims traditionally forego meals during the day, lavish evening Ramadan meals could mean big bucks for the natural foods giant … as well as brand loyalty from a demographic not traditionally courted by megastore advertising.”—
“For touring, my Kindle is just about the greatest thing I own. I have a few hundred books on it and have recently been going back and rereading Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy. When I was in college I was a philosophy major and now I feel like forgotten almost everything I’ve learned. So I’m putting myself through a Bertrand Russell refresher course. On tour, however, I also tend to read a lot of what you’d probably call plot-driven airport fiction—I go through that like water.”—
It has become increasingly clear that the debt ceiling and deficit reduction dramas are manufactured emergencies driven by electoral politics, though the consequences of inaction are very real. The desire to stay in office, to hold on to this or that position of leadership, to stick it to one’s despised political foe with a kind of suit-and-tie snarly glee. These pathological needs now trump everything else. And it’s dispiriting to watch.
Words have lost their meaning — their basic correspondence to things and ideas by which we judge the validity and persuasiveness of human speech. Half-truths and blatant falsehoods are spun into implausible narratives uttered in grave tones and with straight faces. And almost always by middle-aged and older white men. Where are the women in this debate? (Women could knock this thing out.)
Partisan politics in the digital age depends on a distracted, uninformed electorate. It’s not helpful to the cause of conservative intransigence for voters to know that, without fuss or fanfare, Republicans voted numerous times during the Bush presidency to raise the debt limit.
And neither side in this made-up crisis has given appropriate attention to the poor. For years now, both Democrats and Republicans have made the middle class their primary legislative concern, their targeted demographic for election and re-election propaganda. The poor, let’s face it, are a drag on our collective hope in the American dream.
In fact, we’re not even sure that the poor are really all that poor. I mean, 97 percent of them have refrigerators! How bad could their lives really be?
Having written a reflection on the appointed gospel reading for this coming Sunday, I’m thinking about these matters in light of Jesus’ encounters with the poor in the towns and villages, hillsides and seashores, of the Galilee. In the deserted places of Empire, Jesus met the hungry masses in all of their tiresome, needy, inconvenient humanity. It would have been easier to stay in seclusion, to pass the problem off to the disciples, which he actually did at first: “you give them something to eat,” he says to them.
But he takes a meager sack lunch of bread and fish, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowds. It’s a familiar story and one that strains logic, leaving us skeptical and incredulous, especially the part about collecting 12 baskets of leftovers when everyone had eaten their fill.
At least, though, we can acknowledge that the early Christians preserved and passed on a story like this because their imaginations had been shaped by a story of abundance, not of scarcity. The fear-mongering ways of Empire were rejected and a new way of being — life and health and wholeness for all, even women and children in the gospel of Matthew’s telling of the story — was the good news.
Fear and scarcity are the watchwords of Empire politics today. They divide and diminish us — reducing our elected officials to buffoons one day, calculating schemers the next — and making us, regardless of party affiliation, co-conspirators in the misery they plot.
But we can resist. Without resorting to the hard-edged parochialism of the religious right, we can embrace the politics of Jesus. We can refuse the politics of fear and scarcity and choose instead another way of being: life and health and wholeness for all — even for women and children and the poor in our midst.
“I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?”—
Now in its fourth season, the show traces the moral evolution of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), a middle-aged chemistry teacher who becomes a meth maker after he’s diagnosed with lung cancer. Gilligan’s intent for the character was to transform “Mr. Chips into Scarface.”
“Reich’s piece brings back some searing memories, with (for me) an emotional intensity that had dimmed over the last 10 years. His work is a reflection of the chaos and horror of that day, and of the struggle to understand what happened. In that light, using that photo feels, to me, appropriate. I don’t fully appreciate the dark smudging and streaking of the image (the NY sky was a bright clear blue that day)…but this feels like a quibble. The events of that day were ghastly, abhorrent. But I appreciate the way Reich’s piece brings me face-to-face with what happened, and with my own visceral reaction.”—
— Fred Child, host of Performance Today
The classical music aficionado and public radio host weighed in on his show’s Facebook page with a brief perspective on the new cover art for the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steve Reich’s latest work, WTC 9/11, from Nonesuch Records. Released this week, the gritty adaptation of Masatomo Kuriya’s famous photo showing the second plane moments before plunging into the south tower has stirred up quite visceral reactions among people from all walks of life.
But, what about the music itself and the fact that the cover art is meant to support or tease out a central element of the music it sheaths? Well, Fred has been “listening to the piece obsessively this past week” and he’ll be writing a lengthier reflection for us in the coming weeks. As a fan of Kronos Quartet, I, for one, can’t wait to read his interpretation of the piece and how the image fits in.
(photo: Mohammad Khedmati/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Ramadan this year starts Monday, August 1st. Every year it comes 11 days earlier because Muslims follow a lunar calendar. A lunar year is only 355 days long. So my Ramadan comes sometimes in super freezing Iowa winters and sometimes in hyper sizzling hot and humid summers.
When Ramadan comes in winter. It is easy to fast. Sunrise to sunset is a very short day. When it comes in summer, like this year, oh God helps us. Dawn is about 4:30 a.m. and sundown in Cedar Rapids is about 8:30 p.m. A sixteen-hour fasting day.
But I gladly fast. I am used to it. As Jane Gross said, “We became who we are when we were ten years old.” I started fasting when I was ten. Fasting makes me feel close to Allah. I really feel closest to Allah just as the call for maghrib, or sunset prayers, is heard — just before I take a sip of water and eat one or two dates, as is the tradition.
When I am not working late in a Ramadan afternoon, I read Qur’an in the last hour before maghrib. I feel so light, so alive, astonishingly spiritually energized. A day of fasting washes me inside and out. I make a deliberate tough choice, and I stick with it. I feel blessed with food and drink when I eat a simple meal because there are so many in the world who have no food and or are in a drought. I feel blessed that God taught me how to feel like them and live like them, but I do so by choice. Millions do not have that choice.
At the end of the month of Ramadan, our fasting is not acceptable if we do not offer the obligatory zakat, food for the poor. I remember the words of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet:
As you prepare your breakfast — think of others. Don’t forget to feed the pigeons. As you conduct your wars — think of others. Don’t forget those who want peace. As you pay your water bill — think of others. Think of those who have only the clouds to drink from. As you go home, your own home — think of others — don’t forget those who live in tents. As you sleep and count the stars, think of others — there are people who have no place to sleep. As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others — those who have lost their right to speak. And as you think of distant others — think of yourself and say “I wish I were a candle in the darkness.”
Ayman Amer is an associate professor of Economics at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Storm-Broken Tree” by The White Birch
by Chris Heagle, producer
I rely on happy accidents. This track by the Norwegian band The White Birch is something that has been languishing in one of my iTunes playlists for a couple years. There’s a wistfulness and a kind of yearning in the muffled guitar and piano that start the piece. About 30 seconds in, a soft and clear vocal line appears and becomes the focus of the rest of the song.
Weaving music with lyrics into our show can be tricky. The words have to be just right to support the ideas or the emotional energy present, which is why “Storm-Broken Tree” has been dormant in that playlist for so long.
The end of last week’s show "The Far Shore of Aging" had the potential to be a powerful radio moment. Jane Gross spoke so engagingly about her experience caring for her elderly mother that it was impossible for me (and I’m sure most listeners) not to imagine my own parents and what role I might take on as they age. It “changed the architecture” of her family as she puts it, as well as the nature of her memories of her mother. She ends that thought, and the show, ambiguously saying that “on the one hand it makes me more scared and on the other hand it makes me less scared.” How to support that without being melodramatic or sounding cliche?
Refining the edit while bouncing around my music playlists, this song started playing in my headphones. It immediately felt like the end of this show. Then the vocals started, and I remembered why I hadn’t used this song before. Still, the sound was so perfect that I did a search for the lyrics and found my happy accident.
No need to fall Though battles are won The morning dew will sprawl To taste us all In the morning sun
And we will breathe The smell of those last leaves Weatherworn beauties Claimed by the sea Back from the days you were blown Into me
No need for gall The battle is drawn The morning dew will fall To wake us all What is done is done
And we’ll leave be The smile on the last seed Of the storm-broken tree Like I swore the beauty From that night we were sworn Would go free
I'm curious what your thoughts are on the cacophony of End Times predictions out there today. It would be interesting to do a show featuring theologians and scientists on this subject. Perhaps something to calm the storm?
No particular opinion besides the fact that, during slow news cycles, the media can grind these stories into the ground. There ought to be more tell and less dwell.
I like your idea of talking to people about these ideas and predictions, but perhaps it’s more about trying to understand the roots of these ideas and why people latch onto them. I’m sure that some of the origins for apocalyptic beliefs are fascinating in and of themselves, and would go a long way in understanding how people seriously worry whether they are prepared for another era.
We have so many interviews in the can and shows scheduled that I doubt we would do something for the radio, but it would be fun to explore online. I’m all ears.
Lately, I’ve become intensely aware of the way age is changing. Fifty doesn’t mean what it once did, and neither does 90. There is a profound shift in our thinking about the span of our lives, with dramatic, practical implications. And like so much of the change in the world now, this is happening faster than we can process it in real time.
Associations and expectations about “youth,” “middle age,” and “old age” that held for generations have simply fallen away. Age has become a far more fluid thing, relative from life to life. This is fascinating.
And like all significant progress, this has an upside and a downside. Acting and feeling younger longer is a kind of affirmation of an American inclination to see ourselves as self-made and forever beating the odds. We celebrate the 70-year-old triathlete, the 80-year-old tennis player. I’m part of this too.
As I approached 50, I took up a serious yoga practice and can honestly say that I have never been stronger than I am now. But, in more reflective moments, I know that I also want to embrace the softness, the peace with imperfection, and the paradoxical possibility of gaining from loss that comes naturally in this time of life. I know that there is a fine line between denial and opening to age with wisdom and grace.
Jane Gross has thought about these things for years, as a human being and a journalist, and as creator of The New Old Age blog at The New York Times. This popular blog grew out of her experiences on the “far shore of caregiving,” at the far reaches of her mother Estelle’s old age. As Estelle began a steep but incremental decline after her mid-80s, she described the modern change of aging more darkly: “We live too long, and die too slowly.”
Beyond the races we can still run, the vacations we can take, and the new careers we can begin, there is, as Jane Gross puts it, an in-between time that is new in human experience — a period that may span decades, she says bluntly, “between fine and dead.”
This conversation is full of simple, hard truths stated clearly. It is an experience of how the naming of hard truths can in itself bring relief. The beginning of wisdom, after all, is facing reality. One statistically borne reality is that even our 21st-century bodies start to fail by our mid-80s, if cancer hasn’t suddenly stopped them in what we now consider the prime of life of 50 or 60.
Jane Gross’s story, and that of her mother, is a story of our time. After a long vigorous, independent life, and a thriving widowhood, “she was fine and then all of a sudden in a hundred small ways, none of which were going to kill her, not fine.” It was a roller coaster ride of debilitation, illness, decline, and panic with no end in sight.
Here again, her honesty is refreshing. She did not have a close relationship with her mother. She did not, she confesses, “race to the loving caregiver’s role with an open heart.” Like many, many people, she at first only accepted that she was caught between a rock and a hard place. She could buckle up or bolt, and the latter was not acceptable. In the end, after much muddling and many mistakes she says, it yielded unexpected healing. It became an occasion for family repair.
Some of her most important pointers are also the simplest. The elderly, as she’s experienced it, want to have conversations about this before their children are comfortable. Meet your parents there, she says. Talk, and listen, early. And this: every piece of this complex chapter of life doesn’t need every sibling to play every role. Figure out what each of you is best at and forgive yourselves and each other for not rising equally to every challenge.
Her memoir is full of practical advice. It is a dispassionate look at an ordinary piece of life that, like death, we are reluctant to look full in the face. It is a chronicle of redemption that emerges in spite and because of muddle and mistakes. But isn’t all of life really like that?
"I keep saying that this experience can become something other than desperate and bleak, if you let it. It really is a choice. We all know grown children who have bolted when the moment arrived. But imagining running away doesn’t make you a bad person. I fantasized, usually in the hypnagogic space between sleeping and waking, facing another day of ignorance and exhaustion, about pointing the car west and driving, driving, driving. I’m glad that I didn’t, because instead I learned what I was made of; I found my better self. I found my mother. I found my brother. But all of that came later.”
Haile Selassie I: The Lion of Judah and King of Kings
by Susan Leem, associate producer
A Rastafarian holds the former Ethiopian flag with the golden crowned lion, a version used during Emperor Selassie’s reign. (photo: Aaron Maasho/AFP/Getty Images)
When social activist Marcus Garvey said ”Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer” in 1920, Rastafarians found their answer a decade later in the crowning of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie I. Followers of Rastafari celebrate the birthday of their messiah, said to be a direct descendent of King Solomon and Queen Sheba, on July 23rd.
I admit that I was taken by surprise when I saw this tweet summarizing theologian and biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann as saying that theological conversations about homosexuality are futile. As I have read some of Mr. Brueggemann’s writing and have a great deal of respect for him and his prophetic calls to justice, I promptly went about listening to the interview in question:
"I’ve asked myself, ‘Why in the church does the question of gays and lesbians have such adrenaline.’ And I’ve decided, for myself, that that means most of what we’re arguing about with gays and lesbians has nothing to do with gays and lesbians. It is, rather, that the world is not the way we thought it was going to be. There have always been gays and lesbians; we’d have to acknowledge them.
It’s not fashionable any more to protest pushy blacks. It’s not fashionable to protest pushy women. Those battles are lost, or won. But you can still have great moral indignation around gays and lesbians.
And so I think what has happened is that we’ve taken all of our anxiety about the old world disappearing and we’ve dumped it all on that issue. So, I have concluded that it’s almost futile to have the theological argument about gays and lesbians any more because that’s not what the argument is about.”
You see, I’m a seminary student, and I’m gay. This, for me, has meant that all of my academic work has surrounded the need for dialogue regarding this very issue. In most denominations there remain deep divisions on issues about whether or not gays should be ordained, whether they should be allowed to marry, or whether they are even welcome in churches.
I took Mr. Brueggemann to mean that such conversations are futile in that issues like homosexuality should be a non-issue — that churches should be able to move past this issue. However, this position ignores the cry of gay people for justice that remains unrealized in many places. As long as theology and biblical scripture are used to marginalize gay people (or anyone for that matter), the conversation is anything but futile! Churches can’t move past this issue because it is still an issue.
Walter Brueggemann has an advantage that I as a gay man do not have; he does not live with the very real threat of homophobia. Enjoying one of the highest places of privilege in our society (straight, white, and male), he has the luxury of being unaffected. He will likely never be hollered at from across the way with insults about whom he shares his bed with. To not have a conversation about the theological basis for the hate that many Christians direct at gay persons ignores our oppression at the hands of those Christians.
But why take the time to dialogue with those who believe my lifestyle is wrong? Because I believe that conversation matters. It is true that there may always be those who are uninterested in conversation. They desire shouting matches that rarely prove anything aside from who can shout the loudest. Still, I believe that most everyone can be drawn into dialogue that does not aim to convert, but rather to foster understanding of one another.
In Truth and Method, German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote that the most important thing in human relationships is to experience the other in a way that allows them to really speak to us. In this kind of communication, says Gadamer, we do not merely listen and then leave unaffected. Rather, we are changed by way of this experience with another individual.
For this kind of change to occur, for us to be affected by another, we must be open to accepting something from them. I believe that the simple act of pausing in order to have such a dialogue demonstrates an openness to this relational experience that is already present; though it may be deeply hidden.
For those who stand with the oppressed, who seek to bring about justice, taking advantage of that pause, and engaging in dialogue, is essential if justice is to be realized. The challenge is that we must also be willing to be affected by that other individual. For those of us who have experienced blatant hate, this is a scary thought because it asks us to remain vulnerable in front of those we may perceive as enemies. Yet, that openness is what I find so valuable in dialogue. It teaches us to coexist, hopefully in peace.
Let me use metaphor familiar to Christians. The communion table is a place where the church gathers and there represents the community of Christ. Though Christians hold differing ideas about what happens at communion, a common understanding is that in that sacrament there is a deep — even mystical — connection to each other and the divine. It represents the highest form of community for Christians.
Can that image not translate to dialogue, even a theological one, whose aim is to bring about understanding of the marginalized and thus promote justice? Can churches create spaces of communion in which theological conversations about homosexuality are not futile, but are instead catalysts for social justice? Can these conversations lead us to a deep connection to one another and even to the sacred?
I think so. More than that, I think that is precisely what we are called to do.
Jared Vázquez is a third-year Masters of Divinity student at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jared’s research interests lie in embodiment, identity, and intersectionality. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in social ethics with focus on latina/o queer experience. Most recently Jared has been accepted to the 2011 class of the HRC’s Summer Institute for Religion and Theology.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Which episode includes a general reading a letter about standing down--demonstrating the power of powerlessness?
Thanks for the question. I’m pretty sure that you’re referring to the philosopher Jacob Needleman talking about George Washington in "The Inward Work of Democracy." Here’s the excerpted section of the transcript:
"…what stands out in terms of the myth of the character of Washington, what stands out is, of course, the phenomenal fact that he turned away from power. He could have had more power than practically anyone in the world after the Revolutionary War, and he could have been — as one observer had said, he could have been king of America. But he stepped down as the head of the Army and he stepped away from political life, and simply surrendered his power. Very few leaders can you find throughout history who have voluntarily stepped away from power like that. He represents, to me, the sacrifice of one’s own personal egoistic desires for power for the good of the country."
If you’re conflicted about whether to spend money on a material good (say, a computer) or personal experience (say, a vacation), the research says you’ll get much more satisfaction — and for longer — if you choose the experience. Most of us, it turns out, get more bang from the experiential buck. Indeed, when people are asked to recall their most significant material and experiential purchases over the previous five years, they report that the experience brought more joy, was a source of more enduring satisfaction and was more clearly “money well spent.”
This might seem counter-intuitive. The material good lasts while the experience is fleeting. But psychologically it’s the reverse. We quickly adapt to the material good, but the experience endures in the memories we cherish, the stories we tell and the very sense of who we are.
This one article is responsible for convincing my wife to take a road trip to Montana in a couple weeks. After days of debate, I’ve learned that Belsky and Gilovich carry more authority and are more persuasive than the love of a good husband and 20 years of marriage. *grin*
Whatever it takes! Swan Valley, here we come! The Griswolds are on the loose.
The better we understand human psychology and neurology, the more we will uncover the underpinnings of religion. Some of them, like the attachment system, push us toward a belief in gods and make departing from it extraordinarily difficult. But it is possible.
We can be better as a species if we recognize religion as a man-made construct. We owe it to ourselves to at least consider the real roots of religious belief, so we can deal with life as it is, taking advantage of perhaps our mind’s greatest adaptation: our ability to use reason.
—J. Anderson Thomson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia and a trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Clare Aukofer, a medical writer, have struck a nerve with their op-ed "Science and Religion: God Didn’t Make Man; Man Made Gods" in Monday’s Los Angeles Times.
Like the authors, I marvel at the advances and insights brought about by recent DNA research and neuro-imaging studies. How these findings help us better understand the psychological and physiological underpinnings of our predilections of religious belief is of great value. Perhaps this could help us understand people of other cultures and religious traditions better.
But, I thought we were past the “God is dead” argument. So why do the authors insist that people can “make departing” from innate religious impulses “possible” rather than embracing our physical and mental adaptions. Our ability to use reason may be a wonderful complement to ask the spiritual questions that elevate our transcendent natures rather than ground them all the time in practicality.
And, perhaps, Thomson and Aukofer’s use of divisive statements such as “religion hijacks these traits” makes religious believers the “out-group” and atheists who rely on reason the “in group.” Even as this non-believer writes this post, I sense that the dichotomy of the two poles is a false one that ignores all the other wonderful adaptations that may make us mere mortals and extravagant beings. Let’s have a more inclusive conversation that uses science as an instrument of understanding rather than a blunt object to make others wrong.
A few recent newsgames do something curious: They hide basic trivia questions under a layer of moral decision-making. It is often assumed that taking a tired design and adding some nominal amount of ethical choice — usually in the form of binary story branches or good/neutral/evil alignment meters — will somehow reinvigorate and edify its players.
But there’s a serious problem with this easy inclusion of moral choice: Even a simple move to branch out from the standard structure of a game results in an exponential need for more content. And in a genre where budgets are often tight, cuts will likely need to be made as a result. This means less thought goes into the causal chain between choice and consequence, undercutting the very goals that the inclusion of the simple moral system hoped to attain. A half-baked moral system can have the opposite effect on people’s reasoning, and can even become confounding.
The 2010 Knight News Challenge winner’s post on MediaShift’s Idea Lab blog is a smart assessment of the pitfalls of applying morality or ethical veneers to news quizzes and interactive games. His premise, which ought to be deliberated upon more by reporters and producers, could just as well be applied to all forms of journalistic output too.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “Aria da Capo” from Glenn Gould 1981 Goldberg Variations
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
This week’s Tuesday evening melody is inspired by a listener question’s about last week’s show. On the heels of hearing "Autism and Humanity," Chase Fairfax posted this comment on our blog:
"I wonder what the orchestra music was that punctuated this story from time to time."
