A Conversation with Krista Tippett on Becoming Wise

April 13, 2016

STEPHANIE SY: Welcome to Ethics Matter. I'm Stephanie Sy, and I'm joined by Krista Tippett, the host of the award-winning public radio program On Being. It's also a podcast. In that program she talks to people of faith and also in the secular spheres of science and activism. Her most recent book is called Becoming Wise.

Krista, thank you so much for joining us.

KRISTA TIPPETT: I'm so glad to be here.

STEPHANIE SY: Let's start with the title Becoming Wise. It's kind of an ambitious title. [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes.

STEPHANIE SY: Is it a self-help book in certain ways?

KRISTA TIPPETT: I don't think of it that way. Actually, one thing I have to point out is the "becoming" word is just as important as the "wise" word. I'm not describing a destination; I'm describing a process.

I actually did not name the book until close to the end. I started out pursuing a question that has come at me a lot across the years. People have said, "You know, you've interviewed all these wise, graceful lives, these voices. Are there recurring qualities or recurring themes?" And that's what I started tracing.

In the end, I realized that that notion of becoming wise, and becoming wise through the ordinary elements of any life, was really the connective tissue of the book. It became more and more important to me as I gleaned these lessons that—of course there are these spiritual geniuses, there are these saintly figures, these wise sages of history who all come to mind—but that wisdom is something that is accessible to all of us with whatever the raw materials of our lives are and I think, to help people take that seriously.

STEPHANIE SY: I love this line in the book, "tools for the art of living," if you will: "I've come to think of virtues and rituals as spiritual technologies for being our best selves in flesh and blood, time and space." Talk about the use of that word "technology."

KRISTA TIPPETT: "Spiritual technology?"

STEPHANIE SY: Yes.

KRISTA TIPPETT: I'm so fascinated by how we talk a lot and are very imaginative in the way we talk about, in fact, our technologies growing intelligent and growing sentient and growing conscious.

STEPHANIE SY: The smartphone. [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. We possess intelligence. We possess consciousness. And we have this capacity as human beings to take this further step to become wise; which leavens intelligence and I think has an ability to advance evolution in the direction we want it to go.

I really do think that these tools and techniques; rituals, which I think physically we need; and virtues, which in fact are practices—neuroscience is now giving new language to something that our spiritual traditions have carried forward in time, this intelligence that what we practice we become. That goes as much for becoming more patient, more loving, more compassionate, more generous, more wise.

STEPHANIE SY: I want to break that down a little bit. Science is important to you. You interview a lot of scientists on On Being.

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes.

STEPHANIE SY: Do you ever get accused of sort of being too fluffy? Is science and neuroplasticity and the studies around how physically you are impacted by these practices important to you? You are a journalist. Is that important to you, to be able to speak to people in scientific terms?

KRISTA TIPPETT: I think that in the 21st century scientists, physicists, evolutionary biologists, neuroscientists are walking some of the territory that philosophers and theologians walked in previous centuries. Whether they are religious or not, whether their inquiry is explicitly spiritual or not, they are yielding this amazing new insight into these ancient questions: what it means to be human, how we want to live. Scientists are taking virtues, they are taking notions like altruism and empathy and mindful attention, into the laboratory.

STEPHANIE SY: What are they finding?

KRISTA TIPPETT: They are unlocking some of these virtues, some of these practices and these pieces of intelligence, these tools for the art of living that have been carried forward across millennia by our spiritual traditions. They are learning that these things actually do change people on a physiological basis.

The science of neuroplasticity, which I think is one of the most wonderful and emboldening discoveries of our generation, that our brains and characters don't stop forming at a certain point—I think when I was growing up we thought it was young adulthood, or in the teenage years. But we have now found that our brains and our characters can continue to evolve across the lifespan and that we can influence that with our behaviors. That discovery was deeply influenced by the work of Richard Davidson at University of Wisconsin at Madison at the brain imaging laboratory, who was approached in the 1990s by the Dalai Lama, who has a great reverence for science, who said, "I believe that these contemplative practices that my community engages in that we weave into ordinary life change us, and I want you to test that."

