On Having Civil Conversations
Author and Broadcaster
Date: January 24, 2017
In advance of her Lowell Humanites Series Lecture, Krista Tippett, author of Becoming Wise and host of the NPR show and podcast "On Being," graciously spoke with Boston College students on the themes of her new book and anxieties pertaining to the heated political rhetoric of 2017.
On Tuesday, January 24, Krista Tippett, host of the Peabody Award-winning radio show and podcast On Being, came to the Boisi Center for an informal conversation with a group of Boston College students before giving her Lowell Humanities Series lecture. After Boisi Center Interim Director Erik Owens’s introduction, Tippett opened the floor to the ideas and questions of the students. Tippett explained that she was curious about what is concerning, confusing, and encouraging college students today, especially in light of the recent inauguration and Women’s March. The conversation explored topics such as the nature of wisdom, public expression of pain and fear, identity politics, and fruitful conversation across party lines.
Early on in the conversation, one student asked what we can do with the rage and sorrow that has become apparent in light of this election. Tippett noted that, in the United States, sorrow is not rewarded, though it may be justified. She argued that we need to create spaces that welcome emotional expression and to attend to one another’s pain and fear. Tippett also encouraged a commitment to talking and thinking about the current political climate on “the level of reality.” She argued that it is important not to equate any politician with all of the people who voted for them. Instead, we must learn to accompany and respect one another regardless of whom we supported on Election Day.
In response to this, a student asked how we can encourage conversation, solidarity, and action from the “silent majority” without being accusatory. Tippett argued that one of the major inhibitors of discourse is the tendency to imagine groups of people as monolithic. If we are willing to step out of our comfort zones and reach out to people on the other side, we begin to realize there is a lot of untapped possibility for meaningful conversation.
Social change, she said, actually happens one relationship at a time. In the same vein, Tippett responded to a question about identity politics, saying that, while identity politics has been critical for acknowledging diversity and trains us to be advocates for ourselves, we also need to be better listeners, more curious, and more open to new realities.
Tippett closed the conversation by reflecting on a question about the nature of wisdom—the theme of her most recent book, Becoming Wise (Penguin, 2016). She said that wisdom is where consciousness grows when it grows up, and that the measure of wisdom is the impact you make on the people around you.
Following the conversation, Tippett gave a Lowell Humanities Series lecture entitled The Adventure of Civility to a packed Gasson lecture hall. Remarking that we are “turn-of-the-century people,” she invited the audience to continue to engage the questions that remain unanswered from the twentieth century. Tippett expressed the need for all people to reconsider common life as something bigger than politics, to overcome polarization that inhibits understanding, and to approach conflicts with imagination and creativity.
Tippett framed her remarks as “a few encouragements,” providing her thoughtful, hopeful take on the power and purpose of human relationships, dialogue, and openness. She emphasized the importance of words, noting the shortcomings of some familiar words such as “tolerance.” Tolerance requires merely bearing the existence of others, rather than treating others with openness and love. Citing poet Elizabeth Alexander, Tippett encouraged the use of “words that shimmer” and words that convey real truth.
Tippett also invited the audience to rediscover listening, which requires presence, vulnerability, and a willingness to be surprised. In addition to listening, Tippett encouraged “generous questions;” questions that may not want immediate answers. Achieving common ground, she remarked, cannot be a prerequisite for living common life. Instead, we ought to live in “the crack in the middle where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see the other as evil.”
The "On Being" website: http://www.onbeing.org/
Her bio is here: http://www.onbeing.org/about#ktippet
A short interview with her in the New York Times Magazine last December: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/14/magazine/krista-tippett-thinks-we-cant-change-one-anothers-minds.html?_r=0
And a New York Times piece from 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/29/us/29religion.html?src=me&ref=us
The interviews she's done related to questions of civil conversation are an excellent place to begin listening to her work: http://www.civilconversationsproject.org/
Finally her books -- the most recent of which is, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living: