Krista Tippett on the Art of Conversation | Review & Notes

Udemy Course online. [2018]

Krista Tippett Conversation Starter 1

Krista Tippett Conversation Starter 2

Krista Tippett Conversation Starter 3

Krista Tippett Conversation Starter 4

Krista Tippett Conversation Starter 5


The following are my rough notes and highlights. Tippett’s grounding voice, presence, and ideals are deeply important for our personal and public life. There are very few voices that speak with such wisdom, from the “ages” and “sages” of our collective human history, and Tippett’s approach to humanity is a model and exemplar for us all.

As our world heads towards further division, polarization, and contempt, I urge you to consider carefully these thoughts and reflections. Not only will they bring you a sense of peace, they may just catalyze a movement for healing a fractured and broken world.


  • Listen with presence

  • Ask more generous questions

  • Frame conversations with wonder & humility

  • Move beyond a public discourse of certainty or absolutism

  • Understand why achieving common ground should to always be the goal


I’m not satisfied with the questions we use to frame our public discussion about almost any important subject. We often start with dead-end questions.

There are a lot of bad questions in our public life. And there is something redemptive about asking a better question. I think of questions as muscular, powerful, mighty things.

Bad questions are bad because questions elicit answers in their likeness.

Jacqueline Novogratz asks,

What are you doing when you most beautiful?

That’s a beautiful question that elicits an answer where people speak from their resilience and beauty.

A great question doesn’t always need or want an answer. We could let questions themselves work on us.


A generous question will be very attentive to the context of the person you’re asking the question. A generous question grows out of the time and particularity and care you’ve taken to know who you’ve invited into your space. A hallmark of a bad question is that you haven’t taken the time prior to take care of knowing the person you’ve invited into your space.

There is a difference between a simple question and a simplistic one. A simple question is an honest question, that honestly wants to understand.

What do you mean when you use that word?

We assume and imagine much more homogeneity in other groups than we know there to be in our own. We know that in our circles–people who are kind of “on our side,” or “in our group,” with whom we may have a shared identity vocabulary, or mission–there’s huge diversity in that group. Even in that group, there are the people we understand, and there are the people that drive us crazy. There are people with whom, we know, to stay in that relationship, we just don’t talk certain things. But with other groups, we imagine that they all mean the same thing when they use certain words, and we associate them with that worst specimen, that most strident perhaps hateful, inflammatory expression. That’s not true, it’s not fair, and it’s not good for us. So, a good and generous question, is to simply ask honestly, “Tell me what you mean when you use that word, or phraseology?”

Inquire about somebody’s hope.

What makes you hopeful?

We miss hope if you’re only focused on the difficult or charged parts, and never ask or shift to the other key. That’s a powerful place, even in situations where there are disagreements or distance, if we can find a resonance between our place of hope and theirs.

Ask somebody about their fear, though you can’t do that in every setting.

They key is, Do you really want to know? Ask, “Please explain this to me? I really want to understand. What frightens you?”


Frances Kissling | Get to a place in your conversation with people who are different (with people with whom you should be in relationship, whether or not you want to), when you can get to the place that you can ask

What makes me uncomfortable in my own position?


What do I admire in the position of the other?

What do I find in that that is magnetic that has dignity that I can name, and honor, even if it is not my position?


Listening is a basic social art and civic tool, but we’ve unlearned it. [Rather], we’ve become skilled at becoming advocates, as people who debate. Much of the time, what passes for listening, especially in American public space is, “I will be quiet so that I can then present my point of view.”

I’m not just bringing my questions, but I’m bringing myself, that I’m listening with all the experience and pathologies that are within me, and being attentive to far more than just the words that the other is saying.


I’ve come to insist on conducting a conversation rather than an interview. It’s about me “drawing them out.” The work starts way before words start passing between you. Hospitality is a virtue. This is very much about the presence that I’m bringing than the words that are passing between us. That has something to do with the invitation that is being extended. I come into this space prepared. That’s the work of hospitality. It doesn’t just create a better human experience, and more efficient way to walk more quickly into a meaningful encounter.

We’ve all had the experience of sitting with somebody where you immediately know that you have to be on guard, or you’re going to have to explain yourself, or defend. It’s uncomfortable, and doesn’t draw out the best of you.

