Arthur Brooks on Pursuing Happiness, Depolarizing Politics and Realizing Promise in the Periphery
Economist Arthur Brooks has packed his career path with some exciting turns. He’s earned accolades as a professional French horn player, bestselling author, documentary film maker, Harvard University faculty member and president of the American Enterprise Institute — a public policy think tank.
He’s also learned a thing or two about happiness along the way.
That’s because Brooks’s research — which traverses the intersections of culture, public policy and economics — has afforded him an up-close opportunity to explore what people need to thrive.
In this episode, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Lisa Hamilton chats with Brooks about his work. Their conversation — much like Brooks’s professional journey — is sweeping in scope. It covers the benefits of engaging marginalized populations and the merits of detoxing from national politics. It also explores the proverbial pursuit of happiness, the importance of agency and how leaders can help kids, families and communities flourish.
A big thank you to Arthur Brooks for chatting with us!
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In This Episode on Helping Families Thrive, You’ll Learn
- How social entrepreneurship can benefit kids and families.
- What human flourishing means and how to support it.
- What successful marriages and successful bipartisan politics have in common.
- The powerful role that spiritual entrepreneurs can play in marginalized communities.
- Why the competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society.
In Arthur Brooks’s own words…
“A free society where other people can be lifted up, must never shut down the voices of others. Even those with whom we strongly disagree.”
“The greatest resource in a society are the people that we consider to be the victims or the marginalized.”
“You've got to think about the things that will bring you happiness, not just the things that will cut your unhappiness.”
“We have a couple of big problems in this country. Number one is that we're too Washington-centric.”
“This is really important — for us to see our lives as an enterprise. You get one life. You get one set of resources and you can use it for explosive rewards. But you have to set about your life in a very entrepreneurial way.”
Resources and Links
- Arthur Brooks on Twitter
- Lisa Hamilton on Twitter
- “Love Your Enemies”
- American Enterprise Institute
- KIDS COUNT Data Book series
- “The Pursuit”
- Yale University’s Psyc 157: Psychology and the Good Life
- Brookings Institution
- John Gottman
- Dalai Lama
- Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security
- Ron Haskins on CaseyCast
About the Podcast
CaseyCast is a podcast produced by the Casey Foundation and hosted by its President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. Each episode features Hamilton talking with a new expert about how we can build a brighter future for kids, families and communities.
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We hope so! Visit Apple Podcasts to subscribe to the series or leave a rating or review.
From the Annie E. Casey Foundation, I'm Lisa Hamilton and this is CaseyCast.
Joining us today is Arthur Brooks, who has been described as a professional musician, turned intrepid economist — and it's true. Arthur began his career playing the French horn professionally and he spent 10 years serving as president of the American Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based think tank that researches government, politics, economics and social welfare.
Today, he's juggling two new and equally impressive roles: professor of the practice of public leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and Arthur C. Patterson faculty fellow at Harvard Business School.
In what I have to imagine is very little spare time, Arthur continues to research the intersections of culture, public policy and economics. He's also a columnist for The Washington Post and a bestselling author with 11 books, including his most recent release, Love Your Enemies, which explores how we can bridge national divides and political divides to build a better country.
Welcome to CaseyCast, Arthur.
Thank you Lisa. What a joy to be with you.
Well, I want to start by talking about the American Enterprise Institute. You've spoken fondly about your time as the head of the organization. The American Enterprise Institute — or AEI — is one of Casey's longstanding grantees. I'd like for you to talk about AEI's work as it relates to children and families.
Well, AEI is a think tank that's been around for a long time, over 80 years. It was started in 1938 in the teeth of the Great Depression, where members of the business community got together and said, "How can we start an academic organization that would do research on how to pull the country out of the Great Depression with a particular emphasis on people at the margins. They had a very radical idea, which is that people at the periphery of society are the ones who can actually save a society. It's so crazy and strange and unconventional to think that way. We always think that it's the rich people, the lucky people, the highly educated people, the people that have all the good fortune that will save a society, that will save the others. But that's actually not often how it works.
Often it is the people, the greatest resource in a society are the people that we consider to be the victims or the marginalized. That was the basis on which AEI was founded 81 years ago, and it's thrived ever since then.
