Breaking with Charity

It happens this way …

UnknownBy some strange You-Tube happenstance, I came across the conversation Tara Westhover, the author of Educated, had with Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 26, 2019.

I had written a blog (“Stunned into Understanding”) about Tara’s moving, yet disturbing book last October so I was eager to see her and hear her voice.

In case you haven’t read Educated yet – and seriously think about doing so – here’s the blurb The Aspen Institute used to introduce the conversation:

Raised by uncompromising survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover survived extreme adversity, from never being allowed to go to school, to suffering serious physical injuries (and a dad that prohibited doctors or hospitals), to being at the mercy of a volatile and often abusive older brother. How did she not only make it through this childhood, but ultimately achieve success at the highest levels? How does she look back on her childhood and her family? What has she learned from her incredible and improbable journey?

Tara is a lovely, self-effacing, authentic, and oh-so-intelligent young woman. She earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge without ever getting a GED. When she entered Brigham Young University at age seventeen, she had never heard of the Holocaust or the Civil Rights Movement. From reading a book on her father’s shelf, she thought that slavery was bad because it was so hard on slave owners. Hence, her need to become “educated”!

Among the many things that struck me about Tara was her empathetic understanding of some of the current divisions our country is experiencing. Since she now lives in New York City but returns from time to time to her home in Idaho, she is amazed how the urban/rural divide is based on distorted misunderstandings each group has about the other.

She used a phrase I had never heard before: the breaking with charity. (I jumped for a pen to write it down so I could research it more.) As Tara mentioned, the phrase goes back to the Salem witch trials.

According to one Google entry,

It refers to the moment when two members of the same group break apart and become different tribes. In Salem, the break occurred when some among a group of young women accused others of being witches. When you break charity, bonds of trust and truth are shattered and everything good thing you have done is affected.

What is broken may be mended but it will never regain its original strength. In truth, it cannot be unbroken. Think about political commentary and the words we throw at each other today.

How many ways have we “broken with charity” these past few years over politics, religion, family, schools, whatever? Rather than throwing words at each other, we’ve forgotten to sharpen our listening skills so we can at least understand the reality others live in and the beliefs they hold on to. It may not be our reality – and we certainly don’t have to embrace those beliefs – but we may become more charitable empathizers in the process.

This is what I’m going to be thinking about this week.

PS: If you listen to the Westhover/Goldberg conversation, don’t miss Tara’s singing at the end. It’s glorious!


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