We think Chase is referring to Glenn Gould’s 1981 version of the “Aria da Capo” of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
Some of Gould’s biographers have speculated that he may have had Asperger’s syndrome. Gould was sensitive to noise and temperature; he hated the sound of clapping and wore a hat, coat, and gloves, even in warm weather. He was also known for rocking and humming when he played. He stopped giving public concerts at the age of 32.
Gould preferred his 1981 rendition rather than his earlier recording from 1955. According to music critic Tim Page who interviewed Gould about the two versions, the 1981 recording “has a certain sadness and sense of reflectiveness… an autumnal quality.” As it turns out, Gould was in the autumn of his own life as these later recordings were being produced; he died of a stroke at the age of 50, just before the 1981 recording was released.
If you want to compare the two versions, check out the show’s playlist for the 1955 version. Which one do you prefer?
I am looking for Paul's essay on his decision to give anti-depressants to his son, Morgan.
You can find Paul Collins’ essay titled "The Vanishing Boy" reprinted on our website. His ending is so poignant that I share it here with you:
"Our choice required no explanation to parents of disabled kids, but to others I almost had to apologize for…well, getting medicine for my child. The failures of the past and present — those old almanacs and new black-box notices — make us suspicious. But I don’t have the luxury of distrust. I do not love that it came to this. I do not love drugs. I do not love the companies that sell them.
"There’s been really fascinating research on this done by Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University. And what he noticed essentially was that there seemed to be a lot of autistic siblings, in particular, of students of his who were in science-related majors and, you know, math students as well, and engineering students, and that kind of thing. And so initially, he simply looked at, just sort of did an informal study comparing English majors and the rates of autism in their families with a number of science majors. And the science majors that he was looking at had rates that were like five and six times that of autism in their families. Interestingly enough, the English majors had much, much higher rates of manic depression in their families…
Which is suddenly all makes sense. So, and then when he expanded to studying the broader population, he found that this held up. That actually, when you looked at the professions that family members of people with autism were in, they tended to be in things like accounting, engineering, computer programming, and had very low rates of employment in fields like sales, for instance.”
General reporting and publicized controversies tend to focus on the physiology and neurology of autism, or on possible causes and cures. As I’ve followed such stories, I’ve longed to understand something about the inner world of people with autism and those who love them. I’ve wanted to hear about autism in terms of spirit, intellect, and human nature. And when I discovered Paul Collins’ warm and erudite book Not Even Wrong: A Father’s Journey into the Lost History of Autism, I knew I’d found a way in.
During a routine checkup, his beloved son Morgan was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half. Paul then went searching for understanding in history and literature. He traced the winding process by which 20th-century physicians finally diagnosed autism after centuries in which it was conflated with very different conditions, such as schizophrenia and Down syndrome. He had previously written about eccentric characters and forgotten inventors in history, and he began to find evidence of autism in some of these figures who had already captured his attention. In his travels, he also experienced how the spectrum of autism quietly reaches into centers of contemporary invention — such as Microsoft.
Some of our programs feel like an “experience” in the making. This one did. Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder have opened my imagination about what it means to be human, as well as what it means to be autistic, without for a moment downplaying the debilitation that life with autism also entails. I had imagined this condition to be thoroughly isolating and inscrutable.
The very word “autism” comes from the Greek for “self” — autos — connoting a state of being in which a person seems quite literally to live in his or her own world. And yet Paul and Jennifer help me grasp that autism is not one thing but a spectrum on the vast continuum of human personality. Autism has deepened their understanding of disability and of intelligence, curiosity, and accomplishment.
Most thought-provoking of all, perhaps, are their stories of how life with Morgan has imparted a new generosity and respectful good humor to their dealings with each other and their families of origin. There is a documented correlation between autism and families with achievement in fields like engineering, music, mathematics, science — professions that require an aptitude for logic and a capacity for intense, solitary focus. You can read a beautiful essay by the late scientist Stephen Jay Gould about his son with autism.
Paul writes this:
"Autists are described by others — and by themselves — as aliens among humans. But there’s an irony to this, for precisely the opposite is true. They are us, and to understand them is to begin to understand what it means to be human. Think of it: a disability is usually defined in terms of what is missing. But autism is as much about what is abundant as what is missing, an overexpression of the very traits that make our species unique. Other animals are social, but only humans are capable of abstract logic. The autistic outhuman the humans, and we can scarcely recognize the result."
There is more in this hour of radio than I can evoke in these paragraphs. And if you enjoy it, I’d encourage you to listen to my original, unedited two-hour conversation with Jennifer Elder and Paul Collins. It is full of illumination and warmth, and I didn’t want it to end.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “I Know” by Cynthia Hopkins
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
(photo: Paula Court)
Cynthia Hopkins is a Brooklyn-based musician and performer whose voice taps a quiet, deep well of emotion. If you’re looking for catharsis, find a private chamber and and try belting out one of her songs when no one else can hear you.
"It’s an homage to him. It’s a portrait of him. And it’s also an attempt to make peace with him and to portray the evolution of my perspective on him from anger and frustration to celebration."
In this song, Hopkins suggests that we don’t really know our parents in their fullness. Like the bigger cosmos, these people who reared us are beautiful mysteries. No longer saddled by anger or disappointment, Hopkins makes peace with her father’s indirect expressions of love. There are other lovely songs to explore from her play, including “”Love,” “Resist the Tide,” and “The Answer” — all of which can be downloaded for free from Gloria Deluxe, the website of Hopkins’ band.
“When I listened to the show on the Palestinian camps and found out people could move out, but many do not for several reasons, I started to think of my relatives who choose to remain on the reservation in spite of the poverty. They do not want to leave the cultural and traditional ties they now have.”—
Do you have any pictures or video of Aida Refugee Camp ? if you do, where it is in your website. Thanks.
