To Be Less Polarized, We Must Humanize (With Esther Perel)

Show Description

Baratunde ends Season One focused on the state of our relationships, a key pillar of how to citizen, and thus the health of our society after the most contentious election in modern history. In conversation with world-renowned relationship expert, Esther Perel, they discuss how to repair relationships in this moment, and how choosing to listen and humanize each other is not only how to citizen, but enlightened self-interest.

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Show Transcript

Baratunde Thurston  0:07  

Welcome to How to Citizen with Baratunde, a show where we reimagine the word citizen as a verb, and remind ourselves how to wield our collective power. I'm Baratunde.

In the US we have elected a new President, Joe Biden, and a new vice president Kamala Harris. I'm still writing the emotions of it all. I didn't realize how much tension I have been holding for four years, until that announcement came and I just cried with relief. I'm talking ugly, ugly, crying, just wailing tears intermittently throughout Saturday. Not because all the country's problems are solved far from that. But because now I believe we have a fighting chance to build a democracy worthy of us all a democracy that works for us all something we've been striving to achieve for this country's entire history never quite made it. Plus, it was nice to see people flooding the streets, and that's a protest unjust police. But to celebrate the exercise of people power. We sent record till even those who voted differently from us. We showed up and we used our power well done citizens. As of this recording, with some vote counting still happening, but not enough to change the outcome. A record 74 million people voted for Joe Biden for President. It's the most votes any US presidential candidate has ever received. The second most votes ever received went to Donald Trump in this same election. So we are a nation decided and we are a nation divided. The 70 million votes for Trump aren't just numbers. They're people, people we work with live with and love. How do we do that? How do they do that? How do we citizen with people who think so differently from us? These aren't just questions for Biden voters. But for Trump voters and non voters too. We're all in the same country together. I've got just the person to help us with that. In this our 16th and final episode of season one. What do you mean, you're gonna stop? There's an episode break. There's a season break, huh? Yeah, that's right. We're wrapping this thing. More on the future of this show. On the other side of the interview, test what we call a teaser. Meanwhile, in this episode, we are taking it back to the beginning. In our very first episode, Valerie Carr reminded us of the power of revolutionary love in how we citizen, and she helped us see that building relationships with others is a key part of what it means to citizen. In this episode, I spoke with one of the world's most insightful voices on modern relationships. She's a psychotherapist and best selling author of two books, mating in captivity, and the state of affairs. Her TED talks have garnered over 30 million views and counting. And she executive produces and hosts to have her own podcast. How's work? And where should we begin? She likes putting questions in the titles of her podcast, and I liked putting questions to her in our podcast. Yeah, we brought in a relationship therapist, a certified relationship therapist to help us close out this season. As we try to build and heal relationships with the people in our country, and in our lives, who made very different choices during this election. I'm gonna tell you right up, this is one of those episodes, you got to listen to the whole thing and you're probably gonna want to listen a few times. Here is my conversation with us there perell.

One of our pillars of what it means to citizen is, you know, showing up and participating and being and investing in relationships because we don't citizen alone and includes being in relationship with ourselves but also with others. Your work is there is anchored in the idea of relationships. And I'd love to know, your take on what does it practically mean for someone to invest in a relationship? What does it mean for us to invest in relationships with people around?

Esther Perel  4:49  

You know, traditionally there was a way that looked at societies and divided them between task oriented societies and Relationship oriented societies, task oriented often meant the priorities were given to time as a finite unit, to achievement, to accomplishment to what can be measured, to what can be quantified, and so forth. And relationships, were basically everything having to do with loyalty, legacy, harmony, discord, stuff that is really qualitative, rather than quantitative. Maybe I should have started with that very simple sentence, the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships. And this is true both at home and at work. So no matter what you do, at some point, you will ask yourself at the last moment, did I love and was I loved? That will mean that you had invested in your relationships, no matter what else you've done. Some people call it the difference between a resume and a eulogy.

Baratunde Thurston  6:08  

We often hear and we even in the show, we promote the idea of investing in a relationship of putting a relationship first, yeah, of giving to the relationship. What does that mean? Practically speaking, what does that look like?

Esther Perel  6:23  

You know, let me put it like this growing up. This is for everybody here. What messages Did you receive about relationships? Were they Central, in your family life and in your culture? Or were they more peripheral? And if they were Central, what were the messages that accompanied it? As it you can trust people, people are there to help you. You belong to group your needs, just not just your own. Your achievements are not just your own, you are part of a larger network of connections, or were you taught more, rely on your own to fit it, nobody will ever tell you what to do, as best as you can tell yourself, self reliance and autonomy is one set of models about relationships, or loyalty and interdependence. Another set of messages about everybody here will pretty much be able to know what was the emphasis of the messages, not always spoken by your parents like Daddy, no, sometimes just by the sheer circumstances of your life, you had to learn autonomy and self reliance, versus interdependence. But to me this distinction about how we frame relationships, and therefore how we invest in them. This is a very useful frame.

Baratunde Thurston  7:46  

Hearing that I jump immediately to national characterization, and you know, Western, Eastern, US other parts of the world in terms of the individual focus, and you only have yourself to rely on

Esther Perel  8:01  


Baratunde Thurston  8:02  

Yeah, there you go. So there's the origin.

Esther Perel  8:04  

It's a combination of capitalism and Protestantism, you know, this notion that you are at the center, it's an AI versus a we do I conceive of myself as an AI that reaches out to me? Or do I conceive of myself as part of a way in which I try to develop an eye?

