Awakin Calls » Kern Beare » Transcript
Kern Beare: Learning to Live Together Via Difficult Conversations
Guest: Kern Beare
Host: Chris Johnnidis
Moderator: Aryae Coopersmith
Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of ServiceSpace, a global platform founded on the simple principle that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us!
Chris: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. My name is Chris and I'm really excited to be your host for our weekly Global Awakin Call. Welcome and thank you for joining us. The purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. And we do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life, who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is Kern Beare. Thank you for joining our call. Let us start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call. Today we're in conversation with Kern Beare. As an all-volunteer offering, each Awakin Call is a conversational space that's co-created by many invisible hands. In a few minutes our moderator Aryae Coopersmith will begin by engaging in an initial dialogue with our speaker, Kern Beare, and by the top of the hour, we will roll into a Q&A and a circle of sharing where we'll invite all of your reflections and questions.
It is my pleasure to introduce Aryae. Aryae is a ServiceSpace volunteer and founder of One World Lights, a community of global citizens with the shared vision of people everywhere supporting a course change for humanity by supporting each other. Through OWL wisdom circles, global citizen spiritual activists around the world gather by video-conference to share stories, wisdom, and inspiration and build friendships and community. Previously Aryae ran the HR Forums, Silicon Valley's association of human resource executives. Aryae is the author of Holy Beggars, a memoir about a college student, a spiritual teacher, and how they started the House of Love and Prayer and found themselves at the center of the spiritual revolution in 1960’s San Francisco. I have sat in many meditation circles with Aryae and I'm pleased to be on the call with you today. Aryae, over to you.
Aryae: Kern Beare is the founder of Pop the Bubble, a personal initiative born in the wake of the 2016 election to help heal our national divide here in the US. "Tucked inside my cozy Silicon Valley bubble, I'd missed the signs of a radical shift in the American electorate," Kern said. "I'd become disconnected, oblivious to the experiences of millions of my fellow citizens." So, with his 23-year-old son, Kern mapped out a route from California to Washington, DC, being sure to arrive for the Inaugural parade and the Women's March which followed the next day, to talk with as many people of different backgrounds as he could, in order to better understand what happened and why. Talking with a range of diverse individuals from all walks of life and all political persuasions, Kern and his son began to dig beneath the surface of the country's political divide through conversations both impromptu and planned. Following their one-month cross country conversation road trip, Kern and his son had gained vital insights about our relationships with one another, our desire for meaningful dialogue, and the need to develop radical new skills to heal our nation and move forward together. With all this in mind, Kern created a free half-day workshop called "Difficult Conversations: The Art and Science of Living Together," focusing on the question, "Who do we need to be to have the conversations we need to have?" He's been traveling around the country leading the workshop since the summer of 2017.
From 1994 to 2004, Kern worked for a large Silicon Valley technology company, KLA Tencor, where he was vice president of communications. At age 50, he changed course and has focused his work since then on serving in the nonprofit sector. Some background for this course change goes back to 1983 through 1985, when Kern and his wife spent a couple of years living in China, where they taught English. In those days China was poor, and living conditions for most people were very basic. When Kern and his wife got back to the States, they experienced the culture shock of US materialism, and how much of life here for so many people seem to be focused on earning and acquiring more and more. They decided that no matter how much money they earned, they were not going to increase their material lifestyle and instead they focused on the goal of Kern being able to leave his Silicon Valley work at age 50. He went on to serve as the co-founder of Global Mindshift, which offered online facilitated workshops about the skills we need to survive and thrive in today's interconnected and interdependent world. In 2009, Kern joined FeelGood, a college youth leadership program, as director of education and strategic communications. In 2015, he co-founded Crew 2030, an online hub designed to amplify social movements and education programs. It's now part of the Enlight Collaborative, a non-profit initiative providing strategic consulting and technology solutions to organizations focused on youth engagement. Kern and his wife live in Mountain View, California and have two grown sons. Kern, thank you so much for being with us today.
Kern: Aryae, thank you so much. It's really great to be with you.
Aryae: I'd like to start our conversation by asking you Kern if you would tell us a little bit about Pop the Bubble and also your workshop "Difficult Conversations: The Art and Science of Living Together." What is that, and please tell us what you do?
Kern: Great. Yes. You talked about that road trip that I took with my youngest son Will. Another piece of it was when we came back home. I would tell my friends about some of the conversations that I had, and critically some of the conversations that I had with people in a more conservative direction. I was sort of shocked because I would often hear people say, "How could you talk to those people?" And I thought "That was an interesting question." I actually asked myself that question. I changed the emphasis of the phrase a little bit. I thought, "How could I talk to those people? What enabled me to engage in dialogue with people who thought differently from me?" And then I started looking at stories of other people who have been able to engage "the other"/"the enemy" in conversation, and I looked at what I thought enabled them to do the same.
So what I ended up doing was I decided to create a workshop that tried to distill "What is it about those people who are able to engage the 'other'? What is it that they seem to know? What seems to be their attitude, their approach?" I distilled it into what I call, in the context of the workshop, "three new survival strategies," because one of the things we know about difficult conversations, one reason they're difficult, is that they trigger our survival drive. We either fight -- meaning we argue and try to win -- or we flee; we avoid the conversation altogether. And sometimes we even freeze in the conversation, when we get so flummoxed or caught off guard by what someone says that we don't even know how to respond.
Aryae: I love it, where on your website you say "These survival instincts are only modestly more sophisticated than an alligator's" [laughing].
