[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success with your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.9] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet, with now more than a million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode we ask; do you have to be worthless to succeed? We examine how compassion is powerfully linked with success. We discussed the essential task of challenging your own worldview and seeking evidence that you disagree with. We learn how to ask great questions and much more, with Dr. Chris Kukk.
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In our previous episode we discussed habit loops, how they form, what they are, and we looked at why you can't stop picking up your phone. We talked about the habits and routines that research shows are the most correlated with success. We looked at how to bake mental models into your brain and much more, with Charles Duhigg. If you want to break you phone addiction, listen to that episode.
Now, for the interview.
[0:02:36.9] MB: Today we have another amazing guest who has the honor of being the very first guest to do a return interview on the Science of Success, Dr. Chris Kukk. Chris is a former counterintelligence agent, now, a professor of political science at Western Connecticut State University. He's the founding director of the Center for Compassion Creativity and Innovation and he’s the author of the newly released book, The Compassionate Achiever. He’s been featured in NPR, NBC, The Economist and much more.
Chris, welcome back to the Science of Success.
[0:03:06.8] CK: Wow, Matt. Thanks for having me on again, and the first guest. It’s a true honor. I love your show. Thank you for having me back on.
[0:03:13.1] MB: We’re very excited to have you back and to share some new wisdom. For listeners who haven't been following what you're up to lately, what have you been doing since we last chatted?
[0:03:22.6] CK: Oh, man! Everything from working again in the Dalai Lama, back to campus for students and outreach to schools on social emotional learning. Just came back. Tough gig in Hawaii working with schools out there on getting kids to have their lessons, really, in math and science, woven with social and emotional learning, so that kids — This idea of looking out for others becomes kind of a natural habit, what they were born with.
Babies are not looking to take someone else down, right? Everyone’s looking to cooperate, and we learn like Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, we learn kind of these bad habits through society of looking out for ourselves and not caring about others. It’s getting the kids — The kids, once they understand that looking out for others is part of being a human, part of being part of humanity. They literally flow right into it and they bring it home to their parents. We had talked with parents about what we’re doing in school and the parents are so excited about it.
There’s this emphasis now, I think, back in the schools and parents were involved in schools of getting kids back into a community. Not focused on just testing. That's what we've been focused on in the last decade or more, is kids in testing. We should be talking about kids and being a part of communities, and that’s what we’re doing lately.
[0:04:48.2] MB: Tell me more about that. What exactly is social and emotional learning?
[0:04:52.8] CK: Social and emotional learning, the shorthand of it is really having self-awareness about yourself and how you feel about a certain situation and how your emotions, what your emotions are when they first come up about a certain situation. Then having awareness about other people’s perspective on their emotions and their feelings and then working with that together. Really, think about it — The way I think about it is I played lots of sports in high school and through college and it's about getting a team moving forward. You know when you're part of a community or part of a team, you can do more when everyone's working together.
It’s even part of what I went through in the service as a counterintelligence agent. The best squads in counter-intel were the ones that even if the people didn't personally like one another, they just thought — I don’t know. Back in my day you were either a Dallas Cowboy fan or a Pittsburgh Steeler fan, and it’s getting those two teams and two fan bases together to work together. In the military, even if you didn’t like someone, you always had their back. You always help them through things, and it's getting that idea like, “Okay, kids nowadays. I guess just go Yankees, Red Sox. One is a Yankees fan, another is a Red Sox fan. They may not personally get along in terms of baseball, but when they're in a classroom, they’re looking out for each other and they’re looking to say someone’s down and giving them a high-five or checking in and see what's up with them. Is there anything they can do to help, and it’s building that community, that sense of trust, and we know that when it starts on the local level, on the very individual to individual level, it tends to spread. It becomes a contingent, just like negativity is a contingent. Positivity is a contagion as well, and if we can get kids to do it, also parents do it, and that’s what we’re finding out. It just spreads from, literally, from the bottom up, and now teachers are getting involved in it, because they're seeing these kids are in a classroom and it’s full of compassion. Their scores go up, and it may not be rocket science, but it’s definitely brain science, right?
When you're in a compassionate environment, dopamine starts to flow. You get this reward chemical, and as neuroscience has shown, dopamine acts like a post-it note for memory. Kids are starting to memorize better. They’re starting to learn more and retain more. There’s this cool circle, this 360 degrees circle all starting with good compassion about learning and about succeeding. To me, that's just going to create a better world all the way around.
