If you haven’t listened to the S-Town podcast yet, you should.
Not only because everybody else is doing it (though that does seem to be the case – it’s the fastest podcast to ever reach 15 million downloads or streams on Apple Podcasts).
And not necessarily because it’s the greatest podcast of all time. (I think it’s a great piece of storytelling through journalism, but it’s neither revolutionary nor profound.)
Its beauty stems from the simplicity of its aim – to get to know someone else as best as possible, without judgment.
This endeavor is perhaps best encapsulated in a short dialogue between Brian Reed, the host and journalist, and a man named Tyler.
Tyler: Do you see me being a bad person? Brian: Do I? Tyler: Yeah. Brian: No man, I see you as a complicated, normal person, you know? Tyler: Yeah. Brian: I mean, I, I disagree with some of your decisions, but you also, you’ve had a very different life experience than I’ve had.
This attitude, of openness to others’ unique stories, is the key to good journalism.
It’s also one that Jewish sages encourage and that more of us should embrace.
By prioritizing curiosity over judgment, we can let go of both the illusion that we understand each other and also the need to force each other into our ideological boxes.
Perhaps this is why the rabbis of the Talmud offer a surprising blessing for one who sees a large congregation of Jews:
Blessed are you God Who knows all secrets. [Why this blessing? Because] their minds are unlike each other and their faces are unlike each other (BT Brachot 58a).
When confronted with differences, our tendency is to try to focus on similarities. This blessing reminds us to lean into our differences. We may all be in the same place, but we’ve all taken a different path to get there. Remembering this, paradoxically, may be the only way to keep us together.
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