Steadfast St. Patrick

Cemetary and Irish crosses on an overcast day,  Connemara, Galway, Ireland
A cemetery on hill overlooking the water, just off the Wild Atlantic route from Galway city towards Connemara, County Galway, Ireland

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and marks the death in 461 of one of the great patron saints of Ireland, credited with converting much of Ireland to Christianity. We mark this day with parades and public drinking, as St. Patrick’s Day breaks up the abstemious Lenten season with sanctioned festivities, and marks the progress towards Easter and the end of fasting. The figure of St. Patrick—or Patricius, as the Pope named him–embodies the virtues of Piety, Zeal, Forgiveness, Fortitude, Diligence, Compassion, and Perseverance or Steadfastness, among others. Tomorrow St. Patrick may also serve as a rueful reminder of Temperance, but today we might concentrate on his heroic Perseverance as a quality that has impressed people the world over for more than fifteen hundred years.

 

Patrick’s life began in good circumstances. He was born in Scotland or Wales around the year 385 to parents who were Roman Christians, and his father enjoyed some status as a church deacon. Although Patrick claims not to have cared much about religion as a youth, when he was captured at 16 by raiding pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave, he turned to Christianity. After six or seven years of tending sheep, he heard a voice telling him to escape, seized his chance, and ran away, convincing a ship’s crew to take him back home. When they landed, nearly starving, he impressed them by promising they would be rewarded if they put their faith in God, and they subsequently encountered a herd of wild pigs, making believers out of his companions. Patrick returned to his family, went to France to become a monk, and eventually went back to Ireland, where he became Archbishop of Armagh.

 

Although he held high office, Patrick did not have an easy time in Ireland. He seems to have refused the gifts of kings, which would have left him unprotected by systems of fosterage and exchange. He lived mostly in poverty, and on at least one occasion was beaten and robbed. He made it his mission to convert as many people as possible to Christianity, which cannot always have been met with happiness by the converted, and it is said that he converted thousands. He is credited with inventing the Celtic cross and with using the shamrock’s three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity, which is why the shamrock is associated with St. Patrick’s Day. These last are probably myths, but they are part of the lore that binds him to Ireland and Irish nationalism.

 

Because of the hardships of his life and the choices he made rejecting the life of status and comfort available to him as the Roman son of a deacon, Saint Patrick is credited with great faith, and great perseverance. In his Confessio he writes “…[S]o that I might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure insults from unbelievers; that I might hear scandal of my travels, and endure man persecutions to the extent of prison; and so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others, and if I should be worthy, I am ready to give even my life without hesitation; and most willingly for His name. And I choose to devote it to him even unto death, if God grant it to me.” His steadfastness and certainty makes it apparent why he eventually became associated with  Irish heroism and Irish nationalism.

 

Perhaps the strangest deed he is known for is the feat of driving the snakes out of Ireland. Since there were no snakes in Ireland at the time, people interpret this story as a figurative description of Patrick’s missionary work, where snakes symbolize Satan, or evil, or Druids. He is sometimes blamed for the deaths of scores of Druids, though other historians argue that Christianity already had a strong foothold in Ireland even before Patrick arrived. Some argue that his heroic act of snake expulsion signals Patrick’s association with older festivals on March 17th such as the Roman Feast of Liberalia and the hero feast of Cú Chulainne (see https://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/liberalia-hero-feast-of-cu-chulainn/)

 

Liberalia is associated with the god Dionysius, or Bacchus in Greek, from which we get the term bacchanalia. This—along with relief at the temporary cessation of the deprivations associated with Lent—might explain the celebration of drinking that characterizes St. Patrick’s Day. The great Irish hero Cú Chulainne is associated with Dionysius, and was also the traditional protector of the area around Armagh, where Patrick was Archbishop. Patrick is also associated with the heroism of Cú Chulainne in the story of Patrick’s conversion of King Lóegaire to Christianity, where Cú Chulainne appears in Lóegaire’s chariot to warn him about the torments of hell.

 

Besides his fortitude, admirers of St. Patrick also value his institutional and cultural legacy. Indeed, his conversion of Ireland to Christianity has been seen by many as crucial to the preservation of European culture during the Dark Ages, though this view is controversial. Thomas Cahill, who argues in How the Irish Saved Civilization that after the fall of Rome, maintains that the preservation of so many manuscripts and traditions by the clergy Patrick trained kept the West from falling into barbarity. St. Patrick is thus associated with learning, and also seen as the patron saint of engineers and of arts and crafts, in part because he is credited with introducing the use of lime mortar and ceramic work in Ireland. Teaching the Irish to build arches of lime mortar instead of dry masonry allowed them to construct churches, and the cultivation of associated clay and ceramic work led to Irish arts and crafts.

 

Christians view Patrick’s unshakeable faith as an infused virtue, but Patrick’s extraordinary acquired virtue of perseverance also explains why he is such a beloved figure to the Irish. In an earlier post, Candace Vogler explains that in Western philosophy and religious studies, an “acquired virtue” is a character strength that you develop by doing the things you are supposed to do, whereas an “infused virtue” is a strength that is given to you (link). Patrick was a man of great faith, to be sure, but he was also a man of amazing stick-to-itiveness. Like Cú Chulainne and Hercules, St. Patrick’s steadfastness allowed him to achieve heroic things in the face of hopelessness and great adversity, and explains why he became the patron saint of Ireland and the inspiration to the Irish diaspora around the world. So today, if you raise a glass in celebration, also give a thought to what can be done in the world with perseverance, and steadfastness, and the virtue of holding true to a purpose greater than yourself.


Jaime Hovey is Associate Program Director for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Virtue Talk Podcast: Dan P. McAdams on Generativity

virtuetalklogorsClick the link below to hear our scholar Dan P. McAdams discuss his psychology research in generativity and redemptive life narratives.

Dan P. McAdams | Virtue Talk

 

 

 

 

WGM_20151218_1325
Dan P. McAdams presenting his research while Candace Vogler listens, at the December 2015 working group meeting.

Dan P. McAdams is the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University. He was awarded the Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University in 1979.
McAdams studies personality development across the human life course, with an emphasis on the narratives that people construct to make meaning out of their lives. He is the author most recently of THE REDEMPTIVE SELF:  STORIES AMERICANS LIVE BY (Oxford University Press, 2013) and THE ART AND SCIENCE OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT (Guilford Press, 2015), and President-elect of the Association for Research in Personality.

Subscribe

Preview on iTunes

Read about our new podcast “Virtue Talk”

Civility and Virtue

 

selinute antica civilt greca sito archeologico trapani sicilia
Selinute antica civiltà greca sito archeologico trapani sicilia.

Can self-transcendence make us more civil? Is incivility the inevitable product of a self-absorbed culture?

 

The name-calling, bullying innuendo, and rude speech that characterizes the political arena this election season have caused many journalists to question the effects of incivility on public political discourse generally and on children in particular. This may be because journalists see that many families are talking about the candidates with each other, some families are watching the debates together, and kids are overhearing adults discussing politicians and their actions. My own second-grader has come home from school on more than one occasion bursting with opinions about candidates from both parties. When I asked her where she got these ideas from, she told me that “all the kids” are talking about politics.

 

Perhaps the main reason why journalists are so interested right now in the effects of public adult incivility on children is because something about this televised incivility is causing grownups to feel guilty alarm about our own failure to model and teach civic virtue. It may seem like this alarm has come too late, and for the wrong reasons; many adults who might disagree with expressions of racism from a candidate but tolerate those expressions as free speech seem suddenly to have sprung into action only when that speech threatens to become sexually explicit. Yet—on a positive note—when parents, teachers, and others entrusted with modeling behavioral ideals increasingly feel compelled to distance themselves from the political candidates we are supposed to be teaching children and students to admire, we find ourselves critiquing not only the political system itself, but a culture that has celebrated aggressive self-promotion, boasting, and rudeness as competitive necessities.

