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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. We care really deeply about supporting you in your meditation practice and feel that providing you with high quality teachers is one of the best ways to do that. Customers of the 10 percent happier say they stick around specifically for the range of teachers and the deep wisdom these teachers have to impart for anybody new to the app. We've got a special discount for you. And if you're an existing subscriber, we thank you for your support.


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Hello, so timely question here, what do you do if you find yourself marooned at your Thanksgiving meal facing a voluble uncle who is spewing political ideas that you find abominable?


Our guest today is overstuffed. See what I did there anyway, sir? Annoying dad joke.


Overstuffed with practical ideas for this situation. I first met our guest, whose name is Bill Doherty, several years ago when I was doing a story for Nightline about a group called The Braver Angels. Actually, at that time they were called the Better Angels, but they changed their name to Braver Angels. The group was formed in the aftermath of the 2016 election with the idea of bringing reds and blues together to create some mutual understanding and trust. As I watched the guy who was moderating these seemingly incredibly successful discussions, i.e., there was no shouting, no rote recitation of slogans, and in fact, many of these people seemed to be becoming friends.


As I was watching all of this, I was really impressed.


I later learned that the moderator was both a marriage counselor and a meditator. So I invited Bill to come on this show. And in this conversation, we discuss why trying to change people's minds or get them to abandon their core values is unlikely to be a winning conversational strategy. The value of sticking with so-called I statements and how to reach what he calls accurate disagreement. Quick note, this interview was recorded before most of the tumultuous events of twenty twenty, but it remains, in my opinion, immovably relevance.


So here we go with Bill Doretti. Nice to see you again. Good to see you. Thanks for coming in. I've been trying to get you on the show for so long. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm pleased. I'm really pleased that you were able to get to New York City for this. As you know, I'm fascinated by your work and we're going to dive into it. Can I start with your meditation career?


And I'd love to hear how I also I think you also do Qigong, which I don't know much about. Yeah. So I'd love to learn about both of those things.


Well, I started to gong meditation practice 20 years ago and, you know, two thousand, two thousand in the year 2000. So I'm a practitioner. I'm not an expert, I'm not a teacher, never writing about it. But I had a good friend who was into it and I had a master who taught locally in the Twin Cities. And I just decided to try it in, mostly because I was interested in reducing stress in my life. And I loved it.


And I, you know, started out 20 minutes a day. I started out with the video of the master doing the moves and so I could just sort of watch him and follow him. And then I weaned my way off. The video started with 20 minutes and now I do 40 minutes every morning.


So I'm embarrassed to admit I don't really know what it is.


Well, it's ancient Chinese spiritual and healing practice, so it's 5000 years old and it combines breathing and gentle movements. And there's a you know, the theory behind it that, you know, I don't I'm not sure I'm into the theory so much, but energy in the body as a shield. Gee, that's right. As a source of healing. So the master I studied with is a healer, and I'm not into that as much as I'm into it.


Just a deep relaxation, breathing and gentle movements. And it just calms me and centers me. And I tend to have sometimes creative ideas during it. Are you telling me that the life of a marriage counselor is stressful?


Well, I'm an academic and I do a lot of community engagement work and I, you know, live a fairly intense life. And that includes my clinical specialty as couples on the brink of divorce, you know, so I'm like an intensive care physician. So all of that can add up to a fairly intense life.


And this sort of meditation practice just grounds me and I do it every day, sort of grateful to be alive.


How does it ripple out to the rest of your life?


Well, a lot of the work I do, both with couples and also my work with as we'll get into my work with Better Angels, where we deal with conservatives and liberals who are at odds with each other. Did you notice that?


A lot of it is for me is about how do I manage myself in the face of conflicting people and conflicting agendas where the stakes are high.


And so the meditation practice adds into my therapist training to do what we've called, in the jargon phrase, emotional self-regulation and centredness in the face of difficult interpersonal situations.


Yeah, I mean, I've watched you at work. I went to the National I think it was the first Better Angels National Conference and watched you do your thing. And you're a calm dude, at least on the outside.


Yeah, well, when I'm in my work, in my mode, I'm actually come inside to because I'm doing this is what we're here to do, folks. So let's do it and let me help you engage each other. So let's talk about the better angels. Can you just give me some background on how the group got started? You remember the 2016 presidential election? Vaguely, yeah, a lot of people remember that one about 10 days after that election to long term colleagues of mine who had worked on marriage and family issues.


One in New Yorker David Blankenhorn, Upper East Side of Manhattan, the other, David Lapp, southwest Ohio, South Lebanon, Ohio. Universes apart in terms of how people there felt about the election, they were on the phone together. How are New Yorkers doing our alliance to it in New York, Upper East Side, Manhattan, gloom and doom, a funeral, and in Ohio, hope and change. And they decided on the spur of the moment to get together.


10 Hillary Clinton voters in 10 tunnel drunk voters for a weekend in southwest Ohio in December to see if any of the gaps could be bridged. And then they called me and I said, oh, that's pretty brave.


