Category Archives: evolving

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.

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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.”

Expensive Grace

Anything that annoys you is teaching you patience.                                                                             Anyone who abandons you is teaching you how to stand up on your own two feet.                   Anything that angers you is teaching you forgiveness and compassion.                                       Anything that has power over you is teaching you how to take your power back.                        Anything you hate is teaching you unconditional love.                                                                        Anything you fear is teaching you courage to overcome your fear.                                                  Anything you can’t control is teaching you how to let go.
Jackson Kiddard Quotebook.in

The Narrow Gate

My memories collide with one another,
congesting into
higgley-piggley log jams
in my mind.
Complexity clutters my understanding
and confusions of
cobwebs cling to my bold
broken dreams.
Creativity thickens and congeals,
dwindling into small,
fallow pools clotted with
frustration.
Idols of old truths and securities
crack from the weight of
my twin to Thomas doubt and
Judas fear.
Now, a voice within gently warns me,
“Narrow gate ahead!
You must not be afraid
to let go.”
So, in this present moment I must trust
my inner Spirit
to transform even this
suffering,
with her woman’s powerful compassion
that can turn empty deserts
into hearts fertile
from her tears.

EON 1991

The Death of Feminine Values?

I am struggling with the turns feminism has taken. I thought it was about freeing women to be themselves, not expecting them all to want and be good at the same things, and that women who needed to work or chose to work outside the home would be rewarded equally with men. And my hopes for it were that it would bring traditional feminine values into the places of power traditionally held by men. I realize that not all women are nurturing, any more than all men are competitive. So when I talk about traditional feminine or masculine values, I am not limiting the yin and yang of them exclusively to either gender. Of course, like any movement or theory, we manage somehow to always take it to illogical extremes. Our economy has adjusted to two salaries and now, unless we marry and both partners work or one partner makes a whole lot of money, women need to work. So, the ones that want to be hands on with raising their children and love to cook and decorate and create and maintain beauty and welcome for others in their home environments are more and more forced into working outside the home, often in very limiting and non-creative jobs. And many women, who are not married, live close to poverty.
I went to an exhibit at the Frist museum recently on the history of the Samurai. Samurai were the greatly respected and highly honored soldiers of Japan. During a long peaceful time in Japan’s history, there were women Samurai. This period led to better treatment for women. Though better is a relative thing. Still, it surprised me, since this was a long time ago and  it was a position of honor traditionally only held by men.
In Sweden, Dads are now being given turns with wives at new parent time off from work. And two American women have qualified as Army Rangers. The whole point these days is to not consider anything as identified appropriate for only one gender.                                       This would work out, if nurturing professions and skills were rewarded the same as combative ones. Though the rank and file of the military don’t get paid extravagant salaries, as long as they are on active duty they live in a completely socialistic society. Retired military used to have pretty much the same benefits, but with constant wars the cost of supporting the military and war has gone up with corresponding cuts in veteran benefits and services. If you aren’t actively killing enemies, you aren’t important any more. Teachers are underpaid.  They are not provided free medical care, reasonable housing, cheap retail prices, inexpensive or free social activities, free churches and religious education, and special schools for their children. And frankly these days a lot of schools in the civilian arena are the equivalent of war zones.                                                           I think what I am trying to say is that while I want women and men to be equal, I also want traditional feminine values such as nurture and inclusiveness, to be considered equally important and rewarded as such.                                                                                                             Sexual mores are obviously now emphasizing the pleasure of sex as more important than its role in creating, deepening, and strengthening relationships. When the immediate gratification through pleasure becomes the accepted goal in life, relationships become disposable. Human relationships are simply not constantly pleasurable. They aren’t even meant to be. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake only, with no balancing maturing in relationships, leads to a population of aging irresponsible children.                                               Okay, I haven’t thought all of this through, so I need to stop and reflect on it. It’s hard to free myself from my generation’s programming enough to discern what is progress and what is throwing the baby out with the bath water. I tend to think traditional feminine values (not roles) are more evolved than masculine ones, so I don’t want to have those values disappear.  Obviously, I am prejudiced. But, before I take a break, I have one funny story that sort of illustrates some of the challenges.