[0:07:31.1] MB: I love how you started with the concept of personal awareness and how important that is. That, to me, a recurring theme that we see again and again on the show, which is being self-aware and figuring out, “What am I feeling emotionally? Where am I right now?” is really the first step to unlocking so much more.
[0:07:52.1] CK: It is. I think we are in such — We’re in a time where everyone wants to move fast and we’re in a moment in history where we’re talking about globalization and global connections, but there is a paradox in there. We’re connecting globally, but we’re not connecting locally. We’re not connecting individually to each other.
What I mean by that is that, yeah, we can contact friends or the mighty country of Estonia through Skype. It’s the country where Skype actually came from, was Estonia, and we can communicate with people out there. When we’re talking to each other, how many times do you see people taking out their cell phones and looking at their cell phones instead of looking eye to eye into someone else, right? We forgot the importance of looking into the windows of the soul, and that's another person's eyes, and you can read so much and learn so much from someone just by looking at them while you're talking. We’re in such a rush lately in terms of individuals that we’re missing each. We’re creating that kind of — You know when you’re on that train and the train is going by, the place is really fast. Everything is like a blur. That’s what we’re doing to each other. We’re creating blurs and we wonder why our society is weakening, civil society is kind of crumbling and I don't think it's complicated and maybe complex, but it’s not complicated. I think we just need to realize that the time we take with each other and with ourselves, you and I talked about this before, we both meditate, and when I meditate in the morning, I swear, everything for the rest of the day is everything — It’s like when you're hitting a baseball and you're on. Everything's in slow motion. You catch more than you miss. When I don't meditate, I miss more than I catch. I think we’ve been doing that with each other as well.
[0:09:57.5] MB: You talked about, and I think some of these stems from your military work, from the work you’ve done in schools, the importance of looking out for each other and building trust. I know we touched on this briefly in our previous conversation as well, but tell me about how that interacts with people who think about the world from the framework of survival of the fittest and how — Are those ideas mutually supporting or are they opposed?
[0:10:24.5] CK: Oh, man. That’s a great question, because first of, let’s clear up a misconception about survival of the fittest. When we normally talk about survival of the fittest, we think in Cliff Notes version of Charles Darwin on origin species. That’s where he hypothesized something like survival of the fittest, but he never coined the term survival of the fittest. It was a guy named Spencer that did.
What you find out with survival of the fittest when you actually read Darwin and you go through The Dissent of Man, for example, which is later on after he's done a lot of his research, you find out that Darwin says that the species that will move up the evolutionary ladder most efficiently and the most effectively is the species has that has the highest number of its members, and this is his words, that are sympathetic to each other. Sympathy, Paul Ekman, has found out by going through a lot of the research as well, is that he means altruism. It means compassion. It means empathy and different passages of The Dissent of Man.
He uses the synonym sympathy for those three other words, and when we think survival of the fittest, we think — It’s like the playground scenario. When kids play King of the Hill, they have to push down someone else in order to get on top. It's a zero-sum game. If one person wins, that means another person has to lose. That’s how kind of shorthand a survival of the fittest as a society, and that's not what Darwin was ever talking about. Darwin was talking about how people helping one another will actually move that species, that community along and move it forward. When you talk about economics, because people think when you talk about compassion, it’s supposed to be week. It’s supposed to be soft, and that’s so backwards. Just an example, water which is considered soft, can cut through rock, which is considered hard. If you have this image of being kind is soft and weak, you have already started losing ground in whatever you think you want to achieve. That's the one thing I want to kind of get across.
Paul Zak shows in his work, and he calls himself a neuro-economist, and he writes some great stuff, the book called like The Moral Molecule. He shows that communities that have high levels of trust, and he takes it back to even measuring oxytocin in the blood, and compassion, when you think in a compassionate way, you actually increase oxytocin. Those communities that have a high level of oxytocin create that trust, and it’s a kind of — It feeds in on itself, trust and oxytocin, once you start to get it going. It builds up more and more.
