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Marie Forleo: Hey it’s Marie Forleo and welcome to The Marie Forleo Podcast. Now if you’re somebody who cares about the state of the world and knows that collectively we can and must do better, you are going to love this conversation. So as a husband and wife duo, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have co-authored several books including A Path Appears, and one of my favorite books of all time called, Half the Sky. They were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1990 for their coverage of China. Nick is now an op-ed columnist for the New York Times and was previously bureau chief in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo. He won his second Pulitzer in 2006 for his columns on Darfur. Sheryl worked at the New York Times as a business editor and foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Beijing and now works in banking.
Their latest book which I love, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, is one of the most important and heart-wrenching books I’ve read in quite some time. I highly recommend it and it’s available now. Nick and Sheryl thank you so much for making the time right now. It is such an honor to talk with you both again and to have you here on the Marie Forleo Podcast.
Nicholas K.: Great to be with you again.
Sheryl WuDunn: Oh we’re very excited, thank you.
Marie Forleo: So before we dive into the meat and potatoes, I want to set some context. So we’re fortunate enough to have a global audience listening, and according to our analytics it shows we’ve got folks in all 195 countries. Since Tightrope focuses on America, I’m wondering if you can speak to why someone listening who’s outside of the U.S. right now should actually keep listening to this conversation we’re about to have.
Nicholas K.: I’d say that these are global problems and that while we highlight the struggles of the working class in the U.S., in many ways Brexit, the Yellow Vests Movement, the political crisis in Italy, the upheavals from Chile to Hong Kong are reflections of the way people feel that government has not served them and they’ve been left behind.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Sheryl WuDunn: And in many ways the U.S. is the extreme example. Other countries do have some of these problems to a degree. They may have a few of them and not others. They may have one and not others. They may have five, but there are many examples throughout the book where we have drawn on solutions that have been implemented in other countries, Canada or Portugal or other places in Europe that we are suggesting that the U.S. also apply. At the same time, you’re not going to get rid of things like for instance drug abuse. There is drug abuse in even the most successful of countries.
Marie Forleo: Right. I love that, we’re going to dive into two of those examples, specifically Canada and Portugal in a few minutes. My answer to that question in case anyone listening is wondering is actually an idea from y’all’s book. You wrote, “A country cannot reach its potential when so many of its citizens are not reaching theirs.” And honestly I think that is so true and it really touched my heart. This is relevant no matter where you live and honestly, I think it’s also relevant for many of our listeners who are leaders in terms of they’re leading a company, or they’re leading an organization. That same idea that your organization or your team or your community, however you define that, is not going to reach its potential when the people it consists of are not reaching theirs. So thank you for diving into that. Now we’ll get right into Tightrope. Tell me about the inspiration for this book. Why did you guys decide to write this particular book right now?
Nicholas K.: Well Marie, so we were running around the world covering global humanitarian crises and then we were regularly returning to my little hometown, a farm town in rural Oregon called Yamhill, and we were seeing this humanitarian crisis unfolding there in this community that we love, where we know the people, and what was really striking to us was that of the kids on my old school bus, about a quarter have passed away from drugs, from a suicide, from alcohol, reckless accidents.
And, look, it just seemed to us that if deaths and catastrophe are newsworthy half a world away, then they’re likewise newsworthy right here at home. And it became increasingly clear that this was not a failure of one little town that I love, it was a failure across much of America, and that it was in many ways, as invisible to American leaders and elites as the problems half a world away.
Sheryl WuDunn: At the same time, we clearly could not ignore the political environment that was going on in the past four years. And we were asking ourselves, what is it that led so many Americans to vote for Trump. What was the impetus? And we started asking that question, and the book really was… A lot of it was the result of those questions, because it does turn out that there’s so much more suffering that we had ever anticipated, the amount of dysfunction that we saw in households, people want to attack the system. One of the people that we talked to in Tightrope from Yamhill, he basically said, “There’s going to be a revolution and if there is one, I’m going to be right there.” So I mean, just that reflected his frustration and his anger, and also, his need just to do something really violent.
