Peace Talks: "Rethinking the Roots of Populism" – Arthur Brooks

Peace Talks: "Rethinking the Roots of Populism" – Arthur Brooks



and I'm delighted now to introduce our next piece talk speaker a Renaissance man who is a musician best-selling author a scholar the president of our partner in today's event the American Enterprise Institute and someone who reminds us frequently on the importance of compassion and he also is here today to talk to us about the roots of populism please join me in welcoming dr. Arthur Brooks thank you so very much what an honor it is to be here congratulations the u.s. IP for this wonderful event this event that has taken his place in the constellation of important traditions as we passed the baton from one administration to the next on behalf of all my colleagues at AEI were really honored to to be a co-sponsor of this event and I've been looking forward to give a peace talk I'm not a foreign policy specialist I want to talk about a different kind of peace one that we can all invest in today I want to talk to you today about political peace maybe the most elusive kind of peace around the world of all it would seem today but I'm gonna make the case to you in the next 15 minutes that political peace is possible I'm really honored to be in front of leaders like you because I want to make the case that we can in this room we can be agents of Greater political peace in our country by following a few rules that all of us in point of fact have learned along the way in our lives as leaders now I want to start by telling you about an experience that I had some years ago before I came to the American Enterprise Institute before I got the AEI I was a professor at Syracuse University where I was teaching economics and entrepreneurship and I had a pretty ordinary professorial life I was beavering away in relative obscurity teaching my classes and writing my books I'd written a lot of books which were very boring and nobody ever read them and and weirdly along the way I wrote book that became popular I didn't exactly know why it hit the news cycle in just the right way it was a book about charitable giving and I asked the question in this piece of research I mean it was a very empirical book it had a lot of numbers and figures and equations in it but it asked a question who gives more to charity conservatives or liberals okay that was just right for the news cycle and and strangely to me the book started selling hundreds of copies a day and my life changed overnight no idea I mean I was not ready for this as a professor right just working away in my office and suddenly I saw the Amazon numbers going up I said what does this mean and I found out very quickly what that meant and then I was going to be on TV a lot I was going to be on the radio a lot I week after the book came out I was on Rush Limbaugh's radio program to the great consternation of my friends in the faculty lounge I assure you it turns out they watched they listen to Rush you know who knew and I started to get correspondence by email from people I'd never met before in my life lots and lots of hundreds of thousands of emails and in those days I read all my email and my email was very easy to get because it's on the University website and I remember there was a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon I was working in my office I was working on a data set and an email popped up from a guy in Texas and here's what it said it said dear professor Brooks you are a right-wing fraud which I thought was a pretty unpromising way to start an email but I kept rate reading and the first thing that I noticed was that the email was like 5,000 words long it was gonna take me 20 minutes to read this email but gamely I'm going through it and the next thing I notice is that this guy was refuting every single point in my book chapter and verse things like the columns in table 3.1 are reversed more on stuff like that right and I was going through it was just heaping abuse on me but but every single detail in the book and and you know what thought kept going through my head as I was reading the email here was the thought he read my book so I decided to tell him that right I mean I was filled with distress and anger and humiliation and but I really wanted to tell him how thankful I was that he'd read my book so I did I wrote back to him dear soand so I could refute every point and I could rebut your with rebuttals and I could you know I can tell you what I think about you but I really want to tell you what's written on my heart which is how grateful I am because you're at every single word of that book and it took me two years to write it and I put my whole heart into it thank you send went back to work 15 minutes later his response pops back up dear professor Brooks next time you're in Dallas if you want to get dinner give me a call and I said power I understood at that moment by accident how to turn that situation around and that was a simulacrum for what leaders can do in the political space to achieve political peace we're going to talk more about that in a second but first I want to diagnose the problem we have that we've just experienced in the 2016 election in the United States or the brexit referendum or what's going on all over the world what are the roots of populism people will tell you it's anger people are angry that's wrong the reason we have so much political animus is not anger there's always been anger its contempt contempt according to social psychologists is defined as the utter conviction of the worthlessness of another person that is the perfect way for you to make a permanent enemy is contempt now there's a big body of literature on this there's a social psychologist the University of Washington his name is John Gottman some of you may have heard of him he's the world's leading expert marital reconciliation here's a laboratory in which he brings couples together and saves their marriages he's a hero if you believe as I do that marriage and family is the unit of analysis of a healthy society this guy's great he's brought together thousands of couples and saved their marriages okay now he has a trick that he can do he'll bring a couple together he says he can watch you and your spouse arguing over a contentious issue for five seconds with a sound turned off and tell you with 94% accuracy if you will be divorced within five years now you want to know it is looking at don't you you want to know the secret here it is physical expressions of contempt number one eye rolling you know I have three teenagers at home so I've seen lots of eye rolling right I mean the problem is when when equals show each other contempt it's particularly harmful it's almost like a it's almost like a physical assault when people who work together show each other contempt it destroys workplace harmony when when spouses do it when when world leaders do it when people in politics do it when people on a debate stage who want to be President of the United States do it it creates harm for those people and to those people and to their followers and that's what explains the roots of the political contempt the contentious atmosphere the toxic ecosystem that we find ourselves in is mutual expressions of constant contempt do we want to solve the problem if we do then we have to deal with contempt now solving that problem doesn't mean solving it for somebody else you know what it really starts with starts with me because I feel lots of contempt not me not right now I feel lots of contempt you know look I'm the president of the American Enterprise Institute and and for years I've been seeing policies at the federal level with which I disagree you know I mean I'll dream about some really