Category Archives: epiphanies

2017: Armageddon or There’s Got to be a Pony in it Somewhere?

One of my favorite stories is about psychologists doing a study of pessimists and optimists. They put a young pessimist in a room with every imaginable toy. At first he happily tried out each toy, but soon he sat down crying. When they asked him, didn’t he like the toys, he sniffled “Yes.” But when asked why he was crying, he said, “They are very nice, but I know they will break. Toys usually do. I don’t want to enjoy them and then lose them.”
In the meantime the young optimist was in a room with just horse manure. To their surprise he was happily digging through the pile of manure. When asked why he was so happy, he answered enthusiastically, “With this much manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

I started 2017 with Lumbar Fusion Surgery followed by months of physical therapy, but still ending up in pain when bending and getting in and out of bed. All the bottom cabinets in our apartment are now pretty much unreachable for me. Since I’m short, the upper cabinets have always been out of reach, but now anything unbreakable is accessible with my new reacher. Though I’ve gotten fairly good at tilting things out with the reacher and catching them with my left hand, sometimes I start a chain reaction and all sorts of containers rain down on my head, the counter and the floor. As long as none break open, I just laugh and start over. However, the grits opening mid-air, provoked a different reaction. I’ll just leave it at that.

Shortly after surgery I awoke in the night unable to move my arms. I panicked thinking my arms were paralyzed, until I realized that the Velcro on my wrist braces for my carpal tunnel problem had locked onto the Velcro on my back brace. For a few minutes I thought I was going to have to wake Julian to help me, but I finally managed to get free. I think I did wake him with my laughter. Major blessings in the first several weeks of limited mobility and pain were Julian’s and all our family’s support and help and friends also brightening those days with tasty gifts of food. I felt very loved. And gained five pounds.

Some good news in April was that our Pulmonologist announced that my husband Julian’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis had not progressed. But then, he informed us that the scans had shown a tumor in his right lung. The biopsy showed cancer cells, so surgery was scheduled. It was a very scary time. Thankfully, it only took minimally invasive surgery to get all the cancer. So far, in each three month checkup, he is still cancer free. Another blessing in this was his surgeon, who is one of the most intelligent, funny, honest, humble, caring people we have ever met. I told her once that we admired her greatly, particularly because she didn’t think she was God. She laughed and said that she had figured that out pretty early in her life.

However, at the age of eighty-one Julian was now terribly frustrated by how slow his recovery was. Just fourteen years ago he had bounced back pretty quickly from heart surgery. And just as he was finally getting back to work on several architectural jobs, his heart went out of rhythm. So, back to the hospital we went for a Cardiac Ablation. Unfortunately, though the ablation seemed successful, for unknown reasons he began to hemorrhage profusely. The two nurses with him began to take emergency measures to staunch the bleeding, but he was losing consciousness. So, while one lowered the head of the bed to get oxygen to his brain, the other nurse (a tall good looking blonde named Amy) climbed up on the bed to be able to put enough pressure on the incision in his groin to stop the bleeding until the emergency equipment got there. About that time Julian regained consciousness and asked in surprise, “Amy, are you getting in bed with me?” (Hope springs eternal…)

The pressure equipment slowed the bleeding, but a vascular surgeon was called in to do exploratory surgery to see if an artery had been perforated. None could be found even with extensive exploration. So, though the original ablation incision was small, the exploratory one was quite long. Julian now continued to bleed from both surgical sites in the groin area, with the bleeding only very slowly becoming less profuse. A one day stay in the hospital turned into eleven days and he was still leaking fluid with some blood from both sites when they sent us home. I, an eighty year old klutz, who had just had two cataract surgeries in the ten days before this, and had numb fingers and no grip because of carpal tunnel syndrome, would now be bandaging and cutting off bandages on the two adjoining surgical sites about three times a day. Purely through the grace of God, I managed not to do him any further damage and after about another ten days the two sites no longer needed bandages. Julian never admitted to trepidation, but his sigh of relief was quite audible when we finally got to stop playing doctor.

This was now late October. Once again age took its toll and recovery was even slower. Julian lost all appetite, began sleeping excessively, and being untypically sad and even somewhat surly. So, the doctor gave him “cheer up” meds. Lo and behold, he became amazingly energetic, funny and now smiling with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes. We were both delighted. (I considered asking for a prescription for myself.) Unfortunately, he then didn’t shut his eyes for five days and five nights, so the doctor had to switch the meds. With physical therapy he slowly regained some strength once more and began to work again on his much overdue architecture projects.

Suddenly, his legs and feet began to swell and turn bright red. The diagnosis was cellulitis, so now he was again on antibiotics, steroids and having to try to work on his computer with his feet propped up above his heart. I took a photo of this rather hazardous acrobatic endeavor, but wasn’t quite mean enough to post it on face book or my blog. Well….not yet.

The next day he had a meeting to attend on one of his projects. By now, he couldn’t even get his well worn moccasin house shoes on, so I drove him to Walmart to buy some larger backless black house shoes. Since it was raining, he wore socks with plastic grocery bags over them. He put the new shoes on at the checkout counter, but since one foot was swollen less than the other, to keep that shoe on when he walked, he had to sort of shuffle his way out to the car. Well, at least they matched the color of his suit.

Then just as he was beginning to get back to a somewhat diminished “normal,” he developed a horrendous cough and began to have to fight to breathe. We feared the fibrosis had flared up, but it appeared to be an inflammation, possibly because of drastic weather changes and a cold. Back on steroids and antibiotics again. Exhausted by fighting to breathe, he ended up bedridden for several weeks and once more with swollen feet. An unexpected blessing was a recently bought new sofa that was perfect for sleeping with elevated feet on wedges our Steve ordered. He slept there day and night with the remote to control the TV and a view of a flock of cardinals that hang out at the birdfeeders outside the French doors.

Slowly he began once more getting some strength back. But, suddenly while working quietly in his office in our apartment, he was almost paralyzed by extreme pain in his chest that radiated up into his jaw. I got him to the hospital in four minutes. It would have taken the ambulance that long to get to us. Eventually, as they were running tests, the pain subsided and the tests looked okay, but they kept him over night for an echo cardiogram. While waiting for a room, we did our usual survival by humor routine and one of the nurses asked, “You do realize this is an emergency?” We just laughed and said, “We’ve had so many medical emergencies in the last couple of years, we’ve decided that humor is the best survival medicine.”

His heart didn’t show any damage, so he got to go home the next day, but barely in time to change clothes to attend the Developmental Services Banquet. This is our community organization for those with mental handicaps. Julian designed several of their group homes and was a very active member on their board for seven years. For about twenty years he also gave them the monthly stipend he got for being on the City Zoning Appeals Board. Last year we were invited, but he ended up in the hospital so we didn’t make it. This year they gave me a heads up that he was supposed to be given the award he’d missed last year. I think we got there two minutes before it started. So in his suit and tie, wearing his very dilapidated, but fortuitously stretched from wear, moccasin house shoes, he received an award and a lot of affirmation. Many of the award winners were clients with disabilities who work as helpers in the group homes. I was touched by the wholehearted applause and cheering of the other clients. The award presentations were interspersed with Christmas music like, O Holy Night, and the elderly client sitting behind me knew the words to all of them perfectly, but not the tunes. But the sheer joy in her voice brought tears to my eyes as I realized that this too was an answer to my Advent Prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  I think Jesus is more visible in the handicapped than in the rest of us.

Our primary care doctor now scheduled Julian for an endoscopy to check for other possible causes for the pain that took us to the ER.

Meanwhile, our son Steve came from Atlanta to spend the weekend creating a wonderland with our collection of Dickens Village buildings, people in many different vignettes, animals, and trees and landmarks of London.

 

Julian directed this from the couch and it ended up with five levels of hills and valleys with bridges over chasms, a cave, and even a crime scene complete with crime scene tape that our son Tommy made and sneaked into the village a couple of years ago! Well after all, they had a lot of crime in Dickens day too. All the houses, churches, pubs and businesses have lights inside and the sheets of cotton snow cover the few empty patches outside. I think some zoning issues entered into the city planning also.
It really is both beautiful and interesting. And since it has grown to cover the whole end of the living room and now even continues around one corner, there’s no room inside for a Christmas tree. But outside one of the French doors, we have a small lighted one that looms large over the village. If you have to be sick, this is a lot better view than in the hospital. (Well, other than Amy the blonde nurse anyway.)

