Book Review: Becoming Wise

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of LivingBecoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett is the host of On Being, a weekly program broadcast on NPR stations, including WNYC, where I listen when I have the opportunity. The program is also available as a podcast from On Being’s Web site. From 2003 until 2015 Krista Tippett engaged in conversations with over 400 individuals whose names are listed in the back of the book. Some are people whose names would be familiar to many listeners: Jimmy Carter, Charles Colson, The Dalai Lama, Martin Sheen, Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Barbara Kingsolver, Phil Donahue to name a few. The conversations consist of one-on-one interviews, sometimes in front of a live audience.

In Becoming Wise Krista Tippett conducts the inquiry described in the subtitle by discussing five themes: word, flesh, love, faith, and hope, and expanding those discussions with excerpts from the conversions she has had through those years. The goal of Becoming Wise is not to provide instruction in how or what to think about these themes, although as a journalist the author certainly wants to inform her audience. The goal seems to be to express how wonderful, complex, frustrating, and even heartbreaking human existence can be when viewed through these five lenses.

That description doesn’t really do justice to the book, though. For another perspective, here is Ms Tippett herself expressing near the end of the book what she has experienced in writing it. She has just describe the work of Benedict of Nursia, who set forth a principle for living that, in time, would keep Western civilization alive:

I take courage in this story. Even with all of my resources as a journalist, and my efforts to focus on what is good and wise and nourishing. I probably do not see the small bands of inventive people, the blips of action setting something in motion that will save the world a hundred or a thousand years from now.

Still, I am dazzled by the great good I can discern everywhere out there. I’ve shared a sliver in these pages, just a sliver. I have a heart full. arms full, a mind brimful and bursting with a sense of what is healing us even as I write, even when we don’t know it and haven’t asked for it. And I do mean healing: not curing, not solving, not fixing, but creating the opportunity for deepened life together, for growing more wise and more whole, not just older, not just smarter. (p. 236)

A bit later the author elaborates on the reason for the book and for her pursuit of conversations with the people cited in the book:

Still, all of this begs the question of why a simple, natural, refreshing thing like taking in goodness, wherever and whenever we see it, requires any effort at all–why it needs all these words. There’s a telling social scientific term for people who defy the “realistic” expectations of a simplistic “survival of th—e fittest” understanding of evolved humanity: “positive deviance.” My profession of journalism, which I love, too often covers whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise as a positive deviance. This is a form of reverse moral imagination. Everyone I’ve cited in this book is a positive deviant, easily written off by portenders of doom as an exception to the distasteful human rule. (p. 261)

Both in Becoming Wise and in her work through On Being Krista Tippett practices positive deviance. That is not a bad trait for anyone to cultivate and practice. Anyone reading this review would do well to find a copy of Becoming Wise or listen to some episodes of On Being to learn how we might cultivate positive deviance.

Thanks as always for stopping by!


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