With ensemble, legendary Latin jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera brings world music to Amp

082123 Paquito D’Rivera

Sara Toth

Throughout his career, Cuban-American saxophonist, clarinetist and band leader Paquito D’Rivera has performed on stages large and small. With a backing band of Peruvian bassist Oscar Stagnaro, Argentinean trumpeter Diego Urcola, American drummer Mark Walker, and pianist Alex Brown, together known as the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, he and his jazz ensemble is as at home in the intimacy of a chamber recital as they are in grand concert halls.

Which is exactly why the final Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series performance isn’t happening in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, but at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater instead.

“By programming this concert in the Amphitheater rather than in Lenna, we hope to connect with a wider audience — to embrace an expansive and modern definition of chamber music and perhaps to offer a gateway to chamber music for people who haven’t experienced this series before,” said Laura Savia, vice president of performing and visual arts. 

When programming Week Nine and its broader theme dedicated to “The Global South,” Savia said she and Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer, “leapt at the chance” to bring D’Rivera and his quintet to the grounds.

“His music and his presence as a performer are infectious. It’s hard to think of a woodwind player with greater jazz chops, and his repertoire ranges from music with Caribbean influences to innovative arrangements of Mozart,” Savia said.

D’Rivera is the winner of a combined 11 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards, celebrated as both an instrumentalist and a composer. His quintet took home the Latin Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album for Live at the Blue Note in 2001. 

D’Rivera, who was born in Havana and introduced to the worlds of classical music and jazz by his father — himself a classical saxophonist — has been performing for more than 50 years. With more than 30 solo albums to his name, he is the first and only artist to win Latin Grammy Awards in both the classical and Latin Jazz categories. A child prodigy on the clarinet, he made his debut with Cuba’s National Theater Orchestra at the age of 10; by the time he was 17, he was a featured soloist in the Cuban National Symphony. 

Over the years, D’Rivera has become a “living legend,” Savia said — quite literally, as he was honored in 2007 with the Living Jazz Legend Award from the Kennedy Center and the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Series for Artistic Excellence — and “a world-class musician who has been a force in Latin music since the 1970s.” In that time, he’s worked with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Gloria Estefan and Yo-Yo Ma, and in 2005 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush.

“He seems to have an insatiable appetite for musical exploration and collaboration – which makes him a perfect match for Chautauqua,” Savia said.

D’Rivera has said it similarly — “I always want to learn more,” told The San Diego Tribune in 2016. “And I like to play with people of different nationalities who understand that music is music. … At the heart of my music, always, is improvisation.”

Molly Williamson to discuss Global South’s role in environmental issues for CLS

Screenshot 2023-08-20 at 8.35.29 PM

Sophia Neilsen
copy editor

Molly Williamson, who has served as a Foreign Service Officer for six U.S. presidents, will discuss the Global South’s role in environmental issues, returing to Chautauqua to open a week on “The Global South: Expanding the Scope of Geopolitical Understanding.”

At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Williamson  said she will talk about what defines the Global South. During the lecture, Chautauquans can learn how the term came to be, from the ending of World War ll and the Cold War.

The global East-West conflict, during the Cold War, originated from the rivalry between Moscow and Washington, she said. 

This, in turn, gave rise to a non-aligned movement among countries that sought to avoid being “used” by the geopolitical tension between the two sides.

Williamson said other countries’ concern, instead, was to do with “the development of their economies and their societies.” Their priority was not the East-West conflict, but an internal North-South one.

“That then became known as the North-South dialogue,” she said, “in terms of the United Nations and global negotiations … to be distinguished from the East-West competition.” The “Global South” refers not to a geographical location, but this distinction.

“The two largest countries of what we call the ‘Global South’ are China and India, and they lie entirely in the Northern Hemisphere,” she said. “It’s not about geography. It’s more about the rejection of being swallowed up by an East-West competition and saying, ‘No, we are independent of that competition. We have concerns of our own that we want to have addressed.’ ”

These concerns include economic disparity, developmental challenges, concerns about growing debt, food and energy security and climate mitigation, she said.

“It’s not about Eastern West. It’s not about Washington versus Moscow. We have a different focus,” she said. “The term ‘Global South’ really is more tied to a more economic-based series of concerns and frustrations.”

Williamson added that these concerns regarding industrialization, economic structures and global economic systems, are of importance to the entire planet.

“That is essential because none of the big issues that they’re talking about, … lend themselves to just country to country. Boundaries and borders are irrelevant to issues like a global economy; to issues like energy security, environmental responsibility, global economic frailties,” she said.

Williamson will discuss a broad group of concerns that the developed world and developing world’s expanding economies must jointly address.

She stressed the need for unity: “No one country can do anything to magically fix stuff.”

These concerns are presented with demographic shifts, which show that simultaneously, “the planet has huge youth bulges and global aging.” 

The challenge is that industrialized economies are more commonly found in aging cultures worldwide. And the growing economies in the Global South are typically those with the largest youth bulges.

“Another (consideration) is the combined issues of energy security, environmental responsibility and economic fragility. These are all global issues. So we think of them, we try to take them apart when we talk about them, but in fact, they’re all happening together,” she said. 

People must understand that the earth depends on more than 101 million barrels of oil being consumed daily, for instance, while discussing the issue of energy security.

“It’s overwhelmingly fossil fuels that make up more than 80% of the world’s fuel mix,” she said. “Fossil fuels are always coal, oil and natural gas. That means we’re talking about burning fossil fuels, and that means we’re talking about evermore growth of environmental degradation.”

Additionally, there has been a center-of-gravity shift in terms of energy consumption and pollution from industrialized economies to emerging ones.

The West, particularly the United States and Europe, has produced the majority of the total carbon dioxide emissions for the past 150 years, and they have also consumed the bulk of the fossil fuels, which are now increasingly being used by the growing economies in the Global South.

“They are now consuming increasingly more fossil fuels and thereby also producing increasingly more of carbon dioxide that is harming the economy harming the planet,” she said.

Williamson wants the audience to be more equipped to understand how these three concerns are related to one another and how the industrialized and rising economies interact.

Opening ILS, Miguel De La Torre to discuss ‘global conversations about unity,’ interconnection

2023 De La Torre_Miguel_interfaith_photo_8-21-23
De La Torre

James Buckser
Staff writer

Miguel A. De La Torre worked in the business world and politics before becoming an educator.

“There came a point in my life when I realized … I really wanted to better understand the issues affecting our global community,” De La Torre said. “I decided to go get my doctorate in ethics.”

De La Torre has become a professor at the Iliff School of Theology, and is a prolific author. He will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, opening Week Nine of the Interfaith Lecture Series and its theme “Realizing Our One World: Strengthening Interconnection.”