Hey there. Thanks for the question! We have two behind-the-scenes, full-length interviews from Krista’s interviews from within the Lajee Center at Aida camp. If you heard this week’s produced show for the podcast and radio program "Pleasure More Than Hope," then you’ll be able to watch the longer versions with two of these voices. One with Amahl Bishara, a professor of Antrhopology at Tufts Unversity:
And another with Nidal Al-Azraq, a program at the Lajee Center, a youth arts and media cultural center:
Oh, and we have dumped a large number of raw, unprocessed photos (all of the good and the not-so-good, so be prepared for some blurry bits) from our trip to Israel and the West Bank on our Flickr page. The full set is available here.
The Elemental Courage to Be That’s Missing in the News
by Krista Tippett, host
One of the most stunning things about being in Israel and the West Bank — as opposed to merely hearing about these places on the news — is how the very language used to describe these places, people, and cultures obscure some basic realities. For example, the vocabulary of Israeli “settlements” and Palestinian “refugee camps.” It would be reasonable to imagine makeshift shelters, tent cities — the kind of pictures we see from natural disasters or the ragged borders of war.
But settlements are more like suburban condominium developments. And Palestinian refugee camps are neighborhoods — some terribly overcrowded, some more comfortable — but all places where people live. The apartment buildings in Aida camp in Bethlehem, where we set up our microphones and cameras for a half day, have literally grown taller with added floors as new generations of extended families have come along in the years since 1948.
I myself am being careful with language here, touching on sensitive and tragic territory I know. I’m desiring, as an exception to what usually happens when people write about such things, to shine a light in human rather than political terms. Humanity and politics are entangled here, as in few other places, of course. But being in this place on this day, sitting with young people of calm, creativity, and dignity, leaves me emphatic that they are more than merely refugees.
We came to Aida camp trailing a Palestinian-American anthropologist, Amahl Bishara, whom we had met in Jerusalem earlier in the week. She’s a professor at Tufts and is living on the edges of Aida camp for six months. But she’s known this place long and intimately. Her husband, Nidal, grew up here and has spent much of his life working with its children and teenagers. On this trip, they are new parents, introducing their infant daughter to this side of her family.
Amahl has done some fascinating research on how Western journalism about Palestinians informs Palestinians’ sense of themselves. I thought I wanted to hear about that. But when we met her at the appointed place and time, we found ourselves in the Lajee Center, a youth center, a center of community. And I ended up interviewing Amahl as a bridge person between life in Aida camp and us and our listeners far from Bethlehem.
The phrase with which we’ve titled the show, “pleasure more than hope,” was part of her answer when I asked about her sources of despair and her sources of hope. Hope, she said honestly, is in short supply, but pleasure in daily life, in the change of seasons, in family and friends, in the energy and dreams of the young is abundant. What a refreshing way above, inside, and out of the narrow lens the news has offered me on this part of the world for as long as I can remember.
And from his personal history closer to the raw and violent heart of that news across time, Nidal Al-Azraq, Amahl’s husband, put his own words to her image of pleasure more than hope: “It’s one of the resistance elements. Even though you feel the pain inside you, you need to laugh and you need to smile, and you need to play, you need to move in your life.”
Amahl and Nidal, and two members of the Lajee Center’s arts and media program with whom I also spoke, impressed me deeply with their grace and honesty, their visceral everyday courage. It strikes me that this elemental “courage to be,” to quote the theologian / philosopher Paul Tillich, is almost always missing in news of faraway tragedy and conflict. We experience pictures of people frozen in the worst moments of their lives. We have no sense of what will help them get out of bed the next morning, and still live and love and even take pleasure, even know joy.
There are hard stories told in this hour. Pain is given voice. But so, insistently, is life — life that is not captured in refugee status or defined by politics alone. It is this courage to be, we come to understand very clearly and poignantly, that will nourish an Israeli-Palestinian future beyond conflict if such a future is to be. What a gift we received in the utter ordinariness of this place, on this day.
Dreams and Nightmares from Aida Camp, in Black and White
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor + Susan Leem, associate producer
Mohammad Al Azzeh is a resident of Aida refugee camp whom we met while conducting interviews in the West Bank city of Bethlehem this past March. The 21-year-old Palestinian has been actively involved in Lajee Center, a cultural center in the heart of this neighborhood, and now manage its gallery and photography department.
His interest in photography and documenting the human condition within Aida was fostered as a teenager at the center when Rich Wiles, an English photographer, worked with ten 15-20 year olds to create a project titled "Dreams and Nightmares." Each participant took two pictures: one of a dream, a hope, and the other of a nightmare, a fear.
In the audio above Mohammad describes his art and following are his two photos with captions:
“My dream is to be a famous footballer and be the captain of the Palestinian team.”
“I have nightmares about being taken away to an occupation prison. During the nights the soldiers come to the camp and arrest many children. This means that we cannot continue our studies.”
We met Kholoud Al Ajarma, a Palestinian woman who coordinates the arts and media activities for the Lajee Center, while conducting interviews within Aida refugee camp in the West Bank city of Bethlehem this past March. What a gift to meet her and take her photo, along with many others while working there.
Members of our staff all had different ideas about where she acquired her marvelous English accent; we were all wrong. But now we know. Maybe you’d like to guess? Listen to the audio clip above from this week’s show in which Kholoud tells a charming story about how Aida camp got its name. Submit a comment here, and I’ll post the answer shortly.
