Krista Tippett Interview of David Whyte: “The Conversational Nature of Reality”
What are the big take-aways?
Most well known as a globe-trotting rock-star poet (the type who gives readings and keynotes at venues like elite corporate conferences), David Whyte is also a philosopher, a marine scientist who spent two years as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands, and an Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. His books include The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, River Flow: New & Selected Poems, and Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
Throughout Whyte’s wide-ranging interview with Krista Tippett for the NPR radio show “On Being” – in which three times he recites her favorite poems spontaneously by memory – Whyte offers a quick succession of lovely and searing insights into the mysteries of human meaning-making, aging, growth, loss, leadership, hope, denial, love relationships, aloneness and “beautiful questions.” Whyte believes that reality is neither what comes at us, nor what we decide to make of it, but a back-and-forth “conversation.”
Why do I like it?
I like Whyte’s poetry – and this funny, dark, provocative and inspiring 50-minute conversation with Krista Tippett about it – because I notice there is an especially widespread instinct that my leadership coaching clients and colleagues have been following lately to turn to poetry for wisdom, humor, comfort and sense-making amidst the complexity that is us as well as surrounds us. I notice that I’ve been turning to poetry more frequently for spiritual companionship in recent months, myself.
Exactly why many of us are dialing up our consumption of poetry right now is challenging to articulate. (Maybe because, as the poet Percy Shelly puts it, "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" and we could use some better legislators these days!) But the way I've been thinking about it recently is that poetry is often able to eloquently point – from an inventive or surprising angle – at profound truths we know in our hearts, for which there are no direct words. In that moment of recognition, we are reminded of what we know, and that it is true. In short – as David Whyte’s website refers to poetry – it is “language against which we have no defenses.”
In essence, poetry is the interior, unspoken language of the call to be the leader of our lives. Accessing their inner truth is what leaders do; my belief is that the most effective leaders are the most able to be internally still and alone enough to listen to their own authentic, individual truths. It is in our unique, heartfelt truths that our clearest visions are born, that our hardest decisions are made, and from whence our most courageous actions are propelled. Indeed, like leaders, poems are all about results! Dictionary.com says that the origins of the word “poem” are Latin and Greek: “Latin poēma < Greek poíēma poem, something made, equivalent to poiē-, variant stem of poieîn to make + -ma suffix denoting result.”
In what situations would this be useful?
Whyte’s are the best kind of poems, to my mind: the kind we can read over and over and over and feel spoken to differently each time because we are a little different, ourselves, each time we revisit them. In this way, poems ask us to put powerful questions to ourselves, and can therefore be extraordinary coaches! For one example, is this not one of the most poignant coaching observations any of us can possibly hear, if we can endure it and its implications? Whyte: “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.”
For leaders, I particularly recommend the portion of the “The Conversational Nature of Reality” interview in which Tippett asks Whyte to read about the word “vulnerability” from his latest book, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words (Many Rivers Press, 2015).
What other resources might “pair” well with it?