Krista Tippett reveals how to restore civility in Mendenhall Lecture

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Krista Tippett wants you to stop answering questions.

“Questions can be raised in order to be pondered, dwelt on together instead,” said journalist, author, and entrepreneur, Krista Tippett, at DePauw University on Nov. 16. Tippett’s anticipated lecture examined the challenges of America’s evolving social sphere and how individuals must restructure their lives to cultivate productive discourse.

Tippett is a Peabody award-winning broadcaster and, in 2014, won the National Humanities Medal at the White House by President Barack Obama for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.” According to her website, Tippett explores religion from every viewpoint and is not afraid to tackle complex issues.

The On Being host spoke to a large group of DePauw students, faculty and staff along with many members of the Greencastle community on Thursday night in Gobin United Methodist Church. Tippet spoke at a podium in the center of the church for almost an hour before taking questions from the audience.  

She offered three key encouragements for creating civic unity. First, “Words matter.” She says, “words shape how we understand ourselves, how we treat others, and how we interpret the world.” She gave an example of the word “tolerance” and described how it is inadequate in today’s social sphere because it suggests endurance rather than acceptance. Society is in need of a fresh vocabulary in order to restore authentic dialogue.

Second, “rediscover listening as an art.” Oftentimes, self-interested advocacy gets in the way of caring for each other and employing what Tippett’s calls “generous listening.” She says listening is not about just being quiet, but being present and open to each other’s thoughts. Individuals can practice real listening by being vulnerable, or willing to contemplate opposing ideas.

Third, “claim love as a public good...as politically weak and intellectually suspect as that may sound.” At this turn of the century, where new ideas are redefining old ways of life, a paradoxical space of hate has erupted. Although love is not the first response to violence, Tippett explained individuals have to have more confidence in anger than love because “what we practice, we become.”

Tippett’s call to action moved many audience members. Bryan Langdoc is the pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church. “I felt this recommitment to language, to making sure the words I use are the ones I mean to use.” As a clergy person who addresses large groups of people weekly, he hopes to more deeply contemplate how he utilizes words for good.

Bishop Julius Trimble, a member of DePauw University Board of Trustees, was most impacted by Tippett’s encouragement to ask more nuanced questions. As a preacher for the United Methodist Church, he is especially attuned to the fragility of word choice. He said, “I want to pay greater attention to words I use and ask questions that can build community instead of questions that satisfy my own personal beliefs.”

Tippett “has a phenomenal wealth and breadth of experience as a journalist thinking about questions of how we talk across particular religious difference,” said Kate Smanik. Smanik is the assistant dean of students for spirituality, service, and social justice at Hartman House and is a frequent listener of Tippett’s podcast, One Being. Since first hearing Tippett speak at Yale Divinity School, she has wanted to invite her to campus. Smanik emphasized Tippett’s message embodies the mission of Hartman House to explore meanings and values within communities.

Tippett closed her lecture by reasserting the sentiment that although society is in the midst of a tumultuous period of growth, individuals are all called to be advocates for social healing, to “grow up our hurting world to its fullest human potential.” Achieving more perfect civility is not necessarily an end goal, but a spiritual adventure.