Post 32: A Screenwriter’s Efforts to Portray Spiritual Values on Television.

Last week we published Maggie Smith’s touching and ultimately hopeful poem “Good Bones.” I found the poem in an article that Heidi Schlumpf wrote in the National Catholic Reporter in July of last year (July 2, 2018). The article focused on TV screenwriter Joy  Gregory and her efforts to deal with the big questions on television.

Heidi Schlumpf is a national correspondent for NCR. A fellow Notre Dame graduate, she has been covering issues relating to religion, spirituality, social justice, and women’s issues for thirty years. Whenever an article by her appears in NCR, I know I am in for a rich intellectual experience.

Here is Heidi’s account of Joy Gregory’s efforts to bring spiritual matters to your television screen.

It has been an excruciatingly painful day for “Madam Secretary” and her staff. A plot to negotiate the release of a kidnapped American aid worker fails, and the young woman — together with others who have been trafficked — is found dead from asphyxiation in the back of a truck in Kyrgyzstan. In the final scene of the episode of the CBS drama, as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (played by Téa Leoni) tries to console distraught staff members in the wake of this unspeakable evil, the senior policy adviser shares part of a poem [“Good Bones”] by Maggie Smith.

 It’s a moment of grace, created by Catholic screenwriter and co-executive producer Joy Gregory, who believes the divine speaks through poetry and who has made it her mission to bring stories about “tangling with the big questions” to television.

 “I like to ‘sneak the vegetables in’ without people knowing about it,” Gregory told NCR, referring to how she works in storylines of redemption, spiritual struggle and even overt references to faith as a television writer and producer. That has been easier in her last two jobs on “Madam Secretary” and the teen fantasy drama “Joan of Arcadia” — both created by executive producer Barbara Hall, known for addressing faith on TV. Before that, Gregory often faced resistance in writers’ rooms full of “secular progressives,” most of whom are not religious. “It’s a shocking blind spot in people who preach and practice tolerance in many areas of their lives,” she told a group of religion journalists in January.

 But television writers can’t hit audiences over the head with proselytizing either, Gregory said. “Religion too often doesn’t work well on TV because it’s either preaching to a choir, or it’s trying to reach people who have already decided, ‘That’s not me,’ ” she said. “People don’t want to go deep. It’s not cool; they might ‘catch it.’ ” Instead of the overt approach, Hall and Gregory try to “throw a bigger party” to attract audiences with compelling spiritual, or even religious, stories. They were successful on “Joan of Arcadia,” in which a teenage girl had unexpected conversations with God, who was disguised as everyday people. That show, which originally aired on CBS from 2003 to 2005, was Gregory’s favorite, since it was “entirely about arguing with God,” she said. Gregory has also argued with God for much of her life and admits her questioning nature has led her to identify with Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis.

 

 Gregory knew that writing for television would give her a wide influence in bringing Christian and spiritual themes to her storytelling. That, however, was a bit of an uphill battle until she began working with [Barbara] Hall, the Catholic convert who created “Joan of Arcadia” and, later, the character of Henry McCord (played by Tim Daly), Madam Secretary’s husband, a Catholic theology professor and spy on the side.

 Hall said Gregory’s interest and curiosity about religion and spirituality is an asset to “Madam Secretary.”

 “She makes herself a student of any religious or spiritual story we tell and like any good student, makes it a point to understand all perspectives,” Hall said to NCR in an email interview. “She’s also a great humanitarian and her commitment to social justice is something she practices assiduously.”

 Season 2’s episode “Waiting for Taleju,” written by Gregory, was nominated for a Humanitas Prize, which honors film and television writers whose work promotes human dignity, meaning and freedom.

 Although the writers use consultants to get the political and religious details right, Gregory has made contributions to many of Henry’s spiritual storylines. The first episode she worked on, “The Time is at Hand” in Season 1, includes a “deep dive into Henry’s Catholicism as both a scholar and a sometimes-struggling believer,” Gregory said. In the episode, Henry is trying to defuse a possible mass suicide with a leader of a Christian cult, so Gregory wrote a scene in which he tells a formative story from his youth. After his best friend fell in a frozen pond and died, Henry found he couldn’t ring the bells during the consecration while serving as an altar boy that following Sunday. The priest tells him after Mass that it’s OK:

 “God goes quiet on us all.”

That honest admission of struggle with faith hooks Henry both intellectually and spiritually — as similar approaches to the spiritual life have for Gregory. “It’s those contradictions, the ‘wrestling with angels,’ that I’m drawn to in my own journey with faith,” she said.

 

Post 31: Does the World Have “Good Bones”?

On December 22, 2016, Nora Krug, an editor and writer for the Washington Post’s Book World, published an appreciation of Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” in which Smith expresses the hope that the world is not “beyond repair”. “Good Bones” quickly became an internet sensation and was named “the official poem of 2016” by BBC/Public Radio International.  Today I want to share selections from the Krug article with you.  But first: the poem.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real s***hole chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

Krug wrote:

Last summer, Maggie Smith — no, not that one — sat in a Starbucks in Bexley, Ohio, and wrote a poem. “Life is short, though I keep this from my children,” it began. Smith had no idea that she was setting down the first lines of a work that would seize the mood — and social-media accounts — of so many people in the tumultuous year that was 2016.  

Articles about the poem in the Guardian , Slate and elsewhere helped propel its spread. So, too, did shocking news: “Good Bones” spiked when British politician Jo Cox was murdered and again in the days following the presidential election. Nov. 10 and 11 were heavy with poetry on the Internet. Among the works most shared, according to the Academy of American Poets, were Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” — and “Good Bones.”

It’s impossible to know how many people have read the poem, though one estimate in August put the number at nearly a million. The poem has been interpreted into a dance by a troupe in India, turned into a musical score for the voice and harp and been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Korean, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Closer to home, Smith says that she has gotten many requests for the work to appear in church bulletins and for her to read it aloud. “It’s my ‘Freebird,’ ” she jokes.

“Good Bones” has become something of a societal anxiety barometer. “I can tell something bad is happening in the world when my poem is surging,” says Smith, a 39-year-old mother of two who earned an MFA at Ohio State and lives not far from where she grew up outside Columbus.  

The poem is a heartfelt work that grapples with pain and injustice, with unfairness and disillusionment. “The world is at least/ fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative/estimate,” it says. “For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird./ For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,/ sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world/ is at least half terrible, and for every kind/ stranger, there is one who would break you.”

Its subject is whether, when and how to talk to children about these hard realities. “I was troubled by the question of how we teach our kids about the world without lying to them —telling them that it’s all good — and telling them the truth without scaring them.”  

In the poem, the speaker takes on the role of a real estate agent: “I am trying/ to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,/ walking you through a real s***hole, chirps on/ about good bones:

This place could be beautiful,/ right? You could make this place beautiful.”

The work, Smith says, sprung from a mother’s worry about what’s hard and unfair in the world, “and yet wanting it to be a good place for my kids to live in.”  

Still, Smith has been wary of discussing the poem with her own children, who are 4 and 8. For her, the trouble is not so much the expletive but the idea “that half the world is terrible.” That’s a pretty bleak outlook for children under 10 to contend with, she admits. At the same time, she says, “I don’t want my kids to turn 15 and all of the sudden that idea drops in their laps. We have a responsibility to tell them the truth.”

Driven by this sense of purpose, Smith wrote the poem, finishing it nearly in one sitting, on a yellow legal pad in that coffee shop all those months ago. “I’m happy for the poem but not the circumstances of its popularity,” she says. “I wish I had written a poem that people share when babies are born or people get married.”

That said, she rejects the notion that the message of “Good Bones” is pessimistic. “I don’t think I could write a poem that the world is beyond repair,” she says. Even if the world may seem at times like a dilapidated house that only a fool would buy, it still “has good bones,” Smith says.

“My hope is that the poem is a call to improve it anyway.”

 

Post 31: The Need for Rhetoric That is “Logic on Fire!”

Following the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last year, Michael Gerson published a thoughtful column stating that the dinner was an occasion where “the rhetoric of our historical era reached a culminating, symbolic moment.” He was referring to inappropriate jokes made by Michelle Wolf, a liberal comedian, as well as comments made by President Trump. I try to stay away from politics in this blog, so I will not share Gerson’s criticism of any individual’s remarks but, more importantly, his plea for a return to eloquence in our public life–eloquence which qualifies as “logic on fire.” I will let each of you apply his views to anyone on whom the shoe of vile rhetoric seems to fit.