Baratunde Thurston  8:23  

Yeah. And it's not either, or, there's a relationship between those two,

Esther Perel  8:28  

there's a relation and many of us have lived in both cultures, many of us have absorbed both systems, both the values attached to it. Many people today in the world have grown up in one place and move to another, you know, inside the US as well. So we inhabit sometimes more than one value system when it comes to relationships. Give you a great example, when I came to the US, and I was working a lot with mixed marriages, interracial, intercultural inter religious marriages, and many times the person was struggling between their ideology of love, which was free choice enterprise, and their loyalty to the family, to the religion to the culture, you know, to the larger forces. And people would say, you should do what's right for you. And I knew that that was a very particular frame, in contrast with people who lived with the notion that what's right for you never exists separately, from how it affects others. You know, so they felt terribly guilty about being selfish about doing what's right. And other people, you can't let other people dictate to you. Well, this is a major division cross culturally, this is a division inside this country, inside families and inside ourselves. It's a perfect example.

Baratunde Thurston  9:47  

I want to talk about division. We've seen an experienced an extraordinary amount of political division in the United States of late especially over the past four years. We've seen it show up seep into our most cherished relationships, our family relationships, our intimate relationships. What have you seen in your own practice, maybe amongst your colleagues about how our political divisions are showing up in our relationships and how the politics has become more personal.

Esther Perel  10:21  

One of the basic ways that you experience divisions in relationships is when there is a loss of a shared sense of reality. This is what you see in couples in families all the time, where there is, you know, no shared well effects. And on the other side, that's, you know, wrote this week that we've ceased to be a country in disagreement and we now have a country of mutual disgust. Deep division is often marred by content. Content is often the killer in relationships, you can have criticism, you can have defensiveness, you can have stonewalling, you can have gaslighting, even, but contempt actually gets it goes off and with contempt, contempt is kind of the, you've lost the basic respect for the other person and for their humanity. That is part of what we have. And it's happening inside families, as much as it's happening in the society in the broader sense. People live with a sense of betrayal. And betrayal generally, represents the shattering of our shared assumptions. I thought we were in this together. I thought you had my back. I, you know, so there is that. And to me, you know, it's an interesting thing to see on a macro level that which you often see when you work as a couples therapist, which I do when you work with very polarized couples, in which, what else goes into division? In a couple. I tend to think of myself as a rainbow, I think you are black and white. I think of myself as complex, I see you as one dimensional. I think that if I behave poorly, it's because there are circumstances, if you behave poorly, it's characterological, that is part of polarization. I don't really care to listen to you, because I experienced everything you say, as a threat. And I'm in fight flight mode. And I think that, you know, if we did it your way, you know, it would be a disaster, you are willing to destroy everything. Which freakin planet Do you live on? How can you even think like this? And it's mutual, you say the same thing to me with those words or other words. So that's what happens in a polarized couple is this you have instant escalation and a fundamental belief that the facts actually matter. But at some point, the feelings and the form supersede the content. You know, if we start to talk with dismissal, it doesn't matter if we're talking about the economy or about Greenpeace, in the in Japan, the form proceeds the content, if what I think is that you have no idea what you're talking about, we can talk about anything, I will still think that you have no idea what you're talking about. If you think of even if you think I don't care, if you think I'm going to bring your device, it doesn't matter, the subject matter, you will have the filter, because we see what we expect to see, in your experience with these

Baratunde Thurston  13:25  

couples. What's the threshold for arriving at a place of contempt and dismissal? How does that escalation happen? How do you know you're past that point?

Esther Perel  13:38  

If I fundamentally distrust you. And I think that you're just out for yourself, that you don't take my wellbeing into account. I see you as a potential danger. That's part of why I go into fight flight, you are a threat to me, you're a threat to me, because you're black, you're a threat to me because you're a man, you're a threat to me because you're rich because you poor or because you're coming to take my job or because you are bringing indecency into our society, or because you're bringing nationalism and populism into our society, you know, in political arena, it has other names than in a marriage. But basically, you are danger. When you have danger. The first thing I do is I defend. And if I can I attack, a counter attack. I blame, blame, defense, blame defense, and I deflect in a polarized relationship. I never think I have the responsibility for anything. It's you who make me do what I do, which I wouldn't do if you were different and then make me Can you can you can translate it into politics. I am the way I am because of you. If you hadn't done this, I wouldn't be so it's What we call hostile dependence, I need you to change. But since you don't, I'm angry at you. And the more I'm angry at you, of course, the less you're going to do, and the less you're going to do. And the more I'm going to need you to do in order for anything to change, which you're not doing, so I get enraged.

Baratunde Thurston  15:17  

So that's a vicious cycle.

Esther Perel  15:20  

That's an understatement. But yes,

Baratunde Thurston  15:22  

it's a negative reinforcement.

Esther Perel  15:25  

Yes, it's a complete negative feedback loop. It's what it's the root of escalation. And when you see it on a national level, it's basically when you watch Trump and Pelosi, that's what's. So

Baratunde Thurston  15:38  

clearly there have been some efforts that you've been a part of that you've seen that the human species has been through in our relationships before, to also repair to return from a state of mutual disgust and contempt to one have more trust and more partnership rather than threat. What does that road look like the return to mutual respect in humanity,

Esther Perel  16:04  

you know, I will respond to you on two levels. One is in my practice as a therapist, and then one is really, in other things that I have been aware of, not always fully involved with. But I have looked at South Africa, I have looked at the groups that come together as mothers or fathers of Israeli and Palestinian children, people who could hate each other for life. And who decides that they have no choice, they won't be able to live well, and sleep well, unless they find some kind of dialogue with those other people. And they come together as mothers and fathers who lost their children. And that supersedes everything about his most intractable political conflict.

Baratunde Thurston  16:59  

So take me through the first part, then as a therapist, would it be so as

Esther Perel  17:02  

a therapist, you know, the first thing I say is, if you continue to repeat the same thing, the more you say what you say, the more your partner is going to say the exact thing that you don't want them to say. Meaning, we have a knack of drawing from the other side, the very thing which we actually don't want, if you continue to say things that are really good things are better than ever, your partner is going to answer they're awful. So if you want to hear something in, maybe you change what you've been saying. So that doesn't mean you say things are awful. That means you say, obviously, you have a different experience. Let me listen, very hard, very hard for us to listen to stuff that is fundamentally the opposite of how we see it. But that's the exercise, then you step out of the kind of calcification of positions, you know, then you really start to pay attention of how you treat the other one as one dimensional. And how you think that you are much more layered and nuanced and complex, you know. So that's a big one, then you find some common ground. The common ground at this moment is that people feel deeply unsettled and stressed out and exhausted. Well, let's start with that. Why we are stressed out, we may say it's your fault. And the other one says it's your fault, like in a relationship. But the fact is, none of us are sleeping that well, for the moment, you know, then you go and you check your perception gap, this notion that people often have in a relationship where they think that the other person is completely on the other side, like there's absolutely nothing we see eye to eye here. And yet both of you want good for your child, one of you says we need to punish him. The other one says we shouldn't be so harsh on him, you are locked on this one. But the one thing we know is that both of you feel at a loss. And both of you will do anything to get your child to stop using drugs. For example, this is a classic, you know, and people have divorced over eight people. Now the interesting thing is, the only way you can only focus on the punishment is because you've got someone here who is actually holding the value of the kindness or the empathy if you want. And the only way that you can only talk about the empathy is because you've got someone here who is talking about the limits. And you actually need each other because basically your kid needs both. So instead of just thinking you're right, how about you try to be wise? It's better to be wise than right.

Unknown Speaker  19:52  


Baratunde Thurston  19:53  

there's a phrase that I started saying that people in some of my own work, which is no Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective? Yeah, and say no, the feeling of righteousness is powerful, but its impact is pretty limited in terms of the outcomes you want.

There is a requirement in the steps that you've outlined,

Esther Perel  20:22  

to slow down and to want to do it and to want it. Yes. And to not say you first, why shall I? You have done nothing? Why should I be nice? You know, that's part of the indignation too, right? This is a very critical moment.

Baratunde Thurston  20:39  

So yeah, I want to go there. Because in the United States, we've had years of attempts at outreach and reconciliation at deep empathy. After 2016. It felt to me like the New York Times devoted a whole new beat to understanding the quote, unquote, white working class man in America. And I see all of this effort at recognition at de escalation and re complexify being the other into a human. I see it coming heavily from the side of liberals and progressives, who feel some shame, some guilt, some compassion, we must have gotten something wrong about the country we're living in. So let's go to Western Pennsylvania, and find a coal miner to talk to and understand his plight. And I've searched, and I'm not saying it's exhaustive. But I have very few examples of that coming from the right end of the political spectrum. I had haven't seen that humility demonstrated there to say, maybe we don't understand the country we're in, maybe we should go to Brooklyn, understand and have a latte with some hipster and see what's really going on their mind or black person in Alabama and see what's really on her mind. One, you can tell me if my characterization is off, if you've seen something different, I'm happy to be wrong, truly. But beyond that, when one side feels like they're putting all the work in, and the other side isn't? How do you move out of that sense and that possible reality?

Esther Perel  22:17  

So it's very interesting, because this could be a complete description inside a couple where one person says, I bring up all the conversations, I'm the one who's always asking questions, I'm the one who's trying to improve the relationship, and my partner just sits there, and just thinks that, you know, he or she is beyond reproach, you know, I can do no, right. And the other can do no wrong. Why should I? And sometimes I say, you don't have to, but the world you want to live in, you could live with yourself, if you did, it's the person you want to be.

