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’10 Questions’ lecture series gets final answers for the year about what matters

Kristy Edmunds (right), the executive and artistic director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, was one of the last lecturers for UCLA’s “10 Question: Centennial Edition” lecture series. (Courtesy of UCLA Arts)

By Karina Seth

December 5, 2019 6:26 pm

Michael Eselun, chaplain for the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, said the present moment is what really matters at a campus event Tuesday.

Eselun, along with Ali Behdad, professor of literature and director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies, and Kristy Edmunds, executive and artistic director for UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, examined “What matters?” at the final “10 Questions: Centennial Edition” program of the year Tuesday in Kaufman Hall. The series brings in UCLA experts to discuss 10 big questions over 10 weeks while engaging students and faculty in this discussion. The first lecture was Oct. 1.

Behdad opened the program by recounting his experiences as a child growing up in Tehran, Iran, his move to America and how they influenced his values.

“The (Iranian) revolution reaffirmed my idealism and desire to pursue what I considered higher values – freedom of expression, economic equality,” Behdad said. “I was mad at my parents for not participating in street demonstrations, but now I realize their admonitions came from values of security and health.”

Behdad concluded by speaking about pluralism, the recognition that there are many human values.

“There are many values and therefore many things that matter,” Behdad said. “Many values are not only incompatible but also incommensurable. For example, liberty can come into conflict with equality. Knowledge can conflict with happiness. Spontaneity can conflict with dependability. Pluralism involves conflict and therefore choices.”

Eselun used his experiences with hospital patients on their deathbeds to define what matters to him.

“Ultimately, what matters most is the thing that’s right in front of us, this very moment,” Eselun said. “What matters is fluid and changeable over a lifetime, even over the course of an afternoon.”

He spoke about Mary Anne, a cancer patient in her late 40s who was ready to die but was holding on for her husband and kids. When Eselun asked her what she would do if she had the choice to continue fighting or surrender, she told him she would choose to unplug her devices, get in bed with her husband and watch a leaf fall from a tree outside.

“Mary Anne spoke about these ‘God moments,’” Eselun said. “Moments where nothing much happens at all but there’s a complete awareness of the presence of the moment.”

Edmunds then spoke about small moments in life that matter.

“Knowing that the person in charge has absolutely no idea. Joy. The last tear shed on that particular subject. A real chance. The patch of sunlight on the coffee table. Soup,” Edmunds said, citing examples of these ordinary events.

Victoria Marks, associate dean of academic affairs and professor of choreography in the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, moderated the event and asked the panelists questions about the scale of these things that matter.

Edmunds said for lofty values to matter, we first need to understand the smaller ones.

“How do you care about zero and one if you can’t perceive the infinite potential between zero and one?” Edmunds said. “The exits matter as much as the entrances. We must have the ability to perceive these interdependencies and then justice can matter.”

Eselun said we live in multiple worlds at the same time, meaning multiple things can matter at the same time.

Behdad spoke about the importance of perspective and context.

“Context matters,” Behdad said. “If you are to make a difference, you must answer these questions meaningfully rather than individualistically.”

The audience then asked panelists questions, ranging from whether the author or reader of a poem matters more to how we can stop defending our identities to become part of a larger community.

This panel marked the end of the 10-part series for 2019.

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