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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.

Our latest podcast with Imani Perry (a scholar of law, culture, race— and hip hop) and the fabric of our identity is the first in a four-part series, “The American Consciousness.”

Ms. Perry acknowledges wise voices who say that we will never get to the promised land of racial equality, writing, “That may very well be true, but it also true that extraordinary things have happened and keep happening in our history. The question is, how do we prepare for and precipitate them?” We took her up on this emboldening question at the Chautauqua Institution, on the cusp of yet a new collective reckoning with the racial fabric of American life.

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The perfect conversation for summer on the value of play throughout our lives.

What’s so fascinating is how Dr. Stuart Brown first come to study play — by studying mass murderer Charles Whitman:

"In 1966 when I was just beginning to take over and office as an assistant professor of psychiatry, a young man by the name of Charles Whitman went up to the Texas Tower in Austin, Texas, after killing his wife and mother. He perpetrated what was then the largest mass murder in the history of the United States, killing 17 additional people and wounding 41. And because I had done some studies of violence in the course of my residency in neurology and psychiatry, and because in August in Texas most people who are important are elsewhere, I was put in charge of the behavioral aspect of trying to figure out why Charles Whitman did this horrendous crime. And we brought in the world’s experts to try to figure out the motivation of Charles Whitman, even though he had been killed by vigilante crossfire at the top of the tower.

And so for a very intense period of time, in addition to doing very detailed toxicologic and — studies of his body, we retrieved as much information as possible from his prenatal area all the way up to the last hours before he died. And without going through that entire story, one of the major conclusions, which struck me and has certainly stuck with me since, was that a remarkably systematic suppression of any free play — which was largely the result of his father’s overbearing and intense personality — prevented Charles Whitman from engaging in normal play at virtually any era of his life, including his early infancy.

We thought at the end of the Whitman study that this was such a bizarre aberration in human behavior that it probably was not something one could generalize from. So as a result of the funding available and the availability of research subjects in the prison system in Texas, a team of us then studied all the young murderers whose crime was essentially homicide without their being career criminals, and we did an in-depth study of them, their families, and compared them to as well-matched a control and comparison population as we could. And, lo and behold, we discovered that the majority of them — in fact 90% level — had really bizarre, absent, deficient, seriously deviant play histories.”

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Happened upon this utterly joyful photograph by Fabiana Zonca while looking for a lead image for Parker Palmer’s post "What You Need Is Here." The photographer’s caption is quite endearing too:

"You are my hero!!!
This little girl was lovely and full of life: she could not help herself but laughing and running around. She was happy as only a kid can be! And when her father hugged her she made this fantastic gesture as to hold in her hands not only his face but her love for him. Irresistibly sweet!!”
Happened upon this utterly joyful photograph by Fabiana Zonca while looking for a lead image for Parker Palmer’s post "What You Need Is Here." The photographer’s caption is quite endearing too:

"You are my hero!!!
This little girl was lovely and full of life: she could not help herself but laughing and running around. She was happy as only a kid can be! And when her father hugged her she made this fantastic gesture as to hold in her hands not only his face but her love for him. Irresistibly sweet!!”

Happened upon this utterly joyful photograph by Fabiana Zonca while looking for a lead image for Parker Palmer’s post "What You Need Is Here." The photographer’s caption is quite endearing too:

"You are my hero!!!

This little girl was lovely and full of life: she could not help herself but laughing and running around. She was happy as only a kid can be! And when her father hugged her she made this fantastic gesture as to hold in her hands not only his face but her love for him. Irresistibly sweet!!”

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Fourteen moments of precious of a mother and her four-year-old daughter in various yoga poses. Is there anything more joyful than this to wake up to on a Monday morn?
(via 123 Inspiration)
Fourteen moments of precious of a mother and her four-year-old daughter in various yoga poses. Is there anything more joyful than this to wake up to on a Monday morn?
(via 123 Inspiration)

Fourteen moments of precious of a mother and her four-year-old daughter in various yoga poses. Is there anything more joyful than this to wake up to on a Monday morn?

(via 123 Inspiration)

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This picture is achingly beautiful — and hits much too close to home. Read Jezebel’s post about this touching father/daughter tribute.
(via trentgilliss)
This picture is achingly beautiful — and hits much too close to home. Read Jezebel’s post about this touching father/daughter tribute.
(via trentgilliss)

This picture is achingly beautiful — and hits much too close to home. Read Jezebel’s post about this touching father/daughter tribute.

(via trentgilliss)

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An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe, poet laureate of New York State, works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.

