I don’t go in for favorites. I often wish I did. My lack of them makes me very bad at small talk, and when I’m trying to sign up for, say, online access to my bank account, I always end up staring at the security questions with a helpless feeling. If I put in something for ‘favorite color’ or ‘favorite book,’ I’ll be about as likely to get through answering those questions the same way a second time as a cat walking across my keyboard.
I do have things I love though. I tend to remain abidingly committed to the things I love, even when my reasons for loving them are obscure even to myself. I can’t rank the things I love. They are independent of one another.
One thing I have loved for a long time is the podcast, This American Life. It was the first podcast I ever listened to, and since I found it I haven’t missed an episode. I’ve even listened my way through the vast majority of the back episodes. I don’t love every single broadcast, but they are all, without exception, worth listening to.
The reason I love This American Life so much is because it challenges you to look at the world in a way the rest of our media does not. With each episode, they tackle an idea. They connect that idea to little realities across our country. They delve into stories of people I would never have known existed. They build mystery in each segment, offering one side of the story, then the other, and often leaving you in that complex middle ground where you’re not sure if what happened was the right thing or not.
This gray area between right and wrong is a part of life we all want to ignore. We love fiction because fiction is tidy. We even want our news articles to take a stance, to tell us whether what happened was good or bad. You rarely find reporting on smudgy events, because they are difficult to sum up.
Real life is not tidy. This American Life reminds us that you can have two good people with the best of intentions systematically working to destroy one another’s hopes and dreams. Both people have a story worth telling, a perspective worth hearing. And we don’t have to attach a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ label to everything. Resisting the urge to do so can make us more complex, more thoughtful in our lives going forward.