The Gerson column appeared in The Washington Post on April 30, 2018. Selections are below.

In both Washingtons, political discourse was dominated by the values and practices of reality television and social media: nasty, shallow, personal, vile, vindictive, graceless, classless, bullying, ugly, crass and simplistic. This is not merely change; it is digression. It is the triumph of the boors. It is a discourse unworthy of a great country, and a sign that greatness of purpose and character is slipping way.

Here is an experiment. Take a book of John F. Kennedy’s speeches and put your finger randomly on a page. Mine went to a last-minute appeal Kennedy made to Democratic convention delegates before the 1960 convention. He ends by quoting the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Humanity with all its fears / with all its hopes of future years / is hanging breathless on thy fate! ”

This was not a moment when high oratory was expected. It was an appeal at a political dinner during a delegate street fight against Lyndon B. Johnson. And Kennedy’s natural style of speaking was usually different: direct, cutting and funny. But for Kennedy — and for at least some Americans in the 1960s — rhetorical ambition was seen as appropriate to the generational ambitions of the New Frontier.

American political rhetoric has changed dramatically over time. After being florid and verbose, Lincoln made it spare and poetic. With radio and television, presidential language became more conversational, personal and image-oriented. Kennedy was, in some ways, a glorious exception. Of his inaugural address, John Steinbeck said: “Syntax, my lad. It has been restored to the highest place in the Republic.”

The golden age of American rhetoric in the 1960s, of course, stood beside the hate-filled, populist appeal of Alabama Gov. George Wallace and the profanity and vulgarity of comedian Lenny Bruce. But the updated versions of both have come to dominate American politics in an entirely new way. It is as if, in the struggle for America’s rhetorical soul, Wallace has finally won. “Hell,” exclaimed Wallace, “we got too much dignity in government now.” Not anymore.

What is the problem with this? What is wrong with the discourse of the Internet comments section? The rhetoric of common people?

But the problem is deeper, for one main reason: because good rhetoric is the carrier of serious thought. “Eloquence,” said theologian Lyman Beecher, “is logic on fire.” A great and memorable phrase encapsulates an argument. “The world must be made safe for democracy” expressed Woodrow Wilson’s vision of America’s role in the world. Kennedy’s “Let them come to Berlin” summarized America’s commitment to containing the Soviet Union. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech grew out of a compelling conception of fairness and justice.

Gerson concluded his column with this observation: “the repair of our public life will eventually require a restoration of rhetoric.”  Just as I try to avoid politics in this blog, so it is with proselytizing.  However, I have to suggest that St. Paul shared something of value to all rhetoricians when he wrote the following to the church in Ephesus:

All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting , and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you .. (Ephesians 4:30-5:2)

 

 

Blog 30: Kindness and the “Rabbit Effect” in Health Care

Recent blogs have emphasized the importance of the “personalist” approach to life that is open and respectful of others and that takes the time to listen to them.  In my most recent blog, we saw that such an attitude benefits ourselves as well.  On September 8, 2019 Colman McCarthy published an article in The Washington Post that added another dimension – a medical dimension – to our understanding of the positive effects of kindness.

I am pleased to call Colman a friend and have had happy encounters with him that go back to post Peace Corps days.  He is a former Washington Post editorial writer and columnist who directs the Center for Teaching Peace, a Washington-based non-profit group. Recently he received a letter from a former student, Kelli Harding, that brought him great joy. He describes what he learned:

Her year-long service included comforting HIV/AIDs patients at a free health clinic and following up with the solace of delivering meals to the homebound. It was a world apart from her undergraduate days at the University of California at Berkeley and majoring in political science. The Washington experience, which Kelli would later call “transformative,” was the fuel that carried her into medicine to earn a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University and a medical degree from the University of Rochester, and almost two decades of practice as an emergency room psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

….

Enter the rabbits — not those bunnies scampering in our woodlands but ones serving in two month-long medical experiments to test the effects of eating a high-fat diet and the connections between cholesterol and heart disease. With similar diets, the expectations were that all the rabbits would have similar cloggings of their arteries. Yet one group had 60 percent fewer of them.