What were you thinking of doing with them? And they said they didn't know, but they thought I could figure that part out if they recruited the people. And I remember sitting at my home desk hoping I was not free that weekend, you know, kind of looking at my calendar. Oh, darn. You know, I have an engagement.


But in fact, there was so I said, let's go for it. So we had people, 20 folks from that part of the country, from southwest Ohio for Friday night, all day, Saturday and Sunday afternoon, 13 hours. And it was a remarkable experience. We ask people why they came and they said they couldn't they didn't want to keep living with the acrimony. They said, you know, we have a small town here. We got a hospital to run.


We got schools. We have to educate our kids. We got roads to fix and we can't go on this way. So there was a concern about their community and about the country.


And they wrote a report we wrote a report with them to the nation about this experience. And then we started to do media interviews and I did a Radio National Public Radio call in show with two women from Ohio, a red and a blue, who had become friends. And we talked about the experience. And then from around the country, people started to email us saying, could you come to my town and do one of these workshops and we'll put you up in our houses.


We'll recruit the people, will find the, you know, the VF lodge or whatever.


And so we said, OK, so we just said we have to keep going. Better angels is a term. Well, why don't you describe the text from the Abraham Lincoln term, the better angels of our nature? It's the last words of his first inaugural address, trying to prevent the civil war. So you to be clear, you make it sound, I don't think, deliberately, but you make it sound a little bit easier than it actually was.


It's not like you just get these people in a room and let it rip. What I was very impressed by watching you in action at this aforementioned national conference where you were you had better members of the better angels from all over the country getting together. And then you were also running groups with reds and blues. And I watched several of these are watching moderate several of these groups.


And there's a real system. Break it down. What's it like in the room? How do you structure it and why?


Yeah, it's kind of like marriage counseling in a way that you want to create an environment that minimizes reactivity, that maximizes the chance that people will hear each other.


And so if you just gather people around the table and toss out topics, it will be a disaster because they will interrupt each other, talk over each other, characterize the other person's position. It'll just be like, you know, family Thanksgiving.


So instead, what we did was created a process in which there is calmness in the room and there are exercises that people go through, like one that I know you saw a fishbowl exercise and some of your listeners may have heard about this as a common technique, where you have two groups who are different some way and you flip a coin and you decide who is going to be in the middle chairs in a circle for the first part. And the other group is sitting on chairs in the outside listening to the conversation and not interrupting, not saying anything, no verbal or nonverbal participation to learn how these people see themselves in the world.


That's your job when you're in the house.


So the people in the middle are talking. Yes. And they're really it's like you're eavesdropping on a conversation from the other half of America.


Exactly the sort of thing we hardly ever get to do, because usually we're in the conversation and the people in the middle are not arguing with each other. They're just explaining themselves. And then, of course, you flip the outsiders in the inside out. And the two questions in our Better Angels regular workshops in the middle are the first question is why are your side's values and policies good for the country? By your side's values and policies, good for the country is the first question, and so it lets conservatives say why they think the world is better and people flourish better when we have conservative principles and values and policies.


And then you have the love of the blues, do the same thing on their side. Then the second question is part of a better angels ethic. The second question is, what are your reservations or concerns about your own side? And that's the humility part of it. And so first, Crowe and Graham, like I remember red, we used red and blue rather than the conservative red, saying that free market capitalism has raised more people out of absolute poverty in this world than any government program.


Massive breakthroughs, you know, as you get micro lending and people with their own cell phones and small businesses. And he's right about that.


That was part of the first part.


So he cared about human flourishing for people who are in poverty.


Blues don't usually hear Redd's talk that way, a kind of an idealism about capitalism. And then on the second question, what are your reservations concerns? He said, you know, we say all the ships will rise, you know, when the capitalism will generate wealth. And he said it doesn't rise fast enough for everybody. And there are people left behind and we're not often so good at what to do for and with those people while the tide is coming in.


So. Say you've got the Reds in the middle and the blues are listening at the end of the allotted time where the Reds have spoken in the middle. What happens next? Then you just shift so there's no interaction? Not at that point. Both sides have to have a chance to hear the other side.


OK, what's interesting about the hearing of the other side is it's not just like, OK, I'm a conservative and I spend an hour listening to MSNBC where people are shouting, I'm actually listening to regular people, regular people talking down to earth terms.


That's right. And the regular people don't talk. And bullet points, we've moved on. When people have an initial experience like this, they can move on to other workshops where we talk about topics. And so we recently did one on abortion, where we had, you know, eight people who were strongly pro-life and eight people are strongly pro-choice. So you can get some really tough issues. But when you frame questions such as what's the heart of this issue for you?


What's the heart of this issue for you? You get people telling stories. You get people talking from their values as opposed to are you pro-choice or pro-life? And give us the reasons in our public sphere. People sound like talking points when you pose that question. What's the heart of this issue for you? You get something else.


So one side's in the middle of the fishbowl. And they go and the other side listens. Then you switch it. And then what happens? Yeah. So now here's the crucial part. The question on the table is, what did you learn about how the other side sees themselves? And did you see anything in common? In fact, that's how he set it up.


