Let’s be honest: we’ve all done things we regret.
They may have been when we were kids or adults. They may have affected just ourselves or many people around us. But it’s likely we remember doing them because we regret them.
This is something that’s not easy to talk about.
But there’s something really valuable in recognizing the parts of ourselves that are capable of doing things we regret.
I recently met a woman who gave a TED talk (and has now written a book) about this exact topic.
Sally Kohn is a CNN commentator who has attracted huge amounts of haters during her career as a political speaker.
As our society has gotten more divided, hate seems to be taking over a lot of actions and discussions.
So Sally decided to do a deep dive study on why we hate and what the opposite of that is.
She talked to her own haters, she traveled to countries that have experienced genocides, and she discussed the psychological pieces of what’s going on.
This was a powerful conversation about a topic that isn’t always easy to discuss. I really appreciated Sally’s willingness and honesty in discussing how we can each shift our habits out of hate and bias and into open-mindedness and respect.
No matter what you’ve been through or what you believe, I know there’s something valuable to learn for all of us in Episode 631.
Lewis Howes: This is episode number 631 with Sally Kohn.
Welcome to The School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now, let the class begin.
What is up my friends? I’m so glad that you’re here right now. I just got back from a two week journey in New York City, where we were working on a very big project that I’ve been working on for about a year and a half, and I’ll be announcing it very soon. Possibly this week. So look out for the announcement on my e-mail newsletter, on Instagram, YouTube, all the places that I like to hang out.
And I hope you’re having an amazing week! I hope this is a good day for you, I hope you’re having an amazing week. And just a reminder of how lucky we actually are. No matter how much you’re going through right now, no matter how bad things might be, you have so many amazing things available to you. You are so much greater off than so many other people in the world, and perspective and gratitude is one of the keys to happiness.
And if we don’t have perspective, and if we’re not grateful for what we do have, no matter how bad it might seem right now, doesn’t matter if you’re going through a divorce, if you’re going through a break-up, if you’re having a health challenge, if you’ve got some challenge with friendships or in business or you’re stressed out with money. Whatever it may be, it could always be a lot worse. Unfortunately, there are people out there who have it way worse than you.
Now, I’m not saying you need to be excited about where you’re at, but you have a lot to be grateful for. Just listening to this episode right now, tells me that you have a lot going on in your life, and that you’re hungry for more, that you desire to create more out of your life. And that’s why you’re here, to create more, to increase your lifestyle, to have a better life, to achieve the dreams that are inside of you, and that’s why you’re here.
And I’m excited about this episode, because we’ve got Sally Kohn on. Before we dive in, I want to share a quote with you from Nelson Mandela, who said, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, then they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”
Oh, gosh, there have been so many years where I’ve wasted my life hating people or resenting things from my past and holding onto them. And all it did was it hurt me, and hurt the people around me. And when I learned to come from a place of love, which is still a work in progress. Sometimes I still hold on to things and I get hateful. You know, it’s usually only for short moments, or maybe a couple of days at most, if it’s something extreme, but the key is to learn and be taught to love, because that’s really our human heart, that’s our human nature.
And Sally Kohn is one of the leading progressive voices in America today. She is a writer, activist and CNN political commentator and the host of the State of Resistance Podcast. Before that, she was a Fox News contributor, before that she worked for over fifteen years as a community organiser. Her writings have appeared in the New York Times, Washingon Post, rollingstones.com, USA Today Times, and many other outlets.
Her first two TED Talks have got over 3 million views and her new book, The Opposite of Hate, is out right now. And we talk about what Sally was motivated to do after getting tons of hate mail herself. Also, why finding someone to blame for the world’s problems, is not a good solution, and how to become aware and change your subconscious thoughts of hate towards individuals, or judgement. Also, the best way to handle bullying today, and what Sally learned from visiting Rwanda and talking to survivors of the genocide.
But before we dive in, I want to give a shout out to the Fan of the Week. This is from Brendan, who said, “No matter your mood, the podcast is sure to inspire and motivate you to make your life the life you have always dreamed of. Lewis has gotten me up on my feet and into the world of life coaching and helping to bring people closer to their dreams, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It is taught by experts and guests in The School of Greatness. So there is absolutely no reason to pass this up. Dive on in and make your dreams happen.”
I love that, Brendan! Thank you for sharing your review. And if you guys haven’t left a review yet, you know you can head over there right now on the podcast app on your phone, iTunes, whatever, and leave a review, and get a chance to be shouted out for the Fan and Review of the Week.
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Alright, my friends, let’s dive into this one: Creating the Opposite of Hate, with Sally Kohn.
Welcome back everyone, to The School of Greatness Podcast, we have Sally Kohn in the house. Good to see you.
Sally Kohn: Nice to see you, man! I’m really excited.
Lewis Howes: Thanks for being here. We’re in a different studio today, I’m in New York City, not in L.A. studio.
Sally Kohn: But you wouldn’t know, there’s no windows.
Lewis Howes: Exactly! But we are here and you have a new book out today. It’s called, The Opposite Of Hate: A Field Guide To Repairing Our Humanity. Make sure you guys go check it out, pick up a copy. Very excited about this.
Sally Kohn: I kind of forget there were videos, so I was like, “Who’s he showing the book to?” Like, “Dude, Lewis, it’s a podcast, they can’t see the book.” I got it now. I’m alright. It’s okay.
Lewis Howes: Now, I’m curious. I listened to your TED Talk about Sticky Vicky and did you…
Sally Kohn: Oi… I shouldn’t have that reaction, like, I know it’s out there, I just wrote a book about it and did a TED Talk, but every time people bring it up I feel like I get this pain in my stomach. Yeah, go ahead.
Lewis Howes: Sticky Vicky is, for those who haven’t seen the TED Talk, she was a girl in the fifth grade whom you bullied, teased, whatever you want to call it.
Sally Kohn: Bullied.
Lewis Howes: She smelled weird, she had bad hygiene and she was awkward, let’s say, like most of us kids, growing up, but it sounded to me like a lot of the kids in the class made fun of her. And you said even teachers made fun of her.
Sally Kohn: Even teachers. I mean, can you just…
Lewis Howes: That’s really sad. That’s really sad.
Sally Kohn: It really is. But I think this stuff still happens.
Lewis Howes: It happens. I got picked on by teachers.
Sally Kohn: Right! Like, I mean, what does that do to your sense of justice and righteousness, when the people who are supposed to be treating everyone fairly and equally, are picking on you. So, that’s, by the way, the fact that other kids did it and the teacher did it just didn’t make it any more, but one of the things, you know, it’s not like I was in denial or something, but I guess when I… So, I was a community organiser for 15 years.
Lewis Howes: What does that mean?
Sally Kohn: That means that, great question, Lewis. It means that I went around the country and I worked with local groups of folks that were trying to make change in their community. So, whether it was to get a stop sign at an intersection that was really dangerous, or protect immigrants in their community, or fix public assistance policies, I helped them do whatever they wanted to do, better, and connect with folks to make change at the State and National level. So I worked on a range of issues.
Lewis Howes: You’d rally communities together.
Sally Kohn: Exactly. And I did things like train people how to give a speech in city council, or how to go talk to the media at a press conference, or how to organise a house party and get a hundred people in your living room to talk about the sewage problem in the community. And I fell into media. Literally. I was giving a speech, someone saw me, they said…
Lewis Howes: And they were like, “You need to come on more, do more of this.”
Sally Kohn: Yeah, “Come do TV!” And I said, “No, no, I don’t do that, I do church basements, that’s my…
Lewis Howes: “Rally with the people. Ground level.”
Sally Kohn: Yeah. And long story short, I ended up going and being a talking head in 2009, 2010 and ended up working at Fox News for two and a half years. The reason I bring it up is, I hadn’t though about Vicky. Pretty much, occasionally I’d have memories and ruminations or whatever, but it wasn’t until I started getting hate mail when I was at Fox News. Something I had never experienced in my life. Both online on Twitter, and just actual hate e-mail, which at least has the benefit of being more convenient and less creepy, than getting mail at your own house.
And I started to get these strangers saying, writing, these incredibly vicious things to me, and I had this moment of, “Who the heck does this? Who’s mean to someone for no reason?” and then I realised, “Oh! Me! I also…” and I started to have this memory, that I’d never forgotten, but it had kind of faded into the back, it became clearer and clearer to me, and I started to feel worse and worse for what I’d done.
Which, to be completely honest, I don’t think I remember the entirety of, but I remember bits and pieces of memories of just having the one I talk about in the TED Talk and the book as standing outside the bathroom hall, waiting for, you know, standing outside in the hallway of fifth grade, waiting for Vicky to come out of the bathroom. And I’d made up a survey where I was pretending to ask about shampoo preferences. I was actually doing some kind of legitimate survey for science class or something.
And she comes out of the bathroom and I asked her what kind of shampoo she uses, and she says, “White Rain.” And I will tell you, I really, I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t remember pretty much anything from fifth grade, I can still hear her saying, “White Rain.” And then the classes let out and the hallway fills up with kids and I run down the hallway and I’m shouting, “Sticky Vicky uses White Rain shampoo, don’t use White Rain shampoo, or you’ll smell like Sticky Vicky!”
I recognise there are people who endure worse bullying. She, by the way, I know, endured worse bullying, but still, to go through life thinking of yourself as a mostly good person and on the side of goodness and kindness. And have to wrestle with the fact that I have the capacity for both kindness and cruelty, that was really the insight that led to this book.
Lewis Howes: So when that came up for you in the back of your mind, that you’d done these things to this person when you were a kid, is that what made you…. And then you wrote a letter to her, right? You wrote a letter to her, hoping that she would forgive you or something, but she didn’t, she said, “Pay it forward and redeem yourself on the world, make the world a better place.” Is that what set you off on this journey then?
Sally Kohn: So, it was that, combined with this experience of being hated, getting hate mail, which is just, for people who haven’t gotten it, especially for someone like me who’s spent your life believing in the goodness of people and the potential of people and the ability of folks to come together and be more than the sum of their parts and do great things. That had been my whole philosophy of humanity, and suddenly these trolls come and shook me to my core.
Not only what kind of people could do this, but what kind of society produces people that do this? And it was sort of that, combined with, honestly, being a liberal, lefty, lesbian suddenly setting foot into Fox News, thinking they would all hate me and they were, actually a lot of them, really, really nice. And I had to be, like, “Oh wait, I hate them.” Right? And so, suddenly it was like everything I thought got turned upside down.
It was like, “Oh, I’m a nice person,” but I have this capacity for cruelty in the past and the present. And here these people I think believe really cruel things in the world, but they can be actually really, really nice. And then here are random strangers who are being mean to me for no reason, and it made me want to understand why do we do this? Why? As people, why, as a society, do we hate? And what can we do about it?
Lewis Howes: Yeah. Because you mentioned that. You’re not born to hate people of colour, or people of different sexual tendencies or different religions, whatever it may be, we’re not born that way, but we become that way based on the culture around us, right?
Sally Kohn: Yeah, this is one of my favourite metaphors someone gave me, a psychologist gave me in the book, which is, we actually are, as human beings, we have evolved a capacity to hate. That’s undeniable. I really wanted to find out otherwise. I was desperate to find out otherwise, but it just, that’s the case.
When we were our ancient, little tribal selves, I guess somewhere hitting rocks with other rocks, and we were in our little tiny tribe, and a different tribe appeared over the hill, we were freaked out for good reason. And so, this kind of “us/them”, your preference for the “us” and your fear or even hostility toward “them” is actually, that is hardwired into the way our brains work.
Lewis Howes: Safety. To be safe, yeah.
Sally Kohn: Yeah, exactly, fight or flight, all of that stuff. But the analogy is to think about hardware versus software. So, the capacity to hate is the hardware, we all have it as human beings, it’s the way our brains are designed and our psychology is designed. But who we hate, that’s software, man, that has been coded into us by society.
So, there’s not some part of your brain that goes, “Hey, let’s be racist,” or, “Hey, let’s be anti-Semitic or Islamophobic.” That’s not in our neurons, in our DNA. That’s not there. That has been programmed into all of us, by our history, our habits, just the air we breathe. You can’t grow up in the United States of America, without having certain ideas about gender, certain ideas about race, certain ideas about nationalism, that is software. The good news of that is, though, it means we can change it.
Lewis Howes: Do you think we believe our peers more? Or the media more? If a friend of ours or a friend group in fifth grade is saying, “These people are bad,” or, “This religion is bad,” or, “Being gay is bad,” or whatever it is, if we hear that over and over versus hearing something over the media, showing these things over and over, showing bombings from a certain country going over, which one is more influential?
Sally Kohn: Do I have to pick? I mean, here’s the problem: Increasingly they’re saying the same things, right? And this is where I think, one of the things I say in my book is that, there is a spectrum of hate, they’re not all the same, so I’m not saying that bullying is as bad as genocide, but they’re related, they’re all about hate and otherizing and demeaning, and dehumanizing certain people and certain groups of people more likely than others. And by the same token, I’m not saying that explicit hate is the same thing as implicit or unconscious, but they’re related, right?
So, the fact is that, again, you grow up in this country, and increasingly as well, in the West, but you grow up in the United States of America, and you are going to have certain ideas about people of colour and white people. Certain ideas about men and women. You’re going to have them whether you’re white or black, or a man or a woman, because of the unconscious hatred that comes out of your peer’s mouths, right? It also comes out of your…
Lewis Howes: Ignorance, the unconscious ignorance.
Sally Kohn: I mean, ignorance is almost a blame worthy concept, and I’m really not interested in blame. I am personally not responsible for the history that got us to this point. I’m not going to wallow in it. There’s almost something a little too self-referencial about blame, for me, like, “I didn’t get us here. It’s not my fault.” But it is my responsibility to do something differently going forward.
And so, those ideas come from the media and they come from our peers, right? So, like we know that the media covers when black folks commit crimes and white folks commit crimes. They tend to show the white people who allegedly committed crime, they show their college or high school yearbook photo, and they show the black folks in a perp walk. We know that, it’s statistical, that’s a “thing”.
We know that when white, right wing Christian terrorists commits and act of violence, versus when a person who’s a Muslim commits an act of violence in the United States, the Muslim committing an act of violence in the United States gets covered four times more, even though three-quarters of terrorist acts since 9/11 have been committed by white extremists.
And that also, that’s about the media, that’s about what we end up sharing on social media, which is us. That’s about what we end up talking about at the dinner table. The way, with our kids and our friends, we’re more afraid of these people than those people. That’s all of us.
And so, the answer to hate is starting to be more conscious of the ways that we think about and treat people differently, based on who they are and the groups they belong to, in ways that are unfair and unjust.
Lewis Howes: How do we do that? How do we start thinking differently? When we have the same pattern running through our mind, subconsciously, or unconsciously. How do we catch it, and then what’s the step moving forward?
Sally Kohn: So, the good news is that there’s actually evidence that being more aware of our unconscious biases, helps us counter them. I mean, you can’t do something about, this is simple science, you can’t do something about an unconscious thought. You have to make it conscious, you have to bring it up to the surface, so that then you can examine it and do something about it. Which is different, by the way.
