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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

This Moment of Dynamic, Unfolding Human Change in the Middle East and the Interior American West

by Krista Tippett, host

It’s fascinating how we are always surprised when the world changes — though there is no more certain prediction than that it will. As we were producing this week’s show with Terry Tempest Williams, the latest installment in our "Civil Conversations Project," young people started flooding the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and beyond. Within a matter of days, they had unsettled regimes that have held unquestioned power for decades and set off other ripple effects that are far from over.

This is at once exhilarating, hopeful, terrifying, and painful to behold. And the question I want to ask is: What understanding is it asking of those who are watching? What context do we need to see the human dynamics and implications at play here? And what wise response can we offer?

Scott AtranWe are taking on these questions in next week’s show with Scott Atran. He has been listening to the hopes and dreams of young people from Indonesia to Egypt for a decade. As an anthropologist, he’s sought to understand the human impulses that drive them into, as well as away from, religious and political radicalism. He sees some of these same impulses now finding expression in movements for democracy.

In some sense, the current events in Egypt have completely overshadowed our recent domestic concerns about creating civility in a political life, which, by comparison, is extraordinarily vital and peaceful. And yet, my conversation with Scott Atran points at the way in which these two pursuits in fact are deeply connected.

Even as those young people are filled with hopes and dreams, they long for examples, for proof that it is possible to realize them. As much as they want our political leaders to engage their political leaders now, they want us to show them ways of being as a nation and civil society.

Vault Mosaics
The magnificent mosaics of the presbytery vault and apse Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. (photo: Holly Hayes/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Terry Tempest Williams is a very different kind of voice to add to the list of people this series has offered: Frances Kissling, Richard Mouw, Elizabeth Alexander, and others to come in the spring. First of all, she is absolutely formed by the place she inhabits — Utah, the interior American West. One of the gifts of this interview is how she opens up the contours of geographic difference that we sometimes forget among all of our other differences as a nation, as a people.

Our conversation is full of lovely and useful images — from the natural world, from unlikely civic collaborations, and from Terry Tempest Williams’ own family, which is a kind of microcosm of American divides.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest WilliamsJust as Elizabeth Alexander offered up words and questions from the medium of poetry, for example, Terry Tempest Williams opens up her own mediums of language and idea. Her book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, traces human fragmentation and its antidotes from her experiences in a village in Rwanda to her observations of white-tailed prairie dogs in the American desert, to a pilgrimage she took to the Italian city of Ravenna to learn the ancient art of mosaic.

Mosaic, she observes, is “a conversation between what is broken.” I find this a helpful, and more immediately realizable, aspiration than “healing” for our national and international lives in this moment of dynamic unfolding human change.


Interview with Terry Tempest Williams: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Terry Tempest WilliamsThis past Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Krista interviewed Terry Tempest Williams for an upcoming show slotted for release on February 3rd. An author and environmentalist, Tempest Williams’ writing and storytelling is imbued with her experience growing up in the American West.

As a wilderness activist who grew up in Utah and teaches at the University of Utah, she bridges the worlds of the oil industry she questions and the members of her family who have made oil their livelihood. We are especially interested in how Tempest Williams navigates these two realms with civil language and an effort to stay at the dinner table, as she puts it.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation, which we’re aggregating and reposting for those of us who weren’t able to follow along. Krista’s comments follow “KT” and Terry’s follow “TTW, TTWilliams, and @ttwillet.” Follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

