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The Adventure of Civility: An Evening with Krista Tippett

“Why did you vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Answer this question through the story of your life.”

This is the question that Krista Tippett thinks could change everything, if only everyone in America could sit down and engage in a thoughtful conversation with someone who voted differently from themselves.

Tippett ObamaTippett, a renowned journalist, New York Times best-selling author, and creator of the public radio station and podcast series On Being, visited Boston College this past Tuesday evening as a featured speaker of the Lowell Humanities Series. Tippett spoke eloquently and soothingly for over an hour to an over-capacity Gasson 100, imparting her wisdom on a vast array of topics ranging from our nation’s current divide to wisdom itself. With degrees from both Brown and Yale University, a National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama, and many years of experience in engaging people in conversations about “faith, ethics, and moral wisdom”, it came as no surprise that students, alums, professors, and fans alike showed up to listen to what Tippett had to say.

I had the unique privilege to meet and engage with Krista at the BC’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life before her speech, where the discussion was dominantly focused on how to approach the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. She acknowledged that many Americans have experienced both fear and pain as a result of Donald Trump’s victory, and that these feelings are incredibly valid for each and every individual. She also pointed out, however, that “anger is often what pain looks like when it shows itself in public” and called on us to be “calmers of fear” and “fermenters of healing”.

Tippet insisted that social change happens one relationship at a time and often develops in the form of a gentle invitation to engage in passionate conversation. An interesting piece of advice she offered to a room full of BC students was to try to not equate a politician, in this instance Donald Trump, with all of the people that voted for him. If you project all of the incumbent president’s negative values onto all of the millions that voted for him, many of whom are in pain, then, in her words, “you are defeated”. She asked us to think of the wide diversity among the people in just our family and friend circles and warned of the dangers of imagining whole groups of people as monolithic.

Becoming-Wise-by-Krista-Tippett_0On the theme of her newest book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista imparted that while an intelligent person is knowledgeable, a wise person radiates insight and imprints on people around him or herself. She stated that while it’s often believed that wisdom can only come with age, she believes there are openings to wisdom at every age through seeing the world whole and responding to crises.

In her wider lecture, Tippett honed in on the fact that we are living in a “terrifying and wondrous century” in which all of our institutions are going through reform. She stressed that the well-being of strangers is linked to our own well-being and that common ground is not necessary for all of us to share a common life.

Throughout the evening, Krista Tippett’s message was one of hope and healing, and she offered three “encouragements” or what I think of as guidelines to becoming a better person. They are:

  1. Realize that Words Matter

I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase somewhere before and it might even sound devastatingly underwhelming. Our society could not function without words, and Krista points out that “the familiarity of words makes us forget their power”. But we crave words that “shimmer and convey real truth” and simple words have the power to make someone’s day or ruin it, so choose your words carefully.

  1. Rediscover Listening and Ask a Better Question

Tippett joked that we have all been trained to be great advocates for ourselves, but we struggle in truly listening to others. Listening is about not being quiet as you wait for your turn to speak, it is about being present, and yes, this may even call for you to be vulnerable and willing to be surprised by your conversation partner. She also urged us to ask “mighty, generous questions”, ones that can’t always be met with an immediate answer, ones that have to be “lived”.

  1. Declare Love as a Public Good

For those of you who are rusty on your Econ lingo, a public good is non-excludable and without rivals. Through the years, people have watered-down the complexity of the word “love” by making it commonplace, and others have lost confidence in the frailty of love and turned to the more powerful and domineering feelings of hate or anger. Still, Tippet insists that “love is the only thing big enough for the immensity of the challenges we face” in our world today.

In the end, I believe I speak on the behalf of many that the takeaways from Krista Tippett’s words of wisdom were that while America’s present reality is unfavorable to many, it is our reality, and we must learn where to go from here. Tippett explained that while the pressure for people to come to a single agreement can work against understanding, the place to start is to agree that there truly is good in one another.

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