Kern: That's right. That's a quote from George Vaillant, who's a Harvard psychiatrist and neuro-psychiatrist. So we all get caught in that, and so the three strategies, or what I call the three new survival strategies in the workshop, are these: the first one is, when you look at people who are able to engage the other, there's a willingness to prioritize the relationship over being right. And that's the first strategy -- prioritize the relationship over being right. So that is the willingness to set aside your own agenda, your own priorities, to make sure that the relationship stays intact, and that you maintain a good spirit in the relationship. It doesn't mean you give up your priorities or you give up your conviction. It simply means that you put them on pause in service of the relationship. You don't put them at the top. The relationship is always at the top. So in this workshop, I go into a number of reasons about why we should do this that extend beyond the obvious -- the obvious being that if your goal is to actually try to influence somebody and you don't have a relationship with them, it's simply not going to work. So it should be practical to prioritize the relationship. There's also a lot of evidence for neuropsychological benefits to resolving relationships. It's actually good for our brain and that's a really interesting angle to come at it from, and so I talk about that as well.
The second principle is to see beyond your story. When I looked at people who were able to engage the “other,” there was one reason they don't get triggered by the opposing point of view -- it’s because their entire sense of self is not wrapped up in their personal story, and they have a larger sense of self. They've got a grounding that allows them to hold their story, but in a way in which the story enriches them, it doesn't limit them in terms of their ability to take in the other. There's a concept that I'm sure the audience is familiar with, of the small self, versus the large Self. The egocentric, the more fragile personality versus the deeper -- it’s what I think of as the more soul-centered part of us that is always grounded and is always secure and isn't worried about defending itself.
Aryae: A lot of us on this call practice meditation or other spiritual practices and we think of seeing beyond our story perhaps in that way. I'm wondering if when you're out and talking to people, are there people who use other ways to be in the world that enable them to see beyond their own story?
Kern: I'm not sure how I would answer that question, but maybe you could rephrase it because I'm not exactly sure what that means.
Aryae: You're saying that the second strategy is seeing beyond your own story. I'm curious what you have discovered that enables people to see beyond their story.
Kern: That's an interesting question. And I guess maybe one way one way to approach it is to back up a little. I was thinking about this the other day. When we come into this world, we come into it mysteriously and we leave it mysteriously, and in between we wonder who we are, where are we, what are we to do, right? Those are the three essential questions? And we get born into a culture that gives us the answer before we even have any idea that it's giving us the answer. And so a lot of the journey of life is to wake up to what that cultural instruction set has been and this goes back to my experience in China that you mentioned. The reason coming home from China was so shocking was that we were able to see the cultural instruction set for what life was all about and we didn't believe it anymore with it all about your status and your status mostly gauged by your material status.
How much money do you make? Where do you live? How big is your house? What kind of car do you drive? How do you draw? Who can you relate to? There are people to relate to and people not to relate to if you are somebody, all of that. I think what's happening now, is that more and more people are waking up to the fact that there is more to life than that. If we pause and we practice stillness, mindfulness, meditation, for example, we actually begin to sense that there is way more to life than what the culture tells us.
And so to me that waking up process is beginning to see beyond our story and I think all of us are in different stages of that. I think more and more of us are coming to realize too that at the core of who we are, of what really makes life meaningful, is good relationships, a loving spirit, a good attitude, kindness towards one another. So for me, these are all ways of talking about seeing beyond our story and getting ahold of the fact that we have been ingrained with our personal story and we over identify with it. We think it's the totality of who we are. Of course we defend it if we think it's the totality of who we are. I talk about this in the workshop. I was listening to a wonderful podcast series, I think it's called “you think you're so smart,” and in it a neuro psychiatrist is interviewed who actually says that the way the brain stores information is a lot like the way we build a house: everything is connected to everything else. He was saying this in the context of threats to our deeply held beliefs.
If you ask someone to change a deeply held belief, it's like removing a load-bearing wall from where the deeply held belief is attached to your whole sense of self. It's attached to who you think you should be to be accepted. It's attached to the community that you rely on, that you feel dependent upon. You're being asked potentially to change everything about yourself. I think that's something that a lot of people don't really realize.
We always say don't look at the facts. Do look at the facts. It's so clear. How could you think what you think? Well, I have to think that way because if I don't think that way I lose my family. My community rejects me. Think of gun control. If you live in a community where the gun culture is really strong and all of a sudden you become an advocate for gun rights, think about how your relationships change in that community.
It is just to have compassion for people, right? So this is the challenge that we face. How do we actually begin to become more conscious of the story that we have received from our culture which includes our family, our religion and everything, and ask ourselves this question about compassion.
Who am I beyond that story that I have received? Who am I?
Aryae: That's a very powerful image, the image of the house and the foundation and if you're asking somebody to change their belief, it's like taking down one of the load-bearing walls in a house.
Aryae: That’s a great image. What is the third strategy?
Kern: The third strategy is to transform resistance into response. The way I talk about that is resistance as I'm defining the word, which is really just another form of the survival drive. There's a difference between that and taking a stand of being resistant. When we're in resistance we're saying no to what is where we don't like what's happening and usually what tends to happen to us is our mind sort of shuts down, we get defensive, perhaps we get angry, whatever might be going on. And so when we're in a state of resistance, we lose tremendous capacities for present, for creativity, for responsiveness.
So this idea of transforming resistance into response, is to really understand the dynamics of resistance and how to actually work through our resistance, so that we can surrender it, so that we’re present in the moment. Just a real quick story, if I could, just because I think it illustrates better what I'm talking about. Not too long ago, about a year ago, I was giving this workshop to a group of students at a conference and we were on this very principle of transforming resistance into response. We were holding the workshop in a little cottage which was part of a larger conference facility. We were in this cottage in the kitchen and we're right in the middle of this conversation when in walk a bunch of interns with a lot of food and as they walk in they make a whole lot of noise. They need to put the food into the refrigerator and I am sitting there and I am in total resistance. I am mad at them, I just can't believe that they are being so rude. I shut down. I've gone into freeze mode in my survival drive. I'm just so shocked that someone would do this. So they finish their thing and they leave and here I am, an obvious example of the opposite of what I'm talking about, right?
I did not model transforming resistance into response in that moment. So, the only thing I can really do at that time is to say “let's take a look at that because this is a great example of what the problem is.” So we talked about it. When you look at the source, why was I so resistant? What exactly was going on? I felt embarrassed. I felt insulted. I felt devalued. If I go into it more deeply, I can go back and even say this was sort of a pattern for me when I react to people where I feel like they're not treating me with respect. So, there's a way to sort of understand what's going on that you can enable yourself to surrender the resistance. Then you think, how do I surrender the resistance or had I not been resisted? What were the options that I could have seen that I didn't see more in the moment? One obvious one was we could have helped them transfer all that food into the refrigerator... It would have gotten done more quickly so that they could be on their merry way because they were simply trying to do their job. They have a responsibility. They needed that space. I could have helped them. They would have felt good about it. I would have been a better model of what I was talking about.
Aryae: That's a great thought.
Kern: So that's why I think if I could just go back to put these three strategies in a context, the context is to help us expand our sense of self. Committing ourselves to the relationship is our attitude in that conversation. Seeing beyond our own story. It's simply a description of what our objective is in that relationship. Transform resistance and response is the process that enabled me to be able to see beyond my story. Nowhere in that is the objective to change the other person's mind.
Aryae: What really strikes me about how you're presenting this current notion, is that if I'm practicing these three strategies, I'm not doing it to be a good guy or to do something for somebody else. I'm doing it to expand my sense of self. I'm doing that so that I can become a better person.
Kern: I would say I'm doing it until I can create an environment that creates the optimal conditions for transformation for both of us.
Aryae: Wow, that's really a big shift. I'm curious as you've gone around the country and done these workshops, have you had the experience where you have a group of people and some are progressives and others are Trump supporters?
Kern: Absolutely. Those are the best ones.
Aryae: I'd be curious if you've got a story or two that you can share about what people did? How did they grow as they were interacting with each other?
Kern: Well, I'm so glad you asked. I absolutely do. One of the really wonderful opportunities that I have had is to work with the city leaders in Redding, California. If you're not from California, you probably don't know that Redding is in the far northern part of California. It's kind of what we consider the red part of the state. It happens to be more rural, more conservative. 65% of that particular area voted for Trump. So it's really got a good mix. Redding is dealing with a lot of issues... kind of the typical ones, opioid addiction, homelessness, etc. They have not been able to get along to try to resolve their differences among the various factions in the community. So they actually had the foresight to bring the different factions together to experience this workshop. I was actually up there three times running three different groups of people through the workshop. So these experiences come out of that context.
In one workshop there was a woman who was one of two liberals on the city council. She was the subject of a recall effort. Someone was leading an effort to get a recall to get her off the city council. He was at the workshop. Afterward I learned two things. One, the recall efforts failed, but more importantly, the person who was leading the recall effort wrote an op-ed for the city's newspaper about everything. He learned about the recall effort and what they did wrong. So he rephrased it and approached it with all of the principles in the workshop as a way of reframing how he should have approached the issue. There was another issue that came up in one of the workshops. There were two different groups with different approaches to the issue of increasing crime. There was one group with more of a social services aspect or approach: It's not just about the crime. It's about homelessness. It's about drug use. There's a bigger picture. Then, the other approach, led by somebody in the business community, was more about get him in jail, get him in jail. At the end of the workshop, he stood up and he said, “I understand why we're not getting anywhere. It's because I am not listening.” People were floored by that, that he had that insight. I'm going to tell you just one more, which is my favorite story.
A woman who attended the workshop sent me this email afterwards. One of the things that I have people do in the workshop is to share their life story in pairs. She wrote me this, "You know, when I came into the workshop. I sat down next to a gentleman who had a Trump Tower notebook." She said to herself, "Dear Lord, I hope I receive some tools to help me deal with this guy." She's anticipating trouble. Well, they end up being partners in the life story sharing exercise. She's a younger woman and married to an Iraq war vet who is suffering from PTSD and it's putting quite a strain on their marriage. Obviously, the husband is going through a lot and it was a source of suffering in her life. It turned out that the man that she was partnered with was an older gentleman. He was a Vietnam war vet who also suffered from PTSD. So, he was able to empathize with her and mentor her in a way only someone like him could have done. She said at the end of it she didn't care how the guy voted. I think what that illustrates is we tend to think that a lot of the division happens over differing values, attitudes, and beliefs. Underneath all of that, what we share is the common humanity. They connected at the level of common humanity. They connected on the level of what was most deeply meaningful at a human level, suffering and what you're going through. It was really instructive to me. Differences in values, attitudes and beliefs are not the ground floor. There's a deeper floor for relationship building and there really is this sense that our common ground is our common humanity and when we take the time to really learn each other's story, we have the opportunity to discover that.
Aryae: Is this workshop, on difficult conversations and the art and science of living together, also available as an online workshop? How is it being delivered to people these days?
Kern: Great questions. That is a work in process. I'm actually turning the whole workshop into a book that's going to be available in October on Amazon. One of the things I say in that book is that there are two options if people want to pursue. They can ask me to come to facilitate the workshop or they can facilitate it themselves. I'm in the process of turning the workshop into something people can do themselves with the facilitator's guide. It's going to become an all-day workshop rather than a half-day workshop. This would allow people to break it up into two hour segments that they could do over the course of four or five weeks. I think that would be one way to help it to reach more people. Also I think the best way to experience it is to actually learn to facilitate it. Bringing people together, getting to know your neighbors, getting to know your friends at a deeper level. Going through the workshop. I have been so surprised at how well this workshop has been received because I think it's pretty challenging. These are things that... they're ancient knowledge, and I guess I just feel like right now there's a real receptivity to talking about the issues at a deeper level than we typically do and that's what this workshop enables. So I would just say "stay tuned" for either the book, the workshop, learning more about what I do, and if there's a group you would like me to come facilitate the workshop with, I would be happy to do it.
Aryae: That's great. I, for one -- once the workshop is at the point where others can learn how to facilitate -- I'd love to see this be made available to people in the Service Space community. I sense there would be people here who would be very interested in that.
Aryae: Great. So we'll stay in touch. I guess I sort of want to shift a little bit. In order to be able to tune in and have these kinds of conversations, in order to get out of the confrontation or the resistance mindset into the response mindset, what's the inner work that's needed for anyone to get ready to make that kind of shift, to have the self-awareness?
Kern: It's always hard to summarize something that is an all day workshop. The approach that I have taken in the workshop is first to have some experiences and provide some information that help people see that they are more than their story. And one way we explore that has to do with what we're learning about the brain. They've discovered this region, sort of a certain connected region in the brain called the default mode network. It's the part of our brain that becomes most active when we're at rest and thinking about ourselves.
Aryae: And what was that called again?
Kern: It's called the default mode network. It's called the 'default mode' because again, when we're at rest or just thinking about ourselves, it's the part of our brain that is active. I lost my train of thought there. So it's active whenever we're thinking about ourselves, when we're worrying, when we're thinking about the future, thinking about the past -- all that sort of inner talk that we do that's often actually unpleasant. That is the default mode network. And one thing we know is that what quiets the default mode network is being engaged in something outside of ourselves. Then the default mode network actually starts to quiet down.
Different regions of the brain start to get activated and that has a very different set of qualities. We're more focused. We tend to be more creative. We tend to be more present and we absolutely, 100%, tend to be more joyful when we're in that mode. Now, there's a version of it that people know about called 'flow' or 'being in the zone' where you are 100% present, so responsive. You lose all sense of time. You feel connected to everything. It's really an entirely different state of awareness. That is also part of who we are, right? It's a way to start getting ahold of: "That's right, I'm not just myself, because of my story." (I call it my 'story self'.) "I'm not just my story self. I have this whole..." (And in the workshop I call it our 'un-story self'.) "There's this whole other expanded sense of self availed to me where I'm not focused on me, but I'm focused on what's outside of me, which is also part of me. It's when you start to get ahold of that, when you start to see that resistance is what cuts you off from accessing that capacity that has so much to offer, then we begin to develop a motivation for wanting to surrender our resistance.
We see that by surrendering our resistance we're actually able to engage that larger sense of self and the capacities for creativity and responsiveness, resilience, openness to new ideas, that allow us to be more creative and impactful in the situation. I can be resistant and be useless. Or I can surrender and access this larger sense of self and really be an agent of change. I can really get ahold that this is the choice that I am making. Now perhaps I am really motivated to understand what resistance is. And it's primarily for me, right? They're my conclusions, what I've come to. Resistance is about protecting the story self. So I say now, "Why is it so important to protect that story self?" And usually, there's a wound in there; there's an experience; there's a trauma that is unconscious and that is filtering how we see the world, and this is another part of the workshop. We actually start to get in touch with how our story filters our view of the world; how it can lead us to see things that aren't there, that trigger us and that send us into resistance. Then there’s the process for making that conscious, because when we make it conscious, one thing we know is that when we actually are conscious of the emotions that flow through us, and people that practice mindfulness know this, as soon as we can identify the emotions, the emotions start to lose their power and we begin to exercise conscious control over them and they don't overtake us. That allows us to stay present.
So in the workshop, the flow is, if you're resistant, you have an attachment. What is the attachment? What is the root of the attachment? Make it conscious so that the attachment loses its power so that you can drop your resistance. And you can say that and it sounds okay, like, "Oh, there’s a flow there that makes sense," but it is incredibly difficult. And that comes back to the neurobiology because one thing we know is our experiences actually shape how our brain is structured. So when you're trying to change an old pattern, you're actually in a sense rewiring your brain, which we're able to do, and that's the whole science of neuroplasticity and the ability to actually create new patterns in our brain. But they say, "You have to use the weaker circuits to overcome the stronger circuits." It takes incredible willpower to disrupt an old pattern that is a well-entrenched pattern, actually physically in your brain. So we have to be very, very motivated to do it. And another motivation is, in my mind, if we don't figure out how to do this, it's not just our relationships that suffer, it's everything right now. Everything. Everything's on the line, socially, environmentally, economically. We're just so up against it right now. And I think this is one reason, maybe, why people are more open, perhaps, to talking at this level.
Aryae: Interesting that people are recognizing the crises, the multiple crises that we're in and are responding with openness to working at this level as you say. I love it that, in developing these strategies the way you were describing it earlier on, you were looking at people who were successful in being able to communicate in these situations and identifying what they did, and then you're looking at the neuroscience behind this, and, to me, that feels very powerful to be looking at it that way.
Kern: A number of people have commented in the workshop how much they appreciate the science because it helps ground it for people I think intuitively, they go, "Yes. Yes. Yes." But now they have something rationally to also hold onto and, yes, that's a powerful combination.
Aryae: Kern, I'd like to pivot a little bit at this point. I'm kind of fascinated with your trip to China back in 1983 and I'm wondering, back then it was very unusual certainly for Americans to go to China and to decide to spend time there, and I'm curious if you could share with us what led you and your wife to make that decision and to do that.
Kern: Well, it really has a lot to do with the people that we were associated with and the people that we knew and that we thought very well of. They were models for us. I think they just exemplified a way of being and living in the world that we thought was very powerful. And one thing that they all had in common was an experience of living overseas. They would talk about how important it was and that really was the motivation we wanted that was so important to their journey. We wanted to have that experience as well. First, we applied to the Peace Corps and we did not get in. Then someone connected us with this wonderful organization still in operation, they've been around for 50 years, called Volunteers in Asia. And we met the person who was the head of that organization, who told us about the program. And when we met him, the program was full. We couldn't get in. Then it turned out that two people dropped out and it happened to be in China and he said, "Would you like to go?" I'll tell you honestly, I'm not sure I could have picked out China on a map at that point. You know what I mean? It was just so outside my world view. But we just said, "Okay," and we had no idea what we were getting into. But it was the best experience of our lives. It was tremendous.
Aryae: You talked about the culture shock of going from China and coming back into the U.S. and seeing life here with new eyes. I'm wondering about the other way, when you went to China, can you share with us the culture shock of going from the U.S. to China? What really stood out for you as you think back on that?
Kern: Well, let's see. The first thing that comes to mind is coming to terms with a very different way of life, a different set of cultural rules. And, at the time, most foreigners, in our experience anyway, when they came to China to work, whether it was to teach English or to help them with agriculture, there were foreigners over there doing a variety of different things. When the Westerners left, they usually left angry and bitter. And one reason that was true was because they felt that they were continually being lied to. It was just so hard, you always felt that you were just never being told the truth. And one thing, and we had some pretty good training from Volunteers in Asia. Some cultural training. And even with the training, though, when you experience being lied to, ... Because here, right, it's just, "Don't lie to me" even though, gosh, we lie to each other all the time. But for some reason we had this sense that you should never lie to another person when you know they're lying. It's very insulting. But in the Chinese culture, as we experienced it and as it was communicated to us, the issue of saving face is so important that to tell you a truth that is going to embarrass you or diminish you is not in your interest. So I'm going to say this in a way that if you were Chinese you would realize what I am telling you right now. The way I say it, it's going to tell you what is really true here, but I'm saying it in such a way that you don't have to suffer the embarrassment and we can both pretend it's something else.
So that is an example of having to get used to an entirely different set of cultural rules, which is huge. It really helps you, again, see how arbitrary these rules are and that things that we think are so important that you think, you know are God's word, "You never lie to somebody." That's just a cultural instruction set. There's a whole different way of doing it and it's just as valid, and if you know the whole system and the rules, it all makes sense. So that was part of it. And then the other part I would say is, we had hot water once a week and we had a hot plate on which to cook all our meals. We went to the market every day to buy our food and in two years we didn't want for anything. We had everything we needed, and that was a huge insight. Just how simple life could be. It's only when you are in the comparison mode to somebody else that we begin to become dissatisfied with what we have. In China at that time everybody was in the same boat. Everybody. It's not like it is today where you have this incredible wealth class or extreme rates of poverty. There's a lot more to start comparing yourself to. And so it was wonderful, and it was just very simple, you're away from all the advertisements that you have over here. It was really refreshing.
Aryae: So I'm hearing two important things. One was learning how to read the culture and understand the cultural rules about communicating and what's truth and saving face. And then the second thing is that you were living in a culture where there wasn't the extreme inequality, where everybody was more or less in the same boat, and that feels very different.
Kern: Yes, you don't need to feel less-than anybody. Not that you should feel less-than anybody even when there is disparity, but I think it does promote that kind of thinking, particularly if we're not really aware that it's having the impact on us that it is.
Aryae: Interesting. In about 10 minutes or so I'm going to be turning this call back over to Chris for questions from listeners. By the way, if you're listening and you're on a phone and you would like to ask a question, you can dial, "*6" and you'll be put in the queue or you can also email at "ask..." (A-S-K) "...@ServiceSpace.org" and you'll be in the queue as well. But for the next few minutes, I'm curious, Kern, after you left your Silicon Valley executive job, you've gone through a number of different global nonprofit communities. You were in Global Mind Shift and Feel Good and Crew 2030 and in Light Collaborative and you were in some founding and guiding roles in these different organizations. I'm wondering if you could share with us, some high points of what you experienced and learned on this journey over those years. How's that for a small question?
Kern: The best way to deal with big questions is small answers probably. No, it's a great question and I appreciate it. The first thing that came to mind really is … the best part of the whole thing was the people that I work with. When I met my two colleagues who were the founders of Feel Good, they founded this wonderful nonprofit for college students where they run a social enterprise selling grilled cheese sandwiches. The students are raising money, at that time, it was for the end of hunger, now it's for the end of global poverty, and at the same time they engage people in dialogue about the issues of the education going on. Then they loved what Global Mind Shift was about and the philosophy of this expanded perspective, and they wanted to make it part of their curriculum. That's kind of how that came about. So I found two friends who, while quite a bit younger than me, are way wiser, and they just knew what they were about. You know, oftentimes there's a lot of conflict in a team of people working together, and we did not have that because we were all so focused on taking personal responsibility for ourselves. We knew what was important. No one was trying to jockey for positions. Leadership between the three of us, then eventually it became four of us and more, flowed among all of the people. It was just an incredible experience of working in a community that I had never experienced before. It was really, really tremendous. The other thing is, and you and I talked about this earlier in our prep call, Feel Good was on around 25 to 30 campuses when I joined and, to this day, it is on 25 to 30 campuses. We had tried to grow it. And I would say now, the experience on that 25 to 30 is very different. It is much deeper. It's very impactful. So it's not the same organization, but it always has hovered around that number. We tried to grow it and we couldn't -- and it really led us to rethinking this whole idea of scale. And so there is, I think, an optimum size to an organization, a size at which it is most effective. So what does scale look like then? For us what scale looked like, was not to grow our organization, but to help others to deepen and to the extent that it's needed, to grow theirs.
We took all the tools that we learned, a technology platform, a curriculum, just the whole approach, and we were able to offer it to other non-profits, working with them, for free and also bringing them into a collaborative space. They became members of what we called the core 20-30 collaborative, where now they can start to collaborate and break down those silo walls, that non-profits tend to have, because everyone's trying to survive and raise money and there are all those issues that kind of, keep organizations from collaborating. We've been able to help them break down those walls and actually start to share resources, share information, simply have strong relationships with each other, so they can call on each other if they have something to talk about, or they need a contact. It's been an incredible experience, of a different kind of scaling that just scales at once organically and very effectively. So I would say that has been another learning that has come out of all of this.
Aryae: Listening to you say this, I'm reminded of the realization we came to, in our earlier conversation this week, that your journey, to me, sounds so much like the journey of ServiceSpace, of developing tools, offering them to other non-profits that are doing good work, and offering them for free and then creating a kind of infrastructure where different communities can connect and support each other. Any big surprises for you along the way of doing this? I guess the scaling thing is a surprise. Having also worked in Silicon Valley, I know that in my work day what every company wants is to scale, “we're going to create a product or a technology and it can scale, we can distribute it all over the world and the bigger, the better.” It sounds like one of your key discoveries, was to think about scale in a different way.
Kern: Right, and why is it, that we have this obsession with scale? How many can, where are we really seeing scale really, really work? I think about one thing that people point to, Teach for America. It began smaller, really figured out how to scale, and it's a wonderful organization now, I'm sure, but they've also, lost a lot in terms of the quality of the program, the ability to train people. It's interesting to me what the trade-off is between size and quality and I feel there's always that trade-off between size and quality and isn't it better to stay small with quality, and not feel like you have to be the full drop, don't try to be the whole ocean. Start to trust each other and to strive to trust that there are other organizations also working, also doing things, and you can focus more on connecting and sharing resources, sharing learning rather than trying to become the biggest gorilla in the jungle. That's not a terribly informed opinion. Frankly it's a sense of mine, so I say it lightly.
Aryae: I'm listening to you. I'm thinking about E. F. Schumacher's book Small is Beautiful.
Kern: That's probably worth re-reading, I should look at that again.
Aryae: Okay. Well, thank you so much Kern, and at this point I'm going to turn it over to Chris.
Kern: All right, thank you so much, I appreciate it.
Chris: Yes, thank you both for that rich dialogue. I was enjoying following along and, sparking all sorts of curiosities in me and apparently a number of other callers, because we have a couple in the queue, and some questions coming in through our written channels as well. Kern, I'd like to just jump right into our first caller so caller, go ahead, you are live.
Caller: This is wonderful, I'm really appreciating this, because one of the things I am involved in, is trying to deal with the different opinions on climate change the people stuck in saying it doesn't matter. Then you've got all the scientists, but the scientists don't even agree, saying this is right, this is wrong, and then you've got the people like me, who really want to revitalize the earth. Is there anything specific, that you might add, relative to dealing with the climate conversation?
Kern: Yes, is there a particular person that you are talking to, or is this just in general, that you're wondering?
Caller: I'm wanting to talk with young people, and clearly I have to work with people who are on the other side of the divide. Let's say people who don't understand climate change, who think it's no, not me, not my problem. I've been doing a lot of research the last few weeks, on a lot of different opinions, and now I want to go into colleges and work with young people and have community town halls in the libraries and all over Northern California. I'm in Grass Valley, so it's all over Northern California as well and down below me, and Sacramento where you were reading.
Kern: Right. The focus of my work is really about when you are talking to the person ,who has the climate change deniers, how do you not resist his position, so that you are more open to seeing possibilities, and are able to ask questions, to really deeply understand why they think the way they think. Your objective, this is the simplicity of it and the difficulty of it, is to drop your goal to change their mind. Your objective is to engage them in a conversation, that gets them to think, so that, perhaps, they end up changing their own mind, and this is actually one of the strategies. When I would look at people who are able to engage the other, this is what they would do. And so when I think about climate change, one thing I talk about, is that when we're in resistance to someone, to ask ourselves the question, “How am I like you?” What that does is it humbles us. I was thinking about this very thing about climate change, and I was thinking that they're all kinds of information out there that we ignore. I'm always surprised when I go to the beach and I see so many people lying out in the sun, even though we know it leads to skin cancer. There's always stuff that it's not convenient to really take it in and to change behaviors. If they're not sure that it really causes skin cancer or yes it does but it's not going to happen to me, or whatever our excuses might be. What that does is it helps us get ahold of the root, the things that make us change, in ways we don't want to change. Then we can start talking about what do you think would happen if we were to start addressing climate change? Can we get home, win a cake, what would the fear be, do you think you're going to lose your job, do you think this, what is it, and then we can start talking about that. So that would be my response to what you're bringing up.
Caller: Thank you. That's very helpful.
Chris: I wanted to reflect, along those lines, what I heard – one thing I'm taking away from what you're saying Kern, is this idea of not trying to solve a problem per se, or jumping right into a fixing mode, changing other people's minds right away. You just said this phrase, "so that one might change their own mind". And this theme of opening our doors to differences or the other, as you say, what are the sub steps of that process? There's an Audre Lorde quote I'd like to share that goes, "Difference must not merely be tolerated, but seen as a font of necessary polarities, between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic." One question I'd like to ask you is, once this process of expanding sense of self is engaged, and you have some opening, engaging with the other, finding your commonalities and building those bridges, which is a wonderful first step, I think I hear you sort of touching on a next step of what do you do with the differences themselves. What conditions that you talked about creating help integrate those differences and pull the things of value, the gems, from each of those differences? Does that make sense?
Kern: Yes. I mean if I understand what you’re saying, so once you in a sense established a relationship, then what? Like how do you move then?
Chris: Then what -- specifically around the different perspectives that we hold and instead of one person , just sort of tolerates the difference and establishes a relationship, but then says okay now it's time for me to convince you of my position. Is there something beyond that of how do I see myself in this other person and what do I do with that difference within me? And then how do I also honor the difference without me and engage that dialectic of thesis antithesis synthesis and come to something new altogether?
Kern: I'm not sure if this will be a satisfying answer, you let me know. I think what we need to focus on is process not outcome. If the process is right then the outcome takes care of itself though it may not take care of it in your time frame. But it's a step along someone's journey. And I have faith in their journey. What is the experience you can offer someone that will help them move, take a step on their journey? Not the step you want them to take. The steps they need to take in their journey -- those might align. But you don't know their journey. And so it's just it's a radical way of thinking, that I think we need to get better at, and we all suffer from this. We need to actually, one hundred percent, accept the person for who they are. To actually get to a place where you don't want them to change. You don't need them to change. And again, there are lots of stories about people who have made a radical shift, because someone offered that kind of relationship to them.
There's a study that was done. I can't remember the name of the book. The author's name is Tali Sharot. I think she's a neuroscientist and she talked about agency and control -- that our need to control reduces the other person's agency. And when you feel your agency being reduced, you're in fear. And when you're in fear, you're not thinking. So when we release control, we increase the other person's agency, which makes them more receptive and able to engage -- allows them to keep their brain operating in the most creative, fully functional way possible. And to trust that brain to do what it needs to do, and not just the brain. I'm using that as a metaphor for whatever it is, our heart, mind, the brain now is in the heart and the gut and everything like that, but trust them, trust humans -- trust the process. And what you're really doing is you're giving them an experience of love. That should be your goal.
What does it mean to love that person? Now -- loving that person could also mean making the argument. This is one thing one person talks about, that -- had someone not made the argument she never would have changed. But before they made the argument, they demonstrated love. They created the relationship, so that the person could actually be open to what the argument is. And as we know, this is not paint by numbers.
There's no magic way of just filling in this block and this block and this block. We get it. It is a dance. We have to try different things. We introduce our own humanity into the process. We try to work through our own humanity as we're doing it all. It's messy -- but I think if our intention is right and we're going for the right thing and we're committed to figuring it out -- it works. But it can be messy.
One of my biggest breakthroughs was just absolutely blowing up on my boss one time. I mean, I just totally flipped my lid. I just let him have it. He turned around and let me have it. And somehow in that incredible alchemy of frustration and anger, we achieved total resolution and we are best friends ever since. So I am not recommending that process but it works. (laughter)
Chris: In the context, you had that relationship established and you ---
Kern: No. no, I didn't. It was the blowing up that created it. And it just happened to be the right thing. But there's another time in my life where I blew up at a different boss and it set my career back for two years. So I'm just saying that there's this dance between -- I don't know -- authenticity, but I think the bottom line is even though I was yelling at him, in my heart I wanted a relationship. I wanted to work it out. Sometimes we just have to be brutally honest with the other, as a way of getting that relationship, and for some people that works. Because their personality type responds to it, and sometimes it doesn't. So when do we know that? How do we learn to trust our intuition?
Chris: I really enjoyed your answer. I definitely want to get to our other callers and online questions -- but to reflect back, the relationship piece has some mystery to it sometimes, but there's an underlying sort of willingness and desire to connect, that underlies even puzzling actions. The other strong piece, I heard coming through was, this goes back to resistance, you were naming before, the paradox that people will clamp down further the more that you try to change them. And there's this wonderful concise quote from Peterson, he said, "People don't resist change. They resist being changed." What we're talking about is creating conditions to allow people to change themselves, as you know, as that mysterious timeline of their own ripens –
Kern:- Right, right.
Chris: Great, we have got about 10 minutes left and I'll go to our next caller now and then try to loop in some of our online questions as well. Caller, you are live.
Caller: Yes, I'm calling from Half Moon Bay. And I've got a question and maybe a comment clarification. I'll try to ask these quickly. The first one is, you'd describe situations where people were coming together to actually problem-solve about drugs or about other issues in the community, and you could get people from opposing views together. My question on that is do you have experience getting people together just to connect, say people from red and blue states. How do you get them in the same room if there's not a particular problem to solve, but it's more of getting to know each other and understand each other's humanity. My comment is that maybe we're talking about a two-part process because you're saying that you needed to get beyond the story, but the story is a way for people to connect in a heart space and kind of open the doors to connection. So there's really value in people sharing their stories, but then I think you're talking about then not getting attached to their story so they can get beyond that. So I just need a little clarification, maybe it's a two-step process?
Kern: Yes, thank you. Yes, the way I think about is our story can be a way to build a bridge. It can also be a way to burn the bridge. So when we share our authenticity with somebody and so by story, I’m really saying, not just “yesterday I went to the mall” or “I went to China” or whatever it is. But what have been sort of the deep experiences in our lives that have really shaped who we are. When we talk there's parts of our story that we sort of reject and don't really want to talk about. So how do we bring those parts of our story into our narrative and accept those parts of ourselves? I think it's just part of the paradox that the more we accept who we are, the freer we are of ourselves. When I ask people to tell their story with another, there's always anxiety in the room. Always. Because people are afraid of revealing. I think this is part of the problem, we need to move past that and people always have been willing to move past within the workshop, because what they experience is acceptance of themselves. And I think that in turn allows us to loosen our hold of our story. So I just think it is exactly what you talked about. There's the value of the story, but when we are over-attached to the story, then it gets in our way. But if we use our story as a way of connecting with each other about just the human experience, then it's a very powerful thing. So I think both of those things are true.
Caller: And have you had experience getting people together who are not focused on resolving a particular problem or problem solving?
Kern: Yes, I would say my workshops are where there is not necessarily a particular problem they're trying to solve. That's not what I do. It's more like there are groups of people who think differently and can we create some common way of thinking, some common language, some common framework, that will help us return to our jobs where we are actually able to talk to each other in a better way.
