Best of 2016: Top Reads from the On Being Blog

Monday, January 9, 2017 - 5:30 am

Best of 2016: Top Reads from the On Being Blog

Last week’s newsletter featured our five most downloaded podcasts of 2016. This week, I’d like to feature our five most read articles from the On Being blog. With so many thought-provoking essays to choose from, limiting it to five is a tall order!

(Tom Waterhouse / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

1 The Disease of Being Busy
Omid Safi

“How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy? This disease of being ‘busy’ (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing.”

Millions of people have read Omid’s perennial favorite since its publication nearly three years ago. And I understand why. So many of us lead over-scheduled lives with little time for contemplation and reflection. But how do we enable (ennoble?) each other to pause and reflect, asking each other how our hearts are doing? Omid’s column is a quiet call to create, embrace, and model the community we truly desire while wrestling with our modern-day realities.

One of my favorite responses was offered by Jenny Kane:

“I struggle with finding time to be bored and I miss that. I thrive on long walks where I find myself slowing down to the rhythm of my own possibilities. That is my speed. There I find my breathing. I used to live in Thailand where the word for breathing, hai jai, is translated as ‘give your heart.’ This used to remind me that to breathe, to simply be aware of that breath, is to give to your heart.”


Albert Einstein in his office at Princeton.

2 The Negro Question
Albert Einstein

While researching Albert Einstein’s collected papers at Princeton University, I read a brief essay he wrote in 1946 titled “The Negro Question.” We reprinted the letter as part of our biographical series on Einstein (“Einstein’s God” and “Einstein’s Ethics”). Seventy years later, his prescient words are finding new meaning as people try to make sense of current racial and social events:

“What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias. I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.”

3 What I Said When My White Friend Asked for My Black Opinion on White Privilege
Lori Lakin Hutcherson

The founder of Good Black News graciously granted us permission to print this exchange in which she responds to questions from a white high school classmate. Her letter embodies a kindness and a frankness that serves as an example of elevated discourse to which we all should aspire:

“I hope my experiences shed some light for you on how institutional and personal racism have affected the entire life of a friend of yours to whom you’ve only been respectful and kind. I hope what I’ve shared makes you realize it’s not just strangers but people you know and care for who have suffered and are suffering because we are excluded from the privilege you have to not be judged, questioned, or assaulted in any way because of your race.”

The comments section represents a rich mix of experiences and points of view. One response that gets at the complexity of privilege and identity came from Satyavani Vadrevu:

“I am from Bharath (India), a brown person. I came to the USA in my late 20s, back in 1983. Privileges and discrimination are beyond race. Among my relatives I have seen discrimination based on income and looks and address (as in from big city). I tasted both privilege and discrimination. In one incident I actually fought/argued when a relative of mine was being treated mean at the same time I was getting pampered.

If a privileged person is sensible, over time they can see discrimination however well it is masked. One does not need to go undercover to notice the discriminations. The other day I came across a post on Facebook, a preschool boy (black), came back to school and all his classmates hugged him and all the comments were like ‘so sweet,’ ‘so much love in the room.’ All I could notice is his classmates touching his hair and the other black boy’s hair and the black boys not necessarily being OK with their hair being touched.”

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile and her daughter at a rally at the Governor’s Mansion in St Paul.

4 The Conversation We Must Have with Our White Children
Courtney E. Martin

The deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling this summer elicited an inspired commentary by Courtney. Her call to action challenges white folk who deny racism and fail to recognize the inequity of our systems. And she plays out a conversation she’ll have with her own children for the rest of their lives:

“As a white child, you are afforded a range of privileges and protections that children of color are not afforded and it’s important for you to recognize this and actively work to change it. This is deeply and historically rooted. This country was founded, yes on optimism and pluralism, but also on slave labor, exploitation, violence, dehumanization. Don’t get bogged down in the guilt or shame of this history, but know it. Your story, our story, is a part of that.”

(Sal / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

5 The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice
Parker Palmer

Parker tapped into something deep and profound with his column on the perils of giving advice, even if well-intentioned. The true gift, he points out, isn’t helpful instruction but quiet, unobtrusive presence:

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

Aye, there’s the rub. Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. Witnessing and companioning take time and patience, which we often lack — especially when we’re in the presence of suffering so painful we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.”

“We have to live with loss, clear or ambiguous. It’s OK. And it’s OK to see people who are hurting and just to say something simple. ‘I’m so sorry.’ You really don’t have to say more than that.”

We welcome your feedback, critical or otherwise. Tell me how I’m doing. Send us a note at

May the wind always be at your back!

Share Post


is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

Share Your Reflection