Full text of Krista Tippett: The Art of Generous Listening @ Talks at Google conference
Moderator: Danielle Krettek – Google Empathy Lab
Krista Tippett: Journalist, Author, & Entrepreneur
DANIELLE KRETTEK: Krista Tippett is here with us today, which is just absolutely amazing. I’ll read a little bit about her first. And then we will just dive right into it.
Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, National Humanities medalist, and a New York Times bestselling author. She founded and leads the On Being project, hosts the globally-esteemed “On Being” public radio show and podcast, and curates the Civil Conversations project, an emergent approach to conversation and relationship across the differences of our age.
Her books include, my favorite, “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living,” and ” Einstein’s God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit.” And I think, literally, even just with those two titles, you see this beautiful and vast spectrum that Krista covers and that is so kind of perfect for us here at Google — literally, from mystery and spirit to the human spirit to Einstein. It’s just so perfect to have her here in conversation here. We’re so lucky.
And I think, really, we were talking the other evening about what it means to inquire and the idea of asking these questions, these fundamental questions, that get to the essence of what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be human together? And what are the lessons we can learn in this practice with everyone?
So we’ll look at that today. But first, I’ll just share a quick funny little moment, which was, as I was preparing for this — I’ve been listening to Krista for years. A couple of years ago, as I was actually founding the lab, I found myself listening to Krista. I’d discovered her, then rediscovered her in the project.
And every day — it was kind of over a break — I was listening to one a day or even two a day sometimes — her podcast. And what I found is they were so enlivening. And they really helped birth the Empathy Lab. So I feel like I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. So it’s a treat to have you here.
But what was funny is thinking about preparing for this. And I was like, should I go back and listen to every podcast and find my favorite moments? And then it just would have been this incredible mountain of beauty that I would have clearly fallen under because there was just too much there.
So what was beautiful was actually reflecting on the thing that touches me most about her conversations and these beautiful moments that unfold between her and other people, even across distances — are just, in the moment that you’re listening, what comes alive in you, what echoes in you in the days, weeks, months, years to follow, and how these sparks come alive in us.
So that leads us to this form of listening that — I feel like I really learned to listen, even just in being presence with her before knowing her. And I feel like we’re all so lucky to have her speaking to us about listening today.
And so I’ll just start with one of her quotes that really, I feel, touches the core of what this art is all about, which is:
“Listening is about being actively present. It’s not just about being quiet. I meet others with the life I’ve lived, not just with my questions.”
So let’s welcome Krista with open minds and hearts and, of course, our ears, to share more of her gracious wisdom with us. And of course, we are trying something a little different today with this intimate gathering.
So what we’ll do is, Krista will share a bit. We’ll probably go back and forth. And then we’d love to open it up is a real conversation for all of us to live in together.
So if you have any questions, definitely, listen. Don’t think about them the whole time. But as they rise up in the room, please feel brave and courageous. This is what this moment’s about.
So thank you. And welcome, Krista.
KRISTA TIPPETT: Yeah. Well, it’s exciting to be here. I love this invitation. I feel like I made too many notes. And so Danielle and I decided — because I really love a conversation. And the more I do this, the longer I live, the more I trust that. And I like being on both sides of it.
So I’ve just said to her, I want her to interrupt me and ask questions. And I really would like to open it up and be in conversation with you.
The request was to talk a little bit about the art of listening. And I’m a person who listens for a living. But one of the things — what you were saying about that experience of listening to the podcast — listening is about presence, which I’m going to say again.
But what’s so fascinating — and you and I talked about this the other night — is that I am usually not in the room. In fact, I’m often halfway across the world from the people I’m in conversation with. And the technology of radio, of podcast – I mean, these are not physical experiences.
But my conversations, because of the topic, and then because the medium allows for this, are very, very intimate. And they’re intimate between me and the person I’m speaking with. And then it’s an intimate experience — the magic of radio — and of course, that’s just the old-fashioned word for podcasting — is that it is profoundly individual and also absolutely communal at the same time.
And there’s also kind of a time shift that goes on. It defies time because, in the moment that you listen, you’re in that room when it happened. And I think of a conversation — what I hope for every conversation I have is that it is an adventure and that something will happen that will surprise both of us and, as a listener, you also are there for that moment of surprise.
So I was thinking a lot about that, actually, as I was thinking about being here. Because we’re talking about human presence. And there is this miracle that it’s absolutely possible with and through and in technology. And I think that what you’re about is figuring out how to amplify that and to explore all the possibilities in that.
So I think of listening as a basic social art. I think of social art and virtues as spiritual technologies. And that is to say, just a tool for the art and craft of living, and for a deepened, more generative — which is a nuanced unproductive, although it can be productive — but a more deepened, generative, higher-quality, human experience.
And the interesting thing — so it is a basic social art. I think it’s something we know how to do or we’ve known how to do, but we’ve actually unlearned. I think that, growing up in this culture, we learn that listening is — or the experience we have, which we internalize to be about what listening is about — is to be quiet while the other person says what they have to say until it’s time for me to say what I have to say.
But actually, listening is not about being quiet. The being quiet is a side-effect. Listening is about being present. And as I just said, interestingly, you can be present online as well.
And so because we’ve unlearned this thing, I think it’s interesting to think about, what are its really basic component parts? For me, listening brings a quality, musters a quality, of generosity. And a spiritual technology is always working in two directions. It’s inner work as much as it’s outer work.