Connecting Up: Our Need for Transcendence

What do many scientists at NASA and engineers at Google have in common with a doorman at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC)?  The answer: they are fired up about the importance of their work and have a passion and energy that drives them to be a force for the cause.  Employees at NASA are fired up that they are exploring space.  Google employees are fired up because they are organizing information and making it accessible to the world.  I learned  this when I met employees at NASA and Google.   I spoke at both organizations earlier this year.

The doorman I refer to at MSKCC is named Nick.  When my wife Katie and I were walking down 53rd street in NYC in 2004 and we got within eyesight of the MSKCC  entrance, Nick locked his eyes on her and greeted her like a returning friend.  This in in Mid-town Manhattan where no one makes eye contact! Nick knows cancer patients when he sees them, probably from the wigs they wear.   It felt like the healing began within eyesight of MSKCC.

Katie was at MSKCC for high dosage chemo treatments she needed to treat advanced ovarian cancer.  Late last year her oncologist told her it that given favorable test results and five years in remission it was unlikely she would have a recurrence.  Words can’t express how overjoyed we were to hear that news. When we told Nick, he gave Katie a big hug and said how proud he was that she persevered.  We learned that Nick was a cancer survivor too and he attributed his survival to the treatments he received at MSKCC.  Is it any wonder then that this man is so passionate about his work at MSKCC.  You have to see Nick to believe it and you can if you stop by MSKCC’s entrance on 53rd Street across the street from the Citigroup building.  He’s a big guy with a dar complexion and blue eyes. Tell Nick you read about him.  Don’t worry that it may seem strange.  Former cancer patients and their family members regularly stop by to say hello to Nick. That’s how beloved he is.

Nick’s example shows that people are fired up if their work reflects the eternal values of the transcendent: truth, beauty and goodness.  MSKCC’s work reflects goodness and is expressed in it’s tagline “The Best Cancer Care, Anywhere.”  Apple’s passion for the aesthetic design and ease of use of its products reflects beauty. Work in the fields of journalism, research, theology and the academy reflect truth-seeking.

Truth, beauty and goodness are eternal values that reflect transcendence.  Human beings need the truth, beauty and goodness of transcendence to meet our need for meaning in life.  If you can find time over the holidays, reflect on the need for the transcendent values of truth, beauty and goodness in your own life. Below are links to some of my favorite essays, speeches and articles that touch on transcendence. Let me encourage you to print them out, read them and consider their relevance to your life and the lives of those you love.  

  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s prescient 1978 Harvard commencement speech where he concludes: “If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.  This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.”
  • “Psychology in Recovery,” an article that appeared in First Things written by Paul Vitz, the New York University psychology professor.  In the article Dr. Vitz explains why he is encouraged about the direction of the psychology profession i.e. character strengths and virtues are being promoted by the positive psychology movement  (values reflect the virtues celebrated by religious thinkers and moral philosophers throughout history).
  • Bill Moyer’s interview of Dr. Jane Goodall where she explains why she is both a scientist and a believer in the transcendent (at the link you can read the transcript or watch the video).
  • Finally, my favorite is this profound essay entitled “Wisdom Comes To Us.” It is about Abraham Lincoln’s suffering and spiritual journey based on a chapter from Joshua Wolf Shenk’s outstanding book entitled Lincoln’s Melancholy.
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