“There is little doubt that the news media amplify and exacerbate social and political divisions. Too often, journalists follow a ‘Noah’s Ark’ approach to coverage in which a strong liberal is paired with a vocal conservative in an ideological food fight. The result is polarization of discourse and ‘false equivalence’ in reporting. This lack of nuanced analysis confuses viewers and makes it difficult for them to sort out the contrasting facts and opinions. People get the sense that there are only two policy options and that there are few gradations or complexities in the positions that are reported.”—
This is a tension we’ve experienced first-hand when programming live events for The Civil Conversations Project. We’ve been questioned by producers and journalists in public radio news rooms about our guest choices for conversations on gay marriage and abortion. But, there have also been some really wonderful advocates, newsroom managers like Chris Worthington of Minnesota Public Radio too.
This is such an important conversation. A beautiful musing on community from this week’s show with Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide.
Ms. Tippett: There’s a way you’re framing this, and you invoke, you know, Maimonides saying, you know, he who destroys himself, destroys the world. You invoke Levinas, French Talmudic scholar that our acts of friendship are the most real and knowable aspect of the entire universe. I mean, you — the discussion you want to have is not so much against suicide, but for staying alive for each other. It’s choosing life.
Ms. Hecht: Choosing staying alive, and yes, I thought of myself as an individual before I started doing this thinking in a way that I no longer do and I feel better.
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Ms. Hecht: It doesn’t really mean you have to go out and do a lot of communal things, though all sorts of studies show that will help. Force yourself to go be with other people is as a good start, but it’s also just this internal thing where I notice more that I’m part of this human thing. And that there’s no such thing as wasted contributions.
Ms. Hecht: And so, it really is — it’s a better feeling about what we are and what we’re doing, and most people through history had it without trying because they lived in tiny communities that were besieged by either drought or flood or whatever, and they had to work together to do anything. And they were more aware of their connection to each other. And, nowadays, we’re very…
Ms. Tippett: In a way, that connection was also just forced on them, right? It wasn’t optional. It’s optional for us.
Ms. Hecht: Right.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah.
Ms. Hecht: It’s optional, and I suggest taking that option whenever you want. But just be more aware that we have these all sorts of secret web-like connections to each other. And that sometimes when you can’t see what’s important about you, other people can. You know, even Augustine said you can’t kill yourself because God said thou shalt not kill and that’s it.
Ms. Tippett: Right. I mean, I feel like you sound a little bit like Maimonides when you say this is something you rejecting suicide is a huge act within a community. I also think it changes the universe. And you wrote, “Either the universe is a cold, dead place with a little growth of sentient but atomized beings, each all by him or herself trying to generate meaning, or we are in a universe that is alive with a growth of sentient beings whose members have made a pact with each other to persevere.”
Ms. Hecht: Yeah. That feels powerful to me. I feel like just the respect of the idea of love and meaning.
Some days this song is the quickest route to gratitude.
~ A delightfully mellow rendition of Monty Python by Alexander Stamatis
Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned A sun that is the source of all our power
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see Are moving at a million miles a day In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour Of the galaxy we call the ‘milky way’
We are not meant, in most cases, to lead separated lives…
We require, natural solitaries or not, the opportunity at times to take a companionable stroll through the deserts of our lives with others who walk the same path, in the hope that they can see the terrain for us with fresh eyes.
We need to reflect with others on the questions that plague us. We seek to discern with others who may be more wise than ourselves. We crave to know the opinions of those less involved than ourselves in the issues that face us, for fear our very proximity to them blinds us as much as it commits us…
Where we come from is a large part of who we are. It is the root of our identity, the place of our growing. It cannot simply be put down because it is not outside of us; it is inside of us — and always will be. Wrestling with the roots of us is part of human spiritual growth
A little bit of Celtic musical serendipity for your St. Patrick’s Day evening.
(Audio engineers will cringe)
Accidentally heard this lovely poem by John O’Donohue playing against this marvelous piece of improv by Peter Gabriel, Zoe Keating & Lera Auerbach today. If you open the players in different browsers and start the music at around the 1:24 mark, it’s quite simply spectacular.
What a gorgeous piece of music to wake up to: “Gayane’s Adagio” by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. He’s better known for his frenetic "Sabre Dance" but this performance by the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Andre Anichanov) is a welcome contrast.
“One of the things that’s happening to a lot of us is that there’s this vision of the beauty of God that transports us and that takes us to a new depth and a new height. It’s one of those things about beauty. You can’t capture it in a word or a formula. When you get to that humble place where the beauty of God has overwhelmed you, I think it changes everything. You can say the same creed that you said before, but now it’s not a creed that grasps God in the fist of the words, but it’s a creed that points up to a beauty that’s beyond anybody’s grasp.”
Dr. Sherwin Nuland died this week at the age of 83. He became well-known for his first book, How We Die, which won the National Book Award in 1994. For him, pondering death was a way of wondering at life — and the infinite variety of processes that maintain human life moment to moment. He reflects on the meaning of life by way of scrupulous and elegant detail about human physiology:
“Wonder is something I share with people of deep faith. They wonder at the universe that God has created, and I wonder at the universe that nature has created. This is a sense of awe that motivates the faithful, motivates me. And when I say motivates, it provides an energy for seeking. Just as the faithful will always say, ‘We are seeking,’ I am seeking.”
We remixed this interview and present it in his honor.