Podcast 001: Hello! Redemption, Anyone?


Hi, welcome, this is Jim Hjort at the Right Life Project, and welcome to the inaugural RLP podcast. Today I'm going to talk a bit about the concept of redemption, but first I want to say a few things about the podcast.

The Right Life Project was born about a year and a half ago, and over that time I've heard from some readers that as much as they like reading articles, they have trouble making time to actually sit down to do that, so they're missing out. Some of them say they have plenty of time to listen to things, though. Other people have said that reading isn't the best way for them to take in information; that they're more auditory learners.

So, I got to thinking about these things, and, as much as I love connecting with my readers through the blog, I'm also excited about exploring what it's like connecting with you in different ways. Notice I said ways, plural . . . the podcast is one way. Another way will be along shortly, hint hint. I think there's something to be said for this format, because we might have a more intimate connection this way. So, I'm glad you're joining me, and I'll look forward to your feedback on this.

Okay. So, no matter how we connect, the things I talk about all relate to the Right Life approach to crafting a rich, meaningful, fulfilling life for yourself. If you've spent time on the website, you probably know that, in a nutshell, this involves attending to your wellbeing in the different dimensions of your life and using their interdependence, or the way they affect each other, to your advantage. Also, cultivating more mindfulness in your life. I'll talk more about those things another time.

Now, when you seek more richness, meaning, and fulfillment, this naturally implies that there is room for improvement in your life in one or more areas, and that's where the concept of redemption comes in.

Everyone has an idea of what redemption means. The word may have a religious connotation for some people, but that's not how I'm using it. Redemption's actually a very broad concept. So, if you'll allow me to illustrate with a few of the dictionary definitions of "to redeem." I'll admit to being a bit of a nerd about this—I actually carry these around with me in my wallet. So, "to redeem" means all of these things:

To get or win back To convert into something of value To free from what distresses or harms To help to overcome something detrimental To release from blame or debt To atone for; expiate To change for the better; reform To rescue To repair To retrieve To restore To make worthwhile To offset the bad effect of To make good; fulfill

Wow! There are some really beautiful concepts in there, right? The kind that can really imbue a human life with incredible meaning. Is there another word that encompasses that much goodness? What do you think? I don't think so. I think that "redemption" gets my vote for favorite word.

So, most of these definitions imply a fall from a higher level of functioning, worth, or integrity, or freedom to a lower level, and then a recovery from the fall. They involve rebuilding or restructuring your life. Researchers that study this sort of thing find that people who view their own life stories as redemptive tend to have much higher levels of well-being than those who don't.

And within that field of study—it's called narrative identity, by the way—the accepted definition of a redemptive storyline is what I just described: a fall and then a recovery. So if you plotted it on a graph, its overall shape would look like a "V."

But did you notice the last two definitions? They were “to make worthwhile” and “to make good or fulfill.” These don't imply recovering after a fall. They imply just getting the most out of something. For us humans, they imply fulfilling our potential; fulfilling the innate promise we have to thrive, starting from wherever we happen to be.

And that's why I wanted to kick off the podcast with a talk about redemption. That's why redemption was the first thing I wrote about on the blog, too. The things I talk about at the Right Life Project aren't just for people whose lives have fallen apart or who have suffered a major setback, because redemption isn't just for those people. It's for all of us.

There's a little quote I like; I think it's attributed to someone named Ian Maclaren, and paraphrasing, it's: "Be kind, for everyone is fighting their own battle."

That sure is the truth. I've faced things that you can't personally relate to because you haven't had the same experience, just as you've faced things that I can't personally relate to. I can understand them intellectually and empathize with your experience, but I can't actually walk in your shoes. Even if we've had the same type of experience, there's still the matter of subjectivity: what, for me, might be the end of the world, could be something that you'd experience as no big deal.

On the individual level the minute details of our experiences matter a great deal, but when you zoom out a bit, you see that the details don't matter so much. Each of our lives is a sequence of facing and overcoming challenges, and that's how we're united: by redemption.

That's why we humans love redemption stories so much. We've always loved them. They're found all over the world, across cultures and time periods. Nowadays you find them on talk shows, sports programming, movies. If you go to the website IMDB, do you know what film was voted No. 1 of all time? The Shawshank Redemption.

Now, that movie has redemption right there in the title, but if you watch just about any movie, you'll find a narrative arc that includes some of the definitions I gave you earlier. We're hardwired to love stories of underdogs, of overcoming the odds, spinning gold from straw. There's surely an evolutionary benefit to loving them: overcoming the odds is good for survival and passing along your genes, and bearing witness to other people's redemption reminds us of our own potential for the same thing.

But, united as we are in the potential to thrive—to have your core self fully active in the world—we each bear personal responsibility for doing it. No one else can do it for you, and the details of your journey will be unique.

Someone who studied and wrote about this a lot was Joseph Campbell. He was a scholar and mythologist, and if you haven't read his work, I strongly encourage you to. He spoke about what he called the “hero’s journey”—a type of redemptive narrative that he found in folklore of cultures all around the world. It's the archetype of a hero involved in a quest of some kind. The hero leaves the safety of home, or the status quo; ventures out into the world to slay some kind of dragon and gain new knowledge; and then returns home, improved and transformed.

There's a book called An Open Life, which consists of interviews with Joseph Campbell. In one of them, he tells a little story. It's one version of the origin of the legend of the quest for the Holy Grail. King Arthur’s knights were seated around the table, waiting for their meal, but King Arthur decreed that they wouldn't eat until an adventure had occurred. As Campbell tells it:

“And indeed, an adventure did occur. The Grail itself appeared, carried by angelic miracle, covered, however, by a cloth. Everyone was in rapture and then it withdrew. Arthur’s nephew Gawain stood up and said, ‘I propose a vow. I propose that we should all go in pursuit of this Grail to behold it unveiled.’ And it was determined that that was what they would do. . . . And then [Campbell says] occur these lines which seem to me so wonderful: ‘They thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group. Each entered the forest that he had chosen where there was no path and where it was darkest.’ . . . [Campbell continues] Now, if there's a way or path, it's someone else's way; . . . what is unknown is the fulfillment of your own unique life, the likes of which has never existed on the earth. And you are the only one who can do it.”

So, I'll leave you here, because you have a hero's journey to get to. You're not alone on it; that's what the Right Life Project is here for. So please visit at www.rightlifeproject.com, check out some of my articles, and please do sign up for the email list. I have some announcements coming up that you don't want to miss! (Hint, hint.)

Please take a moment to leave a comment on the site for this podcast and let me know what you think! And also, please be sure to give it a 5-star rating on iTunes if you feel so inclined, because that would help me reach as many people as possible.

So, until next time, best of luck on your hero's journey and in your pursuit of your Right Life.