The next weekend our son Tommy and delightful Whitney with the awesomely beautiful voice brought our four granddaughters and they helped decorate the rest of the house. Then it was fun watching our talented artist granddaughters draw and getting to enjoy Whitney singing with Tommy accompanying her on the guitar. Another truly lovely Christmas experience.

Finally, Julian got to have his endoscopy which showed a pill had become lodged in his esophagus and caused an ulcer. A biopsy done to check for infection was negative. But now the challenge was to avoid the many delicious foods that irritate an ulcer.

A week before Christmas, nineteen of our family arrived for our annual Christmas gathering in a cabin at near-by Montgomery Bell State Park. Our grown children and grandchildren did most of the preparations and helped us organize and pack up our now downsized contributions. The cabin with its large stone fireplace and its wooded setting on a lake is a perfect place for a holiday gathering. The first day, Julian mostly rested, wrapped warmly in a comfortable recliner with everyone taking turns spending time with him and getting him things.

Granddaughter Sophie sharing her hopes and dreams with Julian

By the second day he felt well enough to be beaten at poker by both the grandchildren and great-grandchildren! It was a very happy day with even our grandson who teaches in Bolivia making it back in time. And we got to face-time our son Michael and his spouse Patrick in Cambodia, where they teach at an orphanage for children born HIV positive. I love that I have lived long enough to experience talking with and seeing our loved ones all the way across the world. In spite of all our challenges, it was a wonderful family Christmas celebration.

Christmas week, Julian’s blood pressure started vacillating wildly and he began to have severe chest pain from the ulcer in spite of taking nineteen different medicines each day! Unfortunately, all our doctors were out for a week of Christmas vacation. Adding to his misery, one of his new medicines made Julian very dizzy. He was walking to the bedroom and started to fall as he was almost to the king size bed. I was behind him and began to try to help him get to the bed. He started shouting, “Where’s the bed? Where’s the bed?” Because a week before he had had a sudden drastic loss of hearing, I thought he’d now gone blind! I managed to get him safely onto the bed and asked him if he could see it now and he snapped back, “Of course!” When I asked him why he couldn’t see it a moment before, he replied, “Because I had my eyes closed.” I had a sudden strong desire to strangle him, but fortunately my hands aren’t strong enough.

Now the sparkling lights of the village and the twinkling little tree outside and the bright red cardinals flaming around the feeders were still cheerfully visible over the rather large air purifier, the humidifier, and the walker. They could even be seen between the CPAP and Blood Pressure machine and various breathing aids on the rolling cart that we pulled next to the couch with its pyramid of wedges for elevating feet above the heart. The Christmas angels and burgundy candles around the tray with Julian’s nineteen medicines looked festive on the dining room table. I tried to convince Julian that a wreath of holly would keep his head warmer and add to the Christmassy atmosphere, but he wasn’t in the mood. I was tempted to dig out the left over “happy” pills and slip just a half of one in his milk, but it being the Holy Days, for once I resisted evil.

 

Village for a Hospital Room

Julian now needed to not lie flat because of the ulcer and he still needed to keep his feet above the level of his heart. I suggested getting a hammock since our middles are our heaviest body area, both head and feet would then be high. But it’s already getting difficult to walk around the apartment, so Julian solved the problem by varying which end he raises with the wedges over the day and night. The other challenge is a diet healthy for his heart, esophagus, and feet. Low salt, low fat, low fiber, no spices, no tomato products, no dairy for two hours before and after a pill he takes twice a day, no caffeine, carbonation, citrus or anything acidic or alcoholic. And the steroids are making his sugar count so high that the frequent tears in his very thin skin won’t heal. So, low sugar also. I spent about three hours grocery shopping during the busiest shopping season of the year reading the contents of everything. But it’s a saving grace to have our son Chris living nearby and willing to come stay while I have to be gone. He and Julian share many interests and it seems to not only be a bright spot in those days for Julian, but to be bringing them much closer to one another. And the many kindnesses of our family and friends have touched Julian’s heart, helping him see how loved he is.

Our newest great-grandson, Raphael, who had a difficult birth on November 15th, didn’t breathe until they resuscitated him. He stayed in the hospital for ten days on a ventilator and needing medicines for seizures. But the neurologist said he could not believe the second brain scans taken at five days old were of the same child as the ones they took the first day. The neurologist actually called it a miracle. Raphael is a beautiful baby and now at two months has a marvelous wide smile. Though we may not know the extent of possible damage for some time, he has many many people praying for him even on the other side of the world. And he is already tenderly loved by all of us. They live in North Carolina, but we get to see photos and videos of him almost daily on face book. And they drove from North Carolina to Tennessee just for four days so his grands and great- grands could get to meet him. So, as 2018 began, I got to hold him and kiss his tiny feet and see him smile and hear his laughter. What a wonderful beginning for a new year.

A beneficial side effect for me of helping Julian through all this has been my regaining stamina and managing a lot of physical activity with very little pain. And in spite of relieving some of the stress by standing at the kitchen counter in the middle of the night eating half a peach pie and another time six jelly doughnuts mysteriously disappearing in two days, I haven’t gained weight.

When someone is in pain, whether physical or emotional, they are focused on the pain, and the small things that keep relationships pleasant are no longer a priority. Through most of our marriage, I have been high maintenance and Julian has been very low maintenance. There have been rough moments for both of us in adjusting to such an extreme change in that now. He doesn’t like to need help and I have always wanted a lot of it. He’s never been comfortable expressing unpleasant feelings. And I don’t really know how to help him, because I worked hard over the years to learn how to deal with my emotions without garbage dumping them on him. So, in spite of being married over half a century, we are still awkward in areas of our relationship. Sometimes, I feel like at eighty years of age, I’m still an amateur person.

Humor has been our glue and in many ways it is still our saving grace. But in this stage of our life, the challenge is to learn how to love across our differences in ways that help us relate heart to heart.

Last week, the doctor explained that a lot of the ongoing illnesses are side effects of some of the medicines that so far are keeping him able to breathe. So Julian is beginning to deal with the reality that his life is not going to get better. In fact, it will be a constant challenge to keep it from getting worse.

It’s a scary and sad time for both of us. Sometimes when he is sleeping, I feel like my heart is breaking and when I let myself cry, I’m afraid I will never be able to stop. Our family and our friends at church have been incredibly loving and supportive. And I find grace by reliving joyful memories of our fifty-nine years together. Julian suddenly lost a lot more of his hearing around Christmas.  His expensive hearing aids made his ears itch so he never wore them.  But now communication is much more difficult. A friend with similar problems has found something that has helped him and he is bringing it for Julian to try, so I am hopeful that soon we will be able to enjoy reliving those memories together.

Some Memories

Mike Julian Eileen in Los Angeles

Eileen and Julian in the South West of France 2015

Julian at Tommy’s

Bella and Julian at Hospital

One of the blessings of old age is a treasury of wonderful memories.

A warped sense of humor is also a great help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Surrender

I call upon the Source of Life,
the Power within and without,
the Power that makes for
Being and Nothingness,
joy and pain,
suffering and delight.
I call upon You to calm my fearful soul,
to open me to the Wonder of Truth,
the transience of all things.
In Wonder was I conceived
and in Wonder I have found my being.
Thus I call upon You, the Source of Wonder,
to open my heart to healing.
In You I discover the mystery of Life
and the necessity of Death.
In You I see all things and their opposites
not as warring parties
but as partners in a dance
whose rhythm is none other
than the beating of my own soul.
Denial may come, but so too will acceptance.
Anger may come, but so too will calm.
I have bargained with my fears
and found them unwilling to compromise.
So now I turn to You,
to the Wonder that is my True Nature.
I abandon the false notions of separateness
and embrace the Unity that is my True Nature.
I surrender not to the inevitable but to Surprise,
for it is the impossible that is Life’s most precious gift.
My tears will pass
and so will my laughter.
But I will not be silenced,
for I will sing the praises of Wonder
through sickness and health;
knowing that in the end,
this too will pass.

Written by Rami M. Shapiro in his book
Accidental Grace Poetry, Prayers, and Psalms

You Are Forgiven. Pass It On.

by Henri Nouwen
It is hard for me to forgive someone who has really offended me, especially when it happens more than once. I begin to doubt the sincerity of the one who asks forgiveness for a second, third, or fourth time. But God does not keep count. God just waits for our return, without resentment or desire for revenge. God wants us home. ‘The love of the Lord is everlasting.’

Maybe the reason it seems so hard for me to forgive others is that I do not fully believe that I am a forgiven person. If I could fully accept the truth that I am forgiven and do not have to live in guilt or shame, I would really be free. My freedom would allow me to forgive others seventy times seven times. By not forgiving, I chain myself to a desire to get even, thereby losing my freedom. A forgiven person forgives. This is what we proclaim when we pray, ‘and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.’

This lifelong struggle lies at the heart of the Christian life.”

#HenriNouwen THE ROAD TO DAYBREAK
http://www.henrinouwen.org

God Eyes

Yesterday, I realized that I don’t distinguish between God and Jesus except when I need to deal with the downside of my own or others’ humanity. Then I reflect on the Jesus of the Scriptures and see how open he was to growing in understanding and wholeness. When I see the overview of how drastically Jesus changed his ideas and choices through interaction with people different from him and then going apart to pray, reflect, and listen to what God was saying through those life challenges, it gives me hope for myself and humanity. And it motivates me to stop and listen to God through my everyday life experiences. If I struggle with the same thing over and over, obviously I am not paying attention. The rough spots, the challenges, unfamiliar ideas, the people that make me uncomfortable are God calling.
Sometimes, I just HATE knowing that!
And sometimes I even have to mentally put my fingers in my ears and sing to myself, “Jesus loves me…………..” until that assurance of love gives me the courage to recognize that when something about another person pushes my emotional buttons, it’s because of something related that I don’t want to know about myself.
On the positive side, I realize that I also have God eyes. I experience not only pleasure, but the sheer joy of seeing God in the beauty in nature, momentary kindness in people, laughter of children, and my own humor at my weirdness, silliness and even brokenness.
Wow! That has been such a life affirming and empowering gift.
I’m pretty sure those two different aspects of openness are wholeness.
And wholeness is the path of the journey to holiness.

Strangely, what triggered this awareness yesterday was a friend mentioning sadly that none of the Christmas cards she received had anything about Jesus on them. They had birds and animals and lovely landscapes, but no nativity scenes. I realized that I used to feel the same lack of spirituality when cards only had beautiful nature or just happy people on them, but now I feel God in all those things everyday, so I see God in pictures of them too.

And I am really beginning to see this as not only progress, but as what Jesus is all about. Jesus is our main clue to the immanence of God, not just God’s transcendence. Jesus gives us God eyes. God in the natural, God in the limited, God in human incompleteness. God in our funky little unfinished selves.

Rejoice and be glad in it! If God is in the beauty of the cardinal who pushes the little birds off the feeders, if God is in the beauty of the daffodil that goes through cycles of ugly withering and beautiful blooming, God is in us and our cycles of dying and becoming new.

Jesus loves us because he has God eyes too.

The Dangers of Advent by J.B. Phillips

Familiarity may easily blind us to the shining fact that lies at the heart of Christmastide.
What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance. For Christians believe that so great is God’s love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man. Amid the sparkle and the color and music of the day’s celebration we do well to remember that God’s insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility. There was no advertisement, no publicity, no special privilege; in fact the entry of God into his own world was almost heartbreakingly humble. In sober fact there is little romance or beauty in the thought of a young woman looking desperately for a place where she could give birth to her first baby. I do not think for a moment that Mary complained, but it is a bitter commentary upon the world that no one would give up a bed for the pregnant woman – and that the Son of God must be born in a stable.
This almost beggarly beginning has been romanticized by artists and poets throughout the centuries. Yet I believe that at least once a year we should look steadily at the historic fact, and not at any pretty picture. At the time of this astonishing event only a handful of people knew what had happened. And as far as we know, no one spoke openly about it for thirty years. Even when the baby was grown to be a man, only a few recognized him for who he really was. Two or three years of teaching and preaching and healing people, and his work was finished. He was betrayed and judicially murdered, deserted at the end by all his friends. By normal human standards this is a tragic little tale of failure, the rather squalid story of a promising young man from a humble home, put to death by the envy and malice of the professional men of religion. All this happened in an obscure, occupied province of the vast Roman Empire.
It is fifteen hundred years ago that this apparently invincible Empire utterly collapsed, and all that is left of it is ruins. Yet the little baby, born in such pitiful humility and cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world. Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history. It is a solid rock of evidence that no agnostic can ever explain away.
That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.
We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, he will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him. J. B. Phillips
This is an excerpt I took from an excerpt published In The Plough Quarterly and offered as an advent devotional by them on face book.
It describes so well my own personal experience of Jesus fifty years ago and the power of it for me.
Each year my Advent prayer is, “Come, Lord Jesus, come and be born in our hearts.”

Fighting Wrongs Does Not Require Hating People

There’s a difference between fighting against things we consider wrong and making blanket judgments about people we don’t know. Perhaps the problem is that we all have different ideas about who are Evangelical. To me Evangelicals are the people in and outside of organized religion who have experienced the unconditional love of God and want to share it. Christian Evangelicals are the people who came to know with heart, mind and spirit that there is no condemnation by God through an encounter with a living Jesus. I am one of those. We finally learned that we were forgiven before we even screwed up. ( I don’t happen to think we are the only ones that come to know that, but it was my way.) We know that ALL of us fall short of perfection. That we are not finished…..and don’t have to be perfect….because to be human is to be in process. But to accept the forgiveness we already have, we have to give up our addiction to the illusion of perfection. Then, we can begin forgiving ourselves and start accepting the flow of grace that will help us grow in loving ourselves and others as God loves us. For me an ongoing very real and very personal relationship with Jesus is what has gotten me through the struggles of life so far. I was born small and fearful, so anger has been my pain reliever. I really need that ongoing relationship with love fleshed out.
I admit I did not grow up with much contact with “2nd generation Evangelicals”…..those who inherited religion as laws interpreted by humans, but haven’t experienced the love of God personally. It’s been more of a problem for me to forgive and love the Catholic hierarchy . Most of the Evangelicals I happen to know are people from all denominations, including the Jewish faith, who know the healing, life changing love of God through Jesus personally. And we, like the Prodigal son, are very, very grateful that we are loved and can come home just as we are. Knowing we are imperfect, but loved and that the more we experience that love, the more healed and free we will be to love others is the core of our spirituality. There are “Super Believers” in all religious groups who inherited the form of the religion, but have not experienced that healing love. You can’t give what you don’t know. I am very sad for those people, I remember how it feels, and how angry I was all the time. So I fight on issues, but pray the people I disagree with will come to experience enough love somehow to be healed and to experience life in a whole new way.
At thirty, I was an active agnostic in the sense of rejecting everything I had been taught about God, but investing time in searching for truth. Then someone not connected to a denomination persuaded me to pray, “Jesus, IF you are who you claim to be, I need you to save me from my blindness and open my heart to God. Take my life and help me become the person God wants me to be.” I think that because I had been truly seeking, my response was almost immediate. Within the hour I was overflowing with joy from knowing with my heart, mind and spirit that there was a God, that Jesus fleshed out his Love, and I was loved just as I am, because of who God is, not who I am. It’s not a magic abracadabra formula. And the journey is different for each of us. But for many of us it is a way to consciously begin a grace filled partnership in the journey.

Christmas is Like Humanity’s Birthday Celebration

I so hope everyone’s Holy Days bring the blessing of God’s love to them.
For me Christmas is humanity’s birthday celebration. So, I am always ready for the Christmas season.
It’s a wonderful time of year. I’d like at least a six month holy day season and actually wouldn’t complain if it was all year long.
I love the frosty air outside here in Tennessee because it makes the warmth inside feel so comforting and the hot Chocolate so delicious. But when visiting my brother in Texas around Christmas, we all might be wearing shorts outside, but the air conditioning is turned on enough to light a fire in the fireplace.
My spirits lift with all the music whether it’s Rudolf or O Holy Night. Children’s laughter and excitement are contagious for me.
And all the colorful decorations bring special beauty everywhere. I like seeing different Christmas sweaters and get a chuckle at people wearing Santa hats. I even enjoy a lot of the cheerful advertisements.  The beauty in nature, in people, and even in things people make gives me great pleasure.  I don’t need to own them to enjoy their beauty.
I love beautiful Christmas cards with scenes of birds in snowy woods, funny Christmas cards with Charlie Brown and Snoopy or even Maxine,  and of course, the tender ones about the love of God coming among us.
I can imagine the savory smells in anticipation of turkey and dressing and pies. And look forward to being amazed at the unusual creativity of our grandchildren making Christmas cookies. Well, why not have Christmas alligators and dinosaurs?
And I absolutely delight in our family laughing together and remembering funny things like a grandson’s expression when opening a box of rocks from me. 🙂 (He was supposed to open the paints first. )
I even love our annual messy marshmallow fight!
And I refuse to give up my satisfaction from sending elaborate meal planning emails to all the family, even knowing it’s an exercise in futility!
I enjoy lunch with my LOL (Little Old Lady) groups where we bring presents for children who may not have many and share our own hand painted Christmas cards and lovingly made pot holders with each other.
I love decorating, particularly watching my architect husband doing elaborate city planning of our ever growing Dicken’s Christmas village. The moment when we first turn on its lights at night is always magical. I still laugh at the tiny crime scene tape around a stout male figure lying down and a British Bobbie standing over him. (Our youngest son created that one year when no one was looking!)
I stop each day to step outside to check for snow flakes. And even smile at the fake snow in store windows and Christmas scenes, because it reminds me of the night I walked alone in thick new snow in our field on a hilltop. The silence was so profound, it created a feeling of total isolation and the night so clear that the stars blanketed the skyscape. At first I felt small and lost in the face of so much grandeur and such infinite space. Then once again, I experienced that sense of complete oneness with everything. And being even a tiny part of all of that made time seem liquid enough that death would be simply melting into eternity’s flow.
I revel also in the small kindnesses and good wishes from strangers. Sometimes, it’s experiencing a moment of kinship that’s real and meaningful.
I look forward to grandchildren’s Christmas concerts and pageants. And chuckle when I watch Sunday school enactments of Jesus’ birth, remembering the one my first child was in, where one of the shepherds kept hooking Joseph around the neck until a hand came out from behind the curtain and pulled him out of sight. 🙂
I treasure my special Christmas coffee cup that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season” because each morning when I have my first cup of coffee, it reminds me to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then come the joy of times when I recognize small and large blessings and the peace of the moments of sensing His gentle loving presence.
Recognizing and embracing the visible Love of God for all His Creation, including each of us in our imperfect unfinished humanity, is what makes Christmas also our Birthday Season. So, I wish you all a very Happy Birthday also in your Holy Days. May the Love of God erase our fears and free us to love one another.

Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt, guest on ON BEING with Host Krista Tippett

The Psychology of Self-Righteousness
“When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.” The surprising psychology behind morality is at the heart of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research. He explains “liberal” and “conservative” not narrowly or necessarily as political affiliations, but as personality types — ways of moving through the world. His self-described “conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular liberal instincts” have been challenged by his own studies.

