As journalists, I believe, we explore what might be called the Periodic Table of Human Nature. Every life, whether celebrated or obscure, contains the same fundamental emotions, love or hate, ambition or indolence, exhilaration or despair. We just need to drill down deeply enough to discover them.
Samuel G. Freedman, Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, in his book Letters to a Young Journalist. (It is absolutely worth a read.)
Related: Maria Popova’s recent review of The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning. Though it’s not quite about journalism, it is very much about storytelling, curiosity, and the discovery of humanity, which are fundamental to journalism.
The book, which passes the skepticism radar even of someone as non-religious as myself, is really about cultivating our capacity for uncertainty, for mystery, for having the right questions rather than the right answers.
FJP: I often wonder about what spirituality and journalism might have in common, one answer to which is that they allow us to foster a similar sort of emotional fortitude.
Popova exercepts the book:
Spirituality is discovered in that space between paradox’s extremes, for there we confront our helplessness and powerlessness, our woundedness. In seeking to understand our limitations, we seek not only an easing of our pain but an understanding of what it means to hurt and what it means to be healed. Spirituality begins with the acceptance that our fractured being, our imperfection, simply is: There is no one to ‘blame’ for our errors — neither ourselves nor anyone nor anything else. Spirituality helps us first to see, and then to understand, and eventually to accept the imperfection that lies at the very core of our human be-ing.
To the cynic, that might sound a bit self-helpish but now see this, another favorite excerpt from Freedman:
To be witness, observer, and storyteller, and to develop and refine the skills of each, is to accept the burden of independent thought. It is to reject the easy comforts of our conventional wisdom or popular dogma. It is to welcome the dissonance of human events and render that dissonance with coherence and style. All of these exercises stretch the brain and all of them elevate the spirit.
I relate the two thoughts because I think welcoming the dissonance of human events requires us to welcome a fractured self first, which might help us to ask “spiritual questions.” Popova offers another excerpt:
Listening to stories and telling them helped our ancestors to live humanly — to be human. But somewhere along the way our ability to tell (and to listen to) stories was lost. As life speeded up, as the possibility of both communication and annihilation became ever more instantaneous, people came to have less tolerance for that which comes only over time. The demand for perfection and the craving for ever more control over a world that paradoxically seemed ever more out of control eventually bred impatience with story. As time went by, the art of storytelling fell by the wayside, and those who went before us gradually lost part of what had been the human heritage— the ability to ask the most basic questions, the spiritual questions.
That’s a little Monday morning food for thought, and an insight into what’s drawn me to journalism—a space it seems, that allows for a very continuous, multihued deepening of one’s humanity. —Jihii
Bonus: If you didn’t check out our #whyJournalism survey results from a while back, you can do so here.