Creative Loss and Greatness
The Soul of Civility— now available for pre-order, and a special gift!
In the 1987 Danish film and Oscar winner Babette’s Feast, based on the 1958 novel by Isak Dinesen, Martine and Filippa are the two beautiful and talented daughters of the local Protestant minister, an austere man with whom they live in small-town Denmark.
They both fall in love—Martine with a Swedish officer, and Filippa with a world-class Parisian opera singer named Achille Papin.
As a pretext for proximity to the woman he loved, Papin offers to teach Filippa to sing. As Filippa cultivates her creative giftedness with song, she falls in love with her teacher, Papin, in turn.
Papin believes in Filippa’s talent as a singer and invites her away with him to Paris to perform.
Both sisters decide to spurn their suitors and stay with their father in Denmark.
Filippa gave up on more than her love of Papin. She gave up any hope of fulfilling her creative dreams of being a singer. She lived a creatively stifled life—singing nothing beyond a handful of church hymns once a week on Sunday—because of her decision.
I’m skipping over much of the plot of this wonderful film—please do watch it for yourself—but the end of the film leaves it ambiguous whether Filippa thinks she made the right decision in abandoning her love—and her creative pursuits—out of loyalty to her father.
Babette’s Feast is a story of love, forgiveness, and grace—and for that reason, it makes an appearance in my forthcoming book, The Soul of Civility—but it’s also a tragic story of artistic possibility and creative loss. (By the way, thanks to our wonderful Civic Renaissance Philosophy + Film class for helping me appreciate this insight and aspect of the film—one that I had missed upon past viewings. I always learn so much from our time together. Thanks to each of you who joined us!)
I can think of few things more tragic than lives of unfulfilled—or under fulfilled—creative potential. As a creator, I emphasize with the Filippa’s sense of loss at not cultivating her artistic passion.
On Creative Greatness
Growing up, I had the privilege of being surrounded by several exceptionally talented people in my life. Though their creativity and ingenuity knew no end, these people often had difficulty in two central aspects of the creative endeavor:
First, finishing a creative project.
Second, bringing it to the world.
I love these people very much. Their genius inspires me to this day.
Their shortcomings inspire me, too. They motivate me to do things differently than they did.
The creative process is good and ennobling in and of itself. I believe that to my core. Yet, these people helped me appreciate that we ultimately realize our purpose as human beings when we create, and then share our creative works with others. We are at our highest and best when the fruits of our imagination help others and make the world a better place.
Those are my creative aspirations for my work, anyway. What’s the point of spending nearly a decade writing if no one reads it?
Creative greatness consists not only in having the burst of inspiration necessary to start a project.
It requires also the stamina to finish it—even after the initial burst of inspiration has faded.
And then—perhaps, most importantly—it requires the perseverance to see it brought to the world to share with others.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve created a work of art that I believe has the power to make people’s lives better and heal our world. Reaching as many people as possible with the message of my book and getting it into the hands of as many people as possible is the highest compliment I can pay to the art itself.
This is where my book, The Soul of Civility, comes in.
It’s with supreme gratitude that I share with you that my book, The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves, is now available for pre-order!
The Soul of Civility is being released August 15, 2023. That sounds like a long way off—I know!
But to the point of honoring the creative process by shamelessly promoting this work of art I spent eight years creating, I hope you’ll pre-order my book.
I’ll wait. :)
This book—again, the product of nearly a decade of active work and a lifetime of thinking—is the distillation of innumerable hours of deep reading, reflection, and conversation with many thoughtful people. My book can lend much-needed clarity about the question of civility in the face of deep differences—perhaps the defining question in our world today.
In creating this book, I learned that civility is not a new problem. It’s a timeless human one. I discovered this because, in reading hundreds of books and scouring manuals from across history and culture, I saw the same ideas and principles about living harmoniously with others—even in an era of sharp, seemingly intractable and insoluble disagreement—surface time and time again.
Why would someone need to write down admonishments for harmonious living if harmonious living was already the norm?
In The Soul of Civility, I revive timeless wisdom for peaceful co-existence—a project we’ve been working at since the dawn of our species and in which we have achieved varying degrees of success—in hopes that we might apply them to our own lives today.
I argue that there is a central difference between civility and politeness. Politeness is a technique. It’s external manners and etiquette alone. Civility is a disposition of the heart that sees people as other human beings with equal moral worth, deserving of respect.
Civility sometimes requires being impolite—breaking prevailing norms and manners—in the name of truly respecting people, such as telling hard truths or not shrinking from robust debate. “Papering over” disagreement isn’t respectful of others.
Civility, not politeness, is what we need in our own divided moment. I hope you’ll order my book, The Soul of Civility, and learn why. Thank you for supporting me on this journey of creating this book and for encouraging me on my personal journey of creative greatness. I hope to encourage you on yours, too.
A Special Gift
If you pre-order my book, I have a special, surprise gift that I’d like to send you as a personal thank-you for your support.
Merely send your receipt to email@example.com, and I’ll send you your gift right away.
Over the course of the next several months—between now and publication day—I’ll be curating many events, giveaways, and other initiatives as a thank-you for being part of this community, with additional perks for those who are kind enough to pre-order the book.
Stay tuned—and thank you again for being here!
PS: It was invigorating to wrap up filming my series with The Teaching Company last week! See this photo of our amazing film crew on our last day of filming. My series, “Storytelling and the Human Condition,” is coming to screens near you in May 2023!!