In his talk, De La Torre said he will discuss problems facing interconnection, elaborating that some individuals “may not necessarily want to be connected,” becoming a “bit of a critique” of dominant voices in these “global conversations about unity.”

In his academic work, he has taught around the world. While different from the arenas of business and politics, he said his previous work can be helpful in the classroom.

“It gives me a real-life worldview that I bring into the classroom,” De La Torre said. “I’m less interested in the theoretical, and I’m more interested in praxis, the actual duty.”

Though he was successful in business, De La Torre said that career “wasn’t really enough” for him.

“It wasn’t my soul,” De La Torre said. “Transitioning into the world of faith, spirituality and tying that with how we deal with marginalized communities globally, felt like that was a more meaningful way of living my life than just making money.”

De La Torre’s recent novel, Miguelito’s Confession, focuses on another aspect of his background: Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion which was a part of his upbringing. The book is based on his life, but he said he takes some liberties, putting it into the realm of autofiction.

“It’s actually like an autobiography, but I take tremendous license in retelling the story,” De La Torre said. “The license that’s taken is that in the background of the retelling of the story, you have spirituality of the different Orishas, which are quasi-deities from Africa, which are very popular in the religion Santeria.”

De La Torre said Santeria informs some of his work in academia.

“One of the Orishas is an individual known as Elegua, Elegua is a trickster,” De La Torre said. “The kind of ethics that I do, the social ethics that I do, is a trickster-type ethics, which I base on many marginalized and oppressed communities throughout history that have always used trickster figures as a way of dealing with their oppression.”

In addition to his academic work and his books, De La Torre has worked in film, recently writing the screenplay for the documentary Trails of Hope and Terror, which he said is based on a book of his by the same title.

The project involved traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border, around Nogales and Tucson, De La Torre said.

“We walked the migrant trails, the same trails that migrants take to enter the country, and we interviewed them as they were journeying into the country,” De La Torre said. “Then we interviewed civil rights workers, we interviewed individuals who were anti-immigration as well, and then did a lot of background stories as to why we have an immigration crisis.”

De La Torre said they also went to see sanctuary churches, taking in undocumented immigrants, combining the stories into one narrative. The film, he said, was “released at many film festivals and won about seven to 11 film festival awards,” and is now distributed among colleges and universities.

De La Torre hopes his talk causes people to rethink their assumptions.

“I hope that they walk away disturbed and bothered,” De La Torre said, “that what I say causes people to pause and rethink some basic assumption that has always been taken at face value.”

CSO to perform for last time this season under Milanov’s baton

Maestro Rossen Milanov conducts the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Aug. 3 in the Amphitheater. The CSO has two more concerts this summer, but the performance at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amp will be Milanov’s last one for the 2023 season. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Sarah Russo
Staff writer

After 14 concerts, Music Director and Principal Symphonic Conductor Rossen Milanov is wrapping up another summer full of music at Chautauqua Institution. 

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform its final concert of the season under his baton at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.  As with many of Milanov’s programs throughout the season, Saturday’s concert features strong programming themes and intersecting ideas. 

Representing some of the most original compositions created by composers from Latin America, the program begins with pieces by composers Alberto Ginastera and Arturo Marquez.

Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes features all the principal players of the symphony.

“Each instrument has a dedicated variation,” Milanov said. “For me, it is important to feature the individual players of our amazing orchestra on my last concert.” 

The final two works “represent the musical tradition of one of the most important musical centers: Vienna and the Viennese Waltz.” 

Regarding Johann Strauss’ “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” Milanov said that although the piece is overlooked and rarely performed, it is a “masterpiece full of enchanting melodies and rhythms.”   

Last, Richard Strauss’ The Suite from Der Rosenkavalier is a tribute to the waltz as the main soundtrack of Vienna in the last quarter of the 19th century. During one of his first visits to Chautauqua, Milanov performed the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier with the CSO.

“It is an uplifting finale of the concert,” Milanov said. “I hope that the audience would appreciate even more the quality, dedication and incredible musicianship of our Chautauqua Symphony. It is the most challenging program of the season, yet full of joy and celebration.” 

Reflecting on a season full of music from a wide range of styles and composers, Milanov said this season in particular has included “one of the richest, repertoire-wise” compared to years past.  

“I am so proud of all the performances,” Milanov said. “We are so fortunate to be here in Chautauqua and to have the opportunity to experience the transformative power of music together.”

In 3rd Chautauqua visit, Ed Feinstein to serve as chaplain


Mary Lee Talbot
Staff writer

Rabbi Ed Feinstein is making his third trip to Chautauqua, and each time he has come he has had a different role. 

“During the summer season 2017, I was honored to speak for the Religion Department at Chautauqua on the origins of Jewish faith,” he said. 

Subsequently, he was invited to serve as a scholar for the Chautauqua Clergy Leadership program. This time, Feinstein will serve as chaplain for Week Nine. 

“There really is no place on earth like Chautauqua, and I am thrilled to be invited back, as a chaplain for this concluding week of an exciting summer,” Feinstein said. “I look forward to the learning, the fellowship, and the unique spirit of Chautauqua.” 

He will preach a sermon titled “How Can You Sleep?” at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning service of worship in the Amphitheater. He will also preach at the 9:15 a.m. Monday through Friday services of worship in the Amp. His sermon titles include: “We Don’t Throw People Away,” “The Oldest Story in the World,” “Of Hope and Fear” and “The Questions that Won’t Go Away.” 

Feinstein is rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, and lecturer at the Ziegler Rabbinical School of the American Jewish University. He serves on the faculty of the Wexner Heritage Program and the Shalom Hartman Institute, and lectures widely across the United States and Canada.

Raised on the frontier of the West San Fernando Valley, Feinstein graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Columbia University Teachers College and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he was ordained a rabbi and earned his doctorate in education. He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Academy of Dallas. 

He has also served as associate rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, and executive director of Camp Ramah in California. He came to Valley Beth Shalom in 1993.

Feinstein is the author of five books, including Tough Questions Jews Ask, which is taught in schools and synagogues across North America. 

His latest book, In Pursuit of Godliness and a Living Judaism, is an intellectual biography of his mentor, Rabbi Harold Schulweis.

For CIF, Georges C. Benjamin to talk social compact for optimal health


Deborah Trefts
Staff writer

During fall 2011, Georges C. Benjamin, MD, was on sabbatical at Hunter College of the City University of New York. 

