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Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah offers hope for quiet, sustained culture shift through the “endless shared conversation” of friendship. The writer of the New York Times “Ethicist” column studies how deep social change happens across time and cultures. “If you have that background of relationship between individuals and communities that is conversational, then when you have to talk about the things that do divide you, you have a better platform.”

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, theologian, and extraordinary healer in our world of fracture. He leads the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, a place that has offered refuge since the violent division that defined that country until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Ó Tuama and Corrymeela extend a quiet, generative, and joyful force far beyond their northern coast to people around the world. Over cups of tea and the experience of bringing people together, he says it becomes possible to talk with each other and be in the same room with the people we talk about.

A prolific writer on sociology, history, economics, and politics, W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the most extraordinary minds of American and global history. His life traced an incredible arc; he was born three years after the end of the Civil War and died on the eve of the March on Washington. In 1903, he penned the famous line that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” Du Bois was a formative voice for many of the people who gave us the civil rights movement and for all of us navigating the still-unfolding, unfinished business of racial justice now. We bring his life and ideas into relief through three conversations with people who were inspired by him.

“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.

Over the years, listeners have asked for short-form distillations of On Being — something to listen to while making a cup of tea. Our podcast Becoming Wise is this offering, designed to help you reset your day and replenish your sense of yourself and the world, ten minutes at a time. A taste of the new season, curated from hundreds of big conversations Krista has had with wise and graceful lives — including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, astronomer Natalie Batalha, and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner is a long-time student and articulator of the mysteries and messages of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. Kushner says mysticism tends to appear when religion — whatever the tradition — becomes too formal and logical. “The minute mysticism becomes permissible, acceptable, possible, it’s an immediate threat to organized religious structures,” he says. “Because what mysticism does is it gives everybody direct unmediated personal access to God.” He is influenced by the Jewish historian Gershom Scholem, who resurrected Kabbalah from obscurity in the 20th century and made it accessible to modern people.

When the wise and whimsical Sharon Olds started writing poetry over 40 years ago, she explored the subjects that interested her most — like diaphragms. “The politeness and the prudity of the world I grew up in meant that there were things that were important to me and interesting to me, [but] I had never read a poem about,” she once said. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for her collection Stag’s Leap about walking through the end of a long marriage. Her most recent book, Odes, pays homage to the human body and experience.

A philosopher and Catholic social innovator, Jean Vanier is one of the great elders in our world today. The L’Arche movement, which he founded, centers around people with mental disabilities. The dozens of L’Arche communities around the world have become places of pilgrimage and are transformative for those involved and for the world around them. He has devoted his life to the practical application of Christianity’s most paradoxical teachings — that there’s power in humility, strength in weakness, and light in the darkness of human existence.

Writer and photographer Teju Cole says he is “intrigued by the continuity of places, by the singing line that connects them all.” He attends to the border, overlap and interplay of things — from Brahms and Baldwin to daily technologies like Google. To delve into his mind and his multiple arts is to meet this world with creative raw materials for enduring truth and quiet hope.

Béla Fleck is one of the greatest living banjo players in the world. He’s followed what many experience as this quintessential American roots instrument back to its roots in Africa, and he’s taken it where no banjo has gone before. Abigail Washburn is a celebrated banjo player and singer, both in English and Chinese. These two are partners in music and in life — recovering something ancient and deeply American all at once, bringing both beauty and meaning to what they play and how they live.

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson is one of the central people who’s helped us begin to see inside our brains. His work has illuminated the rich interplay between things we saw as separate not that long ago: body, mind, spirit, emotion, behavior, and genetics. Richard is applying what he’s learning about imparting qualities of character — like kindness and practical love — in lives and in classrooms. This live conversation was recorded at the Orange County Department of Education in Costa Mesa, California.

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.

With his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman emerged as one of the most intriguing voices on the complexity of human thought and behavior. He is a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics for helping to create the field of behavioral economics — and is a self-described “constant worrier.” It’s fun, helpful, and more than a little unnerving to apply his insights into why we think and act the way we do in this moment of social and political tumult.

The topic of the day was “courage,” with two singular, admired women (who happen to be married to each other): soccer icon Abby Wambach and writer/philanthropist Glennon Doyle. Abby is an Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion. Glennon entered the American imagination with the label “Christian mommy blogger.” Now she ignites millions of followers through initiatives like “Love Flash Mobs,” as she says, “to turn heartbreak into action.” What follows is a conversation about courage that is both serious and playful, as it turns up in their lives apart and together — from addiction to social activism to blended family parenting.

Mary Oliver was one of our greatest and most beloved poets. She is often quoted by people across ages and backgrounds — and it’s fitting, since she described poetry as a sacred community ritual. “When you write a poem, you write it for anybody and everybody,” she said. Mary died on January 17, 2019, at the age of 83. She was a prolific and decorated poet, whose honors included the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. In this 2015 conversation — one of the rare interviews she granted during her lifetime — she discussed the wisdom of the world, the salvation of poetry, and the life behind her writing.