My definition of a great conversation is when someone puts words around something in that conversation that they’ve never quite put words around before, by themselves. Like in writing, as painful as it can be, you figure out what you knew that you didn’t know you knew. And the same thing can happen in a conversation. We can, in forming words and expressing ideas in that relational context of a conversation, we can bring something new into this world from our depths that even we didn’t know was possible.


When conversing, someone is talking to me from their depths, and that is a intimate, scary thing to do. If I’m present then I’m having a human reaction to what they’re saying, letting that show, and possibly giving voice to that about what they’ve just said, where that takes me and my own memory, and how that connects to other things that I’ve seen and experienced. What they’ve just said makes sense in the context of my life which is very different from how they said it.

The more I’m there, and leaning in and just reacting, they forget that they’re being interviewed. They stop having to do all the work. It’s another way that people relax. Then, something relational happens, rather than having them “be on the spot.”


Things are not worse than they were a hundred years ago. A hundred years ago we were killing each other off by the tens of millions, with global economic depression. But a hallmark of our age is actually vast open questions, questions that we are not going to answer any time soon. We’re not even asking the right questions enough yet to know what the possible solutions could be. In a paradoxical way, this state of affairs, physiologically, this kind of uncertainty through an open question is more stressful for a human being who feels vulnerable, than a clear enemy and a clear fight. Give us a war to fight, and we know what to do. We know how to get into combat or shut down. Uncertainty actually makes human beings a little bit crazy. I think that is what we see when there’s a lot we can point at in the 21 century world that is wonderful and beautiful, and a lot that we point at and think, “that’s crazy.” So, that’s the challenge.

Living with that means we are going to have stretch ourselves in ways that don’t come naturally or easily, and all of us won’t be able to. So those who can handle ambiguity who are strong enough and supported enough to handle ambiguity are going to have to step into that void on behalf of our fellow human beings.

The questions will remain open, and there is no single right answer. We can’t have the debate on climate change, economics, etc., and “call it” for one side. All of this means, the only meaningful common ground, or “same page” we can get on is to see that it’s not working, and we walk together into the complexity. And we walk together in conversation and in discernment rather than looking for an answer. We understand that if we reach too quickly for answers on these big intimate civilizational challenges, we will rush it and waste time. We will not walk into those generative resilient possibilities.

On any open question or challenge facing us, there is this multiplicity of ways to think about it, and new forms being incubated and generated. As much as those of us who can, who are fortunate to feel strong enough in that ambiguity, we can take delight in that.


The moment we inhabit is more transparent and more possible than ever before, that change doesn’t happen from the top down, that change happens through one person at a time, through networks and connection, and we have these technologies that amplify, activate, and catalyze that kind of connection.

One of the ways we get discouraged about social dynamics that we’d like to change is that we are very aware that people that are not like us are working against us. They are not creating the caring energy that we know creates the kind of change we want to see and we get despairing. We can’t change them, and we know it. They nurture raw human fear that is out there and very powerful when it is activated.

The creating of unlikely combinations is about another skill, which is not letting ourselves be completely distracted and captivated by the most extreme version of the energy we want to counter in the world, but looking for those people who are not on our side, not in our group, who we don’t understand, but who we can discover as having some questions, like us, alongside their answers, who will take us a bit outside our comfort zone, who will extend the invitation with us, who we can be in conversation with, who we can create a new quality of relationship with. Creating a new quality of relationship with unlikely people, which is becoming bridge people without a big agenda attached to that, deciding that the quality of the relationship, the sharing of questions in and of itself has value, if we trust these ideas and make that investment with a long view in mind.


Wisdom is not necessarily a gift imbued by age. And at the same time there are qualities of wisdom that mark other chapters of life that are very beautiful and precious. There’s a wisdom of the people in their 20s, an urgency and a desire to see the world as a whole with clarity. There’s a wisdom of childhood, of very young children; they have an ebullience, and their humility is about bringing in a proper awe and wonder and joy in everything and everyone they meet. Adults who understand that best, and study it and delight in it, and nurture it, also retain those qualities in their own person in their life span.

Robert Coles

The thing that connects children to our spiritual traditions at their best is that in their origins–and children in their bodies–have this delving curiosity in everything they meet. They experience everything as “new.”


