NYT's Lens blog posted a fun entry about Senator Patrick Leahy’s personal photography as he operates from a unique vantage point within the hallowed halls and meeting rooms of Washington D.C. As interesting as the many photos of presidents and legislators are, it’s this “conscience picture” — a portrait he took of an El Salvadoran man in a refugee camp in 1987 — that I find most intriguing, most grounding.
From James Estrin’s piece:
"I set that over my desk," Senator Leahy said, "and every time I think I’m getting a little carried away with myself, I look at that and hear him say: ‘O.K. You’ve talked to all these very important people all around the world; people who have power and money and everything. What are you doing for people like me?’"
Many of us have read Nick Kristof’s columns over the years. And, perhaps, like me, you’ve been moved by his words, shaken by his stories, struck dumb with melancholy and grief. But, inevitably, the “plight of the ‘distant stranger’” assumes its role in feeling the events happening over there.
The HBO documentary, Reporter, will challenge you to come closer, to care, to take action as he pursues uncovering the truths behind human rights violations and personal suffering. With Kristof leading the way, the viewer bears witness alongside his two traveling companions, a med student and a teacher, to the tricky trail the journalist walks when reporting in war-torn Congo.
The film portrays some of the ethical and moral dilemmas of being a reporter in a conflict zone. When Kristof encounters a 41-year-old woman of 60 pounds lying at the edge of a village about to die, he acts. When a warlord responsible for the raping and pillaging of thousands gives thanks to the Lord, he bows his head; when that same man, General Nkunda asks him to eat with him, he dines. Few of these decisions are made without some type of deliberation — a grimace, a pause, a controlled look. But, in the end, he always writes.
He perseveres and tries to understand the underlying aspects of the people involved. And, he asks the difficult questions that have gotten other journalists killed. I’m not trying to saint him, but I now better appreciate his work as he attempts to discover a fuller aspect of all the human beings involved. He continues to tell the difficult stories of a region that gets covered during catastrophic events, and then forgotten within a blink’s time of a celebrity foible or the next breaking news event.
I hope we can interview him for the show some day in the future and hear how he wrestles with these difficult choices — and how he continues on.
Who Are We When We Are At Work? Kate Moos, managing producer
Damon Drake, above, was one of the people taking part in an informal conversation about the role of faith and belief in the workplace one evening last week, which I happened to enjoy. Drake told about his personal mishaps as a fervent new convert to Islam 13 years ago, when he discovered that his practice of declining handshakes from women colleagues alienated them.
Now Drake says he makes accommodations in some of his religious practices if, in actuality, they subvert their original aim. On another occasion, however, he chose to leave a position when too many required business meetings were conducted in settings with alcohol. Such are the tensions of bringing our faith lives to our workplaces.
The discussion I joined was organized by Seeing Things Whole, a group that explores the value of personal spirituality and faith in organizations, theorizing that the bottom line in most organizations is best if assessed by measures in addition to profit: balance, contentment, a sense of shared purpose. The idea that the hygienic modern workplace should be uncontaminated by personal belief is appearing more and more outdated, as our lives become more global and as companies embrace diversity and pluralism as necessities. And, the idea that organizations themselves may take part in embracing a theological view is finding more ground, both in corporations and in academic settings.
In the interests of full disclosure, my invitation to take part in the discussion came from Bob Wahlstedt, a board member of Seeing Things Whole, who is, coincidentally, a benefactor of Speaking of Faith.
Michael Naughton, from the University of St. Thomas’ John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, explained the role of purpose in organizational life that, along with identity, mission, and stewardship, creates balance and success. “Purpose,” he pointed out, “aims us toward the deepest and most transcendent reason for why we work, which offers a spirituality of communion.”
In small groups we talked about our own challenges bringing our values or faith to work. Marty Kotke, a sales rep at Reel Precision Manufacturing, shared his appreciation for being able to be a Christian with Bruce Peterson, a Hennepin County District Court judge, and Kyle Smith, the president of RPM, whose lunchroom provided the setting for our gathering.
Another speaker, John Wheeler, was the general manager of the Mall of America for 18 years. A Buddhist, he learned to practice the principles of his spiritual life in what is arguably a sort of cultural icon of consumerism. “I loved my job,” Wheeler joked, “except for its true essence.” Wheeler said his grounding as a Buddhist helped him address concerns about problems with unsupervised youth at the so-called mega-mall with respect for all parties.
Who are you at work, relative to your spirituality, values, or faith? Have you experienced difficulty with your religious beliefs or practice in the work place? How do you think organizations might benefit from a “theology of organizations?”
In the Room, with Doris Taylor Trent Gilliss, online editor
Unfortunately, one of Krista’s recent interviews wasn’t available for viewing by the time "Stem Cells, Untold Stories" was available for download and broadcast. I say unfortunate because it’s a rare opportunity when Krista is able to interview a guest in our home studios at Minnesota Public Radio — and we’re able to film it and then make it accessible.
After tweaking our encoding specification so that it would properly upload to our video vendor, it’s finally available and wanted to make you aware of it. For those of you who struggle with the limits and the priorities of stem cell research and its outcomes, I highly recommend watching Dr. Taylor talk about her own research and ethical understanding. If nothing else, you’re able to see the passion she conveys when she talks about human physiology and the body’s ability to regenerate and adapt.
Ethicality of Profession v. Salary Trent Gilliss, online editor
David McCandless has created this rather provocative infographic for the Guardian's Datablog (click through for larger image). He’s mapped data on public sector salaries in the UK to a 2008 Gallup poll rating honesty and ethical standards of 21 professions in the U.S. (nurses have worn the crown for nine out of the last ten years).
Having lived in Oxford and worked in London for a short while, I’m somewhat suspicious of mapping opinions of what Americans perceive to be the ethicality of professions to the actual professions of UK subjects. But, it’s fun to think about and talk over with your friends and colleagues.
I have to admit my solar plexus is aching a bit when I see that journalists are tightly clumped with bankers, attorneys, plumbers, and real estate agents on the low end of the respectability quadrant. At least stock brokers and savvy politicians make a better living wage for having “similar” moral integrity. Perhaps I should be a fireman or a high school teacher…
Life in Doris Taylor’s Lab Andy Dayton, associate web producer
After watching Krista’s interview with Doris Taylor, it was hard not to want to see her lab in person. Krista referenced Laurie Zoloth’s phrase “fiction science” during her conversation with Taylor and many of the the mental images that resulted — decellularized “ghost hearts,” cells beating in a dish, rows of pumping regenerated rat hearts — seemed to fit into that category.
So, I was excited to see how those images would hold up when we made a trip Taylor’s lab several months after the interview. While we didn’t didn’t see rows and rows of beating hearts, in the video above, we did see a singular regenerated rat heart beat in an apparatus Taylor called a bioreactor, and a moment later we also heard the story of the man with an incurable heart disease who told her that she was “building hope.”
And, in this video, we also saw the magnified image of beating heart cells as Taylor explained why “cells alone don’t make a heart” and Krista handling animal organs with their cells removed as she discussed the “surprising beauty” of the heart with Taylor (see video below).
And while the fiction science elements of her lab were fascinating, it was most engaging to see Taylor’s energy and passion come out while she was clearly in her element. Her perspective helped keep what might sound like a Mary Shelley-inspired experience focused on the aspect of her work she seems to be most interested in — life.
Here’s a fascinating case of modern law meets 5000-year-old religious tradition. At the end of October, the British Supreme Court decided that — in the case of accepting applicants to a Jewish high school — observance, not ethnicity, should be used in determining admissions. From Sarah Lyall’s New York Times write-up on the ruling:
"In an explosive decision, the court concluded that basing school admissions on a classic test of Judaism — whether one’s mother is Jewish — was by definition discriminatory. Whether the rationale was ‘benign or malignant, theological or supremacist,’ the court wrote, ‘makes it no less and no more unlawful.’"
The article refers to the Jewish principle of matrilineal descent, which we recently heard about on SOF Observed. In the post, we included StoryCorps audio of two friends — Sarah Kelman and Joanna Schochet, who says, “We’re both halfies. By the book I don’t count.”
"It is not simply a statement of principle; it is above all a summons to creative, practical and sustained action to meet the political, moral, religious, social and cultural problems of our time. In addition to participating in one of the many launch events, we invite each individual to adopt the charter as their own, to make a lifelong commitment to live with compassion."
It seems a little serendipitous to me that the charter is being released on November 12, the same day we’re releasing our program with Buddhist thinker Matthieu Ricard to podcasters. Ricard is another person very interested in the idea of compassion. In his conversation with Krista, he offers the idea that compassion is a skill that we develop with practice: “You don’t learn to play the piano by playing 20 seconds a week,” he says, and much like we exercise to keep our bodies fit, we should also be practicing compassionate thinking to remain spiritually fit.
While the charter’s mission is to tell the world why we should be compassionate, Ricard is teaching how we can be compassionate.
I’m interested to see what happens after the charter is officially revealed. How will it be received? On what terms will it put forth its mission? Will anyone notice?
