The Shadow Side of the Sharing Instinct

Courtney E. Martin

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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August 21st, 2015

In an age of iPhone and Instagram ubiquity, we capture and curate in ways unimaginable only a few decades ago. And this connects us in unexpected ways. But, it also can have a cost, one that pulls us out of the moment.

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August 7th, 2015

Rituals provide structure for the full spectrum of our emotional lives – but for those who don’t identify with an organized religion, how are rituals developed? Courtney Martin ponders the “muddy, sacred” experience of creating rituals.

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July 31st, 2015

We acquire and we accumulate. But why? What is the story we’re trying to tell through the possessions we own. Our columnist Courtney Martin considers the multiple philosophies of ownership — and points toward that which is truly valuable.

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July 24th, 2015

In a culture of accumulation and hoarding, many are experiencing a growing exasperation with owning things that, as it turns out, aren’t necessary. Could the “sharing economy” help restore spiritual calm?

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July 17th, 2015

Women and men so often beat themselves up when it comes to work/life balance. But another story is playing itself out, one about the unacknowledged gifts that help clarify the meaningful choices of being a person, and a parent.

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July 10th, 2015

In times of trauma, modern-day technology connects us instantly. But could it be that genetic memory metabolizes much more slowly? Courtney Martin juxtaposes modern day urgency with a long view of legacy.

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July 3rd, 2015

An inspirational profile of one of those modern-day heroes, SAS, a doctor whose key insights turned the tide of the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone — an exemplar of quiet commitment and unending courage who saved thousands of lives by bridging worlds.

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June 26th, 2015

A passionate, grounded plea to recognize white privilege and the gut level pushback — the “white fragility” — that happens when talking about race.

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June 12th, 2015

Compartmentalizing can be a useful tool — whether dealing with the empty voids of our working lives, or the prolonged absence from the ones you love — in making it possible to live a whole life.

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June 5th, 2015

How can we encourage our children (and ourselves) to work hard at mastering skills that evade us? Courtney Martin on delaying judgment, giving time to develop grit and resilience, and flailing at those things we’re not naturally good at.

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May 22nd, 2015

More than 25 percent of us may be jeopardizing the “good life” by blindly pursuing more to keep up with the Joneses? Courtney Martin on operating on income autopilot and re-interpreting our financial wealth.

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May 15th, 2015

Rilke asks us to live the questions. Socrates says the unexamined life is one not worth living. But, staying awake to the moral complexities of one’s actions is not a quiet prospect.

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May 8th, 2015

Becoming a mother can be a startling experience — a belonging to a communion of motherhood and the stark reality that one’s identity will never be the same again. For this upcoming Mother’s Day, Courtney Martin contemplates the fragility, fierceness, and myopia of motherhood and the ineffable beauty of being a mother.

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May 1st, 2015

To bear witness means to be present. Beyond the truncated arc of our broken news cycles and the busyness of our lives, Courtney Martin suggests that we root ourselves in a deeper commitment in our own humanity — and of others — and continue to stand up against injustice.

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April 24th, 2015

While eavesdropping, our columnist witnesses the intimacy of two strangers generously listening to one another — without an intent to save, fix, or advise. A lesson in witnessing over chicken wings.

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April 17th, 2015

A daughter’s embarrassment of her mother’s alternative approaches to healing turns into a letter of admiration and an apology.

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April 10th, 2015

The term “scale” is the buzzword in social entrepreneurship circles. But, as Courtney Martin Often shows us, changing the world is about changing systems and helping others one person at a time.

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April 3rd, 2015

Forgiving yourself for your stupid mistakes can be really difficult. By doing so, though, Courtney Martin argues that you will not only honor those who love you deeply and you will stop beating yourself up in the process.

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March 27th, 2015

When we get too attached to habits, we risk losing our sense of wonder and our potential for catalytic experience. Courtney Martin’s encouragement for the job of being alive: “May I see what I do. May I do it differently. May I make this a way of life.”

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March 20th, 2015

In an Internet age, we create highly curated versions of ourselves. But how do we reflect the full spectrum of our own humanity and not a collection of status updates?

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March 13th, 2015

Sometimes it takes a fire hydrant turning into a geyser to remind us that there is somebody there to fix it. In seeing all of the people around us who make systems and services work, we begin to understand what it takes to make a community thrive.

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March 6th, 2015

Part of becoming an adult is learning how to lower your expectations. But parenting a toddler brings different gifts — of rediscovering discovery, reuniting with awe, and finding where the mundane becomes miraculous.

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February 27th, 2015

When yes is overused it takes what should be a whole-hearted gift and turns it into an anxiety-producing check box. Courtney Martin’s argument for saying “no” gracefully and learning to measure life in acts of unhurried love.