Dr. Karen Santa Cruz of the University of Minnesota examines one of the 670 brains in the Nun’s Study, looking for signs of dementia. The brain pictured here is more than 75 years old and still looks healthy says Dr. Santa Cruz. (photo: Lorna Benson/MPR News)
Looking for a research project, David Snowdon became interested in the convent after a graduate student, a former nun, told the young epidemiologist about a retired community of nuns living out their days in Mankato, Minnesota. These women turned out to be ideal for research into aging because of their similarities in lifestyle. Snowdon didn’t know exactly what he was going to find among these nuns, but struck gold when finding their personal records in an old olive green file cabinet. The biographical essays they wrote as young women in their early 20s held clues to the way they aged over 50 years later.
What Snowdon found was a correlation between low grammatical complexity in their writing and low "idea density" among sisters who had Alzheimer’s disease. An example of a low-scoring sample:
"My father, Mr. L.M. Hallacher, was born in the city of Ross, County Cork, Ireland, and is now a sheet-metal worker in Eau Claire."
On the other hand, a high-scoring essay looks more complex:
"My father is an all-around man of trades, but his principal occupation is carpentry, which trade he had already begun before his marriage with my mother."
These high-scoring writers avoided dementia in their later years and performed better on other cognitive tests. Later, Dr. Snowdon pursuaded the nuns to donate their brains to science. Among the participating nuns who died, none of the high-density ideas nuns’ brains showed evidence of Alzheimer’s disease, while it was physically present in all of those with low idea density.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota now carry this research forward, trying to figure out why some of the nuns’ brains look diseased post-mortem, but before death, these women managed to live out their final days without dementia.
Could there be a protective quality to maintaining your linguistic skills? Or is it that these nuns have always had a bit extra reserve of cognitive ability to weather the ravages of aging? Thankfully, this research provides more insights into questions like these as this massive longitudinal study involving over 600 nuns continues.
“Every time I read the comments thread on an article about the Israel-Palestine conflict, I regret it. It’s like there’s one sports team on one side called Team Israel, and another team on another side called Team Palestine and you have to support one or the other. Facts or logic don’t play into this; it’s just straight up Yankees-Red Sox or Celtic-Rangers idiocy.”—
Walter Brueggemann on the Futility of the Theological Argument over Gays and Lesbians
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Protestant theologian Walter Brueggemann once compared LGBTQ people to canaries in a coal mine, likening these proverbial birds to society’s most vulnerable members. Determining how the canaries are treated, says Brueggemann in an interview with The Witness, “is always the test case about whether we are following Jesus.”
Earlier this spring, Krista sat down with Brueggemann in our studios. In the audio clip excerpted here, he explains why he thinks gay and lesbian sexuality “has such adrenaline” in and beyond church communities. For Brueggemann, there’s no point in having a theological discussion about homosexuality. He thinks homophobia is a proxy for people’s ill-defined fears about an old world order that’s rapidly disappearing:
"It is an amorphous anxiety that we’re in a free fall as a society. And I think we kind of are in free fall as a society, but I don’t think it has anything to do with gays and lesbians particularly."
Last week in New York, that collective “amorphous anxiety” got trumped by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s dogged push for social change with the passage of the Marriage Equality Act by the state legislature.
According to The New York Times, Governor Cuomo gathered all of the state’s Republican senators at his home to plead his case for the bill’s passage. “Their love is worth the same as your love,” he reportedly told the senators. “Their partnership is worth the same as your partnership. And they are equal in your eyes to you. That is the driving issue.”
When I moved to Jerusalem two years ago, I thought for sure that I would continue my yoga practice, especially after working at ascent magazine and having yoga present in my life in so many ways for so many years. And I thought that I would even find others in this holy city to practice with. A sangha, a space, a teacher. Even other forms of spiritual practice.
But that has not been the case. At least not exactly. My journey has been quite different. But then why would I think that things would turn out the way I thought?
And so while I have discovered here many layers and qualities of spirituality that have moved my soul, shaken my assumptions, inspired further discovery, and shifted my consciousness, I have had to completely redefine my yoga. It has led me over and over to the question, “So then what is my yoga practice?”
My practice has been to reframe and re-contract my relationship with my own body, with my heart, with the identities I had accumulated up until now, and certainly with what I had understood yoga was for me.
More specifically, my yoga practice here, in Jerusalem, has been the rigorous commitment to understanding my own heart. And the pathway to this has been through being in a practice of relationship with my partner, Yitzhak, which is the reason I traveled to the Middle East, to this city, in the first place.
Relocating to this part of the world — and reconfiguring my identity into being one who is in a deep partnership — has turned my insides out and my outsides in. It has peeled my skin off, shown me more of who I am. It has dared me to look at what I dared not look at or meet within myself, which, even through my many reflections in my "hidden language hatha" practice, I had cleverly managed to not encounter.
If yoga in all its sacred expressions is to practice union, to become more whole, to let go of what I no longer need to keep evolving, serving, living, then my practice has been one of breaking my heart open. Of letting in light to places that I had kept dark. The practice of accepting and loving all those places in me and in others, including Yitzhak’s. The yoga has been “off the mat,” as we say in North America. It has been in all the letting go and surrendering.
And now, two years later, I find myself on my mat. Quietly, in my home, in a little corner that I had identified upon my arrival here as “the yoga corner,” I am finding my way back to a different yogic relationship with my body and life, and with the divine. I find myself much softer, less flexible, yet much more flexible.
