I often listen to On Being episodes twice over. There is just so much there to take in, such depth and quality to it, and so much beauty. I love the way Christa Tippett is so gentle in her enquiry, but manages to get to the heart of it. She pulls at things and unpicks them, but is so full of compassion and respect. Hers is a true calling.
- Yesterday I listened to this episode with Maria Popova and Natalie Batalha half the morning. Cosmic Imagining, Civic Pondering - it's hard to put into words, but it changed the way I think about things. A beautiful mix of philosophy and science, the intrinsic link between concepts and communities. Science often feels daunting to me, the wide unknown, but of course that's the beauty of it. This discussion was a real joy.
'Besides our innate need to push frontiers and learn, and the joy — Carl Sagan’s “Understanding is a form of ecstasy” — I think understanding, knowledge, learning about the reality of our universe is a spiritual experience, in and of itself. I like to think that knowledge brings empathy.... I would contend that when we learn that the atoms that make up our cells were manufactured in the cores of stars, empathy grows, because you realize the connectedness not just of all humans, but of all humans and all living creatures, everything in our biosphere, our shared biosphere'
- I listened to this episode with Michael Longley last month, after I'd heard sad news. I was walking home and quietly wiping away tears as he recited The Ice Cream Man. Poetry is, to me, the most beautiful, often the saddest. It's a painting in words, a feeling in your heart from just a few lines. In The Vitality of Ordinary Things, Longley says 'If prose is a river, poetry is a fountain... In other words, poetry uses language in a way that’s free-flowing, and at the same time, shapely. And I do like the word shape. I like it too.
- Thinking about Hannah Arendt has rarely felt so appropriate. Duncan bought me one of her books a couple of years ago, and I keep coming back to it. This episode, with Lindsey Stonebridge, is called The Moral World in Dark Times; Hannah Arendt for Now and brings all her theories and politics into the light. There is a brilliant sense of exploration, of interrogating every part within our context politically, within our context personally. The way that she explores empathy, and our continued centring of ourselves as part of the problem felt striking to me:
Well, I think for her — she was critical of pity, and she wrote very famously in her On Revolution book that what she didn’t like about pity is it kept the power relationship. Other people’s suffering — the one who’s doing the pitying or the empathizing keeps the power... And what she says to do is not just to empathize, but to actually build blueprints, or worlds, or frames for understanding experience that is not ours, that cannot be incorporated into ours. So why I think it’s different from empathy or pity is, when you are imagining — because you’re imagining to be empathetic or to share suffering — you’re immediately incorporating that experience into a view of yourself and your own worldview.
What Arendt wanted was actually something a bit more radical than that, is to imagine something that’s not your world, that makes you feel uncomfortable. And that’s where the work has to start.