Becoming Wise

Jennifer Michael Hecht

We Believe Each Other into Being

Last Updated

April 1, 2019


“Imagine yourself alone on this planet. Would anything be the same?” Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, philosopher, and historian who wants to change the way we talk to ourselves and each other about suicide and staying alive — starting with her insistence that we believe each other into being. “Sometimes when you can’t see what’s important about you, other people can.”

Editor’s note: Given the focus of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s work, this episode briefly touches on the topic of suicide.

Guest

Transcript

[music: “Sun Will Set” by Zoe Keating]

Krista Tippett, host: I’ve had hundreds of big conversations, and my conversation partners share wisdom I carry with me wherever I go. Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, a philosopher, and a historian, and suicide has touched her life as it has touched many of ours. She wants to change the way we talk to ourselves and each other about suicide — starting with her insistence that “we believe each other into being.”

This is Becoming Wise. I’m Krista Tippett.

Ms. Tippett: The discussion you want to have is not so much against suicide but for staying alive for each other. It’s choosing life.

Jennifer Michael Hecht: Yeah, it’s choosing living.

Ms. Tippett: Choosing staying alive.

Ms. Hecht: Choosing staying alive. And, yes, I thought of myself as an individual before I started doing this thinking in a way that I no longer do. And I feel better. It doesn’t really mean you have to go out and do a lot of communal things — though all sorts of studies show that will help — force yourself to go be with other people is a good start. But it’s also this internal thing where I notice more that I’m part of this human thing and that there’s no such thing as wasted contributions. So it’s a better feeling about what we are and what we’re doing. Most people through history had it without trying because they lived in tiny communities that were besieged by either drought or flood or whatever, and they had to work together to do anything. They were more aware of their connection to each other. And, nowadays, we’re very …

Ms. Tippett: In a way, that connection was also just forced on them, right? It wasn’t optional. It’s optional for us.

Ms. Hecht: Right. It’s optional, and I suggest taking that option whenever you want. But just be more aware that we have all sorts of secret web-like connections to each other — and that, sometimes, when you can’t see what’s important about you, other people can.

Ms. Tippett: That’s wonderful. There’s a line in your book — here’s what you say: “We are indebted to one another, and the debt is a kind of faith, a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.”

Mr. Hecht: We do believe each other into being. Imagine yourself alone on this planet. Would anything be the same? Would you wash a dish? Would you think about productivity? Would you think about when you slept? How would you conceive of what your life means? It’s like a little kid left alone in a house, just sudden shock of existential distress. We make the meaning for each other. And the culture makes the meaning. And we have these friendships in our head of people who thought life was really terrible and yet decided that there’s beauty in it, and there’s communalism. So I certainly believe we believe each other into being. We’re not much when we’re not in the eyes of someone else, at least some of the time.

[music: “Sun Will Set” by Zoë Keating]

Ms. Tippett: Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.

Becoming Wise is produced at On Being Studios, which is located on Dakota land. Our team is Marie Sambilay, Lily Percy, and Chris Heagle. And our theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating.

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