Those societies that have the greatest and committees that have the greatest levels of trust also have the strongest economies, because everyone can trust — The contracts are not written necessarily on paper. They’re written literally in blood through the oxytocin, and people can help each other move forward more efficiently and effectively when you have that trust. If you think you need a contract every single time you need to do something, you’re going to slow things down. You’re going to slow down because you need to do the bureaucratic paperwork that needs to be done to guarantee that you need to move forward.
Mat, I remember when a handshake accounted for everything. Now, we have to have lawyers looking over many different things and people looking for the one eye that isn’t the auditor, the one tee that isn’t crossed. That's up to us to bring that handshake back to each other and to create that positivity and that level of trust, and that level of trust, the byproduct. It's not the purpose that you do it, but the byproduct is success.
[0:14:40.8] MB: Tell me more about that. Tell me about the idea that compassion is not soft or weak, and specifically about the link between compassion and success.
[0:14:53.4] CK: Oh, man! It’s so much. That’s what the books is about. The Compassion Achiever is literally about that link. It starts — Let me give an example of what I mean by that. First off, the compassion-trust angle, if you're part of a community, and all of us are, and you build — And it starts with one person. I call that a ripple effect, and other people have used ripple effect. Mother Teresa is called the Ripple of Kindness in moving forward and how that engulfs other people, it moves everyone forwarding and then creates the trust, which then creates that strength.
It's more than that, because in the service, in high school sports, I was told you, “Kukk, you have to be ruthless in order to succeed.” I noticed that not just in sports, but in economics and in other fields that work jerks or people who really just focus about themselves, they may gain some success, and I’m not saying they’re not going to win certain battles. They will, and that's what happens, but their success in terms of the people who are selfish and self-interested exclusively will flameout. It's not sustainable success, because, Matt, we all fall. We all inevitably fail at sometimes. Even when we’re on a roll, there are things that don't work out.
When we fall in you’ve been compassion you’ve been helping other people, what I find out is that a lot of the people around you won’t let you fall away to the ground, or if you do, they’re there to pick you up immediately not to stay down. We fail to give that, I think, enough credence and enough credit. We kind of — You think you have to achieve a certain level, and then you’ve done it and it’s over. I think true achievement includes the word sustainability. That you have to have sustained success, because anybody, any jerk can attain a certain level of success.
I think the real achievers are the ones who sustain success across a long period. Just as an example, look at Enron. Enron was a company that was focused on — It’s exclusively its bottom line, so it drove electricity into the ground so it could drive its profits up. It was supposed to be the model. Great reporters and political economists, they were using Enron as an example of a successful company. Enron is no longer in existence, but you have businesses like Patagonia who are out in the community making their communities better, giving back to the communities who have a much, I would argue, greater level success, but also a more sustainable level of success.
When you have that that idea of compassion moving forward as your main goal, it’s an intrinsic motive. We know through psychology studies, we know through neuroscience that if your focus is extrinsic, that means that you're looking for material gain. You're looking for monetary gain. You're looking for a promotion. It’s an extrinsic value. It’s something outside you that you may get it, but you’re not going to keep it for long.
The intrinsic values, like patriotism, like compassion, as you move through life, and those are your values, those are your motivating — I call them motivating verbs. Then your byproduct is sustainable success, and it’s just —You can go through any field. We just did business, but over and over again you see that, and it’s not the superstars and the individual superstars who are NBA team, it’s the teams that usually win NBA championships. It’s from sports to businesses across the board where you think compassion doesn't matter. Academics, compassion matters, it matters for sustainable success.
[0:19:09.6] MB: That’s such a great point, and something we've dug into previously on the shows specially when we had Dacher Keltner on here to talk about the science of power, and so much research validates this idea that people who achieve and maintain power are often people who are the most compassionate, the most emotionally intelligent. They’re not these sort of caricatures of ruthless leaders. Occasionally and recently, especially that can happen, but to have it truly be sustainable, it has to be driven from a place of compassion.
[0:19:43.9] CK: Without a doubt. In Keltner’s work, in The Greater Good, they do some great studies there, and I cite some of their work actually in the book, in the Power of Paradox. I actually bought, haven’t read it yet, but I have it on my bookshelf to the red.