Some years ago I had an army staff sergeant friend who had fought in Korea and Vietnam. Close to the end of his twenty years, he was given a cushy staff assignment in Boston near his wife’s hometown. After several staff meetings with his female officers all crying at times in each meeting, he volunteered to go to Korea, which was not a cushy assignment. I could understand a reasonably kind, but combat seasoned soldier, being uncomfortable with weeping officers, but I also wondered if the officers on all sides of conflicts cried instead of becoming aggressive, maybe it would cut down on the wars. After all, Jesus wept, why shouldn’t we.

 

Passiondeathresurrection: the Narrow Gate

Our human nature resists the whole concept of suffering. If there is a God worth calling God, why would the innocent and good have to suffer?
If this life is all there is, then there really doesn’t appear to be any reasonable answer to that.
And in my own experience, the more people I let myself care about, never-the-less love, the more I open myself to suffering. How much more would I suffer if I truly loved, or even just cared moderately about all humanity, all animals, perhaps even all creation?
Part of the mystery of suffering is that it seems to be part and parcel of loving. Loving involves being willing to suffer for another and others. Most of us have trouble loving even one person that we choose for a lifetime and  sure don’t want to even consider loving people that look or think very differently than we do.
The Jews longed for a Messiah, a Savior, for literally thousands of years. Have you ever wondered why a close friend, a follower who witnessed the miracles, the power, and the kindness of Jesus would betray him to the point of giving him over to suffer and die. What brought Judas to that kind of hatred?
The shattered expectation that the Messiah would save the Jews, God’s chosen people, from suffering.                                                         Judas witnessed the reality of the power Jesus had, but more and more he saw Jesus using it to save the enemy. And unlike optimistic Peter, he heard what Jesus was beginning to say about his own coming suffering, even dying, instead of freeing them from the tyranny of Rome , the impoverishment of Roman taxes, the constant threat of their children becoming random victims of a ruler’s whim. Judas wanted a triumphant King, not a suffering servant. Disillusionment turned hope into bitterness and hate.
What kind of love was choosing to die rather than to save God’s chosen people?
We still struggle with that question.
Without the resurrection, surely we would all endorse the survival of the fittest at the expense of the vulnerable. If we believed this life is all there is, would we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We saw where that led Jesus. It led him through the acceptance of the refining of suffering, the acceptance of  humbling helplessness and the crushing feeling of abandonment, even finally through the gate of death itself and only then to resurrection.
The reality is that life is made up of cycles of struggling with suffering until we can accept the deaths of our idols and illusions, the things we cling to out of fear, and only then can we be reborn freer to love each time. Only then do we grow better at loving other imperfect people up close and personal and to care about even the lepers, the hostile, the foreign, the frightening, and the lost.
Life’s natural process includes loss, helplessness, letting go, experiencing the peace of acceptance, then the rebirth of gratitude and humility that leads to love, joy and fruitfulness.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one process word.

Perspective : Poverty and Affluence

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’re a walking history book of sorts. I’ve known six generations of my own family, been through five wars involving America, personally experienced both affluent times and scary times of scarcity, lived in big cities and in back woods’ ‘hollers,’ and traveled to fifteen foreign countries, some of them several times. My father’s family were very wealthy until the depression. Then they lost everything. There were nine children. The older ones experienced all the trimmings of affluence, summer homes and homes abroad. The older boys became Vice Presidents of their father’s company and the girls were debutantes. But, the younger ones had to make it on their own. Though as one of the younger ones, my father didn’t get to finish college, he eventually became an editor of a big city newspaper. This didn’t make us rich. I grew up living in apartments. And in my younger years I was frighteningly aware at times that we lived close to the precipice of poverty. But a newspaper editor has a certain amount of status and connections. One senator, who eventually ended up President, in his early political years asked my father to be his press secretary. Speaking and writing English properly were important in my family. My husband’s father on the other hand grew up seriously poor in a large family. His English was not always perfect. He worked from a very young age, put himself through college, and became a very successful lawyer.  He knew several American Presidents, even had Jack and Jackie Kennedy to brunch at his home. My husband, as the youngest of five, grew up affluent in a house with twelve fire places, that later became a private school. We ourselves have experienced being reasonably affluent. But through a combination of circumstances and timing, we went through some financially challenging times.  Those included an unforgettable night with our whole family out in the snow.  My husband was cutting down a tree,  while the rest of us passed logs in an assembly line for the wood burning stove, both to keep us warm and keep the pipes from freezing.

