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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.

A Linguistic Resurrection for Reconnecting with Compassion: Krista Tippett’s TEDTalk

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Krista Tippett Delivers TEDTalk at the United NationsOn Monday we received an unexpected valentine. Krista’s presentation at the United Nations to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion was posted as a TEDTalk!

Released a week earlier than planned, we couldn’t post it until now. At the time, we were in suburban Detroit (go WDET!) setting up for Krista’s interview with Sylvia Boorstein (looking like she’ll be our Mother’s Day show, yay!).

The Twitter chatter has been incredible, and it’s great to see how people respond to these ideas. Please take a few minutes to watch, share it with your friends, and weigh in with your response. We’d love to know what you’re thinking.


Krista’s TED Talk at the United Nations and the Charter for Compassion (Live Video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Live Video with chef Dan Barber and Krista Tippett

when: Thursday, November 18th, 2010 
time: 11:00 a.m. ET
where: United Nations (New York, New York)

Well, we’re live streaming another event, and this one should be a must-see simply because of the line-up of speakers, including Karen Armstrong and Krista. Oh, and it’s a TED event, which almost always means great speakers! The topic? Creating a compassionate world.

Words matter. They shape the way we see ourselves, interpret the world, and treat others. And as essential as compassion is across our traditions, as vivid as many of us know it to be in particular lives, the word “compassion” is a problem — watered down in culture, suspect in the field of journalism, too safe and too sweet for the power that the 21st century needs unleashed in this virtue. Krista will name that — break “compassion” open into its kindred and component qualities and describe its universe of attendant virtues. In ideas and images drawn from her conversation partners across the years, she will suggest an expanded definition of “compassion” as vital, visible, and embodied.

Also watch talks on compassion from Karen Armstrong, Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, Matthieu Ricard, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chade-Meng Tan, and Fred Luskin.

Please join us here or on our live events page and watch our stream from the United Nations. We’ll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out!


Countdown to Compassion
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

Last time we put out our program with Karen Armstrong, one of our producers wrote about Karen Armstrong’s call to build an international "Charter for Compassion." In her speech, Armstrong states that “I think it’s time that we moved beyond the idea of toleration, and moved toward appreciation of the other.”

Now, we are once again replaying "The Freelance Monotheism of Karen Armstrong" one week before the Charter for Compassion itself is unveiled. In some ways, the charter’s mission is surprisingly simple — it’s essentially a call for everyone around the world to follow the Golden Rule. Less than a month ago, Armstrong articulated this mission in a letter co-signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

"It is not simply a statement of principle; it is above all a summons to creative, practical and sustained action to meet the political, moral, religious, social and cultural problems of our time. In addition to participating in one of the many launch events, we invite each individual to adopt the charter as their own, to make a lifelong commitment to live with compassion."

It seems a little serendipitous to me that the charter is being released on November 12, the same day we’re releasing our program with Buddhist thinker Matthieu Ricard to podcasters. Ricard is another person very interested in the idea of compassion. In his conversation with Krista, he offers the idea that compassion is a skill that we develop with practice: “You don’t learn to play the piano by playing 20 seconds a week,” he says, and much like we exercise to keep our bodies fit, we should also be practicing compassionate thinking to remain spiritually fit.

While the charter’s mission is to tell the world why we should be compassionate, Ricard is teaching how we can be compassionate.

I’m interested to see what happens after the charter is officially revealed. How will it be received? On what terms will it put forth its mission? Will anyone notice?


Shifting Plates, Shifting People
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

This week we’re wrapping up production on our program with French geologist Xavier Le Pichon, which will be released on podcast this Thursday. Krista and Le Pichon cover a wide range of topics — from his childhood in French Indochina to underwater plate tectonic research in submersible vehicles, to life in a spiritual community aiding the disabled in southern France.

Karl JaspersWith such a wide scope, there seems to be countless jumping off points to different ideas throughout the conversation. One of those points is Le Pichon’s mention of what the German philosopher Karl Jaspers referred to as the “Axial Age” — the period between 900 and 200 BCE when many of the great spiritual traditions of the world began. As Krista mentions, the Axial Age is also central to Karen Armstrong’s recent book, The Great Transformation (preview above). Armstrong has been a guest on our program before, when she spoke to Krista about the roots of her “freelance monotheism.” Armstrong writes about the “Axial Age”:

This was the period of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and Jeremiah, the mystics of the Upanishads, Mencius, and Euripides. During this period of intense creativity, spiritual and philosophical geniuses pioneered at an entirely new kind of humane experience.

What I found most engaging about Le Pichon’s conversation with Krista is his ability to link seemingly disparate parts into a unified whole — an ability which he links to his daily prayer routine. It’s in this spirit that I see his worldview and Karen Armstrong’s book connected in unexpected ways. They both deal with the grander, sweeping evolutions of our world — Le Pichon with the shifting of our planet’s tectonic plates and Armstrong with the spiritual evolution of the human race. And while geology might seem unrelated to spiritual evolution, perhaps by sheer scale alone they share a unique vantage point of the human race.


Armstrong Continues to Build on Her Ideas about Religion
Colleen Scheck, Producer

We interviewed Karen Armstrong in 2004 and were gripped by her intellectual, passionate, and singular insight into religion in our world. This week we are repeating that program. It is among the many engaging shows from our archives worth hearing again.

In preparing for this rebroadcast, I listened to Armstrong’s recent talk at the 2008 TED conference. While her speech echoed many of the themes she and Krista spoke about four years ago, she shared some new ideas that keep me interested in continuing to follow her broad perspective. Here’s an excerpt (or watch the entire 20-minute talk above):

"I found some astonishing things in the course of my study that had never occurred to me. Frankly, in the days that when I thought I’d had it with religion, I just found the whole thing absolutely incredible. These doctrines seemed unproven, abstract, and, to my astonishment, when I began seriously studying other traditions, I began to realize that belief, which we make such a fuss about today, is only a very recent religious enthusiasm. It surfaced only in the West, in about the 17th century. The word ‘belief’ itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear. In the 17th century it narrowed its focus, for reasons that I’m exploring in a book I’m writing at the moment, to mean an intellectual ascent to a set of propositions — a credo. ‘I believe’ did not mean ‘I accept certain creedal articles of faith.’ It meant, ‘I commit myself. I engage myself.’ Indeed, some of the world traditions think very little of religious orthodoxy. In the Qur’an, religious opinion — religious orthodoxy — is dismissed as zanna — self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can be certain of one way or the other but which makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian.

So, if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I’ve found is that, across the board, religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something, you behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action: you only understand them when you put them into practice.”