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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.

"The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and these days, my life is vital, even on the days when I’m sad. I felt that funeral in my brain, and I sat next to the colossus at the edge of the world, and I have discovered something inside of myself that I would have to call a soul that I had never formulated until that day 20 years ago when hell came to pay me a surprise visit. I think that while I hated being depressed and would hate to be depressed again, I’ve found a way to love my depression. I love it because it has forced me to find and cling to joy. I love it because each day I decide, sometimes gamely, and sometimes against the moment’s reason, to cleave to the reasons for living. And that, I think, is a highly privileged rapture.”

This TED talk from Andrew Solomon is astounding in its honesty and depth. A necessary complement to our show on suicide.

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Our Words Are the Most Powerful and Connective Tool We Have

by Krista Tippett, host

Sarah Kay + Phil Kaye Perform on StageSarah Kay and Phil Kaye perform at Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles in 2011. (photo: Da Poetry Lounge)

I experienced Sarah Kay at a gathering on Nantucket Island last fall. Collected there were the CEO of Google, the founder of the X PRIZE, and an eminent Broadway director. But each time this lovely 23-year-old took the stage to perform a poem, the audience quieted, reflected, and delighted in a completely different way. On YouTube, at TED, and in classrooms around the world, Sarah Kay has become an inspiration and role model for teenagers (and others).

She herself is well aware that it might sound surprising that poetry could galvanize a modern audience. When she and her friend and fellow poet, Phil Kaye, go into schools to introduce Project V.O.I.C.E., she says she finds herself fighting two sides to the same argument. She reminds teachers and administrators that what we call “spoken word poetry” is the same thing Shakespeare and Homer were about. To skeptical teenagers — who, she says, have often internalized an idea that they should shield themselves against amazement — she points out that spoken word poetry is also what Regina Spektor and Jay-Z do. As soon as we forget this, we reinvent it.

Sarah Kay talks about helping teenagers find their voices, which feels like familiar language in the 21st century. Listen to her closely — and take in the layers of response you have to her own poetry — and you see that she is doing something much more instructive and nourishing.

Her Japanese-American grandmother says she is an old soul. There’s something to that. In her slam poetry and spoken word poetry and singing and teaching, Sarah Kay is reminding young people today that our words are the most powerful connective tool we have — and not merely our most personal tool. We are called to be creative with our words, and careful without words, in our age that is technological but still as human as before.

I’ll end by pointing you to Sarah Kay’s performance of her poem, “Hiroshima.” She wrote this after a post-high school trip to Japan with her cousins. She did a lot of thinking there, as she tells it, about what we mean when we say we want to leave an impact on the world. We’ve also interspersed the sound of her performing other poems between a quietly beautiful conversation with me, where she puts words to what she knows about poetry, stories, and what happens within and between human beings.

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Sarah Kay Performs “B” at the Bowery

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

We hijacked the audio from this performance of “B” for this week’s podcast featuring our interview with spoken word poet Sarah Kay. Note: the very first words of the poem, “If I should have a daughter” are missing (and it contains an expletive).

Krista preferred the intimacy and relaxed style of this presentation at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2008 over her performance at TED2011:

What’s your take?

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Black Holes and the Sonic Song of the Universe

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

As Gordon Hempton points out, silence isn’t necessarily an absence of sound but a presence all its own. And, in much the same way, physicist Janna Levin says, space isn’t necessarily quiet either. Working at her lab at Columbia University, she projects that the universe creates an aural footprint that “will be music to our ears because it will be the quiet echo of that moment of our creation of our observable universe.” If we can only pick it up…

In this presentation at TED 2011, she plays her projections of the sounds the universe makes — black holes merging and falling into one another, the “white noise of the Big Bang. It’ll make you wonder about the biggest questions at the core of what it means to be a sentient being in this universe or the next.

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"The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t." ~Kathryn Schulz, from her TED Talk “On Being Wrong.”
Photo by Brian Smith. (distributed with instagram)
"The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t." ~Kathryn Schulz, from her TED Talk “On Being Wrong.”
Photo by Brian Smith. (distributed with instagram)

"The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t." ~Kathryn Schulz, from her TED Talk “On Being Wrong.”

Photo by Brian Smith. (distributed with instagram)

Tagged: #Instagram #TED
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Superstring Theory as a Unifier for the Laws of Physics

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Brian GreeneAlbert Einstein spent the latter part of his life pursuing a "single, all encompassing theory of the universe" to describe all of nature’s forces. Brian Greene, who is probably best-known for his NOVA specials, is on this path this path of discovery. He says that achieving this may require a whole new way of looking at the world around us.

A professor of mathematics and physics at Columbia University, Greene explains string theory, the concept that minuscule filaments of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions, tucked into the fabric of space, “create every particle and force in the universe.” String theory fills in the gaps of Newtonian physics, especially in regards to how gravity works.

Einstein’s Unification Theory depends on the existence of extra dimensions, which contain these filaments. Don’t miss this peek into the “ultramicroscopic landscape” of our reality — and our upcoming show with string theorist S. James Gates!

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Jay Smooth TED Talk about Race and Pockets of Prejudice

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"We are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allow us to be good."

