Something that’s very clear to me that I think a lot about, that it’s fun to say in this room, is that, to me, the digital world is just a new canvas for the old human condition. There’s nothing that happens online that doesn’t have an offline, although, things can absolutely get amplified. It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We’re encountering the trolls. We all walk around with troll-ish places in our psyches. Now they have this public room to run around in, right?
But they’re —
DANIELLE KRETTEK: That’s such a great visual. Just like —
KRISTA TIPPETT: Right? But think about it! Yeah. So this has always been true that the quality of the encounter, of the listening, of the relationship, of the possibility of what can happen between two people — whether they agree with each other or don’t or similar or don’t — is very much affected by creating this space.
And I think there’s just a real need, again, in the physical world as much as in the online world, to create alternative spaces — and I’ll say it again — where it would be reasonable to ask any of us to walk in and bring our best selves and be looking for the good in the other and be willing to surprise ourselves and be truly inviting other people to surprise us.
So I guess the other thing I would want to just mention that I absolutely think of, in terms of a companion to listening, is the art of asking better questions.
In American life, we mostly trade in answers. And we actually mostly trade in competing answers. And a lot of what calls itself a question or presents as a question is actually not questioning. It’s kind of tools or weapons to incite or corner or catch or, at least, entertain.
And this is certainly true in my field of journalism. The question is often about how it makes the journalist look and not really about what it’s going to elicit.
What I want to point out in that spectacle, which we’re all very familiar with, is how powerful a form of words a question is. The way I’ve come to experience it is that questions elicit answers in their likeness. Answers rise or fall to the questions they meet.
And in the negative expression of that, which we’re very familiar with from media, it’s almost impossible to meet a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. It’s almost impossible to transcend a combative question.
But the positive side of that is that it’s almost impossible to resist a generous question. And we’ve all had that experience that there is something life-giving about asking a better question.
DANIELLE KRETTEK: Can I ask you —
KRISTA TIPPETT: Yeah?
DANIELLE KRETTEK: May I ask you a question?
KRISTA TIPPETT: Yes, you may. Yeah.
DANIELLE KRETTEK: I know, right? You’re like, if it’s a good one.
KRISTA TIPPETT: Yeah.
DANIELLE KRETTEK: Is it generous?
KRISTA TIPPETT: Yeah.
DANIELLE KRETTEK: So what I’m hearing, as you’re speaking, is there is this sense of an opening that happens when there is a generous presence. There is an opening in the question. There’s an opening in the space between you where things can be put there.
I’m so curious — And you mentioned it the other night with the word — you set an intention before you go in — the listening before the listening. And I’m just curious, how does that work for you? How do you cultivate that opening in yourself, that invitation? Because it is that first step of hospitality is open the door, and come into this space that we can be in together. I’m just so curious.
KRISTA TIPPETT: So when I’m having a conversation or an interview?
DANIELLE KRETTEK: When you’re having a conversation and when you’re figuring out the right questions, the questions that have the opening in them.
KRISTA TIPPETT: Yeah. Well, I do actually think in terms of hospitality in the work I do. And so I think of the preparation I do for an interview as work of hospitality. Because again, so much is determined about how an encounter is going to go in the initial moments before words are spoken.
So just kind of like setting that table, which is an image of a certain kind of hospitality, but it’s the same idea. When we don’t do that, then the most obvious things about us that we’re all carrying out front right now just define what’s possible.
And so what I’m interested in is how can we — not solve all the problems or make it that we’re — because I really want to be in rooms with people I disagree with and who are different and who I need to learn from and who I know I want to share life with, even if I really don’t understand them — not violent people. But most people aren’t violent. There’s this huge swath in the middle where those fellow humans are there.
So what I want to do is create the space so that the things that we already know are problematic are certainly present. But they don’t define what becomes possible between us. In my interviews — when you just asked me that, intuitively, what comes to mind is, I get excited. I’m just excited about the conversation.
And I want to prepare, because I want them to be able to relax as quickly as possible so that we can really go deep. And one way I do that is by knowing about them, by honoring them, by reading their books if they’ve written books, or knowing what they do. I mean I do a lot of — I will also read other interviews they’ve given.