Yeah! I mean, it’s a huge paradigm shift to know that we are physically, through our lives, changing—and that we can help shape that. The downside is, we have to work really hard to shape it. It’s not just the New Year’s resolution, it’s like: “Do you decide?” so that’s one thing that I’ve taken really seriously. I love the language of virtues. These ways of being in a world that hold some of the wisdom of our traditions and are kind of rituals at the same time. And it’s not just the big flashy ones like love and compassion. It’s hospitality and generosity and patience and kindness. Those are stepping stones to the big virtues. And at some point a few years ago I really took that in and, I mean, I had to fight really hard to create this project, and I did hit a point a few years ago where the person I was at work, at least some of the time, is not who I wanted to be. On the one hand I’m doing these beautiful spiritual interviews and then on the other hand there’s ambition, and I can be really impatient with people. I was in a bad organisational environment. And I understood that, but I also decided that I either had to be able to change—I either had to be able to be who I wanted to be at work—or I had to leave ’cause I couldn’t live with this disconnect. I also took it in in my private life. And there’s something magical about saying: “I am going to become a more patient person.” And not feeling like a patient person. I would not say it’s a word people use to describe me! But the whole idea here is that we can practice. Virtues are practices. Judaism actually does this better than Christianity in saying: “It’s not about what you believe, it’s about what you do.” And so it’s just saying: “I may not feel patient, I may not feel kind, but I am going to do kind and patient.” And even with my children, I have had this experience where you do become more patient. I know that the muscle memory strengthens. So that’s just really practical. Virtues are amazing tools for living.
I’m wondering, having had all these incredible encounters that you’ve had and conversations that you’ve shared with the world— one point five million listeners a month I believe—do you have hope for humanity that we will act from our highest selves?
Oh I do. I do. I also have faith that a lot of people are aspiring to their best selves already. But it’s like what we said at the beginning, that it’s the loud, stirring religious voices who get all the play. And loud, stirring cultural voices who get all the play. I’m privileged being at this media platform, and you are too, to have a view of the parallel universe. All the amazing energy and aspiration and good work. Which may be more real!
One thing that’s notable about generations coming up is that they’re very pragmatic. There’s an idealism, but it’s rooted and grounded and it’s not necessarily about saying, “We’re going to save the world!” It’s about looking at the world right in front of you and saying: “This is what I can do right here right now.”
I have to work hard to think of my project as being powerful because it’s something I grew and had to fight so long for. And it’s such an honour for me that you’re listening! I do take that in. Having a media project is a powerful thing. The last few years I’ve realised that. Because, you’re on a megaphone. And so I see all this quiet and determined goodness and a lot of searching for wisdom and practising wisdom, and then I ask: “What is it that I can do with this project I have?” That’s really where we are as an organisation—“How can we serve that?” The thing that concerns me is, I do feel like there’s an abundance of good people and initiatives and work and I long to see more connective tissue.
You mentioned having a microphone and I have a quote here: “The best religious voices and lives are the last to throw themselves in front of a microphone. It’s a quiet story, it’s a story of everyday goodness.” It’s a question, I guess, around the word “humility.” It can be a challenge to lean in to the microphone and speak and be heard, because we need strong voices for peace and for the planet and for kindness and tenderness, and yet we need humility and gentleness and goodness. How do we reconcile that?
So I had this cathartic moment in thinking about humility when my daughter was young. I was studying theology at the time and I was reading all these passages in the New Testament about humility and what a great thing it is and the humility of a child. And I never thought much of it. As a woman in particular, it’s like, Does humility get you anywhere? Talk about things that religion has exalted at the expense of human life. Humility is one of those. And then I realised…
What do you mean by that?
Well: “Women be humble,” which meant, “Make yourself invisible. Take anything that comes at you and take it gracefully.” That’s the association I have with that word and that I had with that word inside religion. And then I’m living with this child and the thing that Jesus is always talking about is the humility of a child, which also was never compelling to me at all…
So then I was actually out walking with my daughter one day and I realised how a child walks through the world discovering everything for the first time and it’s all so amazing. And they have this approach of curiosity and a readiness to be surprised and a readiness to be amazed. I realised that’s another way to think about humility—not as debasing yourself but about walking through the world with curiosity, ready to be surprised. And ready to expect the best of and to see what is amazing about “the other.”
And so that is my definition of spiritual humility. It’s passionate, it’s big, it’s smart, it’s looking hard, it’s listening hard. Not everything and everyone is going to rise to that expectation. But you’re only likely to get more when you expect more. When you have created a space with your curiosity and your respect and your readiness to wonder that people can rise to that. So the word “humility” is problematic because it’s loaded with all these associations. But I do think it is one of these great, great virtues. If you just think of the opposite of that version of humility, it’s: we’re so guarded, we’re so defended, we’re so ready to be disappointed, we’re so cynical. And if you approach the world or another person in that mode, you’re going to get what you’re asking for. But for me humility asks for more and brings a readiness to take delight in the world and each other.
That’s really beautiful. And one of the things that’s resonating for me is my slight horror at both deeply understanding what you’re talking about, my aspiration to it—that when you walk towards someone and your heart is open and curious and deeply empathic that that is what you’ll see and receive from them—but then my horror at how I trip every day. And there are small moments, shameful moments really, when I forget about kindness and I forget about empathy and compassion and I just get caught up in the smallness.
And you’re at a really intense place in your life. You know, parenting is so interesting because it brings out the depths of love and empathy in us that we didn’t know were possible on the one hand, but it also is so all-encompassing that you hardly have the energy for the outside world, right? Or for other kinds of irritations or disappointments. So you should forgive yourself.
You’re letting me off the hook! [Laughs] so, I’d love to know, has there been an interview that changed your life?
I feel that I am a little bit changed by every conversation. I really can’t single one out. I do feel like my favourite interview is always the last one I did. I mean that’s a little glib ’cause clearly there are some that really stand out. But even the show we just did last weekend with this neuroscientist and epigeneticist: fascinating not only how we are changed by experiences and behaviours, but that this crosses generations. The good part of that is that this is knowledge which is a form of power and it’s telling a truth that is hard to see but does open the possibilities. And so that’s really formed me. And it’s often true that whatever we just did, it’s working on me from the inside. Sometimes people say, “The Dalai Lama or Desmond Tutu must have been a high point.” And you know, well, Desmond Tutu was pretty amazing, it was incredibly amazing. And the Dalai Lama is amazing in his way. But it’s just not true. I mean some people I’ve interviewed who are not famous and not really spiritual are completely spiritually illuminating.
Like Gordon Hempton. That really stayed with me. Like they all do in different ways.
Thank you, Krista!
Let me just say one last thing. You know, the story you told about Bhutan and the monasteries in the side of the mountain. I mean, this is how I feel in the 21st century. I feel like spiritual wisdom and spiritual technologies were historically consigned to experts, monks and nuns. Or rabbis. In all the traditions. I do think the amazing thing that’s happening now is that all of it is coming out for us to claim. And the potential power of that is just really remarkable.