Let’s be clear about something: We’re still debating, as a country, whether unconscious bias is even a real thing. So, we’re not even at the point where we can say, “Hey, okay. This is true, the inequities and injustices that now pervade…” Look, black kids who commit the same infractions in elementary school are more likely to get suspended than white kids. You’re more likely to be pulled over if you’re black than if you’re white. You’re more likely to be arrested if you’re black than if you’re white. You’re more likely to be convicted if you’re black than if you’re white, more likely to get a harsher sentence if you’re black than if you’re white. Even though same levels of criminality.
So, we still, somehow, we’re still debating why this is. The fact that there are these biases baked into both our minds and our institutions, as a society. And some people say that the answer is, “Pretend there’s no difference. Stop talking about the differences.” I don’t think that’s the answer. In fact, first of all, I think our differences are what makes us great.
And especially in the United States, right? I mean, we are the out of one many country, e pluribus unum, right? This is our unique path, as the United States of America, to try to be, we’ve never done it perfectly, but to try to be a country of many, where we are all equal. Where we can all come here and all be treated equally and all have the same potential. That’s our principles, our values, our beliefs, our aspirations, even though we’ve never perfectly achieved them.
So, I don’t think our differences are a problem, I think our differences are what make us great. You have to be able to talk about the injustices and the inequality and acknowledge the footprint, the thumbprint, that history and culture have left in all of our minds. We have to talk about it, and then, believe it or not, from there you start to just be more conscious and then you catch it, you catch yourself.
The other answer, by the way, is actually getting outside of our own bubbles. So, for instance, we know that kids who go to racially integrated elementary schools, they don’t develop as much racial bias at all, to begin with, and teenagers who participate in racially integrated after school activities and sports, they reduce their racial bias. So, also, it’s about not just race, but knowing people of different classes, people who voted for different people, you know? Who have different… urban/rural, breaking up some of those divides. That’s where we start to get to change.
Lewis Howes: Right, right. I feel very blessed or lucky to grow up with very diverse experiences, travelling the world, I played football in the South I was one of the only white guys on the team, and just learned. You learn a different language, you learn different experiences and you can relate differently to people.
I grew up with seven different exchange students from around the world, who would teach me their language, cook their foods, talk about their experiences, what it was like in their country from five until about fourteen. My brother was in prison for four and a half years, so I would visit him and talk to different inmates during visiting hours, in a group visiting room, and just learn from so many different people from all walks of life, where I felt like I was very lucky and fortunate to.
But I’m sure I still judge and have these biases today, but I feel like I’m open and aware of things that are happening. At least I’m going to talk about them. And I do my best, you know, like we talked about before, being a tall, white, jock, straight man, there’s a lot of opinions about me, and I try to constantly break through those and see people for where they’re at.
Sally Kohn: What I love about that, a lot of things I love about that, but first of all, I always forget about exchange students. And you and I are of the generation where we had exchange students.
Lewis Howes: Yeah. My sister was one, too.
Sally Kohn: That right there, is such an incredible and important piece of that whole puzzle you just described, but I especially love two things. You said, look, you still have your biases, and you said it in a way, though, that wasn’t like you were putting on a hair shirt and punishing yourself. It’s just a fact. Like, “I still have my biases,” like you and I both still, every time we walk past a baked good, we want to eat it.
That’s just who, hey, no big deal, I don’t loathe myself. I don’t get weighted down or even stuck in beating myself up. It is a fact. You still got some. And it’s because, I think, you’ve had so many different experiences and been so open to them that you can… I mean, I love the metaphor of The Mask of Masculinity. Not only the alliteration, which is friggin’ brilliant, and you know it, but because there’s an interesting thing about masks, right?
When you put on a mask, and you know, because you’ve written it, when you put on a mask it both stops you from being seen and it stops you from seeing others. And, again, I’m not beating up on the mask either, that’s just a fact. And so, the more we can try to see and experience others in an open-minded way. I feel the same way, I was blessed to get to go work at Fox News, and I don’t think a lot of people might say that, but I was, because it made me realise that these people that I thought of as the enemy, weren’t and were far more complicated than the stereotypes I had. And taking off those masks as a blessing.
Lewis Howes: Yeah. With your point of view, why did you go work at Fox News in the first place?
Sally Kohn: How much time do we have?
Lewis Howes: Not going to get into politics too much, but I’m just curious.
Sally Kohn: I know, you said we’re not talking politics, and so, no, no, I mean, first of all, in the beginning I did what little baby pundits do, right? I did Fox, I did CNN, I did MSNBC, I did them all, and I had the opportunity and one day I met Roger Rails, and he said, “Hey, would you want to come work here?” Which means be an exclusive content on their network only, and I said… Actually, I didn’t say yes immediately. It was my friends, out of organising, who were all organising the campaigns to shut down Fox, so I called them and was like, “Hey, guys, what do you think?”
Lewis Howes: “Are you going to hate me if I do this?”
Sally Kohn: Right. And I really wanted to get their honest feedback, criticism, take on this, and honestly, their blessing, which I did get, because, first of all the truth is, whatever you think of Fox News, someone has to go on. They’re going to have some liberal on, and second, there are people watching. And at the time, there were more democrats watching Fox News than MSNBC or CNN, because the audience is that big.
And what people helped me realise, and then I experienced, was just like the people on Fox’s air aren’t all a monolith, right? I’m still pleased to call Sean Hannity a friend, I’m grateful he has supported and blurbed the book. Just like the people on air aren’t just the stereotype, neither are the people watching. They aren’t all Sean Hannity or all Bill O’Rielly, they have doubts and questions and curiosities and I’m an activist. I believe in social change. So you got to, if you want to change hearts and minds, you should be… Why do people rob banks? It’s where the monies are! I’m going to go… Did I just say, “monies”? I did!
Lewis Howes: The monies… I hear you.
Sally Kohn: I need more coffee.
Lewis Howes: This is funny, because I get a lot of, I don’t know if it’s hate, but I just get a lot of critique when I go on certain media that isn’t the most politically correct or positive media and I’m like, listen, I’m trying to go to places that I’m not preaching to the choir.
Last year I went on Ellen, and then the next day I went on Glenn Beck. And there was someone who mentioned, there’s probably no one in history who’s been on both those shows back to back days, and they were kind of upset at me for going on Glenn Beck.
And I was, like, “Listen, when I met the guy, he was super cool, very nice, we got an incredible conversation and I’m trying to reach people that I’m not preaching to the choir to, about letting go of the masks, helping heal humanity. I’m not trying to say the same thing to the same people.”
And I think it’s our duty, if we want to be activists, to reach out to people that don’t believe in the same things as us, who don’t think like us and don’t act like us, and who don’t talk like us, we try to learn and connect in a different way to make change, wouldn’t you say?
Sally Kohn: Completely! And also, what’s the alternative? It’s like, “Okay, so let me understand this correctly. Let’s play this out for a second.” By the way, Glenn’s also a friend, and I think, on the topic of masculinity, is a really interesting ally in a lot of ways. Name a left wing TV male talk show host who cries that much. Anyway, love you Glenn.
But what’s the alternative. You want to allow them? If you believe, for instance that folks on the right perpetuate, prop up systems of misogyny and sexism and rigid gender codes and rules that oppress us all, so we should let them keep doing that? We should just be like, “Oh well, lost that 50%!”
Lewis Howes: “I’ll talk to my people, you talk you yours.” Yeah, yeah.
Sally Kohn: It’s because, I don’t understand. Like, don’t you want them to change? Right?
Lewis Howes: Or be aware, or think differently.
Sally Kohn: Yeah! Yeah! I mean, I watched what happened with marriage equality, which was, by the way, never my favourite issue and I’m not married and I wish the state could get out of telling people what kinds of families are good families and bad families, but whatever. Now I have friends on the right come up to me and call my partner my wife, and I have to be all, “She’s not my wife,” but people changed on that issue, and I think we would all agree it’s a good thing. So, yeah, you rob banks because it’s where the money is, you got to go talk to people where the people…
Lewis Howes: The monies. The monies, yeah.
Sally Kohn: Thank you, thank you for remembering that. Gotta have that extra coffee.
Lewis Howes: I’m curious. What is the most horrible thing you’ve ever said or done?
Sally Kohn: Oh my gosh! Ooh my! What’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever said or done?
Lewis Howes: Because you talked about Sticky Vicky and how this was a memory that you forgot about that came back, because you realised that, “Hey, as much as I’m trying spread love, and positivity in the world, I’ve been a bully or done bully-like things to people.” So, I’m just curious if that was the worst thing or if there has been other things that you really aren’t proud of, or regretful of saying or doing to people?
Sally Kohn: Oh my gosh! Hello, Twitter, I feel like you all could find all the things you think are the worst things I’ve said and done, and let me know. You know, it’s interesting, the thing, it’s a really great question, and there are a lot of things I know I’ve thought, that I regret, and I’m sure in my expressions, and sometimes in my words and sentiments, they’ve come out, but that, I’ll be honest, it really is. There’s no question in my life, what I regret the most was what I did in fifth grade to Vicky. It haunts me.
It just, and I can find peace and acceptance, I think, about a lot of things, I can’t about that. I still will have nightmares about it and I feel, and it’s that… Again, I’m not saying that these things are the same, at all, but one of the things I did for the book is, I went to Rwanda and talked to people who had been on both sides of the genocide there, which was the fastest genocide in human history in 1994, it wasn’t that long ago, 800,000 people killed in a 100 days.
Lewis Howes: Eight-hundred thousand?
Sally Kohn: Eight-hundred thousand. And what I first of all take away and try to capture in the book, is the incredible… what it must take for people to forgive after something like that. And then I spent time with people who, a man and a woman, sitting in her home, with the man who had killed her husband and her children. Welcoming him into her home, talking with him like they were friends. That grace, that kindness, I don’t know that I have the capacity for that.
When I was trying to understand what happened in Rwanda, a philosopher I spoke with pointed out that mass atrocities don’t happen because of a few psychopaths. There wouldn’t be mass atrocities. The reason we end up with mass atrocities: Rwanda, Serbia, the Holocaust, is because masses of people participate in them. And that we all have, we like to think that this is something that happens somewhere else, to other people, we call it evil, because that makes it, somehow, the sort of strange, spiritual, other worldly thing.
We all have that capacity to be so brutal and cruel, and it startles me, I think, and shakes me at a deep level on an almost daily basis, that I know I have that capacity too, because of what I remember doing to Vicky. And, again, for me, it’s this constant warning, and reminder to try to be humble and not judge others when they then do cruel things. But it also, it does, it haunts me, I regret it.
Lewis Howes: Right. Were you bullied a lot yourself?
Sally Kohn: No. I was a bully. I mean, it’s funny, I don’t remember… It’s not funny. Why do I do that? I say it’s funny when things are super not funny! I’ve noticed this about myself, lately. Anyway, so it’s not funny.
Lewis Howes: It’s called the Joker Mask. I wrote about it.
Sally Kohn: Dang it, Lewis and your wisdom!
Lewis Howes: We can only share what we do ourselves, too.
Sally Kohn: At the end of fifth grade, I did something to some kid, I don’t remember what I did, and the kid, I remember exactly where I was at the school. In the lunch room. And the kid just broke down crying. And something snapped in me, and I realised that what I did was wrong. I’m mean, this kid thinks I’m mean, people think I’m mean. And that was that. Thankfully.
Lewis Howes: That’s when you stopped.
Sally Kohn: Yeah. And then I fortunately also switched schools. Unrelatedly, but that allowed me to have a fresh start, yeah. But no, I was definitely not [bullied], I was the bully.
Lewis Howes: How much bullying is happening still today in schools? Because I dont’ have kids, so I’m not aware as much? You know, I hear stories, but I’m not sure is it more lovey-dovey, or is it more bully-bully right now? Because when I grew up, man, it was challenging. Really challenging.
Sally Kohn: You know, this is interesting, right? I’m forty-one, I mean, you’re…
Lewis Howes: I’m thirty-five.
Sally Kohn: Oh gosh! You know, why do I think everyone’s old like me?
Lewis Howes: I used to feel completely made fun of all the time, and maybe that’s a story I tell myself, and maybe it was only a handful of times that I blew out of proportion. But I didn’t have any friends, literally, to the point where there were kids in the neighbourhood who said, “If you want to join our club, if you want to be a part,” this is bad, “If you want to be a part of our club, you have to either answer a test, or pay money.”
Sally Kohn: Ah, honey! Well, wait. Now enquiring minds want to know, Lewis.
Lewis Howes: So they asked questions, and I was like, I don’t know, eight maybe? Maybe nine. One of the questions was, “Name an astronaut that’s been on the moon,” and I didn’t know. And I can’t remember the second question, there was a bunch of questions, and I didn’t know any of them, which made me feel stupid already, and they’re like, “Well, you can’t be our friend unless you give us money.” So I went home and got coins from my mom, put it in a shoe box and brought it to get to hang out with them in their club, and then I did that for one day and then I never went back, because I was like, “I feel horrible.” But that’s what I went through.
Sally Kohn: Oh my gosh! If you guys are listening, and would like to send Lewis his money back, with interest, that would be really noble to do right now.
Lewis Howes: No, but I don’t blame these kids, and it’s all good, but I mean, there were instances like that all the time. Where I was picked last on sports teams, and a lot of these things drove me…
Sally Kohn: Yeah, which is mildly ironic, but continue.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, it’s funny, right? But a lot of these things drove me to be a better person. I saw what other people didn’t see in me. I was like, “Huh. They don’t think I’m good, they don’t think I’m smart, they don’t think I’m this,” and I used it as fuel to improve my life. I said, “I’m going to become the best athlete I can be.”
And so I trained all day, all night, non stop for years, and that was a whole other story. I did it out of, with a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong, and so, even though I got the results, I was always unhappy and unfulfilled. And I’ve learned that, that was the process of writing this book, The Mask of Masculinity. I was so driven to be right and to win at all costs and to be this because I never wanted to feel less than.
Sally Kohn: But even that unhappiness and yearning, led to a good thing for the world.
Lewis Howes: Right, yeah, at the end of the day I’m, you know, it all worked out, but I didn’t have to go through 25 years of resentment and anger towards this bullying that happened, or feeling less than, or whatever. So, back to the question: Is it happening a lot today with social media and everything else that’s available? Or do you feel like because it’s so sensitive, that parents have really rallied around any bullying that’s happening and shutting it down right away?
Sally Kohn: Yeah. So, first of all, there’s, like, an interesting point you just made there about adversity. As a parent, or just in general, thinking about how some adversity is a good thing, and, by the way, some adversity is also how we develop compassion for others who experience more adversity. So, we were talking…
Lewis Howes: Adversity is part of life, it’s like…
Sally Kohn: Right, we were talking before the mics were on, and I said my parents were super duper extra over the top supportive when I came out, but my high school girlfriends were not. And so my first real experience of being discriminated…
Lewis Howes: They were not towards you, or their parents were not?
Sally Kohn: Towards the idea of us being gay. Her or me, or us together. And so my first experience, personal experience, really, of being on the receiving side of prejudice and discrimination was that moment. And it made me want to make the world a better place. It made me an activist. It made me seek out, and I started doing gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender activism and then it led to immigrant rights and criminal justice reform and more. And that was out of my adversity.