STEPHANIE SY: Love, compassion, forgiveness—some of the tools for living. Is what you are really saying, that being kind can actually make us healthier, can make our bodies stronger?

KRISTA TIPPETT: That is one of the things we are finding. For example, there is some amazing research about gratitude, very simple practices of gratitude. This has been studied by clinical psychologists: Having people once a day or once a week make a list of things they were grateful for, even on their bad days; that it actually affects their health, that they sleep better, that they feel a sense of inner peace. So yes, there are actually physiological health benefits; and there is a quality-of-life benefit that people report, which is harder to measure in a laboratory but is real.

STEPHANIE SY: I want to take a step back and go back to how you started On Being. You started out as a journalist. Then you went to divinity school. How did one lead to the other? I mean, was journalism unsatisfying to you in any way? Were you searching for something else?

KRISTA TIPPETT: I really loved journalism. I started as a print journalist, and I loved it. It's an amazing foundation for everything I've done since.

I didn't so much enjoy the breaking-news aspect of things because I felt like as soon as I was digging into something, I had to turn my attention to something else.

STEPHANIE SY: We call that "feeding the beast" in the business. [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: "Feeding the beast?" Okay.

STEPHANIE SY: Yes.

KRISTA TIPPETT: I was in divided Berlin, which was an amazing place. I was just kind of on the fault line of what seemed to be the great crisis threatening mankind at that point.

I had an experience at a very young age. I was thoroughly political. I was not religious at all in those years; I would not have used the word "spirituality" probably. But I had an experience of being up very close to people who were literally moving those missiles around on a map of Europe. I was really in those circles.

I went from journalism to being a diplomatic appointee—skip that step—and seeing a great disconnect, a chasm, between the genuine power people were exercising in the world. I felt the incredible moral responsibility that they had, people who had great big outer lives and impoverished inner lives. So they are doing important work at a public level and the imprint they are making on the world around them is not necessarily generative or creative or positive. I was confused by that.

People don't talk about divided Berlin in this way often, but among other things it was a vast social experiment. You had one people, one city, one language, one culture, divided into two world views. People were living in dramatically contrasting economic and social circumstances. Their range of choice was dramatically different.

But I saw there—because I loved people on both sides of that wall—and I also made this observation, which is kind of a classic observation, but made it on a personal level, that people could have empty lives, people could create lives of dignity and beauty, and it was not dependent on the circumstances they were working with; it was how they worked with those raw materials. That led me, kind of reluctantly, to start asking what I finally called "spiritual questions," wanting to work at that human level of change and where people make meaning.

STEPHANIE SY: You said that you were not spiritual, though, at that time. So that was actually a personal journey for you. You were asking yourself those questions.

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes, it was. Yes, because I had only been asking political questions. I then, as I said, started asking spiritual questions, but I only called them that after a while.

Then, because I had grown up in an immersive religious world but where the life of the mind was not honored, the life of the mind was kind of held at bay, I went to study theology because I needed to know that this could have intellectual content as well as spiritual content. I also needed to know that working in this sphere, taking it seriously—this sphere of what we call "religion and spirituality"—could in fact address the complexity of the world I had experienced. I found theology to be thrilling, just a thrilling discipline, an incredible intellectual heft.

But then I came out of that in the mid-1990s into this American landscape, where it was a moment of incredible toxicity, of a very few strident religious voices defining religion in American public life. And I have to say, they were being handed the microphone by journalists, because figures like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were very entertaining—

STEPHANIE SY: The Moral Majority?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition; they did sound bites, which was kind of a new invention then, really well.

STEPHANIE SY: They got a lot of traction at that time. I want to get into all of that.

But I want to go back to those days in divided Germany because you talk about that disconnect between spirituality and maybe humanity, and maybe even ethics and realpolitik—because that's what you're really talking about when you talked about that time in the Cold War; you are talking about realpolitik.

Why does there have to be such a separation? Even leaders who say they are practicing Christians seem to sort of have this divide between policy and the way they behave in the world, these major players, and their inner life. Is part of what Krista Tippett is doing trying to bridge that, to find a way to integrate those lives?

KRISTA TIPPETT: I'm all about reality and being reality-based. The reality of policy and politics at those highest levels is that there are very, very few choices where you really have a clear-cut, simple choice between something that's good and something that's evil—

STEPHANIE SY: True.

KRISTA TIPPETT: —something that's moral or something that's immoral. At that level of complexity it doesn't work that way.

Having said that, I think that—I was born in 1960—part of the story of the latter half of the 20th century is that we thought we could kind of retire this irrational, spiritual, values-driven part of life. This was kind of our culture. We had this culture: We'd won the war; the economy was booming; we believed in our systems. It was a century of ideologies, and we believed in facts to be able to tell us the truth and drive the truth.

And in the 1960s also this country experienced genuine diversity, really for the very first time. For the first time, non-European immigrants began to come in; the laws were changed. Of course America had been racially diverse before then, but the 1960s was the first time we really integrated that into our sense of self. And also there was all this eruption of new ideas, of social freedom, and of intellectual freedom that was new—cultural freedom.

Part of the way we navigated that was with this virtue of tolerance, which is about "letting you be you and I'll be me." It was a good impulse. One of the things I believe very deeply now is that we have come to the end, that tolerance has outlived its usefulness as our only civic virtue; it is not big enough.

STEPHANIE SY: You say in the book that that's kind of a low bar. Can we go further than tolerance?

KRISTA TIPPETT: It is a low bar. But it was a way of creating control and keeping the peace and navigating something that was very new.

One of the ways we did that was to create what we call "values-free spaces." Of course you could have deep convictions, but you checked them at the door of your workplaces, of your professional life, of politics, of school. There were reasons for that. But I don't think it was sustainable. And I think it did have the effect of training all of us to actually go into public life, into our common life, without a moral grounding. We haven't learned to flex those muscles. So it is no wonder to me that people, not just in those highest places of policy or those large public lives, are not very skilled or experienced at bringing their sources of moral discernment into that realm of decision–making.

STEPHANIE SY: So, assuming that one day they do, do you run into the problem of the Moral Majority and values clashing?

KRISTA TIPPETT: That's the scary model we got in the late 20th century that made it seem all the more right that we should keep this out.

I like to pose this thought experiment: What if when orthodox, conservative, Christian voices reasserted themselves into American political life, which was after a chosen silence—there had been a kind of withdrawal in the early 20th century—what if when that happened, what they had done, the effect of that, would not be just to bring certain positions into play but to model the deepest virtues of Christianity? What if the result of that had been that we would all have seen robustly modeled what love of enemies could look like in politics, in real policy situations? What if it had become a great experiment in that?

If it were about joining the deepest virtues and behaviors with the thinking, with the positioning, I don't think we would be wringing our hands about needing to keep places free of religious and moral thinking. I think we could do this completely differently. So it's how we live and not how we talk. How what we believe and how we live are in a creative tension—because it is going to be a tension—but what always prevails, which in fact is what actually always prevails at the heart of our religious and ethical traditions, is how we treat others.

STEPHANIE SY: Do you believe in moral relativism; or do you think that there are just sort of hard and fast moral mottos, like, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," the Golden Rule? I was raised with that from third grade on and not much religion. Are we at a point where there is not even that in this society?

KRISTA TIPPETT: I don't like moral relativism. I think the real challenge, and really the calling, that can take us to wisdom rather than just intelligence, is to figure out—and we do have to figure this out, because this hasn't been what we've been trying to do—in this century how we can bring deep convictions and deep passions into our public spaces and join that with a commitment to stay in relationship with the people with whom we disagree.

There are some instincts we've developed over a long period of time that work against that. I was just yesterday at a university, which, like a lot of universities, is really having huge turmoil on campus and kind of this outbreak of—the total breakdown of civil discourse, a lot of demonization.

STEPHANIE SY: On both sides.

KRISTA TIPPETT: On both sides, yes, which in fact they've had modeled for them. These kids have had that modeled for them in political life.

STEPHANIE SY: Maybe in national political conversations. The whole idea of civil discourse—you embody that in your program really.

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. Some of the instincts that we have perfected that I think now are working against us, and now there's such a breakdown that we realize we have to change—one of the instincts is, first of all, we deal in this culture in competing certainties. We take most seriously—because we turn everything into an either/or, we set up a debate, we set up an argument, and we hand that argument over to the most strident voices who have absolutely no questions left alongside their certainties.

We also have assumptions that the goal of a conversation or a debate or a dialogue is for someone to win, or it gets called or you take a vote or you move on.

These are ways to be in dialogue and there are hard things we have to discuss on which we're going to disagree. But there needs to be the parallel, simultaneous work of creating new realities, of walking towards the generative common life, which includes in the 21st century, like never before, the necessity that we are in relationship, that we are creating common life, with very different others who we will not agree with; that the point can't be agreeing. There has to be value if we are committed to common life—you know, common ground is not the same thing as common life—and we have to create this new muscle memory.

Moral relativism to me is—maybe it's dangerous. It's boring too. I don't think it's good for us. I think somehow we have to learn how to bring our convictions, bring our passions, into common life and combine that with a commitment to common life.

STEPHANIE SY: Right. It sounds like you're almost sort of the anti-fundamentalist. [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: Well, I'd take that label.

STEPHANIE SY: I mean that as a compliment.

So what do you make of Donald Trump? Is he damaging to discourse in that way because his positions are so entrenched? Is he damaging to the conversation? You were a political journalist, so what do you think about what's happening?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Donald Trump is just modeling an extreme version of what we have set up as the way you get ahead.

STEPHANIE SY: He's got a big platform.

KRISTA TIPPETT: He's got a big platform.

I have a lot of thoughts about Donald Trump. But my lens on things tends to be the human-condition lens. So when I look, what I see, what I'm thinking about, as I look at this entire election, but certainly the Trump campaign and some of those most really discouraging gatherings—

STEPHANIE SY: Where people are fighting.

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. There's a huge amount of raw human pain and fear in those rooms.

I think a hallmark of our age—there's a lot to be worried about in the early 21st century, but really the last century was so much more harrowing. We don't live in a time where governments are actually slaughtering millions upon millions of their own citizens and the citizens of neighboring countries. We don't live with that magnitude of economic depression.

The thing is, human beings are actually hard-wired to know what to do in a real crisis, in that kind of existential threat and where there is a real enemy. This also mobilizes us. Physiologically we've been equipped.

STEPHANIE SY: It's like fight or flight, right?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes, we know how to fight and we know how to shut down and protect.

What we're not so equipped to do is live with open questions and uncertainty, and those among us who feel most vulnerable, most threatened by the potential outcomes of those open questions and that uncertainty—uncertainty actually makes human beings a little crazy.

STEPHANIE SY: Oh yes. [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: And I think that that is what we see right now. I think that that is what I see when I look at those campaigns.

Some of that energy—there are places where it turns violent, and some of those people and some of that energy is dangerous, and we need to protect ourselves against it. But I think we do a disservice to our common life when we imagine that all of that is dangerous, when we don't take seriously that fear and pain that is absolutely justified. I think that there's a place in our culture right now that—and I would hope that maybe coming out of this presidential election—some of us can decide that our role culturally is to help calm fear. I see that as a very practical move to gently separate that fear and that pain from dangerous ways they can get manipulated.

The thing that Donald Trump does, and the thing that Bernie Sanders does too in a very different way, is they say, like calming this uncertainty thing: "I can tell you what the problem is. I can tell you what the solutions are. And by the way, here's the enemy." Giving human beings a clear enemy, in fact, is calming when we're at our worst.

STEPHANIE SY: So what Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are playing on is fear?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Well, "the enemy is Wall Street" or "the enemy is Muslims."

STEPHANIE SY: And that calms people? It doesn't make them angrier, you think?

KRISTA TIPPETT: It makes them angry, but it gives them something to work with. Whereas the uncertainty just creates this free-flowing anxiety and it ratchets this up. It then activates this place in us that knows what to do: "We're going to fight."

STEPHANIE SY: And that place can be dangerous.

KRISTA TIPPETT: That place is dangerous. That is the most primitive part of this.

STEPHANIE SY: One of the teachers that I have is a Buddhist nun named Pema Chödrön.

KRISTA TIPPETT: She's wonderful.

STEPHANIE SY: Yes. She talks about being comfortable with uncertainty and its spaciousness.

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. How do you teach that? How does one do that?

STEPHANIE SY: "Groundlessness" is one of her words. It seems to almost go against our natures.

KRISTA TIPPETT: It does, it goes against our nature. But the great thing about these spiritual technologies that we talked about a little while ago—meditation, contemplative practices, retreat—these used to be the domain of experts; they were the domain of monks and nuns, cloistered people. They have now become accessible to everyone.

I think precisely because of this dynamic we're talking about, of this new place we're in as a species, modern people are reaching for these things. These are, in fact, technologies that help us calm ourselves and be a calming presence for others.

Richard Davidson, this neuroscientist I mentioned a minute ago who did the brain imaging on the Tibetan Buddhist monks and who has contributed to the science of neuroplasticity—they are now doing some work where they have shown that you can give ordinary people some of these tools of meditation and mindfulness and compassion as a practice, and they can actually see the amygdala, which is that "fight and flight" place in our brains, shrink.

STEPHANIE SY: Wow.

KRISTA TIPPETT: I think that should have been on the front page of The New York Times. That is amazing news for the history of our species. But clearly the challenge is, for whom is this technology available?

STEPHANIE SY: Everyone, right? [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: It is, right? But I mean there's not 10 minutes of meditation before a Trump rally right now.

STEPHANIE SY: What would the world look like if world leaders and people in power could all shrink their amygdalae?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes, what would it mean. And could we be—could we imagine—

One of the figures in my book, who is kind of a beacon for me, is this Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, who was uncovering the proof of physical evolution. He worked on the Peking Man fossil. He actually very presciently foresaw, as he said, that the noosphere, the realm of human invention and intelligence, would wrap the biosphere in what he described as very much like the Internet, that we would develop a capacity to have a global brain. And he said that he believed—again, he was working on human evolution in the fossil sense—that we are now very advanced from the Peking Man fossil but spiritually in that primitive place, and that the next move of evolution would be spiritual. I think that that would have physiological consequences. So to think that we are learning how you can shrink the amygdala, that is spiritual evolution that is rooted in biology.

STEPHANIE SY: It seems through this conversation you developed your own ideology that you believe in. You haven't mentioned religion or a particular god or deity in that conversation. What does that mean for the place of traditional religions and spiritual texts?

KRISTA TIPPETT: The word "god," like the word "tolerance," is just too small. The word itself is such a flimsy container for whatever god is. I do love my conversations with physicists. Again, I think what we are learning about the cosmos and our place in it, and the wild and wooly world of quantum physics and the multiverse, may be giving us new images in language for what god is.

Another really groundbreaking thing about this time is that this is the first moment in human history, or in this culture certainly, where people are not inheriting religious identity or spiritual traditions. We used to inherit that, and for most of human history we've inherited that the way we inherited hair color and ethnicity, in the family. Until just maybe a couple of generations ago, in this country people would have just at least affiliated with Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism; they probably went to the same church or synagogue or temple as their parents. In a very short period of time that has loosened, right?

STEPHANIE SY: Yes.

KRISTA TIPPETT: So now you have 30 percent of people under 30 who, when asked on an unimaginative multiple choice question about religion, they say "none."

STEPHANIE SY: Was this the Pew research?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. They identify as "none."

But what I see in that sphere—and we have a lot of young listeners to the podcasts, in particular—is that, especially in this realm that does not have a traditional spiritual identity, there is still a huge amount of spiritual curiosity, theological searching, and a huge passion for service, an ethical passion.

STEPHANIE SY: Among these young people who don't identify as religious?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. And other people along the lifespan as well.

I don't think any of us should be surprised that people who were born and came into awareness in the 1980s and 1990s, which was that most strident, toxic religious moment in American life, have grown up to be allergic to religious stridency and wary of religious traditions and doctrine that seem to be associated with that.

But I actually think there's something very interesting going on. We'll have to see; time will tell. I think this spiritual energy and curiosity has a lot of integrity and heft. It's not the New Age. There's something substantive going on. And, as I say, it has a real public service commitment to it as well.

I liken this energy to the monastics of Christianity, and actually other traditions. We don't think of monastics this way—we have a pope who is a monastic—but the monastics were always kind of spiritual rebels in their origins. They were spiritual and renewal movements that collected outside the boundaries of established tradition, in part, to call the traditions back to their own deepest impulses.

I see so many things happening culturally, and especially among the young, that in fact are giving new vitality to the reasons our traditions arose in the first place, to help us live more deeply into our humanity, to have us be of service to each other.

STEPHANIE SY: Pope Francis does seem to talk a lot about the basis of Christian tradition. Is he somebody you would like to interview? Is he on your bucket list? [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: He is. I was one of the 100,000 journalists who applied to interview him on his trip to the United States.

STEPHANIE SY: What about yourself? Do you have a daily spiritual practice that you go through?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Right now I don't go to church. I think maybe I will go to church again. I'm like a lot of other people in that.

I once interviewed Karen Armstrong, who is a great writer of religious history, and her books were really helpful to a lot of people after September 11th. She said to me, "My work is my prayer."

I am also in this position of now the books I read—and I am a reader; that's one way I've always been an active—

STEPHANIE SY: And you have to prep all the time for your shows. [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. The books I read and the people I'm delving into, the ideas I'm delving into, the questions I'm formulating now during my workday, are the kinds of things I would have read for spiritual nourishment or intellectual nourishment in my private time.

I think that is an interesting way to think about it. I think "my work is my prayer" in a sense. I am also just right now at this time in my life cultivating virtues like love and service. They have to be really close to home. But I do count. I count our investments in the relationships closest to us. Becoming wise is about this; it's about ordinary time.

STEPHANIE SY: It's also about living in the present, right? That was the other common thread.

KRISTA TIPPETT: Right. It's about how you move through the world, and not underestimating how powerful that can be.

We were talking earlier about the new science of taking the virtues. Some of the other things we're learning are that very simple moments of kindness, kind words, or of generosity actually have an infectious quality. They ripple through the day.

STEPHANIE SY: That's true.

KRISTA TIPPETT: We all know that you can be having a bad day and someone says something good to you, or you extend some generosity, and it shifts. The fact that we can shift the quality of our own experience and our own time, or shift that of someone else in ways that will extend itself—we shouldn't underestimate that.

STEPHANIE SY: You have such equanimity in just how you are. What is an angry day like for Krista Tippett? [Laughter] Do you ever get angry?

KRISTA TIPPETT: First of all, I have to say I always go home to my children. I have teenage children. When people say things like, "You're so soothing," I stay grounded by repeating these comments to my children, and they laugh uproariously. [Laughter]

I've gained more equanimity than I once had. I don't know that the people who work with me think of me in that way. I'm pretty intense. I am very intense.

This project was really counterintuitive for public radio, to talk about religion and spirituality and think that it could be intelligent, that it could have intellectual content, that it wouldn't upset people, that it wouldn't inflame things. I had to be a real guerrilla warrior for many years.

But at some point a few years ago, I did start actually practicing these things I'm preaching, just saying, "Okay, I want to be a more patient person."

STEPHANIE SY: Just a few years ago? You've been doing podcasts since 2002, right? [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes. I had a turning point about five years ago. It was partly out of what I was hearing and saying.

