Incentivizing Understanding

This is how my sons ride to school.

Usually they have a grand time, talking shop about school work, school friends, and what is likely to be for lunch.

And occasionally, as brothers do, they disagree with each other.  

The more trips they take in the bike, though, the less these misunderstandings turn into actual fighting.  The space incentivizes gentleness and understanding since, if they start a fight, they have to live with an angry brother for the remainder of the ride.  This vulnerability incentivizes the peaceful resolution of tension.

In public and private life, we, like these two brothers, will disagree with each other.  The modern world (fueled by the interwebs) gives us plenty of places to deal with this disagreement unproductively, to stoke our self-righteousness and circle the wagons on the moral high ground.

But what if, instead, we were to act like we were strapped into a modestly-sized cargo bike with our adversary?  What if we acted like our collective well-being depended on our ability to create structures that incentivize gentleness and understanding?  

My hunch is that is very well may.

PS – For more on this, check out Boston College’s free MOOC on the Synod on Synodality and Jon Haidt’s timely new Substack.

Cathedrals Under Construction

Some years ago, my wife and I spent the day in the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, pictured below.

The original architect, Antoni Gaudí, hoped the basilica to be “the Bible, made of stone.” Of its uniqueness, one art critic said that “it is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art.”

These superlative statements are entirely deserved.  Its beauty and layers of meaning were exhausting to take in. 

And what about the crane and scaffolding in the picture? Well, they are still completing construction of the building that was consecrated as a basilica in 2010.

Wait, what?  Unfinished and consecrated?

Yes, indeed!

And so I think it is with us.  

We are also cathedrals under construction – in need of grace and good company to help us to grow and already capable of the participating in the love that is God.  When we are able, with that same grace, to hold our cathedral-ness and our under-construction-ness together, we are capable of unique and remarkable beauty.

When “Both” Means “Neither”

When I was in elementary school, two of my very favorite events were scheduled for the same Saturday: A Cub Scout campout and a YMCA basketball team end-of-year party at Pizza Hut.

“Camping or Pizza Hut” is a tough choice indeed.

As my father is generous and fun-loving, he asked if I wanted to try to do both. 

Of course I did! Hooray!

So, on the fateful Saturday, we drove to the camp in the morning, set up the tent, hung out through the early afternoon, and then drove 90 minutes back into town for the party.  After I had collected my plastic trophy, we booked it back to our campsite.  By that time, though, most folks had headed to bed.

It was an exhausting day and it turned out that we were out of sync with both events.  We missed out on the camaraderie of the camping trip and we were definitely a little stinky for the party.

The lesson was not lost on us – that in choosing both we actually got to do neither – and has become a helpful conceptual hook in considering similarly tough choices.

When this sort of over-extension creeps into the schedule, we know that it is time to pick just one.

(Hey! This reminds me of a fun and formidable little book by Fr. Michael Rossmann, SJ – The Freedom of Missing Out!)

Living Here

Since 2006, I have had twelve different homes in six different countries.  I (and now we) move a lot.

Toward the end of our time at each place (when I give myself the space to be quiet) an unbidden sense surfaces:

It is wonderful that I have had the chance to live here.

Certainly, leaving a place and then adjusting to a new one is not easy.  It involves a great deal of loss.  I sense, though, that it is all preparation, for when I have no more days, to be able to say with serenity:

It is wonderful that I have had the chance to live here.

Story Selection

When I was staying home with our infant son, he and I spent the Chicago winter by listening to a lot of audiobooks. Among them was Walter Issacson’s biography on Steve Jobs

The audiobook clocks in at just over 25 hours. That is about three workdays of audio.

That is to say, almost everything of his life is left out.  Even under this constraint, Isaacson weaves a masterful, productive whole.

We make choices, too, about which stories of our lives to rehearse to ourselves and to present to others.  This choice matters a great deal for who we become. 

Our lives, no matter how messy in the moment, can become a productive whole.

Bluey

Rare is media that can entrance and teach both adults and children. 

For books, the master is Mo Willems. For television, a show called Bluey sets the curve. I do not remember who turned us onto the program, but our family owes them big.

Though ostensibly for children, I am certain that this show, in its 7-minute episodes, makes me a better human being.

I fear to over explain it.  It is best to just to experience the genius. So, go beg someone’s Disney+ password and treat yourself tonight.  Especially brilliant episodes are: “Omelette”, “Dance Mode”, and “Hammerbarn”. 

The people who produce the show are masters – in illustrating the depth of the interior lives of children, in shepherding parents toward courageous light-heartedness, and helping us all see how wonderful it is to live on the earth and attend to simple things.

The Other Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the daily emails I read went from two to three (when I signed up for The Daily Difference, a source of reliable and easily understandable knowledge on climate change.)

A few people asked me about the other two.  Here they are!

The Daily Meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation: Most of the meditations are adapted from the writings of Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM.  They translate the depth and challenge of the Christian tradition in a way that is consistently inviting.

Seth Godin’s daily blog: Godin riffs on marketing, empathy, being a human today, and the endurance needed to make a difference.

Most days, I marvel that they give all of this away for free.

75%

Our sons wanted to practice some German songs that they were learning at school, so I found them on YouTube, set the playback speed at one click under full-speed (75%), and we all sang along.

It was (and is) great fun.

One time, though, when queueing up the songs, I forgot to set the speed at 75%, and the songs began at full speed.  Both of them immediately protested. 

Whoa! Why is everything going so fast! Turn it back to how it was!

“Normal,” it turns out, is way too accelerated.

And in our lives, too, it may be that we are going way too fast, but have only ever considered it to be normal.

What would a test run at 75% look like this week?

This, Too, Shall Pass

The strain of caring for a young person through a trying stage.

A disorienting heartache.

The pain of having let someone down.

This, too, shall pass.

And yet, do I truly want to wish it quickly away? If I do, I very well may miss the meaning of the experience. I may short-circuit the work it wants to achieve in me.

So, yes… this, too, shall pass… but before it does, I promise to be present with it.