In the 10 years that I was president of AEI we grew tremendously. We don't take any government money. We don't take any contracts at all. We simply work with partners who share our values, like the Annie E. Casey Foundation. People that really believe that a better world is possible. But to get a better world, you got to look to the people who are the true assets that you need to engage the most, which almost inevitably are the places that you've traditionally neglected to look. The people who are living in poverty, the people who are living under marginalized circumstances, children, the elderly. These are the great resources that we tend to overlook.
That's a wonderful perspective and obviously a perspective we share. Can you give more insight into the kinds of solutions to barriers that the researchers at AEI have been thinking about?
The idea that we talk about an awful lot at AEI is that there's a radical equality of human dignity and there's a limitlessness of human potential. The work that we worked on with Annie E. Casey Foundation, that we work on in general, particularly in the worlds of social welfare, are very opportunity-based.
When we talk about early childhood development, we don't talk about just, "What can we do, so that poor kids are not going to be a burden on society." We talk about, how can children from poor families, how can they, they can realize their limitless potential. Just like we want all our kids to realize their limitless potential. That's a lot of the work that we're looking at. How can we change standardized testing? How can we do interventions in families where women are pregnant and they're in marginalized economic circumstances? How can we change school policies, so that the bottom 25% of the income distribution doesn't systematically receive worse education than the rest of us and our kids? Those kinds of questions. But, again, for this funny philosophical twist, which is not, they need us, but rather because we need them.
When I first met you, you were talking about a concept that I found fascinating: human flourishing. Would you talk about what human flourishing is?
Sure. Human flourishing is a term that's a little bit broader than happiness. I mean, you can get almost anybody's attention by talking about happiness because that's in the vernacular. It's what everybody wants, or at least what everybody wants more of. But it's not very precise. What is it? It's some philosophic idea, a psychological construct, a feeling. Human flourishing is where people can live the best lives full of progress and promise and potential. Human flourishing is a set of programs that we started to institute some years ago at AEI, where we were quite serious about looking at all areas of life way beyond just the traditional, "What's the economic growth rate? What's the income per capita? Is there enough economic equality? Is there enough economic mobility?"
Those traditional things that people look at. We look at quality of life indicators that really matter. Is it easier? Is it better for people to be able to raise families? Are people seeing their kids thriving in all the ways that we, as parents, you and I, as parents, we certainly know when our kids are thriving and when they're not. Looking at a lot of these measures, many of them are in fact happiness related. But the human flourishing projects that we've run are trying to look holistically at people's best lives and then saying basically, "We have no ideology when it comes to this." We're not hidebound to just do traditional policy interventions that follow a particular political point of view.
On the contrary, one of the things that we found that's really interesting to us, Lisa, is that there's been way too much emphasis on government policy. I didn't think this. I mean, I've always thought, better life comes through policy design. I have a Ph.D. in public policy analysis, but in doing this work on human flourishing I found that we spend way too much of our social emphasis, and money, and time on tech, trying to get that to improve our lives, and on government policy. It's almost as if these two tools, tech and policy, they should be at the back of the bus serving our values and our morals, serving our love. They're at the front of the bus, driving the bus.
They're the driver now.
That's a big problem. Basically, we're gobbling up tons and tons of money on public policy. We're spending a lot of money and resources, and some people getting very, very rich on whatever app or device we think will actually improve our lives. You look at the data, and people are getting less happy. There's more despair, there's more drug abuse, there's more suicide, there's more loneliness, there's more depression, anxiety, especially among young people. I think we're going in the wrong direction. Our work with Annie E. Casey Foundation, and all of my work personally as a scholar, is dedicated to turn that around.
I even love the way you've talked about reframing the kind of data that we look at. As you know, the Casey Foundation does an annual report, the KIDS COUNT report, and we're using national statistical databases that enable us to give the country a view of how young people are doing. But so often, those data are framed negatively. I really appreciate the approach that you've taken to say, flourishing is not just the absence of negative things, it's also the presence of positive things, and those two things are not always opposite sides of the same coin. I thank you for lifting up what flourishing means because it isn't just the absence of the negative things that we want to happen in people's lives.
For sure. I've always loved the Casey Foundation's approach to this, and these things have changed my thinking. I mean, as an economist, it's funny, we get a lot of things upside down and backwards in our thinking. For example, when you're talking about communities that are flourishing, communities that are happy and economically making progress, and they're environmentally sustainable and all, there's a very big tendency among the economist to say, "Well, what I want to see is a falling birth rate among women." But then when you talk to women, single women, married women, young women, middle-aged women, they talk about how children are such an important source of meaning, and the more optimistic they are, the more kids they have. It's a crazy thing.
We talk about our goal being women having fewer kids, this is the wrong thing to be looking at, because we're not actually asking people about the source of optimism and hope in their lives, children. Again, boy this really rocked my world.
I'm always trying to learn and to be better, not just as a scholar, but somebody who's trying to do work in the policy world. It made me remember a truth that people had told me before, which is this, the ultimate resource of any society is people. Societies are based on people, they're not based on GDP numbers and resources, fossil fuel levels, and parts per billion of some contaminants. That's desiccated. That’s statistics. People are the ultimate resource. They're the promise. They're the difference between having a future and not having a future. I'm telling you, when I'm talking to parents and families, they're so joyful about the fact that they can, and want to, and are going to have more kids. I said, "I just got to reassess this."
That is great. I think it's such an important lesson for all of us as we think about what are we measuring and why? But it seems like you've lifted up this fundamental question of opportunity, that people aren't just looking for how to eradicate the barriers in their lives, they're looking for how to connect to greater opportunity. I understand you made a documentary about how low-income people are connecting to opportunity. Tell us about that project, and what you learned about helping people on the margins succeed.
It's running on Netflix right now, called “The Pursuit.” It was made by a filmmaker in Austin, Texas named John Papola. He was commissioned by an investor in AEI that wanted us to make a movie together about how people at the margins pull themselves up. Not how we help them with charity, but how they pull themselves up to have a better life and as such, how they can help us understand the secret to our own happiness. It's like, "Wow, what a concept." To get at the bottom of that, the filmmaker followed me around the world for three years and I'm on the road a lot. I'm on the road-
For three years?
Yeah, three years. He followed me through, I was doing some research in a slum in Mumbai, in India, talking to entrepreneurs in an Indian slum. We were in a little coal-mining town in Kentucky, in a homeless shelter in New York, in street demonstrations in Spain, talking to people living their ordinary lives in Denmark, just all over the world. We found some very interesting things.
The places where you think you'd find the most depressing circumstances, like a slum in India, on the contrary it's phenomenal. I mean, people that were on the make, their lives were getting better. It's a slum that I had first seen when I was a teenager. I've traveled to India a lot for personal interest and research over the decades, over the past 35 years. I noticed that I found more optimistic people that felt they had a better future than I found in Barcelona.
People in Barcelona were just like, "Yeah, I'm not working anymore. My kid who's 25 has never had a job." They're protesting that the government is not giving them the levels of income support that they think they deserve. I understand why they'd be upset because everybody's just trying to pay the bills. But then I go to India and there's not any begging, there was not any crime that I was aware of, there a public-school system where people are sending their kids to school, there's a public health system that's growing. They're poor by our standards, but their lives are so much better than people would understand. It has everything to do with opportunity, it has everything to do with trajectory, it has everything to do with the idea that something can be done, and I have agency to do it.
It makes me wonder if, at the basic level, is there anything that we generally consider essential to success, but we're really getting it all wrong?
Yeah. Lisa, that's a big metaphysical topic.
What's the meaning of life Arthur?
Yeah, I know. It's like, it's a good thing we've got the whole 45 minutes to sort this out.
I'm actually writing about that right now; how we have a tendency to think that what's going to make us happy and successful doesn't. Part of the reason for that is that there's a discrepancy in what our instincts tell us. There are two big areas of psychology that are sort of at odds. There's an area of psychology called evolutionary psychology, which says that, how people behave has very much to do with the propagation of the species, the imperatives of passing on our genes effectively. You can always find in all these oddities of human behavior. You can say, "The reason that exists is because in cavemen times…" That kind of stuff, right?
They did it to survive.
Yeah, right? What you find is that to pass on your genes, that the concept of success you have in your instincts is to pursue worldly rewards like fame, and power, and pleasure and wealth. That's what's going to make it possible for you to survive, and to propagate get the species.
Now there's a new area of psychology, called positive psychology, which basically doesn't… it doesn't ask how you are more likely, 500,000 years ago, to get a mate. It asks, what should you do to be happier today? It turns out that money, power, pleasure, and fame are the wrong goals. Mother nature doesn't care if you're happy. The result of it is you need a different agenda, and the success agenda of happiness as opposed to genetics. The success agenda of happiness is four-fold, and its basically faith, family, friends and satisfying work.
