Krista Tippett and David Whyte on Becoming Wise

Krista Tippett, host of award-winning NPR program “On Being“, and poet David Whyte discusses several of the life-sized concepts addressed in Tippet’s book, _Becoming Wise: an inquiry into the mystery and art of living._

In 2014, Tippett received the National Humanities Medal at the White House for ‘thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.’ Her radio program, On Being, “shines a light on the most extraordinary voices on the great questions of meaning for our time. Scientists in a variety of fields; theologians from an array of faiths; poets, activists, and many others have all opened themselves up to Tippett’s compassionate but searching conversation.” Whyte has been a guest on her show.

In _Becoming Wise_, Tippett distils the insights she has gleaned from years of luminous conversation into a coherent narrative journey, over time and from mind to mind, into what it means to be human. Critics say the book is “a master class in living, individually and collectively. Wisdom emerges through the raw materials of the every day.”

 

Quotes:

  • Beauty is that in which when in the presence of, we feel more alive.
  • Questions elicit answers in their likeness.
  • Poetry is language for which we have no defense.  (not facts)
  • Humor is a virtue.  It is a better way to live.  A more joyful way to live.
  • Have the courage to be vulnerable to those with whom we passionately disagree with.
  • We have an illusion that we can build a fortress where we are invulnerable.
  • Relationships (like marriage, children) inevitably involve heartbreak.
  • This “Can do” American spirit, that we’ll just power through and duke it out, won’t work.
  • Our education system encourages us to develop the quick premature answer, which robs us of our empathy
  • We are wired for empathy, but not when we’re fearful.
  • Virtues and Rituals are the spiritual technologies and muscle memory.
  • Growth comes from weaknesses gracefully expressed
  • You can’t really converse with anger.
  • Anger is what pain and fear look like when they show themselves in public
  • We don’t know how to dwell with human pain or fear.
  • We get so titillated about our machines getting intelligent, when we should be pursuing knowledge and wisdom for ourselves.
  • I would challenge the idea that we need to have common ground to have conversation (other than that we are human).
  • You don’t have to like people to extend hospitality.
  • Tolerance is too small a word.  Tolerance is a baby step towards pluralism.  Tenderness and Power, Fierceness can go together.
  • We are a developing nation. 
    • 1950s it was revolutionary to elect a Catholic.  We’ve only been at this for 60-70 years.
    • Tolerance is about enduring difference.
  • Kindness can feel wimpy, but kindness can be powerful and can make someone’s day.  Kindness is instant gratification on both sides.

Richard Rohr Meditation: The Living Word of God

Fundamentalism is a growing phenomenon, not only in Islam and other religions, but within Christianity as well. Fundamentalism refuses to listen to the deep levels of mythic, metaphorical, and mystical meaning. It is obsessed with literalism and exclusion. The egoic need for clarity and certitude leads fundamentalists to use sacred writings in a mechanical, closed-ended, and quite authoritarian manner. The ego rarely asks real questions and mostly gives quick answers. This invariably leaves ego-driven, fundamentalist minds and groups utterly trapped in their own cultural moment in history. Thus they miss the Gospel’s liberating message along with the deepest challenges and consolations of Scripture.

There is an especially telling passage in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus becomes angry with his disciples, who are unable to understand his clearly metaphorical language. He tells them to watch out for “the leaven” of the Pharisees and “the leaven” of Herod. Taking him literally, they began looking quizzically at one another because they did not have any bread (see Mark 8:14-16). Is Herod Bread a new brand that they had not heard about? Is Pharisee pumpernickel something to be avoided?

I can imagine Jesus responding with a bit of impatience and frustration: “Do you think I am talking about bread? You’re still not using your heads, are you? You still don’t get the point, do you? Though you have ears, you still don’t hear; though you have eyes, you still don’t see!” (see Mark 8:17-18). They do not yet know that the only way to talk about transcendent things is through metaphor! But early stage religious people are invariably literalists, and not yet poets and mystics. It takes inner experience of the Holy, and your own attempts to describe it, to finally move you toward a necessary reliance upon symbolic language.

.. Jesus consistently uses stories and images to describe spiritual things. Religion has always needed the language of metaphor, simile, symbol, and analogy to point to the Reign of God. Note how frequently Jesus begins teaching with the phrase: “The Kingdom of God is like. . . .” There is no other way to speak of the ineffable.

Against conventional wisdom, this simple, seemingly childlike approach actually demands more of us—not just more of our thinking mind, but more of our heart and body’s attunement. Maybe that is why we so consistently avoid sacred story in favor of mere mechanical readings that we can limit and control.

The final and full Word of God is that spiritual authority lies not just in ancient texts but in the living Christ of history, church, community, creation, and our own experience confirming its truth. The mystery is “Christ among you, your hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)—this is the living Bible! Keep one foot in both camps—the historical text and the present moment—and in your fullest moments you will find yourself also saying “it is like. . . .” Words are fingers pointing to the moon, but words are never the moon itself. Not knowing this has kept much religion infantile, arrogant, and even dangerous.

How to ask good questions

Our goal is going to be to ask questions about technical concepts that are easy to answer. I often have somebody with me who has a bunch of knowledge that I’d like to know too, but they don’t always know exactly how to explain it to me in the best way.

If I ask a good series of questions, then I can help the person explain what they know to me efficiently and guide them to telling me the stuff I’m interested in knowing. So let’s talk about how to do that!

  1. State what you understand about the subject so far
  2. Ask “is that right?”

.. Ask questions where the answer is a fact

A lot of the questions I have start out kind of vague, like “How do SQL joins work?”. That question isn’t awesome, because there are a lot of different parts of how joins work! How is the person even supposed to know what I’m interested in learning?

.. Being able to stop someone and say “hey, what does that mean?” is a super important skill. I think of it as being one of the properties of a confident engineer and an awesome thing to grow into. I see a lot of senior engineers who frequently ask for clarifications – I think when you’re more confident in your skills, this gets easier.

.. in fact, if someone doesn’t ask me for clarifications when I’m explaining something, I worry that they’re not really listening!

.. This also creates space for the question answerer to admit when they’ve reached the end of their knowledge! Very frequently when I’m asking someone questions, I’ll ask something that they don’t know. People I ask are usually really good at saying “nope, I don’t know that!”