“How to Know a Person”

“How to Know a Person” May 6, 2024


Joseph used to be on one of theee.
I cannot confirm this, but it is commonly reported that all United States nuclear submarines rise to periscope depth every Sunday evening between 7 PM and 9 PM, Utah time so that their crews can listen live to the Interpreter Radio Show. They can do this in reasonable safety because all Russian and Chinese submarines, and most submarines of other fleets, do exactly the same thing. Or so it is said. (Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)

For the 28 April 2024 episode of the Interpreter Radio Show, the hosts were Steve Densley and John Thompson, joined by their special guest Clifford Jones. They discussed Brother Jones’s recent article in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, as well as Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon lesson 21.

Their discussion was recorded, and it has now been purified from commercial breaks, archived, and made available at no cost for your listening pleasure.  The “Book of Mormon in Context” portion of this show, for the Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon lesson 21, will also be posted separately on Tuesday, May 14.

The Interpreter Radio Show can be heard every Sunday evening from 7 to 9 PM (MDT), on K-TALK, AM 1640.  Or, alternatively, you can listen live on the Internet at ktalkmedia.com.

A few books in London
Even the most voracious reader will only be able to get through a tiny proportion of the books that have been written. And thousands of new books appear every month. So which vital books would you recommend?

(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

Last night, the principal book group to which my wife and I belong — which was organized many years ago when its founders were based in Santa Barbara, California (some of them, e.g., the late Davis Bitton and the late Hal Moore, either graduate students or on the faculty there), and which is officially known as the Gadianton Polysophical Marching and Chowder Society — convened to discuss How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, written by the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.

It was an enjoyable read.  I think that I’ll share a few passages from it that I marked during my time with it.  The first passages remind me very much of the passage in Alma that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry:

Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.  (61)

In other words, there are two layers of reality. There is the objective reality of what happens, and there is the subjective reality of how what happened is seen, interpreted, made meaningful. That second subjective layer can sometimes be the more important layer. As the Yale psychologist Marc Brackett puts it, “Well-being depends less on objective events than on how those events are perceived, dealt with, and shared with others.”  (61)

An extrovert walks into a party and sees a different room than an introvert does. A person who has been trained as an interior designer sees a different room than someone who’s been trained as a security specialist. The therapist Irvin Yalom once asked one of his patients to write a summary of each group therapy session they did together. When he read her reports, Yalom realized that she experienced each session radically differently than he did. She never even heard the supposedly brilliant insights Yalom thought he was sharing with the group. Instead, she noticed the small personal acts—the way one person complimented another’s clothing, the way someone apologized for being late. In other words, we may be at the same event together, but we’re each having our own experience of it. Or, as the writer Anaïs Nin put it, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.”  (61)

People don’t see the world with their eyes; they see it with their entire life.  (63)

Cognitive scientists call this view of the human person “constructionism.” Constructionism is the recognition, backed up by the last half century of brain research, that people don’t passively take in reality. Each person actively constructs their own perception of reality. That’s not to say there is not an objective reality out there. It’s to say that we have only subjective access to it. “The mind is its own place,” the poet John Milton wrote, “and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”  (64)

And, candidly, such passages powerfully remind me of many of my experiences with critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:  I’ve marveled for many years at the fact that we can look at the same body of facts and come away with such remarkably different perceptions of what those facts entail.

The next two passages put me in mind of the Church’s encouragement to keep journals and to write up personal histories:

The ability to craft an accurate and coherent life story is yet another vital skill we don’t teach people in school. But coming up with a personal story is centrally important to leading a meaningful life. You can’t know who you are unless you know how to tell your story. You can’t have a stable identity unless you take the inchoate events of your life and give your life meaning by turning the events into a coherent story. You can know what to do next only if you know what story you are a part of. And you can endure present pains only if you can see them as part of a story that will yield future benefits. “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story,” as the Danish writer Isak Dinesen said.  (217)

We all know people who are smart. But that doesn’t mean they are wise. Understanding and wisdom come from surviving the pitfalls of life, thriving in life, having wide and deep contact with other people. Out of your own moments of suffering, struggle, friendship, intimacy, and joy comes a compassionate awareness of how other people feel—their frailty, their confusion, and their courage. The wise are those who have lived full, varied lives, and reflected deeply on what they’ve been through.  (249-250)

And, speaking of personal histories, I’ve lately seen television commercials for something called Storyworth, which seems to me potentially helpful and probably worth mentioning here.

I really do believe that people, personalities, are the most interesting and valuable things in the universe.

Girls' camp girls
The horrific results of religion? Three authentic young Latter-day Saint women at a girls’ camp

Here is yet more distressing news from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™.  It’s an article by Stephen Cranney, whom I consider one of the most consistently interesting social scientists out there.  But, please, take a seat while you read it.  And, if you have access to a MedicAlert bracelet or a supervising cardiologist, you should probably have one or both of them ready and near at hand:  “In pursuit of happiness: The religious are happier. The question is why”



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