2019
April
02
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Voters in Slovakia elected a president who ran on civility and integrity. Royal Dutch Shell took a stand on the Paris climate pact. And to save sea turtles, a 7-year-old persuaded L.L. Bean to ditch their plastic straws.

But the story I couldn’t let pass today was about a robotics team in Minnesota. Their gift: Freedom for a 2-year-old boy.

A group of high schoolers accepted the challenge of building a low-cost wheelchair for a toddler with mobility issues. The result is way cooler than what you might imagine.

The Farmington, Minnesota, teenagers hacked an electric toy car, rewired it and rewrote the controller code, added a custom seat, and built a joystick with a 3D printer.

Little Cillian Jackson doesn’t walk – now he flies around the house.

His parents describe it as the gift of choice and independence. “When he gets in his car, he will consciously stop and look at a doorknob or a light switch or all of these things he’s never had time to explore,” says Tyler Jackson. And his mom, Krissy, tells CNN, “It really helped his discovery and curiosity.... Having the car has really given him the agency to make choices on his own.”

These teens love competing in robotics events. But they learned innovation is most rewarding when it’s about people. Freshman Alex Treakle says that when he saw Cillian try the car for the first time, “The joy on his face really made my entire year.” 

Now to our five selected stories, including a major shift in voter sentiment in Turkey, a new book about hope, and why scientists say cows have feelings, too.

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The Chat

1. ‘Groundhog Day,’ Brexit edition: Will Britain ever leave?

You’ve told us that Brexit is a little easier to digest as a conversation. We invite you to eavesdrop again on our two British correspondents as they banter over the latest developments. After you do, let us know what questions you still have.

David
Karen Norris/Staff

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Rebecca Asoulin (engagement editor, American): March 29th felt a bit like Y2K. We thought something catastrophic might happen. But nothing happened. Why didn’t the United Kingdom leave the European Union last week?

Simon Montlake (Brexit reporter, Brit): The easy answer is that the U.K. couldn't agree on exit terms with the EU and had to go back and ask for more time which was a big climbdown for Prime Minister Theresa May after two years of saying that March 29th was exit day. The delay means that the can has been kicked down the road, as Peter predicted last time, right?

Peter Ford (senior global correspondent, Brit): Well, I thought there wouldn't be a solution, but I did not appreciate the full extent of the mess the U.K. would be in now.

Rebecca: What do you mean by that? How is it a bigger mess now?

Click “Deep Read” (above) to dive into our conversation.

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‘Groundhog Day,’ Brexit edition: Will Britain ever leave?

Two British staffers and one confused American staffer talk Brexit in a group message – again.

Rebecca Asoulin (engagement editor, American): March 29 felt a bit like Y2K. We thought something catastrophic might happen. But nothing happened. Why didn’t the United Kingdom leave the European Union last week?

Simon Montlake (Brexit reporter, Brit): The easy answer is that the U.K. couldn’t agree on exit terms with the EU and had to go back and ask for more time, which was a big climbdown for Prime Minister Theresa May after two years of saying that March 29 was exit day. The delay means that the can has been kicked down the road, as Peter predicted last time, right?

Peter Ford (senior global correspondent, Brit): Well, I thought there wouldn’t be a solution, but I did not appreciate the full extent of the mess the U.K. would be in now.

Rebecca: What do you mean by that? How is it a bigger mess now?

Peter: The British government is no further forward than it was the last time we had this conversation, but now there are only 10 days till the new deadline, April 12. And the choices are the same as ever: (1) Ms. May’s deal, (2) a second referendum on Brexit, (3) a national election, or (4) a no-deal Brexit. It’s the same mess with less time to sort it out.

Jacob Turcotte and Rebecca Asoulin/Staff, Photos by AP

Simon: On the plus side, we have eliminated some unicorns.

Rebecca: Which ones?

Simon: If you remember the drama over Ireland and the dreaded backstop, there was a unicorn lurking in the wings. Conservative pro-Brexit Members of Parliament demanded that Ms. May go back to the EU and find “alternative arrangements” to keep the border open after Britain leaves. Turns out that there are no magical alternatives. So we slayed that particular unicorn. Unfortunately the same pro-Brexit MPs are gunning for a no-deal exit and might feel that time is on their side. What do you think, Peter?

Peter: Those who want a hard Brexit with no deal are rubbing their hands with glee each time the clock strikes midnight. Another day closer to the exit, another day with no agreement on a practical alternative.

Rebecca: But the majority of MPs want to leave in an orderly fashion, right? I mean they’re British!

Simon: Yes. Parliament has voted emphatically against a chaotic exit. But what Parliament can’t agree on is what kind of exit it wants, so the legal default (a no-deal Brexit) is arguably the least popular option. Perplexing, isn’t it?

It’s as if a military strategist dreamed up a new version of game theory and wanted to see how it would work in an actual democracy.

Peter: But MPs and the government are playing games with the country’s future and it is not funny anymore.

Simon: European leaders aren’t laughing. They might be weeping with frustration.

Peter: They are indeed. The head of the European Commission called David Cameron, the former prime minister who started the whole thing by calling the Brexit referendum, “one of the great destroyers of modern times” yesterday evening.

Simon: A side note – I was at a discussion at Harvard yesterday where a speaker mistakenly referred to James Cameron. James Cameron was the director of the film “Titanic.” Which seems terribly apposite at the moment. Are MPs in Parliament rearranging the deck chairs and willing the iceberg to move?

Peter: Seems to me they are just pretending the iceberg isn’t there. The public have been fed up with government handling of Brexit for some time. Now they are getting increasingly fed up with Parliament and its inability to agree on anything.

Parliamentarians have proved very bad at politics. None of them are showing any readiness to compromise on their maximalist positions. We are getting dangerously close to a situation where a lot of voters are going to be in a “what’s the point of politicians?” mood, and that will give demagogues a field day.

Simon: Do we need to talk about the extraordinary takeover of Parliament by its members?

Peter: Briefly ...

Simon: In a parliamentary system, the government controls the business of the legislature. What bills are discussed, motions tabled, etc. 

Last week there was a cross-party takeover of this process. And that’s how we ended up with the last two days of voting on alternatives to Ms. May’s Brexit deal.

Imagine if junior representatives from both parties in Congress had seized the gavel from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and said, “OK, let’s pass some major legislation.”

It was a remarkable twist in the story, and frankly a necessary effort to force change on Ms. May’s government. Since she has no Plan B.

Peter: Except that they have signally failed to pass major legislation. Still no majority in favor of anything.

Rebecca: So what happens next? Britain seems to be getting lost deeper in the weeds as it tries to untangle itself. Is the future more uncertain now than when we talked before? (How is that possible!)

Peter: Crystal ball time, Simon....

Simon: My crystal ball is cloudy. The lights went out!

Peter: The future is no more uncertain, but that is becoming increasingly urgent. Urgent uncertainty. Does that get us anywhere?

Simon: Let’s remember that Ms. May still thinks she can get her deal approved by Parliament. 

Rebecca: (But it’s failed three times!)

Simon: It’s hard to see how Ms. May succeeds. She already played her trump card by offering to step down as leader if the deal passes. And that still didn’t get her a majority.

Can she really get a majority after three failures? Hard to imagine. Even if she did there are many legislative steps to go, and a shaky coalition is easily undone. So the EU might conclude that she’s simply unable to deliver Brexit in its current form. 

Peter: One reason Brexit is so hard to agree on is that the country and its political class are divided so equally and so ambiguously: 52-48 to leave at the referendum, and now 53-47 to remain, according to polls. 

Rebecca: So you two think Ms. May’s deal as it is won’t pass. What does that leave?

Simon: I expect the U.K. will ask for another extension next week at an emergency EU summit.

The question is, what will U.K. say is the reason for the extension? To hold an election to break the deadlock? Or a referendum on whether to Brexit or not?

It’s not enough to say, “Well, we still can’t make up our minds. Sorry.” That won’t cut it. 

Peter: I’ll stick my head out. I think there will be an election, which will be fought almost entirely on the Brexit issue, (so it will in effect be a referendum). 

The whole system of government is in danger of seizing up, unable to reach a decision on the most important question before it in more than 50 years. The government might simply collapse.

Rebecca: I started this conversation thinking something catastrophic had been avoided on March 29. But has it just been delayed unless the British Parliament can correct course? Do you two have any final thoughts?

Peter: My thought is that I am looking forward to the day when I do not have to think any longer about Brexit. But to be frank, I am not certain when that day will dawn.

Simon: I expect to be back in the U.K. covering an election sooner than expected. 

My big surprise when I was reporting in London last time is that while there is animosity toward the EU for striking a hard bargain, the biggest blame seems to be directed at British politicians on the other side of the negotiations. So perhaps some introspection will serve to lighten the difficult path ahead!

Rebecca: This potential election seems to me almost like the last Boston Marathon – the weather was so terrible that the winners were completely unexpected.

Peter: My kind of marathon....

Rebecca: Perhaps there are some obscure MPs and parties who will end up taking power.

Thank you both for taking time again to talk!

Peter: I’ve enjoyed it. And I am confident that another occasion to ruminate on Brexit will soon present itself. 

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Editor’s note: After this conversation was held, Ms. May said the U.K. would seek to extend the deadline for leaving the EU from April 12 to May 22. She announced cross-party talks to find a compromise to break the deadlock.

Jacob Turcotte and Rebecca Asoulin/Staff, Photos by AP
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2. In Turkey vote, ruling party's recipe for trouble: too much Erdoğan

Politics often rewards confidence, and punishes overconfidence. As President Erdoğan campaigned around Turkey to bolster his party in municipal elections, his previously tried-and-true divisive rhetoric proved alienating.

David
Emrah Gurel/AP
People sitting by the Bosporus in Istanbul read newspapers April 1, a day after local elections were held around Turkey. The opposition dealt President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a symbolic blow by gaining ground in key cities in the elections.

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Municipal elections on Sunday proved a watershed moment in Turkish politics, a major setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). For the first time in a quarter century, the opposition seized control of both Turkey’s political capital, Ankara, and – in a result now being challenged – its commercial center, Istanbul.

While the AKP claimed victory at a national level, analysts said the election results were an indication the party’s veneer of invincibility is giving way. But for Mr. Erdoğan, they said, who employed divisive and incendiary rhetoric at more than 100 rallies, the result represented a personal failure. Mr. Erdoğan “turned it into a referendum, he made a strategic error by marrying these elections to himself,” says Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at Lehigh University. “Had he stayed on the sidelines the results might have been different.”

“Once you call people traitors, people – even AK Party folks – get alienated,” says Yilmaz, an electrician in Istanbul who once campaigned for the AKP but this time backed the opposition. “Now the AK Party is going to have to step back and regain its footing. It needs to change.”

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In Turkey vote, ruling party's recipe for trouble: too much Erdoğan

When the Turkish electrician, a longtime supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party, backed the opposition Sunday in Istanbul, his vote was cast without joy, and with little expectation of change.

Instead, it contributed to a watershed moment in Turkish politics, a major setback for Mr. Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in municipal elections nationwide that the president had declared critical to Turkey’s survival.

For the first time in a quarter century, the opposition seized control of both Turkey’s political capital, Ankara, and – by the slimmest of margins, in a result now being challenged by the AKP – its commercial center, Istanbul, where Mr. Erdoğan once was mayor.

While the AKP claimed victory at a national level, analysts said the election results were the first indication the ruling party’s veneer of invincibility is giving way, and that its days in power may be numbered. But for Mr. Erdoğan, they said, who campaigned relentlessly with a schedule of more than 100 rallies, the result represented a personal failure.

The rallies were marked by divisive and incendiary rhetoric in which Mr. Erdoğan labeled opponents as “terrorists,” threatened them with prosecution, and blamed “enemies” in the West for Turkey’s economic malaise, giving the Istanbuli electrician every reason to vote against him.

The turn away from the AKP by this small shop owner, Yilmaz – who once actively campaigned for the Islamist-leaning party, but today refuses even to give his full name for fear of retribution – is emblematic of the broader disillusion with Mr. Erdoğan’s combative and authoritarian style as well as the tanking economy, as shown in the election results.

“Once you call people traitors, people – even AK Party folks – get alienated,” Yilmaz says on the day after the vote, as a toaster is brought in for repair.

“Now there’s competition [that’s] going to be good for everyone,” says the electrician, who during the campaign told the Monitor he did not see enough prospects for his own future to get married and have children.

“They antagonized everybody,” adds Yilmaz, whose father and grandfather supported the AKP and its Islamist antecedent, Welfare. “Now the AK Party is going to have to step back and regain its footing. It needs to change.”

As unofficial results were announced, the candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem İmamoğlu, changed his Twitter handle to read “Mayor of Istanbul.” But at dawn on Monday, AKP banners also sprung up in the city with the words “Thank you Istanbul,” above pictures of Mr. Erdoğan and the AKP’s mayoral candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, as if victory was theirs.

Emrah Gurel/AP
A supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party kisses a banner with his picture outside party headquarters in Istanbul Monday, April 1, 2019, a day after local elections were held around Turkey. The opposition dealt Erdoğan a symbolic blow by gaining ground in key cities, including the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul.

Despite the headline-grabbing losses, the AKP remains the most popular political party in Turkey, winning, with its nationalist coalition ally, 51.6 percent of the vote overall. On top of that, Mr. Erdoğan rules until 2023 with expanded executive powers that came into effect with a presidential vote last year.

But the Turkish economy entered recession in March, after years of exceptional growth since the AKP came to power in 2002. Among a host of economic concerns, the currency has lost one-third of its value in the past year, unemployment is high, and inflation hovers around 20 percent.

Mr. Erdoğan “turned it into a referendum, he made a strategic error by marrying these elections to himself,” says Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, adding that Turkish voters aren’t buying the president’s rhetoric anymore.

“Had he stayed on the sidelines the results might have been different. He wouldn’t have galvanized the opposition so much,” says Mr. Barkey. “So this is a slap at Erdoğan. Erdoğan is the big loser here.... People voted against him.

“At this stage, his big worry is that people will see him as a diminished figure,” says Mr. Barkey. “That’s why I don’t expect him to mellow.” The president and his party, he adds, have “gone too far down this road of traitors and evil-doers and all this, to suddenly say, ‘We are going to cooperate with them, we are going to accept this.’ ”

Erdoğan sees fault, not defeat

Indeed, in a midnight speech addressing supporters on election night, Mr. Erdoğan didn’t accept defeat. He said instead that “our nation” had given the AKP the highest number of votes in the 15th election in a row, and that it would control 56 percent of Turkey’s municipalities.

But Mr. Erdoğan also struck a more humble tone when he admitted, without mentioning Istanbul or Ankara, that the “sole reason” for any poor results was “our having been unable to explain ourselves sufficiently to our people [and] having been unable to enter their hearts sufficiently.”

That was despite addressing rallies in 59 provinces and 43 districts and on nine television programs, he noted, all of them promoted ubiquitously by pro-AKP media.

“We can’t seek out [fault] in our nation, we must seek it out in ourselves,” said Mr. Erdoğan. Starting the next morning, he vowed, “we will set to work identifying and addressing our shortcomings.”

An adviser to the president, Saadet Oruç, was less sanguine. “Sometimes storms are a good thing,” she was quoted as saying in the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper. “Your boat is a bit worn out, rocking from side to side, but afterwards there is no scum on deck.”

But that may not change the eventual historical verdict, that this election result marks the beginning of a transition away from Erdoğan-AKP dominance, says Sinan Ülgen, a Turkey expert and former Turkish diplomat with Carnegie Europe.

“With hindsight, we will read it as the first real sign of that decline, because fundamentally what needs to happen to stop this decline is for Turkey to generate a new positive narrative about itself, which would need to be led by an economic upturn,” says Mr. Ülgen.

The current political context “does not really give much optimism” for such a turnaround, says Mr. Ülgen, and without regeneration “it’s going to be a downward trend for the ruling party.”

Istanbul’s symbolism

The loss of Istanbul is especially symbolic for the AKP, since it was the place that Erdoğan cut his political teeth, starting in 1994 as mayor, and where the AKP devised its program.

“This will certainly appear as a weakening of Erdoğan’s rule, both internally and externally,” adds Mr. Ülgen. That’s because the opposition now control cities that generate some 70 percent of Turkey’s GDP, and “that’s where political and economic influence stems from.”

Turkey’s pro-AKP media put a brave spin on the results, suggesting that winning 778 municipalities is a “record that will be hard to beat.”

On the streets, there was still surprise – even from longtime supporters of the opposition.

“I thought the AKP was going to win again, clear and certain,” says a tea shop owner named Fatih. “They’re just going to win it back in the next election. Nothing’s going to change; the vote was just a reaction.”

A customer arrives, orders a sandwich, and complains about the price. Fatih dismisses the complaint by listing the rising price of tomatoes and cheese.

“I hope it’s all for the best for the country and the people; AKP will [be forced] to put itself in order,” says Fatih.

The opposition are a minority, he says, but there are signs that this time the AKP knew it had been beaten.

“After every election, they [AKP supporters] come by and make fun of us” for losing, says Fatih. “Today there was none of that. Just silence.”

Two Monitor researchers contributed reporting from Istanbul.