Don’t you just wanna stand up and shout Amen! when you read this? Or at least nod in solid agreement with this profound statement that cuts to the quick of the essence of being human?

Jay Smooth, the video blogger of Ill Doctrine and founder of New York’s longest-running hip-hop radio in New York, WBAI’s Underground Railroad, gave a refreshing talk at TEDx Hampshire College about the ways we can have better discussions about race and racism. He’s funny and this talk is truly enjoyable. More importantly, it’s his astute observations about the ways in which these discussions devolve that’s worth noting.

He points out that discussions about race often border on matters of being a “good person” or a “bad person” — a matter of “who you are” rather than “what you said.” He reminds us that talking about issues of race is like bodily hygiene: it’s something you have to do and keep up every day. And, he says, when we embrace our own imperfections we are on the path to becoming a good person, a better human being.

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Deb Roy’s TED Talk: The Blossoming of a Speech Form

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Deb Roy Spaghetti PathsIf you heard our show this week with psycholinguist Jean Berko Gleason, you heard a few excerpts from Deb Roy’s speech at TED about “the birth of a word.” The MIT researcher wired all of the rooms of his house with video cameras and microphones so that he could better understand how his son learned language. During three years, he captured 90,000 hours of video, 140,000 hours of audio totaling about 200 terabytes of data.

Deb Roy Word LandscapesThe social ramifications of this are incredible to think about, and the landscape of where we learn language and the events that create conversation that surfaces in our culture are equally mind-blowing. His research might inform not only how we learn but the values and influence of pivotal players in the development of our local and national conversations.

Here’s the transcript to accompany Deb Roy’s twenty-minute presentation:

Read More

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Watch TEDxRamallah Live with Us

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

TEDxRamallah is taking place right now. The event started at 9:30 am Palestinian time (2:30 am Eastern). The event ends at 6:00 pm Palestinian time. There will be four sessions with a total of 18 speakers having talks varying from 4 to 18 minutes in length. Julia Bacha of Just Vision is speaking right now. I’ll do some more work and share the rest of the line-up in a minute. Here are a list of speakers, but I can’t find an official rundown. Can you?

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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.

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Burqa-Clad Superhero Batina the Hidden Meets Wonder Woman, the Not So Hidden

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Naif Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti clinical psychologist living in the United States created The 99 in 2007 — comic book superheroes born from an Islamic archetype. The comics have taken off with an animated TV series on its way and a recent partnership with Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League of America. Al-Mutawa writes in "Concentration Camps and Comic Books":

Battina the Hidden"Imagine the good that can come from a frank conversation between THE 99’s burqa clad hero, Batina the Hidden, and JLA’s Wonder Woman the, well, the not so hidden. If we can show how perceptions are unfairly formed, we can take great leaps in a single bound towards transforming them. And what better characters to explore such issues than Superman and Batman who were created by Jewish young men from New York and Cleveland at the height of anti-Semitism and THE 99 who were created by a Muslim during the height of Islamophobia."

In his recent TEDTalk (featured above), he shares that his primary goal, though, is to improve the way Muslims self-identify. He tells a story (about minute 13) of a time when he asked students at the University of Kuwait to geographically place two negative news stories and interviews. The students incorrectly guessed they took place in the Middle East:

"But, what breaks my heart and what’s alarming is that, in those two interviews, the people around, who were interviewed as well, refer to that behavior as Talibanization. In other words, good Hindus and good Jews don’t act this way. This is Islam’s influence on Hinduism and Judaism. But what do the students in Kuwait say? They said it’s us. And this is dangerous. It’s dangerous when a group self-identifies itself as extreme.

Keep watching the blog for an upcoming interview with Naif Al-Mutawa in the coming weeks.

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Compassion comes from the recognition that all of us are vulnerable.
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Dr. Fred Luskin at TED at the United Nations— Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and an associate professor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, from his TEDTalk at the United Nations to mark the one-year anniversary of Karen Armstrong’s launch of the Charter for Compassion. You can watch his entire talk, along with ones from Krista, Karen Armstrong, and others.

[via TED Blog]

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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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.
tedun-guests

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!

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The Gift of Brain Cancer

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

This TEDtalk by branding guru Stacey Kramer is three minutes long and inspirational in its brevity and its punch. Nobody wishes for adversity but sometimes it’s a profound teacher.

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Africa Looks Positive, Sweden Not So Much

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

Nicholas Kristof said during his interview with Krista that he worries about constantly painting Africa in a negative light and recognizes there is a lot of good work taking place too. In this video from the TEDxChange conference, Hans Rosling, professor and co-founder of GapMinder, presented numbers in a new way to demonstrate the great progress being made in Africa towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). In fact, his breakdown of child mortality (minute 11:00) shows that if the MDG expectations were applied to Sweden from the 1800s, Sweden would have been considered a failure.

Mechai Viravaidya at TEDxChangeAnd another little gem: I found the humorous speech by the founder of the Population and Community Development Association (minute 46:00) to be a fascinating overview of Thailand’s progress. He describes how inclusive methods led to a decrease in the average family size from 7 children to 1.5 in under three decades, and more recently, a reduction in HIV cases by 90 percent.

In the screen shot (right), Mechai Viravaidya at the TEDxChange holding up his future Olympic logo idea promoting condoms.

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