Making Mental Health Accessible (with Dan Harris)
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Dan Harris knows all about how to cope with everyday stressors and anxiety. In 2004, he was filling in for a news anchor on Good Morning America when he experienced a panic attack on air. He joins us this week to talk about how his televised panic attack led him to embrace meditation, and how this mental health routine developed into the Ten Percent Happier books and podcast. With a year like 2020 behind us, we could all use some tips on how to take a breath and practice mindfulness!
Keep up with Julián on twitter @JulianCastro and Instagram @JulianCastroTX.
Resources from the episode:
- Check out the books Dan has written about his journey
- Tune into his podcast, Ten Percent Happier
- Read up on meditation research from Harvard’s Lazar Lab and UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center
- Additional meditation resources:
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Amanda Gorman, Pres. Joe Biden, Reporter on TV, Justice John Roberts, Dan Harris, Julian Castro
Julian Castro 00:00
A little over a week ago, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as President and Vice-President. For many, it was a moment of hope after four stressful years of collectively holding our breath. In light of an administration that reinforced so many falsehoods and persecuted justice seekers, our country is in dire need of a reset.
When they come sweet, stepped out of the shade of flame and unafraid the new dawn balloons as we free it, for there was always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.
Justice John Roberts
That I will faithfully execute.
Pres. Joe Biden
That I will faithfully execute.
Justice John Roberts
The Office of President of the United States.
Pres. Joe Biden
Office of President of the United States.
Justice John Roberts
Congratulations, Mr. President.
Reporter on TV
For Joe Biden. It was an oath 78 years in the making. Now the 46th President of the United States alongside his history making Vice-President Kamala Harris, the first woman, first black, first South Asian VP.
Dan Harris joins us this week to help us with that much needed reset. Dan’s a well-known journalist with ABC News who found meditation through a pretty circuitous journey. He since written several books, and even started a podcast called 10% HAPPIER. All about the science behind meditation. In them, he explains how meditation helped him through the everyday stressors, and the more significant existential ones that we can probably all relate to in one way or another.
The fear the worry, the sadness. Stuffing it does not make it go away. All it does is push it into some corner of your mind. From which vantage point it drives you blindly.
This is OUR AMERICA. I’m your host, Julian Castro.
In his early 20s, Dan Harris started his career at a local NBC affiliate in Bangor, Maine. By the time he was 28, he had landed his dream job anchoring and reporting the news with ABC. But in 2004, a video of Dan went viral that brought him an unexpected kind of celebrities.
Dan Harris 02:14
May also lower their risk for cancer. But it’s too early to prescribe statins slowly for cancer production. That does it for news. We’re gonna go back now to Robin and Charlie. All right, thanks very much.
In front of millions of viewers on live TV, Dan experienced a panic attack. But instead of letting humiliation win. He turned to therapy and meditation. And in sharing his healing journey, he’s helped people like myself, reflect on those moments of panic, like speaking in front of large crowds on the presidential debate stage. Could you tell me about what led up to that? You know, you arrive at that moment. And I want to ask about that moment. But what led up to that?
Well, I you know, because I was so ambitious and so lucky. You know, that combination, when I arrived at ABC News in the year 2000, at the tender age of 28. And all of a sudden, I’m working with people like Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, I was really insecure about how green I was. And I had this motto that was bequeathed to me by my dad, that the motto is “The price of security is insecurity.” And so I just, which is a great thing to tell your kids, by the way.
They are very often true, right? I mean, very often true people that reach these places that all of us see as super confident and well put together and they have all the ducks in a row actually inside. You know, they’re like that proverbial duck that’s paddling a million miles an hour, you know, under the water, just trying to keep up and having self-doubt and so forth.
Yeah, I think anxiety is quite common and among high achievers and you know, we can talk about it, but my views about the importance of anxiety to success have kind of morphed over time. And the question of like, how important is anxiety in order to succeed was really one of the animating questions of the book I wrote, called 10% HAPPIER and it was, it’s, my views have changed over time. But suffice it to say my dad had this expression that he gave to me and his defense. He wasn’t trying to venerate worrying, he was actually trying to make me as an anxious kid feel better about the worrying I was doing anyway. But so at that point in time, I just kind of was super ambitious and very insecure. And then shortly after I arrived, 9/11 happened. And I raised my hand and volunteered to go overseas, and I ended up in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel and the West Bank and Gaza and I got a lot of experience in warzones.