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3. Angry students called this professor ‘disgusting.’ He’s still an optimist.

Our reporter talks to authors who are responding to political divisiveness, cruelty, and societal cynicism by publicly reinforcing the roles of love and hope.

David
Margo Reed/The Philadelphia Inquirer/AP
Rabbi Linda Holtzman (second from r.) attends an interfaith service held in honor and solidarity with the people killed in the deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand at Masjidullah Mosque in Philadelphia, March 15. ‘Blueprint,’ a new book by Yale Prof. Nicholas Christakis, argues that the most enduring societies are those most rooted in love.

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Three and a half years ago Yale Prof. Nicholas Christakis and his wife, Prof. Erika Christakis, a scholar of early childhood development, became embroiled in a campus controversy over offensive Halloween costumes and free speech.

A video of an angry group of students confronting Dr. Nicholas Christakis went viral, and it soon became an emblem of outrage. At the time, Dr. Christakis defended the angry students on Twitter, but he puts the maelstrom that followed on the list of the top 10 worst things that happened in his life.

Today, the evolutionary sociologist has a new book, “Blueprint,” arguing that the scientific community, most media outlets, and perhaps the majority of people have been overly obsessed with the dark side.

It is in many ways part of a wider genre of books that have tried to take on this current era’s relentless “pessimistic gaze,” as Dr. Christakis calls it. These range from Arthur C. Brooks’ new book, “Love Your Enemies” to “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening),” from Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers.

“I kind of wanted my book to be a corrective,” he says in an interview. “I think the bright side has been denied the attention it deserves.”

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Angry students called this professor ‘disgusting.’ He’s still an optimist.

More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin grappled with a classic question about the nature of nature and the existence of God.

“There seems to me too much misery in the world,” wrote the naturalist, whose book “On the Origin of Species” was just beginning to send a jolt through 19th-century scientists and theologians both. “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the [parasitic wasp] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.”

As a version of the “problem of evil,” Darwin’s observations posed a different kind of question for those working within the religious traditions of “theodicy,” suggests Nicholas Christakis, an evolutionary sociologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Usually seeing misery as a matter of free choice, theologians tried to reconcile a good and all-powerful God with evil.

The questions of his own work are actually kind of similar, says Professor Christakis, whose new book, “Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society,” surveys the ways evolution has shaped human nature and its discontents.

But his book is a “sociodicy,” he says, one that shows how the forces of evolution shaped humans into a species with deeply rooted social instincts and one that is fundamentally good.

“How do we vindicate a belief in the goodness of society despite the fact that, of course, every century is replete with horrors?” he says in an interview. “You know there’s tribalism and violence, there’s selfishness and hatred, all through the world. And nevertheless, in my view, we as human beings create a society that’s good.”

It is in many ways part of a wider genre of recent books that have tried to take on this current era’s relentless “pessimistic gaze,” as Dr. Christakis calls it.

A range of writers, from scientists to political thinkers to clergy and others, have been trying to write “correctives” in the midst of America’s oft-noted angry social divisions and growing political polarization. These range from Arthur C. Brooks’ new book, “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt” to “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations,” from Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, hosts of the podcast “Pantsuit Politics.”

The idea of vindicating goodness in the midst of suffering is at the heart of Dr. Christakis’ analogy between these genres, and the stakes include the subjective and profoundly human perspectives of hope and optimism as opposed to cynicism and despair.

“The benefits of the connected life must have outweighed the costs, or otherwise we wouldn’t live socially,” Dr. Christakis says. “We have been pre-wired to live in a particular way, and it’s a good way,” he says. “It’s full of lives full of love and friendship and cooperation and teaching.”

The word “optimism,” in fact, was first coined to describe – and often mock – a tradition of theodicy. Theologians argued that an all-powerful and perfectly good God could only create “the best of all possible worlds” – so, despite the evils within it, our own world must be the “optimum” of possible worlds.

Arguing for ‘the bright side’

Today the scientific community, most American media outlets, and perhaps the majority of people have been overly obsessed with the dark side of our evolutionary heritage, he says, or what some theologians might call instead a primordial “original sin.”

“So I kind of wanted my book to be a corrective,” he continues. “I think the bright side has been denied the attention it deserves.”

And while few are working to justify the ways of God or natural selection and demonstrate how society is fundamentally good, many have been analyzing that current “culture of contempt” and working to exhort Americans to pay more attention to the proverbial “better angels of our nature,” and cultivate the shared humanity and goodness that undergirds our common lives.

“Contempt is kind of a metastatic phenomenon,” Mr. Brooks, a conservative social thinker, told The Daily Signal. “When you treat somebody with contempt, you make a permanent enemy. You just can’t go back from that.”

Mr. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, offers his own practical correctives to this social illness: cultivating a love and respect for others even in the midst of profound social differences. “We don’t need to disagree less, we need to disagree better,” he said. “And that comes from ... remembering that we’re all brothers and sisters, and we need to persuade each other. And even if we have to not agree, that’s OK, too.”

In different ways, books like “Christians in the Age of Outrageby the Evangelical scholar Ed Stetzer are urging members of the subculture to step back from expressions of outrage and hostility and present a Christian witness rooted in loving others.

“Seeking kindness in an increasingly cruel landscape, or, at a time of unprecedented mobility, yearning for a sense of rootedness – well, rabbis have a two-millennium head start in dealing with all of these,” writes Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, whose new book “Mensch-Marks,” released on Tuesday, promotes a “nobility in normalcy, especially in these tumultuous times.”  

“If by sharing what I’ve learned, I can add a modicum of generosity, honesty and human connection in a world overflowing with cruelty, loneliness and deceit, then I’ll have done my job,” Rabbi Hammerman said in a statement.

