Talking About Conversation, Diversity, and Gatherings with Krista Tippett of On Being
Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times best-selling author. She is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, which she received at the White House in 2014.
As the creator and host of public radio’s On Being, she takes up the great questions of meaning amidst the political, economic, cultural, and technological shifts of 21st-century life. Her books include Einstein’s God, Speaking of Faith, and most recently Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.
1440 Multiversity: Adam Grant said this about you: “You try to start conversations we are silent about.” What conversations are you trying to start?
Krista Tippett: I am trying to make space for the conversations that we most deeply long to have—the questions of what it means to be human, how we want to live, and who we are to each other. These questions are personal, unfolding in the course of each individual life—but they have social import. The way we’ve rewarded large external lives in recent generations and made inner life optional—this is now haunting our life together. In public discourse we’ve privileged loud, polarizing voices—and politics and economics have now become the thinnest of veneers over the human dramas of fear and hope, of power and frailty.
The good news is, we can start having the conversations we want to be hearing. That means reframing our deliberations in terms of the human complexity and longings at their root.
We can create trustworthy, hospitable spaces where pain and fear can show themselves as pain and fear rather than the anger they masquerade as in so much of our public discourse.
We can surface and ponder the questions we share across our divides as well as our competing answers. We can break open and reframe our deliberation of challenging issues into what is at stake in human terms.
The point of speaking together differently is to live together differently—to walk into the new realities we want to create and inhabit, even as we continue to differ, and to do so together.
1440 Multiversity: People talk about wanting diversity, but wanting diversity of thought and actively seeking and enabling diversity of thought are two very different things. Your team went the extra mile for this program at 1440—recruiting applications and selecting participants. Why was this so important to you and your team?
Krista Tippett: I’m always comforted to recall my conversations with the late, great civil rights leader Vincent Harding, who liked to remind people that “when it comes to being a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-ethnic democracy, we are a developing nation.” Yes—wanting diversity and enabling diversity are two things and we’re farther along on the first than on the second.
Recently I’ve come to feel that the word “diversity” itself is limiting. It was coined with the best of intentions, but it’s had an effect of turning diversity into boxes to be checked—and keeping us in some way in our boxes.
The new language of intersectionality is one way beyond that—the realization that we’re all a collection of diversities. We had this in mind as we created the application process for the On Being Gathering. We were also inspired by the thought and practices of Seth Godin, one of our faculty members, that there’s value in taking the time to inquire about and establish purpose as part of the application process. What we’re aspiring to have in the room at the On Being Gathering is a spacious and purposeful cross-section of humanity. But this is all a work in progress, and it’s been inspiring and sobering in equal measure. We did not anticipate that thousands more beautiful, purposeful humans would apply than we could accommodate. We recognize that everyone who applied is our community, and part of our work ahead will be to continue to weave this whole. We’re so grateful to have 1440 as a generous and nimble learning partner in this adventure.
1440 Multiversity: What called you to hold an in-person gathering, and why did you choose 1440 Multiversity as the location?
Krista Tippett: For many years, On Being’s far-flung community of listeners and readers expressed a desire to meet in the old-fashioned flesh—to gather as a community. We heard this desire, and shared it, but did not have the organization to make it real.
Then the 1440 Multiversity was created with such a synergy of intentionality and values our project holds dear—a reverence for the beauty of the natural world and of human-centered design; space and time for silence and nourishment as well as learning; an ethos of community and hospitality.
In early conversations with the great people of 1440, this hospitality was extended to us—to dream about what we might make happen with such a partner. And so the On Being Gathering was born.
1440 Multiversity: Pico Iyer wrote in The Art of Stillness that “the more we can contact others, the more, it sometimes seems, we lose contact with ourselves.” This contact issue is a relatively modern problem, but one you (and others, including Maria Popova) seem to be solving with technology (specifically, the internet) that threatens to divide humanity as it unites us. How do we control this powerful tool for good? Or can we control it at all?
Krista Tippett: I’m constantly having this conversation with myself—as a mother as much as a person who works in media. And I’ve been privileged to interview some very wise people working at the intersection of technology and society.
Here’s where I come out, for now: the digital world is a new canvas for the old human condition. Nothing happens on-line that doesn’t happen off-line. As powerful as they are, our technologies are in their infancy, we remain the sentient grown-ups in the room, and it is up to us to shape them to human purposes.
We’re in catch-up mode on this, for while every human generation has had its own version of disorienting and transformative technologies, ours are distinct in the pace at which they accelerate. Ours are distinct in how intimately they are refashioning basic human experiences like making and leading and learning and belonging. And they are doing so on an amplified screen that throws up all of our beauty and ugliness, our most degrading and our most generative potentials, for the whole world to see.
Our technologies are, in my mind, calling us anew to intentionally take up those core human conversations we long above all else to have, and to have together: what does it mean to be human, how do we want to live, and who will we be to each other?