On Being with Krista Tippett, HOST

GUEST: Jonathan Haidt the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

TRANSCRIPT
Jonathan Haidt: It’s as though these giant electromagnets got turned on in the ’60s, and they’ve been cranking up ever since, and anything that has the vaguest left-right charge gets pulled to one side. Everything gets purified. Psychologically, what we find empirically is that people who identify as conservative tend to like order and predictability, whereas people who identify as liberal, they like variety and diversity. I have one study where we have dots moving around on a screen. Conservatives like the images where the dots are moving around more in lockstep with each other. Liberals like it when it’s all chaotic and random.
Krista Tippett, host: The surprising psychology behind morality — this is at the heart of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research. “When it comes to moral judgments,” he says, “we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.” In his acclaimed book, The Righteous Mind, he examined the conundrum behind good people divided by religion and politics. Jonathan Haidt explains “liberal” and “conservative” not narrowly or necessarily as political affiliations, but as personality types, ways of moving through the world. And his own self-described “conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular-liberal instincts” have been challenged by his own studies.  Jonathan Haidt is professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. I interviewed him in 2014 at the invitation of a group called Encounter. It is interested in Jonathan Haidt’s research as it navigates an iconically entrenched, bitterly divisive moral conflict of our age, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. We gathered before an intimate group at the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan.
Ms. Tippett: It’s exciting to be talking about an important subject in an important place in a room surrounded by books. And actually, where I’d like to start is just with you, just a little bit about your background. And I’m curious, specifically, whether you would find traces or roots of not just your interest in morality, but in a sense, your passion for morality, in the religious or spiritual background of your childhood.
Mr. Haidt: Well, my religious and spiritual background is sort of stereotypical for my generation — born in 1963 to parents who were first generation. All four of my grandparents were born in Russia and Poland, came to New York, worked in the garment industry, loved Roosevelt, union organizers. My parents moved, raised me in Scarsdale, New York. I was very assimilated — I have a strong sense of being Jewish as my culture, but not as, really, as a religion. As a kid who always loved science, and when I first read the bible in college, the Old Testament, I was horrified when I read the whole thing. And so I went through the phase that many young scientific types go through. I’m the sort of person who would have been a New Atheist if I hadn’t taken a very different turn in my own research.
Ms. Tippett: So you studied philosophy in college, is that right? And then it seems to me that you made a move, a shift that our culture is actually making, which is that great questions, or this great inquiry about the human condition, which once was reserved for philosophers and theologians, has now moved onto frontiers where we are learning to understand our minds, and in understanding our minds, understanding ourselves in a whole new way.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right. That’s what most excites me, is, I think we’re all interested in our origins. Everybody’s interested in origin stories: Where do we come from? Why are we this way? And when I first read, actually, Richard Dawkins, when I first read The Selfish Gene, and I began to learn about evolution, I felt, “Oh my God, it all makes so much sense. This is why we are the way we are.”
And I remember when I was in London — in Westminster Abbey, I guess it was, wherever Darwin is buried, and in England, they have the graves right there in the church, and people walk over them. And I was like, “No! don’t walk on Darwin’s grave!” So I felt like — I felt as though studying the social sciences and evolution, I feel like we are really beginning to reconstruct our ancestor and origin story, and it’s very, very exciting. And I find it gives me a lot of compassion for us as a species, because a lot of people love to shake their heads and say, “Oh, my God, things are so terrible, and we’re such monsters.” But I have very, very low expectations. My standard is, we’re animals. We’re like chimpanzees that actually figured out how to get along amazingly well and not hurt each other, not hit each other. I mean it’s amazing how peaceful we are, actually.
Ms. Tippett: I mean I just think — just what you just said, I feel like we are — we’re coming to a place where we can have a vocabulary of considering ourselves as a species, which is kind of a new evolutionary phase. And having said that, that you started thinking about these things seriously with Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, the field you are part of — which is new, which has developed in your lifetime, in our lifetime — is positive psychology, the study of human flourishing, which it takes off into new directions from there.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right. So that would be, I guess — part of the story is, psychology has tended to be a very negative field, in that it’s especially focused on problems.
Ms. Tippett: Pathologies and neurosis.
Mr. Haidt: Pathologies, violence, drug addiction, racism, all those sorts of things. Those are, of course, extremely important to study. We’ve made a lot of progress on them. But in the 1990s, Martin Seligman, a psychologist at Penn, said, when he was president of the American Psychological Association, “Well, what about the positive side of life? Most people are doing pretty well. And when they go to the bookstore, all they have on offer are books by Deepak Chopra. So we should be having psychologists doing research on the positive side of life.” And I started doing research because I study morality and how it’s based on the emotions, so I’d been studying the emotions of disgust and anger and shame, and then I started to think, “Well, what’s the opposite of disgust?” And I started — what do you feel when you see somebody do something beautiful or uplifting? And it felt to me as though there’s such an emotion, but there wasn’t a word for it, at least not in the psychological language — I mean you can say “uplifted” or “touched” or “moved.”
And I came across a wonderful passage in Thomas Jefferson. I’d just arrived at the University of Virginia, and he is the — he’s everywhere. I felt like I worked for the man. It was wonderful. But he describes why it’s so important to read good fiction: because of the effect that beautiful deeds, beautifully explained, can have on you. He said, “Does it not elevate his sentiments, does it not dilate the breast and elevate the sentiment” — a sort of a feeling of opening — “as much as any example in real history can furnish?” And he talked about how it makes us more open, and then new things are possible.
Ms. Tippett: It seems like he almost had an intuition of what’s being learned in social psychology now, or that he had a wisdom.
Mr. Haidt: Jefferson was a fantastic — Jefferson and Ben Franklin. We had a few founders who were great psychologists.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah. So let’s just talk about your basic premises. So one of them, we kind of have had this illusion that we were primarily rational creatures. And your first premise would be that moral judgment is based mostly on intuitions, rather than conscious reasoning. I mean here is the one way you said this: “When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.”
Mr. Haidt: Exactly. And if you don’t believe that about yourself, just note how true it is of everybody else.
[laughter]
And then think, they think that of you.
Ms. Tippett: So a second premise is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness. So explain what that means.
Mr. Haidt: So in psychology, pretty much everybody who studies morality is politically liberal.
Ms. Tippett: Really? Is that really true?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah. Yeah. I have found one social psychologist who’s a conservative. He’s a friend of mine. I’ve not found another. And that’s a whole separate discussion about the terrible things that happen — I mean we’re talking about polarization here — what happens when the academy itself becomes polarized, so that all the liberals are in the academy, all the conservatives are in think tanks in Washington.
Ms. Tippett: Right.
Mr. Haidt: So it really interferes with our ability to think and to study.
Ms. Tippett: But it makes for great cable television.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
Ms. Tippett: It produces the talking heads.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, that’s right, and no progress.
[laughter]
So the field — so when I entered the field in 1987, it was dominated by people who were pretty far left. And so morality was basically defined as altruism. And it was especially altruism towards poor victims. So ideally, helping poor kids in Africa, that is the best thing you could possibly do. So all the research was about compassion and about fairness and justice, and that’s it. And when I took a course in cultural psychology from a wonderful anthropologist named Alan Fiske, and we read all these books about these ethnographies of morality in other cultures — and people care a lot about food and food taboos and menstruating women and the body and all these things that I had read 15 years before in the Old Testament. And I realized: Oh, my God, almost every culture on earth has this very broad conception of morality, in which it’s not just about “Am I hurting you and treating you fairly?”
Ms. Tippett: Right, a whole array of things that are — that come under that category of “moral.”
Mr. Haidt: Exactly; issues of purity and authority and group loyalty. And the interesting puzzle, which is now being solved, is, how did the West get so weird? And by “weird” — I’m not using that as an insult. WEIRD stands for “western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.” When ever you have a society that has those five attributes, the moral domain shrinks down, individualism rises up, people get more analytical — there’s a massive set of changes that happen. And everybody in this room, I daresay, is, to some extent, WEIRD.
[laughter]
Ms. Tippett: [laughs] OK. A third premise is that morality “binds and blinds.”
Mr. Haidt: This is the one I’m most excited about. This is the one that I feel unlocks so many of our hardest problems, particularly the ones we’re here to talk about tonight. So if you go with me that morality is part of human nature, that it is something that evolved in us as our primate ancestors became cultural creatures that lived in larger groups, then these groups competed with each other, and the groups that were able to hang together and cooperate are the ones that succeeded and became our ancestors. So if you are with me that morality, just like the love of our children or the sense of humor or language, or all these things about us — if you’re with me on that, then you begin to see morality not just as “Am I nice to you?” You begin to see morality as this amazing ability that binds groups together in groups that are larger than kinship.
Probably none of you here are siblings, but you’re all — you all, we all have common concerns. You form organizations. We’re all members of dozens of organizations. We cooperate so brilliantly, and that’s because we have this moral psychology that binds us together. It’s most effective when we have a sacred value, something that we all worship or circle around. So it’s clearest in religions, where the sacred value is literally God or the Torah or whatever, but you’ll see it in any political group too. So on the left, nowadays, just in the last year or two, it’s become overwhelmingly marriage equality and rising income inequality. On the right, it’s long been “the family” and “America.”Ms. Tippett: Those are the things we define as moral issues, the primary moral issues.
Mr. Haidt:
That’s right. But keep your eye on the sacred values. That really helps you understand. And we’ll come back to that here, I’m sure.
Ms. Tippett: Talk about how you look at the collapse of, I think, civility, and inability to solve problems and to speak across difference, in terms of the science that you’re doing. One thing that you’ve talked about is the importance of disagreeing constructively. I don’t know, do you know — well, you say very interesting things, also, about how it is harder for liberals to understand conservatives, or that liberals need to try harder to understand conservatives than conservatives would have to try to understand liberals. And I think that’s probably a provocative statement, possibly, in this room.
Mr. Haidt: OK, maybe I’d better unpack that, yeah.
Ms. Tippett: So what do you mean by that? I mean what do you know that informs that statement?
Mr. Haidt: OK, so very brief background, so one of my main areas of research — my colleagues and I call it moral foundations theory — is about these different — almost like taste buds of the moral sense. So everybody values compassion and fairness, whether you’re liberal or conservative — everybody. But then there are these three others: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and sanctity versus degradation. And what we find is that conservatives give relatively high marks to all five of those. They value all of those, whereas liberals reject those last three — “That’s, like, the foundations of racism and exclusiveness.” And “No,” they — “group loyalty? That’s terrible.” In other words, liberals build their moral matrix, their moral world, on these two foundations, primarily.
And in one study that I did with my former graduate student, Jesse Graham, we asked liberals and conservatives to fill out our main surveys, pretending to be the other, and also as themselves, for different people. What we found is that conservatives and moderates were very accurate at filling it out as though they were liberals. But liberals were not accurate filling it out as though they were conservatives, because they just couldn’t get their mind into the idea that authority is somehow related to morality; they think it’s just oppression. So that’s one reason why there’s a difficulty, an asymmetric difficulty.
The other reason is that the media tends to be liberal, as the academic world is, and Hollywood. So you cannot grow up in this country without being exposed to lots and lots of liberal ideas. But it wasn’t until I was about 40 that I happened to pull a book off a shelf that said “conservatism” on it, that I was ever exposed to conservative ideas. And I’m well educated. And I had never encountered conservative ideas. So, there’s a real asymmetry in access to the other side’s ideas.
Ms. Tippett: And you very much value the way conservatives — and I think this would be conservatives politically or religiously, conservative people and minds among us — in an important and necessary way remind us of the — what did you say? — the binding foundations of society. That’s important to you that liberals remember.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right. That was really the eye-opener for me. I was always very liberal growing up. I really hated Ronald Reagan, and my first political memory is having a poster of Richard Nixon, and my friends and I completely defaced it, and we thought it was so funny, because we hated him, in our seven-year-old minds. But in doing this research and coming to see that liberals and conservatives each have a piece of the puzzle — each are really perceptive about certain moral values, about the needs of what it takes to have a humane society, and if you let liberals run everything, they tend to burn up social capital, but conservatives tend to focus more on building up social structures that actually do allow us to flourish in some ways. You do need order. You do need some restrictions. You do need some boundaries.
Ms. Tippett: So in some ways, what you are learning could be experienced to be reductionist, right? I mean, it suggests that much of what we think we know and do, and the control we think that we have, and the rationality behind our behavior, is illusory. But I also very much hear you saying that this knowledge itself is a form of power, that we can know this and use that knowledge.
Mr. Haidt: Yes, that’s right. I love reductionism, in that you look at how — “Oh, my God, these things we do, you can explain them by biology and evolution” — that’s reductionism. But I always pair it with emergentism. We form these complex webs, and out of them emerge social institutions. Out of them emerges historical trends. So we are not prisoners of our genes or of our childhoods. The choices we make now will change what happens to us tomorrow. So I certainly want to pair that, the reductionism and the emergentism.
And at every point in history — every point in history is a crossroads. And we can point to people in recent history who blew it, who made bad decisions that made it even tougher for us now. But it’s never hopeless. So I do think that if we can all get a better grasp of this moral psychology, we can turn it to our advantage.
Ms. Tippett: And you are not a religious person, but you, as a social psychologist, very much value, see a value in religion.
Mr. Haidt: Absolutely.
Ms. Tippett: In society.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, and that makes me — not unique, there are other social scientists who do — but it makes me in the minority. And I was very — I used to be very hostile to religion. And then, in doing this research on moral psychology and coming to see conservative perspectives, and then looking at the social science evidence on the effects of religion, well, it’s pretty clear. I mean it’s a little mixed, there are some mixed findings. But the lit reviews generally find that religion in the United States — and it may not be true in other countries, but in the United States, where we have a competitive marketplace and religions compete for adherence — they’re really nice and warm and open, and they create moral communities that encourage people to not just focus on themselves.