There are some things I have learned from the rich variety of my life experiences.

Ancestors do not define us.
Money doesn’t make us virtuous, but poverty doesn’t either.
Neither does knowledge make us wise.
Adversity can, but does not necessarily, strengthen us.
What we mean is more important than how we say it.
Ultimately, what’s inside us will matter much more than our circumstances.
There’s a difference between smart people and intelligent ones, but I need to learn from both.                                                                                                                                                                       I delight in talented people and am actually most comfortable around people who march to a different drummer than the majority.                                                                                                     I  have grown to particularly appreciate people who have persevered and become compassionate through seriously hard times.
I am enriched by any kind of beauty whether in nature, art, music, people, or things, but don’t need to own them to experience joy from them.
I have enjoyed having money for extras in life.
However, I am most grateful for the enlightenment that comes from experiencing a taste of the limits and fears that go with poverty, but also discovering the possibilities in the wider world that come with affluence.
And now at this age, there are two characteristics that I value more than anything else: simple kindness and the humility to laugh at ourselves.

Darkness before Dawn

If this quote is too obscure, read on down to my translation.

When you get hooked into emotional reactivity, an opportunity has come to cleanse your perception.
From the perspective of wholeness, triggers are a special form of grace. Not the sort of grace that is sweet, peaceful, and calming, but the kind that is wrathful, fierce, and reorganizing.
When it gets tight, claustrophobic, and you are burning for relief, the invitation is laid before you. To lay down a new pathway. To turn into the disturbing energy and flood it with presence. To infuse the vulnerability underneath the storyline with warm, empathic attunement.
And with the earth as your witness, to commit to the radical path of non-abandonment.
These triggers are not obstacles to your path, but are the very path itself. While they may disturb you, they are eruptions of creativity and aliveness, and guardians at the threshold. In this way, they are worthy of your honor, your care, and your holding.
While it may appear otherwise, they are only love in disguise, appearing in infinite forms to guide you home.
~Matt Licata   From the Blog: Make Believe Boutique

My translation:  When life throws you down and defeats you and you are reeling in pain and railing against fate, go with the suffering.  Enter it and feel it. Curl into a fetal position and weep bitterly, if you need to, but accept the grace of the pain. Don’t run from any part of it.  Don’t project blame on others.  Don’t use anger as an escape. Don’t sink into self pity or self justification. Don’t seek revenge. Don’t play “what if….?” Because this is a doorway to rebirth.  This is a cross you die on, so that you can become a new person, with new wisdom, new strength, and a new ability to love more deeply, both others and yourself.

 

 

Nothing is Permanent Except Change

 

One of Louise Penny’s characters, Myrna, who is a psychologist in the book Still Life, discusses a quote, “Life is loss.”
Myrna goes on to say, “But out of that comes freedom. If we can accept that nothing is permanent, and that change is inevitable, if we can adapt, then we are going to be happier people.” (My note: Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament emphasizes the same idea.)
Myrna explains a turning point in her career and life, “I woke up one morning bent out of shape about this client who was forty-three but acting sixteen. For three years he had always had the same complaints, ‘Someone hurt me. Life is unfair. It’s not my fault.’
For three years I’d been making suggestions and for three years he’d done nothing. I suddenly understood. He had no intention of changing…
Many people love their problems. They give them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life…… They spend their whole life waiting for someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world.
The thing is, no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get them out of it….but that is the grace.….the fault lies within them, but so does the solution.”

These thoughts speak to my stage of life and current challenges. My life has changed drastically since the beginning of this year.  But what I am experiencing is that while there are sorrows in life that have no physical solution, we can change how we see them and find the gift they bring.

Just last fall my husband and I traveled with one of our sons around the South West of France.  This is Middle Pyrenees’ country so it involved quite a bit of uphill walking and stair climbing. My husband wants to explore every inch of Castles and ruins. We recently turned eighty and seventy-nine, so it was a challenge, but we managed it using a walker in some places and taking lots of Bistro breaks. He still designs on his computer in his home Architecture office and I cook and clean, do his bookkeeping, and chauffeur grandchildren and friends to malls, museums, restaurants and even the zoo. I also lead worship once a month and began at seventy-five doing some stand up comedy on aging. So, though no longer young, we had interesting and purposeful lives.

Until New Year’s Eve.