The reason? Instead of receiving the standard care given to lab animals, the 60 percent group was watched over by a newcomer to the lab who, Kelli writes, “handled the animals differently. When she fed her rabbits she talked to them, cuddled and petted them. She didn’t just pass out kibble, she gave them love. . . . The studies indicate something is missing in the traditional biomedical model. It wasn’t diet or genetics that made a difference in which rabbits got sick and which stayed healthy. It was kindness.”

 “The rabbit effect,” she explains, means that “when it comes to our health, we’ve been missing some crucial pieces: hidden factors behind what really makes us healthy. Factors like love, friendship, and dignity. The designs of our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. There’s a social dimension to health that we’ve completely overlooked in our scramble to find the best and most cutting-edge medical care. . . . Ultimately, what affects our health in the most meaningful ways has as much to do with how we treat one another, how we live, and how we think about what it means to be human than with anything that happens in the doctor’s office.”

….

 “Clinically,” she writes, “it’s common to see two patients with the same condition, such as recovering from a heart attack, have two very different courses based on seemingly irrelevant factors, such as their family relationships or their educational level. In my practice, the sickest people I see often share similar backgrounds: loneliness, abuse, poverty, or discrimination. For them, the medical model isn’t enough. It’s like fixing up an airplane engine and ignoring that the pilot is on his third drink at the bar and a massive storm is overhead. . . . To properly care for patients, we also need to care about the lives of the people getting the care.”

Kelli wastes no time taking cheap shots or potshots at the medical establishment and its body-centered biomedicine methods.

Instead, she remains positive, holding up for praise one of her medical school professors, George Engel, an internist “who always noticed not just a patient’s physical findings but little details about her life, such as if she had family pictures up in her hospital room or flowers delivered. He was the kind of trusted doctor you’d feel relieved to see and welcome into the room with a sick family member. He’d sit down to talk with the person not just about medical problems, but about her life and priorities. He built a large consultation service to address the holistic needs of hospitalized patients, including psychological and social factors.”

It’s a guess how many George Engels in their white jackets and stethoscopes are at work these days and another speculation on the number of Kelli Hardings the nation is blessed with. Please, dear God, may the totals be large and getting larger.

Post 29: The Value of a Network of Low Stakes Casual Friendships

In the past two blogs, I have shared some very serious, even religious, thoughts (by David Brooks and Sister Barbara Smith) on the importance of being open to the depth and uniqueness of each human person we encounter. This week I want to offer a parallel confirmation of the value of being open and available to others from the field of psychology as offered in a “Smarter Living” column by Allie Volpe in The New York Times (May 6, 2019). It turns out that by showing an interest in a broad network of “low stakes, casual friendships” we do a great service to ourselves as well.

She writes:

When I was laid off in 2015, I told people about it the way any good millennial would: By tweeting it. My hope was that someone on the fringes of my social sphere would point me to potential opportunities.

To my surprise, the gambit worked.

Shortly after my public plea for employment, a friend of a friend sent me a Facebook message alerting me to an opening in her department. Three rounds of interviews later, this acquaintance was my boss. (She’s now one of my closest friends).

Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park. The sociologist Mark Granovetter calls these low-stakes relationships “weak ties.” Not only can these connections affect our job prospects, they also can have a positive impact on our well-being by helping us feel more connected to other social groups, according to Dr. Granovetter’s research. Other studies have shown weak ties can offer recommendations (I found my accountant via a weak tie) and empower us to be more empathetic. We’re likely to feel less lonely, too, research shows.

A 2014 study found that the more weak ties a person has (neighbors, a barista at the neighborhood coffee shop or fellow members in a spin class), the happier they feel. Maintaining this network of acquaintances also contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community, researchers found.

Where you convene with acquaintances matters, too. Settings like a bar or a company party encourage mingling with people who may be on the outskirts of our social circles, said Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship expert, adds, “We can have friends or acquaintances in different contexts who add meaning to our lives in their own way,” she said. “We have an acquaintance at work that we connect and talk about work projects, or dog-walking friends. It helps to have these different kinds of people in our lives to add different kinds of support.”

