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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.
"Your hands are sliced up from twisting wires together, handling junction boxes made out of stamped sheet metal, and cutting metal conduit with a hacksaw. But none of this damage touches the best part of yourself." —Matthew Crawford, from Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
Photo by Jeremy Kunz (distributed with instagram)
"Your hands are sliced up from twisting wires together, handling junction boxes made out of stamped sheet metal, and cutting metal conduit with a hacksaw. But none of this damage touches the best part of yourself." —Matthew Crawford, from Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
Photo by Jeremy Kunz (distributed with instagram)

"Your hands are sliced up from twisting wires together, handling junction boxes made out of stamped sheet metal, and cutting metal conduit with a hacksaw. But none of this damage touches the best part of yourself."
Matthew Crawford, from Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Photo by Jeremy Kunz (distributed with instagram)

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.

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


Becoming Detroit: Reimagining Work, Food, and the Very Meaning of Humanity

by Krista Tippett, host

Grace Lee Boggs During an Interview with Krista TippettThis trip to Detroit came about because of technological failure. It was a tremendous gift, and a revelation.

The technological failure was the connection between my voice and Grace Boggs. Her ears, after all, are 96. And when we weren’t able to have a real, fluid conversation between St. Paul and Detroit, I immediately decided we would fly to interview her in her home. This was a relief, really, as preparing for the interview had made me long to meet her.

Ever since my conversation with Vincent Harding last year, her name kept coming up. Her identity is full of unlikely conjunctions: Chinese-American and an icon of African-American civil rights, philosopher and activist, elder and change agent. She was born Grace Lee above her father’s Chinese restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. She received a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1940. She had a heady life in intellectual, revolutionary circles of the early twentieth century, from Europe to Africa. Wall of Photos at Grace Lee Boggs' HomeShe moved to Detroit when she married the legendary African-American autoworker, organizer, and civil rights thinker Jimmy Boggs. Together they were the heart and soul of civil rights in the Motor City.

Jimmy Boggs died in 1993. Already by then, years ahead of what most of us are experiencing as the new global economic crisis, the post-industrial future had begun to show itself in Detroit. In this emerging world, Grace Boggs is at the heart of reimagining, renewing, and “re-spiriting” this city — seeing the possibilities amidst the ruins of abandoned storefronts, houses, and industrial plants that have defined our cultural vision of Detroit in recent years. She learned, she says, to “make a way out of no way” from Jimmy Boggs. She draws on everyone from Hegel to Dr. King to Margaret Wheatley when she speaks of our capacity to “create the world anew.” With all she knows, and all the change she’s seen, the sheer magnitude of years she carries, you can’t help but listen when Grace Boggs describes the tumult of our time as a rare and precious opportunity: “What a time to be alive.”

This sweeping statement might be less infectious if it were not planted in a world of engagement that both affirms and continually informs Grace Boggs’ thinking. You walk into Grace Boggs’ living room — which is also the ground floor of the James and Grace Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership — and you are surrounded by joyful, passionate people who are literally recreating their corners of the world. She points them out as we speak. Gloria Lowe in front of her home in East DetroitAfter our interview, we are taken on a tour that is like a trip into a parallel universe to the Detroit we’ve seen in the news.

We meet Gloria Lowe, who is not merely putting formerly incarcerated and injured vets to work, but making houses livable and beautiful while creating urban models that are affordable and green. We meet Wayne Curtis and Myrtle Thompson, a couple who are tending one of Detroit’s 1,600 urban gardens. They’re not merely growing food, as they tell us, they are growing culture. Their way of talking about “food sovereignty,” about the necessity of flavor, about “nutrient density” reminds me of the chef Dan Barber.They are a living response to the question he’s often asked, of whether the local food movement is just for pampered elites. 

Wayne Curtis' public art work asking people to "Eat Local."

Detroit’s urban agricultural movement began as a matter of survival and became a matter of consciousness, and of reimagining the essence of human identity and community.

So many of my conversations are ultimately about the vast, seismic changes of our time. No city could be held up more easily as a symbol of the destructive side of this change than Detroit. But nowhere have I encountered people as animated by change, as “privileged” to experience it, as in Detroit.

