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She has called Brain Pickings, her invention and labor of love, a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.” What Maria Popova really delivers, to hundreds of thousands of people each day, is wisdom of the old-fashioned sort, presented in new ways. She cross-pollinates between philosophy and design, physics and poetry, the intellectual and the experiential. We explore her gleanings on what it means to lead a good life — intellectually, creatively, and spiritually.

Walter Brueggemann is one of the world’s great teachers about the prophets who both anchor the Hebrew Bible and have transcended it across history. He translates their imagination from the chaos of ancient times to our own. He somehow also embodies this tradition’s fearless truth-telling together with fierce hope — and how it conveys ideas with disarming language. “The task is reframing,” he says, “so that we can re-experience the social realities that are right in front of us, from a different angle.”

What we are naming with the impetus of #MeToo is, at best, an opening to a long-term cultural reckoning to grow up humanity; to make our society more whole. We explore this with psychotherapist Avi Klein, who works with men and couples, and feminist journalist Rebecca Traister. In a room full of journalists, at the invitation of the Solutions Journalism Network, we explored how to build the spaces, the imaginative muscle, and the pragmatic forms to support healing for women and men, now and in time.

We Americans revere the creation of wealth. Anand Giridharadas wants us to examine this and how it shapes our life together. This is a challenging conversation but a generative one: about the implicit moral equations behind a notion like “win-win” — and the moral compromises in a cultural consensus we’ve reached, without reflecting on it, about what and who can save us.

Tracy K. Smith has a deep interest in “the kind of silence that yields clarity” and “the way our voices sound when we dip below the decibel level of politics.” She’s a welcome voice on the little leaps of the imagination that can restore us. She’s spent the past year traversing our country, listening for all of this and drawing it forth as the U.S. Poet Laureate. Krista spoke with her at the invitation of New York’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue, which has been in communal exploration on creating a just and redeemed social fabric.

“We are flying too low. We built this universe, this technology, these connections, this society, and all we can do with it is make junk? All we can do with it is put on stupid entertainments? I’m not buying it.”

 

Seth Godin is wise and infectiously curious about life, the internet, and everything. He was one of the first people to name the “connection economy.”  And even as we’re seeing its dark side, he helps us hold on to the highest human potential the digital age still calls us to. His daily blog is indispensable reading for many of us. He’s a long-time mentor to Krista. This interview happened in 2012. Seth now has a new podcast, Akimbo, and a new book coming out, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.

The wonderful writer Luis Alberto Urrea says that a deep truth of our time is that “we miss each other.” We have this drive to erect barriers between ourselves and yet this makes us a little crazy. He is singularly wise about the deep meaning and the problem of borders. The Mexican-American border, as he likes to say, ran straight through his parents’ Mexican-American marriage and divorce. His works of fiction and non-fiction confuse every dehumanizing caricature of Mexicans — and of U.S. border guards. The possibility of our time, as he lives and witnesses with his writing, is to evolve the old melting pot to the 21st-century richness of “us” — with all the mess and necessary humor required.

We were introduced to Lucas Johnson by the great civil rights elder Vincent Harding. He said that this young man embodies the genius of nonviolence for our century — nonviolence not as a withholding of violence, but as a way of being present. And it was a great pleasure to bring him together with Rami Nashashibi, a rising visionary and kindred force in the Muslim world. Lucas is based in Amsterdam. Rami’s center of gravity is the South Side of Chicago. They have much to teach us all about the lived practicalities and tensions of the “strong, demanding love” to which Martin Luther King, Jr. called the world of his time — a call that is echoing again in ours.

Nothing is helping us more right now, as we watch human tragedies unfold on the U.S.-Mexican border and elsewhere, than a conversation Krista had last year with literary historian Lyndsey Stonebridge — on thinking and friendship in dark times. She applies the moral clarity of the 20th-century philosopher Hannah Arendt to now — an invitation to dwell on the human essence of events we analyze as political and economic. Our dramas of exile and displacement are existential, she says — about who we will all be as people and political community. What Arendt called the “banality of evil” was at root an inability to hear another voice.

“Our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure,” America Ferrera says, “it’s a sign that we’re living at the edge of our imaginations.” She is a culture-shifting artist. John Paul Lederach is one of our greatest living architects of social transformation. From the inaugural On Being Gathering, a revelatory, joyous exploration of the ingredients of social courage — and how change really happens in generational time.

In today’s polarized political climate, the idea of changing a mind or a heart feels impossible. Clare Mulvany reflects on what it means to be open to the possibility of great change in yourself — and in others.

We’d heard Derek Black, the former white power heir apparent, interviewed before about his past. But never about the friendships, with other people in their twenties, that changed him. After his ideology was outed at college, one of the only orthodox Jews on campus invited Derek to Shabbat dinner. What happened over the next two years is like a roadmap for transforming some of the hardest territory of our time.

“It’s very likely that the universe is really a kind of a question, rather than the answer to anything,” says philosopher technologist Kevin Kelly. He was the founding editor of WIRED and is an original thinker on shaping the character and spiritual meaning of technology. He says our role as good askers of questions will remain the most important contribution of our species in a coming world of AI.

A wildly popular blogger, tech entrepreneur, and Silicon Valley influencer, Anil Dash has been an early activist for moral imagination in the digital sphere — an aspiration which has now become an urgent task. We explore the unprecedented power, the learning curves ahead, and how we can all contribute to the humane potential of technology in this moment.

In an unsettled political moment, at the end of a divisive campaign, the late, great civil rights elder Vincent Harding is a voice of calm, wisdom, and perspective. He was wise about how the civil rights vision might speak to 21st-century realities. Just as importantly, he pursued this by way of patient yet passionate cross-cultural, cross-generational relationship. He reminded us that the Civil Rights Movement was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society. He posed and lived a question that is freshly in our midst: Is America possible?

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