Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? What is the soul?

Worldview – framework of meaning, sense making of “why are we here”?

Knowledge lives in the relational understanding of all the little bits of our lives pulled together into a framework of worldview.  Meaning for our lives.  Greater understanding of the whole.


Meaning is the opposite of the trivial.

Ultimately it is meaning that secular humanists seek to give to their lives.

Christian worldview is that God gives us the meaning to our lives.

Human experience is the most valuable thing in the created world.

We are not alone with the questions we are pondering or grappling with.

HOPE is a function of struggle.

Hope is not a baked in faculty that you are either born with or not.

Hope is a choice.  Hope is a conditioned response.  We can choose to respond to horrible events that happen in the world and in our lives with either hope or with resignation.  It is a choice.

What can we do to counter responding to suffereing and horrible things in the world with resignation.  To choose to respond with hope.

The human experience is hope.

MS. MARIA POPOVA: You know, we never see the world exactly as it is. We see it as we hope it will be or we fear it might be. And we spend our lives going through a sort of modified stages of grief about that realization. And we deny it, and then we argue with it, and we despair over it. But eventually — and this is my belief — that we come to see it, not as despairing, but as vitalizing. We never see the world exactly as it is because we are how the world is.

People want to do something useful with their time. And yes, I agree. I think people hunger to do something useful with their time in our age of uselessness, time uselessly spent…… But I deeply believe that people want to be good, that, more than that, we want to be better, to grow, to ennoble our souls. And I have hope for this medium with that lens.



MS. TIPPETT: How — if I ask you how you measure success, like, in any given day, what comes to mind?

MS. POPOVA: Well, once again, I am going to side with Thoreau. And he said something like, if the day and night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers, it’s more elastic and more starry and more immortal, that is your success. And for me, that’s pretty much it — waking up and being excited and curiously restless to face the day ahead, and being very present with that day, and then going to bed feeling like it actually happened, that the day was lived. I mean, there’s nothing more than that, really.


MS. TIPPETT: And in terms of the effect that you can gauge externally, I do hear you that you don’t measure success on number. But what feels like success to you when it comes to you from outside?

MS. POPOVA: Well, we are such — and I’m not — I’m far from being on the sort of high moral horse of, I don’t — I’m immune to these metrics that we all respond to. I think we’re such Pavlovian creatures, and we thrive on constant positive reinforcement. And we live in an era where the tangibles of that have become very readily available. You can see things like Facebook likes and retweets.

MS. TIPPETT: Right, right.

MS. POPOVA: And it is so tempting and so easy because they’re concrete. They’re concrete substitutes for things that are inherently nebulous. It’s so easy to sort of hang your sanity and your sense of worth on them. And I have certainly suffered from that earlier on when these metrics first became available. And they’re right there. I mean, they are right there. And I think it takes a real discipline just to not hang the stability of your soul on them. And so one thing that I’ve done for myself, which is probably the most sanity-inducing thing that I’ve done in the last few years, is to never look at statistics and such sort of externalities. But I do read all of the emails and letters — I also get letters from readers. And to me, that really is the metric of what we mean to one another and how we connect and that aspect of communion. I mean, I heard from a woman yesterday who said that she’s been living with stage IV cancer for 26 years.

MS. POPOVA: And she goes and tells me this remarkably moving — it’s not a story, it’s her life. And it makes you go, wow, these are the things that matter. And her — she was writing very, very generously to say that she was finding nourishment in all of these thinkers and these ideas. And that, to me, is success, the feeling that somebody more enlightened and living a harder life and, in some ways, a more beautiful life than I am resonates. That’s what it is.


MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. You wrote somewhere, “We are a collage of our interests, our influences, our inspirations, all the fragmentary impressions we’ve collected by being alive and awake to the world. Who we are is simply a finely-curated catalogue of those.” Which brings the word “curation” — which I understand you’re not as fond of anymore — into this — into the answer of what it means to be human, that we curate our lives. How do you think your sense of what it means to be human, that grand question, has evolved? How would you start to talk about that?

MS. POPOVA: Hmm. I think much of it has shifted from an understanding that’s based on concreteness to an understanding that’s based on relational things. That this notion of not just who we are but who we are in relation to our past selves, the people around us, the culture that we came from, the culture that we live in, all the different lives we’ve had. And for me, certainly, I feel like I’ve had all these different lives. I grew up in a country that is pretty much the exact opposite of my life right now. I grew up having nothing, and then I sort of clawed my way up and out. And now I live in New York City.

And I am able to afford my own life and live my own life without worrying about things that I worried about for many, many, many, many years. And it’s so strange how we’re able to carry forward this mystery of personal identity even when our present selves are so different from our future selves. And I — and from our past selves most of all. And I think a lot about this question of, what is a person? I mean, how — am I the same person as my childhood self? And sure, we share the same body, but even that body is so different. It’s unrecognizably different. Our lives are so different. Our ideas and ideals are so different. And to me, this question of what it means to be human is always a question of elasticity of being. It’s never an arrival point, you know? But I want to also go back to this — you mentioned the fragments, this notion of the fragments. And yes, I do agree that we’re kind of a mashup of what we let into our lives. But at the same time, we live in a culture of dividedness. And I don’t mean just people being divided amongst themselves, but people being divided within themselves. And our language reflects that, and language matters enormously in, not just conveying, but also shaping our beliefs. And even the language of secular spirituality reflects that. I mean, consider that — the things that we encourage when we talk about a full life, wholeheartedness and mindfulness. And of course, we are so much more expansive than our hearts and our minds and our perfect abs or whatever fragment we fixate on. [laughs]

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.

MS. POPOVA: But yet, we compartmentalize our experience in that way. We divide it into these fragments to be divided and conquered. And I was reading this morning, actually, for a piece that I’m writing for tomorrow, Virginia Woolf’s diary, which is not a journal, but a diary.


And our language reflects that, and language matters enormously in, not just conveying, but also shaping our beliefs. And even the language of secular spirituality reflects that. I mean, consider that — the things that we encourage when we talk about a full life, wholeheartedness and mindfulness. And of course, we are so much more expansive than our hearts and our minds and our perfect abs or whatever fragment we fixate on. [laughs]

MS. POPOVA: And she says, “One can’t write directly about the soul. Looked at, it vanishes.” And she talks about the slipperiness of the soul and the delicacy and complexity of the soul. But I think the fullest people, the people most whole and most alive, are always those unafraid and unashamed of the soul. And the soul is never an assemblage of fragments. And it always is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s