Dr. Arthur C. Brooks gave the following interview on WHO Radio on March 19, 2019. The following is a lightly-edited transcript of that interview, which you can stream or download here on iHeartRadio.
[Brian Gongol]: Let's turn our attention now to Dr. Arthur Brooks. He is the president of the American Enterprise Institute-- that famed left wing think-tank, right? [laughter] Dr. Brooks, thanks so very much for being here with us on WHO. You have a book. It is called "Love Your Enemies". I downloaded it yesterday and, according to my Kindle, I'm already 25 percent of the way through it. That is how good and interesting and engaging this book is. Thank you for writing this.
[Arthur Brooks]: I appreciate it Brian. I wrote it for all of our listeners who are frustrated and sad about what's happening to our country. I'm a political conservative, but I have a lot of politically liberal friends. I have a lot of politically liberal family members and I'm tired of hearing that I have to turn my back on them -- and even hate them -- because of their political ideas. This is a book about how to bring America together and be happier and be more persuasive in our political ideas.
[Brian Gongol]: I want to touch on your idea here about the "culture of contempt" in a moment, but I think it starts with something that you actually have about a quarter of the way through. It's this question of the "dignity gap", and whether people feel dignified in America today. What is that all about?
[Arthur Brooks]: One of the things that we know is that people will actually turn to political polarization when they feel that their elites that lead them (typically in Washington, DC) simply don't have a sense of the dignity that comes from ordinary work -- the dignity that comes from treating people in their communities with respect. And that's what we see today. It's very common coming out of a financial crisis, like in 2008, because historically what happens in the ten years after a financial crisis is that all the economic gains go to the top 20% of the income distribution. So of course people are going to say "Somebody's got to be fighting for me". The result of that is that we tend to have politicians who say "Somebody's got your stuff, and I'm going to get it back", and you have certain people in the both right and left who do that. And that's kind of what we see today.
[Brian Gongol]: This is what you call the outrage-industrial complex, right?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah, and the outrage industrial complex is, basically, near as I can tell, about 7% of the population who are not really alarmed by how much by how much we've turned against each other. You know, Brian, it's incredible: One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or a close friend because of politics. And, you know, I don't think that we don't need to disagree less, we need to disagree better in this country. This book is a manual so that when people read it's not "I'm not going to go through problems", this is this a book of solutions -- if you want to be more persuasive in your political opinions, because nobody's ever been insulted into agreement. If you want to be a happier person and you want to be more successful in the way you deal with other people, read this book and then go forth and talk about your ideas, even if they're controversial.
[Brian Gongol]: This book is "Love Your Enemies: How decent people can save America from the culture of contempt", by Arthur Brooks. So when you say it's the culture of contempt, this is when we have given up on arguing with our friends and family members instead of saying, "Hey, it is worth it trying to persuade them", right?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah. That's right. Contempt is something that mixes anger with disgust. It's when you treat somebody as utterly worthless. That's how we see people in media and in politics treating each other all the time. They roll their eyes. They make sarcastic jokes. If you go on social media, people will tell you immediately (usually anonymously) that what you said is the stupidest thing that they have ever heard. That's contempt. Contempt is the main leading factor in divorce -- when people treat each other with contempt. It's almost like a physical attack, and that's what we're doing to each other as Americans. So what I suggest to readers is, when you're talking to somebody else, never show contempt, because that person will not be convinced. That person will become your enemy. If you want to persuade them and if you want to be a happier person, it shows you what to do when you disagree with somebody.
[Brian Gongol]: It's not just about actually having a better culture. It's about a personal investment. You say, we actually are healthier and happier -- and healthier because of being happier -- if we can learn to disagree better is what you're saying, right?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah, that's right. And again, I can't make somebody else disagree better with me, but I can choose my own reaction. So what I do is I go through the social science and the brain science literature that shows that when you're treated with contempt by another person what you should do in the following seconds. And if you do that, you can turn a conversation around. You'll have less frustration and less anger. You'll be less depressed and lonely, and most importantly, the other person will start to listen to you. You can change hearts and it's almost like magic, the stuff that I've actually learned while writing this book.
[Brian Gongol]: Now, you've written eleven books. Among them, you certainly have done a lot on politics and a lot of issues, but you say this one actually got its initiative from a message you'd gotten from somebody basically saying you were an idiot. And you tried to practice this different kind of response and that really changed your perspective on on these disagreements, didn't it?
[Arthur Brooks]: It did. I do a lot of speeches -- about 275 speeches a year -- and I was at a conservative rally in 2014 when everybody on the program except me was running for President. Who knows how I snuck in there, like the rat in the woodpile. And I was thinking to myself: "I don't have to go out there and fire anybody up and tell them that they're right and the other side is stupid". So I went on and said, "Look, we're in the persuasion business. If we want people to believe our points of view, we can't insult them. Nobody in history has ever been insulted into agreement". So I said, "Look, remember that your liberal friends and family members are not stupid and they're not evil. They're simply people who disagree with you and need to be persuaded". Not an applause line. The next lady said just after that, "I think they're stupid and evil", and she got the applause. I thought to myself, you know, here's the problem! I grew up in a liberal family. I'm a conservative, but I'm the black sheep. And that lady was talking about my mom! And I thought, we can't be talking about each other this way. It's not effective and it's making us stressed out and unhappy. 93% of Americans hate how divided we've becomes as a country. One in six of us has stopped talking to a family member. Let's fix it, and at the same time, be more persuasive and become happier as people.
[Brian Gongol]: See, I come from an Irish family where the tradition is we need to yell and scream at each other as much as humanly possible and then once we've done it, "Okay, that's over. Now we're gonna hug and everything's great again." And maybe that's what we need a little more of in America. Is that it?
[Arthur Brooks]: Yeah, I think so, you know, not every family is geared that way. But the thing is it's not just what happens around the Thanksgiving table. It's also social media. I have a large part of this book where I talk about how to behave and how to treat other people on social media and actually how to use social media such that it's actually helpful in your life and not actually making you lonely and sad -- which is going on in America today.
[Brian Gongol]: That's a pretty bad drug to get on, I think, if we're on that treadmill. So the book is "Love Your Enemies." You give us five different rules to follow -- simple rules to remember if we want to get the health benefits of trying to live these happier lives. What are some of these rules we can actually put into place?
[Arthur Brooks]: To begin with, we need to stand up to the voices of contempt that are actually making money and getting famous by firing us up. We need to actually start muting the voices that are telling us we need to show a middle finger to the people that we should be loving. That's not right. The second is we need to actually start looking for opportunities when people treat us with contempt to answer in a better way because that will be persuasive and will be a force for good and we'll be actually be happier. The third is to go into communities where you typically don't go to make new friends, to branch out, not to silo yourself off. That'll make you lonely and it will make you kind of intellectually weak if you don't hear the opposing point of view. The fourth is to disagree more. And the fifth is to unplug. People are listening to too much news. They're getting too stimulated, they're learning stuff they don't even need. And if you do the five things that I say at the very end of this book, my guarantee is that you'll be a happier, less stressed-out person, and you'll be more effective in the way you talk about your views.
[Brian Gongol]: And maybe if happiness alone isn't enough to incentivize you, you even say that if you find friends and you can deal with friends and treat them as friends, it's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in equivalent of income.
[Arthur Brooks]: It's absolutely right. You know, when we lose a relationship with somebody over something as stupid as politics we're losing the equivalent of a whole salary. It's just amazing how much people are willing to do. They're willing to walk away because they just can't agree on something as silly as who's the President of United States, as opposed to saying "Look, I know we share a lot of the same moral principles, we just disagree on the political implications. So let's listen to each other and if we we still disagree, let's be like Brian's family: Let's hug and have a beer."
[Brian Gongol]: That sounds like a decent way we could all go again. The book is "Love Your Enemies: How decent people can save America from the culture of contempt", by Dr. Arthur C. Brooks. Thank you very much for sharing this with us. Hopefully we can leave people with a happier world. What do you think?
[Arthur Brooks]: I think so, you know, I really appreciate it. I appreciate all your listeners -- and let's save America!
[Brian Gongol]: I think we're on board. Dr. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute. "Love Your Enemies": It's a great one. I'm already a quarter of the way through; I will be finishing this within the week. Thanks again for your time here on WHO.
[Arthur Brooks]: Thank you.