Benjamin, who currently serves as executive director of the American Public Health Association, had been appointed the 2011 Joan H. Tisch Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, situated in “the old Roosevelt twin town houses built by FDR’s mother,” Benjamin said. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave them to Hunter College in 1943. Decades later, they were converted into the Institute, which opened in 2010 in honor of FDR’s legacy, and that of his wife Eleanor.

“I got to live on the top floor of FDR’s house for six months,” Benjamin said. “On the third floor, there’s the library where they conceived the social safety net. At 3 a.m., when I was there trying to figure out what to do with my life, I thought about a book on health reform.”

Co-authored with a medical historian, two public health professionals, and an editorial cartoonist, The Quest for Health Reform: A Satirical History was the result of his brainstorm. Through political cartoons, this book chronologically recounts U.S. health system reform efforts from the 1870s through the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.  

With his talk, “A New Social Compact to Achieve Optimal Health for All,” Benjamin will present the final lecture in the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 2023 Contemporary Issues Forum speaker series at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy.

The creative collaboration conceived of during his Tisch fellowship sparked other public health reform efforts, including a second co-authored book, Public Health Under Seige: Improving Policy in Turbulent Times. It examines the effect of U.S. public policy on human health and recommends actions that would improve health and lengthen life expectancy. 

“My talk is about what FDR had done, and rethinking the social safety net,” he said. “And it’s for us to get to social solidarity. For me, that’s through the lens of how to improve people’s health. I’m advocating for … re-envisioning a lot of the discussion in the U.S. The next stage of health reform may be about this, as the status quo becomes unacceptable.”

Public health policy was not Benjamin’s initial field of expertise. Growing up in Chicago, science captivated him from the get-go, and he earned his Bachelor of Science degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

“I had no interest in being a doctor as a kid,” he said. “I wanted to be a scientist. I grew up with something of an understanding of DNA and RNA and genetics. I knew I wanted to be a gene splicer. I was working in a lab … doing sickle cell research and I didn’t know enough. In those days, you didn’t have Dr. Google to help you. I was always looking up stuff.”

A friend suggested medical school and Benjamin looked into it. With the assistance of an Army scholarship, he earned his MD at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. That meant his internships and residency were under the auspices of the U.S. Army.

“I did a classic internal medicine residency,” Benjamin said. “You can bet that when they needed a volunteer for extra shifts, I did.” 

The day the Army opened up its first emergency department – at Brooke Army Base Hospital in San Antonio, the Army’s flagship medical institution – he was there.

“Emergency medicine was a very new specialty,” he said. “… My faculty adviser, as a resident, was a consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army. This was luck!”

Following “training in the field,” Benjamin said he was assigned a few years later to be on the faculty of the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington. There, he served as chief of its large Acute Illness Clinic, practiced internal medicine as an attending physician, and “became a card-carrying emergency physician.”

Reassigned after a few years, Benjamin moved east to Washington, D.C., to serve for four years as chief of emergency medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which doesn’t see a lot of trauma, so his expertise in internal medicine served him well. He also taught on the medical faculties of Georgetown University and George Washington University.

Benjamin left the Army after nine years of service to chair the Department of Community Health and Ambulatory Care at the District of Columbia General Hospital. This meant that he had advanced “from section chief to service chief to hospital chief.”

“I was there for about two and a half years and my phone rings,” Benjamin said. “It’s the mayor: ‘Have I got a job for you.’ His health commissioner had just resigned. This was Marion Barry. I was there a week or two before he got busted. … Now I’m head of a public health system, a $120- to $140-million program.

Benjamin said he was acting commissioner of public health for the District of Columbia for a year and 10 months before he got “the political shove.” Barry had not run for re-election, and the new mayor, Sharon Pratt Kelly, had someone else in mind for his job.

“I practiced emergency medicine, and emergency medicine and injury policy,” he said. “… I (had also) had an interest in bad things that people could do to each other, and bad bugs.” He learned enough about terrorism, nuclear weapons and bio-weapons to ultimately be selected to serve on a National Academy of Science committee.

Then Kelly called and asked him to serve as interim director of the Emergency Ambulance Bureau of the District of Columbia Fire Department, one of the nation’s busiest ambulance services. When Kelly lost the next election to Barry, Benjamin continued in this position for another five months.

The state of Maryland’s new health secretary needed a new deputy in 1995, and Benjamin got the job. He was appointed deputy secretary for public health services, which he said was a $1 billion operation covering everything except operations and Medicaid, and there was a deputy secretary for each.

“Four years later, my boss leaves and I find myself as secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,” Benjamin said. Under his watch, the state’s Medicaid program grew and improved.

“I went from a $1 billion agency to a $4- to 5.5-billion department,” he said. “There was a drought, a hurricane through the southern part of Maryland, a Pfisteria outbreak and red tide.”

When Anthrax-laced letters were sent to U.S. senators and media figures shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Benjamin was still Maryland’s top health official. “The first case was a Maryland resident infected in D.C.,” he said.

After Maryland inaugurated a new governor in 2002, Benjamin became the executive director of the American Public Health Association.

He has been “leading the Association’s push to make America the healthiest nation in one generation” ever since, knowing firsthand “what happens when preventive care is not available and when the healthy choice is not the easy choice.”

“Eighty percent of what makes (people) healthy occurs outside the doctor’s office, influenced by social factors that both enable and hinder (their) ability to be healthy,” Benjamin said, adding that although society knows what those factors are, it has underinvested in them. “Building a society that values investments in these social determinants of health is an essential next step in achieving optimal health for all in America.”

Returning to Chautauqua, folk trio Girl Named Tom to bring reflective, ‘beautiful harmony’ to Amp

Girl Named Tom performs Aug. 19, 2022, in the Amphitheater; the folk trio return to Chautauqua at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amp. Dylan Townsend/Daily File Photo

Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

In their second performance at Chautauqua, small-town sibling trio Girl Named Tom seeks to create harmony in a divided world. 

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, Bekah, Caleb and Joshua Liechty will give Chautauquans a taste of their homegrown style.

“They’re returning because they resonated with our audience so much,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer. “Our audience really connected with their family story. Our audience also recognizes excellence and loves song.”

The band made headlines after making history as the first trio to win NBC’s reality singing competition “The Voice” in December 2021.

Raised in Pettisville, Ohio, the siblings grew up in a town of about 500 people and no stoplights. Although the siblings were homeschooled, Girl Named Tom recently handed over their trophy from “The Voice” to the local high school, according to Country Now.

After their win in 2021, the trio’s father, Chris Liechty, died after a long battle with a rare cancer. A 2022 Daily article reported Chris “always encouraged the siblings to wholeheartedly pursue their dreams in every capacity, even during his final moments.”

