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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
All others talked as if
talk were a dance.
-

Denise Levertov, from "Caedmon"

Thanks to Phip Ross for sending me this lovely poem.

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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: Yeah. And, it’s, yeah it’s choosing living.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, choosing staying alive.

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.

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"We are indebted to one another, and the debt is a kind of faith, a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being."
~Jennifer Michael Hecht
(Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/GettyImages)

"We are indebted to one another, and the debt is a kind of faith, a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being."

~Jennifer Michael Hecht

(Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/GettyImages)

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I see my identity as deeply tied to a family. I’m very deeply Jewish. My mannerisms, whatever it may be, I mean, I was brought up with Jewish music, my father, he was very poor, but he celebrated the Shabbat with joy. So I have deep memories, Jewishly. So I have never had the desire to leave. I had the desire that it should be better, so my criticism grows from love. It’s like I was once told, don’t be critical as your mother-in-law who enjoys to find out things that are lacking in you [laughs], but be critical out of compassion, out of real love for what you think the people could be. And as I suffered that, because on one level I want to feel empathy, intimacy, with these people with its history, with its longing, and I know its vulnerabilities, its weaknesses, its psychological problems of wanting to be loved.
- ~Rabbi David Hartman from "Hope in a Hopeless God"
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trentgilliss:

“Even if you like living alone, that doesn’t always mean you want to be alone.”

The author and journalist Lisa Napoli does this thing where she opens her door on Friday nights and throws a “party” in her LA abode. Anybody can come and socialize. It’s such a lovely idea and seems like a great way to build relationships and foster community in one’s own way.

The sentiment of this idea reminds me of a story theologian Roberta Bondi once told about being involved and showing up:

“I would just find when I came home at the end of the day, I would be so exhausted that I could hardly contain myself. And I would be met at the car, usually, pulling into the driveway by my two children and my husband, who would all come out to tell me all the things that had gone wrong in the day, like the washing machine had overflowed and the rug in the dining room was soaking wet. And I would think, ‘Oh, I just want to go back to school.’ I would come into the house, and Richard and I would fix supper, and then we would sit down and eat and I would fall asleep with my head in the mashed potatoes. But the fact is that I knew all along that, however it was, it was better that I was there than that I wasn’t there, that my family needed me, that being part of a family means showing up for meals. And prayer is like that. However we are, however we think we ought to be in prayer, the fact is we just need to show up and do the best we can do. It’s like being in a family.”

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Where had I heard the song that threads this video before? I couldn’t put my finger on it until visualizing a water balloon popping in super slow-motion. Ahh, that fantastic Schweppes commercial from several years ago. It seems “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra is a popular one for filmmakers. And rightfully so. It pulls the viewer into a scene so immediately and so intimately. Delightful.

This summary about the video from sniffyjenkins is spot on:

This Is Brighton by Caleb Yule

Last year Caleb was just 13-years old when he shot over 45,000 stills of Brighton over 10 months and put them together into this beautiful, beautiful time-lapse, tilt-shifty film of Brighton. I saw this recently at an exhibition in which a friend had some photographs and there was a queue to put on the headphones and watch (the music is “Home” by Cinematic Orchestra which makes me cry with the happysads every damn time). Watch it. It is amazing, whether or not you know my home town, whether or not you think tilt shift is over or lame or whatever. It’s wonderful and I love it.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Civil Pen Pals as a Way to Know the Other

by Susan Leem, associate producer

my bullet-proof spineAfter 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 )

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Grace Lee Boggs Challenges Occupy Wall Street Protestors to Reinvent Society and Not Just “Expose the Enemy”

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

A couple of weeks ago we posted Grace Lee Boggs’ first video in which she called on Occupy Wall Street participants to use this moment as a time for personal contemplation and reflection. Here is a follow-up video in which she challenges the 99% movement not to just “expose the enemy” but to become the solution by reinventing society, work, education, and culture.

We’ll be interviewing her today at 1 p.m. Central for a public radio show to air in few weeks. If you want to participate and ask questions while we live-tweet, follow us at @Beingtweets.

(Big thanks to WDET’s Mikel Ellcessor for the alert!)

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Brother Ali and A Day of Dignity in North Minneapolis

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Twin Cities Day of Dignity posterThe hip-hop artist Brother Ali's lyrics are infused with notions of community, family, and serving one another. And, today in the blocks surrounding his mosque in North Minneapolis, Masjid An-Nur, he is putting on this cool community get-together and outreach effort, which they're calling the Twin Cities Day of Dignity: A Celebration of Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

The north side, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas of the city, was devastated by a tornado in May of this year. The natural disaster left the neighborhood in tatters, but the community also united in the clean-up effort. To celebrate, they’ll be closing down the streets and offering free health care services and medical supplies, haircuts, winter clothing, food, and school supplies to people and families in need. And, to round out the day’s celebration, a free performance by Freeway and Brother Ali:

"But this event has a particularly special place in my heart because it’s in my particular space in the community, but then it’s also such a service to humanity. It’s not just a show. All different parts of the Twin Cities community get to come together to actually help people, help people in need, and to be a part of that, to be able to have this music here to celebrate the cultural side of it as well. It’s a beautiful thing."
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The Brooms of Britain
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"I was sick of the senseless smashing up of our own communities. It’s good to see there’s a real sense of community with people from all over Liverpool — a vicar, mums, and students — coming to help."
~Anna Mason, 16, who, after reading in Facebook about clean-up efforts, joined the community with broom in hand.

After all the coverage of riots and burning and breaking, here’s a heart-warming story coming out of England. Flocks of people are taking to the streets of London, Liverpool, and other areas with their brooms in hand to help restore their streets and sidewalks after the riots. At the heart of community is the enduring spirit of a people who weather the tumult of history and move forward.
It’s worth pointing out that, nearly six months ago, a similar sense of community bonding was taking place in Cairo with wonderful images of volunteers scrubbing down streets and one of the iconic lion statues at the Qasr el-Nil bridge leading to Tahrir Square after the protests. A bit of the connective tissue of humanity binds us together, non?
 (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
About the lead image: People show their brooms to Boris Johnson, mayor of London, as they prepare to clean their streets in Clapham Junction, in south London. (photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

The Brooms of Britain

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"I was sick of the senseless smashing up of our own communities. It’s good to see there’s a real sense of community with people from all over Liverpool — a vicar, mums, and students — coming to help."

~Anna Mason, 16, who, after reading in Facebook about clean-up efforts, joined the community with broom in hand.

After all the coverage of riots and burning and breaking, here’s a heart-warming story coming out of England. Flocks of people are taking to the streets of London, Liverpool, and other areas with their brooms in hand to help restore their streets and sidewalks after the riots. At the heart of community is the enduring spirit of a people who weather the tumult of history and move forward.

It’s worth pointing out that, nearly six months ago, a similar sense of community bonding was taking place in Cairo with wonderful images of volunteers scrubbing down streets and one of the iconic lion statues at the Qasr el-Nil bridge leading to Tahrir Square after the protests. A bit of the connective tissue of humanity binds us together, non?

Egyptian Men Lion Statue
(photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

About the lead image: People show their brooms to Boris Johnson, mayor of London, as they prepare to clean their streets in Clapham Junction, in south London. (photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

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Fasting on Facebook with My Beloved Baha’i Community

by Candace Hill, guest contributor

Baha'i Faith Facebook Page
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 HillCandace 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.

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Mining Fresh Vocabulary, Lived Virtues, and Lessons Learned

by Krista Tippett, host

Path on Staten Island
(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."
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Gangs are the effect of ineffective communities. Somebody dropped the ball, whether it was the family, the church, the schools…
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—Juan Pacheco, a former gang member who leads Barrios Unidos, an alternative gang movement

This article from Discovery News does a good job of introducing gang alternative movements and touches on tattoo-removal as a “reverse baptism,” using smudging as part of ritual and ceremony, and programs to reorient and reintegrate youth into local communities.

Any advice on other voices participating in these movements that we might hear from?

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Paul Zak and the Neurology of Neighborly Exchange

by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

stoop saleA 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.

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Restoring Life’s Balance Through Soil and Friends

Christopher Calderhead, guest contributor

Christopher CalderheadI 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.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page or simply share a photo of your garden.

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