Fortifying wisdom for an unsettling new year

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

With the New Year upon us, most are bracing for what figures to be the strangest year yet in Trump's wild and stormy tenure. To help keep our bearings, I offer the following wisdom mined from On Being interviews broadcast recently by host Krista Tippett:


The Deep Stories of Our Time, Oct. 18

Krista Tippett: Arlie Hochschild is professor emerita of the Sociology Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of nine books including, The Managed Heart, The Second Shift, and Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, a finalist for the National Book Award. She helped create the field of the sociology of emotion: our stories as "felt" rather than merely factual. Caring, she insists, is not the same as capitulating.

Hochschild: It doesn't mean you're capitulating — that's the misunderstanding. "Oh, if you listen to them, that means you've been taken over." Not at all. If you want to make a social contribution and help build a public conversation about the big issues of the day, you have to really be good at emotion management. It's a contribution to the larger whole, to be really good at that. …

The left and the right have different deep stories. What is a deep story? A deep story is what you feel about a highly salient situation that's very important to you. You take facts out of the deep story. You take moral precepts out of the deep story. It's what feels true. I think we all have deep stories, whatever our politics, but we're not fully aware of them. They're dreamlike and are told through metaphor.


When the market is our only language, Nov. 15

Krista Tippett: Anand Giridharadas is a former columnist and foreign correspondent for the New York Times, a visiting scholar at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and the author of India Calling, The True American, and Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.

Giridharadas: I actually think we're now at a place where we are ripe, much as we were 100 years ago when we were in the first Gilded Age, and you had these great inequalities and great new technologies and a lot of dislocated people and a lot of anger and a lot of philanthropy. That gave way to an age of reform. …

The agnosticism of the market, when it comes to who you are and your background, is a very powerful thing. But I think when it becomes the only language, when it becomes the only way of thinking about the right thing to do, it leaves us with a very impoverished sense of how to live together. [The market is] good for creating wealth, creating things and building things, but it's not a guide. It's not a useful vocabulary for living together. …

I think Trump needs to be the end of something bigger, which is an end of the veneration of money, an end of the faith in billionaire saviors, an end of trusting that the people who cause problems are the best at fixing them, and actually could be the spark of a moment and an age where we actually solve problems together again, through deep reform at the root, for everybody.


The Difference Between Fixing and Healing, Nov. 22

Krista Tippett: Rachel Naomi Remen's lifelong struggle with Crohn's disease has shaped her practice of medicine. She is founder of the Remen Institute for the Study of Health and Illness (RISHI), clinical professor of family medicine at UCSF School of Medicine, and professor of family medicine at the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University. Her books, Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings, have been translated into 24 languages. Living well, she says, is not about eradicating our wounds and weaknesses but understanding how they complete our identity and equip us to help others. The way we deal with losses, large and small, shapes our capacity to be present to all of our experiences. There's a difference, she says, between curing and healing.

Remen: We thought we could cure everything, but it turns out we can only cure a small amount of human suffering. The rest of it needs to be healed, and that's different. I think science defines life in its own way, but life is larger than science. Life is filled with mystery, courage, heroism, and love — all these things that we can witness but not measure or even understand, but they make our lives valuable anyway. …

How would I live if I was exactly what's needed to heal the world? …

What seems to be important is much more simple and accessible for everybody, which is who you've touched on your way through life, who's touched you. What you're leaving behind you in the hearts and minds of other people is far more important than whatever wealth you may have accumulated.

I have come to see loss as a stage in a process. It's not the end of the story. What happens next is very, very important. People often are angry [after] a terrible loss. They often feel envious of other people. But over time things evolve and change. And at the very least, people who have lost a great deal can recognize that they are not victims — they are survivors.


The Urgency of Slowing Down, Nov. 29

Krista Tippett: Pico Iyer is one of our most eloquent explorers of what he calls the "inner world." The journalist and novelist travels the globe from Ethiopia to North Korea and lives in Japan. But he also experiences a remote Benedictine hermitage as his second home, retreating there many times each year. He has written over a dozen books including, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.

Pico Iyer: Sometimes "mystery" is a word I use as an equivalent to spirituality. I think our relation with the Divine is a passionate love affair. It's as tumultuous as any affair that we have in the world with somebody we care about a lot. So it's not all sweetness and light and probably shouldn't be because the sufferings and the demons are often what instruct us much more than the calm, radiant moments.

I love that word "absorption" because I think that's my definition of happiness. I think all of us know we are happiest when we forget ourselves, when we forget the time, when we lose ourselves in a beautiful piece of music or a movie or a deep conversation with a friend or an intimate encounter with someone we love. Very few people feel happy racing from one text to the next, to the appointment, to the cellphone, to the emails. I think a lot of us have got so caught up in this cycle that we don't know how to stop and it isn't sustaining us in the deepest way. I think we all know our outer lives are only as good as our inner lives. So to neglect our inner lives is really to incapacitate our outer lives. We don't have so much to give to other people or the world or our job or our kids. …

I think we all have something changeless and vast and completely unfathomable inside us. I'm very happy if a Christian calls that God and if a Muslim calls that Allah and if a Buddhist calls that Reality. I don't think the names matter so much, but the truth is very, very important, and I think that's the fundamental truth we can't afford to lose sight of. …

To be human is to try to find the best part of yourself that is, in fact, beyond yourself, much wiser than you are, and have that to share with everyone you care for.


The Prophetic Imagination, Dec. 20

Krista Tippett: Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. He is the author of The Prophetic Imagination, Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, and Tenacious Solidarity: Biblical Provocations on Race, Religion, Climate, and the Economy. He is one of the world's great teachers about the prophets, who both anchor the Hebrew Bible and have transcended it across history.

Tippett: In one of your sermons, you are talking about some poetry in Isaiah that offers five images for God: "A demolition squad," "a safe place for poor people who have no other safe place," "the giver of the biggest dinner party you ever heard of," "a powerful sea monster," "a gentle nursemaid who will wipe away every tear from all faces."

Brueggemann: What the church does with its creeds and its doctrinal tradition — it flattens out all the images and metaphors to make it fit into a nice little formulation. And then it's deathly. We have to communicate to people: If you want a God that is healthier than that, you're going to have to take time to sit with these images and relish them and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame. Otherwise, you're just going to be left with these dead formulations, which is why the poetry is so important — because the poetry just keeps opening and opening and opening, whereas the doctrinal practice of the church is always to close and close and close until you are left with nothing that has any transformative power. More metaphors give more access to God. One can work one metaphor awhile, but you can't treat it as though that's the last word. You've got to move and have another and another. It's just amazing — in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Josiah, there are just endless metaphors. …

A community or a society, finally, cannot live without the quality of mercy. The problem for us is, what will initiate that? What will break the pattern of self-preoccupation enough to notice that the others are out there and that we are attached to them?


Here's to a year of mercy and tending our inner lives and healing and finding a useful vocabulary for living together and identifying our deep stories and the deep stories of others so that we're not unconsciously ruled by them.

Happy New Year.


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Ray Simpson  

Posted: January 7th, 2019 6:40 PM

That is "President Trump" - a little respect might be a refreshing change in your columns. It is the adult thing to do you know!

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