During this time of uncertainty as we move into the beginning of 2017, I find I can be easily caught up in fear and angst about the many negative scenarios and projections in the media regarding what will unfold over the coming years. I have been, probably like many people, trying to find a way to anchor my responses in a sense of possibility and optimism (rather than fear and scarcity) which is grounded in reality. My deepest wish is to contribute to the many different possible solutions to our shared human difficulties.
I know I am deeply moved and inspired when I read about people selflessly contributing to the wellbeing of others and how it nourishes and enlivens them in the process. I am inspired when I hear people bringing a heartfelt curiosity and interest to listening deeply to someone with whom they may profoundly disagree with a goal of gaining a better understanding of why that person believes as they do. In doing that it is possible to hear the value under their position, what is good in the position of the person you disagree with. We might not agree, but we could respect the underlying value.
When I observe these situations happening I feel a softening of the boundary between ‘self’ and ‘other’ or between ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and a sense of our shared humanity on this journey together. I am inspired and nourished by these situations as reminders of what we humans are capable of doing. They remind me of what is possible…and that they are not just wishful thinking, but living examples.
I found a rich source of this kind of inspiration in a book, Becoming Wise:An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett. The author is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and National Humanities Medalist and has interviewed the most extraordinary voices examining the great questions of meaning in our time. The heart of her work on her national public radio program and podcast, On Being, has been to shine the light on people whose insights kindle in us a sense of wonder and courage. For me, reading this book at this time has felt like a healing balm.
“We’ve all been trained to be advocates for what we care about. This has its place and its value in society, but it can get in the way of the axial move of deciding to care about each other. Listening is an everyday social art, but it’s an art we have neglected and must learn anew. Listening is more than being quiet while the other person speaks until you can say what you have to say. I like the language Rachel Naomi Remem uses with young doctors to describe what they should practice: “generous listening”. Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability – a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.”
I resonated with her discussion of the importance of hope. She discusses hope in the context of resilience.
“To nurture a resilient human being, or a resilient city, is to build in an expectation of adversity, a capacity for inevitable vulnerability. As a word and as a strategy, resilience honors the unromantic reality of who we are and how we are, and so becomes a refreshingly practical compass of the systems and societies we can craft. It’s a shift from wish-based optimism to reality-based hope.”
Over the course of her book, she shares her conversations and insights from scientists in a variety of fields; theologians from an array of faiths; poets, activists, and many others.
“Our world is abundant with quiet, hidden lives of beauty and courage and goodness. There are millions of people at any given moment, young and old, giving of themselves over to service, risking hope, and all the while ennobling us all.”
Krista Tippett’s book has been the refreshing grounding I was yearning for entering 2017. I offer it to you in the hopes that you may find similar inspiration.