That's what you're when you're in the outer outside of the fishbowl, you try to deactivate your critic, your argument, like they just said that. And I've got three responses and try to activate the curious part of you. How do they see themselves and then be open to something you see in common. So that's what you're directed to do when you're listening. And so when the two groups have gone, we have people pair up a red and blue pair up for three minutes to in a one to one process.


What did you learn about how the other side sees themselves and that you see anything coming? And that's all that they're expected to do then? And then we gather the whole group around the table again for that two part question. And who wants to start a red star to go to blue? You go back and forth and back and forth. And the moderation of this and this is what we train our moderators to. If anybody veers off answering those two questions, you stop them in midsentence.


So if somebody were to say, I thought their second point, they didn't hold on. Right now we're just answering. What did you learn about how they see themselves? Anything. Can you just stop them? If you let them go? The other side is going to want to retort and it could escalate. And by the way, in the ground rules where people have a sense it to this idea that we're only going to deal with what's on the table at this time.


And they give the moderators permission to intervene if people veer off that.


So there are two things at least that strike me as deeply wise about this approach. One is. You structured it carefully so that you're not activating the amygdalas, the stress center of the brain of the participants. Once you activate the stress center, it basically can't think straight. Yeah, and you're very carefully activating other parts of the brain, which I think are probably around empathy and compassion. And there's an expression it's hard to hate up close. Yes.


And after you've sat and listened to the other side, hash things out in a personal way and then you're faced with an actual real life person in a dyad and a one on one, it's hard to get the hatred fired up as much as it might be if you're just watching the other side demonized on your favorite cable channel.




You're not doing outrage. TV watching. Where you're just those are the particular species of animals that you're watching, you're engaging. Did we get all the way through how a station works? Well, there's more of it, but one of the most in a red blue workshop, the first exercise is not the fishbowl. It's what we call stereotypes exercise. And that is we have each group goes through a separate room, red and blue, separately, to come up with the four top false, negative, exaggerated stereotypes that people have of their of their side.


What do people think of US Reds that is false, negative, exaggerated as blues.


And they brainstorm a whole list and then they vote on the top four. And then for each of those, they go through two parts. One is to correct the stereotype. If they think that we reds are racist and hate all immigrants, what's true instead?


OK, so articulate our belief in human equality and human dignity and our belief that America was built on immigration. And, you know, we want it to be legal and controlled, but we like immigration. And then the second question is. What's the kernel of truth in this? What part of that may have some truth in it? That's the humility part. And we give them some categories to think about kernels of truth. One may be that this may be true of a subset of your group.


It may be something historical that's carried over that still brands your group. It may be in the heated rhetoric of public debate. Your side comes across this way. Sometimes it may be this is an area that is something your group doesn't focus on a lot, maybe a bit of a blind spot or something that you relegate to a third or fourth area, but not primary.


So we give them some ideas about that. So for each of those, it's like what's true instead? And is there a kernel of truth? And then we select somebody from each group, they come back together to present that to the other side. Here's what we think people get wrong about us and here's how we see ourselves. I'll give you examples. On the blue side, arrogance and elitist is always a big one. Big government for its own sake, unpatriotic antireligious.


So what's true instead?


And then where did this stereotype come from in some way that might be grounded? So they come back to together present.


And then the question again, what did you learn about how the other side sees themselves? And did you see anything in common starts with one to one and then around the table. So what that does, that strategy does and I learned it from a Boston based group originally called Public Conversations. I didn't make this one up is you get the worst stuff out at the beginning of the workshop. OK, the Reds are always afraid somebody around the room is going to stay up with my racist, OK?


And the blue is worried that there's going to be a pro-life person who's got your baby killer. You know, people are nervous.


You get all that crap out, OK, but you're saying it about how people see your own side, you get it all out and then you get a chance to clarify. And I want to mention where the idea for the kernel of truth came, because that's not part of the original stereotypes exercise that I learned years ago from the Public Conversations Group. It happened in our second ever workshop in Ohio. We did the first one and it was glorious. And we thought, well, we need to do at least one more to see if the first one was a fluke.


And when the Reds were doing their stereotypes and the racist thing, you know, it's always the first one that the Reds are worried about and it's racist. And so they did their correction of it. And then somebody said, you know, hey, why don't we just get honest here?


There are racists in our midst and some of our leaders are could we just say it? And that this is partly where the stereotype comes from. And they went, Yeah, I guess so.


So they did that in the report out for a number of their stereotypes. And it blew the minds of the blues because the blues just followed the instructions. In other words, why are we not bad guys? And the Reds were vulnerable. And it completely opened up the workshop. And so I said to myself, we're going to build that into that exercise, that's great. So the way it goes, if I'm going into a if I'm my first time at a better angels gathering, we're going to do the stereotype exercise that we're going to do the fishbowl.


Right. And then we do the one on ones. Yeah, the one on ones are part of the fun. Yeah. Part of each one. Part of before we process with the whole group, we process one to one.


Is that it or are there other for the three.


Our red blue. These are the we have other workshops where we teach skills and other things. But for the red blue workshop, the three hour version, that's basically it. And you do a kind of a check out for the day long workshop. There is a third exercise where it's questions and answer exercise. So by this time you've heard enough from folks, there's enough trust. You get a chance to ask questions of the other side.