 

A case in point comes from yesterday’s (March 10, 2016)  New York Times story by Sarah Lyall, “The Parent-Child Discussion That So Many Dread: Donald Trump.”  In it, one family watching television sends their 10-year-old out of the room when the topic in the GOP debate turns to the size of a candidate’s hands and genitals, leading to parental incredulity about the character of public political discourse. The crudity and bluster of the debates has led many teachers to preemptively address the issue of civility as a democratic virtue; in another instance in the same story, a sixth-grade teacher singles out individual candidates by name in order to talk with her students about the wrongness of making fun of people for the way they look. Most parents and teachers in the article stick to critiquing the candidates’ undesirable behavior in order to emphasize that rudeness anywhere is unacceptable, but some adults also find it useful to look at this bad behavior as the inevitable product of a self-obsessed culture. One parent, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who has a 15-year-old daughter and has written about Mr. Trump for CNN.com, emphasizes that it helped her to contextualize Trump as “a product of our branding culture and our selfie culture and our attraction to reality-show television, where the behavior is so brutal.”

 

Clearly many parents and teachers regard civility as a virtue, but what is also interesting here is that for this mother, at least, incivility is an inevitable product of self-absorption. Thinking only of themselves, the candidates seem to have reverted to infancy, or some sort of pre-socialized state suggested by the title of the NPR story, also from March 10, 2016: “Explaining ‘Small Hands,’ Wet Pants to Your Kids This Presidential Campaign.”    Meanwhile, voters who want to show kids the admirable qualities of aspiring presidential contenders are instead using them as potent examples of virtue gone wrong. One kindergarten teacher in the New York Times article, Carolyn Lee, urges parents to be calm when talking to their children: “I would say something like, ‘We try to treat people the way we would like to be treated, and somehow he’s showing the exact opposite of that.’ ”

 

Is civility a virtue? Cheshire Calhoun has argued that it is not only a virtue, but a moral virtue, and that “the function of civility is to communicate basic moral attitudes of respect, tolerance, and considerateness.” (Philosophy and Public Affairs 29:3, Summer 2000, p255). One reason why the news may be so interested in ‘the children in the room’ right now is because the adults in the room uneasily recognize that we are falling down on the job of communicating these basic moral attitudes. If we fall victim to the cheap entertainment of the brawl, the traded insults, the sneering innuendo, we are communicating that the pleasure of these is more valuable than than are the moral virtues we are supposed to be teaching our children and young adults.

 

Respect, tolerance, and considerateness are all predicated on the presence of others, and as such, demand a level of self-transcendence, a focus on something other than and larger than the self, that can’t be found in the boasts and banter of aggressive self-promotion. We may be fascinated by the bully’s low, defensive pride, but it is time for us as a nation to look elsewhere. If we don’t, we risk inculcating in the next generation cynicism and disgust towards political life, instead of sparking the self-transcendent commitment and optimism we all need to carry us forward.


Jaime Hovey is Associate Program Director for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

“Virtue & Happiness” Summer Seminar Students

the_view_from_moreau_seminary

Congratulations to our incoming class for our first Summer Seminar, “Virtue & Happiness”, to be held at Moreau Seminary at the University of Notre Dame in June 2016.

The Seminar is intended for outstanding advanced-level graduate students and early career researchers in the areas of Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology/Religious Studies. Our aim is to involve participants in our innovative and collaborative research framework within these three fields, and to provide an engaged environment to deepen and enliven their own research.

Amichai Amit, University of Chicago
Tom Angier, University of Cape Town
Olivia Bailey, Harvard University
Samuel Baker, University of South Alabama
Anne Baril, University of New Mexico
Michelle Ciurria, Washington University in St. Louis
Ryan Darr, Yale University
Mihailis Diamantis, New York University
Matthew Dugandzic, The Catholic University of America
Kristina Grob, Loyola University
Sukaina Hirji, Princeton University
Indrawati Liauw, Stanford University
Charles Lockwood, Oberlin College
John Meinert, Our Lady of the Lake College
Santiago Mejia, University of Chicago
Kathryn Phillips, Rochester University
Dmitri Putilin, Duke University
Hollen Reischer, Northwestern University
Leland Saunders, Seattle Pacific University
Joshua Skorburg, University of Oregon
Joseph Stenberg, University of Colorado at Boulder
Sungwoo Um, Duke University
Jason Welle, Georgetown University
Yuan Yuan, Yale University
Wenqing Zhao, Duke University

“Each person is a dynamic system” – interview with psychologist Darcia Narvaez

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Darcia Narvaez is professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and the Executive Editor of the Journal of Moral Education. She specializes in ethical development and moral education. She also blogs for Psychology Today at “Moral Landscapes” and this summer, will be one of the faculty for the Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning of Life’s collaborative Summer Seminar, “Virtue & Happiness”. Valerie Wallace, Associate Director, Communications, interviewed Professor Narvaez in early March 2016.

 

Valerie Wallace: What is evolutionary parenting?

Darcia Narvaez: Evolutionary or primal parenting refers to providing the nest that humans evolved to for their children. Every animal has a nest for its young that matches up with the maturational schedule of the offspring. Humans do too. Moreover, humans are especially influenced by their post-natal experiences because we are born 18 months early compared to other animals, and more epigenetic effects (gene expression influenced by experience) occur postnatally for humans than for any other animal. Each person is a dynamic system whose early experiences influence the trajectory of who and what he or she becomes.

 

Adults in “civilized” societies have degraded the nest for the young for some time (10,000 years?), meaning that a species-atypical developmental system is now “normal” for the young. This, of course, necessarily results in species-atypical individuals, communities and cultures. But this has happened gradually over time so that we don’t realize it, except to know sense that something is terribly wrong with humanity.

 

How do we know what is species typical? The anthropologists have noted that all over the world the same nest is provided by small-band hunter-gatherers (SBHG), the type of society in which the human genus spent 99% of its history. The members of studied SBHG societies have similar personalities: pleasant, calm, fiercely egalitarian, generous, content, and generally peaceful. Of course we do not want to and could not return to living like these societies, but we can learn about how a species-typical nest shapes personality and morality. What is the nest that brings about these outcomes?

 

The human evolved nest or niche, very similar to that of social mammals generally (who emerged over 30 million years ago), includes soothing perinatal experiences, extensive breastfeeding (2-5 years); nearly constant touch or physical presence; responsiveness to needs (in baby hood it means keeping the baby from getting distressed); play from birth, which later includes self-directed free play in the natural world with multi-aged mates; positive social support for mom and child (which includes a sense of belonging); and multiple responsive adult caregivers. There is converging evidence from neuroscience, clinical studies, anthropology and developmental sciences on the importance of all these components for optimal mental, physiological, social, emotional and moral development. In other words, every move away from these components creates toxic stress for the growing brain and undermines optimal development.

 

 

Valerie: Tell me about your interest and research exploring torture and moral development. 

Darcia: What happens when adults don’t provide the species typical nest is that children’s functioning in hundreds of systems and subsystems is undermined. They turn into people who are stress-reactive, easily perceiving threats from anything unfamiliar and feeling like they live in a dangerous world. When the stress response is activated, blood flow shifts away from higher order capacities including reasoning, open-mindedness and compassion. A stressed baby grows in the wrong direction—developing dispositions towards self-protectionism instead of relational attunement and communal imagination, which normally develop with the right hemisphere’s more rapid development in early life.

