Last week I started reading Krista Tippet’s new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. You may know Krista from her NPR program, On Being.
I’m only about 30 pages into the book. It’s organized around, and explores her conception of ordinary virtues.
The connective tissue of these pages is the language of virtue – an old fashioned word, perhaps, but one that I find is magnetic to new generations, who instinctively grasp the need for practical disciplines to translate aspiration into action. Our spiritual traditions have carried virtues across time. They are not the stuff of saints and heroes, but tools for the art of living. They are pieces of intelligence about human behavior that neuroscience is now exploring with new words and images: what we practice, we become. What’s true of playing the piano or throwing a ball also holds for our capacity to move through the world mindlessly and destructively or generously and gracefully. I’ve come to think of virtues and rituals as spiritual technologies for being our best selves in flesh and blood, time and space.
There are superstar virtues that come most readily to mind and can be the work of a day or a lifetime – love, compassion, forgiveness. And there are gentle shifts of mind and habit that make those possible, working patiently through the raw materials of our lives.
She divides the book into “five of these raw materials, basic aspects of the human everyday, which I’ve come to see as breeding grounds for wisdom”: words, flesh (about senses and emotion), love, faith, and hope.
When I decided to call this blog and my web site Ordinary Virtues, I made my own list of ordinary virtues. Several of the words on my list are in the paragraphs above. But my list is focused more, to use jargon from my government world, on outputs: Kindness, love, joy, compassion, moderation. A couple have appeared in the blog as the Ordinary Virtue of the Week. I didn’t go deeper into the input needed to get the output, and it looks like that’s where her book is going – “the shifts of mind and habit that make those possible.”
I’ll likely do another blog once I’m done reading, or maybe feature more text as I go along. If you read the book and have some thoughts, please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. The comments section on the blog remains a mystery to me. As always, thanks for reading!
Irreverent Bonus Material: