Image of a person walking through a field


Fifteen years ago, the late surgeon and bioethicist Sherwin Nuland told Krista about a turning point in his own understanding of human beings:

“When you recognize that pain and response to pain is a universal thing, it helps explain so many things about others, just as it explains so much about yourself … It essentially tells you what everybody needs,” he said. “You know what everybody needs? You want to put it in a single word? Everybody needs to be understood. And out of that comes every form of love.”

Where Nuland finds love, Rev. angel Kyodo williams finds the first steps toward transformation. She’s the author of Radical Dharma and the second Black woman to be recognized as a teacher in the Japanese Zen lineage. Her understanding of suffering as an experience across humanity is the foundation of the Buddhism that she practices — and what she thinks it can offer social movements today.

“To do our work, to come into deep knowing of who we are — that’s the stuff that bringing down systems of oppression is made of,” she said in her 2018 conversation with Krista, which we’re re-airing this week. “Capitalism in its current form couldn’t survive. Patriarchy couldn’t survive. White supremacy couldn’t survive if enough of us set about the work of reclaiming the human spirit, which includes reclaiming the sense of humanity of the people that are the current vehicles for those very forms of oppression.”

Working toward this knowledge is about moving away from denial. And it’s something Rev. angel sensed we’re collectively moving toward. As she observed, “There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial.”

If this was true in 2018, it’s certainly even more true now. So for a new episode of Living the Questions this week, Krista asked Rev. angel about how she’s peering into the world after the killing of George Floyd. “We had an amazing, extraordinary, painful, and yet, collective experience of a sufficient quieting that allowed us to feel this collective body that we are as a nation,” she said. “And there’s a whole bunch of individual bodies in there that said, ‘Enough. I can’t tolerate this, what is here, because I can feel it now. I can see it.’”

Seeing the suffering is only the beginning of change. But if the scale of this year’s uprisings indicate anything, it’s that there’s undeniable power in the act of genuine, raw witness — to move not just our hearts into a deeper understanding but also our bodies into the work of greater change. Perhaps out of this comes, truly, every form of love.

Kristin Lin
Editor, The On Being Project

P.S. — We loved this Q&A Krista did with the Poetry Society of America, which delves into her thoughts about the power of language and shared spaces — including her earliest memory of poetry and the spaces she misses the most during the pandemic.


This Week at The On Being Project

Our Latest Episode

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On Being with Krista Tippett
angel Kyodo williams
The World Is Our Field of Practice

An invitation to imagine and nourish the transformative potential of this moment — toward human wholeness.

Listen on:
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Our Website


Living the Questions
Why 2020 hasn’t taken Rev. angel by surprise

On cultivating a sense of boundlessness, befriending not-knowing, and a spiritual discipline for following the news.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website

Recommended Reading & Listening

Recommended readings image collage: portrait image of Resmaa

Menakem by Nancy Musinguzi, image of two people embracing each other

in Washington square; image of someone walking on a yellow line

Listen | “Meeting Our Enemies and Our Suffering” with Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman
The two Buddhist teachers discuss the relationship between anger and compassion.

Listen | “‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence’” with Resmaa Menakem
The therapist and trauma specialist offers practical techniques for addressing racialized trauma.

Read | “Your Liberation Is on the Line” by angel Kyodo williams | Lion’s Roar
Building off of her conversations with Krista, Rev. angel writes that white supremacy “keeps us from fully knowing each other, from seeing each other”.

Find more in our library on Restorative Justice.

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