Caller: How do you get them in the same room?
Kern: I don't. I'm depending on whoever invites me to come give the workshop to do that. So if other people are able to do that, then I do the workshop. They're able to bring different people into the room, but I don't assemble the groups.
Chris: Thank you for those questions. I'd like to shift to some of our online comments. There may be some similar themes in these so let me read a few and see what see what comes up for you, Kern if that's all right. One question is, when you know you have met someone who has a rigid, very different world view from you, what is your first step in closing the distance with that person? I'll actually pause there and see what comes up for you.
Kern: I'm not sure what the terms of, or what your motivation is in that relationship, but I would say if you just simply want to form a relationship with somebody who thinks differently from you, get their story. Ask questions, find out who they are. People like to talk about themselves. And one thing in the life story sharing exercise that people often comment about is they say, “Wow, no one has ever just listened to me like this.” So to give someone the gift of really listening to their story and their journey, and not just listening but asking questions and trying to get the conversation deeper. That's what I would move towards, being able to have that kind of dialogue, before anything else.
Chris: Yes, that's the first step. Thank you.
Aryae: That question was from Lind Troutman, who is co-founder of his Jewish Palestinian living room dialogues.
Chris: Speaking of relationships, thanks for that context, Aryae. There are two more questions. I'm hopeful we'll have time for both of them. The next one is actually kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum where you have an established relationship already, and in the case of family relationships, when an intense situation arises, the question asks, are there any examples you have of deploying tools and intense relationships and examples where we might be able to feel along with you the process of resistance and rewiring that you were talking about earlier?
Kern: Well, what that brings up for me is when a woman who had been through the workshop came up to me. She went through two workshops. When she came to the second one, she told me a story that happened in between the two where she distilled the entire workshop to her daughter. Her daughter was in a conflict with her aunt, they had a bad relationship. So the advice that the woman who had been through my workshop had given her, she had distilled the entire workshop into five words and the five words were "Listen well, and end well." It's really a beautiful description because to really listen to another, my personal conviction is, if you're really listening to somebody you are prioritizing the relationship, you are seeing beyond your story, you are transforming the distance into response. If you're not doing one of those three things, you're not listening. So to really listen to the other and then regardless of how the conversation proceeds, even if it's heated, you end well. And you say thank you for that conversation. I know these things can be difficult to talk to and I appreciate your willingness to engage, it takes courage. And what that does is that person will always remember that conversation in a positive light and they will be more willing to engage the next time. So I would just say these two things -- listen well and end well. And my own personal conviction is that with family members, the best approach is to love them as they are.
Chris: That's related to a quote that came up for one listener which reads "Every person in the world has a heart, every heart has a place within that wants only to love and to be loved. Let us connect with that place of love in our own heart and in the hearts of all around us."
Chris: One more question that came in via the web form reads, we all feel discouraged by the divisions in this country. If you could ask the presidential candidates questions that would lift the conversation out of policies, personalities or politics what would they be?
Kern: (Pause) I am actually afraid I don't know. Chris do you have an answer for that? Whom do we ask?
Chris: (Laughs) You caught me off guard there.
Kern: (Laughs) I don't know. It's almost like there's an old joke where somebody says, how do you get to San Francisco and the guy ends up saying well if I were you I wouldn't stand here. It is unfortunate where you are, so you have to stand here. (Laughs) So I have to think is there something you know that's really not where we need to work. We need to work on getting people wiser so they see through the manipulation, the desire for power, who really seems authentic and encourage that authenticity in people. We really have to be getting so much smarter about how we digest what we hear.
Chris: Aryae if you're still live, do you have any final comments before I ask the last question?
Aryae: I'm still here and I'm pondering that question about what would you ask the candidates? (Laughs) I'm wondering if we would ask them, what is the essence of America? No further thoughts on my end other than to say, thank you so much, Kern, for your work and thank you, Chris. I think there's some inspiration here for all of us who were asking ourselves, how do we contribute in a positive way to the world, with all the problems in this country and other countries. This business about being able to shift from resistance to relationship and dialogue seems to be very, very key to the whole thing.
Chris: From all the context you work in and from the context that ServiceSpace works from, and all the inspiration that's been generated from this call, there's a natural desire to be of support to further this energy. So as the broader Awakin call and ServiceSpace ecosystem, the final question for you Kern is how can we be of support to further this work in the world?
Kern: First of all, I want to say that it is a very generous question, I appreciate it. I would say that the primary way in which I work is that people invite me to lead a workshop and I do the workshop for free. If there's significant travel involved then I have to have that covered but if people could just help spread the word that there this workshop is available, that would be of great support. I average doing about a workshop a month, sometimes twice a month. I have more bandwidth than that and would like to be doing it more often. I would love to be doing it in some of the early primary states.
My book is going to be available in October so if people could watch out for it and check it out that would be great. Again, it's going to be on Amazon and it really distills everything that I've been talking about here. It's another way of spreading these ideas.
The third thing is if there is interest, when the facilitator's guide is ready and if people are interested in actually using it and pulling together their own groups, that would be wonderful too. So it's an offering among many, one approach among many, and I'm motivated mostly because it seems to have been received so well, so I would like to keep spreading it.
Chris: Beautiful. Well, we're blessed by your generosity of spirit and I'm touched by the courage and humility that you bring into the work and going willingly into uncomfortable places. So thank you for the way you move in the world and thank you to all of our co-creators today on the call for holding space together.
We will end the call as we began with a moment of silence this time in gratitude for all the conditions that allowed us to come together in this way today. Thank you for being here.
Thank you for listening to a recording of Awakin calls. To access archives visit us at www.awakin.org, and to get more involved, volunteer at www.servicespace.org.
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