If you want to be a happy person and not just somebody who's likely to get a mate, which it doesn't seem like it's the ultimate goal of everybody, but to live a happy, fulfilling life with a happy, fulfilled family, and to have a better and better community, you should be thinking about your transcendental spiritual life. You should be thinking about a healthy family life. All this good Annie E. Casey foundation stuff about having communities where people have strong bonds and friendship, and a good economy. Not just we have economic growth, but where people can be fully engaged in jobs where they can serve each other, and they can earn their success.
For me, this is an agenda for the free enterprise system, which is the greatest system in human history for pulling people out of poverty. But we have to remember, it also has to be designed for these other goals of human fulfillment and true human flourishing. That we need to be serious about strong families where people can have children and sometimes even a lot of children, that's good, where people have the freedom to practice their faith and to develop themselves transcendentally, and where communities are strong, and friendships are stronger. Boy, this has changed… it's really changed my thinking, Lisa.
Well, I was at a conference not long ago and there was a professor from Yale there who taught the most popular class at Yale, it was called the Psychology of Happiness. It looks like, not just you as a researcher, but lots of young people, and all of us in our lives, are trying to figure out what the ingredients are. Please continue with that research. I think is going to be a pretty important for us to understand what gives us meaning, and to your point, it isn't just economic stability, which is certainly critical, but those other kinds of connections that enable us to feel like we're a part of community. I think that's so very important.
You said something earlier when you were talking about your documentary about agency, and about the role that people feel they can have in creating more positive lives for themselves and for those around them. I want to shift to this question around problem solving. We know that there are lots of challenges in our work thinking about how children and families achieve their greatest potential. But you've written and thought a lot about the things we can do through policy and through civil society to improve the conditions of people. So, I want to explore both of those with you.
I think to start this notion of what people can do for themselves or what people do as social entrepreneurs to help others and their community. I read you even wrote a book about social entrepreneurship. I'd like to hear you talk about the role that community and faith-based organizations play in helping children and families thrive, and what you think the potential is for this social entrepreneurship movement.
There's a lot of potential. As long as it's unconventional in its thinking. I mean, there's a tendency to see the problems in society as just so hopelessly complex that we try to chew off one little corner of it and just say, "Okay, well the solution is microfinance," for example. I love microfinance, microlending to people. But that sort of contenting ourselves with that is a really big mistake. The reason for that is that, it doesn't take on what people really need and want in their lives. One of the biggest mistakes that we make when we talk about people who are really disadvantaged is, we talk about them and we don't talk about us. If you really want to understand what poor people need, look in the mirror and ask, "What do I need?"
That's so important for us to realize we're actually not different, that we are-
I know. I mean, we're all the same, we want the same stuff. We have different economic circumstances, but the truth is that… Look, if faith, family, friends, and work are important for meaning in my life, they're also the most important things in the lives of poor people. Social entrepreneurs should be thinking about those areas. Should be thinking, "What can I do such that people in poor communities have greater access to tools of spiritual development?" Faith-based communities should be thinking a lot about, "What can we do to build houses of worship and strong communities?" This is such an enormous source of success and productivity in people's lives, but also more importantly, satisfaction in people's lives.
One of the things that you see in communities that are really marginalized, as much as people who are not poor think, "Poor people. They all go to church all the time." Well, that's not right. I mean, it's actually not correct. Part of it is that there aren't enough houses of worship. Sometimes there's not adequate leadership, there's not adequate mentorship.
Basically, what can they do for greater sharing of these values and creating more spiritual opportunities. We need spiritual entrepreneurs in these communities. How are we thinking about, and this is something that the Casey Foundation has been a leader in, is healthy families? Not just because people will be less likely to be not having calorie deficiency or something, or do better in school, but because we think that poor people should be happy.
Family life is literally the most enduring and dependable source of happiness among these, and the data don't lie on this. Successful marriages bring the most enduring and dependable source of happiness to most people. What are we doing so that people can be in love? I mean it's amazing. You can talk about this and you sound like you're really sentimental, but a hard-edged social scientist here.
A big part of my agenda these days is doing the social science of love, including romantic love.