bad policy cooked up by the federal government and and I'll wake up in the morning it open the Washington Post and what they really did is worse than my dream for me right I don't feel good about that I feel contempt the way to political reconciliation and peace is for me to cure myself of that contempt how how did we do it how does each one of us as a political leader do it now here's the typical answer that's wrong let's all come together and agree let's all come to the middle we need more centrism we need more people in the political middle we have to take politics out of our decision-making why is that wrong that's wrong because that creates an undemocratic unelected atmosphere in which unelected people bureaucrats run everything and that creates more contempt and more anger and more contention from the citizens don't believe it look at the torches and pitchforks all over Europe today it has to do with the fact that people don't feel like they are being heard don't take disagreement out of it learn to disagree better that's the right way to make this work so I go back to my original question how how do we fight contempt I asked that question to the wisest man I have ever met my friend my teacher his Holiness the Dalai Lama see when I was working on this and for those of you who don't know about my institution AEI has a has now a years long relationship with it all in Lama where he's come to AEI several times and we've gone to him at his monastery in Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills and it's a wonderful relationship where we talk about the morality of free enterprise and big world issues and we dilate some of the big controversies of the day and I valued the relationship he's become somebody it's a friendship that I that I value so very much and when I was going through this problem of contempt that I was seeing in politics it happened to coincide with on my visits with the Dalai Lama and I asked him this your holiness what do I do when I feel contempt and he said show warm-heartedness I've thought about it and I thought what else you got because you know just on its face that sounds kind of like a fortune cookie or not really serious advice it's it sounds kind of pat but then I thought a little bit deeper you know the Dalai Lama the one who was kicked out of his homeland when he was a teenager at the face of brutal Chinese communist aggression at the end of a gun sent into exile with his people sent to live in a country in in in poverty and anonymity it to be gone and forgotten that one that Dalai Lama and the one over the course of his life who through warm-heartedness and kindness and love became the most respected religious leader in the world that Dalai Lama see warm-heartedness isn't for sissies warm-heartedness is for strong people that's why he told me that that's what I remembered he here's what he says I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends warm-heartedness makes your enemies your friends you want to know what strong people do the Dalai Lama starts every morning praying for the Chinese leaders not praying that they'll change the attitude toward Tibet praying that they will find what's right for them that's warm-heartedness okay now that's what we want that's what we can do that's what lies in the future for us we choose to grab it but I need to be a little bit more practical on the time that remains for me just in front of you here today so I want to go a little bit further and how we can do that as leaders and there is a way there is a way for us there's something for us to remember such that we can turn the the wheel of contempt toward gratitude and that is I mean toward warm-heartedness and that is to show gratitude I read a book years ago you've read it too it's the most important book that you've read with a terrible title and that you've forgotten there's a lot of blood in there it's how to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie it sounds like a it sounds terrible you know self-improvement it's really tacky it's downscale it's not suitable for people of our intellectual caliber right wrong read it again it's a guide to ethical living it's a guide to happiness I recommend it very strongly to you you read it in high school go back and read it again it'll change your life actually and there's one point in that book it's a beautiful moment where Dale Carnegie he his research method this in the 1920s he's going all over the United States to find the most successful people and find their secrets to success and he's in New York and he goes to see the most famous magician of the age he in those days in Broadway they have these lavish vaudeville variety acts they didn't have you know big musicals and there was this guy's name was Howard Thurston he had been performing on Broadway for the last 40 years the most absolutely just world-famous guy we've forgotten him today by Google him you know that's how you find everything and you'll find Howard the amazing Howard Thurston super famous very rich he went to see Howard Thurston and he wanted to see what does he do this so special and he and he watched the act and it was just rabbits out of hats and card tricks and the whole thing but here was the secret Howard Thurston was laughing alongside his audience Howard Thurston looked like it was his very first night he was a bully –nt he was magical in his outlook and not just in his tricks so later Dale Carnegie went to the dressing room said did mr. Thurston I'm writing a book about the most successful people in the world and you're the greatest magician of your age what's the secret to making it look like it's the first night even though you've been doing those tricks for 40 years oh it's simple simple every night before I go out on stage I say in my dressing room I am truly grateful for the people sitting in those seats because they make it possible for me to do something for a living that I love that my friends is the secret why do I bring that kind of gratitude ah because who are the people in those seats for you they're people you disagree with in a democratic capitalist society none of us wants to live in a one-party state none of us wants to vanquish people who disagree with us once and for all we don't want that in the United States and in Europe and democracies around the world we want a vital competition of ideas even though we disagree with others it you know that means we need people with whom we disagree and we should be grateful to them we should be grateful to live in countries where there's no knock in the night and there's no jackbooted thugs just because we have differing political views when when was the last time that you expressed gratitude interior gratitude for that if you do you simply cannot feel contempt for those with whom you disagree that's the beginning the gratitude toward the system that makes this possible to the people who gave their lives and gave their careers to make that possible and the people on the other side of the aisle we're gonna tell you that they think you're wrong but they're not gonna shoot you that's a wonderful thing and it's a beautiful thing for which we should be grateful for which we should be warm-hearted and that should wipe out the contempt and be the beginning of the peace now I know this is an unusual talk from the president of a think tank that does pure public policy has been even weirder talk from an economist like me right but I took the opportunity to do it today because if we think differently as leaders and we act differently and we showed these values then a better political future is possible in our countries and it starts with us thank you [Applause]

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