Starting Point

Wisdom for the Everyday

Practical guidance from the frontlines of life — from birth to death, through love and loss.

What if the first question we asked on a date were, “How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this”? Philosopher and writer Alain de Botton’s essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” was, amazingly, the most-read article in The New York Times in the news-drenched year of 2016. As people and as a culture, he says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. How might our relationships be different — and better — if we understood that the real work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after?

The family therapist who created the field of “ambiguous loss” — loss without closure. Complicated grief: parents, divorce, addiction, dementia, aging. “You love somebody. And when they’re lost, you still care about them. You can’t just turn it off.”

There is no such thing as closure. In fact, Pauline Boss says, the idea of closure leads us astray. It’s a myth we need to put aside, like the idea we’ve accepted that grief has five linear stages and we come out the other side done with it. She coined the term “ambiguous loss,” creating a new field in family therapy and psychology. She has wisdom for the complicated griefs and losses in all of our lives and for how we best approach the losses of others.

Pauline Boss is professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of “Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss,” “Loving Someone Who Has Dementia,” and “Ambiguous Loss.” She has also pioneered a global online course with the University of Minnesota called “Ambiguous Loss: Its Meaning and Application.”

What does a good day look like? This is the question that transformed Atul Gawande’s practice of medicine. He’s a citizen physician on the frontiers of human agency and meaning in light of what modern medicine makes possible. In his writing in The New Yorker, and in his book Being Mortal, he’s opening a new conversation about what dying has to do with living.

The best way to nurture children’s inner lives, Sylvia Boorstein says, is by taking care of our own inner selves for their sake. At a public event in suburban Detroit, Krista Tippett draws out the warmth and wisdom of the celebrated Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. And, in a light-hearted moment that is an audience pleaser, Boorstein shares what GPS might teach us about “recalculating” and our own inner equanimity.

The emerging science of implicit bias is one of the most promising fields for animating the human change that makes social change possible. The social psychologist Mahzarin Banaji is one of its primary architects. She understands the mind as a “difference-seeking machine” that helps us order and navigate the overwhelming complexity of reality. But this gift also creates blind spots and biases, as we fill in what we don’t know with the limits of what we do know. This is science that takes our grappling with difference out of the realm of guilt, and into the realm of transformative good.

Sheryl Sandberg is synonymous with Facebook and Silicon Valley success, and she’s the voice of Lean In. She joins us, frank and vulnerable, together with the psychologist Adam Grant. His friendship — and his research on resilience — helped her survive the shocking death of her husband while on vacation. They share what they’ve learned about planting deep resilience in ourselves and our children, and even reclaiming joy. There is so much learning here on facing the unimaginable when it arrives in our lives and being more practically caring towards the losses woven into lives all around us.