Lewis Howes: So, that adversity supported you, yeah.
Sally Kohn: So, there is a way in which you don’t want to protect kids, and I do worry, you know, you and I, I remember we were on the playground unsupervised and some nasty stuff went down, that I can not believe went down under state supervision. But on some level we got to roam the… you know, we left the house at 9am on a Saturday and came back at five, no one knew were you were, really bad stuff went down, but you…
Lewis Howes: Take your bike out and just…
Sally Kohn: Yeah, right. So, I do worry that we have a little over-protected kids. There is a lot of talk now about bullying and so in some ways things are getting sort of over-ascribed to bullying.
Lewis Howes: Like, any negative thing, it’s like, yeah.
Sally Kohn: Yeah, it’s like, “Just work it out, kids.” So they’ll come and they’ll be like, “Boo-hoo, bullied me,” and I’ll be like, “No, they just called you a stupid-head, and go work it out. Go deal.”
Lewis Howes: “Say how it made you feel,” or whatever, yeah.
Sally Kohn: At the same time, there’s no question that there’s still serious real bullying happening. We see some really disturbing examples of this, we know it, especially is happening to gender non-conforming kids, to poor kids, to kids with disabilities, and it’s happening online, and it’s happening online, all those mean girl dynamics and all the race, gender, class harassment and all of that is exacerbated tremendously online.
And I think it’s easier for those of us that are older to say, “Oh, it’s just, social media, it’s not real, it’s not…” whatever, but when you’ve grown up steeped in that, such that your real and virtual identities are kind of conflated, and obviously we’re seeing people commit suicide based on online bullying, so it is deeply, deeply disturbing.
And it goes then, to me, how we as adults, I mean, honestly I think it’s important that high school and college kids have these conversations and I hope they read the book. But, as adults, how are we setting the tone? Because when we set the tone of, “Oh, kids, don’t bully,” and then the way we talk about our neighbours or our co-workers, or Trump supporters, or Clinton supporters. And we’re setting the tone of hate. We can all do a better job.
Lewis Howes: Wow. So, how do we start to repair the language and our ways of being, if we’ve been so conditioned in a certain way for so long, how do we start to repair that so that humanity comes together?
Sally Kohn: You know, I’d love to paint my book as some really complicated thing here, but it’s actually not. I mean, I think, you know, the stories in it, my stories, my struggles, the former terrorists and former neo-nazis I spent time with, they’re complex, inspiring stories, but at the end of the day, the answer isn’t that hard here. It’s not that hard to be nice.
We know what it feels like to be treated with respect and dignity and kindness. It’s the way we want to be treated. It all goes back to… When we were talking about childhood, one of the things I remember most about my childhood, is this very 1980’s print of the Golden Rule, with the populace of the world, and this gilded, fake gilded, screenprint, whatever, but the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
We all learn this already, we know how to be kind, and the problem is, you know, this is the other thing, I think this is, to me, the most profound take away, for me, from this process of writing this book, is no one thinks they’re hateful. No one. There’s a few outliers, obviously. But even if you look at current Nazis and terrorists. They don’t think they’re hateful, they think they are reacting to the hate of others.
We all, when it comes to hate, we all tend to have this sort of, “They started it,” philosophy, and don’t see ourselves as either participating in it, or if we even acknowledge it, it’s because they did it first, and we’re just reacting, responding. We’re justified. And in that eye for an eye, the whole world becomes blind. So, somewhere, at some point one of us, we have the individual possibility and potential and responsibility to make a different choice.
Yes, there’s pieces of public policy and what we do to deal with racism in the criminal justice system, and the fact that we live in segregated communities and all that, and how our media is dividing us, and I talk about that, and we need to do something about that, too, but it begins with each of us saying, “I don’t like the hateful society we’re in. I don’t like this culture of hate, and I’m going to look at what I can do. No matter what, I’m going to stop it.” It begins with each of us.
Lewis Howes: How do we stop it when someone is doing something so unjust or so inhumane, you know, or killing people. How do we not have these negative, hateful feelings or thoughts towards them? If someone who’s killing everyone, whether it be literally or metaphorically, how do we say, “I love you. You’re the best.”
Sally Kohn: Well, maybe not, “You’re the best.” Let’s not go that far! I mean, look, I go back to the lessons I take from folks in Rwanda who, again, if they could manage to do it, after what they’ve been through.
Lewis Howes: How do they manage it, though?
Sally Kohn: By believing, by understanding, it goes back to understanding that we all have this capacity for good and evil and I also take a lot of inspiration from leaders in non-violence and peace movements like Martin Luther King, and what we forget is, that the core idea behind non-violent resistance, that was at the centre of his piece of the civil rights movement, was compassion and was this idea, that if we’re going to get past this history and this hateful present, we have to all change.
You don’t just obliterate your enemy. Your oppressor has to become something. They don’t go away, so what are they going to become? Well, they’re going to have to become your ally. And when we talk about, I remember once talking to someone who works in peace negotiations, about this notion of, you would end up negotiating with your enemy, it was like, “Well, who the hell else do you think you negotiate with in a peace negotiation?” They were your enemy.