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The Quiet Man

by Norman Allen, guest contributor

N.T. Allen

For my father’s memorial service, my sister suggested that I stand before the congregation and say, “We’d like to share with you exactly what it was like to live with our father. So let’s have a moment of silence.”

It’s not that Dad didn’t speak, it’s that he didn’t speak about the personal. He could rant against George McGovern and lift Richard Nixon up as a god, but remain entirely silent about my sister’s adolescent breakdown. A few years later, he declared my hero Jimmy Carter the “greatest embarrassment the White House has ever seen,” but didn’t say a word about my recent emergence from the closet.

Dad built his life on the foundations of a suburban existence: retirement plans, company loyalty, and a close-knit family that gathered to wave him down the street each morning and waited each night for his return. True to his class and time, he made himself a Manhattan before dinner and smoked incessantly. No one was going to change that.

But behind this rigid façade lay a man tragically eager to please. As kids we could always talk him into a double-scoop cone, if we could just get him away from Mom. As an adult, I learned that this tendency went much deeper.

Dad went to medical school because his parents told him to. Failing that, he accepted their second choice and became a mechanical engineer. In a rare moment of intimacy, on a father-son camping trip to the High Sierra, he confessed that his dream was to be a park ranger. I wonder what his life would have been if he’d had the courage to follow that ambition. Perhaps he would have found his voice leading nature hikes and campfire programs.

Dad never broke the habit of trying to please his parents, but he made sure that we didn’t suffer the same fate. He applauded my high school theatricals and provided financial support for a creative college major. On my weekly calls home, he always made sure that I was writing, though he never inquired about the specifics.

True to his nature, he remained silent and stoic through my mother’s seven-year battle with cancer, and continued so when he was diagnosed himself two years after her death. During Dad’s final months, I bathed him, mopped up his bodily fluids, and listened for changes in his breathing. The only concern he voiced was for the future of his dog, an oversized Sheltie who watches as I write.

It was Dad’s Lutheran pastor who put his silence into context. Older congregants, he said, had expressed a need for guidance as they considered death’s approach. My father provided the model they were seeking. Church members who visited in his final weeks all returned with the same tale: Dad was quiet, uncomplaining, unafraid.

In the end, we didn’t ask for a moment of silence at Dad’s memorial service. Instead I shared a story about Saint Francis sending his brothers out to spread the Gospel and telling them, “If necessary, use words.” When one of Dad’s elderly neighbors caught my eye and smiled her appreciation, I knew we’d made the right choice.

Dad was a quiet man, but he renounced his parents’ prejudices, encouraged his children’s ambitions, overcame his own homophobia to welcome new family members, and remained a steady presence through his wife’s long illness. If St. Francis is right, and our actions speak louder than our words, you might say the man never shut up.


Norman AllenNorman Allen is a playwright living in Washington, DC. His plays include In The Garden (Charles MacArthur Award), Nijinsky’s Last Dance (Helen Hayes Award), and The House Halfway, to be produced at this summer’s Source Theatre Festival in Washington, DC.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Sarah Kay Performs “B” at the Bowery

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

We hijacked the audio from this performance of “B” for this week’s podcast featuring our interview with spoken word poet Sarah Kay. Note: the very first words of the poem, “If I should have a daughter” are missing (and it contains an expletive).

Krista preferred the intimacy and relaxed style of this presentation at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2008 over her performance at TED2011:

What’s your take?

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Nurture Wherever It Is Cold, Nurture Wherever It Is Dark

by Preeti Kaur, guest contributor

Preeti Kaur, Her Mother, and Brothers and SistersPreeti Kaur, her mother, her brothers (one wearing a patka) and sister.

In the Sikh faith, the role of the nurturer is one, among many, of the celebrated roles of all Sikhs, regardless of gender. My own father often reminisces to me of how his mother would nurture his growth and curiosity by imparting Sikh teachings to him while he was growing up in Dharamsala, India as a post-Partition refugee family. Everyday when he returned from school, his mother recited the Janam Saakhis, a collection of “birth stories” based on the life and lessons of the first Sikh guru, Nanak Dev Ji. He remembers this nurturing time as his favorite time of the day.

I recently saw a video of Harneel Singh, an extraordinarily eloquent young American man, describing his painful experience growing up as a Sikh boy wearing a patka (a Sikh mini-turban) in school, where he was often taunted and bullied. He speaks very freely that his experience is something familiar to many young people.