Love is fundamental. That's at the very top of every single person's list. You get the idea of this agenda of thinking bigger. We need spiritual entrepreneurs, and love entrepreneurs, and friendship entrepreneurs. I mean, and work entrepreneurs that are not just thinking about universal basic income or whatever crazy utopian thing that's coming up these days. Remember, none of us wants welfare, we all want work. Why are poor people any different?
Well, I think you… What I like about this perspective is that, in the same way you helped us think about the way that you frame your data helps you understand what the problem is, or what your ambition should be. Then the same way you're saying, "Let's think about solutions in a broader way. If we understand the challenge or the opportunity differently, how can we use these tools we have at our disposal, like social entrepreneurship to help us achieve not just, removal of barriers, but again, to achieve these better states of well-being that we hope that families have." You are thinking in a very different way than I think lots of folks imagine these tools could be used. I think that's a really important, provocative notion.
It's not just a policy mistake that we make, we make this mistake in our own personal lives too. We have a tendency to think, "My life will be better if I take away barriers," right? I mean, we all think that. I mean, I can't tell you how many people… I for a long time was in the Washington DC area in Baltimore, and I lived in DC for a long time. How many people say, "I hate my commute." This is a common thing. A lot of people listening to us are like, "Oh my." Fortunately, they have the Annie E. Casey podcast to listen on their commute. If they could cut their commute, they'd like, "I'll be way happier." Well, actually that's wrong. Taking away barriers will lower your unhappiness, but it won't raise your happiness.
You got to be in the business of not just taking away barriers for young people, for poor people, for people at the margins, but also for everybody listening to us. Take away barriers, sure. But if you think that, that's going to give you the best life, you're crazy. You've got to think about the things that will bring you happiness, not just the things that will cut your unhappiness.
So, let's shift to the policy conversation. I want to talk about the role of policy in changing people's lives. You have spoken on, and I think been a great leader on, bridging divides that exist in the policy making process. Many people don't believe that there is the opportunity for middle ground anymore. One of the most significant recent projects that Casey funded with AEI was with Brookings on a project called “Opportunity, Responsibility and Security,” which was really trying to figure out what's the common ground that we have on these issues. I had Ron Haskins on the podcast several months ago and he talked about the report itself, but it's worth having you share from AEI why you thought that was an important project to do, and what you think about this possibility of consensus building.
One of the great myths, I think, in American politics today is that we're really, really… most of us are really super far apart.
Yeah. We just don't agree on anything.
Yeah. Yeah. The truth is, this is a country built on the competition of ideas, and the competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society. I love competition in economics because it leads to prosperity and better outcomes. In politics it's called democracy. And I love it in sports because sports are great. But people are not so sure about the competition of ideas where constructive disagreement actually leads to more excellent outcomes. But that's a fact of progress in American society. The problem is that we have a tendency to misunderstand, and we're in a cycle right now where we believe that because of a lot of disagreement on some fundamental issues, that there's no agreement on anything and there's no middle ground.
Most Americans agree on most things, but we have a couple of big problems in this country. Number one is that we're too Washington-centric.
Washington politics has become a form of national entertainment. It's extraordinary, I'll go to wherever, Portland, Oregon, or Sacramento, California, or something, and people will be complaining about what's going on in Washington because either they hate the Republicans and like the Democrats or hate the Democrats and like the Republicans or whatever. They'll say, nothing gets done and the other party's evil and all that. I'll say, "Who just won the school superintendent election here?" They'll be like, "I don't know." Well, that matters.
I mean, they're like stuck watching a reality show. I can't believe. I mean, I know it's important. The whole, whatever, the controversy du jour is in Washington D.C., there's plenty of them, and they're pretty disturbing. But don't take them for entertainment and don't let them distract you from all the things that are going on in your community.
Most communities in the United States today, there's a lot of progress going on. I know a ton of governors, Democrats and Republicans, who are steadfastly bipartisan because they want to make progress. I mean, in many communities this is the best of times for policy that's helping people and Democrats and Republicans working together.
You just never know it by watching the Democratic field battling it out and listening to Donald Trump and the Senate and the House. One of the things that I tell people is, I recommend they go on a national politics fast or a cleanse. Go two weeks and don't pay attention to D.C. at all and you'll be happier, and if you're paying attention to other stuff, you'll actually know more what's going on.
And be encouraged. To your point about the kinds of problem solving that's happening at the state and local level. It is fertile ground.
Yeah. You'll know more about America actually at the end of it, because you're being distracted from a lot of what's going on in the real country by the 5% fringes that are in the business of keeping us outraged and fired up.
It sounds like you do believe there's lots that we agree on and found it important for AEI to partner with another national think tank, Brookings, to help the country see places of agreement and the path forward that we might be able to work on together.
For sure. Not to mention the fact that you have to be around people who have a different perspective because they're the only ones who can test your perspective and improve you. That's why competition is so incredible. I mean, it's like, if there were only one baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, I realized that you probably think there is only one baseball team in Baltimore.
I know. The reason they're good is because they play other teams and they play other teams in the context of mutual respect and following the rules.
One of the reasons that… At AEI, I mean, we have a lot of free enterprise solutions and market-based solutions, but we recognize that there are times where markets fail and there's all kinds of constructive role for government, and we want to be around our friends who are more interested in, and are thinking more about the government solutions. That's exactly these types of collaborations with our friends at Brookings. Not to mention the fact that the key objectives are exactly the same. We want a better country that serves people more; where America is a better gift to the world; and where human dignity is paramount. There's nobody at Brookings that would say they don't believe in that. There's nobody at AEI either.
That's absolutely right. Well, part of the way to get there is in the title of your latest book, called Love Your Enemies. I imagine this title grows out of your own faith as well, but it tackles this question of political discourse and what we do when we don't agree but should learn how to disagree better. Tell listeners about your book, Love Your Enemies, and what advice you have about how we can disagree better to make society better.
It's funny, I was looking over the past few years at this bitter political polarization freight train coming down the tracks, at least in Washington, if not in communities. I just shake my head because it follows a literature that I've followed for years in successful marriages. The main predictor of divorce is not that couples hate each other, it's they treated each other as if they hated each other. It's this weird thing.
There's a guy named John Gottman, University of Washington in Seattle. And, he's brought thousands of couples back together that are on their way to divorce. He found that the problem is not that they get angry with each other, the problem is that they treat each other with contempt as if the other side were worthless. They still love each other, but they treat each other as if the other side were worthless, which is almost physically harmful.
Now looking at this literature, it was really interesting to me, and this is what stimulated the book, Love Your Enemies, is that we have a tendency to treat each other that way politically in the United States today. Our fellow Americans, we treat people who disagree with us on just policy issues as if they were stupid and evil and worthless, and the result is that we have all this animosity and bitterness. Then I ask, "What's the solution?" And you go back to the marriage literature.
When you write a book called Love Your Enemies, it's one thing to say, "Hey, love your enemies." It's something else to say, "How?" Right? Because it's a hard thing to do. But, again, that gets back to the marriage literature. People have been asking forever, how couples that are on the rocks can get back together. We need to talk about, our fellow citizens, how we can get back together, notwithstanding our differences. There are a bunch of techniques for doing it, which I lay out in the book. This is basically a 10%-define-the-problem book, and a 90%-solutions book. Let’s talk about how you can love people with whom you disagree, and part of it is pure psychological hacking.
Basically, I asked at one-time, I do a lot of work with his holiness the Dalai Lama. We've had a longstanding collaboration, and I asked him one time, "What should I do when I feel contempt for somebody else and I want to roll my eyes because they said something that I think is really stupid. He said, "You should show warm-heartedness." I said, "What if I don't feel warm-heartedness?" He said, "Then you should fake it." In other words, somebody treats you with hatred, you answer with love, even if you don't feel love. Why? Because we're… What are we? Are we the masters of our feelings or the slaves to our feelings? We choose basically.
A lot of people walk around feeling like they're slaves to their emotions, and that's a big mistake. Leaders don't do that when they're leading an organization. They'll fail miserably unless they can master their feelings and even fake it when they need to. When things are rough at home, they don't come in and beat everybody up at the office. We need to do that in our ordinary dealings as well, and, here's the interesting part, we will conform to the person that we want to be. If you want to be more virtuous, act like a virtuous person would. That's one of the things that I talk about. I go into a lot more detail about that as well.
I also talk about how we can organize our communities, organize our families, organize our societies, in a way where we're reaching out more to the people that we ordinarily wouldn't, getting more diversity in our lives. I mean, ideas and ideological diversity, I mean, that's such sweet stuff, but it takes some courage and I talk about how we can do that as well. Then finally I have a lot of advice and therefore for public policymakers.
You're back on a college campus these days and I'm curious if you think there is something we could be doing when young people are in college to teach them how to respect other ideologies earlier or how to debate issues that don't vilify the other person. What do you think we might do in college campuses that might change this?
Yeah, that's a good question. College campuses, many are in real crisis and part of it is because they've been hearing for a long time on college campuses, 10 or 15 years now, a strange ideology that, Lisa, you and I didn't learn when we were at that age. I mean, we talked about tolerance of opposing viewpoints and holding your own viewpoints, but listening to others, which is a fundamental skill in getting along in society. There's been more of a sense that everything is based on structures of power and oppression and privilege. As such, people who hold power, they will always exercise privilege and oppression until you take their power away.
Given the fact that voice is power, you have license, when you disagree with something, to shut down another person's point of view, and that's the reason we see a lot of deplatforming on campuses. It's based fundamentally on a worldview that most of the people listening to this podcast, and certainly you and I, we just don't share that worldview, and so we have to take that on. Those of us who may have a strong point of view on politics, but we're pretty much free speech absolutists. I mean everything up to yelling fire in a crowded theater. We think people, that if you disagree with speech and you find speech repelling, the answer is more speech.
Not “no speech.”
Not less speech. A free society where other people can be lifted up, must never shut down the voices of others. Even those with whom we strongly disagree.
Well, I want to end by talking about something I mentioned in the intro that you have had quite a journey from a professional horn player, to a researcher and leader of a national organization. It made me think about the intersection between your personal journey and this question we've been talking about, about happiness. It made me wonder if there was something about your ability to retool yourself that contributed to your happiness. I, like you, I'm somebody who's retooled themselves in life. I started off as a tax lawyer and now I run a national philanthropy. Could you talk about how your journey might be instructive on this question about happiness? How might we apply the ideas of happiness, not just to personal happiness, but to career success, which is obviously linked to that?
Yeah, yeah. No, thank you for that Lisa. You've obviously found the secret to it too. What I would say is, I'm very interested in entrepreneurship. Along the way, when I was writing about entrepreneurship and the phenomenon of entrepreneurship, I realized that business entrepreneurship is just a narrow case of the social phenomenon of entrepreneurship. I also realized that we had a tendency to marginalize people. We lift up business entrepreneurs as heroes but look at people who were reinventing themselves in a different way.
But the ultimate entrepreneurship is seeing your life as a startup. You have a lot of resources under your disposal, you have an idea of how to create explosive growth and value, no matter how you denominate it, I don't recommend denominating in dollars as a matter of fact. No matter how you denominate, the lives you're going to change, and the people you're going to help, and the dignity that you're going to create.
This is really important for us to see our lives as an enterprise. You get one life. You get one set of resources and you can use it for explosive rewards. But you have to set about your life in a very entrepreneurial way. That realization opened a lot of doors for me because it made me think, "What are the adventures that I want to have that will actually create value in the lives of other people and will lift other people up, that will bring them together at different times and different things?”
I was a French horn player and a symphony orchestra for a long time, for 12 years. Then I went to college by distance learning, graduated when I was age 30, which is a pretty alternative path, and then went and did my Ph.D., and then became a college professor for a long time and then ran a think tank. Now I'm back teaching and writing and I get to write books and do… I'm working on a television show, it's phenomenal. But it all comes down to the entrepreneurial vision of what my life is supposed to be all about in the service of others. That's the ultimate adventure for me.
Thank you for the inspiration you provide in your own journey, but for the amazing work that you've led at AEI and will continue to lead at Harvard. Thank you for always just being a great thoughtful partner and for being on the podcast today.
Thank you Lisa. Thank you for this wonderful show. Thank you for lifting up other people, and thanks to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for doing the work that treats everybody with the dignity that they deserve and helps us all see that it's at the margins where we can actually find our own secret happiness.
Thank you. I want to thank our listeners for joining us, as well. If you've liked today's conversation, please rate our show on Apple podcasts to help others find us.
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To learn more about Casey and the work of our guests, you can find our show notes at aecf.org/podcast.
Until next time. I wish all of America's kids, and all of you, a bright future.