In recent decades, Grace Boggs has become ever more attentive to the word “evolution” wrapped inside the word “revolution.” The identity politics and rights focus of the rebellions of the 1960’s, she says, paved a way for a more enlightened and slower revolution now — a new and deeper sense of a common human identity, from how we work to how we eat to how we govern ourselves. Ever the philosopher, she reminds us that “we’re not only being, but we’re non-being and becoming.” In Grace Boggs’ living room, and in the Detroit of hope which she helps inspire, these lofty words become something to live by.


The Rules of a Creator’s Life

A fine list of rules from creativesomething to consider and contemplate on this gorgeous Saturday winter morning. Non?

Rules of a Creators Life

Click to view a tad‒bit larger. And share with your friends, co‒workers, and creative icons.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Reuben found that, on average, both men and women lied about their performance. When participants had an incentive to lie, they lied more; and the incidence of lying increased as the monetary award for being chosen as leader increased. But while women kept pace with men on how frequently they lied, women did not exaggerate their performance to the same degree, and it cost them: women were selected a third less often than their abilities would otherwise indicate.

Rebecca Knight of the Financial Times "Women at the Top" blog highlights research by Columbia Business School professor Ernesto Reuben, who finds that men “honestly believe their performance is 30 percent better than it really is.” This is research that should make all men and women pause as it concerns not only gender equality in the workplace but also ethics and morality.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Light Painting the Mines of North Wales

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

If you’re looking for a brief respite between Thanksgiving meals or a brief interlude to the NFL triple play, check out this short film by Andrew Telling and Owen Richards. They shadow photographer Robin Friend as he traverses the foothills of North Wales and descends into an abandoned Victorian mine at Cwmorthin to do a bit of light painting for his Slaughterhouse series:

"Slaughterhouse" by Robin Friend"Although my mind kept wandering and playing tricks, it would always return to the absence of the men that used to work here. Their presence was palpable; this was their mine and I was trespassing. Each cathedral-sized cavern would have been leased and worked by one family. Grandfathers, fathers, sons, uncles, and nephews would have worked side-by-side, day in day out. These dark passages, steep crevasses, and sheer drops would have been their livelihood. This was their world. They would have spent the majority of their lives down here in the dark with nothing but a candle to illuminate the slate and their spirits."

(h/t trishutchinson)

For at least some of those with soul-destroying morning commutes, liberation may indeed be at hand. A preliminary presentation posted by Stanford University researchers describes the effects of allowing customer service employees at a billion-dollar Chinese company to work from home: Productivity went up, as did hours worked, and employees seemed happier for it.

Ray Fisman at Slate reports on a study that shows that telecommuting may not be the “working from home” joke many of us make it out to be. And, yet, when all the workers were offered a telecommuting option, half the employees opted to inhabit a cube, “preferring the hours in commute in exchange for the human interaction of office life and a fixed beginning and end to each work day.”

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

I’m not sure Apple even thinks about the competition. They’re uniquely themselves without worrying about anyone else. When I worked for Steve there was little discussion about the competition. The aim was for us to be the most extreme version of ourselves. When you adopt that approach, it causes you to think about things in a different way.

Keith Yamashita, from "The Apple Effect" in Saturday’s Christian Science Monitor

How should we be “the most extreme version of ourselves” in our own work lives? If more of us lived out this philosophy on the job and perhaps in our personal lives, would we be better off for it? I’m thinking, “Yes!” (within reason, of course). *grin*

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Personality and Profession: When Who You Are Becomes What You Do

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Multitasking workWork of a multitasker. Photo by totalAldo/Flickr, cc by 2.0

To be effective workers, many of us use learned principles of best workplace practices, even though they may counter our natural instincts. But this goes against a common sense idea that your personal tendencies could help you at work. In "Autism and Humanity" this week, Paul Collins cites psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen's research correlating autism with certain professions:

"There’s been really fascinating research on this done by Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University. And what he noticed essentially was that there seemed to be a lot of autistic siblings, in particular, of students of his who were in science-related majors and, you know, math students as well, and engineering students, and that kind of thing. And so initially, he simply looked at, just sort of did an informal study comparing English majors and the rates of autism in their families with a number of science majors. And the science majors that he was looking at had rates that were like five and six times that of autism in their families. Interestingly enough, the English majors had much, much higher rates of manic depression in their families…

Which is suddenly all makes sense. So, and then when he expanded to studying the broader population, he found that this held up. That actually, when you looked at the professions that family members of people with autism were in, they tended to be in things like accounting, engineering, computer programming, and had very low rates of employment in fields like sales, for instance.”