And so a wonderful book, American Grace, by Putnam and Campbell, is the ultimate authority on this. What they find is that it doesn’t matter what religion you are, and it doesn’t matter what you believe: If you are part of a religious community, then on average, you’re a better citizen. You give more to charity. Religion does bring out the good in people. Now, secular people can be perfectly good too, but on average, they give less, and they give less of their time. So I’d like to think that I simply, as a secular atheist scientist, followed the evidence, and it showed me that I was wrong in thinking that religion was evil.
Ms. Tippett: And you also point out that when you talk about intuition, that our behavior is not primarily consciously driven. And that’s the same thing that Buddha said, and it’s the same thing that St. Paul said, and Moses and Ovid and all of these people. So it’s absolutely true that our traditions are repositories of moral thinking and moral grappling and have brought those things across time. It’s also true, and we certainly have this specter in the 21st century, that religious energies are at the center of a lot of the, well, morally justified violence, moral anguish. So how would you explain the fact that — this seeming contradiction that religion — that religions are carriers of morality and also that that those very same energies become most destructive?
Mr. Haidt: Well, if you think that morality is being nice and kind to people, well, then, yeah, boy, it sure looks like a paradox. But if you go with me that morality is these many things, and a lot of it is, “Are you a good group member, or are you pursuing your own interests?” — and those group interests often are about intergroup conflict — so if you think about religion as functioning to bind groups together, well then, it’s no paradox. A lot of that is nasty stuff.
Ms. Tippett: I mean here’s something from your writing that — it’s a very striking statement. “The myth of pure evil” — and again, our religions are a place we talk about good and evil — “the myth of pure evil is the ultimate self-serving bias, the ultimate form of naïve realism.” That’s a pretty strong statement.
Mr. Haidt: One thing that you find in most of the great wisdom traditions is the idea that reality as we see it is an illusion. It’s a veil, it blinds us, and enlightenment is taking down the veil, seeing things as they are, transcending dualities. And that, I think, is really crucial for thinking about civility, because that’s what happened to me in writing this book and in doing this research, is, I was a self-righteous, conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular liberal. And in doing this research over many years, and in forcing myself to watch FOX News as an anthropologist who just — “I’ve got to understand this stuff” — over time I realized, “Well, they’re not crazy. These ideas make sense. They see things I didn’t see.”
The feeling of losing my anger was thrilling. It was really freeing. When you get people to actually understand each other, and they let down their guard, and they learn something new, and they see humanity in someone that they disliked or hated or demonized before, that’s really thrilling. And that, I think, is one of the most important emotional tools we have to foster civility. Because once you get it started, it’s kind of addictive.
Ms. Tippett: You can listen again and share this conversation with Jonathan Haidt through our website, onbeing.org.
Coming up, where the rubber meets the road. We apply Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory to diverse reactions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I interviewed Jonathan Haidt at the invitation of a group called Encounter, which attempts to calm an iconically entrenched, bitterly divisive moral conflict of our age, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
Ms. Tippett: I think that when you talk about something like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, if you talk about the very emotional turmoil within the Jewish community, within the American Jewish community, just start there, where you’re dealing with a conflict, a crisis that goes back generations, spirals of violence, and where there’s this huge component of fear that is built into it — and among the other things we’re learning about our brains, it is that when we are fearful, it’s very hard to rise to — let’s just say, to make use of this kind of scientific knowledge that we’re getting about ourselves as social beings. That’s kind of where the rubber meets the road, which is too mild a—
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, so let’s start working on it. So I’m an Ivory Tower academic. I’ve only facilitated one meeting in my whole life of trying to get people together across the aisle.
Ms. Tippett: I’m glad you told us that. [laughs]
Mr. Haidt: But I will speculate, based on that — but from what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen, here are a few pointers. One is, if you accept what I was saying earlier about how our reasoning is driven by our intuitions, our gut feelings, our emotions, that’s just why you cannot reason somebody to — once there’s a conflict, you can’t use reason to change their mind. So don’t even try the direct route, which is, “Let’s just discuss it.”
Once you accept that, then you say, well, OK, what does change reasoning? And now relationships become absolutely crucial. This is why it’s so hard to influence people just by putting a message up into message space. And this is what all the — people who are always interested in the political messaging and crafting the message vehicle, they always come to me for advice on this issue, that issue. And I say: Stop focusing on the message vehicle. Think a lot more about the messenger, because if you have somebody who you wouldn’t expect to say something, or if you have an alliance of people — so think a lot more about the total situation. And you’re not going to change people’s mind just with reason alone, so bring in interesting people who would be what sometimes are called “unexpected validators,” for one thing.
Ms. Tippett: What do you mean, “unexpected validators”?
Mr. Haidt: For example, a lot of people talk to me about, say, global warming. And they’re always trying to craft the message: “Well, how can we use the message to appeal to their other — these conservative foundations and make those conservatives change their mind?” So I say things like, “Well, start by finding a military general who will talk about how this is gonna be a threat to America’s ability to project force around the world.” But the even more important principle is, build up the relationships between the people that you want to do the talking, because we engage in reasoning not to figure out the truth but for social purposes, to show our team that we’re good team players. So bring people together in a debate, people are actually not communicating with each other, they’re actually communicating with their other audiences.
Ms. Tippett: They’re just defining themselves, over against.
Mr. Haidt: Right. That’s right. But if you do the long, slow work of getting people to have something of a human relationship — and especially, sharing food is a very visceral, primal thing. Once you’ve eaten, shared food with a person, there’s a deep psychological system that means “We are like family.”
Ms. Tippett: You use some really helpful metaphors and analogies. You talk about the moral matrix. Give us that.
Mr. Haidt: OK, so yeah, that comes straight out of the movie The Matrix. The matrix is a consensual hallucination. And that’s kind of cool, and the internet and all that stuff, but it was just the perfect metaphor for the moral world that we live in. It defines what’s true and what’s not true. It is a closed epistemic world. What I mean by that is, it has within it everything it needs to prove itself, and it has within it defenses against any possible argument that could be thrown at it. It’s impossible to see the defects in your own moral matrix.
Ms. Tippett: So it becomes impossible to think beyond.
Mr. Haidt: Exactly, exactly. And that’s why foreign travel is so good, getting disoriented is so good, reading literature can be so good. So there are ways of it getting out of your moral matrix, but it’s hard, especially in the context of any sort of intergroup conflict. Then we’re just locked into it, and our goal is: Defend the matrix, defeat theirs.
Ms. Tippett: I think a question that gets raised in this country, and I imagine that it might be on people’s minds in this room right now, is that the people who most would benefit from those relationships or from stepping outside or seeing beyond their matrix, are precisely the ones who are not going to go on the trips to the West Bank, or whatever the other examples would be.
Now, I think that we in this culture — we tend to actually focus on the extreme poles and think that they are the ones who have to be convinced, and we always center the debates around them, and maybe that’s what we do wrong. Do we need those extremists?
Mr. Haidt: No, you don’t.
Ms. Tippett: Or do we start without them, and that’s fine?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, so first, let me be clear that while each side can’t see the flaws in its own matrix, there is a symmetry here, and left and right are similar in some ways. But one of the clearest differences between left and right, psychologically, is that the left is generally universalist, almost to a fault, and the right is parochial, often to a fault. And what I mean by parochial isn’t just “narrow-minded and dumb.” What I mean is — so we have a survey at yourmorals.org where we ask, “How much do you care about or think about or value people in your community, people in your country, people in the world at large?” And OK, so conservatives value people in their nation and in their community much more than people in the world at large. And you might say, OK, well, that’s parochial. But what do liberals do? Liberals on our survey actually say they value people in the world at large more than people in their own country, more than people in their community. So liberals are so universalist, they often don’t really pay much attention to their own groups. As my mother said about my grandfather, who was a labor organizer, “He loved humanity so much that he didn’t really have much time to care for his family.”
Ms. Tippett: All right. So let’s open this up and see what’s on your minds.
Mr. Haidt: OK.
Audience Member 1: Jon, on this notion of your five factors that go into morality — and I believe it was fairness and compassion as being pretty much accepted across the spectrum as being moral values, and then you added others, like sacredness or purity or authority — I think of authority and respecting authority as more amoral. If the authority is Abraham Lincoln, I see that as moral. If the authority is Hitler or Stalin, I don’t. And so I’m sort of stuck with this notion of maybe a broader understanding of morality. If there is one position that is more right than another, how can we be open to respecting authority if our sense is that that authority is wrong?
Mr. Haidt: OK, so a way to think about this is — so I’m trying to be descriptive here. What is the morality that people around the world care about? And I was trying to step out of my own secular liberal morality. And if you think about the virtues as these excellences that we try to encourage in our children to prepare them for social interaction, and liberals and conservatives cultivate very different excellences. When I got to the University of Virginia, there were a number — a lot of the students were from southwest Virginia, and they would call me “sir,” and it was hard for them to call me by first name. And they — in seminar classes, it was clear they had concepts of backtalk, which, growing up Jewish American, there’s no such thing as backtalk. If your uncle says something stupid, you say — you don’t say it was stupid, but you say, “I totally disagree. That’s ridiculous.”
But many people think that a world in which children can say “shut up” to their parents or, at least, can take it or leave it or sue them or whatever they want — a lot of conservatives are horrified at the chaos, disorder, and disrespect in more liberal families.
There often is a need for some sort of order, especially if a group is gonna try to accomplish something. If a group’s gonna — so keep in mind, conservative virtues are effective at keeping the group together and making it effective. Liberal values are more effective at getting justice within the group. So I think that’s the key here.
Ms. Tippett: But I think the question is that sometimes order is Abraham Lincoln, and sometimes it’s Hitler. And are you saying, maybe again in the grand scheme of things, that in the context of the human enterprise, the human experiment, that value which carries a lot of good is sometimes going to result in a Hitler?
Mr. Haidt: Oh, I’m not saying people should be respectful of all authorities, nor am I saying that conservatives think people should respect all authorities. Let’s see. Where to go with this? I mean I think one thing that I noticed really on display in sort of extreme cases was Occupy Wall Street. So Occupy Wall Street was a very far left movement. And they were so far left that they were opposed to all forms of authority. Everybody was equal. And I went down there a few times, and I watched them think about things. And what I saw so turned me off.
I was very sympathetic to the movement at first. But they’re so egalitarian that they wouldn’t — couldn’t have any leaders. Everybody had a right to speak, equal to everyone else. At one point, there was a motion. They were trying to figure out what they stood for. And they, for months they couldn’t say what they stood for, and they were trying to draft a memo, and on one line was, “And we reject violence.” And somebody said, “Well, but there are some among us who don’t reject violence, and we don’t want to exclude them. We’re so inclusive. We want to include everybody.” And so that was one thing, was, the extreme egalitarianism and inclusiveness rendered them, I thought, unfit for modern American political life. So complete rejection of authority leads to chaos, it leads to ineffectiveness, and it ultimately leads to the group disappearing.
Mr. Haidt: I know this is the question period, but there’s a quote here, which is just so relevant, I hope I can read it. It’s from an article by Yossi Klein Halevi on Pesach Jews versus Purim Jews. He talks about there’s these two threads, these two strands among Jews — actually, this is more in Israel, but it’s here too. So he — I just love this, and it fits so well with Righteous Mind. He says, “Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two Biblical commands to remember. The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: Don’t be brutal. The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: Don’t be naïve.” “‘Passover Jews’ are motivated by empathy with the oppressed.” That’s this care and compassion foundation. “‘Purim Jews’ are motivated by alertness to threat.” That’s these group-binding virtues, where you have to have, if you’re going to be attacked from outside. “Both are essential.” So anything you can do to convey the sense that, yeah, both sides are right, both sides are wise to certain threats, conveying that both sides are right and linking them to both — both are Jews. So these are, I think, some of the steps that can at least create this greater sense of community and necessary purpose.
Ms. Tippett: There’s some place you talked about some work you’ve done with some of your students that — what did you say? That diversity was like cholesterol? That we need the good kind and the bad kind; we need all — we need difference. And it’s OK for all these — [laughs] I want to find it. You know what — you say it. It’s interesting.
Mr. Haidt: OK, so I grew up — I started at Yale in 1981, just as diversity was becoming a major, major watchword of the left. And my entire academic career, it’s all been about diversity: diversity this, diversity that. And what’s really meant by that is racial diversity, and then, secondarily, gender diversity. And claims are made for diversity, that it has all these benefits for thinking, it does all these great things. But at the same time, what I’ve observed in my academic career is, when I started school in the ’80s, there were a few conservatives on the faculty, and now there are almost none. So we’ve reached the state that George Will described. He said there’s a certain kind of liberal that wants diversity in everything except thought. And so we do need certain kinds of diversity, but the key to remember is that diversity by its very nature is divisive, and so what’s the function of your group? If your group needs cohesion, you don’t want diversity. If your group needs good, clear thinking, and you want people to challenge your prejudices, then you need it. So in the academic world, we need that kind of diversity, and we don’t have it. That was part of my point.
Ms. Tippett: How does that help you analyze what might be done?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, so diversity is generally divisive, and it has to be managed. There is some interesting research showing that when you celebrate diversity and point it out, you split people, but if you drown it in a sea of commonality, then it’s not a problem. So anything you can do to emphasize how similar we all are, how much we have in common, is good. Anything you can do that celebrates — “Look at how different we are. Look at how diverse we are” — that tends to make it harder to have any group cohesion and trust.   What I’m saying is, start by addressing that. Start by building the sense of our community, how much we have in common, how there’ve always been these two sides. And Jews have to do both. Start by building all of that, and then you can address the harder policy issues.

Audience Member 2: So I actually just wanted to request your working definition of “conservative” and “liberal,” because I feel like I’ve been a little bit working backwards trying to figure out, by how you characterize them, what you basically mean when you say, for example, that conservatives are
Mr. Haidt: Psychologically, what we find empirically is that people who identify as conservative tend to like order and predictability. They are not attracted to change for the sake of change, whereas people who identify as liberal, they like variety and diversity. I have one study where we have dots moving around on a screen. Conservatives like the images where the dots are moving around more in lockstep with each other.
[laughter]
Liberals like it when it’s all chaotic and random. Liberals keep their rooms messier than conservatives. So these are deep, psychological differences. We eat different food. We eat at different restaurants. And this is part of the problem now, is that it’s become not just an ideological difference, it’s a real lifestyle difference.
Ms. Tippett: So I think that gets at part of the confusion, that it’s probably the simplest thing to associate “conservative” with Republican, and “liberal” with Democrat.
Mr. Haidt: In this country, now.
Ms. Tippett: In this country now, but you’re really talking as a social psychologist about “conservative” and “liberal” as two ways of being human.
Mr. Haidt: That’s right, these are psychological traits. That’s right. There are dimensions. So openness to experience is the main psychological trait that has been found to correlate with the left-right dimension. And so I would guess — I know nothing about the situation in Israel, but I would guess, when you go out to dinner in Jerusalem with people on the left versus the right, there will be a lot more sort of fusion restaurants and variety and diversity when you go out with people on the left than with people on the right.
Ms. Tippett: And that has something — it has to do with a lot of things, but it’s also related to this echo chamber problem, that it’s like what we’re hearing, and we’re never hearing the whole story or being able to internalize the whole story.
So that’s why you’re here tonight.
[laughter]
What do we do about these echo chambers? What does your science teach you?
Mr. Haidt: Oh, boy, what do we do about the echo chambers? That’s really hard. I mean it’s especially hard in this country, where the First Amendment means that government can’t…
Ms. Tippett: We’re all talking to people who are like us. And we’re living in neighborhoods, as you said, with people who are like us.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of sociology working against us here. Part of becoming more modern and wealthy and individualistic is that we make our life choices based on what we like, what appeals to us. So you don’t just stay where you were born, the way people used to more often. I mean there’s always been a lot of movement among humans, but nowadays, I mean when you look at people shopping for college or jobs: “Well, you know, Seattle has a lot of bookstores. I like that.” And my grad student, Matt Motyl, has done research looking at millions of people: When they move, do they, on average, move to a place that’s more conducive to their politics, or less? The answer is: more, on both sides.
So we’ve started to move into what — a phrase that — the sociologist Robert Bellah called “lifestyle enclaves.” We pick things based on these things like bookstores versus churches and gun ranges, but they end up just getting — we’re more and more purified. So that’s a real problem. So the echo chamber, because of our residential patterns and because of technology, the echo chamber gets more and more closed off.
Ms. Tippett: And just modernity as a whole. That’s so interesting.
Mr. Haidt: Well, it’s freedom. The more you are free and have the resources and have a society based on markets and businesses that will cater to what you want, and those are generally good things — well, if people choose where to live and who to associate with, they get ever more segregated.
Ms. Tippett: So progress leads to incivility.
[laughter]
Mr. Haidt: Of a sort, but again, progress leads to peacefulness, non-violence — but to us being shut off from each other, yes.
Ms. Tippett: And so you also speak of virtues, which is, I find, a word that’s very magnetic to modern people and to younger people. And so I like to talk about civility grounding virtues, as opposed to ground rules.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, I like that.
Ms. Tippett: Right? And I wonder how you — if you think that even that kind of language — I mean you talk about Ben Franklin’s United Party for Virtue, so this has a history with us too — if that might be something — something that can help.
Mr. Haidt: Yeah, I think so. I think we went through — in America, at least, we went through a period in the ’60s and ’70s when the education establishment became extremely liberal, and part of that is a flirtation with relativism and a resistance — it’s horrible to think of adults telling kids what’s right and wrong. What a terrible thing. That’s oppression. And so we created these sort of value-free spaces, which conveys a value, which is that there’s no right or wrong. Everyone decides for themselves. Everyone’s opinion is equal. You should say your opinion. And then you get a lot of incivility.
What I would like to see is a revamped civics curriculum where we teach, very explicitly, the long tradition of left-right. We teach what each side is — you can’t say “right about,” that’s my language, but you teach what each side is concerned about, very much like the line here. Both are essential. One without the other creates an unbalanced American civic order. You need a party of progress or reform and a party of stability and order. That’s a paraphrase from John Stuart Mill. So I think that we could teach — in our civics classes, we could teach that the other side actually has a piece of the puzzle; both sides do. We need each other, more of a yin-yang idea. So I think there are indirect ways that we can foster these virtues in young people, which might lead to more practice.
Ms. Tippett: Right, so I mean I think we have to talk about virtues like virtues of hospitality, which also actually don’t even require you to like someone.
Mr. Haidt: Exactly. That’s right. So I think “virtue” sometimes gets a bad name, especially on the left, because it’s so associated with the Christian virtues and Christianity. But I think if we go back to an older Greek notion, where the virtues are excellences, arêtes. The arête, or excellence of a person is — well, there are many: to be hospitable, to be kind, to be honorable and honest. There are many virtues of a person. So I do think that virtue ethics is the only philosophical theory that matches human nature. I’d like to see us return to talking about virtues and teaching kids virtues. I think it would be helpful.
Ms. Tippett: OK. And do you have children?
Mr. Haidt: Yes.
Ms. Tippett: So I wonder — I’d be curious about how you take this science, what you learn through your science about being human, and how you — how it flows into your daily life, but also, in particular, what do you think you talk to your children about, do with your children, that you might not do if you weren’t practicing this profession?
Mr. Haidt: Yeah. I think — so it’s been much, much easier to do discipline, now that I’ve read about conservatives.
[laughter]
Because the temptation — my children are four and seven now, and when they were younger —because the liberal — my wife — I mean even though I’m a centrist, I’m a moderate, but by personality, I’m straight left. I’m a liberal personality. It’s allowed me to talk about, say, for example, being disrespectful. If I was still liberal, I would not have used that as part of raising my children. But now the concept — it’s not a big concept in our family, but at least I can talk about being respectful and disrespectful in ways — I mean about, like, adults. Like, “That’s not the right way to talk to adults.” Of course, liberals can do that, but I’m just saying there’s a certain conservative vocabulary about order, structure, and respect that’s easier for me now.
Ms. Tippett: Anything else that you would like to say, in the context of this conversation, that feels important in the sweep of your work?
Mr. Haidt: Let’s see. One of the first steps to solving these problems is to acknowledge your own limitations. Studying moral psychology has made me somewhat more humble. It’s made me realize that that my mind is gonna jump to conclusions, and they’re often wrong, and I can’t see that at first.
What’s been found about the way to make an effective apology, and this is just a good way to create any sort of change, is, start by saying what you’re wrong about. And so in any sort of politically charged encounter, don’t start off by making your case about what you’re right about. Start off by saying, my side has gotten some things wrong. We were wrong about this, historically, you guys were right about that. Or start off praising the other side. Start off in that way. Humility — your opponents could use it against you, but humility, acknowledging fault or praising something on the other side — I mean this is straight out of Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. But start off in that way, and then by the power of reciprocity, they’re more inclined to match you.
And what you want to avoid at all costs is the normal human interaction of — we’re combatants throwing arguments at each other for consumption, not by the other person, but by the onlookers. You want to avoid that dynamic. And so the power of apologies and acknowledgements and all the other stuff you need to do to prepare the ground for a conversation, that’s, I guess, what I’d most want to leave this group with, given that so many of you are engaged in trying to have these difficult conversations where the odds are against you, but it’s not impossible.
]
Ms. Tippett: Jonathan Haidt has written this: “To live virtuously as individuals and societies, we must understand how our minds are built. We must find ways to overcome our natural self-righteousness. We must respect and even learn from those whose morality differs from our own.”