In addition to their chart-topping covers “River,” “The Chain” and “Dust in the Wind,” their debut EP, “Another World” brings listeners into a reflective space to explore fond memories, global issues and intimate conversations.

Moore said the Week Eight theme, “Freedom of Expression, Imagination and the Resilience of Democracy,” allows Chautauquans to think deeply as they listen to the pop-folk band.

“We have to remember whatever interesting, tough, difficult (or) fascinating things we talked about (during) the day, our evening is here and in beauty together,” she said.

Girl Named Tom is based on a childhood nickname, “Thomas,” Joshua gave to Bekah when she was a baby. Noted on the band’s website, their style combines the “beautiful harmony” of classic artists Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, with current pop artists Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Adrianne Lenker.

“Small-town siblings with a wide world-view, we seek to create harmony in a society divided,” the band said on its website. “We believe that as we share our music with our three unique voices, we can inspire the world with a common goal: to fly and help each other fly.”

During the group’s first year as a band, Girl Named Tom drove an old minivan cross-country in 2019, playing 67 shows in 27 cities. After winning “The Voice,” they went on a national tour with 95 shows in total.

This year, with a stage set to look like a living room, the group’s second national tour will include unreleased original music.

Karl Rove, David Axelrod to close week talking political division, discourse

Rove and Axelrod

James Buckser
Staff writer

David Axelrod thinks he and Karl Rove are “opposite numbers” across the political divide. 

Despite their differences, Rove said, the pair try to collaborate without losing civility.

“Do we have to agree upon everything, or can we have disagreements and still be civil?” Rove said. “David and I have shared views; there are things that we agree upon, there are things we disagree upon, but when we disagree, we can do so without having to become disagreeable.”

Axelrod and Rove will appear together in discussion at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, closing out Week Eight of the Chautauqua Lecture Series and its theme “Freedom of Expression, Imagination, and the Resilience of Democracy.”

Axelrod and Rove have both served as strategists for successful presidential campaigns for Barack Obama and George W. Bush, respectively, and both have been critical of the other’s candidate. 

Despite these differences, they have spoken together many times.

“I can’t say that we’ve never raised our voices in these exchanges, because we’re both very passionate,” Axelrod said. “I’m sure that we’ve maintained that level of mutual regard, and I think probably there are people in my party who disapprove of that, another are people in his party who disapprove of that, but I think we’re both very comfortable.”

Axelrod said while he and Rove knew each other “from a distance” before, on opposite sides of campaigns, they first started working together after he read Rove’s autobiography.

“I learned that his mother had died by suicide, and my father had died by suicide,” Axelrod said. “I called Karl, and I suggested that we should do some things together about suicide awareness, because it might help people.”

Axelrod said he felt it would be a “good signal” to present two people with “starkly different views” on politics, and show that they share a “common humanity,” and “relate to each other as human beings.”

Rove said he and Axelrod will discuss the current political climate, which he called “highly divisive, polarized, angry.” Rove said his message will be that “it’s bad today, but it’s been worse before, and it will get better.”

“We sometimes forget that our history is replete with examples of our politics being broken, and of us being able to survive and prosper despite that,” Rove said.

Axelrod said he felt that free expression is an “integral part of a healthy democracy,” and highlighted the importance of hearing a “wide range of views.”

“You don’t have to agree with those views, but we should strive to understand them and engage in civil discourse,” Axelrod said. “I disagree with Karl on a variety of things, but I never question his patriotism or love of country, simply because we have different points of view, and I think that’s important. Hopefully, he and I appearing together will help underscore that value.”

Axelrod said a “wildcard” facing the modern political sphere is social media.

“The instantaneous speed at which incendiary things are communicated and injected into the bloodstream with absolute precision, guided by algorithms and big data,” Axelrod said. “I think that’s a challenge for our democracy. It’s a challenge for this notion of civil discourse.”

Rove said while we have experienced disinformation in the past, social media is a “different kind of an animal.”

“You think this is the first time we’ve had to deal with the problem of disinformation? No, that’s not what history suggests,” Rove said. “This is one of the things that we have to overcome, how we find our way back to a place where we have confidence and a certain level of trust in our institutions and in our leaders, and that’s part of the process.”

Axelrod said being “shoved into silos” by algorithms has a negative effect on our democracy.

“Our views are affirmed and everybody outside is considered alien and dangerous, it ruptures our democracy,” Axelrod said. “I think one big project is, how do we overcome that?”

While Rove said the current political climate was polarized, he also sees things going in a “positive direction.”

“Each time we’ve had one of these episodes, the country has found itself in a place where — because of leadership and because of the nature of the American people, and because not everything depends on government — the country gets moving in the right direction,” Rove said.

Rove hopes Chautauquans see that people “can have different political viewpoints and yet be friends.”

“There are oftentimes more things that we agree upon, particularly the facts of politics, than might be expected,” Rove said.

Axelrod said he hopes to spend time discussing and “diving into” challenges to democracy, freedom of expression and civil discourse.

“In this day and age, more and more we invalidate speech we don’t like, we cancel speech we don’t like or we disagree with, and that’s deeply unhealthy,” Axelrod said. “Two people of different political views sitting together and having a reasoned conversation hopefully, if nothing else, will model a better path.”

John Inazu to discuss First Amendment, free expression


James Buckser
Staff writer

John Inazu approaches the topic of religious expression from a legal and academic background.

“My entry into this conversation is maybe to broaden the topic a bit to the First Amendment more holistically,” Inazu said, “to think about the role that religious expression plays in the context of expression more generally, in the context of dissent and difference in this country.”

Inazu will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, closing out Week Eight of the Interfaith Lecture Series and its theme “Freedom of Religious Expression.”

Inazu is an author and the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University. He became a law professor after practicing law for some time and finding the job too “fast-paced.” As a professor, Inazu said he has more freedom.

“I still have a lot of plate-spinning and a lot of responsibilities, but I get to set my own calendars,” Inazu said. “I don’t miss things that I don’t want to miss, so I can be there for kids’ events and for different vacations and things like that without worrying that some boss or some client is going to call me off at the last minute.”

In addition to his academic work, Inazu is the author of several books, with a new book, Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect forthcoming in 2024. His most recent book, 2020’s Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, was the product of a collaboration with Timothy Keller.

Inazu said he and Keller realized that the seemingly disparate work they were doing, speaking to legal audiences and congregations respectively, had things in common.

“We were saying very similar things,” Inazu said. “We thought about this book as a way to engage Christians specifically with how to think and live in a world of difference, in a world that they don’t control, how to have a posture of neighborliness but also a posture of integrity.”

Uncommon Ground features perspectives from a “pretty eclectic group” of faith leaders, artists and professors, Inazu said, in an effort to produce a creative work for a variety of audiences.

Inazu’s lecture will begin focusing on his scholarly work around the First Amendment, he said, “trying to think with the audience about what the right of assembly is” and why it’s important.

The talk will then transition into some of Inazu’s later work, he said, focusing more on what “we do as citizens given the reality of this difference and the complexity that it presents in our lives.”

Inazu is also aware that other speakers this week will have addressed the current moment of polarization.

“I’ll try to give some practical thoughts about how do we engage with people across deep differences,” Inazu said. “How can we assume a different posture that might be more open to engagement without actually sacrificing any of our own beliefs?”

Inazu hopes Chautauquans will gain a better appreciation of the First Amendment, and think about everyday applications of the civic practices he will be discussing.

“I hope that people would be interested in thinking through, maybe there’s one relationship, or one potential relationship in their lives where they can start to implement some of these ideas,” Inazu said. “I think in the current moment of our country, we all have a role to play in trying to think through how to engage across our differences.”

Lauded journalist Bob Woodward to discuss investigative reporting, freedom of press


Julia Weber
Staff writer

Investigative reporters are tasked with asking the tough questions, and few people know this better than Bob Woodward.

Woodward, one of the most renowned journalists in the United States, will speak at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, part of the Week Eight Chautauqua Lecture Series theme: “Freedom of Expression, Imagination and the Resilience of Democracy.”

With fellow investigative journalist Carl Bernstein, Woodward investigated the Watergate burglary scandal in 1972 for The Washington Post and continued to report on the situation as it developed. The pair’s reporting exposed the extent of the corruption in Richard Nixon’s administration, and eventually led to the president’s resignation.

More recently, Woodward has written extensively on President Donald Trump. With unprecedented access to Trump, the two spoke at length throughout his presidency. Now an associate editor at The Post, Woodward has garnered nearly every major journalism award in his storied career. 

He’ll take the Amp stage this morning to talk about his career in reporting on major political events, the current and future states of the press and the importance of a free press in society.

“I’m going to tell stories and what I’ve tried to learn from some of those incidents (of reporting on Watergate and Trump) and, sometimes, you learn the most from mistakes,” he said.

Throughout Trump’s time in office, the two conducted a lengthy series of interviews, which Woodward details in his recently published audiobook, The Trump Tapes.

“I was surprised he agreed to do these interviews,” Woodward said. “I think his supporter Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, said to him that I would not put words in his mouth.”

To Woodward, it’s important for reporters to take their sources seriously.

“When you are reporting, you need to make sure you take the people you’re interviewing, talking to, talking about, writing about – take them as seriously as they take themselves,” he said.
“Most people take themselves seriously and you have to learn to listen very aggressively and be patient. It’s a great job.”

The state of journalism and increased politicization of truth are concerning, he said.

“The times have changed radically,” he said.

Powerful reporting comes from well-supported journalism and avid protection of the First Amendment; they’re what allowed Woodward to pursue these stories throughout his career, he said — and when reporters are overworked and newsrooms are understaffed, the press suffers, and as a result, so does the public. 

“You never get out (of the newsroom),” Woodward said. “You’re tethered to the office and that’s unfortunate for journalism and readers, viewers, listeners.” 

He said he worries about the internet’s impact on journalism and the 24-hour news cycle’s rushed nature. 

“Part of it (is) the whole culture of the internet. Impatience, speed, ‘Give it to me in a sentence or a word.’ … The rush to judge and summarize, but part of it’s our fault, I think. … It’s all too fast,” he said.

Quality journalism takes time, he said, especially when writing about sensitive topics with high stakes.

“I remember the managing editor at The Post, Howard Simons, once said to me – this was during Watergate – I was there with my typewriter and all tight, and he came over and said ‘Relax, you don’t understand a person in an afternoon. It may take weeks, months or years.’ That, I think, is really true,” Woodward said.

Even in a moment when distrust of the press is high and misinformation and disinformation are rampant, Woodward is overall optimistic about the prevalence of quality journalism.

“A lot of people talk about how we’re living in a post-truth era, which I don’t think is the case,” he said.

Reporting that emerged recently from Trump’s indictment has shown that more than ever, Woodward said, reporters are pursuing crucial stories that rely on concrete evidence, such as documents and firsthand detailed notes, as well as investigative journalism techniques like talking to witnesses and cultivating relationships with knowledgeable sources.

Woodward is aware of the controversial nature of his job, but that doesn’t deter him from digging deeper to uncover stories. To him, it’s important that these stories keep being told, even when they’re unpopular.

“Controversy – that’s actually inevitable,” he said. “If you’re digging into something that somebody or some group of people don’t want publicized, of course they’re not going to like it.”

Theatrical clown troupe Aga-Boom returns to Amp for Family Entertainment Series

Aga-Boom performs in 2015 on the Amphitheater stage in 2015. They will return at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Amp. Bria Ganville/ Daily File Photo

Mariia Novoselia
Staff writer

Americans fear clowns more than terrorism, climate change and death, according to a 2016 Vox survey. Performers Aga-Boom are coming to the grounds this evening for the Family Entertainment Series to try to remedy this. 

Chautauquans should be expecting a lot of balloons, paper, audience participation and physical action comedy from the show at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, according to Dimitri Bogatirev, director of Aga-Boom.

Bogatirev is also “Aga,” one of the three Aga-Boom characters, and a prop maker.

“We wear a lot of hats,” said Iryna Ivanytska, the troupe’s booking agent, travel agent, secretary and titular “Boom.” 

While people in Europe and Latin America think of clowns with admiration, in the United States, clowns belong to circuses and are often considered childish or scary, Bogatirev said. That’s why for a long time, he said, Aga-Boom tried to avoid the word “clown.” Now, the troupe is set on reclaiming clown’s reputation and changing the narrative. 

“We are not circus clowns; we are theatrical clowns,” Bogatirev said. 

Usually, he said, it takes about six hours for the troupe to set the stage for the performance. Because there are only three performers who do not utter a word throughout the show, there are no microphones. Therefore, Aga-Boom tries to make the stage look smaller with props. 

Absence of dialogue, Ivanytska said, is what helps the show succeed across borders. Aga-Boom has traveled to countries around the globe, including Japan, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and Finland, and when touring internationally, she and Bogatirev adapt the show to the country and culture where they’re performing. The change, she said, might involve adding or removing a joke or even replacing props.

One thing that never changes, however, is paper. Aga-Boom always incorporates paper in their performance, which is recycled after the show, Ivanytska said. 