Dan Harris 05:00
You know, I was kind of driven by journalistic curiosity and idealism and then a lot of raw ambition. And when I came home I got depressed. And I didn’t know I was depressed; I was just feeling awful. And I did something incredibly dumb, which is I started to self-medicate with recreational drugs, including cocaine. My drug career, I should say, was pretty unspectacular. It was, you know, short lived and intermittent. It wasn’t like I was getting high all the time, and I wasn’t high the day I had the panic attack in June of 2004. On Good morning, America. But after I had a panic attack, and we can talk about it, I went to a doctor who pointed out that even though my drug use was pretty limited, it was enough to change my brain chemistry and make it more likely for me to freak out.
And talk to me about that moment. Being on the air was nothing new to you. Most people they see that moment. They may not even notice a huge change. I watched it, I watched the video and it, you know, it could be somebody could confuse that with you being confused about which direction the script was going in, or the teleprompter went off. And we’ve seen that before as well. What happened? What did it feel like? And, you know, and what happened afterward?
Dan Harris 06:30
You know, you’re absolutely right. And if anybody who wants to see the video, if you just google panic attack on television, it’s the first result which is awesome. But the it anybody who views that and has never had a panic attack is likely to think, Oh, you know, it doesn’t look that bad. If you’ve had a panic attack, then most likely, you know exactly what you’re looking at. The just to step back for a second, I as horrible as this situation was, I did have some luck. So in the moment that I was having, has freaking out my job that morning was to fill in as the newsreader that’s the person who comes on at the top of each hour and read some headlines off of the teleprompter, and we don’t have that job anymore.
But at that time, the job was filled by Robin Roberts, who’s down the main host of Good Morning America, and I was filling in for her and I’d done it many times before, I didn’t have any reason to feel like today was gonna be a bad day. But a few seconds into my spiel, I was supposed to read six or seven stories and I just my lungs seized up, my heart started racing, my palms were sweating, my mouth dried up. I just, I was having trouble breathing, which is a prerequisite for talking which is a prerequisite for anchoring the news. So it was all pretty inconvenient. And as my body was freaking out, my mind started to freak out.
And that became a vicious cycle of the more my mind freaked out, the more my body freaked out, the more my body freaked out, the more my mind freaked out. This is where the luck kicked in, though, because I wasn’t out there solo anchoring the way Albert Brooks was in broadcast news, I had other anchors I could toss it back to. And that’s what got me out of the situation. I just tossed it back to Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer, and they took it over. So what you would have seen was a full-on meltdown or meat dripping off the mic and diving into the desk. But I had the luxury of just squeaking out “back to you.”
Julian Castro 08:25
Well, and you know, for most people just getting up and speaking in public is the thing that they fear the most, right? And so here you are anchoring, you know, or news reading to millions of people. When people think about the prospect of having a panic attack in front of millions of viewers. And the idea that they would have this moment where you would probably feel I would think embarrassed. Maybe like you let folks down. I’ll give you one from my own past. I remember having a conversation with President Obama at a reception that we were having. I think it was the last year that we were there. I was in the cabinet. He was in his last year as President. We were talking about our DNC speeches; he gave the keynote in 2004. I gave the keynote in 2012.
And I told him that about 20 or 30 seconds into the speech. I felt like I was gonna pass out in front of the 25 million people that were watching. But you can feel that road that you’re going down of not being able to breathe right. And then you start as you say, it’s a vicious cycle, you start freaking out in your head about oh, and you know, it’s gonna be embarrassing if, if I start to, you know, visibly look like I’m gonna pass out years earlier from that when I was on the city council in San Antonio. I went through this time period, probably about six to nine months. Where, not in every outing. But, you know, in a few of them, I would be sitting down as a city council member at an event. And something about being up on a stage in front of a crowd.
Julian Castro 10:18
Not even getting ready to speak just in front of a crowd, it felt like everybody was looking. And I would start to get anxious and nervous, almost like a mild form of agoraphobia. I say that to say that, you know, it’s not uncommon with people, but you never know it. But you were there, you know, and right in front of millions of people. And they did come to know it, in part, because you had the strength of character, to talk about it, and to try to make something good have that in your own career, and to help other people. So, you know, tell me a little bit about kind of picking up after that, and how this journey to embracing meditation and then proselytizing, if I can use that word, you know, how did that happen?