And I want to tell you the back story here, because the very first workshop that we did, you said at the beginning I was making it sound easy. It was hard. It was hard. And the hardest part of it was that I made a mistake with a design.


I thought that I explaining the difference between a question of curiosity and a gotcha question and give examples would be enough for people to be able to ask good questions that were not versions of my favorite Gotcher one would be.


So given that your candidate is a known sexual predator, I'm curious about how you came to felt. Right? So I explained it gave people a few minutes to write their questions down the gut in subgroups and the questions are terrible in terms they just start defensiveness. And then I had to use my therapist skills then to help people calm down rephrased things. I remember one particularly angry blue almost left the workshops. She felt I was stifling her, so I had to make up with her afterwards, you know, because I wouldn't let her just ask these questions.


So from then on, what we do is we get the reds and the blues in separate rooms, 20 minutes to come up with four good questions for the other group. And we curate them. And it's actually kind of fun because they can go.


This is how I'd really like to ask. OK, but OK, that's going to stir defensiveness.


And by the way, by this time, they kind of know each other a bit and they don't really want to put the other group on the spot.


So does this process work? How do you define.


Yeah, so so what we've been able to do so far with our very limited resources is we do an evaluation at the end of the workshop around the goals of it, understanding the other side more deeply, feeling more understood, feeling like you have some skills to have conversations. And those are very positive. You know you know, we have a one to ten scale and about between seven and eight, you know, is what people come out. They feel like they got something.


We now I'm glad to say we've been out there for a couple of years now. We're attracting interest from academics and other words. So there's a study underway at six universities now with college students, what we call randomized controlled trial, you know, with a control group that's going to follow people over time. And so we'll know more about, you know, more scientifically how it's going. What I can say is people's subjective experience of this. When we ask people to check out at the end about what they're taking with them, the biggest one, they say, is that I have more hope for the country.


I learned that people on the other side are people who I share a concern about our country with, that I share some common values with, even though we differ a lot of policy. So that's what people tend to take from and we'll know scientifically more over time. There's a phrase that I love that I heard for the first time while hanging out with you guys, which is that your. Goal is not to get converts, to win converts, it's to arrive.


At, quote, accurate disagreement, yeah, that's one of the goals I'd say the accurate disagreement goal is that we both actually understand each other's views. Which then allows us to see where we differ. Most conflict and disagreement about politics is each side's stereotyping the other side. You guys don't care about fiscal responsibility and we do. You guys don't care about the poor and we do OK at a larger level. But even on particular policies, people can't articulate in a way that the other side could get.


You know, my position on this, OK? And what happens is I was involved in this around the gay marriage issue some years ago with a group that met several times, pro anti gay marriage and the achievement. Nobody changed their minds, but they actually understood the other person's position more. And then people could leave friends because where people get angry, is this exaggerating my view? You're saying what I don't care about saying I'm ignorant. So accurate.


This agreement, humanizing and accurate, disagree.


Yeah. Yeah. Seeing each other, understanding each other beyond stereotypes. Finding common ground and accurate disagreement on the things that you describe, while we don't have scientific evidence yet, it seems like it's in the offing.


One qualitative result that's compelling is that you feature these folks on your website.


There are all these strange bedfellows now, all these real friendships. And I met these people and I can confirm there's real warmth that does not appear to be affected between reds and blues.


I did a story on you guys for Nightline and we followed one one of these pairs. It was a traditional red voter guy. I forgot to Greg Greg.


Right. And Clarke Cooper, who is an immigrant and a software design guy. And I think Greg's a former cop, construction worker, evangelical Christian and Couper's, a software engineer, if I recall, and who are lives in an affluent suburb. And Greg lives in an exurb in a more rural area.


And you'd be hard pressed to find two more constitutionally different human beings. And they really like each other.


I mean, I kept poking at it and I think they've just arrived at accurate disagreement and humanizing. Right.


And the thing is, they just happened to sit next to each other at the workshop. This was no big design. And I remember one of the things they said to each other at that very first workshop in a pair. They both said their religions have been hijacked. Couture's religion is Islam. Yeah. I believe he's from Iran. He's from Iran. Yeah, they both love this country and they completely disagree about things like abortion.


For Greg, abortion is like the central issue in his world. And for him to be able to befriend somebody who is not a Christian and B, who is pro-choice is really quite remarkable.


So how has the organization grown? Is it the started in 2016 or in 2020 now? How robust is it? You mentioned limited resources.


Yeah, that's one of our main problems. There's a lot more money and polarization than deep polarization, but we decided 2017 to become a membership organization.


Membership is just five dollars a year. And so we're up, I think, to nine thousand members and growing. And we have had workshops, I think, in 37 states.


So we've had five or six hundred workshops, a few hundred trained moderators. We have alliances in about 20 states. And these are people who have been through initial workshops and then they form red blue alliances. They meet monthly, talk about issues, sponsor other workshops. We are getting interest from political folks in Minnesota where I'm from. I did a workshop for 30 members of our state legislature, a skills workshop. So we haven't talked about that as much.