If we’re going to change, as people, as a society, we have to figure out how to transcend it. So, Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, they talked about the wounds in their enemies, too. They talked about, this hate isn’t serving any of us. This division isn’t serving any of us.
We have white people who feel pain in rural America and we have have black people who feel pain in cities, and in the South, and this hate isn’t serving anyone. And Martin Luther King said, “Hate doesn’t drive out hate. Only light can do that.” And that’s right. The answer to hate is never more hate.
Lewis Howes: That’s it, yeah. A couple of questions for you, left. This one’s called, The Three Truths. At the end of every episode I ask people, if this was your last day, many years from now, and you got to choose the day that it’s your last day on earth.
Sally Kohn: I would have eaten the baked goods, Lewis, I would have eaten all the baked goods.
Lewis Howes: You would have eaten the baked goods, that day, they all go down the belly. But as old as you want to be, a hundred, two hundred, there’s advanced technologies, whatever. But whatever the day, the year, you get to choose, and it’s finally the last day, but you have to say at one point, “Okay, it’s done.” And you’ve achieved everything you want. Every dream has come true every book you got to write, everything you wanted to say.
Sally Kohn: I was on The School of Greatness Podcast.
Lewis Howes: Exactly. But it all came true. But for whatever reason, you got to take it all with you, your whole message, you had to take it with you as you passed. So there was nothing left for people to remember you by, except for a piece of paper and a pen and you got to write down three things you knew to be true about your entire experience of life. Three lessons you would leave behind, and this is all people would have to be reminded, or to remember you by. What would you say are your Three Truths?
Sally Kohn: Just because hate feels justified, doesn’t mean it’s justifiable.
We all have the capacity to do great cruelty and great kindness.
And I don’t want to be, ever, the excuse for someone being their worst self. I want to be the inspiration for someone being their best self.
I think that was three.
Lewis Howes: That was three?
Sally Kohn: I thought so.
Lewis Howes: Okay, cool, thank you.
Sally Kohn: A run-on three.
Lewis Howes: I like it! I want to acknowledge you for your awareness, for seeing the good inside of yourself and also seeing the things that you maybe don’t appreciate about what you’ve done in the past and using it for good, to make an impact, to the people that already believe in you, and to the people that maybe you’re working to pull over to your side, and your beliefs.
I think it’s really important for us to constantly be aware of what’s working for us and what’s not working for us. And so, for you to have an awareness and do TED Talks and write books about it and really spread that message of love over hate and awareness, it’s really powerful. So I acknowledge you for that.
Sally Kohn: Thank you.
Lewis Howes: Make sure you guys get the book, it’s called, The Opposite Of Hate: A Field Guide To Repairing Our Humanity. Make sure you check it out. It’s out right now.
Where can we connect with you online?
Sally Kohn: I am @sallykohn, K.O.H.N., across all platforms, except Snapchat, because I still don’t understand how it works. And, sallykohn.com.
Lewis Howes: Okay, cool. And the last question is: What’s your definition of greatness?
Sally Kohn: I have to be honest, because I knew you were going to ask this, and my immediate answer, when I was like, “Oh, he’s going to ask!” my first answer is, well, now I actually can’t think of the word without thinking about you. So there is that, I just do want to day that, if we’re doing appreciations, man, I love you and I love what you stand for. And I love how you’ve recaptured and reframed the concept of greatness.
Because I think, greatness, we’ve often thought of, and this, I think, goes to my answer, we’ve often thought of greatness as an individual, kind of conquering and achievement, and you’ve turned greatness into [being] about your impact in the world. And I thank you. So, that, to me, that is my definition of greatness is, “Do you do great things in this world for others?”
Lewis Howes: There you go. Sally. Thanks so much. Appreciate it, appreciate you.
Sally Kohn: Thanks man, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Lewis Howes: Again, you were born to love, not to hate. We have been trained over the years to respond, to react, to come from a place of bullying, to hate others, to judge others, but that’s not who you are, that’s not where you came from, that’s what you’ve been trained to do and conditioned to do over time. And it’s time we untrain ourselves.
If you enjoyed this, make sure to share with your friends, lewishowes.com/631. You can take a screenshot, tag me on Instagram, I’m @LewisHowes, let’s start the conversation over there. I like to hang out there the most, over on Twitter as well, Facebook, all the places. And again, if you haven’t left a review yet, feel free to leave a review and share what you thought about this episode over on the podcast app or on iTunes.
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We’ve got a powerful episode coming up next time. I’m very excited about our next guest, Jay Williams, the legendary. One of the most incredible college basketball players of all time who got in a motorcycle accident when he was in the NBA, went on Oprah and talked about his experience, and he’s going to share some valuable things that he’s never shared before. We dove in deep together, and you’re going to love this episode. So make sure to stay tuned for the next episode, coming very soon.
And, again, as Nelson Mandela said, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”
I love you very much, and I’m so glad we’re on this journey together. Every single episode is another opportunity to learn more, to discover who we truly are and to reach our full potential. Thank you, again, for all that you do.
And you know what time it is: It’s time to go out there and do something great!