  1. Happy MLK day. Having a day off? Join a live tweet of Krista’s interview at 11 am CT w/Terry Tempest Williams. http://bit.ly/2m3aak 10:44 AM Jan 17th
  2. Pre-interview chat as we check for levels focuses on science and religion. Monday, January 17, 2011 11:02:13 AM
  3. TTWilliams: In the American west we see vitriol more than elsewhere, perhaps. Monday, January 17, 2011 11:04:11 AM
  4. TTW: when Brigham Young said this is the place, my family was right there with him. Monday, January 17, 2011 11:05:31 AM
  5. TTWilliams: I come from generations of pipeline workers. They built the infrastructure of the west. The land is spiritual and practical. Monday, January 17, 2011 11:07:07 AM
  6. @TMahady Let’s use #civility. Her name is too long. Monday, January 17, 2011 11:15:27 AM in response to TMahady
  7. TTW: Sense of community is not just human, also rocks, plants, animals. This reflects mystic roots of Mormonism. Monday, January 17, 2011 11:08:52 AM
  8. TTW: the word I play over & over is vitriol. What is it really? It is produced by sulphur dioxide, used to refine petroleum. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:14:07 AM
  9. TTW: I taught writing in Wyoming. Students wanted to create public readings about oil & gas, a big part of the economy. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:18:24 AM
  10. TTW: Drill rigs look like Eiffel towers. Movers & shakers in the coal industry came. We stayed up at these readings till 1 am. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:20:56 AM
  11. @TMahady Thanks for that handle. Monday, January 17, 2011 11:21:46 AM in response to TMahady
  12. @ttwillet: When we tell a story it tells us what it means to human. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:23:33 AM
  13. @ttwillet: how do we build trust in our communities? Often small gestures. Tell a different story. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:25:13 AM
  14. @ttwillet: I understand my neighbor Ray because I grew up with my brothers, held a rifle at 16. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:27:14 AM
  15. @ttwillet: If we can speak of what we are afraid of, we can create a different kind of communion. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:28:22 AM
  16. @ttwillet: 24th anniversary of mother’s death. We are ‘down-winders.’ Nuclear fall- out caused this. Turn anger into sacred rage. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:31:00 AM
  17. @ttwillet: How can I take anger and not become a polemic? How can I heal rather than wound? #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:32:50 AM
  18. KT: You have written about finding comfort in change. Often, change creates fear. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:34:43 AM
  19. @ttwillet: Civil discourse is not enough. It’s not enough to get a smile from your enemy. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:35:45 AM
  20. @ttwillet: I want to know what you really think. We need more than opinion, we need ideas. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:37:46 AM
  21. KT: Where we start again is as neighbors, if our institutions, as you have written, have failed us. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:39:13 AM
  22. @ttwillet: The boundaries we have counted on are dissolving. It is frightening. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:40:49 AM
  23. @ttwillet: When we talk about 9 mill. acres of wilderness, my e. coast friends don’t track. Issues are same. Scale is different. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:48:49 AM
  24. @ttwillet: Writing is solitary. But I write to create community. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:51:16 AM
  25. KT: Your book Finding Beauty In a Broken World : a mosaic is a conversation about what is broken. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:53:08 AM
  26. KT: Maybe in wake of Arizona, mosaic is a good metaphor for what we can be. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:54:04 AM
  27. @ttwillet : A mosaic is a collaborative process. Collaboration creates community. In community anything is possible. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:55:22 AM
  28. Beauty is not optional. It is a strategy for survival. - @ttwillet #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:57:07 AM
  29. KT : In American life where are you looking for beauty? #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 11:58:45 AM
  30. @ttwillet : It begins and ends in the land. The sky as I drove to the studio. After looking at the Gulf oil spill, we saw dolphins mating. Monday, January 17, 2011 12:00:55 PM
  31. They survived. There is an inherent resilience. We can trust that. &mdash @ttwillet #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:01:57 PM
  32. In London I saw a Victorian artifact&mdash it collected the tears of mourners. How can we create a container for our sorrow? @ttwillet #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:04:24 PM
  33. Krista asks if there is something else @ttwillet wishes to talk about. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:12:02 PM
  34. @ttwillet: What do we do? How can I be a better neighbor? The oil that I saw for miles is me, my family’s livelihood. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:13:25 PM
  35. I want to be present. And useful. -@twillet #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:14:42 PM
  36. I worry that we are losing literacy. Who knows the green winged Teal? So how will we know our losses? -@ttwillet #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:19:09 PM
  37. Empathy is rooted in action. When someone dies my father goes to that house the next day. He doesn’t call. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:20:30 PM
  38. @ttwillet : We need just enough light to shine on the next step, to show the way. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:22:06 PM
  39. My mother left me her journals when she died. -@ttwillet All of the journals were empty. What is ‘voice?’ #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:23:48 PM
  40. That concludes our live-tweet. @ttwillet tells Krista to take care, she recognizes there is a cost to Krista’s listening. #civility Monday, January 17, 2011 12:26:16 PM


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction on January 28, 2011: An earlier version of this article misstated that Terry Tempest Williams currently teaches at the University of Wyoming. It is the University of Utah.