In “Blueprint,” Dr. Christakis cites the work of the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who points out in his recent book “Enlightenment Now” that many don’t realize the enormous social progress of the past few centuries. In the midst of this era’s relentless pessimist gaze, Mr. Pinker argues, few focus on how the efficiencies wrought by science and technology have led to greater life expectancies, fewer wars and fewer violent deaths, and a relative global prosperity that has shrunk the overall rates of poverty and disease.

Such a pessimistic gaze can blur out bedrock strengths of the many people of goodwill who quietly hold together community ties and keep the daily rhythms of everyday life steady.

A poignancy behind the optimism

Still, there’s an underlying urgency, and even poignancy, at the heart of the optimism in Dr. Christakis’ sociodicy.

Three and a half years ago he and his wife, Erika Christakis, a scholar of early childhood development, became embroiled in a campus controversy over offensive Halloween costumes and free speech.

A video of an angry group of students confronting Dr. Christakis went viral, and it soon became an emblem of outrage, used manipulatively by many on both the right and left. “I’m sick looking at you....  You are not listening, you are disgusting,” one student told him during the two-hour exchange.

At the time, Dr. Christakis defended the students on Twitter, but he puts the confrontation and the maelstrom that followed on the list of the top 10 worst things that happened in his life. It was especially difficult for his wife, who resigned her position at Yale after the controversy.

Though not addressed, it’s part of the backdrop of “Blueprint.” As he writes, “One of the most dispiriting questions I have encountered in my own laboratory research is whether the affinity people have for their own groups – whether those groups are defined by some attribute (nationality, ethnicity, or religion) or by a social connection (friends or teammates) – must necessarily be coupled with wariness or rejection of others. Can you love your own group without hating everyone else?”

Dr. Christakis builds his sociodicy primarily through telling stories that illustrate what he calls a “social suite” of eight instincts that form the core of human societies. These include the bonds of love for partners and kin, the ability to cooperate, and the ability to form friendships and then social networks of friends.

These bonding instincts rooted in love also include a built-in tension. The “social suite” includes a profound preference for family, friends, and wider “in-groups,” which leads to an “otherization” of those not part of the group.

Yet this “in-group bias” is essential for the larger “good” society the social suite builds. “[Cooperation] is supported not only by the fact that we reliably interact with friends rather than strangers within the face-to-face networks we fashion,” he writes, “but also by the fact that we form groups whose boundaries we enforce by coming to like those within the group more than those outside of it.”

“People everywhere choose their friends and prefer their own groups,” he continues. “In turn, cooperation is a crucial predicate for social learning, one of our species’ most powerful inventions.”

In the early chapters of “Blueprint,” Dr. Christakis examines the social organization of a number of “unintentional communities,” like the survivors of shipwrecks. In some, cliques began to compete and the society disintegrated; in others cooperative instincts prevailed.

In others, he describes the formation of intentional communities, including religious groups like the Shakers, or artificial communities, like online gamers. And while aspects of the “social suite” are always at work, the kinds of societies that can emerge are not always “good,” per se.

“People often think that personality traits such as kindness are fixed,” he writes. “But our research with groups suggests something quite different: the tendency to be altruistic or exploitative may depend heavily on how the social world is organized.”

It’s an irony at the heart of the “optimistic” theodicies, too. Theologians have often argued that there can be no virtue without the reality of vice, no beauty without the facts of chaos, and that no true character can be formed in a life without tests.

All societies, from individual family units to civilizations, are shaped by a swirl of often ambivalent human instincts. But in many ways, “Blueprint” argues, the most enduring societies are those most rooted in love.

“Love is a particularly distinctive human experience,” he writes. “Love also paves the way, evolutionarily speaking, for us to feel a special connection not only to our kin, but also, ultimately, to unrelated individuals.... We form long-term, nonreproductive unions with other humans. This is exceedingly rare in the animal kingdom, but it is universal in us.”

It’s an observation at the heart of his optimism, and Dr. Christakis modifies another theological affirmation to conclude his justification of the ways of natural selection.    

“The arc of our evolutionary history is long,” he writes. “But it bends toward goodness.”

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4. Have you herd? Cows have feelings, too.

In the 20th century, animals were largely seen as tools to be exploited. But in recent decades a shift has occurred as scientists recognize cats, dogs, and even cows as sentient creatures.

David
Yves Herman/Reuters
Cats and goats live together at the association Les Petits Vieux, a home for dozens of older animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, and goats, in Chièvres, Belgium. Over the past quarter century, people's perceptions of animals have been shifting.

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Does a chimpanzee mother love its child? What about a cow mother? Can a chicken feel sad? And how much is cow love and chicken sadness like human love and human sadness?

A generation ago, such questions would have been dismissed as unobservable and, therefore, unscientific. But over the past quarter century, perceptions have been shifting.

“On both sides of the Atlantic, we had a mechanistic view of animals,” says Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal, author of the new bestseller “Mama’s Last Hug.” “And I think we are basically abandoning that view, and that has obvious moral implications.”

These implications are part of what motivates pattrice jones, the co-founder of the VINE Sanctuary in southern Vermont. The farm animal rescue shelter offers a sociable home to about 500 animals, including chickens, sheep, goats, alpacas, doves, and several cattle rescued from dairy farms.

“Just like us, animals like to make friends with people of other species,” says Mx. jones, who prefers gender-neutral titles and pronouns.

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Have you herd? Cows have feelings, too.

Moxie had cared for her son for just one day three years earlier. But she could immediately sense his presence.

The retired dairy cow had just arrived at VINE Sanctuary, a farm animal rescue mission in Springfield, Vermont, just as her son, Maddox, had. She and her son were among the hundreds of cattle, chickens, sheep, and others that had, one way or another, slipped free from an industrial apparatus and wound up at this wooded hillside sanctuary.

“When [Maddox] came in sight,” the sanctuary’s co-founder, pattrice jones, recalls, “Perhaps it was scent – she looked up and made this rumbling low moo. As soon as she made that sound, he stopped. They walked very slowly and carefully closer together, and then they touched noses.”

Were Maddox and Moxie really happy to see one another, or is it all just instinctive behavior? And if nonhuman animals can feel emotions, are those emotions anything like ours?

A generation ago, animal behaviorists would have dismissed such questions as unobservable, and therefore outside the bounds of science. Today, a shift is underway, as scientists and society alike begin to recognize a role for nonhuman animals’ inner mental states.  

A particularly “mechanistic view of animals” has prevailed throughout the West, says Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal. “And I think we are basically abandoning that view, and that has obvious moral implications.”

Professor de Waal’s bestseller published in March, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves,” argues directly for the existence of animal emotions, and for animals’ humane treatment.

“That’s a very old obsession in the West – and in our religion of course – that we have souls and animals don’t have souls,” says Professor de Waal. “There’s many people who accept evolutionary theory, but they always make an exception for the human mind.”

This exclusionary view, he says, is becoming increasingly untenable. For one thing, humans and mammals, in addition to sharing the same biology associated with emotions, also often share some of the same basic facial expressions.

Stories of animal minds exceeding human expectations usually attract popular attention. “I think there’s a desire from most people,” says Lori Gruen, a philosopher at Wesleyan University who specializes in animal ethics, to recognize that “there’s not such a great divide between us and them.”

‘An underground railroad of sorts’

The goats and chickens sunning themselves together in the hay at VINE Sanctuary, along with the roughly 500 other residents – including cattle, sheep, doves, parrots, geese, emus, and a few alpacas – represent the charmed few, ambassadors for a radically different way of life for domesticated animals. The animals mingle freely at the 106-acre facility, half of which is set aside as a refuge for local wildlife. Goats offer rides to chickens, alpacas lounge by the hay bales, and sheep and cows approach a strange reporter for head scratches.

“Just like us, animals like to make friends with people of other species,” says Mx. jones, who identifies as non-binary and prefers the gender-neutral title Mx.

The rescue of some of the animals has made the news, such as the 90 or so chickens seized by authorities after a cockfighting ring bust in Northampton, Massachusetts, last year. Others were found abandoned, Mx. jones says, or handed over by “farmers who showed mercy.”

But overall, Mx. jones is wary of describing the networks that deliver the animals, which Mx. jones describes as “an underground railroad of sorts.”

“There have been many kinds of people who are close to the [meat and dairy] industry who will find ways to bring animals to the sanctuary,” Mx. jones says.

Mx. jones links animal liberation inextricably with feminism, noting how learning about standard dairy practices – forcibly impregnating cows and taking away offspring after one day – was all it took to go vegan.

“It was gut-wrenching to realize that I had been participating in such sexualized violence,” Mx. jones says.

A shift in thought

Scientists were not always so dismissive of animal emotions. Indeed, Charles Darwin published an entire book in 1872 detailing the continuity of emotional expressions between humans and animals.

But that changed in the 20th century, with the rise of behaviorism, an approach to psychology that eschews concepts like thoughts, feelings, and consciousness in favor of external phenomena that can be observed and measured. During that period, factory farms and vivisection labs proliferated.

“Humans thought less of animals in the 20th century than we did before the 20th century,” says Kristin Andrews, a philosopher at York University in Toronto.  

“As we industrialized more and more, we lived farther and farther away from those animals, and that allowed us to forget that they are minded and feeling beings,” she says.

“Humans were probably happy to accept behaviorism,” she says. “We were being told that [animals] don’t feel anything.”

In the study of human psychology, behaviorism began to lose its preeminence in the 1960s, with the advent of the so-called cognitive revolution, which began to systematically study phenomena like memory and attention. In animal behavior, the shift away from behaviorism began in the mid-1990s.  

“We sort of lost track of [animal emotions] for a century,” says Professor de Waal.

But since then, the shift back toward a recognition of the inner lives of animals has accompanied a shift in policy. In 1997, the European Union ratified a treaty recognizing animal sentience, and New Zealand and several European countries have banned using great apes in invasive experiments. In the United States, invasive testing on chimpanzees came to an end in 2015.

“In the early 2000s, chimps were still being used in research,” says Dr. Gruen. “And I would often talk to other philosophers and activists and those who were in the chimp world that maybe in our lifetimes we could stop it. And then it stopped,” she says. “It stopped way before I thought it would stop.”

Dr. Andrews suggests that factory farms will soon follow. “It’s too expensive for the industry to keep all these animals alive, and they’re putting a lot of money into fake meat, into lab meat and all sorts of alternative proteins,” she says. “I’m really optimistic about that piece.”

On their terms

When we compare animal emotions with our own, are we losing something? Alexandra Horowitz, a psychologist who specializes in canine cognition and behavior, cautions against anthropomorphizing animals’ inner lives.

“It seems to me presumptuous in the extreme to assume that [cows’] emotions are exactly like ours,” says Dr. Horowitz, author of several books including the 2017 bestseller “Being a Dog” and “Our Dogs, Ourselves,” scheduled for release in September 2019. “I’d rather that the cow show me, without my prejudgment, what that emotion is.”

Dr. Gruen agrees. “We tend to ignore differences,” she says. “When we try to assimilate all other animals into sort of a human framework … we’re missing out on a whole range of other things that are not just beautiful and wondrous, but valuable.”

But Dr. Horowitz also says the growing recognition of the inner lives of animals is cause for hope. “Now that we’re tending to [nonhuman animals] at all really, as opposed to seeing them as nuisances or just as functionaries for our purposes, it could change. I think it’s an act of desperation to hope for that, but that’s where I think we are.”

An earlier version of this article misidentified pattrice jones. Mx. Jones identifies as non-binary and prefers the gender-neutral title Mx.

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5. Hollywood finally gets the message – diversity is good for business

At its best, the film industry offers moviegoers a reflection of themselves. Our reporter looks at why those once strikingly monochromatic reflections are starting to change.

David

Two ways to read the story

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While there’s still room for improvement, women and people of color led movies in record numbers in 2018. U.S. films featuring a woman in a leading role climbed 20 percent in the past decade, according to a new study from the University of Southern California. The report found that 40 of the top 100 highest-grossing films in the past year were led by women, and 28 were led by minorities.

The 2015 #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and the movement it inspired is heralded as one catalyst of increasing equality in Hollywood: It led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pledge to double the number of women and people of color in its ranks by 2020.

Another is the “inclusion rider,” a clause that can be added to the contracts of sought-after performers to ensure that members of marginalized communities are also hired.

Importantly, activists have drawn continuous attention to the issue of diversity by documenting the state of entertainment equality, according to Kalpana Kotagal, a lawyer and inclusion rider co-writer. “We need to have transparency about what’s actually happened so that it can be measured,” she says. “And that measurement allows us to show how stagnant the industry has been.”

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Hollywood finally gets the message – diversity is good for business

In 2015, dismayed by the lack of people of color nominated for Oscars, former lawyer April Reign composed a tweet with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

“There’s no shortage of Latina actresses. There’s no shortage of black actors,” Ms. Reign told the Monitor in 2016. “It’s just making sure that everyone has an opportunity [to compete] and then just picking the best-qualified person once you’ve leveled the playing field.”

A few years and 147,000 Twitter followers later, Ms. Reign’s call to action has compelled the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to pledge to double the number of women and people of color in its ranks by 2020. Ms. Reign was invited to this year’s Oscars, which honored the most women and minority nominees to date.

The #OscarsSoWhite wake-up call is heralded as one catalyst of increasing equality in Hollywood. While there’s still room for improvement, women and people of color led movies in record numbers in 2018.

U.S. films featuring a woman in a leading role climbed 20 percent in the past decade, according to a new study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. The report found that 40 of the top 100 highest-grossing films in the past year were led by women, and 28 were led by minorities. The presence of at least one woman of color in a leading role at every major studio contributed to progress seen in 2018, suggest the study’s authors. 

Representation of races and ethnicities, however, still doesn’t reflect the diversity of the general public. Minorities make up 40 percent of the U.S. population; by 2045, that population is projected to reach majority. 

While people of color have made gains in the film industry over the past few years, they are still underrepresented across all Hollywood jobs. Native women and women from the Middle East are especially absent from film roles that drive the storyline. 

Television, however, has made particularly promising strides for minorities, according to the annual Hollywood Diversity Report out of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

At first glance, it’s troubling: People of color in broadcast scripted shows account for only around two out of 10 lead roles. But that’s a major improvement from when UCLA began its reporting in 2011: The number of people of color in starring TV roles has more than quadrupled.

Darnell Hunt, a UCLA professor of sociology and African-American studies who co-wrote the report, has watched how industry attitudes toward fairer representation have evolved over the years. If diversity on screen seemed like a luxury a decade ago, audiences expect it today. “Over time, as it became clear that audiences were becoming more diverse and that they were demanding diverse content, diversity itself was seen as a business imperative,” Mr. Hunt told NPR.

Diversity is indeed good for business. Top-grossing films with female leads outperformed those with male leads at the box office each year between 2014 and 2017 regardless of budget.

Industry observers also credit a certain hiring practice as a catalyst for more equality: the “inclusion rider.”

Embraced by a growing list of stars that includes Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson, an inclusion rider clause can be inserted into the contracts of sought-after performers to ensure the hiring of more women, people of color, LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, and members of other marginalized communities.

By demanding the inclusive policy, high-profile actors can leverage their status to help others break barriers of entry. While not a quota, the standard inclusion rider calls for “consideration of the deep bench of talented professionals from historically underrepresented groups and strongly encourages hiring and casting of qualified individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.”

Kalpana Kotagal, a partner at the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and a co-writer of the inclusion rider, says that activists and advocates have played a key role in documenting the state of entertainment equality.

“We need to have transparency about what’s actually happened so that it can be measured,” says Ms. Kotagal. “And that measurement allows us to show how stagnant the industry has been.”

But measuring diversity in leading roles as a benchmark for progress can promise only so much. Efforts to level the playing field are vital behind the camera too.

Beyond casting, Ms. Kotagal says it’s also worth examining who gets nominated for awards and whose projects get greenlighted.

Consider women directors: Though their number at the head of top-grossing films doubled from 2016 to 2017, they amounted to only 12.6 percent of the director pool.

Enter the “4% Challenge.” Launched in January by Time’s Up (a nonprofit created in 2017 in response to Hollywood’s #MeToo reckoning), the campaign addresses the fact that only 4 percent of directors who helmed the past decade’s most lucrative films were women. The challenge calls on moviemakers to commit to a feature film with a woman director within 18 months. Several artists and studios have already signed on, including Amazon Studios, MGM Studios, and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Historic wins at the 2019 Oscars mean more inclusive stories could enter development. Ms. Kotagal was thrilled by “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” winning an Oscar for best animated feature. The movie’s protagonist is the first Afro-Latino Spider-Man.

“That kind of stereotype-breaking is also part of the story here,” Ms. Kotagal says.

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The Monitor's View

When voters opt for candidates who unite

Two ways to read the story

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So many democracies today are beset with the politics of fear and smear that it is refreshing when some elections suggest voters say “Enough!” Turkey’s municipal election on Sunday was one good example.

Many voters rejected the populist rhetoric of hate employed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They gave control of five of Turkey’s six biggest cities to the main opposition. The new mood was best seen in the contest for mayor of Istanbul. After his victory, Ekrem İmamoğlu promised to “heal the wounds that have been opened” by the harsh rhetoric about faith and religion.

Another example of a country opting for candidates offering reconciliation was Saturday’s election in Slovakia. In a rebuke to the governing party’s populist tactics, a political newcomer, Zuzana Čaputová, was elected president. In her victory speech, she said, “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.”

In Turkey and Slovakia, voters have chosen a reversal of hate. The bonds of civic life were too strong for incivility.

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When voters opt for candidates who unite

So many democracies today are beset with the politics of fear and smear that it is refreshing when some elections suggest voters say “Enough!” and choose candidates who do not see opponents as evil.

Turkey’s nationwide municipal election on Sunday was one good example. Many voters rejected the populist rhetoric of hate and division employed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power for 16 years. They gave control of five of Turkey’s six biggest cities to the main opposition parties. And this despite Mr. Erdoğan’s mass jailing of dissidents and his control over much of the media and the judiciary.

Voters in those cities had tired of the president’s labeling of opponents as either terrorist collaborators, anti-Muslim, or agents of the West. The truth was easily available on social media. In one video that went viral, a woman asks: “Why should the man governing Turkey make a distinction between the people? Are the [opposition] parties always evil and you [Mr. Erdoğan] are good?”

The voters’ desire for peaceful rather than polarizing politics was reflected in the victory speech of the winner of the mayoral race in the nation’s capital. “No one has lost,” Mansur Yavaş of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) told supporters. “Ankara has won.”

The new mood was best seen in the contest for mayor of Istanbul, the country’s economic powerhouse. After his victory, Ekrem İmamoğlu of the CHP urged Turks to be careful of their words. “Even a single person being slighted or offended will sadden me.” He promised to “heal the wounds that have been opened” by the harsh rhetoric about faith and ethnicity by Mr. Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

During his campaign, Mr. İmamoğlu spoke of the need for leadership in civility and an end to government relying on fear to suppress dissent. “If the mayor isn’t genial then the citizen isn’t either,” he said.

Another recent example of a country opting for candidates offering reconciliation was Saturday’s election in Slovakia. In a rebuke to the governing party’s anti-immigrant and populist tactics, a political newcomer and activist, Zuzana Čaputová, was elected president, the first woman to hold the post in the central European nation. In her victory speech, she said, “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.”

“Maybe we thought that justice and fairness in politics were signs of weakness,” she told supporters. “Today, we see that they are actually our strengths. We thought that the barrier between conservative and liberal is unbreakable, but we managed to do it.”

Democracy’s great strength lies in its ability to draw people back from the extremes of rhetoric that rive a society rather than raise it up. In Turkey and Slovakia, voters have chosen that sort of reversal of hate. The bonds of civic life were too strong for incivility.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

He was stealing flowers, so I punched him

Today’s contributor shares spiritual ideas that not only helped him gain the upper hand over a tendency to react aggressively, but also led to the healing of a hand he’d damaged in a moment of anger.

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He was stealing flowers, so I punched him

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Some years ago, I owned and operated a number of retail flower stores in New York City. One day while I was at the cash register of one of my stores, two women informed me that a man had just taken a bucket of roses off one of the outdoor display stands and was walking away. Impulsively, I thought the worst. I ran up behind the thief and hit him. He went sprawling, and the roses flew all over the sidewalk.

As I stood in a combative position, I warned the man never to show up around the store again. But instead of confrontation from this thief, I found a scared man covered with water and deeply humiliated.

As we went our separate ways I felt totally shamed by my actions. I was active in church and prided myself on being a good example in the community. But I felt all the good I had done had been entirely undone in that moment of anger.

Not only was my sense of integrity severely injured, but so was my hand! It was apparent that I had broken or displaced several bones.

I had learned through past experiences that when faced with an injury, it is more helpful to keep my attention on God than to focus on the appearance of the injury. So I turned away from inspecting the hand. But I did inspect my thinking and discovered that there was a need for change. I had spent too many years, from my childhood on, assuming that there were times when physical aggression was necessary to show the strength of my convictions.

More than dealing with sad feelings over what I had done, I saw that I needed to replace this desire to react aggressively with a different kind of response. This required reforming my thought. These words from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, state it clearly: “Sorrow for wrong-doing is but one step towards reform and the very easiest step. The next and great step required by wisdom is the test of our sincerity, – namely, reformation” (p. 5).

I thought of how Jesus never endorsed acts of violence as solutions to anything. As he was being betrayed by Judas, one of his own disciples, another disciple cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, who was among those who had come to arrest the Master. Jesus rejected the violence by healing the servant (see Luke 22:47-53). This rejection of violence was what I needed to embrace myself.

Christian Science explains that the divine Mind, another name for God, wisely provides each of us, each instant, with an inspired opportunity for a loving response to whatever needs correction. This God, ever-present divine Love, can never momentarily disappear. We can never be separated from Him even for an instant.

As I prayed with these ideas, not only did my aggressive impulses soften, but my hand straightened out and took on a normal appearance. Today, decades later, I continue to have full use of it.

I have come to understand the value of staying mentally alert to thoughts and feelings that steal away virtue and lead to wrongful actions. In “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” Mrs. Eddy advises: “Examine yourselves, and see what, and how much, sin claims of you; and how much of this claim you admit as valid, or comply with. The knowledge of evil that brings on repentance is the most hopeful stage of mortal mentality. Even a mild mistake must be seen as a mistake, in order to be corrected...” (p. 109).

Though I never again saw the man I’d hit, I’ve thought of him many times. I’ve questioned how things might have been different if I had followed the Scriptural admonishment “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). I’ve wondered what his response might have been if I had approached him with spiritual love rather than aggression.

Each day brings with it fresh opportunities for each of us to demonstrate moral courage over harmful impulses.

Adapted from an article published in the Jan. 12, 1998, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

After the flood

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
A girl fetches water at a camp for displaced survivors of cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, Tuesday, April, 2, 2019. Access to clean water has become increasingly important in this cyclone-hit city, as Mozambican and international health workers race to contain a cholera outbreak in the region.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( April 3rd, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about homeless women in Boston who find peace and joy through singing.

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