Yeah, I’m happy to talk about all that. I’m glad. By the way, you said what you said about your own personal experiences. I you know, I’ve watched you in public many, many times. I remember that speech in 2012. And I have watched you in the debates, I think it’s, I think the more people get up and normalize anxiety, the better it is, because it’s such you know, we’re talking about now like a high anxiety, panic and in a heightened situation, that’s very, very normal. But even more normal is just sort of day-to-day anxiety that people so many Americans, so many humans live with. And to answer the question. After I had the panic attack, I went to a shrink. And, you know, he pointed out that it was the drugs.
Dan Harris 12:05
And so I quit doing drugs and agreed to go see the shrink on the regular for an indefinite period of time. Everybody asked me, you know what happened. And I said, I don’t know, which was a lie, because I knew what had happened. It was a panic attack. In fact, I went backstage, my mom called me and said, “You just had a panic attack.” So I knew what had happened. But I did not have the guts to tell the truth to my employers. And in my slight defense, in that moment, I had no idea it had anything to do with the drugs because again, I wasn’t using drugs that morning. So I just thought it was a fluke. And so I thought and I was able to go back on the air an hour later, and I was fine. And so I think I kind of just got away with it. No, I know, I kind of got away with it.
I didn’t admit the whole truth until a decade later, when I wrote a book called 10% HAPPIER. And I was very worried that it was going to ruin my career that you know, general managers of TV stations, and well, I don’t know Waco, Texas, and Boise, Idaho wouldn’t want me broadcasting on weekend mornings, into the living rooms of their good families in the area, because I have my checkered past and etc, etc. I was really worried about this and out of my relationship with this doctor. And because my boss, another boss, at the time, Peter Jennings had assigned me to cover faith and spirituality, which is a whole long spiel that I’ll spare you from, as a consequence of those two things.
I ended up stumbling upon meditation as something that can be useful. And my initial reaction to the notion of meditation was deeply hostile. I, you know, was constitutionally not able to believe in anything I can’t prove. And I thought meditation was religious thing, and weird. And you know, for hippies, and people who would like live in a yurt and are really into, you know, Enya. And so I was not interested at all. But then I found and this was like, the first time in my life I’ve ever really been ahead of a trend. So I noticed that there was a ton of science that suggested that meditation is really good for you. This was about 2008-2009. So it was before meditation got cool. And I realized a couple of things. One, oh, I should try this because, you know, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression my whole life.
Dan Harris 14:29
And the evidence strongly suggests that meditation is really good for those conditions. And two, this is a really good story because nobody’s talking about this, you know, these issues of anxiety and depression and substance abuse and they’re just so widespread in America right now. And so it’s kind of like being on the side of the angels proselytizing to use the word we both agreed on here, for sort of a healthy practice that can you know, mitigate against some of the pernicious effects of the very, very, very common conditions. And I had this entrepreneurial intuition that if I wrote a book and use the F word a lot and told embarrassing stories, and really leaned on the science very hard that I thought I could make meditation accessible to other skeptics, and so then that’s why, and I wrote 10% HAPPIER and then everything that followed on from that has been really surprising, but awesome.
And first of all, that’s a fascinating title. 10% HAPPIER I mean; you can get it kind of get it the idea that this can make you 10% happier. Why 10%? Why not? 5%? Why not? 20%?
You know, I had a lot of pushback, my publisher was actively trying to negotiate me up to like 20% or 30%. the reason why I stuck to my guns on that is that it kind of grew organically out of my story, because there was an actual moment early on in my meditation career where I was talking to a friend of mine at ABC News, an old friend. And I mentioned to her that I had gone on a meditation retreat, and she was like, “What is the matter with you?” Bear in mind, this was before, meditation is now reasonably, you know, socially acceptable, but it was not back then. And she was kind of making fun of me and saying, Why are you doing this? And I said, I don’t know. Because it makes me like 10% happier. And I could see that the look on her face went from scorn, to mild interest. And I thought, oh, okay, well, this is my shtick.
