Krista Tippett is an acclaimed broadcaster, the host and executive producer of On Being, a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration. Krista is also the author of Speaking of Faith (2007), Einstein’s God (2010), and, most recently, The New York Times best-seller Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, where she opens into the questions and challenges of this century. In 2014, she received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.
1 Why is your work relevant to a broader audience outside of a specific discipline?
I am very aware when I use the word love, that it is not a word all that respectable within academic circles, and I understand why that is. It’s going out on a limb, and insisting on this word— generally used in very private and romanticized contexts—that we adapt it and apply it in places where it’s been antithetical to sound vocabulary. In the moment we have now, we inhabit a common life, a political life, and a public life in which we have acknowledged hate as a legal category. We see the consequences of the worst of which we are capable, of the most extreme ways in which we can separate ourselves from each other. We see that that is destructive. That it is not a step forward, but a step backward. I think that the hatred, the bigotry, the retreat that marks a lot of our public life now is very much generated by pain and fear that we have to attend to. I think that the only thing robust enough, which points at the best of what human beings are capable of—for those of us who are safe enough, who are privileged enough really, to speak of rising to the best of ourselves, and creating conditions in which our fellow human beings rise to the best of themselves—love is the only word big enough. But as you said, there’s a lot of work. If someone accepts my premise, then we still have to rehabilitate the word love. We have to get really practical and concrete about what the expressions of this are outside of intimate life. I think that’s the exciting work. And I think it’s happening whether people are calling it love or not. I do find the language of virtues very interesting to new generations. I talk about these things as “spiritual technologies,” and that’s 21st century language to talk about tools that we need and have always needed that were developed and articulated for a reason. People in previous generations sometimes got these things crammed down their throats in terms of dogma or rules. The great virtues of love, compassion, patience, humility, you could go on and on—that kind of conduct, both in terms of how other people treat us and how we move through the world, I think so many of us long for that kind of conduct. But again the words themselves and the ways they’ve been transmitted have gotten lost. [But] it is through our lives, including the things that don’t go the way we wanted them to—and especially through those experiences— that we learn to be patient and humble and kind and loving and compassionate. Also, be bold in translating the things that you learn in the course of your life to the public sphere. When I talk about love, and public love, that’s a whole new skillset we need to work on together. High-functioning community is messy and irritating at times. But it’s also life-giving. I think we should interrogate these complicated aspirations— because any virtue always remains an aspiration. These are disciplines and practices. We can start with just paying attention to how what we are learning and imagining has relevance to public life at large.
2 What are the “commons” that your specific research fights to preserve, protect, contest, or share?
It’s easy to point at the ways it’s been fractured, and ways that those fractures have deepened in recent memory. But what we maybe pay less attention to is the natural, organic way people even just a few generations ago inherited community and inherited identity. There were forms and components to the commons that were just a given. It was in the shape of extended families and in the shape of old-fashioned neighborhoods [with] people [who] had lived in their houses for thirty years, and kids [who] come back to the neighborhood to live in the houses. It doesn’t work that way anymore. People had the same job, which is a form of stability, for decades. And also people were born into religious communities. There were all of these elements of the commons that nobody had to create. But what’s also really important is to not romanticize that. Some of those forms that give an identity were restrictive and narrowing, and they went away for good reason. So here we are. There’s great possibility and creativity that we are called to exercise in actually crafting the commons anew. And, it’s also stressful. I don’t think it’s completely natural for human beings, just the animal sides of us, to have to create our identity out of cloth. That’s a big piece of the human stress that’s fuelling where we are now, both nationally and globally.
3 What is at stake in your work?
First, I would say that it starts with precisely the questions you are asking. This project you are describing is the reformation of architecture, and all of our disciplines are being turned inside out. This is about our democracy, but it is also about our species. It’s about becoming the human race. We live at this moment in which, for the very first time, we have the tools and the perspective and are connected so that we can actually think as a species. That’s huge. It drives back to all the things you are getting at. Who we are to each other—everything is at stake in that now. We all throw our drop into the ocean. So it sounds grand, and it is grand. But it’s also so important to have a long view of time, and to realize we are planting things for generations. We are in this for the long haul. One of the things I care about in my vocation is keeping the narrative alive of this generative change. Being a place where these stories are being told, a place for these voices, for what is being learned, and also connecting people up. I am thrilled that you want to talk to me about this. Every conversation like this, every dot that gets connected might have seemed unlikely a few years ago. There is something mobilizing for human beings about hard times. There is something galvanizing about tumult and threat. There is a lot that’s terrifying in the world right now, but I also feel that this has opened up worlds of possibility. It’s precisely what you said—it’s about people asking what’s at stake and deciding to live by that. And also understanding that if the stakes are this high, that we need each other. That we have to accompany each other, that we ask these questions together— all the impulses in this project of yours, that you reach out and have this conversation in wider circles. This is partly happening because we are all a little bit freaked out. And it’s an upside of being freaked out.
4 What are the physical spaces that potentially perpetuate or exacerbate the issues your work seeks to redress?
I don’t feel I’m so qualified to give an answer at the caliber in which you think as an architect. But a few things have come across to me in my life of conversation about the importance of space, physical space. When I was born in 1960, there was that era of great progress and a great confidence in our progress, and we created such terrible, functional, soulless spaces that just sucked the life out of people. You all have inherited that. What I see people not merely rediscovering but really understanding is that we need beauty. That beauty enlivens. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, and it can be natural beauty. There’s a new appreciation for the importance of physical space—for aesthetics and how it’s designed for us to be together and not just separate. The understanding that this can absolutely change the experience it holds. It can limit the experience or make a lot of new things possible.