Five Questions with Krista Tippett

July 02, 2018
In “Five Questions,” Krista Tippett, the creator and host of the public radio program and podcast “On Being,” tells us about her time as a foreign correspondent and aide to the U.S. ambassador in Berlin and discusses what she hopes her listeners take away from her podcast.

1. You spent a significant amount of time in Berlin as a foreign correspondent and aide to the U.S ambassador in West Germany before the wall came down. How did this experience affect your philosophical and theological outlook?

Divided Berlin was a vast social experiment – one people, one language, one culture, one history, split into two competing economic and political systems. East Berlin, in this scenario, by all the ways we measure fortune, was the loser. However, I loved people on both sides of the wall, and I saw that it was possible to craft an empty life in the west and a life of great dignity, beauty and intimacy in the east – that the quality of our presence in the world is not dependent on the system we inhabit. This is very resonant for me now, as is the fact that I inhabited a world that utterly and unexpectedly transformed in a handful of years. I know from experience that there are places in human experience that politics cannot analyze or address, and they hold more possibility for change than we can begin to imagine.

2. What do you hope your listeners come away from your podcast, “On Being,” with? How do you measure success?

Every show we create is some kind of exploration of the great animating questions of human life – what does it mean to be human, how do we want to live, and who will we be to each other? I hope to create conversational experiences that speak to all three of these questions and the life-giving interaction between them. I hope people come away feeling nourished, emboldened and accompanied, more integrated, more energized and reasonably hopeful, and more whole.

We don’t really have metrics to measure this. I’m thrilled when I see ripple effects of the show in communities, action, teaching and caring. We nurture nurturers – from inside families to global NGOs. Every time an individual tells me a story of how “On Being” was there for them in a life passage – divorce, death, transition, illness or depression – and that it made of these experiences a space for growth and deepening, I know it’s worth continuing to do my job.

3. What’s the role of long-form interviews in a world of sound bites and top 10 lists?

When I started “On Being” 15 years ago, experts in radio told me that long form was dead – that we were asking too much of people. Nevertheless, this show thrived, and now podcasting has revealed the hunger for long form and created new mobile platforms for it. In recent years, we have had a huge influx of young people in our media space. My experience is that while all of us, young and old, have been primed and trained to be entertained and given bite-sized offerings, this has only made us more aware of our need for some precious places for dwelling, discernment and depth.

4. The spring 2018 issue of Women & Wealth Magazine focuses on technology. You recently featured philosopher and technologist Kevin Kelly on your podcast. Was there an insight from that conversation that you would like to share with our readers?

The technologists with whom I’ve spoken across the years have insisted over and over again that we must remember that our technologies – however overwhelming and powerful they feel to us – are in their infancy. We are the adults in the room, and it is our responsibility – our calling – to shape and grow our technologies to human purposes. What I love about Kevin Kelly is his insistence that while we are learning that AI is better at answers than we are – more, better and quicker answers – we are the masterful askers of questions, and the quality of questions in life, science and the arts is what has always been behind wisdom, health and true advance.

5. What advice would you give your younger self?

I would invite my younger self to take joy wherever and whenever she could find it and not to hold that off to one side of all my earnest, ambitious activity as though it were an indulgence. I’m thinking about this a lot these days, where so many people on every side of our cultural chasms are in hand-wringing mode. I see a lot of good people treating joy as though it would be a privilege, an indulgence, perhaps even an insult to those on the losing side of this moment’s equations. However, we cannot call forth in the world something we don’t believe in and embody, and joy is a life-giving, resilience-giving human birthright. We’ve learned to take hate and struggle very seriously, and I think this opens up a mandate for us to be as serious about what we love, what revives us and what can lead to the flourishing of all of our fellow humans over time. 

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