Acknowledging the humanity of others leads us onto common ground.
Homo sapiens is a social species with a capacity for fellow feeling. However, we are also a species with tribal inclinations, born of our evolutionary past in tribal groups and our biologically driven inclination to favor kin. We have a demonstrated proclivity toward identifying others categorically, such as people of a different race or ethnic background. Therefore, a necessary first step in the development of an internal universal ethic is the recognition of our common ground with others.
Documentary and Educational Films
- Promises: interviews with Hebrew and Arabic boys, aged 11 to 13, who then meet to discuss their common situation
Technical and Analytical Readings
- David Cannadine, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013): an historian’s search for socially unifying operative dynamics. His candidates are religion, nation, class, gender, race and finally – optimistically – civilization itself.
- Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer, Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 (W.W. Norton & Company, 2019): “ . . . are Americans really divided by fault lines? Interestingly, there is a great deal of research that shows it is the political parties that are polarized but not the American people. Political scientists describe this situation as ‘party sorting.’ That is, the Democratic and Republican Parties have devolved into two separate groups that offer ideological and policy conformity with almost no overlap.”
True narratives on common ground:
- Naomi Schaefer Riley, ‘Til Faith Do US Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America (Oxford University Press, 2013). “An exploration of how, or if, interfaith marriages work in a nation of many religions.”
- Ittai Weinryb, ed., Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place (Bard Graduate Center Gallery, 2018): “One of the great gifts of global consciousness has been to remind Western secular culture that some art has power beyond the aesthetic. . . . this book . . . brings together objects of spiritual significance from Africa, Asia, Latin America, medieval Europe and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.”
- Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism (Doubleday, 1995): “Unlike the rest of us, Grandin does not think in words. As she describes it, she has an ever-growing videotape library in her head, which she can manipulate like a computer program, retrieving images from memory, altering them, rotating them, combining them.”
- Alana Massey, All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers (Grand Central Publishing, 2017): the author “explores the lives of . . . famous women while using them to reveal personal details about herself”.
From the dark side:
- Tom Zoellner, The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America (Counterpoint, 2020): “. . . a sneakily ambitious book whose 13 ‘dispatches’ present a sweeping view of the American land and its inhabitants – how each has shaped, and deformed the other.”
- Ezra Klein, Why We’re Polarized (Avid Reader Press, 2020): “. . . he offers simply the hope that as Americans become more aware of the cancer of our current identity politics, they will make efforts to reduce their own involvement.”
- George Makari, Of Fear and Strangers: A History of Xenophobia (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021): “Makari, a psychiatrist and historian, weaves together a fascinating if powerfully disturbing series of examples of stranger hatred (and exploitation) alongside the internal dissent such encounters have always prompted.”
Paul Klee, Ancient Sound (1925)
- Clyde Edgerton, The Night Train: A Novel (Little, Brown & Company, 2011): “What ‘The Night Train’ captures with precision is the manner in which an entire community, black and white, edges toward a new racial reality – bound not by a common will but by a common geography.”
- Ann Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Harper, 2013): part memoir, this collection of essays “is a two-way mirror, reflecting both the author and her readers.”
- Monique Trunog, The Sweetest Fruits: A Novel (Viking, 2019): “With brilliant sensitivity and an unstinting eye, The Sweetest Fruits illuminates the women’s tenacity and their struggles in this novel that circumnavigates the globe in the search for love, family, home, and belonging.”
- Curdella Forbes, A Tall History of Sugar: A Novel (Akashik Books, 2019): “ . . . Forbes uses skin as a prism to examine color, race, colonialism, heritage and — most important — love.”
- Omar El Akkad, What Strange Paradise: A Novel (Knopf, 2021): “Told from the point of view of two children, on the ground and at sea, the story so astutely unpacks the us-versus-them dynamics of our divided world that it deserves to be an instant classic.”
- Jason Mott, Hell of a Book: A Novel (Dutton, 2021): “. . . the beauty of the novel is in the cracks that distort the plot. His conversations with The Kid lead to very real reckonings with his life, his skin color, his book.”
- Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad: A Novel (Knopf, 2010): “She hands off the narrative from one protagonist to another in a wild relay race that will end with the same characters with which it begins while dispensing with them for years at a time.”
