Who will we be to each other?

The Civil Conversations and Social Healing team represents The On Being Project’s presence in the world as we nourish, embolden and accompany the work of social healing. Our organizational capacities to produce audio and digital resources are strengthened by programs and convenings that stitch relationships across rupture and equip for resilience and repair. If you’re making things happen where you live, we’d love to hear from you. And if you’re using our work, we’d love to learn from you. Connect with us.

Our Theory of Change

Human Transformation Makes Social Transformation Possible

We are focused on the human transformation that makes social transformation possible. This is work of inner engagement and engagement in the world. Deepened inner life creates space for the moral wrestling that can transform interpersonal relationships. For this reason, our work engages leaders, innovators and changemakers who bring intelligence and teaching to bear on every aspect of human existence — the insights of civic leaders, teachers and neuroscientists in conversation with the wisdom and pastoral intelligence of a community’s religious and spiritual leaders.

We take a conflict transformation and peacebuilding approach to the scale of change we believe our world needs and desires. There is an underlying violence that has become a part of our lives. This violence has disrupted nascent relationships, altered our sense of self, and disoriented our relationships with each other and with the world around us. The social healing that is required in the United States, in this sense, is not entirely different from what is needed in war-torn regions of the world.

We recognize that On Being’s content is engaged globally, and our community includes people from around the world who seek accompaniment in their work for social healing. While we honor our unique relationship to the United States, we recognize the global need for social healing and our capacity to support global efforts to this end.

Our Grounding Virtues

What we practice, we become. These six “grounding virtues” guide everything we do through The On Being Project. Virtues are not the stuff of saints and heroes. They are spiritual technologies and tools for the art of living. Read more.

The Civil Conversations Project — speaking together differently in order to live together differently. An ongoing body of work within the On Being radio show and podcast.

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We are in the final weeks as On Being evolves to its next chapter — in a world that is evolving, each of us changed in myriad ways we’ve only begun to process and fathom. So it felt right to listen again to one of our most beloved shows of this post-2020 world. In fact, Krista interviewed the wise and wonderful Ocean Vuong right on the cusp of that turning, in March 2020, in a joyful and crowded room full of podcasters in Brooklyn. Yet what’s most stunning is how presciently and exquisitely Ocean spoke, and continues to speak, to the world we have since come to inhabit — its heartbreak and its poetry, its possibilities for loss and for finding new life.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a friend, teacher, and colleague to the work of On Being. But before that was true, Krista took a revelatory trip to meet him at his home in Northern Ireland, a place that has known sectarianism and violent fracture and has evolved, not to perfection, yet to new life and once unimaginable repair and relationship. Our whole world screams of fracture, more now than when Krista sat with Pádraig in 2016. This conversation is a gentle, welcoming landing for pondering and befriending hard realities we are given. As the global educator Karen Murphy, another friend of On Being and of Pádraig, once said to Krista: “Let’s have the humility and the generosity to step back and learn from these places that have had the courage to look at themselves and look at where they’ve been and try to forge a new path with something that resembles ‘together’ … Right now we should be taking these stories and these examples and these places and filling our pockets and our lungs and our hearts and our minds with them and learning deeply.” And that’s what this hour with Pádraig invites.

Colette Pichon Battle is a generational native of the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. The ebb and flow of the Bayou was a background rhythm in her childhood to every aspect of life. She did not ever imagine in that childhood that she would one day be known as a “climate activist.” To be with Colette, and experience her brilliance of mind and spirit and action, is to open up all the ways the words we use and the stories we tell about the transformation of the natural world that is upon us blunt us to the courage we’re called to and the joy we must nurture as our primary energy and motivation. She is a vivid embodiment, too, of the new forms societal shift is taking in our world — led by visionary pragmatists close to the ground, in particular places, persistently and lovingly learning and leading the way for us all.

This conversation was part of The Great Northern Festival, a celebration of Minnesota’s cold, creative winters.

It’s a piece of deep psychological acuity, carried in many religious traditions: that each of us is defined as much by who our enemies are and how we treat them as by whom and what we love. In this episode, two legendary Buddhist teachers shine a light on the lofty ideal of loving your enemies and bring it down to earth. Across a half-century conversation and friendship, Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman have investigated the mind science behind this virtue and practice. They illuminate how to transmute the very real, very consequential and consuming energy of anger and hatred — and why love in fact can be a rational and pragmatic stance towards those who vex us. This is a conversation filled with laughter and friendship and with practical wisdom on how we relate to that which makes us feel embattled from without, and from within.