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February 20th, 2015

Closure may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Courtney Martin on the death of a friendship and the insatiable, sometimes unsatisfying, need to create silver linings where none exist.

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January 30th, 2015

Researchers are showing that doing it all at the same time is a “diabolical illusion.” If we know this, why does it continue to be so seductive, so alluring? In this technological, overambitious age, a commentary on striving to be focused and whole again.

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January 23rd, 2015

In a day where more and more wedding ceremonies are not presided over by an official religious figure, there’s much to figure out when it comes to designing a ritual. Some practices to consider for modern nuptials.

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January 16th, 2015

Making connections can be “life-giving” but they can also reinforce “damaging divides.” Courtney Martin is reminded of the vitality of human bonds — and the chasms that remain in this hypernetworked world.

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January 9th, 2015

So often it’s the quiet moments with someone that cements and deepens a relationship. An acknowledgement (and a bit of a love letter) to the silence that joins us together.

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January 1st, 2015

As the siren song of productivity in the new year beckons, our weekly columnist Courtney Martin finds presence and peace of mind in the habits of a less productive but more awesome life.

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December 26th, 2014

We don’t choose our family, as the old saying goes, but we do choose our friends. An encouragement to discover people to surround ourselves with and scout friends who beget our culture.

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December 19th, 2014

The end of year is fast approaching. And with that comes an influx of charitable giving. In this digital age when the basket is now an online form, how do we create a spiritual practice of tithing and discern the “right” way to give?

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December 12th, 2014

Lennon Flowers and Carla Fernandez are creating a national movement of dinner parties for 20-30 year olds that are humanizing grief and creating new communities after loss.

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December 5th, 2014

With the overwhelming angst of privilege, our columnist confesses to her own inclinations to participate in Twitter testimonies of white privilege. But, it’s no substitute for the moral imagination required to acknowledge the emotional lives of others.

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November 28th, 2014

With the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown, a school of children’s uncommon silence in New Mexico leads the way to expressing grief and finding a role for our anger.

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November 21st, 2014

Atul Gawande’s new book on the aging and the dying process inspires this column on turning bearing witness to our own instincts and doing things a different way.

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November 14th, 2014

Before conscious time began, someone cared for you. And you survived. A call to action to remember that someone showed up for you over and over and over again.

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November 7th, 2014

We often desire a sense of adventure and travel. But when a “life of wandering” overtakes a “life of rootedness,” we take time away from home and community — and “the ground at our own feet.”

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October 31st, 2014

Nowadays there are unintended consequences for just about everything we do. An encouragement to strive for curiosity over goodness, to seek gentleness over righteousness, and engage with ethics as a process rather than a destination.

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October 24th, 2014

It’s fall and things are dying. What least productive practices and mindsets are you working on shedding?

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October 17th, 2014

With the ever-widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor, statistics abound. But they fail to animate the human spirit. Story is a way into history and “teaching our hearts how to live as choiceful human beings.”

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October 10th, 2014

There is a place beyond exhaustion, when asking ‘What can I do to help?’ is inadequate and burdensome. A commentary on how we can practice the art of generosity, to reach beyond the ease of asking towards the grit of doing.

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October 3rd, 2014

Sometimes the most sacred experiences happen in the most mundane of places: in a big box store, after your spouse empties the litter box, or during an encounter with a taxi driver.

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September 26th, 2014

Men’s ability to maintain sustained, intimate friendships with other men may be the key to unlocking a revolution of a new type of connection — and redefining what it means to be a man in the 21st century.

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September 19th, 2014

When life grabs you by the scruff of the neck, how do you cope with the stress and anxiety? A column on the art of reassuring oneself that all will be well.

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September 10th, 2014

The video of Ray Rice hitting Janay Rice has prompted all sorts of responses. Rather than resorting to humiliation and social isolation, how do we deal with generational legacies of violence when it confronts us in the news cycle? A call to see the pain before us, and create consequences and opportunities for cultural transformation — not public shaming.

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September 5th, 2014

How do we process all the heartbreaking news, be informed citizens, and not become detached? Is being uninformed a moral decision? One way is for media and consumers to demand headlines that reflect the fullness of the world — including the fortifying solutions happening too.

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August 29th, 2014

Our weekly columnist sends up a white flag to the insurance company, but in the end draws something more precious than money: her time and attention.

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August 22nd, 2014

When you do too much and say “yes” to too many requests, what happens? Some advice on why it’s vital to decline in order to accept the invitations that matter most.

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August 15th, 2014

Rather than merely expressing outrage at what happened in Ferguson, white Americans must show courage and own its part of the tragic story and the opportunity for transformation.

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August 8th, 2014

In a culture with too few rituals, what role does drink play in the contemporary rituals of our times? Courtney Martin on memory, communal moments, and the potential for a true suspension of self.