After giving a lecture at Utah State University on Wednesday night, journalist Krista Tippett was asked at what point in her life did she become an “unusually thoughtful person.”
The radio show and podcast host, journalist and winner of the National Humanities Medal responded it may have had to do with her youth, growing up in a small town in Oklahoma.
“I was asking a lot of questions, and I was kind of alone with my questions,” said Tippett, before she admitted she did not exactly agree with the questioner’s characterization of her. “I had books; that’s what I had. Books have always been my friends.”
Tippett spoke at USU’s Eccles Conference Center to give a lecture titled “Mystery and the Art of Living.” Her appearance was part of the Tanner Talks series, funded by the O.C. Tanner Foundation.
Throughout her 30-plus-year career, Tippetts has worked for news outlets ranging from The New York Times to the British Broadcasting Corporation. She was also an assistant and aide to two senior U.S. diplomats serving in Germany.
These days, Tippetts resides in Minneapolis, where she is host of the radio show and podcast “On Being.”
The Peabody Award-winning show plays on numerous outlets — including Utah Public Radio in Logan — and bills itself as “a conversation about the big questions of meaning.”
Earlier this year, Tippetts started “The On Being Project,” an independent nonprofit public life and media initiative.
Tippett’s outlook on the “big questions of meaning,” as her radio show and podcast attempt to probe, is also reflected in her speaking. That was certainly true in her lecture at USU on Wednesday.
“What we’re confronted with so much right now is the mystery and art of living together,” said Tippett, referring to the title of her talk. “I really believe we have to do this inner work in order to stay with the outer work, and it’s easy for us to feel like our compassion and care for the world and our desire to be of service means that we can shortchange this — and I don’t think we can. I think we want to stick with this for the long haul.”
During a Q&A session, Tippett was asked about her favorite guests on her show, her interviewing style and what she thinks society should be teaching youth right now.
On the latter question, Tippett noted there can be a lot of anxiety in life. She encouraged older generations of people to help “create a calm space” for young people.
“Encouraging them … to get that calm space and also accompany them in that, walk alongside them,” Tippett said.
One person who attended Tippett’s lecture, Dennise Gackstetter, used her time not to ask a question, but to make a comment.
“You’re a person who brings things together, all the important questions,” she said.
After the event, Gackstetter told The Herald Journal she has been listening to “On Being” for years.
“She just really guides us to the goodness in the world,” Gackstetter said. “She helps us to be curious and ask questions in a way that is reflective and thoughtful without judgement.”
Gackstetter said she was beside herself when she heard Tippett was coming.
“She’s one of my big heroes, so when I found out a couple weeks ago she was coming, I was like, ‘I’m going to make sure I’m there,’” Gackstetter said. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”
Tippett was able to come to USU after the school wrote a grant proposal to the Tanner Foundation, according to Michael Sowder, a USU English professor, who introduced Tippett on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if there’s a university yet where you can pursue a degree in kindness and compassion studies, but in ‘On Being,’ we have the blueprint for such a university, and a place where we can right now begin our studies,” Sowder said. “So please join me in welcoming Krista Tippett to Utah State University.
Sowder, who is also a frequent listener of “On Being,” said Tippett’s message to the USU community was one of hope.
“That in a world that seems so chaotic, divisive, and acrimonious, there are countless many people doing important, essential, healing work, work that often goes unnoticed by the press,” he wrote in an email to The Herald Journal. “She emphasized that to heal the world, to join in this work, we have to begin by healing ourselves.”