Krista Tippett, is the Peabody Award-winning journalist, host of the podcast, On Being, and author of Becoming Wise — An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. Tippett will be at UCSB Campbell Hall on April 20 at 7:30 p.m, in conversation with Pico Iyer. I caught up with her during a break on her book tour.
I love the subtitle of your new book. What compelled you to write this book at this time and to think of living as an art form? I started working on it a few years ago. I was responding to a question people often asked me, which is, you’ve interviewed all these wise and graceful people, what’s the link between them? I’m also fascinated by Einstein’s remark that we need more spiritual geniuses. We’re not taught to think of living as an art, though that idea is a theme at the heart of many of our spiritual traditions. The language used in our traditions is beautiful and inspiring, but I am also interested in practical tools for the artistry of living. Robustly and joyfully tending to one’s questions and answers is a common attribute of people that I consider wise.
During a recent interview you said that “the hallmark of our age is uncertainty.” Is part of becoming a wise person learning to be comfortable with ambiguity? Absolutely. We emerged, those of us born in the 20th century in America, with a particular sense of certainty, namely that things would always get better, that our lives and the lives of our kids would improve. The idea that things always go up and never come down defies the laws of physics, but we have bought into it in some ways. Life doesn’t become more certain. We are in a constant process of dealing with vast open questions, and redefining our understanding of concepts like gender and marriage. Acknowledging uncertainty brings us back to reality. The only certainty is that the next thing that happens will surprise you.
You begin many of your interviews by asking about the spiritual background of your subject’s childhood? Why do you start with that? What I’ve learned is that almost everyone has a story, even if they weren’t raised in a particular spiritual tradition. The question is a soft entry to a place that for most people is very intimate. I find that starting with this question opens people up in a great way.
Was this book more difficult to write than others you’ve written, and if so, why? Yes. This is by far the biggest, the most intimate and revealing thing I’ve attempted. I had to get out of my professional interviewer mode. The first few drafts were too journalistic and academic. I had to figure out that my thinking about the material is the connective tissue, if you will. It was a long, fraught, tortured process.
What are you reading at the moment? I’m on a book tour right now so I’m reading a thriller. I read a lot of British fiction. I love literary mysteries. It’s the way I get my mind away from all these big thoughts that I grapple with in my day job.
What gives you hope that we can solve some of the existential problems we face? I like the language of resilience that is entering our vocabulary. Every solution we devise will eventually outlive its usefulness. But we have it within us to use our intelligence to create systems that might sail more gracefully. I don’t know what’s going to happen with climate change or this terrible refugee crisis, but I think we can rise more robustly to our better capacities. There’s a lot of amazing work being done all over the world. We should take hope as seriously as we do the threats of catastrophe.
What does being a wise person mean to you? For one thing, it’s absolutely planted in reality. It’s not false optimism. It’s about befriending reality and developing an orientation to hope and gratitude.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Krista Tippett in conversation with Pico Iyer Wednesday, April 20, 7:30 p.m., at Campbell Hall. Call (805) 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.