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On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral i



 



Anthropologist Helen Fisher explores the biological workings of...

Thu, 05 Apr 2018 15:03:56 -0500

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Anthropologist Helen Fisher explores the biological workings of our intimate passions, the brew of chemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters that make the thrilling and sometimes treacherous realms of love and sex. In the research she does for match.com and her TED Talks that have been viewed by millions of people, she wields science as an entertaining, if sobering, lens on what feel like the most meaningful encounters of our lives. In this deeply personal conversation, she shows how it is possible to take on this knowledge as a form of wisdom and power. 




Movies delight and inspire and repel. They’re places the...

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 15:42:50 -0600

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Movies delight and inspire and repel. They’re places the big questions we take up at On Being land in the heart of our lives. They change our lives and our life together. Get out the popcorn for this show, and immerse yourself in film scores and iconic movie moments — with David Greene on how Star Wars changed him, Ashley C. Ford on The Nightmare Before Christmas, Rubén Blades on the 1943 noir Western The Ox-Bow Incident, and more.




The tensions of our time are well-known. But there are stories...

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 14:41:41 -0600

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The tensions of our time are well-known. But there are stories that are not being told, because they are not violent and not shouting to be heard. One of them is that all over this country, synagogues and mosques, Muslims and Jews, have been coming to know one another. There is friendship. There are initiatives that are patiently, and at human scale, planting the seeds for new realities across generational time. As part of the Civil Conversations Project, a live conversation at the Union for Reform Judaism’s General Assembly in Boston between Imam Abdullah Antepli and Rabbi Sarah Bassin.




Go to the doctor and they won’t begin to treat you without...

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:31:11 -0600

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Go to the doctor and they won’t begin to treat you without taking your history — and not just yours, but that of your parents and grandparents before you. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson points this out as she reflects on her epic work of narrative non-fiction, The Warmth of Other Suns. She’s immersed herself in the stories of the Great Migration, the diaspora of six million African Americans to the north of the U.S. in the 20th century. It’s a carrier of untold histories and truths that help make sense of human and social challenges newly visible at the heart of our life together.




The poet Christian Wiman is giving voice to the hunger and...

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:11:53 -0600

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The poet Christian Wiman is giving voice to the hunger and challenge of being religious now. He had a charismatic Texas Christian upbringing, and was later agnostic. He became actively religious again as he found love in his mid-30s, and was diagnosed with cancer. He’s written, “How does one remember God, reach for God, realize God in the midst of one’s life if one is constantly being overwhelmed by that life?”




Mysticism is the birthright of every human being, says Br. David...

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 21:33:41 -0600

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Mysticism is the birthright of every human being, says Br. David Steindl-Rast. He speaks of the anatomy and practice of gratitude as full-blooded, reality-based, and redeeming. Now in his 90s, he has lived through a world war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country. He was an early pioneer, together with Thomas Merton, of dialogue between Christian and Buddhist monastics. He’s also given a TED talk, viewed over six million times, on the subject of gratitude — a practice increasingly interrogated by scientists and physicians as a key to human well-being.




“When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered,...

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 16:30:34 -0600

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“When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers. And that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” A singular writer and thinker, Rebecca Solnit celebrates the unpredictable and incalculable events that so often redeem our lives, both solitary and public. She searches for the hidden, transformative histories inside and after events we chronicle merely as disasters, in places like post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

history, disaster, revolution, environment, community, natural disaster, crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Dorothy Day, Hope in the Dark




The wise and lyrical writer Adam Gopnik muses on the ironies of...

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:00:30 -0600

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The wise and lyrical writer Adam Gopnik muses on the ironies of spiritual life in a secular age through the lens of his many fascinations — from parenting, to the arts, to Darwin. He touches on all these things in a conversation inspired by his foreword to The Good Book, in which novelists, essayists, and activists who are not known as religious thinkers write about their favorite biblical passages. Our ancestors acknowledged doubt while practicing faith, he says; we moderns are drawn to faith while practicing doubt.




No challenge before us is more important — and more potentially...

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 12:00:19 -0600

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No challenge before us is more important — and more potentially life-giving — than that we come to see and know our fellow citizens, our neighbors, who have become strangers. Journalist Anand Giridharadas and Whitney Kimball Coe of the Rural Assembly have two very different histories and places in our life together. But they are both stitching relationship across the ruptures that have made politics thin veneers over human dramas of power and frailty, fear and hope. We spoke at the Obama Foundation’s inaugural summit in Chicago.