But we have skills workshops where we teach people how to listen in a way that the other fears understood how to express your political views in a way that they're more apt to absorb those. And we have people practice. So 30 legislators, both Democrats and Republicans. And when I asked them why they came, a number of them said that when they were doorknocking during the last election, the biggest issue they heard from constituents, both sides, liberal conservatives, get over this divisiveness is paralyzing us, paralyzing government.


And I still remember a Republican, very senior committee member who was the only one there in a suit and tie when we had them practice making political points with messages rather than just sort of absolute truth statements.


One of the things we teach this is how I see it after practices, he said, you know, I sound more human this way.


So we're going to be doing a workshop for county commissioners in Minnesota coming up, because they're kind of different parts of the state are split. And we did a workshop for the congressional staff, members of two members of Congress from our Minnesota delegation, Representative Phillips and Representative Stobaugh, who are both freshmen in the Congress, in the House, and they're members of something called the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is a 24 Republicans, 24 Democrats who are committed to bipartisanship.


So we had seven of their staff members, each of their staff members, together for a full day going through a better angels type workshop. It was really powerful. Much more of my conversation with Bill Doherty right after this. It's time to enjoy the view wherever the day takes you. Come on now. Have no fear. The view girls are here, the biggest names, unafraid to share their views and hold nothing back. We talk about being on this show that people don't talk about.


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I think what you're doing is really important, super interesting.


And by the way, I just want to point out that we're going to in a minute from dive deep into the skills, because I think people listening to the show are going to want that. Before we get to that, let me just ask this. Having said what I just said, I think the group is fascinating and work is unimpeachably to use a loaded term important. Why do you think more people are not doing this and. Do you get discouraged looking at the size of the organization and the seemingly unrelenting pace of polarization in this country?


Well, I don't get discouraged. I like to say I inherited the optimistic Irish genes, not the depressive ones.


Right. So I look at it this way, that we're involved in social change, cultural change. And the first stage in that is naming a problem. And now one thing our country agrees on, and there was a recent, I think, Pew poll around this, 95 percent of Americans agree we're too divided.


That's the pollster said you don't get ninety five percent agreement on the Earth being round. I mean, this is unanimous. So the beginning of change is naming a problem. And that problem that people are naming is not just the other side. OK, it's about we when you talk about polarization, it's like a married couple saying we have a problem in our relationship. It isn't just you're bugging me. We have a problem. And so that is beginning to take hold on the country.


And that's the beginning of change. And for me, with our low resource organic, we have about seven staff members. Everybody else, including me, is a volunteer.


We have people who have retired and devoted their entire retirement to this work. It's phenomenal. It's phenomenal. So I think and there are other organizations working in this this field, too. So I think there's something beginning to shift. So I am hopeful.


I do want to point out that a particular advantage Better Angels has is from the beginning we made the decision that our leadership board staff, leadership group, core volunteers, state coordinators would be half red and blue. So I'm in a leadership zone call every week that is half right blue, and there is a purifying element to that. You're not in your own group. You don't have just your own assumed the language. And so I've learned, for example, how colourised language are so blue terms like diversity and equity and inclusion and privilege.


Right. Every other word is privilege these days. You know, my privileges are in that kind of thing.


And these are perfectly fine terms and they completely turn off Redd's.


So you have in your company, you have at your university a division for diversity, equity, inclusion. And those words say to Redds, not me, you're talking to everybody else but me. And they hold back. That's not what it's intended, but that's how it's received.


Similarly, read terms like self-sufficiency, a love of country, you know, American greatness, fiscal responsibility. You know what's wrong with those terms? But they trigger blues. And I'd learned this through better angels. Where are you? Where am I, red, blue? I don't talk about that, you don't know, OK, but if if your group is going to be. Meticulous about making sure there's even representation between red and blue. How do they classify you?


David Blankenhorn is the president and I are given permission to be Waitz white hat. Yeah, that's right.


But what I can tell you of my own transformation is that I always wanted to be bilingual, but never was. But now I am. I can speak red or blue. Gotcha. That's a valuable skill, so skills. Let's talk about that, because I think many of the people listening, for better or worse, are probably not going to go to a workshop, but they may have in their orbits somebody or several people with whom they disagree. So and actually, by the way, these skills are eminently scalable beyond political disagreement to just human disagreement.


So I know of and let's start with these three skills that I know of and then we can go beyond that.


If you want one of the recommendations from you and you've already referenced this is use I language. You often hear this in sort of various touchy feely workshops I've been in over the years. Keep it in the eye.


Why is that so important?


Yeah, we say use I statements rather than truth statements. So I'll start with the truth statement. Thing is, this is the way it is. OK, you know, if you're read saying immigrants take jobs from Americans, you know, particularly illegal where they take our jobs. And that is a example of a true statement. Chances are the person saying this is not a researcher on immigration and crime, OK, they've read that somewhere, they've heard that somewhere.


But to say, from what I understand or from what I have read or from my perspective on it, so this is how what I think is going on, based on what I have read or what I've heard, I'm still making the same point.


But I'm not saying the sky is blue, dummy. True statements around politics tend to come with a comma at the end, dummy.


OK, if you don't agree with me on that, whereas to say I believe this, I see this, this is what I'm basing it on. So you can be this is why it's not touchy feely. You can be vigorous on that and still put an eye in there. And some of what I when I explain this to people that almost none of us have direct personal access to policy, relevant facts. So I'll do a little side on this now, because blues in particular like to say.


We can't even agree on facts, so we have to establish the fact bases before we can have the policy discussion and those people on the other side, they're just watching Fox News and they're completely bereft of facts. So how do I even talk to these people? This is part of why blues get called arrogant and elitist, by way.


OK, and part of what I say on that, and I realize I'm riffing on your original question here, Riff, is that most of us don't have direct access to policy, relevant facts. If you're not a climate scientist, you don't know the science behind climate change. So for the rest of us, we rely on experts that we trust, rely on sources. It's a matter of trust, social trust, where we get information related to policy that we believe is credible.


And so why not say this is my understanding of this based on, you know, where I got my information, what that opens up is the other person with invited to make a nice statement as well, that based on what they understand, that they don't think that's true. And now we're not having a clash of religious truth.


You know, God is this God is that Jesus. Is this is is that those just they're just the clashing truth statements. Better to use I statements. Another of your precepts is don't try to convince anybody to try to win. Yeah, yeah.


If you start out the conversation with the idea that my goal is to persuade you to change your mind about something that's important to you, you're done from the beginning. We have a brand new workshop, by the way, on families and politics and the we call the prime directive for talking about politics with relatives. And this will be true for close friends. Whatever the prime directive is, do not try to change a family member. You can only change yourself.


Do not try to change a family member. And so particularly nowadays, when political beliefs and affiliation have become part of a identity for so many people, I mean, they're part of core values. There's a moral tone to being a Republican or Democrat these days in a way that it didn't used to be before.


If the person in the conversation gets the sense that you want to change their political philosophy beliefs, something they're going to just absolutely Rebelle rule of thumb from you is don't characterize the other party's positions, only your own. Yes. Yes.


It goes along with the I statement thing. Speak from your own convictions, your own beliefs, and don't characterize the others because. Inevitably, they will not see it the way you just characterized it. So this is something from marriage counseling is when somebody says, well, my wife thinks this about this issue, I just stop them immediately, because unless this person is just quoting her from what she said two minutes ago, using her exact words, there's a good chance that she doesn't quite see it exactly like that.


And so and that's even if you're trying to be nice to somebody, let alone if you're characterizing their side that you disagree with. So you set up these straw arguments.


You know, your side doesn't you don't even understand how important immigration is to our economy. And then you're just going to get defensiveness. So it's we talk about it in family therapy, we talk about boundaries, saying on my side of the boundary so that I am not characterizing you and your people in ways that inevitably you will not think are fair.


It was time for me to see these rules and realized that I break all of them all the time.


Are there other skills that are worse? Yes, I mentioned another one. Find something to agree with in the other person's view before you disagree. That means you have to actually listen to them, OK? Find something to agree with and it could be something like. I agree this is a we're in a mess on immigration, OK, or I agree, we haven't figured out how to do this gun control thing in our country is really, you know, or you're a blue and you're talking to a Second Amendment oriented and you don't want to abolish the Second Amendment.


You don't want to take away everybody's guns in the country. But that's that's what the person may think you want to do, because you're in high dudgeon about the mass shootings and so on. And so if you begin by saying, you know, I'm with you on, Americans have the right to bear arms and I don't want to take away responsible people's guns, it's part of our culture. And I think it ought to be you have to actually believe what you just said.


OK, but something to agree with what that does, it softens the other person, because if you agree with me on something, then I think you're not maybe as dumb as I thought you were. You found something in me or it could be, let's take immigration. I think almost anybody on either side could say this with confidence and have the other person agree that both political parties have been kicking the can down the road on immigration for the last 30 years, even when they had big majorities in Congress.


And we as a country have been not responsible on this and both parties are at fault.


Chances are whoever you're disagreeing with is going to agree with what you just said. So find something, it has to be real, find something to agree on it, let's say you're having a big debate about health care, Medicare for all versus more market oriented thing.


You could say that I agree with you that we have to find a way that everybody gets good health care in this country. So, anyway, my point is something to agree with. And then get a yep, yep, yeah, you're right. Blah, blah, blah, and then there's a new skill we're teaching now that I'll mention this would be for somebody who's really worked up about their issue, you find something to agree with. And then the skills called pivoting before I come up with my counter position, basically asking permission to get in.


So you're really fired up about gun control and I say I'm with you on blah blah, blah, blah, blah. Agree with that.


And then instead of just saying, I think we should be limiting guns a lot more, let's say if I'm a blue to say so, I have some thoughts about the Constitution and what we can do with it. I have some thoughts. I've been thinking about this. That's called a pivot. You're signaling that you want to get in with your own perspective and then you're looking for either nonverbal or verbal agreement for that. When I explain pivoting to people, I think I give an example, let's say in a group conversation, people who are very skilled, who want to change the topic.


And we've been on the finances and I think we need to move to personnel.


They don't just do it, change the topic. They say, I wonder if we could change the subject right now and move over to such and such. And they look for agreement on the group from the group and then they do it. That's called a pivot.


And so particularly in conversations with somebody who has really fired up about it, in our workshop, we talk about the family gladiator, get the gladiator's agreement for you to start giving your perspective.


Conceptualize that for the first time when I was on an override with a guy from a small, small town in Ohio, it was the only robbery they call him over Jack, you know. And so he picked me up at the airport in Cincinnati and we had a long trip. And so he was going on for at some length about how he thought about President Trump and changing his mind and this and that and the other thing. And then and I listened and engaged.


And then at one point I just said so interested in my thoughts about the president, I said, yeah, yeah. And so then I had the floor. I had the floor, so that's another kind of new one we're teaching, so to summarize the two additional ones, it's find something to agree with before you disagree.


And, of course, U.S. statements and so on, and consider particularly if it's a kind of a tense situation, consider a pivot where you get the go ahead to, then give your own perspective.


I like it because what you're doing for your interlocutor here is two things. One, playing into the visceral, primordial appeal of being heard because you're finding something in order to have found an area of disagreement, you would have had to have listened and then restated in your own language, which feels good, even if the president doesn't even know it's happening and then you're getting their consent to pivot and people like having their consent sought.


Yes. So, OK, so we just learned a bunch from you, five skills, behaviour change, hard habit change, have information, habit, breaking habits. These are all really hard things. How would you recommend we start operationalizing this advice in our own lives?


One thing we can all do is plan in advance. So chances are if you're going to have difficult conversations across, political differences are going to be with the same people. You're not going to do it on a subway. It's going to be somebody in your life, your old friend, relative in law or whatever, and that there's a certain amount of predictability in this.


One of the things we say in this new family and politics workshop is an advantage with family is a very predictable this is not your first rodeo with your family. And so you can actually plan in advance to approach the conversation, not in a reactive way, like somebody pops off with something about, you know, and then you're in.


But the amygdala activated. You could actually go into it saying, I'm going to try out some skills here.


I'm going to try out agreeing with find something to agree with first and see how that goes.


And this is something that I practice in my own life. I have I have relatives around the country, some of whom I visit and some of whom come to Minnesota who are all over the place politically.


And by the way, as an aside, extended families are one of the last bastions of political diversity in our country because you didn't choose your in-laws, you know, and your cousins and all those people. So not your parents, your siblings, but you got to sort of hang out with them. So I have some relatives that when I visit or they visit us, I plan. I'm looking forward to a conversation in which I am not starting out at triggered.


And so one of the things I do say with one relative is to say, so how are people in your part of the country viewing the president, President Trump, right now?


People love to expound, and you notice the question wasn't, how are you? I could ask that, but I ask a more kind of sociological question, yeah, and it's also not values Laden. And you're not saying how are people in your part of the country thinking about those awful Senate Democrats or how are the people in your part of the country thinking about this terrible president? Right. Let me practice the skill. And, you know, there are two things in there that I heard that I really agree with.


And the related one is makes a lot of sense to think ahead, given how hard it is to operationalize new skills. The other is one can approach this with a certain amount of delight and interest because it can invert the situation, in other words, instead of the dread you may feel. But your obnoxious uncle, this is an opportunity to practice a skill that's going to help you in many areas of your life. And then the whole complexion of the opportunity or obligation changes.


Yes, I have another idea. Hmm. Can I hear that?


Go ahead. Go there. And attention, I think. And I've said this publicly and I wrote a column about your work for Men's Health, and I propose the following. And I suspect you might agree, although I never really asked. You know, you do agree.


I think that I think a contemplative practice, meditation, qigong that comes to mind, reduces the baseline level of amygdala activation and can familiarize you with your own mind in a way that reduces the odds that you're going to get triggered, because you may notice some noxious thoughts emanating from your mind and you're not as likely to be caught up in them can be a really salutary addition to this process.


Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I'm thinking of at the moment, as you were talking of a judge friend of mine who's a retired judge, who is a long term meditator, who we completely agree with what you're saying and applies it in the court where people are only in front of him because there's serious conflict. And he talks about maintaining his own kind of emotional state, and he also says he can sort of tell which lawyers are better actors, not by their bearing.


So I think that this is helpful in our work and it's also helpful in these relationships that we have. And I want to tie specifically into not wanting to change people, because the heart of close relationships is accepting people, accepting that this person who I love, who I struggle with sometimes is who they are that come to this point in their life. And this is how they see the world and this is how they see politics. And they are not asking me to change them.


And it's not my job to change them.


And I can feel OK myself with them as they are.


I have a meditation teacher, Joseph Goldstein, who I'm very close with, and I was listening to him give a talk recently about a kind of meditation called Metta Metta or Lovingkindness Meditation, where you repeat these sort of phrases of well wishing and hurl them mentally, silently at various people in your life. And when he said that there's been a lot of study that this type of meditation is very effective in lots of ways, psychologically and physiologically for people. And but one of the things he said was the radical take away from this kind of meditation is the way you feel about another person is not contingent upon their behavior, is contingent upon your mindset.




And it's that is that it changes the way you move. Well, in my experience, that can change the way you move through the world. Yeah, absolutely. And I will also say just on this issue of that, before I was giving my opinion about how approaching heretofore dreaded conversations with a sense of opportunity, I'm not talking this is an academic.


You know, I've done a reasonable amount of communications training myself because my communication skills in many areas have been deeply lacking. And it's really I've noticed that applying them I'm going into conversations with a certain amount of excitement because I'm like, OK, this is a chance for me to practice. And by the way, it's not just practicing some random new skill. That doesn't matter. It's not like my Yo-Yo skills have gotten better. It's that my life is better as a consequence of doing this.


My moment to moment experience of being alive and being in relationships with the other homosapiens is way more useful.


Yeah, that's beautifully said. And what I want to add is that if I can approach people with curiosity because I'm not trying to change them, then sometimes I listen for and ask for the deeper story behind the disagreement. So a relative with very strong opinions about the political issue comes out of law enforcement. And when I took the time one day to get some deeper background stories, I understood a lot better about how this person came to their views, even if they sometimes.


Say them in ways that are kind of sharp. There is something soft underneath, you know, in therapy we talk about the hard feelings and soft feelings and anger, start feeling frustration and resentment. There's always soft feelings under them. And I think it's the same way for people who are particularly hard to take sometimes with their political views.


You know, they're making their truth statements. They're absolute. And the other side, as you know, is entirely wrong. There is something under there that is making them come across in this way. And if you're not trying to change them and you are interested in the deeper story and you're willing to let go, when you're having that conversation, you completely let go of having to express your view. In other words, you're kind of an anthropologist, by the way, you don't have to relinquish your values to do this.


No, it's in your interest given that you don't have a choice anyway. Yes.


To have these conversations turn into something that can be interesting, skill building, restorative as opposed to a grind or demoralising. And you can still believe what you believe.


Yeah. Yeah. And I have found that if people can differ from me greatly and they know what we both know and if they feel my respect, I remember a guy saying I just want to be treated as moral and intellectual equal. And this is a very smart guy. He was a university professor in a school, in a setting that where he was in the minority. He was arrested and he was a higher education is very blue. And he said, I don't have to agree with that.


I just want to be treated as a moral, intellectual equal.


Let me ask you, in closing, you've chosen to build a life where you're putting yourself in the middle of conflict on the regular you working with reds and blues. You're working with couples on the verge of of divorce, police and black men.


I was just going to say, I know you do all sorts of other community oriented work. Why? I mean, you could have a much easier, quote unquote, life in many ways.


Why do you do this? Nobody's ever asked me that. I enjoy being in the middle of action. I enjoy being close to the tension points in the pivot points where there can be breakthroughs. I think that's how I would answer it. I like bringing what I can bring to those very difficult moments.


So my clinical specialty is couples on the brink of divorce where one wants out or certainly leaning out of the relationship and the other wants to save it. So they have very different agendas. And I do brief work with them and more than five sessions, it's called discernment counseling. And I love the intensity of it. I love the intensity of it.


What I hear you saying is not only you love the intensity of it, but you also love the fact that you can help. Yeah.


You know, in chemistry, they talk about, you know, far from equilibrium states of chemical systems, that's where change can occur. And so when there are pressure points, so everything I do is I try to look for a pressure point. Something has to give here. We can't go on like we are. And then what can I do with that pressure point right there where something may pop?


I know I said that was my last question, but something came to mind that you had said to me on our first meeting, which was actually this work with reds and blues is harder than working with couples.


Yeah, that there is with couples. There is a history of love.


There is a shared they have children together. They have kids. There's, you know, there's glue that has been there. And with resident blues, we're living in different styles. You know, they look at the countries, the map, the red and the the blue. I mean, we're moving away from each other and shutting down and then lacking the ability to communicate when we come together. So in that way, it's more difficult.


Well, I heard you say before that you've got the optimism. Gene, from your Irish forebears? Well, I don't know if I have that from my. On one side, Jewish forebears and the other side and Scottish, but I hope you're right. I hope you're right because as a journalist, I see this tearing apart all the time and it's hard to watch.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. Really appreciate you coming on. Happy to do it. I'm thrilled. Before I go, if people want to learn more about better angels or join or support, how can I do so? So Google Better Angels Be Better Hyphen Angels Dog and please join. We have an online skills workshop that people can do when they join and we have lots of things going on around the country. Great job. Thank you. Thank you.


Big thanks to Bill and big thanks as well to the folks who work so hard to put this show together. Samuel Johns is our senior producer, D.J. Cashmeres. Our producer Jules Dodson is our A.P. Our sound designer is Matt Boydton from Ultraviolet Audio. Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We get a ton of massively helpful input from colleagues such as Jen Point, Nick Toby, Ben Rubin and Liz Levin. And finally, as always, big thank you to my ABC News comrades Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen.


We'll see you on Friday for a bonus.