Julian Castro 16:39
Oh, yeah, you could tell right there that’s something that would resonate with people.
Yes. Exactly. And to say, look, there is this, there is this practice out there, it’s backed by science, it is secular. And it’s not going to solve all of your problems, but it can make a significant difference. And by the way, the 10%, which again, is kind of a joke, and kind of not, you know it now that I’m stuck with this number, I do like to say that it compounds annually, like any good investment, you know, you get this meditation or working with your own mind, is a skill. And so if like I handed you a flute right now, unless you already knew how to play it. It’s highly unlikely that you would be able to bang out like a Jethro Tull solo, it would take a minute for you to learn how to play the flute.
And so if I teach you how to meditate, which would take just a second, because meditation is very simple. It would take years, it’s just a skill you would generate over the years, not only the practice itself, but the application of the practice in your life. It’s just such a rich and vast field. And so the 10% is really something that just grows in I think, sort of unlimited ways.
You’ve talked about your opinion that people should think of meditation, the way that we think of sleep, or eating or exercising, basically something that we should do on a regular basis for our health. But a lot of people, you know, like you say, their skeptical. I mean, what do you say to the skeptics now that you’ve taken this journey, from skeptic, to somebody that’s fully embraced meditation as a way to be healthier?
Dan Harris 18:30
I love skeptics, those are my people. So, you know, if you’re skeptical, that’s good, actually, I think it’s good. This isn’t, you know, some Ponzi scheme or some cult or anything like that we’re, you know, we’re hoping to dive in with you drop all of your critical faculties. I think skepticism is really healthy. You know, I’m a journalist, I’m a paid skeptic. But I, you know, I think there are a couple of things you can do. One is to just take a look at the science, very, you know, very, very strong evidence that suggests that meditation can lower your blood pressure boost your immune system. And the neuroscience suggests it can literally rewire key parts of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, stress, focus.
Which is a huge issue in this era of, you know, technology and social media, a bigger problem that I kind of thought you were gonna ask me about, and it is really just like, now that meditation is, you know, a lot of the stigma is kind of a stink has gone off of it a little bit. A bigger issue I often run into, but I don’t know if this resonates for you, is just people saying I don’t have time for this or I can’t find the time.
Yeah, well, I was gonna say I mean, if there is a year where people could use something that helps them to calm down, to be able to better focus to lower the blood pressure. It is certainly 20 We’ve gone through this pandemic; most people’s lives have been turned upside down. People are under stress, there are a lot of folks whose finances are under a lot of stress, who are maybe facing eviction. A lot of parents right now that never imagined that they would have to be doing remote learning with their kids who are now at home.
Julian Castro 20:21
And so and also still doing their office job remotely through Zoom. And so the stress level, in 2020, seems to have gone through the roof. And at the same time, I think when people propose whether it’s meditation, or hey, why don’t you get out and go to the gym and exercise people are like, you know, where do I find the time to do that? How do I even start? So how does somebody start?
You know, it’s hard to ignore the amount of pain there is physical suffering, and unbelievable, you know, mental suffering and inconvenience and political, you know, mistrust and recrimination. There’s just so much going on. That’s really hard. And so yeah, how do you get started here? So I think I have good news, that it does not, everybody wants to know, what’s the least amount of meditation I can do, and get this decide the advertised benefits. And, you know, we haven’t, you know, I’ve asked a lot of people in the scientific community, what’s the sort of minimum dosage and that is not a number that has been cracked. And I suspect it’s different for everybody. But I’ve been able to generate something of a consensus among the scientists to whom I’ve spoken with him have spoken.
That if you were doing five to 10 minutes a day, you really should be able to get a taste of you know, the calm, the focus, the lowered emotional reactivity, you’re not as yanked around by this inner conversation, that you’re having the sort of voice in your head that if we broadcast aloud, you would be locked up. That voice that we all know, that chases us out of bed in the morning, and has us constantly thinking about the past or the future, that voice can be managed, really, quite effectively, in just a few minutes a day. But I would say given how hard it is to form habits. And we know this, you know, we are not wired as a species to easily adopt healthy habits, you know, evolution didn’t care about whether you floss your teeth. Evolution cared about you, you know, getting enough food and sexual partners to get your DNA into the next generation.
Dan Harris 22:32
It really wasn’t about, you know, your contentment levels. So as a consequence, I think just knowing that it is hard, is actually liberating, because then you can go into the process with a sense of lightness and experimentation. And so and you can set the bar low. And so to set the bar low, what I tell people is one-minute counts if you’re doing one minute a day, and then maybe ramping up from there. That I think would be enough that, that one minute is enough of an engineered collision between you and the inner cacophony that is mostly owning you.
That allows you to not be so owned by the inner cacophony, when you see clearly the machinations of your own mind. You’re not so yanked around by it, and so that can happen in a minute. And the other little mantra I have is that daily-ish, you know, you know, you tried to do it every day, but you know, some days you’re just not gonna happen. And that’s cool.
And what have been the benefits in your life?
Yeah, the three benefits I talk about the most are, One, is just an increased sense of calm. It’s a bit of a misleading term calm, because it’s not like when you meditate, you’re magically going to get calm in the session. Because many sessions of meditation, I should tell you briefly what meditation entails. It’s not complicated. Usually you just kind of sitting quietly and trying to feel your breath coming in and going out. And then every time you get distracted, you start again and again and again. Often, that is a highly enervating activity because you’re going to get distracted over and over and over again. And many people assume the moment they’ve become distracted that their failed meditators.
Dan Harris 24:18
But in fact, the moment you notice you’ve become distracted, that is proof that you’re meditating correctly. Because the whole game here is not to clear your mind, which is impossible. The game is to get more familiar with the way your mind works, so that your random thoughts and urges and emotions aren’t owning you all the time. So I find that even if my meditation sessions themselves are not calming, the net effect is that I by pulling myself out of the sort of mindless forward momentum of my day, I’ve got a big injection of calm into my life. So that’s the first benefit. The second benefit is focus because what you’re doing in this exercise, again is trying to just focus on your breath for a few nanoseconds at a time.
And then every time you get distracted, start again and again and again. And this has been shown that you can see it on the brain scans, it changes the part of the brain associated with attention, regulation. And then the third benefit is mindfulness, which is a kind of self-awareness that gets generated. If you sit and watch your mind. You know, try to focus on your breath. And then every time you get distracted, you’re gonna notice like, what is your mind all about? It’s humiliating, you’re gonna see plans for lunch, do I need a haircut, you’re gonna be practicing in, you know, expletive filled speeches, you’re going to deliver to your boss, you’re going to be maybe planning a homicide, whatever, you’re going to see all of this uninvited junk
And that is a really healthy thing to do as humiliating as it sounds, because the visibility is kryptonite for the junk. And so mindfulness is the ability to notice when you’re getting angry, for example. Without taking the bait and acting on it, that’s incredibly useful. Because then, you know, you don’t, you know, pop off and say something that ruins the next 48 hours of your marriage, or eat 78 Oreos because you have some sense of what’s happening in your mind, some self-awareness, and then that gives you some distance, a choice, really, so you can respond instead of reacting.
Julian Castro 26:27
Well, I think that’s such an important point that, you know, people often think about meditation, and I think that Oh, I’m gonna, as you said, Some folks think it’s about clearing the mind or no longer having these random thoughts. And people are always going to have random thoughts and but it’s about understanding those and understanding their significance and being able to focus beyond that. That’s the kind of benefit that you’re talking about.
Yeah, I mean, ultimately, what you see is that thoughts are just thoughts. They’re little more than nothing, as my meditation teacher likes to say, you know, that, just because you’ve had a thought about anything, there’s a great expression from another meditation teacher, the thought of your mother is not your mother. Like, just because you’re, you know, thinking about your parents, and you’re getting angry, or whatever, it’s, these are just little like quantum bursts of energy in the mind. They’re, necessarily connected to any reality, you didn’t invite them. And so when you start to get some distance from your habitual thought patterns, your ancient storylines that are driving so much of your behavior, then you’ve got this space, this freedom to make saner, clearer, wiser decisions, doesn’t work all the time. But when it does work, its magic. And this is a skill that you can generate over time.
So you know, you get better at doing meditation on the cushion, or you know, with the formal practice, but then you get, you also get better over time at being able to notice some powerful urge that’s coming over you, and not acting on it in a way that you later really regret. I think it comes down to like, how much unhappiness you’re willing to live with, you know? How’s it working for you to stuff your emotions. I mean, if you think about it, the fear, the worry, the sadness, all of these difficult emotions that are nonnegotiable once you’ve been born.
Dan Harris 28:41
Stuffing it does not make it go away. All it does is push it into some corner of your mind. From which vantage point it drives you blindly. If you think about it, clearly, what is better, taking a look at what’s going on for you so that you can manage it and so that you can be the most effective you can be in your job, as a parent, as a spouse, or letting all that stuff simmer in the background and make you do things that make you and everybody around you miserable. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.
Part of this OUR AMERICA podcast, really the principle idea behind it is to focus a lot on people and on issues that are often left behind. You know, at the end of the day, what you and I are talking about is a concern for people’s mental health. And if somebody has a broken leg and they have a cast on, right, everybody oh, you know, are you okay? How are you doing and how can I help you and we know that somebody got medical care at a doctor to take care of that but there’s so many millions of people in this country and around the Who are walking around with mental health issues that are addressable that are treatable, and that deserve to be treated. But they don’t get that.
Some of those include, you know, the kind of anxiety that could be helped by taking up something like meditation. You know, talk to me about as you’ve gone through this journey, and you had, you know, that episode of anxiety. What you’ve seen about what we need to do on mental health in America?
Dan Harris 30:39
Well, first of all, I think one of the big things is, well, first of all, to agree with everything you just said, it’s a huge issue. And we’re at, I believe, unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, suicide, drug abuse. And it’s, you know, not only personal, a personal tragedy for everybody who’s dealing with these things, particularly at the more severe end of the spectrum, but it’s a public health issue. And I do think, I am not a meditation fundamentalist or supremacist, I don’t think meditation is the answer to everything. But I do think it can really help. And we’ve seen it in so many contexts. In schools, and prisons, in juvie halls, in foster care.
And you know, that this, this capacity, mindfulness, the capacity we all have to view our thoughts from with some distance. This isn’t a birthright, an innate capacity that every human being has. And in our culture, we don’t really teach people how to generate it. And that there is this simple free technology that we called meditation that, I think it would be great if we started doing a better job of prioritizing it, because we’re seeing the deleterious effects of ignoring public health.
Dan Harris 32:08
And it shows up in the forms of kids committing suicide and parents, you know, [UNCLEAR] by their addiction, that they can’t take care of their kids and regular, you know, otherwise highly functioning Americans who are just living lives of quiet despair from anxiety or depression. It’s just all over the place. And again, this isn’t gonna, you know, what meditation isn’t going to solve everything. But it really can be helpful.
Over the last almost a year now, our country and our world has been on quite a roller coaster, public health wise, economically, politically, in terms of the polarization, what makes you hopeful? What are you hopeful for in 2021?
Look, I think I’m not saying anything. I’m not breaking any news here. I think we’re heading into some, probably very difficult months. But I’m very hopeful, you know, I’m married to a pulmonologist who knows quite a bit about COVID. And so I think, you know, based on my conversation with her and other experts in the field, I have pretty hopeful about these vaccines. And so I do think we’re gonna head into some tough months. But I also think what we’ve seen around the speed and apparent success of this process around creating these vaccines may be one of the greatest scientific triumphs of all time.
And so that it does give me some hope. Something, another thing that gives me hope, and it has nothing to do with, it’s not tied in any way to current events, but it is sort of the thing that gets me up in the morning and is, you know, allows me to sort of put myself through the torture of trying to write more books and all that stuff, is, I am kind of an evangelist for meditation. And if I’m an evangelist, my good news or my gospel is that the mind is trainable. You know, all the qualities of mind that you want, happiness, calm, self-awareness, connection, gratitude, generosity, all of these qualities of mind. They’re not factory settings that are unalterable. They’re, they’re skills that can be trained through meditation and other modalities. And that is incredibly good news.
Dan Harris 34:31
Happiness isn’t just something that happens to you it is a skill that you can take responsibility for. And so to me that gives me a ton of hope. You know, I’ve been thinking a lot and sort of following the debate on Twitter and elsewhere. There’s been a very interesting debate because you see, some people kind of center, center left folks coming out and saying, you know, now’s the time where we need to try to have some empathy for folks who voted for Trump. And then you see pushback from folks who say, you know that that’s a privileged argument.
And I have sympathy for both sides of this debate. And I think it’s, you know, to a lesser extent happening on the Trump side too of like, how much should we try to kind of reach out to our neighbor or, you know, does anybody who voted against Trump represent sort of an existential threat to the, to the Republic, and this is our country, we’re all sharing this chunk of land circumscribed by a border, and I think there’s some need to understand to get along with one another. And so I just wonder where you put yourself in this debate.
I mean, that is my hope, my hope is the President Biden, and also obviously, Republicans in the Congress, and then people at an everyday level can find ways constructively to be able to work together more and to lower the temperature on polarization, kind of two things, I came into politics. In a non-partisan environment, I ran for city council, and then I was mayor of San Antonio. And doing that I had to go and knock on the doors of people who are not Democrats, people that were in the middle, even Republicans like we didn’t you know, that, especially when I was running for city council, we knocked on all doors basically.
Julian Castro 36:34
And I do think that at the local level, especially, you can still see. That you can actually get past a lot of those barriers that people have put up. Now, we’ve also gotten a lot more polarized over the last I don’t know, decade. But I still hold out hope that we can find a common sense of identity and purpose, because I think that’s what’s become missing in this country to a large extent. like this sense of common purpose and identity for the country. We have, I think, in my opinion, you know, leaders like Trump that don’t make it any easier. You have total segmentation of media; people are not experiencing the same thing.
And then online, they’re experiencing tailored versions of reality, even more so than on broadcast. But oddly enough, I actually believe that this COVID experience in 2020, in some ways, lays the groundwork more for us to come together, because like it or not, everybody has to deal with it. You know, everybody has had to, you know, worry about themselves, their family getting sick. And I think it’s human nature, also that, you know, people come together more when there’s this existential threat to them. And I think that the question for leadership and for people at an everyday level is okay, well, you know, how do you? How do you use the experience that we’ve just been through in a constructive way to hopefully start putting the pieces back together of this common sense of purpose and identity? And so yeah, I mean, I think having an open mind and open heart to people that may not agree with you, is a prerequisite to that.
Dan Harris 38:21
You said a lot of things there. But one thing in particular that I agree with is that having some sort of understanding of people with whom we disagree does not mean you have to abandon your principles. And I feel like there’s a lot of fear that somehow if I get to understand. If I can reach some sort of understanding of my neighbor who voted differently than I voted. That it’s going to jeopardize my core values that I don’t see it that way. I just think that understanding seems like a prerequisite for cohabitation. And we don’t have any choice but to cohabit here in this country. And so yeah, but it’s thorny, and I’m glad to hear you express some optimism.
I’m hopeful, you know, that we can get to a better place. I think we will. I think we will, you know, but thank you for taking the time to join me and thanks for what you’re doing. And fascinating conversation, as you can tell, you know, I have an interest in all of it. And I agree with you on the, you know, the utility of being able to, as you say hone your mind and you know, clear your head and focus and so forth. I also agree that it’s not an accident that so many people that are super successful and super busy and stressed out, take it up, and they found it helpful. So thanks for what you’re doing.
Yeah, thanks for having me on.
I hope this conversation helps you to find a bit of calm and mindfulness of your own to start off 2021 with a new perspective. I’d like to leave you with the same question Dan asked me. How can we as a country fight polarization without sacrificing what we believe in? If you’d like to send me your reflections, you can email our team at email@example.com. Next week, we’re joined by another journalist who is also named Dan. You might know him as the storied CBS News Anchor who covered some of our country’s most important historical moments, like the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and Watergate.
Pres. Joe Biden 40:43
As we now take on a new administration in Washington, it’s a reckoning of saying to ourselves, who are we? What have we become? We cannot afford another 2020. So in that way, it’s one of the more decisive years in the history of the country. I know that journalists are prone to say this almost every year, but in this particular year, I think it has the added advantage of being true.
OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Original. This episode was produced by Matthew Simonson. Jackie Danziger is our supervising producer. Our associate producer is Giulia Hjort. Kegan Zema is our technical director. Music is by Hannis Brown. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Julian Castro. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me on Twitter at @JulianCastro or in Instagram at @JulianCastroTX