Unknown Speaker  22:53  


Esther Perel  22:54  

from there, I can play the metaphor and the analogy of marriage and relationships. But I also understand that when nationalism and populism rises, there's a limit to the analogy, I think that things could completely improve. And your partner may still think that it's because you improved. And you would love to, for them to say they've made a mistake, too. But they actually still think of themselves in this entitled, righteous way in which they think you're the one who came to your senses. And that's where I say, you want to share reality, or you just want to say, my partner thinks that our marriage improved, because I changed, because I stopped yelling, because I stopped being critical, because I finally saw whatever he or she was seeing. And I will say, that's how he views it. And I'm willing for him or her to think that I made all the changes, that's actually a compliment. But if I think you are still basically blaming me, you're still holding me responsible for everything. So before it was you were the problem, now it's You are the solution. You are the solution is also implied you were the problem. I have to be able to not care. And just say that's okay, I accept the compliment. I did all the work. Basically, my partner things completely different than me about what improved our relationship and I let him think this way, because it serves me, I have an autonomy to my thinking. I no longer need him to actually think like me, in order to have a shared reality. And that is a whole other way of going about this different bridge. Yeah, and I don't know if that is done on a national level, but I'll tell you something. There's a story that just happened to me recently that I have been wanting to share, jack and I have a flat tire. We're on the highway for four hours. Nobody can pick You up anymore, because we're in the middle of this highway, a pickup truck arrives. And the guy basically looks at us and he's a foreigner who got asylum, who you would think, you know, you're an immigrant with that had this kind of history. Yeah, for sure. bad assumption. And he looks at us and he says they're an elderly couple that we shouldn't let go alone to the city, they only have a doughnut, he drives us for three and a half hours. And for three and a half hours. It's like being with Fox News. Every trope, everything, everything is screaming, he's so screaming that I'm afraid he's gonna run off the road with this truck and our car in the back. And jack just continues to listen to him like just kindly listening and so curious, like how he did it, you would think it's like masochistic? Yeah. But when we arrived, we gave him a big tip. And he looks at us and he says, You're giving me money, even though, you know, my beliefs. And we are probably really, really quite different than what we think about. And I said to him, I'm not giving you money for your beliefs and giving you money for your behavior. And you were kind. And he says, I think I probably should listen a little more and talk a little less. And I said, I think that would be a good idea. You may actually hear some different things that would be info important for you. Thank you. It really is one of the experiences that have shaped us in the last month, because we could have done the you know, shut up and don't talk. And, you know, I don't want to listen this. But instead, we were curious just to see what this whole thing makes sense to him. And it's not easy to sit because you start boiling inside, you know, on occasion, it's very hard to listen to people tell you, things that you fundamentally disagree with. And that will affect you. This is one thing we know in a couple so we just instantly rebut, and to actually let it land on us like that, and then still be able to differentiate his thinking from his actions, his kindness from his racism. all at the same time. Yeah, holding multiple perspectives like that. I think that's on occasion when you have it. You feel hopeful?

Baratunde Thurston  27:28  

I mean, what you extended to him in that moment was the benefit of complexity. Yeah, you allowed him to be something more than a fox news raver, but also a kind neighbor. At the same time, yeah. And break that contradiction in you a little bit. And the other piece that I'm hearing here is about what it does to you what it does to the person who stops talking and listens to the person who does some kind of outreach who prioritizes the preservation of the relationship over the righteousness of a specific position.

Esther Perel  28:08  

But seriously bad, don't they? I think that what makes the difference is if there is a relationship, this is what you asked me before, what does it mean to invest in a relationship for you to just want to understand the white man or what the republicans think or what the Trump supporters think you will do it if you have a friend, and you can say, dude, or a woman doesn't matter. Explain it to me, explain me, what you experienced that led to how you think that leads to how you vote, because you care about that person, you may want to have that conversation. Or you may say, we have a deep connection. But it stops right here. Like in families at this moment, there are people who will continue to love their brothers, sisters, parents arms, with whom there is an absolute block. Like, we don't go there. We don't go there. But we have enough of the other things that we share history, tradition, you know, family connections, for which we are willing to stay together. Otherwise, we will really be living lives in front of our own mirrors. And I think families are a good training grounds for this to see how the same aunt who is a white supremacist. This is a friend of mine who was sitting beside my mother died, she says to me, and my arms are white supremacists. But they're the only way that I can stay connected to my mother with people who knew her. And I don't know how to handle it. To which you say, you know, basically you only talk about your mother primarily. You just focus on that. And there's a good chance that there's not much else that you will share with them. Unless you say I can't be in the presence of people who think this way they are a threat to my survival. And I'll find other ways to remember my mother. Or you say, I'll make sure to see them once a year.

Baratunde Thurston  30:13  

I mean, that brings us back to the initial relationship conversation about seeing the person with whom you're in relationship as a threat more than as a partner. And that might be a decision that you come to maybe after trying a few things before then there are many of us who have parents have partners have colleagues, who we have fundamental disagreements with, not about what color shade the sky is. But do we take a pandemic seriously or not? Do we believe in the humanity of immigrants or not?

Esther Perel  30:51  

You know, that I used to have screaming matches with my parents every Friday night when we had family gathering of Chabad screaming matches about politics. And then they would say, you're young, it's okay to be lefty, when you're young. You learn later, right? And that was even more like, you know, you, you're naive, you know, and I was saying you're immoral. And they were saying you're naive, which is kind of the division, you know, between liberal and conservative here, it's like one sees the other as dangerous. And then if the other one sees the other as morally dangerous. And yet, we would finish the screaming match, and we'd start doing the dishes together. I can't even tell you the rage that would come out of me like how can you say things like this with what you went through? Who, what Who are you people kind of thing. And then to think you my parents, and yet

Baratunde Thurston  31:44  

you came back for more every Friday evening. And so today,

Esther Perel  31:48  

so today, and I don't know what I make of this because I hadn't thought about this in a long time this came up suddenly, this week, I said to somebody, it was the same conversation over and over and over again, then I started to feel like it created an ambivalence in my relationship between me and my parents, that my parents could be thinking this way. It really is an exercise in attachment, like who you try to continue to maintain a connection with, what is that connection based on? And where you realize, this is dangerous for me, and I may need to let go of this. I may need to just say bye bye.