Harvard Business Review recently made a similar point with seven personality traits of successful salespeople. The research took an organic approach to understanding what personality traits top salespeople happened to have in common, and in what ways it served them in their sales roles.

Many of us may have struggled less on the career ladder by choosing a career more suited to our personalities. But would you trade in the unexpected skills or experiences picked up along the way?


Fashion Photographer Bill Cunningham Finds Beauty on the Street

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

"The wider world that perceives fashion as a frivolity that should be done away with. The point is fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization."

Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham is a personal hero, and I’m not that interested in fashion. I’m inspired by who he is as a person. I keep a photograph of him tacked up in my cube with the caption "I’m looking for something that has beauty."

Cunningham is compelled by clothing — not the celebrity status or pedigree of the wearer. He champions lively personal style wherever and whenever it captures his highly-trained eye. On Sundays, I like to soak up his weekly "On the Street" feature in The New York Times. Now he’s the subject of a new documentary, Bill Cunningham New York. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year. 

The documentary reveals Cunningham’s incredible work ethic and the ferocious joy of his work. Now in his 80s, he spends his days riding around Manhattan without a helmet on a beat-up bicycle. His film-loaded camera is always at the ready (no, he does not shoot digital), cocked to shoot someone’s interesting hat or low-rider pants.

In the evenings, he tours New York’s society circuit, snapping photos at charity benefit functions. He never eats the food at these events, and even refuses to accept a glass of water. He says this would compromise his objective stance.

While fashion has been the driver of Cunningham’s life and career, he describes his own personal style as dreary. While working, he wears a signature royal blue workman’s jacket. For years, he lived in a monk-like studio above Carnegie Hall stuffed with filing cabinets for all of his negatives. It didn’t even have a bathroom (it was down the hall). More recently, he has relocated to a bigger apartment. He asked to have the appliances and counters removed to make room for his files.

Bill Cunningham found his passion and calling in life. And because he did, he’s given a gift to the rest of us. Here’s a reminder from Cunningham to pay attention to what we see, and to look for beauty in our everyday encounters: ”Fashion comes from everywhere. It’s all here and the streets are speaking to us.”


The Work We Value, The Intelligence We Ignore: Is the Work that Made America Great Valued Any Longer?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Mike Rowe Testifying Before Senate Committee

"The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work."
Mike Rowe

Working is part of our genetic make-up in the United States. One of my personal goals producing for this program is to present the many forms of grittier intelligence that exist in the world — reminding myself and our audiences of the intellectual integrity and the nose-to-the-grindstone beauty of people in this land I call home.

The value of work and how we work and how we become civic beings is embedded in this concept of everyday living. I ask myself, “Why did so many people love the story about the oldest living man from Montana who just recently died?” I don’t think that it was just about longevity, but that he was a railroad man who had practical advice and obvious wisdom. He distilled the complexity of life into practical advice that I believe he formed by working the lines and the farms. I think all of us long to know more about people like that, the quiescent majority.

Reading the following testimony from Mike Rowe, the creator and host of Dirty Jobs, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has reignited my urgency to find more of these voices in the months to come. Here’s his speech in its entirety; it’s well worth the time:

"Chairman Rockefeller, Ranking Member Hutchison and members of this committee, my name is Mike Rowe, and I want to thank you all very much for the opportunity to testify before you today.

I’m here today because of my grandfather.

His name was Carl Knobel, and he made his living in Baltimore as a master electrician. He was also a plumber, a mechanic, a mason, and a carpenter. Everyone knew him as a jack-of-all-trades. I knew him as a magician.

For most of his life, my grandfather woke up clean and came home dirty. In between, he accomplished things that were nothing short of miraculous. Some days he might re-shingle a roof. Or rebuild a motor. Or maybe run electricity out to our barn. He helped build the church I went to as a kid, and the farmhouse my brothers and I grew up in. He could fix or build anything, but to my knowledge he never once read the directions. He just knew how stuff worked.