I don't think constitutionally I am a patient person. This is a relief. This is one of the relaxing things about what we're learning. It is not that you have to feel patient or feel loving or feel compassionate; it's that you decide to be that. It's like any other muscle and it's like any other thing—you do it, you practice it; you're not perfect at it; you fail, but you do it again. It's a different move than a New Year's resolution, which we know never works. It's something you commit to doing and it does, wonderfully, becomes instinctual.

So I think it's true that I do have equanimity, and it's not because I was born a person with equanimity—really quite the opposite. I've practiced it.

STEPHANIE SY: And it's a choice.

KRISTA TIPPETT: It's a choice, and it's muscle memory. It's really a spiritual muscle memory.

STEPHANIE SY: And you don't beat yourself up when you have that day where you don't feel it.

KRISTA TIPPETT: No. Because if there is one recurring theme, if I had to choose one thing from that question, "What is it about lives of wisdom and grace?", it is that it's not about perfection. It is not about people who didn't have obstacles or who were born graceful and wise. It's about how they move through what goes wrong; and not just move through that, but then integrate it into their wholeness, into their presence.

STEPHANIE SY: If you ever went back to journalism, how do you think you would approach it differently, if you went back to covering big geopolitical, historical issues?

KRISTA TIPPETT: Gosh, I don't know. I am critical of the fact that traditional journalism, especially news journalism, that we have all this sophistication about covering and analyzing what is catastrophic, corrupt, and failing. I don't say that to criticize that sophistication. But we do not bring a comparable sophistication to covering what is good and redemptive. Hope as a muscular reasonable orientation—

STEPHANIE SY: Option.

KRISTA TIPPETT: —option, choice.

I say that, and I know how hard it is to make goodness as riveting as evil. I think that goes back to what our brains do. We are drawn to it. We are looking for the threat because we're ready to mobilize.

So when you ask me the question, I don't have a prescription. I don't know what I would do differently. But what I would endeavor to figure out—and there are a lot of people experimenting with this—I would endeavor to figure out: "How can we cover goodness? What is working?" The new realities that are being incubated that better describe the world we want to live in and the world we want our children to inhabit—how could we cover that with as much sophistication, as much dedication?

You know the feel-good, fluffy, sidebar piece of the saintly person who you know makes you feel good but you could never be like them—too much of that would be boring. So I'm not talking about being boring. I don't have the answer, but I think that that's a good challenge to set for ourselves.

STEPHANIE SY: Do you feel like you saved yourself when you left the business? I mean we're a pretty cynical bunch, us, journalists. [Laughter]

KRISTA TIPPETT: I had a conversation with a journalist a few years ago who said, "You know, journalism could be a healing art." I think much like physicians—people go into medicine to be healers and then they end up being fixers, and they end up focusing on pathology. There is kind of an analogy with journalism. I actually do think people go into journalism because they want to be a good force in the world, because they believe in the power of information.

STEPHANIE SY: When you took that step back to look at your inner life, did it occur to you that all the conflict we see in the world is actually just a mirror of the dark and the light in our inner lives played out on a world stage in a massive way?

KRISTA TIPPETT: I think that is more an insight I have grown into. I think I was trying to understand, back then in divided Berlin—it didn't make sense to me that we don't always do what is best for us, that we often act in ways that work against our own deepest longings and the needs of others. But I think that's one way theology is an important discipline in our midst, because theology is the discipline that analyzes that.

But again, I do think there's a way in which we have tools now. And I especially think that the new generations coming up are insisting—some of the language they've brought into our vocabulary, like "authenticity, transparency, integrity"—like all words, these words can get overused and they can get fragile. But in those words, I see this generation saying, "We are going to be the same people on the inside and the outside." They have seen the kind of hypocrisy of our institutions. They have seen the loneliness in the lives of adults that is engendered by that disconnect.

So I do think we have a chance. So, when I talk about becoming wise, I'm not interested in that just as a private move. I think it's a move we can make together. It's going to need us to work individually, but it also needs us to do this very un-American thing and acknowledge our need of each other, to accompany each other, to create something called "common life" for this century, which is not going to look like "common life" in the last century.

STEPHANIE SY: It is a very hopeful note to end this on. Krista Tippett, thank you so much.

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