Seeing acquaintances removed from their usual contexts can also help elevate these casual connections into genuine friend territory. A study from 2018 found that people formed a “casual” friendship after spending 30 hours together. While a 20-minute chat with your hairstylist outside the salon is far shy of dozens of hours, the interaction brings you closer to having more common ground.

Regularly interacting with people who have different experiences than we do allows us to be more mindful of others’ circumstances, according to Dr. Epley. This, in turn, builds empathy. As research has shown, more empathetic people are more likely to be sought out by peers for comfort.

Tim Herrera, Editor of the Smarter Living section, praised Ms. Volpe’s column the next week (NYT, May 12, 2019), and added this:

This idea is perfectly summed up in Scott Galloway’s book “The Algebra of Happiness.” Mr. Galloway compares the everyday maintenance of relationships to compound interest: We make investments in those relationships through our words and actions, and over time those investments allow our relationships to blossom.

“Take a ton of pictures, text your friends stupid things, check in with old friends as often as possible, express admiration to co-workers, and every day, tell as many people as you can that you love them,” he writes. “A couple of minutes every day — the payoff is small at first, and then it’s immense.”

Yes, the metaphor is a bit of a stretch, and at worst one might read it as a tad cold (relationships shouldn’t simply be transactional, of course). But the wisdom contained in it is deeply insightful. Shared experiences with our friends and loved ones — no matter how small — are what get us through the other parts of our lives. Sending your friend a silly tweet you saw can brighten both of your days, and expressing gratitude has been found to make both you and the receiver feel measurably happy. One study found that even “social interactions with the more peripheral members of our social networks contribute to our well-being.”

 

Post 28: Personalism as Expressed through Simple Expressions of Care

Barbara Smith is a member of a religious order who has served in ministries including work at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas; parish ministry among the Navajo in Crownpoint, New Mexico and as the leader of her congregation in Rome.  Her essay below appeared in the August 10-23, 2018 edition of the National Catholic Reporter.  I thought it was an inspiring follow-on to the David Brooks column on personalism—personalism as seen and practiced by a member of a religious community.

Our fast-paced world can easily jeopardize the basic human connections that mean so much to us as women religious. For some of us, deadlines are forever present. Technologies, both old and new, drive much of this demand. However, even we — people who thrive on connecting with others — can make our contribution to this dilemma.

A significant learning that has enabled me to minister in life-giving ways is the small and seemingly simple expression of care. Care can be wrapped in a little note that says, “You are important to me.” A smile of acknowledgement, an embrace, the tender gesture of placing my hand on another’s shoulders — all signals they’re not alone and someone is there to lift them up.

I read in a Huffington Post blog that random acts of kindness can have an effect because you are “giving and receiving love … unconditional love … What you consider a little bit of kindness may just turn a person’s life completely around and give them hope for the future.” In performing random acts, “you become an inspiration, opening the awareness of others to their own potential.”

All these ways of being connected honor the importance of the dignity given to each person I encounter. People know they are respected by the way words are spoken, the thoughtfulness that they experience.

I had a good friend who taught me about affirming the dignity for each person. Father Mike was an outgoing person who always had time to give to the other. If he met you in the hall and greeted you with “How’s it going for you today?”, he would not continue down the hall as you responded but would stop and give his full attention to your response.

If he detected that there was pain or suffering in your answer, he would say, “Would you like to talk about it?” And he would find a space to listen to you share what was in your heart.

Our being on the run constantly blocks the opportunity to take a little time to listen to someone, to acknowledge they are important enough to interrupt my life.

This quote from Rachel Naomi Remen speaks to my heart and motivates me to be with another person: “Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person.” This act of listening becomes a sacred space, creating a sense of feeling at home, of being able to rest and find the words to share what is happening in his/her life.

What changes in me when someone reverently listens to me? This is a sacramental moment, an experience of namaste, recognizing God within another. [Note from Tom: For those of you who don’t do yoga, and I don’t, “namasté” is a Hindu expression spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, which translates as “I bow to the divine in you.”]

We have all had experiences where we felt appreciated and respected through the care of another. Pause for a moment and tap into these deep feelings. What impact did they have on the way we encountered others throughout that day? My sense of dignity touches the dignity and worth of another person — and the circle of care grows larger.

”’

Each of us has busy days and a busy life, but that does not give us permission to disregard the sacredness of another who enters our world of deadlines.