“We want to ask everybody to (recycle) too, if they take paper out of (the Amp) after they are done playing with it. Whatever is left we will recycle,” she said. 

A tune, composed by Bogatirev’s brother Vasiliy Bogatirev, chants the name of the troupe and is another staple of the show, Ivanytska said. On the other hand, audience participation, which is integral, makes every show different. 

“We never know how audience members will behave on stage, so of course, we have to improvise,” she said. 

Bogatirev said the troupe has been rehearsing their routines every day since the beginning of Aga-Boom’s journey, which he and Ivanytska embarked on around 20 years ago.

“We finished work with Cirque du Soleil … in 2000,” he said. “We got our Green Cards, … and decided to build our own show, so we collected all our ideas, what we learned and our experience.” 

Before joining Cirque du Soleil, Bogatirev worked for a theater in Odesa, Ukraine, while Ivanytska was studying pantomime at the Kyiv Municipal Academy of Variety and Circus Arts in the country’s capital. 

Aga-Boom, which last performed at Chautauqua seven years ago, is excited to return to showcase the passion they have for performing.

Getting to experience different lives as multiple characters is one of Ivanytska’s two favorite aspects of her job. 

“Everybody gets to live one life, and when you are in character, you become somebody else. People don’t recognize me. … I can be completely different from what I am in normal life,” she said. 

Ivanytska said her other favorite aspect is having the opportunity to travel places she would never otherwise visit.

Bogatirev said he had always wanted to “run away from the USSR with (the) circus,” perform and travel. Hearing audiences scream, laugh and clap, he said, gives him chills and goosebumps. 

“It’s called adrenaline in your blood,” Bogatirev said. “I give them my energy, my experience, all my life, and they (return the) energy, they say: ‘We respect you, you’re funny, you’re good.’ This is what’s keeping me alive.”

CSO takes to the road, performing ‘The Music of Billy Joel’ with Michael Cavanaugh at Reg Lenna in Jamestown

Music of Billy Joel image

Sarah Russo 
Staff writer

At 7 years old, Michael Cavanaugh was hooked on Billy Joel. While his brothers were jamming out to KISS and Led Zeppelin, Cavanaugh was playing the piano and listening to Joel’s Glass Houses album. 

Coming full circle more than 20 years later, Cavanaugh was handpicked by Joel himself for the lead role in the Broadway musical Movin’ Out. The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will perform “The Music of Billy Joel” with Cavanaugh at 8 p.m. tonight at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts in Jamestown, under the baton of Principal Pops Conductor Stuart Chafetz. 

Even though the entire CSO won’t be in attendance, Chafetz said “the energy will be there.” 

“Having the additional brass … and these lush strings and woodwinds just makes such a difference as far as the weight of the song,” Chafetz said. “There’s so much power coming from Billy Joel … with Michael Cavanaugh and his band on top of that, with the symphony orchestra, … it’s just magical.” 

Cavanaugh learned to play the piano as a child and began performing in bars 20 years ago. For Movin’ Out, Cavanaugh and the cast received a multitude of accolades, including nominations for both  Grammy and Tony awards.

“I think probably the main thing that has made me such a huge Billy Joel fan is all the different styles he writes. … He’s very eclectic,” Cavanaugh said. “If you listen to ‘You May Be Right,’ that could be a Rolling Stone song. I could hear Mick Jagger singing. You listen to ‘Uptown Girl,’ it sounds like Frankie Valli. It’s really diverse.”

Since 2008, Cavanaugh has performed “The Music of Billy Joel” with over 100 orchestras all around the world. Cavanaugh said it’s “very interactive” and “a lot of fun.” For orchestral accompaniments, Cavanaugh said songs like “New York State of Mind” or “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” were obvious choices. But he also said unlikelier choices such as “Pressure,” which begins with a synthesizer, were added to the program. 

“It’s actually very classical, what the synth is playing. So we have the orchestra play that part, and it sounds like Beethoven,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s really an awesome thing. … We’re taking these songs and kind of putting them on steroids.” 

Chafetz has worked with Cavanaugh before in other orchestras and said “his energy, his voice, his piano-playing is excellent.” Living up to Joel’s legendary musical career is something Cavanaugh said he doesn’t try to do. Instead, he “wants to serve the song the right way.” During the opening night party for Movin’ Out, Cavanaugh said Joel’s mother told him “I can’t tell you two apart” when he and Joel sing. 

“Billy and I started laughing, because we don’t necessarily think that we sound so much alike,” Cavanaugh said. “I think what happens is these songs are such a part of me that they come out kind of the way they went in. I wind up singing some things the way he does … but it’s not even necessarily intentional.” 

For so many fans, Joel’s music has become a part of their lives, too. When they hear a particular song like “Movin’ Out” or “Big Shot,”  “it takes (them) back to where they were in that moment,” Cavanaugh said. Even though it’s Cavanaugh singing and not Joel, he said the lyrics still speak for themselves. 

“The song is always more important than the guy singing,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s the most important thing.” 

Chafetz has a long-time, personal connection with Joel’s music, since both grew up on Long Island in New York City. He remembers riding Nunley’s Carousel, mentioned as part of Joel’s “Waltz #1” from 2001’s Opus 1 to 10 Fantasies and Delusions album.

“There’s just so many things that resonate with me about Billy Joel’s music and the culture of Long Island and New York,” Chaffetz said. “… Hearing the music orchestrated just adds that much more sheen and velvety gorgeousness.”

Even after a storied career working with world-class musicians, orchestras around the world and his childhood musical idol, Cavanaugh doesn’t forget where he started all those years ago. 

“You can take the boy out of the piano bar, but you can’t take the piano bar out of the boy,” Cavanaugh said. 

Heidi Neumark to discuss religious plurality, work in youth shelters

Screenshot 2023-08-16 at 9.42.08 PM

James Buckser
Staff writer

To the Rev. Heidi Neumark, the topic of religious pluralism is complicated.

“It seems like a positive thing, a plurality of religious expression. I think the theme of the week has it in relation to democracy, and I completely agree with that,” Neumark said. “The conflict about it is how far does variety of religious, diversity of religious expression go?”

Neumark, the author of Sanctuary: Being Christian in the Wake of Trump, will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy as a part of Week Eight of the Interfaith Lecture Series and its theme, “Freedom of Religious Expression.” 

Her views on religious pluralism, to be addressed in her talk, “The Hope and Limits of Religious Pluralism: Notes from a Church Basement,” are partly informed by her own experiences.

“In my case, in the church basement, … we have a shelter for homeless queer youth and young adults, all of whom are basically rejected from their families for religious reasons,” Neumark said. “There’s the difficulty of being all inclusive of different religious perspectives if some religious perspectives are causing harm to others.”