Laskas focuses on the human toll of those forgotten players who suffer in solitude, the ethic of a multi-billion dollar industry who buries its head in the sand, and the fight of an outlier to seek truth according to his personal morality and his religious convictions. Laskas’ article is a blue-collar testimony to great journalism. She puts the human being and the moral dilemma at the center of the story, which, I hope, moves powerful interests to act for the good of those former NFL players who are suffering and have little means to live the rest of their days in relative comfort.
Recently, Krista sent around an e-mail saying she wanted to look into Darius Rejali as a possible show guest to explore the topic of torture. I was about to fire up Google when I realized I was already familiar with Rejali’s voice and ideas. Last year I worked on an American RadioWorks documentary called "What Killed Sergeant Gray" about Iraq veterans who’ve been psychologically devastated by their experiences with detainee abuse. Rejali was tapped as a voice for the program.
In that interview, as well as in his more recent conversation with Krista, I found myself drawn to his discussion of when and why people resist the group-think pressure to go along with what Rejali calls a “torture bureaucracy.” Rejali says that while these resistors haven’t been formally studied, they do seem to have in common an affiliation with a belief system — whether it’s derived from their family, religion, or a political party — that conflicts with whatever the torture bureaucracy is telling them to do.
Above is some audio from the unedited interview from the documentary in which Rejali talks more about these conflicts. Here, Rejali makes reference to French soldiers who refused to perpetrate torture during the French-Algerian war in the 1950s and early 60s. He also mentions social science experiments that would be illegal today but have taught us about the power of social situations in determining people’s propensity to obey or defy authority — specifically the famous Milgram obedience study. We decided to use some audio from the these experiments in our upcoming show.
*Thanks to American RadioWorks for permission to use this source audio and Michael Montgomery, Joshua Phillips, and Catherine Winter.
It wasn’t about doing the right thing. It’s just me as an athlete — I feel like we all compete and train for four years to get to the Olympic Games. We got there, he was told he finished second after all that, he took a victory lap. I can understand his humiliation and embarrassment and all that. Me being an athlete, I know how he feels, so I feel like it was to me to give it up to him.
—Olympian Shawn Crawford
In a display of sportsmanship, the U.S. sprinter gave his Olympic silver medal to Churandy Martina, who finished ahead of Crawford in the 200-meter event but was disqualified for running outside of his lane.
Repossessing Virtue: Ayman Amer on No-Interest Banking and a “House of Finance” » download (mp3, 20:24) Amara Hark-Weber, Production Intern
Throughout recent discussions of our current financial crisis, I have been struck at how few leaders are willing to imagine changes or alternatives to the system that has faltered. In this conversation, Mount Mercy economics professor Ayman Amer delves directly into this topic, outlining financial alternatives as they are practiced in the Islamic world. He ruminates on the shared responsibilities of government, lending bodies, communities and individuals discussing how they can they work together for mutual success. Amer uses the Islamic financial practices of no-interest banking as an example of an alternative method that could realistically be applied here in the United States.
As a scholar with an understanding of the financial structures of both the Islamic world and the United States, Amer pushes us to remember that in times of assessment and reflection it is as important to look outward as it is to reflect inward. He helps us do just this, asking how can we improve our own practices and challenging us to see examples elsewhere.
Repossessing Virtue: Rebecca Blank on the Ethics of the Free Market » download(mp3, 7:36) Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
The financial crisis has been a topic at all of our recent staff meetings, and we’ve been looking for different ways to address it. One idea was to begin conversations with thinkers in a variety of fields about the moral implications of what has happened and why. For the first of those conversations, we called up the economist Rebecca Blank, co-author of the book Is The Market Moral? She brings together a faith in the power of markets and her life-long Christian faith, providing a unique ethical perspective on the free market at a time when even Alan Greenspan has been expressing his doubts about it.
Give a listen and let us know what you think. And while you’re at it, share your story of how this crisis is affecting you, what you think the implications are, and where you’re looking for wisdom and strength in this shifting economic landscape.
"How Not to Help the Poor" Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
We’ve been talking about doing a program about the ethics of aid for a while now (Trent first wrote about it here in early June). I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was first discussed at one of our production meetings, and it’s looking like the production wheels will finally start turning relatively soon; next week Krista has interviews with Katherine Marshall and Binyavanga Wainaina.
Until then, take a peek at the above video. The angle is a bit different — we’re looking for a broader international view, this video is about U.S. domestic aid from a primarily Christian perspective — but it’s still based on the same general question: when do charity and aid help, and when are they counterproductive?