On Being: The Inner Life of Rebellion

I get so much out of podcasts. I bookmark the ones I’m really enjoying here. One that’s really gotten to me is On Being, Krista Tippett’s public radio show that “opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?…[and explores] these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors.”

I’m not an uncritical fan of Tippett’s, or of the buffet-style spiritual conversations of which her work can occasionally seem part. But I think she’s really onto something with the theme and the guests and the synthesizing and the reach she has in this show and in her books, like Einstein’s God.

This episode in particular, Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin, the Inner Life of Rebellion, in which she interviews two thinkers from very different ages and walks of life about what rebellion is, what it means to go against the grain these days—what the grain is: It’s like a mission statement! I hopped off my bike and stood in the road to listen to this introduction again in full, which I’m copying from the online transcript, and parts of which I put in bold I liked them so much:

Parker Palmer: It’s an act of rebellion to show up as someone trying to be whole and I would add, as someone who believes that there is a hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world.

Krista Tippett, host: The history of rebellion is rife with burnout. Burnout, which Parker Palmer has defined, as “violating my own nature in the name of nobility.” Then you have the irony of this moment we inhabit, where we are freer, psychologically and practically, to be rebels. But the forms and institutions we are dealing with don’t need smashing. Most of them are imploding all on their own. Many of our acts of rebellion are in the first instance acts of creation. And that may be something importantly different, as Courtney Martin has written, from the mantra many of us grew up internalizing that we are supposed “to save the world.”

Courtney Martin: I needed to reorient myself. Have a totally different relationship with rebellion that would last me a lifetime. And was honoring of the lifetimes of rebellion that have come before me that — here I thought I was just going to like graduate and head out into the world, and like, be super-efficient. I’m a little suspicious of efficiency, in part, because I crave it so much, and I think that that’s a very generational thing. And emotions aren’t efficient. And I think rebellion in many ways isn’t efficient. And never will be.

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.

Ms. Tippett: Rebellion was the subject of the 2014 PopTech conference, where I sat down for a cross-generational conversation with journalist and author Courtney Martin, together with her friend and mentor, the Quaker wise man Parker Palmer. We spoke on stage at the Opera House in Camden, Maine.

Ms. Tippett: We have been looking forward to being here all year. And what we’re going to do is delve into the human aspect of rebellion, the inner life of rebels, and that is a complicated and sometimes messy space.

If this generation does rebellion differently, generatively, resiliently, I think it will be, in part, because of a new redemptive commitment that I’m aware of in the world that is very much on display here at PopTech: To connect inner life and outer life, inner work and social change; To be reflective and activist at once; to be in service as much as in charge; and to be wise in learning from elders and from history while bringing very new realities into being for this age.

“Generatively”! Now that’s a word for our time. The image for me here (and I’m often riding my bike when I listen to podcasts) is of roadsides strewn with Coors tallboys and discarded twelvers of Bud Lime: You kind of feel like a rebel drinking mountains of beer every night and “skipping dinner” for a rebellious package of Fritos, but then you realize that we’re all doing that, all the time, all leaving Harris Teeter clutching our cardboard briefcases and our 20%-Mores, and that rebellion is something quite different that you’re maybe terrible at and afraid of.