Then I became ill with a respiratory infection and ended up bedridden for three weeks. The day after I got well enough to grocery shop, we were shut in by snow and ice for two weeks.  The next week, I tripped carrying laundry down our hall and broke my right shoulder in three places.  The two weeks waiting for surgery were unbelievably hard for both of us.  I was totally helpless and in excruciating pain even with pain medicine, so my husband had to do everything for me around the clock. But his tenderness and constant concern for me brought us to a whole new level of intimacy and love. I had never felt so cherished and tenderly and totally loved by anyone except God. Even in the worst pain I had ever experienced, there was joy.

But after my reverse shoulder replacement surgery, it was obvious my husband was too exhausted to continue taking care of me. So I went to a nursing home for physical therapy for two weeks to get over the worst of my pain and helplessness and give him time to recoup. After the first few days, I actually enjoyed the people I met in therapy.  Even the therapists and nurses were kind and laughed at my jokes.  The food was amazingly good, and my room was filled with beautiful flowers. Friends and family came to visit bringing treats. I didn’t have to clean or cook and aides even helped me shower and dress.  After eating in my room a few days until I could manage it left handed without baptizing those near me, I went to the beautiful sunny dining room for meals. The first day, since dressing took help, I was in my slightly scroungy clothes for Physical Therapy. So I felt seriously intimidated when I realized the other women were dressed in elegant suits with matching jewelry.  I soon relaxed however when a caregiver came around and put large terry cloth bibs on all of us.  Bibs are a great leveler.  I confess there were times after I returned home that I missed my vacation experience.  As I left the facility the therapists and nurses asked me to return to do some stand up comedy for the people living there.

When I came home we managed well with lots of help from our son and daughter-in- law who live near by and friends at church who fed us frequently for two months. My husband drove me to out patient therapy and we celebrated each bit of progress such as the red letter day I could use my right hand for eating and brushing my teeth. Becoming able to shower and then finally even dress myself  were momentous events. With each small accomplishment I felt like an Olympic winner.

But, then my husband, who has had lung problems previously, came down with the respiratory infection.  After three weeks in bed none of the steroids or antibiotics had helped and he was fighting to breathe and almost too weak to get to the car.  He was hospitalized for two weeks while the increased steroids and antibiotics not only didn’t help him, but gave him thrush in his mouth and throat and a yeast infection in his esophagus. A bronchoscopy finally showed that he had serious permanent lung damage from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is incurable and progressive. They sent us home with my husband too weak to walk, unable to get up from a chair without help, and still having trouble breathing when sitting up or standing. Fortunately, I had been cleared to drive the day before he went to the hospital and even our children who lived in other cities and states rallied and helped get us through the first hard weeks. About mid-May my husband began to go to therapy with me to build up muscles in his legs. We were managing fairly well with two walkers and a new to us larger car we had just gotten at Christmas.  Good timing once again.

We found many people our age and even younger with problems similar or worse than ours at therapy.  And we bonded with them and laughed together more and more. We went to therapy three days a week and it became the highlight of our week.  We both improved enough that when I ran out of Medicare for therapy, he was able to continue on his own. When we were able to go back to church everyone applauded and welcomed us back with hugs, which I managed to turn my left side toward.   Grace abounds in community, whether of shared challenges or shared faith.

We found that we were still limited in how much we could do physically. If we did what used to be a normal amount one day, we were wiped out the next. My natural rhythm for work is to work in spurts and do something pleasant and sedentary in between, so it suited me to not over do. (In fact, it was sort of nice not to have to feel guilty about it.) But my husband just naturally works until a job is done or he is exhausted, so this was a difficult adjustment for him. Finding some TV series that were mentally stimulating on Netflix helped him accept the need to rest and increased our time spent together. For a while, I needed to do most of the house hold chores my husband used to do, like taking garbage out and filling bird feeders and watering outside plants.  After his devotion to me when I broke my shoulder, it was a joy to have the chance to do things for him.  He had always preferred cold cereal while he read the paper undisturbed early in the morning, so I used to sleep in (I tend to want to talk). Now I managed to get up four or five days to fix hot breakfasts that he needed and now began to enjoy. He even started reading bits of things from the paper to me and we discussed them or laughed about them.  More and more we have begun to see the humor in even frustrating things.  These are new blessings for us.

To be continued…………Learning to Live One Day at a Time.