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The On Being Project

Reinvigorating Our Public Life

Byron Buck is a photographer whom we met while on an annual pilgrimage to civil rights sites across Alabama and Mississippi. After watching and reading coverage of Virginia’s gubernatorial race, he wrote this Facebook post offering his assessment of what happened:

“The electorate of Virginia chose civility. They chose as governor the person who refused to demean, to harshly criticize his opponent, who was willing to lose the race rather than be uncivil. This, I believe, is one of the major things this race reveals.

How did this happen? Many of the pundits point out that it was women who stood in the rain, refusing to leave until they were able to express their opinions in the voting booth. If this proves to be true, then we should take our cues from women. When given a choice between angry and brutal actions, women are the ones who most often ask for civility. Men want to fight. Women want to heal. Men want to stand up. Women want to embrace. Not all women, to be sure. But enough for us to take note. Our masculine side leans toward power through being strong. Our feminine side leans toward empathy and sympathy. Both men and women allowed this side to prevail in the election.

Isn’t it time that we recognize that the way to overcome one of the major problems in our society — polarization — is through civility and not fighting? We all know this: love trumps hate, non-violence overcomes violence, peace is better than war. There is always a better way.”

We want to be part of modeling that civility, and you can teach us what you’re learning too. Download and try out our guide to having better conversations — and add to the momentum of reinvigorating our public life.

And now onto our featured articles of the week…

Richard Rohr | Utterly Humbled by Mystery

From a hunger for certainty to holding deep awe of the ineffable, the Franciscan oblate writes an enlivening essay on the evolution of his own faith, and how he moved from a craving for answers to living the questions:

“The more I am alone with the Alone, the more I surrender to ambivalence, to happy contradictions and seeming inconsistencies in myself and almost everything else, including God. Paradoxes don’t scare me anymore.”

(Morgan McDonald / Unsplash / Public Domain Dedication (CC0) )

Omid Safi | The Mystical Experience of Driving

Omid’s column exemplifies what Omid does so well: elevating the ordinary and translating it into a practice in much the same way that Sylvia Boorstein talks about “folding the towels in a sweet way.” For those who love the open road and the act of driving, this essay will speak to you; for those who dislike driving, it’s a calling to see the mitzvah in an act of drudgery:

“Sensual experiences are about having our bodies connect with one another, so that we no longer know where our bodies begin and the beloved’s body ends. The mysticism of nature is to walk in the woods or tap our feet in a river or gaze up at the stars — we feel simultaneously so, so little and connected to all that there is. Driving is a taste of this. I don’t go to the tracks. I don’t tune my car or put special tires or shocks on it. Nope; I just want to feel connected to the world around me.”

(Laura Marie / Flickr / © All Rights Reserved)

Parker Palmer | The Saving Grace of Poetry and Laughter

With a poem from Ron Koertge on a happy misunderstanding, Parker digs into why the ultimate balm just might be poesy and laughter:

“Poetry often gives us glimpses into mysteries that make us more human. Laughter keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously, a saving grace.”

(Magicmomentz Photography / Flickr / © All Rights Reserved)

Courtney Martin | The Spiritual Tension of Local Loyalty and Global Responsibility

Is there a spiritual cost to thinking global and acting local? Courtney grapples with this tension between local loyalty and the greater good:

“We live in a world that has grown ever smaller, both in terms of our Internet-fueled scope of awareness and our shared threats (think climate change, nuclear war, infectious diseases). But we are less healthy, less happy, and less safe if we bequeath all of our precious attention to global matters, neglecting the ground beneath our feet.”

And, here are two articles and a riveting documentary I’ve had the great pleasure of taking in this week:

The Wall Street Journal | 100 Years of Communism—and 100 Million Dead

David Satter’s commentary is worth your time: “If there is one lesson the communist century should have taught, it is that the independent authority of universal moral principles cannot be an afterthought, since it is the conviction on which all of civilization depends.”

Netflix | Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

I’ve always loved Didion for her literary imagination, but this intimate documentary draws you into the remarkable resilience and astounding arc of her career. An amazing woman and journalist I’ll encourage my boys to read when they’re ready!

Hazlitt | The Man Behind Meatloaf

Every summer I take a road trip just so I can roll the windows down and play the iconic, operatic rock album Bat Out of Hell from tip to tail. (Thanks for the reminder, Omid!) A great piece on Jim Steinman’s operatic rock and its theatrical roots.

Our Guest Contributor of the Week

(Trust “Tru” Katsande / Unsplash / Public Domain Dedication (CC0))

Rebecca Delker | Science Is Far Too Often Communicated as a One-Sided Conversation

A postdoc at Columbia sent us this commentary unsolicited. And I’m so glad she did. Rebecca poses a challenge to her own scientific community — and to all of us — to infuse our debates with rigor and vigor for facts and the people involved:

“Scientists deliver the facts; the public receives the facts. This simplistic structure cannot take into consideration the cultural complexities into which the data lands. What happens when there is a pushback against the science is the assumption ‘that all these people that I pretty much am like are wrong and stupid.’”

May the wind always be at your back,

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