Kenan Distinguished Lecturer Krista Tippett

This week a special shout out goes to Krista Tippett, the producer and host of the radio program, On Being. I am currently eating half a sandwich from the “Monday Do Lunch” with her as I compose this blog. Although I appreciate all the “free food” that has sustained me for the week due to her presence (both a Do Lunch and an evening lecture), I am much more appreciative that I was able to learn who she was and had the opportunity to listen to her speak.

Blue table clothes are quite common at Duke free food events

For those who are unfamiliar with Do Lunches, they are informal lunch chats for undergraduates with a guest lecturer. Chats typically start with the featured guest detailing post-college choices that determined a career path. A moderator asks a few questions that have been submitted by students as their “entry fee” to the lunch, and then the floor opens up to the undergraduates for general Q&A. As the lunch is limited to 20 undergraduates, this intimate experience lends itself to a conversation that allows guest speakers to share personal stories and sentiments. At past Do Lunches I attended, we have discussed a range of topics—from the UN benefits for parents to what is the guest’s favorite children’s book.

At Monday’s Do Lunch with Krista Tippett, she understood right off the bat the informal and personal nature of the lunches, stating “I’m going to tell you all the little quirky things.” She emphasized the importance of “do[ing] things even if it’s a little ridiculous” because these efforts might may pay off positively later. As an example of the serendipity of small endeavors, she explained that she wrote an op-ed piece to the New York Times that did not get picked up. However, this short piece gained her recognition, and eventually rewarded her with a job. As an example of the importance of paying attention to the conversations of colleagues, Tippett explained that when she lived in Germany, she noticed that powerful people often had “successful” work lives yet “empty” personal lives. Her reflections on this gap in part inspired her to start her radio show. Lives that lacked “great beauty and relationship” prohibited individuals from “open[ing] up [their] intellectual imaginations.”

Krista Tippett encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration to solve problems. Just as the talk I attended last week on “The Education of Bruno Latour” discussed that the world had to move away from information silos, so too Tippett criticized the “silos” that prevent human interaction. She suggested that individuals are so caught up in their individual “silos” that they do not connect with each other. She also stressed the importance of reading and talking with others with whom we do not share the same beliefs to promote understanding and empathy.

Tippett had four mandates to live a rich, complex, and appreciative life:

  1. Think about the words we use because “words matter.”
  2. “Rediscover questions.”
  3. “Honor of the complexity of human nature.”
  4. “Develop eyes to see and ear to hear.”

Tippett’s lessons, at first glance, do not seem hard to follow if we take a step back, reflect, and reemphasize these things that contribute to living fuller lives.

This week I attended two other events with speakers: 1) Sonja D. William’s lunch chat about Richard Durham’s life and 2) Deputy Krysta Harden of the USDA’s talk titled the Next Generation of Agriculture. Both again called for interdisciplinary collaboration to solve problems. Williams even used the same terminology “silo” as did Tippett and Latour.

An interdisciplinary focus is a theme running through many of the presentations. But is our educational system doing enough to break down the silos and foster interdisciplinary thought and productive problem-solving? Our current educational system does seem to pigeonhole students. A common question students hear is: “what is your major?” The choice of a major requires students to pick one, maybe two, subjects in which to become “experts.” A liberal arts education is supposed to give you a well-rounded world view, yet the course demands of many majors limit the coursework that can be taken outside of one’s designated field. Is a liberal arts education promoting renaissance men and women who can converse and problem solve across disciplinary fields?


Here is the link to week 3’s free food challenge vlog: