On Tuesday 1/29, I heard the host of “On Being” (https://onbeing.org) podcasts speak at Stanford University. Sponsored by the Haas Center for Service Learning, Krista Tippett is the Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor; her conversation with Abraham Verghese and Denise Pope centered on “Emerging Generations’ Redefinition of the Meaning of ‘Success.’”
For those not familiar with the project, each episode addresses three questions: What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? Fascinating interviews have been done with John O’Donoghue, Mary Oliver, Martin Sheen, David Whyte, Simone Campbell, Jean Vanier, Brene Brown, Jonathan Sacks, Richard Rohr, James Doty and Nikki Giovanni, among many others. While those interviewed explore the three deep questions, they’re encouraged to avoid dogma, certainty or the mention of God.
Amy Larocca does an in-depth study of the Tippett phenomenon in New York Magazine 1/17/19: (https://www.thecut.com/2019/01/npr-on-being-host-krista-tippet.html#_ga=2.23339834.1069807446.1548957347-348962154.1548957347).
She cites an interesting statistic:
people born between 1928 and 1945—85% identified as Christian
people born between 1989 and 1996– 56% identified as Christian.
While the figures definitely point to a more multi-cultural society, and don’t cite the believers who are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or members of other traditions, it’s still intriguing. It makes one wonder if we’ve reached a point where religious language has grown so tired, overused, or abstract that it doesn’t speak to contemporary seekers.
In the same article, Tippett says, “I do love deep religious conviction, and I really honor that, but I like the idea that we can hold that in a creative tension with a real humility before mystery.” She’s definitely touched a chord with the growing group that now rates their own acronym: SBNR (Spiritual but not religious). As our society grows crazier and harsher, many look for “stories and ideas and attitudes that resist or overwhelm the hostile staccato rhythm of most contemporary culture. All of this means that Tippett has very much met her moment.”
The focus of this discussion was on alternative definitions of success when money, celebrity and power don’t cut it. How could we set more thoughtful, compassionate goals? Pope’s research shows that the expectations placed on high school students come with high costs: anxiety, suicide ideation, eating disorders, sleep deprivation, intense anxiety. And it turns out that the choice of a college which many parents and teens agonize over doesn’t matter as much to life-long happiness as the level of student engagement once there. All the speakers exalted what they learned from failure, and called perfection “the booby prize in life.”
The evening’s most poignant moment came when Tippett asked Verghese (author of Cutting for Stone and professor at Stanford Medical School) to read one of his favorite poems: e.e.cummings’ “i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)”. He began, but teared up and asked Pope to read. A profound, unintended glimpse of what it means to be human!