From the dark side:
- Bryan Washington, Lot: Stories (Riverhead Books, 2019): “As these tales reveal, the divisions between us arise in alleys and bedrooms, at church and the supermarket. Between people of different skin colors, different accents, different genders and sexual orientations, between religious affiliations.”
- Samira Sedira, People Like Them: A Novel (Penguin Press, 2021): “. . . there are older evils at work, revolving around the arrival, and eventual mistrust, of outsiders to a small town. When Bakary Langlois first moves his family to Carmac, he flaunts his apparent wealth . . .”
Film and Stage
- The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret): members of an Egyptian orchestra interact with Israeli citizens, exposing “the loneliness that surrounds us” all
- The Waterdance: a film, “inspired” by the playwright’s experience in a rehabilitation facility after a hiking accident, “about racial differences and class differences, and about how these men come together and clash, coming from different backgrounds, and come -- if not to like each other -- at least to respect each other” out of necessity if nothing more
- The Two of Us (La veiel homme et l’enfant): an anti-Semitic man bonds with a Jewish boy
- Babel “weaves stories from Morocco, America, Mexico and Japan, all connected by a single thoughtless act of a child, and demonstrates how each culture works against itself to compound the repercussions”
- Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, in which a resentful man at last shows a glimmer of human feeling for another; the entire film is a study of characters short on empathy
- The Shape of Water: a socially outcast woman falls in love with a creature who longs for the same things as we all do.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
After training in classical sitar with her father Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar has developed her own career, blending her father’s classical traditions with the popular music of her sister Nora Jones. Anoushka’s albums along these lines include:
- “Love Letters, P.S.” (2021) (41’)
- “Reflections” (2019) (75’)
- “Land of Gold” (2016) (58’)
- “Traces of You” (2013) (56’)
- “Breathing Under Water” (2007) (62’)
Western "classical" works:
- Luigi Boccherini, Cello Concerti (approx. 262-270’)
- Alan Hovhaness, Symphony No. 11, Op. 186, “All Men Are Brothers” (1960, rev. 1969) (approx. 33-39’)
- Robin Holloway, Second Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 40 (1979) (approx. 34’): disjointed musical ideas gradually unify, a bit.
- Benjamin Frankel, Symphony No. 4, Op. 44 (1966) (approx. 25’): The symphony begins with a white-note scale on the strings, in counterpoint with a black-note remnant on the trombone. Over the course of the symphony, these voices resolve their differences, to a point.
- Alexander Ernst Fesca, Piano Septet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 26 (1842) (approx. 36’) and Piano Septet No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 28 (1842) (approx. 34’): disparate voices in common purpose
- Athanasios Thomas Peter Aronis, Chaconne for alto sax, violin and piano () (approx. 10’): an unusual combination of instruments finding common ground in music
- Antonio Salieri, Armida (1771) (approx. 126’): “the love story of a Saracen (a medieval term for Arab Muslim) sorceress who falls in love with Rinaldo, a Christian warrior. In the midst of the Crusades, Armida plans to kill Rinaldo on the orders of the Saracen army, but instead falls in love with him.”
- Sebastian Fagerlud, Clarinet Sonata (2010) (approx. 17’): all three movements share a similar motif. ^William Wordsworth, Confluence, symphonic variations for orchestra, Op. 100 (1976) (approx. 15’) – the title refers to the junction of two rivers.
The banjo is not commonly heard in “classical” or jazz music. It is widely seen as a rural instrument, best suited to bluegrass music. That can be part of its appeal, as illustrated by collaborative works with Béla Fleck on banjo. Seen by many as a quirky instrument, it shares the universal musical language, especially in the right hands.
- Strength in Numbers, “The Telluride Sessions” (1989) (45’)
- Edgar Meyer, Béla Fleck and Mike Marshall, “Uncommon Ritual” (1997) (68’)
- Edgar Meyer and Béla Fleck, “Music for Two” (2004) (72’)
- Chick Corea and Béla Fleck, “The Enchantment” (2007) (54’)
- Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio, “Across the Imaginary Divide” (2012) (63’)
- Béla Fleck and the Nashville Symphony, “The Imposter” (2013) (62’)
- “Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn” (2014) (46’)
- Chick Corea and Béla Fleck, “Two” (2015) (115’)
- Chick Corea, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in concert
- Jan Garbarek & Hilliard Ensemble, “Mnemosyne” (1999) (105’): this album combines jazz and early music.