Neumark said her work in the youth shelter would be used as a concrete example in her talk.

“It’s also religious pluralism that makes it possible, people of all different faiths and no faith who contribute, and who make it possible to do the work that we do there,” Neumark said. “Then it’s also the reason we have to do the work, … because of other religious beliefs.”

When it comes to religious pluralism, Neumark said, people usually think of a wide range of faith traditions, such as Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, but “there’s also variety, in this case, within Christianity itself.”

“(There are) Christians that would say I’m not a Christian because I don’t condemn these young people. I would say, well, I question that they’re Christian,” Neumark said. “Where are the limits, and how do you work with that?”

Neumark preached as a faith leader for 40 years in New York City, first at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the South Bronx, then at Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, before retiring this summer. She is also the author of three books, including 2015’s Hidden Inheritance: Family Secrets, Memory, and Faith, which she wrote after discovering that her father was Jewish, having come from Germany in 1938.

“I knew him as a Lutheran, but he came from a family of German Jews,” Neumark said. “When he came here, my grandparents were deported, my grandfather was murdered in a concentration camp, and for me that relates a lot to issues we’re dealing with in the shelter ­— of dehumanizing people and demonizing people and then making it easier for violence to happen.”

While Neumark said she had always been a “pretty outspoken preacher,” the discovery of her family history affected her preaching, making her feel it was a “matter of life and death.”

“The church where my father was baptized — I think for reasons of assimilation — they had a Nazi bishop who literally preached from the pulpit about killing Jews,” Neumark said. “I would say preaching murdered my grandfather.”

Neumark sees the effect that preaching has had on the youth in her shelter.

“A lot of the families that kick out the young people that end up in our shelter, they’ve gotten their ideas from preaching,” Neumark said. “The preaching isn’t telling them to go kill their children, but it’s telling them that their children are evil, and that’s a dangerous path.”

Neumark hopes that people leave her talk with “hope for the importance of working with others,” and the importance of taking a stand.

“Sometimes in churches it could be, ‘Well, we don’t really want to offend anybody so we can’t take a strong side.’ But the young people in our shelter are at risk of death,” Neumark said. “I think it’s important to be open and be in conversation, but I hope people also realize that it’s equally important not to be neutral.”

Kirsten Gillibrand to join week with talk on preserving, advancing work of democracy


James Buckser
Staff writer

U.S. Sen.  Kirsten Gillibrand often reaches across the aisle, and works on a bipartisan basis frequently, she said. She just finished working on a defense bill, and is eyeing a farm bill — both of which are “widely bipartisan.”

“It’s much less difficult than people think,” she said.

The junior senator for New York, Gillibrand is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Aging Committee. She has had a hand in legislation including the 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act of 2023, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the STOCK Act.

In a special presentation, Gillibrand will speak at 12:30 p.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Gillibrand said she’ll focus on “how we should preserve and advance democracy,” and discuss issues and legislation she’s focusing on. These include the Voter Empowerment Act, the Equal Rights Amendment, legislation on stock trading by members of Congress, and creating a call to public service.

The Voter Empowerment Act, Gillibrand said, is a bill she originally wrote with the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, aiming to “strengthen voting rights and fight back against a lot of the right wing legislatures across the country that are seeking to disenfranchise voters.”

Gillibrand, who has been New York State’s junior senator since 2009, called the bill comprehensive; it included modernizing voting, increasing participation and early voting, vote by mail, and prohibiting tactics like voter intimidation. She also plans to discuss the Equal Rights Amendment, which she said would “enshrine equality into the Constitution.”

“I believe that this approach would also protect a lot of women’s reproductive freedoms and right to privacy and other issues that are being denied across many states right now because of the Dobbs decision” that overturned Roe v. Wade, Gillibrand said.

The amendment, Gillibrand said, has already been ratified by two-thirds of the states and been passed by two-thirds in both houses of Congress.

“We believe that all that’s left to be done is to have it signed and published by the archivist,” Gillibrand said. “We think that’s actually all that needs to be done — that the provisions in the law that had a time limit were in the preamble, not the actual law itself, and so they’re not dispositive.”

Thirdly, Gillibrand said she plans to discuss a recent piece of legislation, a bipartisan bill with U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) banning stock trading by members of Congress and their spouses, senior members in administration and their spouses, and everyone’s dependent children.

“That would be a great way to create more transparency and accountability in Congress,” Gillibrand said. “People could have, hopefully, more faith in members of Congress that they’re not getting elected to get rich.”

Ten years ago, Gillibrand said she passed a law requiring transparency in trading among Congresspeople.

“I thought that if we had to disclose what purchases and sales we were making that the Department of Justice could prosecute people who are clearly buying and selling nonpublic information, but we really haven’t seen that level of prosecution,” Gillibrand said.

One in seven members of Congress, Gillibrand said, do not disclose their stock trades, and members of Congress have a higher return rate than the S&P 500.

“I don’t think it’s a question of members of Congress just being smarter in stock trading,” Gillibrand said. “I think they are trading on nonpublic information.”

Gillibrand said she expected some pushback on the bill, “since one in seven are not disclosing their trades and one in three are actually trading stocks.”

“It is something that’s common sense,” Gillibrand said. “There’s so much data and information that members of Congress just aren’t handling this properly, and they’re not following the law as it’s currently written.”

Lastly, Gillibrand said she plans to discuss ways to increase participation in public service, including college tuition assistance.

One part of the effort to reward public service is based on an existing piece of legislation, Gillibrand said, which has just been “fixed.”

“I want to improve that by offering free college and community college for five years of public service,” she said.

Gillibrand said she wants a “full augmentation of the GI Bill” for all public service.

“What we’ve done so far in the defense bill is created the first-ever cyber academy, which will be free college in exchange for five years of service in cyber,” Gillibrand said, which would include 100 slots per year for any cyber-related job such as “going to the NSA, going to the CIA, going to the Space Force in non-military roles.”

“It’s another step towards free college in exchange for public service,” she said.

After her presentation today, Gillibrand hopes Chautauquans and constituents feel that she’s “working for them,” and that she has “a lot of ideas about how to strengthen our democracy,” with some being “very strong bipartisan ideas that may be made into law.” She also hopes to impress that “that our democracy is worth fighting for and that people have to fight for it.”

Youssef to bring satiric political comedy to Amp

081623 Bassem Youssef

Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

In a night of satirical political humor, comedian Bassem Youssef hopes that his one-man show at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater will make Chautauquans laugh, of course — but also think a bit about things that connect them across divides.