Ta-Nehisi Coates is a poetic journalist and a defining voice of...

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 15:00:21 -0600

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a poetic journalist and a defining voice of our times. He’s with us in a conversation that is joyful and hard and kind, soaring and down-to-earth all at once. He spoke with Krista as part of the 2017 Chicago Humanities Festival before an audience of over 1,500 people, black and white, young and old. To a teacher in the audience who asks how to speak to the young now about the complexity of our world, he says, “Give me the tools. Arm me. Allow me to be able to understand why. That’s not hope, but I think that’s the sort of perspective I would’ve come from, at that age.”




The new field of epigenetics sees that genes can be turned on...

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 13:00:12 -0600

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The new field of epigenetics sees that genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior. Rachel Yehuda is a pioneer in understanding how the effects of stress and trauma can transmit biologically, beyond cataclysmic events, to the next generation. She has studied the children of Holocaust survivors and of pregnant women who survived the 9/11 attacks. But her science is a form of power for flourishing beyond the traumas large and small that mark each of our lives and those of our families and communities.




Her unconventional studies have long suggested what neuroscience...

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 12:26:46 -0500

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Her unconventional studies have long suggested what neuroscience is now revealing: Our experiences are formed by the words and ideas we attach to them. Naming something play rather than work — or exercise rather than labor — can mean the difference between delight and drudgery, fatigue or weight loss. What makes a vacation a vacation is not only a change of scenery, but the fact that we let go of the mindless everyday illusion that we are in control. Ellen Langer says mindfulness is achievable without meditation or yoga. She defines it as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”




What does a good day look like? This is the question that...

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 11:55:05 -0500

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What does a good day look like? This is the question that transformed Atul Gawande’s practice of medicine. He’s a citizen physician on frontiers of human agency and meaning in light of what modern medicine makes possible. In his writing in The New Yorker, and in his book Being Mortal, he’s opening a new conversation about what dying has to do with living.




“When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists...

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:30:26 -0500

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“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.




It’s easy to despair at all the bad news and horrific pictures...

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 13:00:25 -0500

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It’s easy to despair at all the bad news and horrific pictures that come at us daily. But Roshi Joan Halifax says this is a form of empathy that works against us. There’s such a thing as pathological altruism. This zen abbot and medical anthropologist has nourishing wisdom as we face suffering in the world.




With his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman emerged...

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 14:00:10 -0500

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With his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman emerged as one of the most intriguing voices on the complexity of human thought and behavior. He is a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics for helping to create the field of Behavioral Economics. He is a self-described “constant worrier.” And it’s fun, helpful, and more than a little unnerving to apply his insights into why we think and act the way we do in this moment of social and political tumult.




“When it comes to the world around us,” Lisa Randall has...

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 12:00:26 -0500

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“When it comes to the world around us,” Lisa Randall has written, “is there any choice but to explore?”  As one of the most influential theoretical physicists working today, she’s interested in the interconnectedness between fields that have previously operated more autonomously: astronomy, biology, and paleontology. She’s pursuing a theory that “dark matter” might have created the cosmic event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs — and hence humanity’s rise as a species. We learn what she’s discovering, as well as the human questions and takeaways her work throws into relief.




“In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” A...

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 15:28:42 -0500

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“In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” A mystic, a 20th-century religious intellectual, a social change agent, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., famously saying afterwards that he felt his legs were praying. Heschel’s poetic theological writings are still read and widely studied today. His faith was as much about “radical amazement” as it was about certainty. And he embodied the passionate social engagement of the prophets, drawing on wisdom at once provocative and nourishing.




“What a peculiar year this has been, for us all. I am...

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 16:32:00 -0500

(image)

“What a peculiar year this has been, for us all. I am grateful for all that transcends those difficult particulars.” —Esther Cohen

Our friends, the photographer Matthew Septimus and poet Esther Cohen, have created a new postcard series for the ten Days of Awe: County Route 20 for Prayers between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year’s project, Esther says, focuses “on the road of life, the road from Earth to the moon, beauty that persists in spite of floods and governments, the roads we all take. More than what happens.”
To all our brothers and sisters, l'shanah tovah. Happy new year and gratitude to all engage in this world.




“From the bottom will the genius come that makes our ability to...

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 13:57:21 -0500

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“From the bottom will the genius come that makes our ability to live with each other possible. I believe that with all my heart.” These are the words of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz. His hope is fiercely reality-based, a product of centuries lodged in his body of African-Caribbean suffering, survival, and genius.