Saturday, August 23, 2014

This I Believe

I'm a big fan of This I Believe, in all its incarnations going back to Edward R. Murrow in '51 and up to its most recent run on NPR. Jay Allison, the radio journalist who brought it to NPR as host, curator, and book editor, is this afternoon's convocation speaker at my school. Incoming freshmen were to read the first of Allison's book installments gathering some of those short broadcast essays through the years, from the famous and the obscure alike.

A colleague announced yesterday, during our perspirant cross-campus stroll to theannual Fall Faculty gathering in Tucker Auditorium, that he despises the franchise, and turns off the radio whenever TIB comes on. Same for Story Corps, which I also adore.

I was initially shocked, but on reflection not so surprised. Our sensibilities are radically different. I go for earnest expressions of secular spirituality and humanity. Suffice to say, he doesn't. "This I Believe invites citizens to share beliefs." Maybe he thinks we get more than enough of that in our classrooms. I think we need to work harder at understanding the minds and hearts of our classmates and neighbors and especially our antagonists.
"As in the 1950s, this is a time when belief is dividing the nation and the world," says Allison about life today. "We are not listening well, not understanding each other -- we are simply disagreeing, or worse. Working in broadcast communication, there's a responsibility to change that, to cross borders, to encourage some empathy. That possibility is what inspires me about this series."
In reviving This I Believe, Allison and [his TIB partner Dan] Gediman say their goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, they hope to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.
For my part, it's not "respect for beliefs" so much as respect for other persons and recognition of the humanity of those who hold beliefs different from my own, that makes TIB so valuable.

I've believed many things at different times, and have even posted some of them for the TIB archive. I believe the exercise of summarizing and sharing core convictions is a life-affirming act.

One more thing: I believe my colleague should submit a TIB essay explaining why he dislikes TIB. Then he should turn his radio back on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

James, Wells, and pragmatic seduction

William James scandalized his brother Henry during a visit with the latter in England, by mounting  a ladder and peering into the garden next door in hopes of spotting G.K. Chesterton. The story is well-known among Jamesians, but David Lodge's fictionalized version in A Man of Parts adds a delightful layer of (presumably) invented but entirely plausible detail, bringing H.G. Wells and his young mistress (whose favorite philosopher was F.C.S. Schiller) into the scene.

A few pages earlier we're treated to Wells' seductive explication of Pragmatism.

I've related roughly the same account many times, to many young people, but without Wells' results.  Or intentions.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To live or die with dignity

I have always tried to make sense of things. There must be some reason I am as I am...  I am no longer immortal. I am growing old, and my body is deteriorating, and, like all of you, it will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could've lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man... than live for all eternity as a machine. [I want] to be acknowledged... for who and what I am- no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval. The simple truth of that recognition- this has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die... with dignity. Bicentennial Man... EmzaO On Robin Williams
"Will every human being that I care for just... leave?"

"That won't do."  

No, it won't.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What College Can’t Do

It can't fix "modernity," it can't give you a soul. But (I say) it can make you more spiritual and soulful (depending on what you mean by that, of course; I mean more alive, more sensitive to the natural conditions and possibilities and preciousness of life) and it can make you smarter about things you never would have considered. That goes for the Ivy League, for Tiny Liberal Arts College, and for Enormous State University alike.

But it's true: you've got to do the reading.
"Part of the value of a humanistic education has to do with a consciousness of, and a familiarity with, the limits that you’ll spend the rest of your life talking about and pushing against. So it’s probably natural for college students to be a little ironic, a little unsettled. It’s time, meanwhile, to admit that the college years aren’t for figuring out some improvised “sense of purpose.” They’re more like a period of acclimatization—a time when realizations can dawn. If you’re feeling uneasy about life, then you’re doing the reading."
What College Can’t Do - The New Yorker

What's college for? "Thinking your way toward your own definition of success." via

There are powerful forces in our society actively hostile to the college ideal, that distrust critical thinking

Pretty good sheep: It's Fall Faculty Meeting day at my school this morning, the annual inaugural summons to co...

'The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.' – John Dewey Accelerating Intelligence News