The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, revered Zen master, teacher, and poet, died on January 22, 2022, in his native Vietnam. Brother Thay, as he was known by his community and students, transmuted what he had experienced of chaos and bloodshed in his country and his life into an ability to speak with equal measures directness and compassion to the many conflicts and bewilderments of contemporary life. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a great teacher of the wonderful practice of “walking meditation.” He taught a way of living to face suffering, fear, and violence inside and beyond ourselves and yet to become “fresh, solid, and free.” Krista sat with him for this rare conversation in the early years of this show, and it has touched many. It is astonishing to re-experience the deep, enduring wisdom this monk leaves for our world now.

The remarkable Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Laureate died in the closing days of 2021. He helped galvanize South Africa’s improbably peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. He was a leader in the religious drama that transfigured South African Christianity. And he continued to engage conflict well into his retirement, in his own country and in the global Anglican communion. Krista explored all of these things with him in this warm, soaring 2010 conversation — and how Desmond Tutu’s understanding of God and humanity unfolded through the history he helped to shape.

Jane Goodall’s early research studying chimpanzees helped shape the self-understanding of our species and recalled modern Western science to the fact that we are a part of nature, not separate from it. In honor of the publication of her 32nd book — The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times — we’re re-releasing her beautiful conversation with Krista over Zoom from pandemic lockdown. From her decades studying chimpanzees in the Gombe forest to her more recent years attending to human poverty and misunderstanding, the legendary primatologist reflects on the moral and spiritual convictions that have driven her, and what she is teaching and still learning about what it means to be human.

How to embrace what’s right and corrective, redemptive and restorative — and an insistence that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done — these are gifts Bryan Stevenson offers with his life. He’s brought the language of mercy and redemption into American culture in recent years, growing out of his work as a lawyer with the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama. Now the groundbreaking museum they created in Montgomery has dramatically expanded — a new way of engaging the full and ongoing legacy of slavery in U.S. history. Krista draws out his spirit — and his moral imagination.

Where to turn to find my place of standing when it feels like the world is on fire? This question surfaced in a public conversation Krista had just a couple of years ago with Pádraig Ó Tuama and Marilyn Nelson, two poet-contemplatives. Pádraig weaves together social healing, poetry, and theology. Marilyn is a lyrical excavator of stories that would rather stay hidden — yet as she coaxes them into the light, they lead to new life. This conversation is a pleasure and balm, and a reminder that the ruptures and unease and reckonings of what we call “this moment” were all before us before the pandemic. Pádraig and Marilyn’s offerings are beyond wise, and distinctly tender and powerful for this now.

Priya Parker has become the voice of what it means to gather in this world we inhabit now. She is helping remake the “how” of coming together — and more importantly, the “why.” Long before the pandemic, she points out, we had fallen into rote forms for staff meetings, birthday parties, conferences, shared meals. Virtual or physical, this time of regathering offers a threshold we can decide to cross with imagination, purpose, and joy. This is a conversation with so much to walk away from and put immediately into practice.

The wonderful writer Luis Alberto Urrea says that a deep truth of our time is that “we miss each other.” He is singularly wise about the deep meaning and the problem of borders. The Mexican-American border, as he likes to say, ran straight through his parents’ Mexican-American marriage and divorce. His works of fiction and non-fiction confuse every dehumanizing caricature of Mexicans — and of U.S. border guards. The possibility of our time, as he lives and witnesses with his writing, is to evolve the old melting pot to the 21st-century richness of “us” — with all the mess and necessary humor required.

Through the ruptures of the past year and more, we’ve been given so much to learn, and callings to live differently. But how to do that, and where to begin? Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, and his original insights into racialized trauma in all kinds of bodies, have offered new ways forward for us all. So we said yes when Resmaa proposed that he join On Being together with Robin DiAngelo. She has been a foremost white voice in our civilizational grappling with whiteness. This conversation is not comfortable, but it is electric and it opens possibility.

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The Better Conversations Guide

This guide is intended to help ground and animate a gathering of friends or strangers in a conversation that might take place over weeks or months. It provides a flexible roadmap you can adapt for your group and intentions. We created it as producers, but more as citizens, out of what we’ve learned in more than 15 years of conversation on On Being.

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“When it comes to cultural change we excessively fixate on the critical mass and underestimate the catalytic quality of the improbable few. The ‘critical yeast’ — these small, unlikely, combinations of persistent people and partnerships committed to a new quality of relationship — dwell before and behind every instance of social change that truly shifts what is possible and transformative across generations.”

John Paul Lederach