I have relocated myself. I have new ground and a new centre from which I practice. I am deeply grateful for the years of practice and reflection and the teachings that are deep in my cellular structure and which, thank goodness, find their way into my life, my whole life, and particularly in hard moments.
And, significantly, I find myself sharing my practice with others spontaneously, generously, humbly — and together we open our hearts wide open, ever so gently, into the yoga of friendship, of listening, of vulnerability, and of being present to life and its mysteries with our whole selves.
I have matured. So has my practice. It is a life practice.
Vanessa Reid is a Canadian writer currently living in Jerusalem, Israel. She was the executive publisher of ascent magazine and executive director of Santropol Roulant, a non-profit founded by young people that uses innovative approaches to food, relationships, and sustainability as a catalyst for social change. You can read more of her work on her blog, Jerusalem Journals.
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.
It’s easy to forget, especially around U.S. Independence Day, how much trial and error went into the creation of American democracy, how much of what Americans now take for granted wasn’t fully formed for decades after 1776. The warm and wise philosopher Jacob Needleman looked back at the American founders with this in mind for his book The American Soul. He took apart the ingredients that grew up our democracy. And he found that every iconic institution, every political value, had “inward work” of conscience behind it. Every hard-won right had a corresponding responsibility.
It feels important to me, right now, to revisit the 2003 conversation I had with Jacob Needleman about this, and have been formed by ever since. In our historical moment, it is as clear as ever before that the American republic is an ongoing work in progress. And at the very same time, young democracies are fighting to emerge across the world and are looking for instruction and models.
To rise to this occasion, I believe, we need to remember and pass on this inward work as much as the outer forms of government that were long in the making. As we created this week’s show, we also pulled in words Jacob Needleman points to — of founding voices of “the idea of America.” These include George Washington and Thomas Paine, but also Frederick Douglass and Walt Whitman.
For this commentary, I offer excerpts of Jacob Needleman’s insights from our interview — and a little Walt Whitman — for remembering and reflection.
On the rights of the individual
"Individualism and individuality have to be separated. Individualism can take a turn where it’s a kind of egoistic, selfish thing: Me, me, me, me, and what I want and what I care, what I think and what I like. Oh sure, we need to have the liberty to express all that, but a real individual is a different thing. And to be truly one’s self is to be truly in contact with this great self within, this divinity within. And the paradox of true individuality is that the more you are in touch with what all human beings have in common under God, the more you are uniquely what you, yourself, are. And that’s why I say we need to bring back the obligations that go along with the rights in order to understand the depths of what the human rights really mean."
"A democratic citizen is not a citizen who can do anything he wants. It’s a citizen who has an obligation at the same time. And just to give you an example, if I may, the freedom of speech, what is the duty associated with it? Well, if … I have the right to speak, I have the duty to let you speak. Now, that’s not so simple. It doesn’t mean just to stop my talking and wait till you’re finished and then come in and get you. It means I have an obligation inwardly — and that’s what we’re speaking about, is the inner dimension. Inwardly, I have to work at listening to you. That means I don’t have to agree with you, but I have to let your thought into my mind in order to have a real democratic exchange between us. And that is a very interesting work of the human being, don’t you think?"
For the founders and for all spiritual teachers — and by “founders,” by the way, I want to broaden the founders to include people who came later, including such people, of course, as Lincoln and also — one people may find strange — Frederick Douglass and people like that who spoke very powerfully of conscience. Conscience is an absolute power within the human psyche to intuit real values of good and evil and right and wrong. We are born with that capacity. It’s not just socially conditioned into us. This is what the great traditions teach. This is what I think. But it is covered over by a lot of the egoism and chaos of our un-free inner life.”
On the importance of “thinking” in public, political life
"Shouting is not thinking. ‘Come let us reason together,’ the prophet says, God says to Isaiah… I think the moment you start thinking together with someone, immediately their eyes light up… I must confess I spoke to — I won’t say who, but I spoke to some members of Congress not long ago. We had a very quiet evening together and we started opening up, just what you and I are doing now. And they said, in effect, you know, ‘We never get a chance to do this. We’re in there trying to, you know, speak to television cameras or make points with electorates or with lobby groups, but we never…’ I said, ‘You mean you never come together and just reflect together?’ And they said no. To me, that’s the dirty secret of America at the moment. That’s the problem."
From Walt Whitman’s essay Democratic Vistas, which Jacob Needleman also includes as part of the long tradition of the foundational “idea of America,” and which ends our show.
"I say the mission of government, henceforth in civilized lands, is not repression alone and not authority alone, not even of law, nor the rule of the best men, but higher than the highest arbitrary rule, to train communities through all their grades beginning with individuals and ending there again to rule themselves. To be a voter with the rest is not so much. And this, like every institute, will have its imperfections. But to become an enfranchised man and now, impediments removed, to stand and start without humiliation and equal with the rest, to commence the grand experiment whose end may be the forming of a full-grown man or woman — that is something."
“A voice said, ‘There he is — that one, you see, with the flowers.’ I saw one solid figure standing absolutely still. A multitude swayed around him. I had never seen a photograph of him, yet recognized this density, this shape — its decisive statement, ‘I am here.’ Condensed and contained, he appeared at the same time to have been waiting there for a thousand years and to have just parachuted down through a hole in the world above this one. He was rooted like a tree to the center of the earth, and he had roses. Other people pushed and bumped him as if he were invisible to them. His eyes remained fixed on nothing.”—
—Ellen Graf, on meeting her husband in China for the first time.