Mining Fresh Vocabulary, Lived Virtues, and Lessons Learned
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.”
Weighing WikiLeaks’ “Uncomfortable Truths” and Julian Assange’s “Scientific Journalism”
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks speaks at the Hack in the Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2009. (photo: Daryl Yeoh / Flickr, released under a Creative Commons 2.0 license)
WikiLeaks’ founder Julie Assange published an editorial in The Australian yesterday. In “Don’t shoot messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths” he presents WikiLeaks as a moral, journalistic enterprise whose ideological origins trace back to Assange’s Australian ancestral roots. He writes:
“I grew up in a Queensland country town where people spoke their minds bluntly. They distrusted big government as something that could be corrupted if not watched carefully. … These things have stayed with me. WikiLeaks was created around these core values. The idea, conceived in Australia, was to use internet technologies in new ways to report the truth.”
Assange goes on to describe WikiLeaks’ approach as “scientific journalism” — meaning that anyone can read a news story and access it’s original source materials to verify its journalistic accuracy.
Assange’s view of himself as a truth-crusading underdog is not universally shared. Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, argues that Assange’s world view is juvenile and oversimplified. Appearing last week on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Rose, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton, opined:
“This guy is basically a crank who is an essentially old-fashioned anarchist…which is essentially an adolescent world view — that all power and all authority is bad. Well, you know what? Not all authority and power is bad. And these cables that have been revealed show actually U.S. diplomats trying to do the right thing in generally intelligent ways. So ironically it proves the opposite of what Assange actually thinks.”
David Brooks echoed Rose’s perspective in his recent New York Times column, “The Fragile Community”:
“Far from respecting authority, Assange seems to be an old-fashioned anarchist who believes that all ruling institutions are corrupt and public pronouncements are lies. For someone with his mind-set, the decision to expose secrets is easy… But for everyone else, it’s hard.”
Brooks goes on to criticize WikiLeaks for undermining the global diplomatic conversation — that when truths are leaked, trust is compromised and relationships suffer.
Is WikiLeaks in fact a constructive vehicle for revealing “uncomfortable truths,” as Assange argues? How are or aren’t we better off as a global community now that these diplomatic cables are Internet-accessible to all? In what ways has this latest round of leaks done more good than harm or more harm than good? Or is it too early to reach a conclusion?
Peacebuilding in Pictures
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
John Paul Lederach is a peacebuilder who has worked on five continents and in over 25 countries. He travels four to five months a year, but he carved out a couple hours to visit with Krista. His interview is featured in “The Art of Peace” this week.
While traveling in Europe and in between flights, he forwarded a handful of photographs of his peacebuilding efforts in Ghana, Nepal, and the Philippines. His daughter Angie, who worked with former child soldiers in West Africa, provided several more images, including the one above of war-affected girls from a skills building program in Sierra Leone. We thought we’d share some of them with you:
(photo: Chup Thapa from the Federation of Community Forest Users)
In the image above, a community process takes place in Kanchanpur, Nepal to deal with conflicts over land and natural resources use between several opposing groups including former slaves, landless “untouchables,” conservationists, and government officials. John Paul Lederach describes this process in detail to Krista and says this photograph represents seven years of patient peacebuilding. People from all sides of the conflict participated and they used the metaphor of a Nepali soup called kwati to frame their work together. Kwati is made from nine different beans and, as Lederach explains, “every bean retains its flavor … but when they’re brought together the nine beans create a flavor that’s good for the whole. So there have to be some of us that also think about the good of the whole of the community.”