Marie Forleo: Well, I found the book, heartbreaking, infuriating, hopeful, everything. I hope everyone listening to this goes out and gets a copy and reads it and takes their time, and allows themselves to really feel the depths of the pain and the frustration that you do such a brilliant job of illustrating throughout the entire book. I was struck by something you quoted from Professor Matthew Desmond, the Princeton University sociologist quoted in your book, who says, “We’re the richest country on the planet with the worst poverty.” And I remember sitting on the plane, and I had my pen out, my highlighter, and you start off the book getting into some pretty grim stats about the reality of America. I’m wondering if you can share some perspective for those who haven’t read the book quite yet about how America ranks right now in terms of lots of things, the social progress index and even more, whatever you want to get into.
Nicholas K.: Sure. Well, I mean, one basic metric is just life expectancy. And almost all the world life expectancy is rising, mortality is dropping. But in the U.S. alone, life expectancy has now dropped for three years in a row for the first time in 100 years. More Americans die every two weeks from drugs, alcohol and suicide than in the entire 18 years of the Afghan and Iraq wars. American kids are 55% more likely to die than those in other advanced countries. Suicide rates at the highest level since World War II. America pioneered high schools, we were the ones who really brought secondary education to the masses, and we were number one in the world in high school attendance in the 1960s. Right now, we rank number 61.
Marie Forleo: Wow. Wow.
Sheryl WuDunn: Right. And so clearly, these aren’t the things that happened just in the past two or three years, this is deterioration in many facets of American life that have been building up over years and decades. And so, there is something wrong with the rules that we are setting up for the country.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. I mean, those were shocking to me. When I just was going through, I mean, we rank 32 in internet access, that’s just mind blowing to me but very true whenever I do some traveling, the fact of how expensive our internet access is and how poor it is compared to other nations, especially when we purport ourselves to be the place that it’s all about kind of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. And again, I speak to many entrepreneurs and I know even in my own personal life, how frustrated I am with internet access and the fact that we’re 32 and telling people, “Oh, well, there’s this great American Dream.” And just all of the obstacles that are put in place, there was something really personal that happened for me right after I landed, I’m here in Los Angeles, and was coming from New York City. And I got here, and there was actually a card from someone on Team Forleo, one of my employees, and it was a thank you card, and it was so lovely.
And this particular team member, she shared the fact that years ago, that she would only go to a doctor once every three years, because she didn’t have insurance, and she couldn’t afford it. And since working here, now that she has health insurance that she actually goes to the doctor regularly. And she just wrote this beautiful note about how she didn’t realize how bad she felt, and how many things were wrong because she couldn’t afford to go to the doctor and the fact that now she can take care of herself and not stress and she feels better and more clear, and she’s taking care of her family. It could have brought me to tears but it was such an amazing reminder about… I just put your book down, and was like,” This is relevant for everyone listening. This is relevant for people in my team.” And I’m sitting here right now, I’m looking out the window in Los Angeles at a whole string of tents that are literally two blocks away from me that I can see. So this is everywhere.
Nicholas K.: And I’m just going to say that it’s not only the homeless, and it’s not only those who don’t get health care who lose, it’s the whole country who loses. One of the families that we talk about in Tightrope is a family that I grew up with five kids, the oldest was in high school, my class, and a talented smart family. In the previous generation they had soared, they had done so well, they bought their first home. When my classmate Farlan turned 16, he got a Mustang as a gift and we were all jealous of Farlan. Since then, Farlan and four of the five kids have died. Farlan from drug and alcohol use. One brother Nathan, blew himself up making meth. Regina died from hepatitis, from drug use. And the youngest child survived only because he was in prison for 13 years.
And there was one other brother Zelan who had died in a house fire when he was passed out drunk. And, did they do things that were stupid and wrong? Absolutely. But they were just as smart as the previous generation who had done so well, and somehow something went so fantastically wrong for their generation, that’s happening all across the country.
Sheryl WuDunn: Yeah, and in fact, they had a little bit more education than their mom and dad, but that doesn’t help them much. The other thing, just getting back to your reference to the homelessness, in many ways, the homelessness is an extreme example of the problem across the country, because while you may see a lot of homeless people, you actually don’t see the people who can barely afford the home. So, housing affordability is a real challenge. In the course of reporting for the book, we discovered that there was no place in the US… If you were a couple who were basically making minimum wage working full time and you had two kids, and you wanted a two bedroom apartment to rent, there’s no place in this country that you can rent that two bedroom apartment according to the affordability guidelines, which means you don’t spend more than one third of your take-home pay. There’s just no place in the country that has rent available at that price, so that’s a real issue for so many working class Americans.
Marie Forleo: Yes. And thank you. It’s another eye-popping fact. I also want to thank you guys for doing a superb job of addressing the fact that a thriving society requires a balance of both personal responsibility and collective responsibility, meaning our business leaders are elected leaders, and that we all have to participate in shaping public policy. I thought this was an amazing line, I’m just quoting you guys again. I’m going to be doing that a lot in this conversation because you’re brilliant. But you write, “America has gone astray by perceiving poverty or drugs simply as a choice or as the consequence of personal irresponsibility yet in another sense, poverty is a choice. It is a choice by the country, the United States has chosen policies over the last half century that have resulted in higher levels of homelessness, overdose deaths, crime and inequality, and now it is time to make a different choice.” So let’s talk about just an example. Tell us about the laid off auto workers in Ontario, and how that contrasted with those in Michigan?
Sheryl WuDunn: Well, that’s one example where we can say, “Okay, we know that things can be done better than the way we’re doing right now.” So, after the financial crisis, of course, it spread to Main Street from Wall Street and auto workers were laid off both in Detroit and in Windsor, Ontario, just across the border. And so, we were able to look at, or there’s been research on this that was able to evaluate the differences. How did these people fare when they were laid off in Detroit vs. Windsor? And they discovered that in the U.S., you get some unemployment benefits, well, that helps of course. In Canada, the people fared much better because not only do they get unemployment benefits, they get retraining opportunities, and they get their health care. They don’t have to worry about losing health care, their family still can continue on getting health care. And the importance of retraining, we underestimate the importance of that.
So auto workers, what are they going to do if there’s no other car maker that’s going to employ them? So what this retraining outfit in Windsor did was, they surveyed the area, and they discovered where are the jobs? They discovered the jobs were in healthcare. So they actually put together a nursing training program and they said, “Okay, you may be auto workers now, but there are jobs available in the nursing industry, if you’re interested, come and we’ll retrain you. And so, a lot of people chose that route and after retraining program, they got placed in jobs in the healthcare industry.
And retraining is really important because people give short shrift to… They say, “Oh, retraining doesn’t do anything.” But actually in other countries, Canada, in Europe, they do retraining very well, because they take it seriously. We don’t take it very seriously in this country. We allocate maybe a few weeks to retraining, but they’re much more serious about it, and it can really help these people get back on their feet and find jobs in other industries.
Marie Forleo: Yeah, I thought it was so inspiring. And then just again, one more example of just a different choice, right? When it comes to public policy, the example of drug in Portugal, do you guys want to talk about that?
Nicholas K.: Sure. So in the 1990s, both the US and Portugal had a big drug problem. And it was an interesting experiment because they responded in exactly different ways. The US responded by doubling down, lengthening sentences, trying to make an example of people who use or sell the drugs to deter people. And meanwhile in Portugal, they convened a commission and they decided to decriminalize drug use, and instead focus on treatment and getting people off drugs. So it is not a crime to possess or use even heroin right now in Portugal, but people who do use are steered towards social services, they’re given medication, they’re encouraged to get off.
And at the time, nobody knew whether this would work, it was a real gamble. But now we have almost two decades of experience, in Portugal, the number of heroin users has dropped by two thirds. Portugal now has the lowest drug overdose death rate in all of Western Europe. And meanwhile in the US, we’re losing 68,000 people a year to overdoses. And so, back in 1999 we didn’t know which would work better, now we do. And yet in the US, still only 20% of people with dependencies get treatment. And it’s just crazy that we are tossing people with dependency in prison rather than providing them treatment, which is cheaper and certainly far more humane, and more likely to usher them back into the job market.
Marie Forleo: Right.
Sheryl WuDunn: And that’s really important, because if you imagine that only 20% of people who had diabetes get insulin because that’s all the country had, that would create a furor, right? But it doesn’t in the case of drug use.
Marie Forleo: Yeah, no. So, that’s what I think had me wanting to bang my head against the wall reading the book, and the common sense of it. And again, I relate it back to business because we do have an entrepreneurial audience. We’re constantly looking for best practices, right? In our businesses. We’re going like, “Okay, what are the best practices here that can really help our businesses perform at a higher level?” And the fact that we’re not doing that in our larger society is wild. It reminds me… I don’t know if you guys saw the movie, Michael Moore’s movie, Which Country Should We Invade Next. I remember walking away from that, and I was like, “I didn’t know what I was walking into.” And by the way, I just want to say this, we have listeners of this show, I don’t get into politics. We have conservative listeners, we have liberal listeners, we have everyone in between. And I’m sure everyone listening, we have people on all sides of the political spectrum in our families, people that vote different ways.
But what I found so interesting about Which Country Should We Invade Next was exactly what we were just talking about there, that there are all these wonderful ideas, many of which actually originated here in the United States that somehow we’ve forgotten that work and so.
Nicholas K.: Whenever our frustrations… As you know, Marie, so Sheryl and I spent a lot of time reporting in China. And so we’ve followed the US-China trade negotiations well. I think there is a sense among some people that the way to protect American international competitiveness is to negotiate toughly with China about whatever intellectual property protection. And sure, but that is going to make a negligible difference overall in America’s long run competitiveness. Obviously, we need to stick up for our intellectual property, et cetera. But if we want to preserve America’s long run international competitiveness, then what would make far more difference is to invest in American kids who are getting left behind. To address the fact that one American kid is born every 15 minutes dependent on opioids, because their moms aren’t getting treatment. And so, if we want to protect America in the long run, look after our interests, then this is also a matter of helping those who are really struggling all across the country.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Sheryl WuDunn: And it becomes even more important when you have China and India both with 1.3 billion then 1.4 billion, I mean, they’re just going to be giant countries with huge populations, we will never get to be that large. But if we also only work with a portion of our population, because there are such a large number of people who are not reaching their full potential, we’re just never going to be able to continue competing and really outrun a lot of these countries the way we have in the past.
Marie Forleo: 100%, and I think that’s what can be so inspiring and so compelling, right? Is to gin up that competitive spirit from that perspective, which can be really healthy. One of the other chapters that got me fired up and not in a good way, was chapter four, The American Aristocracy. You wrote, “Amazon paid zero federal income taxes in 2018 despite 11.2 billion in profits. Indeed, they managed to get $129 million rebate from taxes it didn’t pay, that’s an effective tax rate of -1%. Something is wrong with America’s tax structure when the working poor pay taxes so the federal government can make a payment to an e-commerce giant owned by the world’s richest man.” So, there’s obviously so much good stuff in that chapter. I’m wondering if you can share how some leading economists and congressional staff responded to your perception that the American economy is structured to unfairly benefit corporations and hurt American citizens.
Nicholas K.: We were actually kind of surprised that we raised this with them. Well, Alan Krueger, who is a great economist who passed away, but he’d been the chief economist of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a brilliant labor economist. And we sort of delicately raised the idea that the US economy was rigged. And he looked at us and there was a pause, and he said, “Of course, it is.”
Marie Forleo: Wow.
Sheryl WuDunn: Absolutely, it’s rigged. I mean, He knew right away. I think what happens is that people forget that these rules are made by humans. And they sort of think that capitalism is just the way it is, and this is how it is right? I was talking to a businessman a couple of months ago, and he was saying how, “Oh, we’ve just done so well under this administration. The economy is just going gangbusters.” And I was like… And capitalism, it’s just the greatest thing. I mean, look at all the riches that we’re making. And I said, “But you forget that there’s a whole layer of people who aren’t making any riches because the rules are rigged.” He goes, “No, this is just capitalism.” People forget that the rules are written and it’s a changeable system because the rules are written by policymakers who are making decisions. We see how sometimes the decisions are made just based on deadlines, they want to just get something done by the deadline.
And the decisions are not very well thought out. And yet once they become inked, it’s very hard to change them. And so, just to look at past, we think that something is written then it’s just hard to change. And so, what we need to understand is that, yes, we can change this because capitalism is a living thing. And it does need to be constantly updated and modernized. And it needs to look at data, we need to look at data that shows that this is wrong, or this is right, this rule did not have the right consequences. And so, we need to figure out, how do we rewrite? And it’s okay to rewrite, we have to say, “Yes, we’ve made mistakes and we can rewrite these rules.”
Marie Forleo: Oh yeah. I mean, one of the things that I was talking about, is just a conversation the other day, I literally googled, I was like, “How is lobbying legal?” I literally had to Google that because it was so… I just couldn’t make sense of it in my mind. And I read this incredibly illuminating article by an ex lobbyist, which of course, led to even more diving deep on Citizens United. I’m like, “Why can we not overturn this thing?” We need to get rid of this thing?
Nicholas K.: You’re right.
Marie Forleo: But hopefully, a girl can dream, right? It’s a new decade. I’m hoping that within 10 years, we will see that, but that was just one of the most illuminating chapters. And I want to just share something else. I don’t think most people realize how devastating children in poverty are. I certainly didn’t, I had no idea until I dove into Tightrope. Not just morally or ethically, but also from an economic perspective. You cited some studies that show child poverty across the US a trillion dollars a year, which is almost an unfathomable amount to most of us in increased health, crime, prison and welfare spending as well as reduced earnings. I mean, this is just… It makes me want to cry in a puddle. Not just the money part, but the moral part and the whole piece together.
Nicholas K.: That’s right. There’s been this narrative in the country about bad choices, you alluded to that and how this is about personal irresponsibility. And look, clearly the personal irresponsibility is real, but when you can make a prediction, as you can in the US, that a child born in a given zip code is going to be way more likely to go to prison, is going to be way more likely to drop out of high school, is going to be more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to abuse narcotics, then when you can make that prediction about an infant, then that is not a question about that infant’s bad choices. That is a question about the larger society’s choices from what resources they make available. And especially, when we know we can do better, when we see that in other countries, when we see that in some states, in some localities.
Marie Forleo: Yeah, let’s actually shift gears and talk about that right now. I want to shift into some interventions that work. And specifically, there’s so many inspiring stories. And for everyone listening right now who’s like, “Oh, my goodness, is this going to get better?” It does, you guys. There is so much hope and possibility, as Nick and Sheryl always infuse into everything that they do. I would love to talk a little bit about the Women in Recovery program and how it helps moms break the cycle of addiction, poverty and crime.
Sheryl WuDunn: That is one of the most important programs that we saw when we were doing research, and it’s because this program recognized and they’ve started between 8 to 10 years ago. They recognize that a lot of the women who were being sent to prison, yes, they did break the law. They must have stolen something, or they pulled a knife on something, they did something wrong. They weren’t there because they committed the crime, because they were evil. They were there because they were addicted to drugs. And that was the cause of them committing some sort of crime. And so, this nonprofit realized that what these women really needed instead of going to prison is they needed drug rehabilitation. They needed a drug rehab program. And so funded by the George Kaiser Foundation, which was really sort of insightful and farsighted in seeing this issue.
They have this program where they work with the local prison authorities and the local district attorneys and they look at the women who are about to be… Come before the court to see whether or not they’ll be sentenced to prison, or been put in prison, or whether or not they will be eligible for a drug rehabilitation program. Of course, there are going to be women who it’s not because they’re addicted to drugs, and they really did commit the crimes that they should be in prison for. But there are so many women who have been able to be diverted from prison into these drug rehab programs. And this Women in Recovery over three years, they have a very low recidivism rate. And so, it’s something like three or 4%, it’s incredibly low.
And the success rate… The reason why they do so well is that they recognize that therapy is what is called for. These women need all sorts of help. They need rehabilitation, they need psychotherapy, they need dentists, they need doctors. They’ve never had any kind of psychotherapy, so they need a lot of help, and they also need training, life skills. They give these women basically, classes on how to be a moral person, how to be a good person, how to abide by the law, as well as what you would imagine. Training skills and skills for business so they can actually get a job when they graduate from the program. But it’s an incredible program.
Nicholas K.: Marie?
Nicholas K.: Yeah, I was just going to say that one of the most inspiring evenings we spend in the reporting for Tightrope was when we went to a graduation for Women in Recovery, and there it is in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there are women who have an average of 15 years of addiction, and they now all are off drugs. They all have jobs, they’re all dressed beautifully. They’ve recovered their kids and are great moms. And there were 300 people in the audience that include the police who’ve arrested them, the judges who sentenced them, their family members who gave up on them. And the graduation speaker is the State Attorney General in Oklahoma, a conservative Republican, and he calls them heroes.
And you these women who… They were used to being called junkies, and whores, and being stigmatized and sent off to prison, and then to be called heroes, they were just weeping. And it was so inspiring, so wonderful. But you just wish that there were Women in Recovery program like that, not just in Tulsa, but in every city across the country. And frankly, men in recovery programs too.
Marie Forleo: Yes, absolutely. Well, I think that’s what’s so… And Sheryl, not to cut you off. That’s what’s so great about your book, is you’re highlighting, I mean, that’s just one of so many interventions that work. Sheryl, what were you about to pop in and say?
Sheryl WuDunn: Well, no, I was going to say that one of the things that this program is trying to do is collect data so that they can have at least 10 years of data, and then they can show other places that this is something that works, you should adopt it. And then, they’ve got… Also have a new financing model that… It’s a very interesting model where they’re going to issue social bonds where people will pay, basically lend money and get a small payment back because their savings from these women not being jailed and not incurring the costs of being in jail. Because the recovery program while it’s expensive for the first couple of years, it far exceeds with benefits because the women after they graduate, they’re able to be functional human beings and work, get jobs and make money and not be in the prison system, which is very costly, of course.
Marie Forleo: Oh, yeah. I have a quote from your book, it says, “One study found that if offenders and state prisons received needed drug treatments, the country would enjoy 36 billion––with a B––in savings and benefits.” So, I’m so down with that. I also want to talk about something that’s even simpler, the power of empathy and specifically, the story of Mary Daly, if that’s how I pronounce her name. I just think that yeah, for everyone listening, right? That we can all be a source of encouragement and support, and sometimes you find yourself in those circumstances. A lot of folks listening, they might work in a high school, they might work in some circumstance where they would come across someone who is at risk and the power of empathy can be formidable. Take it away.
Nicholas K: So, Mary was a really bright kid who grew up near St. Louis. And she was a good student, then her dad loses his job, her parents fight and get divorced. And so, she drops out of school at age 15. She goes to work in a donut shop, and she wants to be a bus driver. But the high school guidance counselor mentions Mary’s case to a college teacher, Betsy Bane, and Betsy convinces Mary to get her GED. So Mary does so, she gets her GED, she gets a top score. And then, Bane tells her, “You should go to college.” Well, Mary hadn’t thought of university. She’s a poor kid. She said she can’t afford tuition. And so, Betsy offers to pay for the first semester. Well, she goes to University of Missouri, she does brilliantly. She gets a degree in economics, then a master’s and a PhD. And had a career in the Fed.
And then in 2018, was named president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, one of the most powerful economic positions in the US, all because a guidance counselor and a local college teacher saw some potential and made something happen so that she didn’t just work in a donut shop and be a bus driver.
Marie Forleo: I mean, it’s amazing, right? One person, the power that one person has when someone is down on themselves, when they can’t see their own potential, when they think they’re done. Somebody to say, “Hey, it doesn’t have to be this way. You’ve got something in you.” Challenging them, pushing them to reconsider, to go a little further. I mean, I think the three of us have seen the power of that in our own lives, I certainly have. At different stages in different parts of my life, none is dramatic as Mary’s story, but at different stages each of us can be that power of empathy and I think in addition to big policy changes, we also need that as well. Would you agree?
Sheryl WuDunn.: Absolutely.
Nicholas K.: I was going to say, I think that people who are successful, that there’s sometimes a risk because they look in the mirror and say, “Boy, I worked hard, I’m so smart. I’ve done this all.” And indeed, I’m sure they have worked hard and they are smart, but they also very likely had the gift of… They chose great parents to raise them, and parents who would read to them books in the house. And there are so many other kids like Mary Daly out there who are equally smart, and equally hard working, and equally capable. And when we don’t invest in them and support them, then they end up as bus drivers and not as presidents of the Federal Reserve. And so, we all have an interest in providing that kind of greater opportunity to people around the country.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Sheryl WuDunn: Right. No, I mean, I think it’s really important just to look around within your own network and see what you can do, because there probably are instances where you can help people. And of course, one of the easier places to help people is when they are our children, when they’re young, to prevent them from going down the wrong path because obviously, that’s a lot cheaper. We write about, basically, adverse childhood experiences which when we were talking earlier about kids not having opportunities, one of the most troubling aspects about kids growing up is that if they have what they call three or four ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, when they’re young, they are much more likely, not only to become troubled kids, to drop out of high school, to be the one who steals, or end up going to jail when they’re 17.
They are also much more likely to have poor health care outcomes. In other words, more likely to have heart disease, to have diabetes. I mean, this is not just… The adverse experience is when you’re young. It’s not just in terms of your ability to stay in school, it also has to do with your health outcomes, which surprised us. We didn’t know that it had implications for people’s own health.
And so, if you can catch the kids when they’re young, and there are definitely protocols and ways that doctors and preschool teachers even can help kids, get them out of some of the predicaments that they are in when they’ve been through some of these ACEs. And it’s very powerful. We saw a little boy who was… This was in Virginia, basically, his both parents were doing drugs. And when he was born, he had drugs in his body, obviously, and they had to do all sorts of things to get the drugs out of his body. And he was also… His parents really were not in any shape to take care of him. And so, the brother of the father, actually took over the care of the kid. And he was explaining how the kid was just a barrel of trouble. I mean, angry, running around, breaking things all the time. And they finally found this little preschool, where a woman who just was dedicated to helping these little kids. In six months, they say six to nine months, helped turn that child around. And by then he was three or four. And so when the children are young you really can reshape them and put them on a better path.
Marie Forleo: Yeah, I think Nadine Burke Harris’s work… I watched her TED Talk last year, and it blew me away. So I then of course, had to read her book, hoping to get her on the show as well. It’s scientifically proven, this is not just conjecture. This is not just like, yeah, that makes sense. It’s like, there’s such hard science behind what we can do. Thank you for bringing that up. From your research, I want to keep going with solutions. You write, “Solutions are difficult and imperfect, but the right programs do make a big difference.” Obviously, we know early childhood care education, healthcare, all of that makes a huge difference. Anything else from the research that has stood out, and some of the components of that path forward?
Nicholas K.: I would emphasize jobs. I think that one mistake that the US made, and I count myself as fairly liberal, and I think it’s a blind spot that liberals have is that, we tend to see unemployment in terms of economic metrics, and we look at the income lost and think how we can compensate for that with unemployment compensation or with disability, whatever. And one of the things that I think is becoming clearer is that for many Americans, a job is not only a source of income, but above all, a source of dignity, it’s a source of meaning. And an income stream from the government benefits don’t don’t compensate for that loss of dignity when you lose that job.
And so, that I think, is why job retraining is so important. And why for people who don’t end up going to college, there’s some kind of vocational training as Germany has, for example, excellent vocational training with apprenticeships is really critical. And that was one thing that I learned as Sheryl and I were reporting on the book that money doesn’t compensate for not having a job, for the sense of meaning and purpose people get out of jobs.
Sheryl WuDunn: One of the things that we found that was very enlightening was, actually, in Yamhill. The superintendent of the local schools there recognizes of course, that a lot of his kids are not going to graduate from high school. I mean, I think it’s like an 80% graduation rate which is below the national average of 80, 85, 86% graduation. And, so what he’s trying to do is… It’s kind of the modern form of vocational training, he tries to have these programs, lab sort of… Kind of MakerLabs, but not for the high end. But basically, for low tech, skilled labor. He’s trying to teach these kids skills, so that they will have something, even if they are in high school for only two or three years, and they don’t graduate, they’ll at least have some skills, they can go out and find jobs. And he does work with local employers to find out well, what kind of skills are you requiring? What are important to you? And then he tries to craft some of the labs that he does for technical training around those demands, around those needs.
And I think that’s really creative. I mean, I think that’s really important. I mean, he’s much more focused on reality than… I mean, not everybody’s going to benefit from studying American history, I mean, I think that’s very important. But what they really need to do in the modern age is, how do they fix modern cars? Not just the old sort of mechanical cars. And I think that’s a different mindset that we need to have in high school.
Marie Forleo: I could not agree more about the dignity of work. And what I do, which is so focused on personal development and self-development, I think, one of the most meaningful books I’ve ever read was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. And he’s got this three-part framework for a meaningful life. And one of them is you have to have a purpose. And in Japanese culture, it’s called Ikigai, a reason for waking up in the morning. And my own personal experience is that when we human beings don’t have that, man, things go wrong. Things go really, really wrong. It’s like we are built to be of service, we’re built to contribute. We’re built to make things and to feel like we matter. So, I’m echoing a big hells yeah, to the dignity of work.
I’ll wrap on this. One of the many, many reasons I admire your work and your books is that I feel like you always leave us with very concrete steps we can take to be a part of the solution. It’s actually one of my big gripes when it comes to social media and raising awareness. And everyone’s so upset about this, that or the other thing, I’m like, “Oh, yeah? Well, what about, what can we do about it? Right? Give me something to do.” It kind of piggybacks off what we’re just talking about.
I’m very much a doer in this world. So, I love that at the end of Tightrope, you have 10 steps… By the way, this is excellent marketing, if you guys didn’t know it. 10 steps you can take in the next 10 minutes that can make a difference right now. So, for anyone listening who’s inspired by this conversation, upset, angry, frustrated, whatever, can you share one or two of those steps for folks listening right now? By the way, everyone should go get the damn book. You really, really do need to read it. But, back to you guys for one or two steps.
Sheryl WuDunn: The first step that I would suggest is supporting education for… I know we’ve said this before, at risk kids in early childhood, but I think that it really can be transformational for some of these little kids. And so, EduCare is a program that is in many states across the country. So, you could go and try and support a local EduCare program. Or Reach Out and Read, which is a wonderful program that is done through pediatricians where they basically prescribe reading to mothers who wouldn’t normally even have a book in the house. And so they basically, the Reach Out and Read donates books to these pediatricians to give to these mothers, even when the kid is 6 months, 9 months. Just opening the book and showing the pictures, familiarizing the little infant with just what a book is, that’s really important.
Marie Forleo: I love it. Thank you.
Nicholas K.: Let me pipe in…
Marie Forleo: Go for it.
Nicholas K.: Yeah. I’m not going to miss my chance to offer some of the 10 steps too because I love the idea of things that people can really do themselves. And one is to mentor some child who need it. And no, I think people are sometimes dissuaded that oh, this is going to take a lot of time, it’s going to be a sacrifice. I don’t think they appreciate how much meaning they will get out of it themselves. But there are also ways to do with it that are easier on time like iMentor. And so, check out iMentor if you’re intimidated by the longer challenges of mentoring. And another is… You mentioned lobbying and okay, there are, I think, five healthcare lobbyists for every member of Congress, but ordinary people, they need lobbyists too. And you can become a lobbyist for those left behind with a group like RESULTS, which is at results.org. And it has a great record of advocating for two members of Congress for kids, for example, who don’t vote. And so, mentor and become an advocate through results.org.
Marie Forleo: I love it. You guys, is there anything else that you want to say before we wrap up and sign off?
Sheryl WuDunn: You had a lot of great questions.
Nicholas K.: It’s been a great conversation.
Marie Forleo: Thank you. I do my homework, y’all know me, yeah. Well, thank you both so much for taking the time to share with us. Thank you also for doing the very hard work you do in the world. Nick your column is one of my favorites, and I just wish you guys all the best and keep it up. Thank you for being here today.
Nicholas K.: Well, and Marie thank you for your great voice and for pushing, giving people ways to find meaning in the world. So thank you for what you do.
Marie Forleo: That was an amazing conversation, wasn’t it? I really love those guys. Now before we totally wrap up this episode, two things. First we have an exclusive audio book clip for Tightrope narrated by the remarkable Jennifer Garner. It’s coming up in less than a minute, so please keep listening to the very end. And Nick, Sheryl, and I would also love to hear from you. I’m really curious, what is your biggest takeaway from this conversation? It was different than the conversations we normally have and of course, how can you turn that insight into action right now? As always, we have some pretty rich conversations happening over the magical land of marieforleo.com so go there and leave a comment now or you can hit me up on social. I’m @marieforleo on all the platforms. Finally, if you’re not subscribed to our email list, what the heck ya thinking? Go get it done now. We send weekly emails that will keep you focused and inspired and moving ahead. Until next time, stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world really does need that very special gift that only you have. Thank you for tuning in to The Marie Forleo Podcast and I’ll catch you next time.
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