Lindon Eaves

The spirituality of a scientist is like the spirituality of a mystic. The scientist and the mystic are each delving, probing, planting themselves in whatever truth they can observe, searching for truth, naming it when you see it, living by it, and at the very same time, holding it in this creative tension and even delight in what we do not–cannot–yet understand.

Creative tension is between knowing what you know to be true, caring for it, and representing it, but being unafraid to keep investigating it, and being unafraid of what still remains mysterious and being unafraid to carry your questions alongside your answers.


How does social change happen, and how is it different in the 21st century? We have a few riveting images in our heads which comes from our 20th century living memory. It comes in the form of a magnificent leader like MLK or Nelson Mandela. And we think of a moment as galvanizing large bodies of people marching on the street. And that is still a model that we need.

John Paul Lederach

[Lederach] is an important voice in embodying wisdom and a practical knowledge about the different levels on which social change happens.

He won’t take on a project where the people are not willing to devote at least 10 years. That’s a very un-American approach.

In social change, there is usually that moment of large numbers of bodies on the streets, that mass expression, but that energy is about overturning the structures that need to be overturned. But there’s that human change that makes social change possible that is much quieter and more dispersed that has to do with a quality of relationship between an unlikely combination of people that both precedes that awakening (mass movement) and needs to be in place, fermenting beyond that moment of the overturning of structures for real transformation to happen. You can resolve any conflict (there’s a methodology to that). What is harder and more important is transforming a conflict, which means transforming the human and societal dynamics so that that conflict or some kindred conflict won’t re-erupt on the same ground.

We think about social change in terms of critical mass, but there is this essential slow and long work that leads to transformation that is not critical mass, but critical yeast for long term, enduring change. It requires us to widen our lens of our sense of time, cultivate the virtue of patience, and it gives us back our sense of power in any given moment.

Don’t tell yourself that a small group of individuals cannot change the world, in fact, that is the only way it has ever happened.


Kwame Anthony Appiah

His parents’ story was one of the two stories that inspired Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. In his family’s story, and in his DNA he has experienced these moments that within one generation we go from not only seeing something completely different, but having a complete moral change of heart. He has studied across time and continents how this moral change happens, how in one generation things are considered wrong and bad, to us, within a few years, shaking our heads and saying, What Were We Thinking? E.g., “foot-binding” in China; dueling; slavery.

[via: This feels both amazing and fragile. If those morals can shift so quickly in one direction, could they not also shift back just as quickly. In other words, moral progress is not built upon the shoulders of the past, but rather, it has to till new ground every generation. Yes?]

How does this happen?We ought to really honor that fundamental everyday ordinary human level of our interaction with others and our interaction with these questions, these “sticky places.”


I believe so much that theology is something we make, each of us, with the raw materials of our lives. … We make sense of what it means to be human, of whatever our sense of mystery and transcendence is, through the lives we’re given.

I think, as a woman, the language of humility is tricky and potentially perilous. It’s been used in ways that are damaging to women and other kinds of people. “Be humble” is kinda, “stay in your place.”

The humility of a child manifests in a quality of the fact that everything that they’re encountering is new; meeting the world in that way, with curiosity, with exuberance, with a willingness to be surprised, and to take in that surprise.

The humility of a child is not about debasing yourself or staying in your place. The humility of a child is really not about you at all. The humility of a child is about how you take in other people.


The challenge is not ultimately about this policy or that policy. We need policies and structures, that’s true. But there’s also this human challenge. The internet and the whole digital world, by creating this big new canvas for the human condition has in some ironic way laid bare that what we actually have to grapple with is our relationship to people who are in need, with inequity within our communities, and to know within that our bodies are belonging to each other. We have to know that my well-being in fact is linked to your well-being, and my well-being is linked to strangers across the planet. My resilience is linked to others, and my survival is linked to others. That is actually fact, in a globalized connected 21st century world.

And that’s the work of being in relationship, of walking together into the questions and into the challenges as much as it is the work of coming up with issues and systems and data and structures, and getting on the same page. It’s really a both/and. And this work opens up imaginative and practical possibilities that we don’t have without that relationship.

(Silly. Do I really need a certificate?!)

About VIA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: