by Susan Leem, associate producer
After listening to our On Being's Civil Conversations series, Michigander Carolyn Peterson wrote us expressing her hope for real-life opportunities to engage civilly with others differing in perspective:
"I would like someone to set up a website in which people could find political pen pals for civil, substantive conversations. For example, I am a liberal Christian Democrat who would like to ‘talk’ with a fundamentalist Christian Tea Party supporter. We would agree to stay engaged, to share sources, to treat each other with respect."
We’re curious about this possibility as well. One of the objectives of The Civil Conversaions Project was "beginning new conversations in families and communities." Maybe it could it function like a Match.com site, which, instead of pairing you with a romantic partner, would pair you with your political opposite — though the two need not be mutually exclusive of course! Many of us could get behind Ms. Peterson’s ground rules to “stay engaged, share sources, and treat each other with respect.”
How might we going about doing this? Have you experienced a positive “substantive conversation” in this kind of intentional manner? How would you design such a regular encounter or opportunity in everyday life?
About the image: A self-portrait of a woman with two titanium rods secured in place with long screws and other hardware who is looking for some “old school style pen pals” that “want to talk about the world, art, music, share ideas, etc.” and “connect with people” she “would normally never get a chance to meet.” (photo: Katie Dureault/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0 )Comments
by Candace Hill, guest contributor
Screen capture of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page.
Day two of fasting this year, and the egg salad on the sesame bagel was especially delicious this morning. This is the dichotomy of the Nineteen Day Fast — that while we don’t eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, the early morning meals feel more special and dinners more festive.
The Baha’i Faith has its own calendar of 19 months made up of 19 days. As in Islam, one of these months is set aside for fasting, just during the daylight hours. And much like the Islamic month of Ramadan, when it comes time for the sun to set, the evening meal feels like a party, a celebration, a time for truly giving thanks for our nourishment, be it a feast or bread and water.
This is all fine and well if you live in a community, neighborhood, or family where everyone is fasting. Although certainly not the children, the elderly, the sick, the traveler, or the pregnant or nursing mother, fasting is for the healthy, mature adults in the community, if you have a community.
In America, the Baha’i Faith is small in numbers. It is more likely that a college student will be the only one in her dorm who is fasting. The editor at his desk will kindly refuse offers of lunch outings. A coffee break with friends seems strange if you are the only one who is not drinking coffee.
But then there’s Facebook. If you are a Baha’i on Facebook, then you have the bounty of an in-gathering of friends from around the world. Baha’is tend to love conferences, summer schools, study circles, and potlucks. It’s not difficult to amass a list of Facebook friends of all ages and ethnicities, living in an exciting number of time zones.
On Facebook you can worship together, with friends posting excerpts from beloved prayers and meditations. On Facebook you can learn together, with friends posting photographs from Baha’i history. On Facebook you can laugh together, with inside jokes and stories that don’t have to be explained. On Facebook you can sing along, to songs from breaking artists like Andy Grammar to beloved standards by Seals and Crofts. On Facebook you can cook together, sharing recipes and shopping tips. On Facebook you can fast together, encouraging each other to make it through the 3 p.m. nap at the desk, and by cheerfully counting down the days.
Facebook allows the beloved community to chat with each other while working, on a mobile phone riding the bus to work, when the baby is napping, and even late at night when we should have all been in bed hours ago.
Fasting is a religious experience where we practice patience and restraint. It is also a community experience where we support and encourage each other. As enlightenment dawns through prayer and meditation, we reflect that light upon each other. It is lovely to be able to do that face to face. But, I also enjoy that same process on Facebook. The reaching out and sharing feels the same across the miles, now that we have the immediacy of the Internet.
Now, what to make for dinner tonight? My Facebook friends will have some ideas.
Candace Moore Hill lives in Evanston, Illinois and has recently published a photographic history of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette. She is currently a volunteer community ambassador with One Chicago One Nation, affiliated with Interfaith Youth Core and blogs at Baha’i History in Postcards.
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.
by Krista Tippett, host
(photo: fake is the new real/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
It was strange to experience my conversation with Elizabeth Alexander about finding fresh ways to talk about difficult things, which became so painfully relevant in light of the Arizona shootings and the soul-searching around them. It’s a kind of relevance I wouldn’t wish for.
But it has emboldened our commitment to "The Civil Conversations Project" that we began in the fall of 2010, and that continued with Frances Kissling, a differently powerful and counterintuitive voice who is best known as a long-time pro-choice champion. But from inside the embittered and entrenched abortion debate, she reveals lessons in human and social change — something more than civility, as she describes it, and more meaningful than our usual goal of “finding common ground.”
One week ago, I also hosted a public forum on creating “civil conversation” here in Minnesota, where we produce our program. A diverse group of citizens gathered and brought their questions and their intentions to create new ways of living together while holding passionate disagreements. Many joined us online, and I learned as much as I contributed, and will take that learning into our work moving forward.
We are experiencing this as a work in progress and wondering, for example, if the project’s title, “Civil Conversations,” is even the right umbrella term we should grow into. Because we learn to speak differently, in my vision, in order to live differently. Words, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminded us, make worlds. Our civil conversations with Richard Mouw, Elizabeth Alexander, Frances Kissling, and others coming up, including Terry Tempest Williams and Vincent Harding, are not just about talking. They’re about mining fresh vocabulary, lived virtues, and lessons learned where ideals have met hard reality. If you have ideas for a better title/headline/umbrella term for what we’re doing — with you as partners, and in public service — we’d like to hear it.
And, last week, we put one of our favorite shows back on the air, John Polkinghorne on quarks and creation. In moments like these, I do love the scope of what we can and must explore while tracing what it means to be human and how we want to live. That inquiry, taken seriously, can both help us shape lives of meaning in space and time and, mercifully, experience our lives as larger than the news cycle. They can help us place ourselves and our confusions in cosmic perspective.
So with the events of the past month still fresh in my mind, I’m listening to insights of John Polkinghorne — a conversation I had five years ago — in a whole new way. I’m remembering that science, too, can help us cultivate hope and a new imagination about human and social change moving forward. He offers this, for example:
"There’s a very interesting scientific insight which says that regions where real novelty occurs, where really new things happen that you haven’t seen before, are always regions which are at the edge of chaos. They are regions where cloudiness and clearness, order and disorder, interlace each other. If you’re too much on the orderly side of that borderline, everything is so rigid that nothing really new happens. You just get rearrangements. If you’re too far on the haphazard side, nothing persists, everything just falls apart. It’s these ambiguous areas, where order and disorder interlace, where really new things happen, where the action is, if you like. And I think that reflects itself both in the development of life and in many, many human decisions."Comments
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
A stoop sale in Brooklyn. (photo: click wrrr/Flickr)
Earlier this summer, I spent more money than I wanted to on camping equipment — hiking poles and other gear I won’t likely use off the trail. Maybe I should have asked a neighbor to borrow or rent their stuff instead. Not only would I have saved some dollar bills, but my brain might have gotten a neurological boost as well.
That’s according to neuroeconomist Paul Zak, who was recently quoted in The New York Times about the benefits of participating in neighborly economic transactions — for example, renting a pricey Roomba from someone down the street rather than buying one from a big box store. According to Zak:
"There is an underlying notion that if I rent my things in my house, I get to meet my neighbor, and if I’m walking the goods over, I get to meet them in person … We’re drawing on a desire in a fast-paced world to still have real connections to a community."
Krista interviewed Zak for "The Science of Trust: Economics and Virtue," a show we produced in 2009 as the Great Recession was unfolding. He does research on oxytocin, a powerful neurotransmitter known as “the trust hormone” that’s commonly associated with breast feeding and childbirth but is also triggered by other forms of social bonding.
Zak’s work around trust and transactions reminds me of a different story altogether from Khalid Kamau, who was featured in our Repossessing Virtue series on the economic crisis. Kamau’s reflection about borrowing eggs and milk from a neighbor hints at a collective longing to belong to a supportive social fabric.
All of this has me wondering how and whether these trends might be playing out in your own life. Are you sharing or in some way participating in neighborly exchanges of goods and services? If so, have you experienced a greater sense of belonging or social connection as a result? Share your oxytocin story with us.Comments
Christopher Calderhead, guest contributor
I live in a rented New York City apartment. The only outdoor space I have access to, besides the sidewalk, is the paved alley alongside my building. And, like many of my neighbors, I use this shared outdoor space for all sorts of activities that don’t fit in a small apartment. As I write, a teen-aged neighbor is practicing his Junior ROTC drill in the alley, and I can hear the thud and clank of his rifle stock as he learns to twirl it in tempo.
It is not an unpleasant place to live. But there is nothing green — no soil, no grass, no plants of any kind — except the street trees I can see from my front window.
This year when my friend Tamara invited me to share her backyard garden, I was delighted. She and her husband Karl have always been incredibly generous with their space. They love nothing more than hosting dinner for 25 on improvised tables and street-find chairs.
The garden is large by city standards. The vegetable patch is 8 feet wide and almost 25 feet deep, and there’s a patch of grass, to boot.
This year, we laid out the vegetable patch together. Neat, orderly rows were prepared for tomatoes, string beans, carrots, beets, and radishes, and every kind of leafy green we could think of. There’s also an herb patch with oregano, chives, rosemary, sage, and lavender. I lobbied for nasturtiums to fill the planters on the paved part of the yard.
And last Saturday, Tamara, Karl, and I were joined by another neighbor, Heather, and we did our first planting. The herbs and seeds for root vegetables went into the ground, as well as a selection of greens. We’re probably over-ambitious, and all of us are amateur gardeners, but it was good to be outdoors on a sunny afternoon bickering over mulch and debating the merits of the soil. The elderly Greek couple next door chatted with us over the chain-link fence while they tended their own patch, with its fig trees and grape arbor.
"Spiritual" is not a word I use very much these days. It’s too nebulous, and encourages sentimentality. But I am interested in the actions that bring us back into balance, that make us whole human beings. And planting the garden with friends does that in two ways.
The most important way for me is how it brings us into a deeper sense of community and friendship. The garden is something we will share — the work of setting out the plants and tending them, as well as the pleasures that will come in a few weeks as we begin to eat the fruits of our labors. And it’s been made possible by two people who are intent on living a shared life with their friends, an antidote to the competitive and atomized culture of this difficult city we live in.
And the second: it restores balance to my life. To be able to touch the soil. To walk barefoot outdoors. To look at the weather not just as the planet’s plot to make me lose my umbrella but as a living system that will nourish — and threaten — the small plants we’ve put in the ground.
Living a city life is compartmentalized and far from natural cycles. Having a garden redresses that balance.
Christopher Calderhead is an artist and writer living in Astoria, Queens. He is the editor of Letter Arts Review and teaches at Bronx Community College and the Pratt Institute.Comments