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The Source of Both Infinite Happiness and Meaning

George Wolfe is a professor, musician, and ordained interfaith minister. We became friends after I interviewed him for my undergraduate political science senior thesis in 2006. When I returned to live in Muncie in December of 2007 -- only becoming engaged to a woman not yet graduated would inspire me to move back to my college town -- he and I reconnected. My fiancee and I attended George's inter-faith worship services and his Gandharva meditation classes. When it came time to find someone to marry us in May 2009, George was the obvious choice. We had an interfaith marriage service, utilizing rituals from numerous traditions.

As George and I grew closer in synch spiritually we drifted apart politically. In 2006, when we met, we both fit in the mainstream of today's Democratic Party. MSNBC, New York Times, NPR, Academic Baby Boomer Liberalism. Today, my ideological labels of choice after enduring a number of rightward kicks: Counterculture Conservative, Tea Party Occultist, Capitalist Wizard, and Anti-Slavery Republican. But this hasn't disrupted our friendship. On the handful of occasions were we've stumbled into political discussions, we've managed to disagree respectfully and learn from one another.

That's what I hope for in the coming weeks as George and I discuss the new edition of his book The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War in a dialogue on Sundays here at PJ Lifestyle. In it, he argues both points I still agree with enthusiastically and others that I've now spent years opposing full time. George's overall approach is one with which I continue to empathize: he seeks to integrate together a personal interfaith-spirituality with the practical, real-world task of peacemaking. Through greater understanding of common stories and mythological concepts, we can recognize a common path forward for all human beings to pursue in freedom and harmony. Where we disagree is in our interpretations of key mythological stories and the order we emphasize and value various religious concepts.

I hope that our dialogue can serve as both a discourse on the issues and an encouragement for others to pursue intra-religious discussions across the political lines. Because it's truly a strange day in this country when conservative Jews, Christians, secularists, and Buddhists are more likely to get along than they would with their faiths' progressive counterparts...

But we're only going to change this intolerably polarized status quo and find that elusive happiness and meaning if we start talking. The last word to Emily Esfahani-Smith from her great Atlantic piece:

What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans, according to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study and author, with John Tierney, of the recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Baumeister, a social psychologists at Florida State University, was named an ISI highly cited scientific researcher in 2003.

The study participants reported deriving meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others and making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group. In the words of Martin E. P. Seligman, one of the leading psychological scientists alive today, in the meaningful life "you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something you believe is larger than the self." For instance, having more meaning in one's life was associated with activities like buying presents for others, taking care of kids, and arguing.


Images courtesy Shutterstock.com/  Jurand / snake3d / Maksim Dubinsky / Pikoso.kz

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