Mary Catherine Bateson

4b5409b1edb3eec73fe3dacfc28a14a5For those of you who are already fans of the writer and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, you’ll be interested in her October 1st interview with Krista Tippett on the radio program “On Being.” And if you have never discovered her thoughtful wisdom, then start by listening to this. (Download the program here.)

Among other things, Bateson sees some hope for climate change, discusses why humans are actually more biologically and evolutionarily hard-wired for cooperation than competition, and reflects on how ‘juggling’ is such an anxiety-producing metaphor for the artistry, the composition, that is our lives.

The daughter of celebrated anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, Mary Catherine was an astute observer of the human condition from a very young age.  She wrote about “composing a life” in the 1980’s when it seemed to apply particularly to women. But perhaps she was ahead of her time: everyone graduating college today is ‘composing a life,’ or as she calls it ‘on stage without a script.’ Much of her current work examines the age of ‘active wisdom’ later in life.

If you’ve never read her books, here’s what she says about where to start:

It depends who you are and what interests you. Many people encounter MCB’s work first through Composing a Life, given to them by a friend at a time when they are facing decisions or transitions in their lives. It remains MCB’s best known book and was a New York Times paperback bestseller. Because the basic themes of Composing are carried further in Composing a Further Life, MCB encourages readers to go to that directly, preferably well before turning fifty. As a writer, MCB is probably proudest of With a Daughter’s Eye, her memoir of her parents that was one of the New York Times “Best Books of 1984.” (Don’t believe it if a web site says it is out of print, it is still available from HarperCollins.) Peripheral Visions is the book that explores MCB’s ideas about learning across difference and continues to be read in circles dealing with education and cross cultural communication. Willing to Learn, published in 2004, is a collection that draws on Bateson’s whole career. It’s the kind of book you dip into and jump around in rather than one designed to be read in sequence from cover to cover. Our Own Metaphor is currently in print at Hampton Press and is the book that most addresses environmental issues. It is also a unique effort to make a conference dealing with complex ideas read like a novel. In fact, all of the works mentioned here are designed for the intelligent reader and avoid jargon like the plague.

Read more about her here, and start with any one of these books, but do start somewhere.