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General What Is Your Calling: Expanding The Conversation About Why We Are Here


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Danny Alpert

Director, 'The Calling'
Posted: December 20, 2010 09:08 PM

"Calling" has historically been used to refer to a religious vocation, but now it's often used to describe our passions, our values and what makes us feel most human and valuable. Some of us have always known what our calling is, some of us have grown or even stumbled into it and some of us are still trying to figure out what it is. But at some point, we've all asked ourselves the question: "What's it all about? What am I doing with my life?" I think it's a particularly relevant question today, as so many of us are trying to find the balance between living a life that will fulfill us, put food on the table, and also make a real contribution to the world around us.

The PBS documentary series I produced, The Calling, has been eight years in the making, which gave me a lot of time to ponder the title I chose. During production, I grew to admire the dedication and perseverance of all seven of the series' up-and-coming religious leaders. I grew to love them for their huge hearts and ingenuous self-scrutiny. But the most remarkable thing I observed over the years was that each of these individuals' religious calling was matched by a passion to serve their fellow human beings. What unified this group, made up of such wildly varied backgrounds and faiths, was their call to make the world a better place.

While at first I focused on what "calling" meant to the film's subjects, over time I began to wonder what the notion of "calling" meant me and to those around me. Is a calling defined by what you do? Is it who you are? Is it both? Is a calling something that exists for everyone? Was I following mine? I had a lot of questions.

As we "wrapped" the film and began to think about how it would be used for community engagement and education, these questions were still buzzing around my head. The film had become as much about conviction and calling as it is about faith. I believed that these ideas, and the questions that swirled around them, were relevant to our times and would resonate with a broad audience. We decided to explore how the notion of calling applies to people, religious and secular. We had an opportunity to create a conversation in which we could explore what people are most passionate about doing with their lives -- and why.

This was the birth of What's Your Calling? project. We've gone throughout the country, exploring the subtleties of calling. We entered these conversations with little agenda, other than to listen closely and try to get at the unique nature of each individual. We started with one question: What does calling mean to you? From there conversations went far afield: What childhood experiences shaped your calling? How has your calling changed? Is a calling altruistic or can it be ego-driven? Have you given up too much to help others? Is calling a thing of privilege?

I can't believe the varied and remarkable conversations that resulted with folks from all walks of life -- professional snowboarders, jazz musicians, Lakota Indians, academics, comedians, spoken word poets, Mardi Gras Chiefs, authors, experimental hip-hop musicians, social workers, environmental activists. And the list is growing as I write.

I still have a lot of the questions with which I began this project, but given the extraordinary openness and candor of the people we've interviewed so far for What's Your Calling?, at least I have plenty of ideas to chew on. I'm also beginning to think that maybe asking these questions is as important as finding answers. I'll leave the answers open, hoping that this will spark conversation among visitors to the campaign site and the viewers of the clips on social networks, blogs and partner sites.

We'll be continuing to interview people through the spring, with new interviews going up on our site each week. Below is a sample of the things we've learned from a few of the folks we've interviewed so far. If you have your answers to add to the conversation, or even more questions, click on the link at the end of the clip and explore your calling.


Sample video from PBS series at this link

YouTube - MC5 guitarist on prison and a sense of worth



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