The patka is worn by children in preparation for wearing a full turban as a grown Sikh. Many young Sikh boys wear patkas throughout the world, including in America, where Sikhs have lived for over one hundred years. As adults, many Sikh men (and some Sikh women) wear a full turban, or dastaar, as a display of their commitment to accepting their body as it has grown and to distinguish themselves as physically committed to a path of justice. The global political climate of recent years, where turbans are inaccurately portrayed as the garb of global terror, has increased suspicion and violence against turban-wearing Sikhs especially in the form of hate crimes, down to the youngest members of our society in the form of school bullying.

Harneel Singh shares the tender points of his story because he has been nurtured to a point of strength — perhaps through his mother or father, or perhaps through his friends, or the adults in his life, or perhaps even by nurturing his own self, giving birth to a reflective young man.

The following poem, written for the young men who wear turbans in my life, is to honor all steps in the process of nurturing. This includes the process of negative experiences entering our lives — where it is cold, where it is dark — which provide us an opportunity to nurture others and ourselves.

where ever it is dark

after school i tell my mummy
i don’t want to go back tomorrow
she asks me why

i tell her today in the playground
kids push me punch me kick me
shout POTATO HEAD! RAG HEAD! ALLADIN! OSAMA BIN LADIN!
everything i am not

i throw fists back call them ugly
things too i imagine the bullies
as yellow toothed neon green eyed gorillas
like the ones in my closet at night

my cheeks burn my heart thumps
i am MAD i didn’t start this! i am just one
no one listens when i yell STOP IT! LEAVE ME ALONE!
i want to hide in a tent made of my sky blue bed sheets
i wish for a galactic force field
but no hands shield my head
when the bullies rip my
patka off my head

there is no superman
on this playground not even pretend
not sammy who i swing with
everyday on the monkey-bars
or alberto who swaps strawberry jelly sandwiches
with me in the cafeteria
not jenny who i tell knock-knock jokes with on the bus
not even the adults who patrol the playground
with whistles and detention slips to the principal’s office
so everyone might follow the rules

after bloody noses bruises scratches
after we are trees pulled out of the ground
a pile of mud surrounding us
our teacher mrs. jones sits us down
why did you punch back she asks
the teacher pulls me out of the ground some more

inside i am not a tree
inside i am a match
like the ones my daddy warns me not to play with
an orange blue fire on a stick of arms and legs
which grows short in two seconds
burning my insides too fast

i go home and cry and cry
i tell my mummy everything
mummy wraps her arms around my shoulders tells
me she loves me with her eyes
she unwraps my joora lets loose
my long hair runs her fingers through

mummy whispers your hair
is the night sky your hair
is the universe she combs
my kes with a kanga
twists my hair firm on top of my head
a galaxy you carry high mummy says
she takes the square patka
angles the cloth like a diamond
sets the patka on my scalp
ties it tight

mummy tells me this patka crowns you
one day you will wear a turban
cloth as long as the seven oceans
the full span of the earth
will rest on your head

be brave young prince
like Sahibzaadas Zorawar Singh Fateh Singh

when bullies big as kings
threaten them for carrying the universe on their heads
when bullies locked them
three nights in the cold in the dark
they raised their chins high no tears
they turned their fists to hearts
practiced the ways of the lion prince
with questions and conversation

mummy kisses
my cheeks i kiss her back

i tell her i will go back
to school tomorrow i will be
a shooting star prince
bright and brave
where ever it is cold
where ever it is dark

This Mother’s Day, I celebrate my own mother and I celebrate the nurturing spirit which we can each inculcate by sharing the stories of our lives, our own janam sakhis, our own birth stories.


Preeti KaurPreeti Kaur is an American of the Sikh faith living in San Joaquin Valley, California. You can read more of her poetry at The World I Stitch.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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"I would just like people to believe that humility — listening to the other person and trying to understand the other person — and forgiving are important." —David Plant, who reflects on his legacy knowing his skin cancer has spread to other parts of his body
Photo of David Plant with his stepson Frank Lilley courtesy of StoryCorps
"I would just like people to believe that humility — listening to the other person and trying to understand the other person — and forgiving are important." —David Plant, who reflects on his legacy knowing his skin cancer has spread to other parts of his body
Photo of David Plant with his stepson Frank Lilley courtesy of StoryCorps

"I would just like people to believe that humility — listening to the other person and trying to understand the other person — and forgiving are important."
David Plant, who reflects on his legacy knowing his skin cancer has spread to other parts of his body

Photo of David Plant with his stepson Frank Lilley courtesy of StoryCorps

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What shall we do about the elderly dying with dementia, losing who they are — how do we help them “die well”?