$3 Worth of God, Please.

I’m reminded of those great lines from Wilbur Rees:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
John Hayes Howard in post on his Face Book Page

We See Through the Glass Darkly: We Need One Another

Human beings, even in the same families, are born with unbelievably different ways of being in the world. It seems like God really complicated life on earth by making us this diverse. Yet, the mystics of all the world’s religions insist that the spiritual reality is that we are all one.

And even the Apostle Paul tells Christians, that we, the person next to us in the pew, and presumably the Christians worshiping God across the street and around the corner, are the Body of Christ. Every single one of us is an indispensable part that needs all the other parts to function as Jesus Christ’s visible presence in the world today. When the smallest, least important part is ignored or neglected, the whole body suffers.

Some years ago, when reflecting on this scripture while preparing a sermon for a group of Directors of Christian Education from diverse denominations, a very disturbing image suddenly filled my mind. I saw a person with their arms flailing in different directions, their head twisting side to side, and their out of sync legs struggling to stumble forward even a little with each step.

I felt like I had been hit in the stomach as I grasped the reality that this is the Body of Christ now. I literally cried aloud, “God, what can I do?” And immediately into my mind came the answer, “Admit what you can’t do.”
Well, that took me several decades. 

But I have finally realized that neither I, nor any of us, can discern God’s will unless we recognize with Paul that we see through the glass darkly. No matter what our natural gifts or spiritual ministries are, we need to be humble enough to consider other visions, so we don’t block what the Spirit is saying to the Body of Christ at any particular moment in time. Our vision may be valid, but just not in God’s timing for a particular part of His motley crew of Christians.

And like Paul, I have finally come to see that the most important gift really is love. That no matter how wonderful our own gifts are, unless we do the work of God with hearts open to all, with gentleness, sensitivity, patience and above all, humility, we become a noisy clanging cymbal that cripples the Body of Christ and blocks our broken hurting world from hearing the love of God expressed in Jesus.

The Broken Body

Reflecting on the Body,
you the hand, I the foot,
Christ the head, perhaps the heart,
all at times the hidden part,
I let the Scriptures
flood my mind with images,
with suddenly one image,
a moving picture
so harshly real
I gasp aloud.
A person staggers
stumbles forward,
arms flailing, head jerking
back and forth in spasms,
body parts all pulling
different ways.
This then, reality,
Christ’s earthly body now.

God, forgive us.

The prayer of my heart:
“Jesus, I want so much to use the gifts God gave me and the gifts of your Spirit to bring your love to our broken world and hurting people. Give me both the courage to let God use me and the humility to accept God’s timing. But most of all teach me how to love humbly, so that I do not become a clanging gong or clashing cymbals blocking others from knowing your love.”