“I hope (the audience) will laugh with me and at the same time, think and get to know my story,” Youssef said. “Despite the fact that we come from different backgrounds, I think we’re pretty much the same. We have more similarities than we think.”

An “accidental” comedian, Youssef was a cardiothoracic surgeon in Egypt. He posted a “Hail Mary” YouTube video which garnered attention for imitating Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” and went viral.

“(I was) bringing parts of the Egyptian media looking bad,” Youssef said. “Before I knew it, I’m offered a show on television. At the time, I was getting ready to leave Egypt because I got the fellowship in Cleveland.”

The fellowship was in pediatric heart surgery, but came just as his comedy career was gaining momentum. At first he took a two-year leave of absence, then eventually had to submit his resignation to do comedy full-time.

Although political and satirical, Youssef said he prefers “deep, thoughtful (and) intelligent” comedy, is an element of freedom of expression, coinciding with the Week Eight theme, “Freedom of Expression, Imagination and the Resilience of Democracy.”

“The more or less expression of freedom a country has will reflect on its comedy,” Youssef said. “The comedy in the Middle East is stifled (and) smothered by digital space and marginal freedom.”

In its programming, the Institution “intentionally looked” to have a comedian for this week, said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer.

“Historically, comedians have played such an essential role in expressing themselves freely, in commenting on society and politics, in a way that builds community versus breaking it down,” she said. 

Moore said she thinks Chautauquans will learn a lot from the “Jon Stewart of the Arab World” ’s perspective and humor.

“He’s not only funny, I think he’s edgy,” she said. “He finds a way to express what the week is about: freedom of expression and imagination.”

Laughter, Moore said, reminds people to engage in freedom of expression and consider other people’s perspectives.

“Some of us might laugh at things that other people don’t and vice versa,” she said. “Stand-up comedy, historically, has been a critical part of freedom of expression in America.”

Pamela Paresky to speak on ‘Habits of a Free Mind’ for happiness in relationships, democracy


Zoe Kolenovsky
Staff writer

How do we become happy? The question seems simple enough, but its answer becomes much more complicated when factoring in complex interpersonal relationships and the challenges of living in a pluralist society.

Pamela Paresky will provide one answer for Chautauquans in her lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater. She has created a program called “Habits of a Free Mind: Psychology for Democracy and The Good Life,” which offers a set of teachable habits and practices for individuals who want to optimize their happiness in a complicated world.

“It’s a psychology necessary for democracy, but it’s also necessary for relationships,” said Paresky. “To lead The Good Life, our relationships are key.”

Paresky is currently the director of the Aspen Center for Human Development and a Senior Fellow at the Network Contagion Research Institute, and her work has been published in Psychology Today, The Guardian, The American Mind, The New York Times, among other publications. She holds a Ph.D. in human development and psychology from the University of Chicago, where her work focused on happiness, relationships, and the concept of “flow.”

“I started out in clinical psychology and pretty quickly realized that although I could help people who wanted to be less depressed or less anxious, or who wanted to manage a psychological issue better, I didn’t have the tools to help people be happy,” said Paresky.

Instead of going into private practice, she decided to stay at UChicago to study with social psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who pioneered the study of “flow.”

“This was in the 1990s, before the field of positive psychology was born,” explained Paresky. “Csikszentmihalyi had realized that when creative people become totally absorbed in their creative work, they tend to describe the experience as like being the flow of something, or being carried along as if with the flow of a river.”

This feeling of all-encompassing focus is what constitutes “flow,” also referred to as “one-pointedness of mind” or the psychology of “optimal experience.”

“You’re so engaged that you lose track of time, you don’t notice if it gets dark, you don’t hear extraneous noises … you don’t have any room in your awareness for anything outside of your sole focus — no room even for consciousness of self,” Paresky said.

Once “flow” was identified as an indicator of happiness, Paresky shifted her focus to discovering the conditions necessary to make that flow possible so she could teach others how to achieve it.

She determined that the “flow condition” requires a person to be “challenged enough above your skill level that you’re not bored, but … not so much above your skill level that you become anxious.”

But while this holds true for one’s creative pursuits, it becomes a bit tricker when applied to interpersonal relationships. Paresky explained this complication in terms of marital relationships: “Challenge has a completely different meaning in marriage. … Generally speaking, we don’t tend to consider the kinds of skills we need to meet the challenges in a marriage.”

She continued, drawing the association out from the intimate relationship of marriage to the broader one a person has with their society.

“Nobody really teaches the habits of practices necessary for citizens to meaningfully contribute to and thrive in a flourishing democracy either,” she said. “In both marriage and democracy, we seem to dislike the concept of challenge. But for a marriage to be happy — and for a democracy to flourish — we need to seek challenge and hone certain skills.”

Paresky built Habits of a Free Mind as a way to service this need, teaching others what those habits are and how to establish them in order to create a more meaningful life.

Habits of a Free Mind has taken the form of two college courses, which Paresky taught at her alma mater the University of Chicago and as a Visiting Fellow of the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. She is also in the early stages of production for her book on the subject: Habits of a Free Mind: Psychology for Democracy and The Good Life.

“Part of what motivated me to undertake the Habits of a Free Mind Project was my continued questions about the tools necessary to contribute to and thrive in a liberal pluralist democracy — and in particular, how to engage across lines of difference without feeling traumatized and without dehumanizing others,” she said.

Paresky was inspired by her work with Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt on The Coddling of the American Mind, a book that explores how negative mental habits contribute to an “us versus them” attitude and a sense of fragility. She stressed that this relationship is significant because it seems to “play a part in increased levels of mental illness among young people and a tendency to describe the feeling of confronting intellectual challenge or distasteful ideas as a feeling of being ‘unsafe.’ ”

Habits of a Free Mind counters such negative habits with positive ones, many of which Paresky will share with the Chautauqua community this morning.

Paresky’s work is relevant in the current political climate, which is often characterized as intensely polarized. She made a distinction between political polarization — “how far apart partisans are in their thinking” — and affective polarization — “how much hostility partisans feel toward one another” — noting that the two concepts are often conflated. Her lecture today will focus mainly on the latter, addressing the reactions people have toward those with differing political opinions than the opinions themselves.

“Sometimes we’re not as far apart politically as we think, but it feels like we are because people on each side of the aisle tend to overestimate the level of extremism on the other side,” she said.

Paresky is excited to join the Chautauqua community this week, both to share her research and enjoy the myriad intellectual and cultural opportunities the Institution has to offer.

“After I was invited to speak, I learned that many of my friends have spoken here, and … they describe Chautauquans as exceptionally warm and welcoming,” she said. “Everyone said what a special place Chautauqua is … and I’m delighted that I’m able to stay until Saturday.”

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