My mom is at the end stage. She is losing her abilities to speak, to eat. How do I help her? Is it okay to talk about dying with her? I do read to her, I tell her I love her, I see her as often as I can at her long-term care home. But as she declines, I am not sure how to help her “die well.”

I have had a great sense of healing in my time with her in this stage of life, but as I see her becoming less and less connected I am not sure what to do. How can I help her at this stage? Perhaps just being there, holding her hand, reading, I am not sure. How do we address her dying? Is it okay to talk about it? I don’t want her to die without being at peace about it.

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Annie Voldman, in response to "Contemplating Mortality"

We received this powerful note with searching questions yesterday from a listener in Vermont. What advice would you offer her, or suggestions on resources that would give her good counsel? Please leave them in the comments section and we’ll forward on. Many thanks for your help.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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The Act of Parenting Is Folding the Towels in a Sweet Way

by Krista Tippett, host

I picked up Sylvia Boorstein’s lovely book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, years ago and loved it. Then, several years later, I found myself on a panel discussion with her and loved her in person.

I was struck in that discussion by one story she told, about a man who participated in one of her meditation and Metta or “lovingkindness” retreats; she conducts these for Buddhist practitioners but also for rabbis and clergy and lay people of many traditions. As this man prepared to pack up and go home, he described an unsettling sense of vulnerability, of openness to life which also meant that his defenses were down. He felt blessedly sheltered in the context of that retreat but far too exposed to take his newfound vulnerability out into the world.

This has its corollary in becoming a parent, I think. One’s sense of sovereignty and safety goes into freefall — and stays there. But no one tells you this in advance! As the French theologian Louis Evely beautifully put it:

"(W)hen one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart."

So how to live, how to love, how to know what we can do (and what we can’t) to raise children who will participate in the world’s beauty and its pain and be safe inside their skin. This too is a conundrum, a daunting challenge that we rarely name together. But it is always there if we are raising children not merely to be successful (and there’s lots of advice about that), but to be good and grounded and kind.

I went into this conversation with Sylvia Boorstein hoping for some practical wisdom about imparting such qualities of character. In the course of our time together, some of it in exchange with an audience of people with children in their lives, we circled back to the simplest and most daunting reality of all: our children are likely, in the end, to act and live as we act and live. Nurturing their inner lives means nurturing our inner lives, for their sakes.

I couldn’t have found a better conversation partner on this. Sylvia Boorstein has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and her spiritual practice is blessedly reality-based. Buddhism, of course, is at its core about embracing reality head on, about minimizing suffering in life by first acknowledging that suffering is a fact of life and resolving not to make it worse.

So, as she describes, this spiritual practice has helped her grasp that her lifelong tendency to worry is simply a quality she possesses, no more remarkable than the fact that, as she puts it, she is short and has brown hair. Others of us may have a tendency towards anger, or to reach for sensory comfort when life throws its curve balls. The trick for achieving balance and joy in our own lives — a trick made both harder and more important by the presence of children who exhaust as well as delight us — is first to know this about ourselves.

Spiritual parenting, as Sylvia Boorstein describes it, is not about adding work or effort to our overly busy lives. It is about self-knowledge and “wise effort” that helps us live gracefully moment by moment. It is manifest as much in how we fold the laundry as in how we discipline or praise our children. She offers this, for example, as a simple piece of effort that can reorient our attitudes and responses in all kinds of situations. Rather than asking, “Am I pleased?” in any given situation, we can ask instead, “In this moment, am I able to care?”

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Michigan State University surveyed more than 700 employers seeking to hire recent college graduates. Nearly one-third said parents had submitted resumes on their child’s behalf, some without even informing the child. One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their son or daughter for a position. Four percent of respondents reported that a parent actually showed up for the candidate’s job interview.
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I don’t even know what to say about these finding. I see parents negotiating on the playground, but in the workplace for a 22-year-old college graduate? Oy.

From nprfreshair

Bring Your Parent To Work Day: So-called helicopter parents have hit the workplace, phoning employers to advocate on behalf of their adult children. Human resource managers say more parents are trying to negotiate salary and benefits and are even sitting in on job interviews. 

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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trentgilliss:

Ice Rink Photo Poesy. Today, Rilke: “I live my life in widening circles / that reach out across the world. / I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.” (Taken with instagram)
trentgilliss:

Ice Rink Photo Poesy. Today, Rilke: “I live my life in widening circles / that reach out across the world. / I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.” (Taken with instagram)

trentgilliss:

Ice Rink Photo Poesy. Today, Rilke: “I live my life in widening circles / that reach out across the world. / I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.” (Taken with instagram)

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