- Myra Melford, “where the two worlds touch” (2004) (53’)
- Joce Mienniel & Aram Lee, “Wood & Steel” (2021) (46’): an ancient wooden flute and a modern flute combine.
- Ritva Nero, “Immortal Tradition” (2022) (41’): pipes, horns and heavy metal
- Justin Adams & Mauro Durante, “Still Moving” (2021) (44’): “In October 2020, Justin Adams, whose post-punk approach has been en-riched by a passion for Arabic and African trance/blues, and Mauro Durante, a visionary inheritor of the Taranta roots of his native Puglia got together to make an intense and intimate album: Still Moving. They recorded live in the studio, without overdubs. Together they found what was essential in their common sound, reaching into traditional music from Italy . . . and America . . .”
- Tigran Himasyan, “Stand Art” (2022) (48’): “With pianist/composer Tigran Hamasyan, potent jazz improvisation fuses with the rich folkloric music of his native Armenia.”
- dal:um, “similar & different” (2021) (38’): the two Korean instruments are the kŏmungo (a/k/a/ geomungo), with a bass-like sound, and the kayagŭm (a/k/a/ gayageum), which is similar to a harp.
- Guo Gan (Chinese erhu), Zoumana Tereta (West African soku) & Richard Bourreau (Western violin): “Saba Sounds” (2020) (46’)
- Simon Goubert & Ablaye Cissoko, “Au loin” (2017) (56’): “Designed to enhance the musical foundations common to the two languages of the ‘African Jazz Roots’ project, the repertoire of the album ‘Au loin’ pays tribute to both the Senegalese musical tradition and the modal jazz of John Coltrane. An exotic journey that combines new sounds and luminous elegance.”
- Paul Livingstone & Peter Jacobson, “Sangam” (2022) (77’): “Sangam” denotes a confluence of rivers. “Something magical can happen when two rivers meet, two traditions collaborate, or two talented friends work hard on a joint creation. Paul Livingstone on sitar and Pete Jacobson on cello take inspiration from the Hindustani musical tradition, and from Paul’s teacher and mentor Ravi Shankar who collaborated so eloquently with Yehudi Menuhin on violin and helped to popularize Hindustani music in the West.”
- Alan Broadbent Trio, “Like Minds” (2022) (60’): “. . . Broadbent leads a stalwart trio whose other members are bassist Harvie S and drummer Billy Mintz. And, yes, they are of ‘like minds.’ One of the perks of having as long and successful a career as Broadbent's is that a leader can choose the sidemen who best suit his musical style and philosophy. Such is the case here, as Harvie S and Mintz generously support Broadbent without once stepping on his toes or encroaching upon his space.”
- Baul Meets Saz, “Banjara” (2022) (59’): “Turkish artist Emre Gültekin, singer and player of the saz (a long-necked Anatolian lute) intertwines the sounds of his instrument with the voice and percussion of Malabika Brahma and Sanjay Khyapa, from India, who have become the musical ambassadors of Baul culture.”
- Prisma, “Il Transilvano: Musical Bridges Between Italy and Hungary Around 1600” (2020) (58’)
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen off Newfoundland,
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the Texan ranch,
Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, (loving their big proportions,)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat,
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.
[Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92), Book III: Song of Myself, 16.]
This moment yearning and thoughtful sitting alone,
It seems to me there are other men in other lands yearning and thoughtful,
It seems to me I can look over and behold them in Germany, Italy, France, Spain,
Or far, far away, in China, or in Russia or talking other dialects,
And it seems to me if I could know those men I should become attached to them as I do to men in my own lands,
O I know we should be brethren and lovers,
I know I should be happy with them.
[Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92), Book V: Calamus, “This Moment Yearning and Thoughtful”]
· Robert Frost, “Two Look at Two”
· Wallace Stevens, “Metaphors of a Magnifico”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Playing for Change, with Keb’ Mo’, “Walking Blues”