Baratunde Thurston  32:26  

And what I respect about that is it gives you many layers or many options, you know, who am I trying to be in relationship with? What is it based on? And when is enough enough? And those are not binary choices? They exist on a spectrum? As you spoke of earlier, it's not? Do I have any relationship with my aunt at all? It's what kind of relationship? What kind of context Am I willing to allow what topics for discussion are on or off the table? For my own sense of safety and well being? And for the preservation in whatever form at whatever level, have some relationship with these people who are important to me still, that's a that's an exercise, and it's a nuanced one. And it's not as simple as friend unfriend.

Esther Perel  33:13  

It's, you know, distinct that you asked me it's very true, what you say before about I see my sight, in a way is what you say, having tried to make sense of the other. And I don't see any curiosity on the other side to try to meet me to understand me to know where I'm coming from. I think this happens in relationships a lot in intimate relationships. You know, I've tried to understand why he doesn't want to talk. why he's so silent. I've gone to talk to his parents. I've got, you know, I'm good. Putting it in a straight context for a moment. But it doesn't have to be actually it's really one person says, I've tried to understand my partner I've tried. I've read so many books, about you know why my partner cheated on me. I've read so many books about why my partner drinks and alcoholism. I've read so many, you know, one person is completely invested in trying to understand your and the other is really not interested, particularly in being self reflective either. Not just the big being curious about you. That's a dynamic in and of itself.

Baratunde Thurston  34:12  

Yeah. Yeah, there's a lack of curiosity in any direction, which can create a greater sense of contempt on the part of the party that sees itself as putting forth a lot of effort. You're not curious about me. And I've been curious about yourself. What is this? Why do I bother? Three quick ones. One is a national characterization question. You describe cultures that are more based in the eye, and cultures that are more based in the we and they both kind of allow room to reach in the other direction, but their anchor point feels a bit different. I think the United States broadly speaking is based in an AI culture. And I wondered what your read on the individual and collective culture in the US really is and essentially are we doomed strong word but to forever try to struggle out of a sense of individuality into something a bit more common and collective, which I think is a requirement for true citizenship. But it feels at odds with the dominant culture.

Esther Perel  35:15  

The dominant culture tries is individualism, the dominant cultural prizes, effort, optimism, there is no problem that doesn't have a solution. Even the existential conundrums, everything has a solution, break it down to pieces get to work and fix it. This enters his kind of core. That is something that foreigners often observe about the US. It's like, what do you do, as if everything has a solution and an answer immediately, even in psychology, when I arrived, it was very much helping children to figure out what they want to do so they can leave the home. And if you were a home, in which you wanted to children, not necessarily brings you an old example, to go to the best college because it was far away, because what mattered to you more was to have your kid be able to come home on Sunday for family dinner, and you wanted them close by, you know, you were at odds, nothing should stand in the way of achievement, no relationships, no family ties, no tradition that stands in the way of that dominant individualistic peace. Now, inside of us, there are many, many, many cultures. The question is when you measure yourself against the dominant, then the institutions represent the dominant psychotherapy represents the dominant, instead of seeing this as an alternative model. And as a model that is highly resilient and adaptive. We for a long time would see this as what we would call enmeshed families, you know, families who didn't know what to let people leave. And they curtailed the development of the individual because self growth is the measurement stick rather than people who understand that together is important that there is value in maintaining this weekly gatherings that success is important, but not at the expense of family ties. That's a classic example in family therapy, where this negotiation takes place between the power of the collective and the power of the individual. It's all the time like that and intersecting with gender, with race with religion. I mean, it gets layered like this. Yeah, I think there's a reason we're talking about how the second epidemic here is not just Coronavirus, but it's loneliness, loneliness, people are disconnected, lonely, you know, there's nobody to turn to enough. And the pandemic has just reinforced that. So we can't talk about the problem of loneliness without connecting it to the emphasis on individualism. People think about the lone genius, people talk about I have done this and they can talk about their resume all day, rather than I did it with. There's always others that helped you, wherever you are, know, you're not alone getting there. But the notion that somebody could help me weakens me, the notion that I would need to rely on others dependency is such a frightening word to many, many Americans who abide by that aertos it is really an men more than women. That's a place where I spend a lot of time working.

Baratunde Thurston  38:30  

Yeah. Is there anything you want to add on this subject of repairing relationships, investing in relationships in the context of deep political division?

Esther Perel  38:43  

When people demonize each other, it's doomed. I mean, you can survive, but you're constantly looking over your shoulder. It's an awful way to live to think that there is threat around you all the time, the other is your threat. And at the same time, I feel like, I don't want to see anything that sounds massively naive. You know, when people come after you and want to kill you, they want to kill you. And there is not much talking with them that will soften them. I want to make that very clear. Otherwise, I'm just living in lala land for a minute, I think you will find those from who you need to really shield yourself. And then you find those with whom you think there's some hope here, there's a possibility, and I'm willing to look for the possibilities. In the end, every process of reconciliation, has demanded people putting down their arms, all of them. And every process of reconciliation has often been done that every bit many by a person that once was completely on the other side. It takes the biggest dictator it takes both in South Africa to actually begin reconciliation. Think Mandela Botha isn't it credible lesson for us to go look at because it's men, it's black and white is years of oppression. I mean, I'm not a historian and a political scientist, but that's where I am drawn to go see, people have done it. And did they begin to like each other probably to men actually realized that they liked each other more than they thought they would. And from that place, they got slightly intrigued. And from that place, they decided that actually they have the power to give a legacy to this country that is better than the shit show that could otherwise take place. And why not? Do we have that kind of leadership at this point here? Or in many other parts of the world at this moment? No, no, at this moment, there are people who are going in a different direction.

Baratunde Thurston  41:02  

Speaking of going in a different direction, I'm interrupting my own interview here to give you a heads up, but there shortly will take us in a different and more personal direction neither of us expected, as she shares a lesson she learned as the child of Holocaust survivors in Belgium. Last question, topic is something we ask everyone who comes in, we see this word citizen, not as primarily about legal status or any kind of status, but about being a verb, a set of actions. If you interpret the word citizen, as a verb, how do you define what it means to citizen?

Esther Perel  41:43  

It's an active verb. So it's a practice that constantly needs to be fine tuned, that constantly demands that we check ourselves. I think it's very easy to think that we are good at the other people are not that demands that we on occasion, can see what effects do we have on others, that on occasion makes us do stuff which we would never have done. You know, I'll tell you what the answer about citizens and anecdote but I, it's so many things that I have not thought about in a while sometimes come back, I hitchhiked across the US for about almost two months. Many years ago, in 76. The Bicentennial, I was 18 years old. I saw America like I will never see it again. I was invited in all kinds of homes of people that had never heard of Belgium that had beliefs and ideas of people that today I would be really disparaging, I would say I have nothing in common with this. They open their homes, they fed me they drove me, really the America that I am not very much in touch with at this moment. But they just saw a hitchhiker. And there was something very interesting, but they just saw me as a person. And occasionally I would say Jew, and I knew they thought Christ killer. And I mean, he went on and on like this, but something about the way that they just were the kindness of strangers. And the fact that it was for a moment removed from ideology, and politics made it possible for us to have some very interesting moments together. And I do think that as I became more informed, and more knowledgeable, and more brainwashed, as well, I began to be narrower in my acceptance of these people. Today, if I saw them, I would call them sometimes with all kinds of labels, rather than they were nice people who picked me up on the road. I tried to use that, because otherwise I can become bitter and very scared. I have to find ways to euthanize other people to be slightly less scared of them. I think that is a big part of citizenship at this moment or citizenry, not to dehumanize the other. Because the more we dehumanize them, the more frightened we become. And you're more than me. We know we don't have the same fear and well aware.

Baratunde Thurston  44:16  

Thank you for that. You know, in some ways, it's a different type of survival mechanism. There's something that gets triggered in us, where we dehumanize another out of a sense of survival. We don't feel safe. They're a monster. monsters are bad, get away from monsters destroy monsters. And there's another option, which is actually to humanize them more in response to the feeling of threat so that we're not as afraid.

Esther Perel  44:44  

Yeah, my dad told me this. When he was in the concentration camp. He said the old guards were nicer than the young ones. I said, explain that to me. He said the old ones had more respect for the elderly. They remember their fathers, the young ones had no connection. So the old one hits you sometimes less hard. He tried to not think that old gods were the same. I'm sure anybody you know, even today in the prison there has makes a distinction between the guards that are nicer. And the guards who have clemency are in the guard, who doesn't just add the last bit of just sadistic heating just because they can, versus the one who thinks he got to back into the cell. And that's enough. This is what I'm talking about that it's I'm not saying we need to love these people and be nice. I just think that there's a way of really looking for the humanity in situations where one would think it's all equal.

Baratunde Thurston  45:47  

That's a wrap.

Esther Perel  45:51  

never talked about this, you know, it's really interesting that, you know, I know people must do this. It's like the teacher in the school, you know, which is the main teacher and which is the evil or sadistic teacher.

Baratunde Thurston  46:06  

And there's a range everywhere. Yes, in matters of black and white, there's always gray, and the whitest white, and the black is black, there's still gray. And, you know, I said that's a wrap. But that wasn't quite true. It's more of an observation to share with you, which is the feeling that many of us have about the other side. I'll speak for myself. I know there are people on the other side of the political establishment in this country, who would be happy with my death. And then it's easy for me to then leap to. Okay, well, 66 million people voted for me to die. Right. And the re complicating re humanizing exercise that I'm trying in my mind right now is to say, probably not. Now, were they willing to look the other way? Did it not matter as much as if they interpret these as less literal and more metaphorical? where their priority shifted was their attention elsewhere, so that they could put their name on a document which aligns with someone who also aligns with someone who does want me to die? Yes, but that is a much different statement from 66 million people.

Esther Perel  47:14  

And I think you have to be very careful, we all have to be very careful. It's catchy. And it's utterly ineffective, and terrifying and inaccurate, it doesn't serve. I think you're right. You look in the middle of those 66. There are people who, you know, have nine reasons for which they would be completely allied with you. But there is one thing that made them decide to go to the other side, but not because they hate you. Yeah. And then you probably say, Why do I have to do all this effort? I get to?

Baratunde Thurston  47:51  

Well, I have to if I decide that the marriage that the relationship in this case that the society is worth it, do I want to look over my shoulder for 66 million people? That's very exhausted. Right, right. That's one out of two, you know, voters at least so

Esther Perel  48:07  

this person asked me why should I? If I can, and if it's I think so I say because it serves you? Yeah, because it's enlightened self interest, to not think 66 million more to kill me. It's enlightened self interest.

Baratunde Thurston  48:25  

Yeah, it's not naive. It's a it's not foolish faith. Thank you. Is there?