Don’t you just love the word deadlines and its implications for us? If we continue to meet all the deadlines and miss the persons or experiences in our daily lives, we most certainly will encounter the “dead-lines” that have no heartbeat or response to the life-giving mystery of God’s people in our lives.

Various people (including Maya Angelou and Carl Buehner) have been credited with the saying that people remember not what you said or did but how you made them feel. Whoever I should thank for that, it has become a motto for my life.

Do I take the time to make a difference by simply offering a kind word, a gentle touch, a sacred space for another to share their story, or a caring message to be felt at the level of the heart and soul?

 

Post 27: Personalism: A Philosophy We Need Today

When I was a student of Philosophy at Notre Dame and the University of Toronto, I developed a great appreciation for numerous thinkers who identified themselves as “personalists.” While personalism took many forms the essential commonality among them was placing the human person at the center of philosophic thought.

A year or so ago, David Brooks pointed out the relevance that personalism has for our society and culture today (New York Times, June 14, 2018). He wrote:

… Our culture does a pretty good job of ignoring the uniqueness and depth of each person. Pollsters see in terms of broad demographic groups. Big data counts people as if it were counting apples. At the extreme, evolutionary psychology reduces people to biological drives, capitalism reduces people to economic self-interest, modern Marxism to their class position and multiculturalism to their racial one. Consumerism treats people as mere selves — as shallow creatures concerned merely with the experience of pleasure and the acquisition of stuff.

Back in 1968, Karol Wojtyla wrote, “The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.” That’s still true.

So this might be a perfect time for a revival of personalism.

Personalism is a philosophic tendency built on the infinite uniqueness and depth of each person. Over the years people like Walt Whitman, Martin Luther King, William James, Peter Maurin and Wojtyla (who went on to become Pope John Paul II) have called themselves personalists, but the movement is still something of a philosophic nub. It’s not exactly famous.

Personalism starts by drawing a line between humans and other animals. Your dog is great, but there is a depth, complexity and superabundance to each human personality that gives each person unique, infinite dignity.

Despite what the achievement culture teaches, that dignity does not depend on what you do, how successful you are or whether your school calls you gifted. Infinite worth is inherent in being human. Every human encounter is a meeting of equals. Doing community service isn’t about saving the poor; it’s a meeting of absolute equals as both seek to change and grow.

The first responsibility of personalism is to see each other person in his or her full depth. This is astonishingly hard to do. As we go through our busy days it’s normal to want to establish I-It relationships — with the security guard in your building or the office worker down the hall. Life is busy, and sometimes we just need to reduce people to their superficial function.

But personalism asks, as much as possible, for I-Thou encounters: that you just don’t regard people as a data point, but as emerging out of the full narrative, and that you try, when you can, to get to know their stories, or at least to realize that everybody is in a struggle you know nothing about.

The second responsibility of personalism is self-gifting. Twentieth-century psychologists like Carl Rogers treated people as self-actualizing beings — get in touch with yourself. Descartes tried to separate individual reason from the bonding emotions. Nikolai Berdyaev said that tends to turn people into self-enclosed monads, with no doors or windows.

Personalists believe that people are “open wholes.” They find their perfection in communion with other whole persons. The crucial questions in life are not “what” questions — what do I do? They are “who” questions — who do I follow, who do I serve, who do I love?

The reason for life, Jacques Maritain wrote, is “self-mastery for the purpose of self-giving.” It’s to give yourself as a gift to people and causes you love and to receive such gifts for others. It is through this love that each person brings unity to his or her fragmented personality. Through this love, people touch the full personhood in others and purify the full personhood in themselves.

The third responsibility of personalism is availability: to be open for this kind of giving and friendship. This is a tough one, too; life is busy, and being available for people takes time and intentionality.

Personalism demands that we change the way we structure our institutions. A company that treats people as units to simply maximize shareholder return is showing contempt for its own workers. Schools that treat students as brains on a stick are not preparing them to lead whole lives.

The big point is that today’s social fragmentation didn’t spring from shallow roots. It sprang from worldviews that amputated people from their own depths and divided them into simplistic, flattened identities. That has to change. As Charles Péguy said, “The revolution is moral or not at all.”