I remember one Saturday morning when I was 12. I flushed the toilet in the same way I always had. The toilet however, responded in a way that was completely out of character. There was a rumbling sound, followed by a distant gurgle. Then, everything that had gone down reappeared in a rather violent and spectacular fashion.

Naturally, my grandfather was called in to investigate, and within the hour I was invited to join he and my dad in the front yard with picks and shovels.

By lunch, the lawn was littered with fragments of old pipe and mounds of dirt. There was welding and pipe-fitting, blisters and laughter, and maybe some questionable language. By sunset we were completely filthy. But a new pipe was installed, the dirt was back in the hole, and our toilet was back on its best behavior. It was one of my favorite days ever.

Thirty years later in San Francisco when my toilet blew up again. This time, I didn’t participate in the repair process. I just called my landlord, left a check on the kitchen counter, and went to work. When I got home, the mess was cleaned up and the problem was solved. As for the actual plumber who did the work, I never even met him.

It occurred to me that I had become disconnected from a lot of things that used to fascinate me. I no longer thought about where my food came from, or how my electricity worked, or who fixed my pipes, or who made my clothes. There was no reason to. I had become less interested in how things got made, and more interested in how things got bought.

At this point my grandfather was well into his 80s, and after a long visit with him one weekend, I decided to do a TV show in his honor. Today, Dirty Jobs is still on the air, and I am here before this committee, hoping to say something useful. So, here it is.

I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.

Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it.

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber — if you can find one — is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both.

I came here today because guys like my grandfather are no less important to civilized life than they were 50 years ago. Maybe they’re in short supply because we don’t acknowledge them they way we used to. We leave our check on the kitchen counter, and hope the work gets done. That needs to change.

My written testimony includes the details of several initiatives designed to close the skills gap, all of which I’ve had the privilege to participate in. Go Build Alabama, I Make America, and my own modest efforts through Dirty Jobs and mikeroweWORKS. I’m especially proud to announce “Discover Your Skills,” a broad-based initiative from Discovery Communications that I believe can change perceptions in a meaningful way.

I encourage you to support these efforts, because closing the skills gap doesn’t just benefit future tradesmen and the companies desperate to hire them. It benefits people like me, and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved roads, reliable bridges, heating, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.

The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.”

If you have suggestions for voices that could fill this gap in our coverage, please drop me a line in the comments or by sending an email to tgilliss@onbeing.org.

Protagonists help organizations become more competitive. After all, the word compete comes from the Latin com petire, which means ‘to seek together.’ Their intent is to not to antagonize, but to drive towards something. Protagonists are willing to name things others don’t yet see; they point to new horizons. Without them, the storyline never changes.

Nilofer MerchantNilofer Merchant, from "Are You a Rebel or a Leader?"

Hopefully this excerpt from yesterday’s Harvard Business Review provides some value for us all as we move forward in our daily work lives. Some days it’s really hard to navigate and rise above the struggles of corporate life and haggling hierarchy.

But, this piece creates a space to remember that, even in the most frustrating times, we work with many hard-working folks who have the best of intentions and different approaches to addressing issues. Perhaps it offers some helpful ways of thinking, which avoids the demonization of the other and fresh possibilities for creating new conversations with colleagues.

(photo: James Duncan Davidson/O’Reilly Media/Good Company Communications, licensed under Creative Commons)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Flight Attendants Choreograph Gaga

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

We talk about all the ways people give new meaning to their lives. The conversation points are often complex and deep. But, sometimes it just takes jazzing up the mundane tasks of our work lives, like these Cebu Pacific Airlines flight attendants did with a bit of Lady Gaga — and choreographed to boot. Fun and fantastic!


Philip Levine’s “What Work Is”

by Kate Moos, managing producer

Philip LevineI love Philip Levine — poet of the working stiff. I go back again and again to his poetry with its precise cadence, its anger and patience and enduring beauty. Levine, who grew up in Detroit and spent time on its assembly lines, is a veteran chronicler of work, of the work that is labor.

As you rest from your labor, assuming you do rest, enjoy the treat of reading his fine poem about learning what work is, and the further treat of hearing him tell the story behind the poem before reciting it here courtesy of the Internet Poetry Archive.

The sketch to the left is drawn by N.C. Mallory/Flickr and posted here via Creative Commons.