On Being with Krista Tippett
On Being takes up the big questions of meaning with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers — some you know and others you'll love to meet. Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives — updated every Thursday. Hosted by Krista Tippett. Discover more at onbeing.org. On Being Studios is the producer of On Being, Becoming Wise, Creating Our Own Lives, and more to come.
“When it comes to moral judgments, we think we are scientists discovering the truth, but actually we are lawyers arguing for positions we arrived at by other means.” The surprising psychology behind morality is at the heart of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s research. He explains “liberal” and “conservative” not narrowly or necessarily as political affiliations, but as personality types — ways of moving through the world. His self-described “conservative-hating, religion-hating, secular liberal instincts” have been challenged by his own studies.
It’s easy to despair at all the bad news and horrific pictures that come at us daily. But Roshi Joan Halifax says this is a form of empathy that works against us. There’s such a thing as pathological altruism. This zen abbot and medical anthropologist has nourishing wisdom as we face suffering in the world.
With his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman emerged as one of the most intriguing voices on the complexity of human thought and behavior. He is a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics for helping to create the field of behavioral economics. He is a self-described “constant worrier.” And it’s fun, helpful, and more than a little unnerving to apply his insights into why we think and act the way we do in this moment of social and political tumult.
“When it comes to the world around us,” Lisa Randall has written, “is there any choice but to explore?” As one of the most influential theoretical physicists working today, she’s interested in the interconnectedness between fields that have previously operated more autonomously: astronomy, biology, and paleontology. She’s pursuing a theory that “dark matter” might have created the cosmic event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs — and hence humanity’s rise as a species. We learn what she’s discovering, as well as the human questions and takeaways her work throws into relief.
“In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” A mystic, a 20th-century religious intellectual, a social change agent, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., famously saying afterwards that he felt his legs were praying. Heschel’s poetic theological writings are still read and widely studied today. His faith was as much about “radical amazement” as it was about certainty. And he embodied the passionate social engagement of the prophets, drawing on wisdom at once provocative and nourishing.
“From the bottom will the genius come that makes our ability to live with each other possible. I believe that with all my heart.” These are the words of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz. His hope is fiercely reality-based, a product of centuries lodged in his body of African-Caribbean suffering, survival, and genius.
To be in conversation with Maira Kalman is like wandering into one of her cartoons in The New Yorker. Millions have been prompted to smile and think by Maira Kalman’s illustrated revision of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or a New York Times blog or her lovely books and her drawings about dogs. Her words and pictures bring life's whimsy and quirkiness into relief right alongside its intrinsic seriousness, its most curious truths.
No conversation we’ve ever done has been more beloved than this one. This Irish poet, theologian, and philosopher insisted on beauty as a human calling. He had a very Celtic, lifelong fascination with the inner landscape of our lives and with what he called “the invisible world” that is constantly intertwining what we can know and see. This was one of the last interviews he gave before his unexpected death in 2008. But John O’Donohue’s voice and writings continue to bring ancient mystical wisdom to modern confusions and longings.
In the 1960s, Nikki Giovanni was a revolutionary poet of the Black Arts Movement that nourished civil rights. She had a famous dialogue with James Baldwin in Paris in 1971. As a professor at Virginia Tech, she brought beauty and courage by the way of poetry after the shooting there. Today, she is a self-proclaimed space freak and a delighted elder — an adored voice to hip-hop artists and the new forms of social change this generation is creating.
The civil rights icon Ruby Sales names "a spiritual crisis of white America" as a calling of this time. During the days of the movement, she learned to ask the question, "Where does it hurt?" It’s a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now, but it gets at human dynamics that we are living and reckoning with. A probing conversation at a convening of 20 theologians seeking to reimagine the public good of theology for this century.
The band Cloud Cult is hard to categorize — both musically and lyrically — though it’s been called an “orchestral indie rock collective.” Less in question is the profound and life-giving force of its music. Cloud Cult’s trajectory was altered the day its co-founder and singer-songwriter, Craig Minowa, and his wife woke up to find that their two-year-old son had mysteriously died in his sleep. Live from our studios on Loring Park, we explore the art that has emerged ever since — spanning the human experience from the rawest grief to the fiercest hope.
Life as an improvisational art, at every age. This idea animates the wise linguist and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, whose book "Composing a Life" has touched many. Since her childhood as the daughter of the iconic anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, she’s had an ability to move through the world as both an original observer and a joyful participant. Now in her 70s, she’s pondering — and living — what she calls the age of "active wisdom." She sees longer life spans creating a new developmental stage for our species.