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Does America have a soul?

For all our information, we seem to have less wisdom about how to be with children, how to find time for friends, and how to make life worth living.

Thomas Moore is the author of the bestselling Care of the Soul and, more recently, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. We also asked several of our favorite photographers to address his essay question.

Since the publication of Care of the Soul four years ago, I've traveled the country giving talks, signing books, and having conversations on talk radio. I have learned there are large numbers of Americans (maybe not the majority) who are passionate about, or at least interested in, shaping their lives to be humane, individual, socially tolerant and contributing, and spiritual by some definition. They are hungry for whatever it is that makes life worth living and are concerned about their own souls and the soul of their country.

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Unexpectedly, I discovered in modern America an attitude I learned as a young man in a Catholic religious order: contemptus mundi, contempt of the world. By this phrase monks do not mean a hatred or rejection of ordinary life, but rather a resistance to dominant values, a rejection of current tastes that allows the cultivation of an individual, more consciously designed life.

One moment in my travels stands out. I was giving a talk in a large auditorium in New England when a woman sitting in the balcony stood up and told the story of having just quit her job. She had young children and was full of anxiety about her financial future, but she knew the work she had been doing was hurting her soul, so she made the tough decision to take the leap and hope for something better. The audience reacted to her story with wild foot-stomping, whistles, screams, and prolonged applause. I was shocked by their intensity, their obvious identification with her plight, but I have since witnessed these emotions in other parts of the country.

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