 

Undercare, the lack of the evolved nest (evolved developmental niche), leads to adults who have diminished human capacities. Species-atypical development leads to the atypical outcomes we see all around us, especially in the USA: adults with insecure social relations who want to dominate or withdraw from relational attunement. They don’t realize that they are socially unskilled and imaginatively impaired. They think the one-up/one-down orientation to relationships that forms from an overreactive stress response is just the way the world works. They have a deep distrust, established in babyhood, that people are not to be trusted, the world is not to be trusted, nor are their own spirit’s impulses (that’s what you learn when the adults around you disregard your needs for the evolved nest). With “empty selves” they end up latching onto ideologies of various kinds (religious, business, economic)–rigid scripts, to feel safe. They did not learn to be morally agile and flexibly attuned to others so “difference” is scary, “otherness” is turned into evil. One gets susceptible to rhetoric of dominance and power (much like Donald Trump is presenting in the presidential campaign), including that torture works (it doesn’t) because one also has lesser empathy for others.

 

You seem to have such a dynamic relationship with research and writing. That is, within the huge field of moral development and education you allow yourself to ask many questions, and go after them. How do you decide what’s next? 

Darcia: I follow my muse. I’ve learned that when you have a creative spirit, if you don’t follow it, you become unhappy or unwell. So I follow the muse, always surprised where it leads because it usually is not in the direction I deliberately planned (e.g., becoming a professional musician, seminarian, business owner, classroom teacher). This was also true for my recent book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom, which ended up where I did not anticipate.

 

Valerie: On what journey did this book take you?

Darcia: Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom led me to more greatly appreciate the societies who live wisely and sustainably and, as part of their worldview, function as members of a biocracy– treating other-than-human entities as members of the community to be respected and honored as partners or even teachers. If we are to save our species and many others, we must readopt this indigenous perspective. First Nation peoples do not compartmentalize life; they have deep knowledge of their local landscapes that allows them to foster biodiverse flourishing.

 

I am chairing a conference September 11-15, 2016 called “Sustainable Wisdom: Integrating Indigenous Knowhow for Global Flourishing”. We have many indigenous speakers coming from multiple disciplines to discuss how to figure out a new way of being human in cooperation with the earth.

 

Valerie: Why did you say “yes” to teaching with us for our summer seminar “Virtue & Happiness”?

Darcia: In our ancestral environment (small band hunter gatherers), virtue went hand in hand with survival but also contentment. “Civilization” has blown apart human relations to the earth, which undermines a sense of place and belonging (as a creature of the earth in a biodiverse community of creatures), and deracinates the possibility of normal virtue development because children in species-atypical nests are typically forced to divorce themselves from their own feelings, from intimacy and from the landscape (e.g., when they are discouraged to play freely outside in a natural environment). We have disordered ourselves on so many levels in so many ways that we have to figure out how find our way back to flourishing for All. Every opportunity to think or share about how to revamp ourselves for virtue or happiness is one I try to take.

 

Valerie: Thank you!

Darcia: Thanks for inviting me.


To read more about Darcia Narvaez and her work, visit

Her website: http://www3.nd.edu/~dnarvaez/

Darcia’s blog at Psychology Today: Moral Landscapes

Editor, Journal of Moral Education

BOOKS:

Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom (Norton; discount code: NARVAEZ)

Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy (Oxford University Press)

Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution: Culture, Childrearing and Social Wellbeing (Oxford University Press)

INITIATIVES

Self, Motivation & Virtue Project

Development of Virtue in the Practice of Science

CONFERENCES

Sustainable Wisdom: Integrating Indigenous Knowhow for Global Flourishing – Sept 11-15, 2016, University of Notre Dame

Designing Moral Technologies – Theoretical, Practical and Ethical Issues – July 10-15, Switzerland

 

Virtue Talk Podcast: Jean Porter on moral theology

virtuetalklogorsClick the link below to hear our scholar Jean Porter talk about her research in moral theology.

Jean Porter | Virtue Talk

 

 

 

WGM_151215_0854
Jean Porter (front) leads a discussion at the December 2015 working group meeting.

Jean Porter is the John A. O’Brien Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on the moral theory of Thomas Aquinas, seen in the context of his scholastic interlocutors, on the one hand, and contemporary moral philosophy and theology, on the other. She has written on scholastic theories of natural law, Thomisitc virtue theory, and philosophical and theological views on legal theory. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a past President of the Society of Christian Ethics.

 Subscribe

Preview on iTunes

Read about our new podcast “Virtue Talk”

On finding meaning by looking beyond the self – part 2

St. Alphonsus's Church in Chicago. Photo by Chris Smith.
St. Alphonsus Church, Chicago. Photo by Chris Smith.

Candace Vogler spoke about Self-Transcendence, Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning on the Matt Townsend Show. We’re providing this transcript (in 2 parts) to accompany the audio of the program, which aired February 25, 2016.

 

Matt Townsend: One of the things I found reading your work was that the antidote to selfishness is not naturally what I would think of as the fix; what you’re saying is that it’s virtues, it’s go for the virtues, and not necessarily accomplishment.

 

Candace Vogler: We think that if you have the right understanding, I mean, virtue is an odd word. It basically points to, in my work and the work we’re doing, a quality in your character, a quality you work to cultivate, that basically allows you to pursue things that are good reasonably, and effectively, and in a way that helps you develop the ability to actually take pleasure in being a good person. Those kinds of things. And so, there’s four of them, four cardinal virtues that are the traditional ones—there’s Justice, which has to do with behaving fairly and decently, and in a right way with your fellow human beings, but more generally just in your external actions. There’s Temperance, which has to do with not overindulging in things, with being reasonable in the ways that you move about with things that you find very attractive or shiny. There’s Fortitude, or Courage, which has to do with being afraid of the right things, and with being willing to take stands, when necessary, for things that really matter. And there’s practical wisdom, or in Latin prudentia, or Prudence, which has to do with putting all these things together in a way that allows you to lend some order to your life.

 

Now each one of those virtues, in the picture I’m working with, finds its happiest home, it’s natural mode, in pursuing common good. What’s great about them, about having them, is that they help me participate in pursuit of a common good of some kind, which is more than just the added up sum of individual bits of pleasure or happiness or senses of achievement or something like that. It’s a general good that benefits more than just the people I happen to know, and has been the kind of good that people have gone after for some time, usually before me, and probably with any luck well after me.

 

So that’s the basic structure. Ancient philosophers, ancient Greek philosophers, were hopeful that just working to have a good character all by itself would be enough to give you a very good life. That there was a kind of pleasure to be had in it. The medieval shift in that, which took place largely because of Christianity, which was not a minor thing, broadened the scope of things, and articulated more clearly an account of what it is like to lead a fully human life, a really good, fully human life, and that’s a life that understands itself as being involved in pursuit of good, and that goes way beyond private advantage and individual well being, even if your sense of individual well-being extends out to your immediate family and the people in your neighborhood.

 

Matt: So instead of you in your little world growing a strong, powerful character, with virtue, and wisdom and all of that, that the newer philosophy was like, ok that’s great, but take your character, and serve the world. Serve the people. Serve the greater good.

 

Candace: Serve the greater good. It’s not enough to look inward and think, Ah, my soul—it’s so beautiful. If it really is that beautiful, it should be of use to others, too.

 

Matt: So these others, this is the philosophical side of this, this is the underlying theory, and I just think of today’s psychology, is also still more about you. To thine own self be true, I guess.

 

Candace: Well that’s certainly one powerful kind of work, although interestingly, a lot of research that has been done around self-transcendence has been done by nurses and clinical psychologists, nurses working particularly with geriatric patients and patients with very serious illness, oncology patients, cancer patients, who have a huge stake in figuring out what kinds of things will improve the health outcomes for their patients, and it turns out that if their patients have this self-transcendent understanding of themselves, they’ve got much better health outcomes. Which is stunning, because one of the things severe illness can do to most people is produce a turn inward, where you become hyper-concerned about your health, and then about what your health trouble is doing to your immediate family.

 

Matt: Circle the wagons. Protect yourself.

 

Candace: Exactly, especially if you’ve got one of these very serious illnesses, and what they found was that the patients who were self-transcendent in this sense had this attitude, and were understanding of their lives, got better. The older people who were that way had a real stake in their lives, and were more enjoying themselves, in a way that the other geriatric patients were not. So it’s got its feet on the ground in all kinds of odd places. It’s also part of social psychology, the psychologists who are working on questions about family and generativity and that sort of thing, and just attachment to the ongoingness of human life more generally.

 

Matt: It’s funny because I hear all these themes, and I am of the persuasion of social psychology, and I had never thought about it, but yeah, it’s about this ability of a human to influence lives, other people around them, and the self-transcended, higher-reaching philosophy could guide me to lift other people around me, even if I don’t know them.

 

Candace: I think that’s one of the most important things, is just that you live your life in a way that’s prepared to—everybody is put in some place where there is the possibility that they could extend out towards others—towards strangers, even—I mean, everybody will find some moment in their lives where that is a possibility. If you’ve got a self-transcendent attitude, you’ll see those as opportunities, not just slightly alarming moments where you’re surrounded by people you don’t know, or something like that.

 

Matt: And I guess that one of the things you mentioned as what Aristotle was talking about is about how everybody should be able to reach their fullest level of potential, and I guess we used to think that was my potential in me, but this might be more my potential in the we, in all of us.

 

Candace: Yeah, it’s my potential to participate, really effectively, in the collective pursuit of good, on the part of human beings. Good is not, I think, a private project to be pursued off in a corner someplace. Human good is human good. And it reaches out past the individual in all kinds of tremendously important ways.

 

Matt: How do we do it? So I’m a dad, our listeners are parents, grandparents — what can we do—what are some steps we can take just in our lives now, in the next few days, few hours, few minutes that would help us start to turn to this higher level of thinking and being?

 

Candace: Let’s see. If you are somebody who has religious faith, faith in a personal God, or more than one, who cares about what goes on with you, then one of the things you can do is pray for help, for actual guidance.

 

But another thing you can do is be alive to all of the ways in which the good in your life is made possible by people you’ve never met, people you might never meet, people who might have died a long time ago, and suffered and struggled a long time ago, to make the kind of life you are enjoying now possible.

 

And with children, to try to help them understand that they come from somewhere and have gotten these good things, and that they’re fully capable—not, you know, you should be ashamed of yourself and you’re not showing enough gratitude for the struggles of the people that went before you—they are fully capable, you know, of moving this forward in their lives in all kinds of ways, and that sometimes the smallest thing you do for another person can be an enormous thing in that other person’s life, and you may never know what you have done for that person.

 

So you know, there are all kinds of little ways of just being alive to your fellow human beings and trying to understand them as seeking some kind of good or trying to avoid some kind of bad even if they’re doing some kinds of things that look to you to be pretty questionable. Realize that if you’re going to have any understanding of what they’re doing you’re going to have to see them as trying to go for something good or avoid something bad, that you are trying to go for something good or avoid something bad, and that this is a thing that you have in common with your fellow human beings even if their views about good and bad differ from yours pretty dramatically. And to have a lot of respect for the ways that groups of people try to find to work together on behalf of a shared sense of the good that isn’t just for them, but is for human beings more generally. Does that help?

 

Matt: That’s beautiful. And great ideas. And I love your wording, “alive to life.” Just be alive to all these ideas, I guess, is just get your mind engaged in thoughts bigger than you, past, present, and future.

 

Candace: And just move around in a way that treats your fellow human beings as worthy. There’s a Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who basically was of the view that the most important thing about the community he was trying to build was that every human being he met was a human being for whom Jesus died. That’s a way of thinking about your fellow human beings that’s super unusual. If that’s the way you approach your fellow human beings, then you’re approaching your fellow human beings in a really powerful way.