Esther Perel  48:29  

My pleasure? Oh, God, we've gone places. Yes, we

Baratunde Thurston  48:33  

have what a journey. What a journey indeed. Is there Pearl, I still can't believe we had her on the show. We are so grateful to is there for joining us. Find her on the socials, she's on Instagram, under s there perell. Official and on Twitter @EstherPerel. You can go directly to her website And you should be able to tap on all those in the show notes. If you're consuming this through a mobile podcast app. Now time for some actions. On the internal front, we've got three things queued up for you. The first one is your model of relationships, something for you to think about and sit with yourself where you raised to believe in self reliance and autonomy, or interdependence and loyalty. Do you conceive of yourself as an AI trying to develop a way? Or is it the other way around? The next internal thing, take inventory of the relationships in your life, identify those that are polarized because of politics, and determine which relationships make you truly unsafe, that you've got to let go of at least for now. And then focus on those where you're still committed to some level of relationship where you The possibility and in those relationships, make a choice. Choose to humanize the other person. Choose to listen, choose to find common ground, no matter how small, reflects on your own behavior and language throughout this relationship. And ask yourself, if you can acknowledge any responsibility for the state of things in that relationship, just do this with yourself. The last internal action opportunity we have for you, is to examine your own perspectives about people who vote differently than you. What about your view or belief about those people? Makes you fearful of them or the consequences of their vote? If these thoughts were reversed? Would they sound fair or accurate to you? If they categorized the way you vote, and the people you vote with behave? Can you imagine another dimension to one of these other voters as to why they behave? Or vote the way they do? Can you complicate them in your mind

a little bit?

All right, all that's super easy, should be done with that, and just like a few seconds, and then on the external front, a few options here, three is the magic number still. The first is, I want you to choose to deepen one or two relationships with people who have voted differently from you. Just one or two. Instead of ignoring a loved one who voted away, you disapprove of choose to engage with them. But here's the thing, not with a pile of facts, not with arguments, but instead engage with questions. Go all the way back to Episode Two with Eric Lew and remember when he suggested the question, What are you afraid of? What do you think's going to happen in the worst case scenario in your mind? If your side loses this, ask that of this person who you have a relationship with? And add a few more questions. What do you hope for? And what do you care about? And then the trick is you got to actually listen to what they say. The second external action option is to build and invest in relationships beyond politics. We need more excuses to connect with each other, beyond the explicitly political. In our second episode, again, Eric asked us to start or join a club, any club, do it if you haven't already. And if you have good for you, we need to stay connected to others through common interests that we share and invest in those relationships in that arena. In the third bit bigger, wider, more diffuse, but it's definitely out there in the real world. I want you to stay engaged and to recommit. During this transition. Our country is literally in a transition This podcast is in a transition voting season is over. But it's always a season to citizen. And depending on when you're listening to this voting season might not even be over because of the special runoff election in Georgia, but you get my drift. I need you to keep showing up to keep investing in relationships, to keep exploring and understanding your power. And to keep working for the benefit of the many. This ain't over. It's never over. That's a feature, not a bug of the system. As usual, if you take any of these actions hit us up action and how to citizen calm. Put humanize in the subject line and share about us on the socials at hashtag how to citizen. Now, about this end of season talk. I've been dropping all episodes. What are you talking about Baratunde, which means you can't stop citizen. And we've taken a bit of a pause. This is a wrap on season one. But there will be a season two there will be a season two. It's very exciting. It's very exciting to get a podcast renewal. I feel so Hollywood. So there's some things I want to say about this first season. But first I want to reflect back to you a few of the things some of you have said to us. You've hit us up on this email I haven't shared very often. I apologize for that. We'll do more in the second season. But right now, I have a few messages to share that reflect a range of sentiment from y'all. Kelly wrote in I wish I was a high school history, a civics teacher who could teach us this way. My sons are in high school and it's so boring, and I love history, citizenship civics classes. This format got me thinking and gave me resources to use my power more efficiently. I am so pleased to have found this podcast. I am so pleased Kelly that you found this podcast. Thank you so much in feedback to the The show about feeding ourselves. We got this note, loving the podcast, so many wonderful guests providing diverse perspectives on a variety of topics with real actionable items to back them up. Thank you. Thank you someone who understood the podcast, this episode struck a chord because I'm here in Humboldt County, California, where we have a program called the little free pantry that is similar to the fridge program in LA, through an organization called cooperation, humble. pantries are installed, much like you would see community libraries, invisible, highly accessible areas, so that people can easily utilize them. This person

goes on to write more details about the the shifts in the stocking and who's using the pantries. And it sounds just like the fridge. And if you want to know more about this, if you live in the north coast of California, check out cooperation humble, calm. And thank you for writing in about that. This is from Jean who's written us a couple of times, we see all your messages. Jean, thank you so much. I've listened to all the episodes of how to citizen except the newest one, which I assume has been remedied by now gene. And I've been recommending it widely to all my various citizen circles. I will just send a link or suggestion to the markups new citizen browser project. This is at the slash citizen dash browser. I think it could beautifully add to what you're already doing. It might make an awesome episode thing. So this is a browser which allows you to see the flow of disinformation we didn't talk a lot about technology in the season. But this is a great tip. And we'll try to find a place for it in season two. And the last piece of feedback I wanted to share really cut into some of the type of impact that I was hoping in my wildest dreams we might have. I just read. Good morning, I stumbled across your episode with Phil Goff and Zach Norris on keeping us safe beyond policing. It was excellent and very informative. I've been following Dr. Goff work with the Center for Policing Equity, and will definitely continue to listen to you. I'm in the process of initiating a citizen survey for our community. And we use some of your questions in the internal action section of your show. I'm now a subscriber and look forward to listening to future shows. Keep up the great work, you need to be syndicated. That message came from someone who works for the county sheriff's office at a police department in Colorado. That's why we do the show. We want to raise the bar we want to transform this word citizen from a state of being to actions that we do. And we want to build bridges and not walls and the way that sonika Johnson showed us. We want to see our opponents as just that, and not enemies in the way Valerie Carson. And we want to make our communities better and safer.

And so the idea that someone in law enforcement listened to that heard what we were really putting down and took the time to write. That's just really moving. Also moving the idea that we need to be syndicated, that we got a subscriber out of it. So tell all your people about the show. If you have thoughts like this, share them with us. If there are things you want to see us take on people, you know, have citizen in hard organizations, themes, you want us to explore it in upcoming season. Let me know. I like it. If you send a voice memo to comments at, you can type it up or you can record a thing and ship it off. But the word of mouth really helps podcast grow. And with the second season we look forward to growing more with you. Thank you for riding with us. On season one. We'll be back with season two, sometime in the first quarter of 2021. We don't have an exact date yet. And as a chance we will drop some items in your feed between now and then. Maybe some best of maybe some reflections based on your comments. No explicit promises but I'm not not promising. I'm just saying it's it's possible. Like our democracy I want you to remain open to possibilities. In the meantime, here are some ways to stay connected. I am me I am Baratunde @Baratunde on the socials pick one, that's me, I'm there. And you can text me 202894844 if you put the word citizen in your text, that I'll make sure you get updates about the show and things related to the podcast, including when we come back. I'm going to text people first, because it's just the easiest thing to do. We also have a social handle on Instagram finally for the show. We're slowly building it up. But it's how to citizen with baritone day on Instagram. Send us your thoughts on season one, constructive feedback and criticism is also welcome. We've seen some of that thank you and ideas for where you want us to go. And if you're new to the show, you came in on episode 16. You're like wait what it's over. We got 15 more shows For you, and they're good. They're really good. We're very proud of them. So listen back to the season, we made the show, not for the fall of 2020. We made it to spur investment into all of us showing up, building relationships, understanding our power, and working on behalf of the money. And that's timeless. So I'd love if you revenge the whole thing. But in particular, there are some episodes that I think fall into this transition period we're in as a nation that would help us and help you. The first episode with Valerie cow on revolutionary love. Give that a real good listen. Right now she asks us to wonder about others and our opponents. As you just heard, as their say in this episode, to be curious about ourselves, and those with whom we have a relationship, and that works on a national scale to Valerie opened it, if they're brought at home, it's the same thing said differently. realistic. Valerie eroglu, our professor of civics the founder of citizen University, Coach democracy, I got so many code names for this dude. Listen to him. In Episode Two, again,

the episode about making work work for everyone. With Saru and Michelle, we have a lot of thoughts about the economy and the economic situation. We're still in this pandemic, things are still so hard. No relief is yet in sight. Listen to that too, and help reimagine in your own mind what an economy could look like that actually worked for you how your own worth might be better valued in an economy. Imagine that and then let's go build that the youth civics episode I believe it was episode eight, with Zoey and Josh Whoo. That's an injection of specific boost specific booster shot to listen to young folk and as you're virtually gathering or safely gathering, and there's more young people in your family around you talk to them. Ask them what they're working on and how you can help. Some beautiful Episode tomika Johnson speaking of beauty, the building of bridges and not walls with our folded map project, if ever there were a time that we needed to fold the map in our nation, it is right now. So go back and get moved by Tunica. Desmond Meade has another great episode Episode 13 on voting, he's down in Florida with the Florida rights restoration coalition that got amendment four passed that got voting rights restored to people convicted of felonies. And the legislature put a big dampener on that. And I'm pretty sure that Desmond's desired result in the election in Florida was not achieved. But I'm also confident he is so excited that so many more people got to participate in the process, because that's part of what he believes in. Desmond, we'll get you fired up and remind you of why we do this, which isn't just about specific electoral outcomes. It's about activation of us. Lastly, on the recommendation playlist, besides listen to everything, Dr. Michael Osterholm Episode 15, the kindness pandemic that we need to battle the coronavirus pandemic that we're suffering through right now. It was a really big deal for me to get Dr. Michael Osterholm on this show. He set the wheels in motion for me to take this seriously on March 11, of 2020. And to have him help us close out this season is really beautiful. And so were his ideas, the humility with which he approached the racial inequities and injustice in this country and weaving that into the public health challenge of a pandemic. Very elegant. And he's now serving on the incoming president. Joseph Biden's COVID-19 advisory panel. He's one of 13 people, which leads me to think that you know, Joe Biden's been looking at our guests as who else is going to poach? Take them all. Everyone we've had on this show should help lead this country and everyone who has been a part of this show who's listened who's contributed should also be so tap us all. President Elect Biden because you're the president for us all whether we voted for you or not. What a season what a ride. Thank you for doing this with me. I will say this for the last time in a little while. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeartRadio Podcast. executive produced by Myles Gray, Nick Stump, Elizabeth Stewart and Baratunde Thurston, produced by Joelle Smith, edited by Justin Smith powered by you


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