What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life amidst Uncertainty and Danger. Arthur Kleinman. Oxford University Press.

What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life amidst Uncertainty and Danger Book Cover What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life amidst Uncertainty and Danger
Arthur Kleinman
Oxford University Press
May 1, 2006

Life can sometimes thrust us into troubling circumstances that threaten to undo our thin mastery over those things that matter most. In this moving and thought-provoking volume, Arthur Kleinman tells the unsettling stories of a handful of men and women, some of whom have lived through some of the most turbulent transitions of the twentieth century. With compassion and penetrating insight, he shows how in such moments of extreme pressure, our mortality – even our very identity – can be changed, for worse or for better.

Here we meet an American veteran of World War II, tortured by the memory of the atrocities he committed while a soldier in the Pacific. A French-American woman aiding refugees and sub-Saharan Africa, facing the utter chaos of a society where life has become meaningless. A Chinese doctor trying to stay alive during Mao’s cultural Revolution, discovering that the only values that matter are those that get you beyond the next threat. These individuals have found themselves caught in circumstances where those things that matter most to them – and their desires, status, relationships, resources, political and religious commitments, life itself – have been tested by the society around them. Each is caught up in existential moral experiences that define what it means to be human, with an intensity that makes their life narratives arresting.

Their stories reveal just how challenging moral life is, and just a precarious are our worlds and our livelihood. Indeed, Kleinman offers in this book a groundbreaking approach to ethics, examining “who we are” through some of the most disturbing issues of our time – war, globalization, poverty, social injustice, sex, and religion – and what they mean to moral life as it is actually lived.

Arthur Kleinman is Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, and Professor of Medical Anthropology in Social Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. A renowned psychiatrist and anthropologist, he has been awarded the Boas Prize (the highest award of the American Anthropological Association) and is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academics and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His books include Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition and Rethinking Psychiatry: from Cultural Category to Personal Experience.