Yeah, I think science shows it more and more, Matt, and I think your show also highlights in many different ways, in many different perspectives, that angle, and my book simply brings together a lot of those different angles and puts them into one perspective as the compassion achievers, if we all were compassionate achievers, I think we’d have a society that would be unstoppable in terms of success and achievement at all levels. I’m talking local, state, national level. We have some states moving forward on that, like solving homelessness. You turn on some cable TV stations and they characterized the homeless as being lazy, as being weak, as being non-caring, and it’s so not the case.
Everything from family who went bankrupt because of medical issues, to individuals having mental issues that simply just need to have some type of help. You have states like Utah who are bringing the homeless down to a zero number, pretty close to a zero number as you can possibly get by actually building homes for the homeless so they have an address when they apply for a job. They can actually put an address down and then get a job. There’s this weird tough circle to get into that you can’t have a job unless you have an address and they can check on you when they do the interviews to send mail to, and homeless don't have that option.
You have Utah making a big change and successfully. You're just focused on the extrinsic value, the bottom line. Utah has shown over the last 10 years now, it’s a little back over that now. Actually it’s been 12 years, that they’ve been saving $8,000 per person on that. The bottom line, they’ve been spending less on homeless by actually giving them a home to start with, and the Hawaii's now moving forward and allowing medical doctors to prescribe homes to the chronically homeless there in Hawaii. It’s a more compassionate angle rather than trying to sweep the homeless under the rug, trying to help the homeless, our fellow Americans the kind of move on up. Our fellow, in my case, fellow veterans who come back from war and have a hard time adjusting, to have compassion for them. These are our fellow citizens, and some cases, many cases, fellow warriors who went to battle this country instead of turning our backs or making pretend the problem doesn't exist. We are having states show that you can actually save money by being more compassionate to others. It’s just across the world and across categories, Matt. Being compassionate achieves levels of success that you didn’t think you can achieve before.
[0:22:56.1] MB: I think that’s an incredible point. I love the idea of looking not just that personal development, but looking across public-policy business, all these different spheres. There's many different examples of how kindness cannot only be great for you, but also great for, as you said, sort of the bottom line.
[0:23:14.6] CK: Yeah. The bottom line isn't just the money. I would also argue the bottom-line is our civil site, because a great democracy rests on the foundation of a strong civil society. When you weaken that, I don’t care if you’re the president, I don’t care if you’re a member of congress, I don’t care if you're a local citizen. Going to your town hall meeting, you all, we all have the ability to make our country, our town, our states stronger just by looking out for one another. When we start putting down one another for whatever reasons and not helping one another, we take down our own democracy. It’s by the people. It’s for the people, and it’s of the people.
We lose sight of that, we will lose. What I would argue is the greatest democracy the world has ever seen, and it will not be because of one person, because we, the American people, didn't care enough about each other, we let each other down. About how we should either stand up for each other or are we going to stay silent when it comes to — When other people are pushed down or pushed away even.
[0:24:32.7] MB: How do we cultivate compassion and build a more compassionate world?
[0:24:40.4] CK: Wow! Okay. I think there's a lot of different ways that you can do this, and you and I talked about this before, Matt. We meditate. I do compassion meditation, but for some people, meditation happen to be their thing. I came up with a four-step program that anybody can do at any time. It’s not something that's outside of any kind of traditional realm or conventional realm that a society thinks it is. I am looking just to have practices that anyone can follow. For example, the first step is listen.
Before we get into the steps, actually, I should say think of the name Luca, L-U-C-A. Luca in many different languages is a name that means bringer of light. It also stands for in science and various subjects in science, it stands for the last universal common ancestor, Luca. I argue that compassion is that kind of last universal common virtue value, or in my case, I believe it’s a verb. The last verb that we call can tie on to to achieve success.
Luca, the first part of it stands for listening, listening to learn. The reason I think this is a big important first step. If someone asked me, “What can you do — What’s the first thing you should do to build more compassionate?” I’d say, “Listen,” because we don’t listen anymore. We seem to — If we do listen, we listen to reply. We don't listen to learn. We don’t listen to learn about someone's issues or problems. We don’t listen to the words they're saying. We tend to jump in and interrupt each other rather than getting the full lesson from hearing, taking the time to really listen, to give a focused attention to someone else.
I think if we listen to learn, we can then acquire an understanding of not just the person's problem, but of the person's perspective, and that's where that social emotional learning comes back. It’s not only your own self-awareness, but it’s the awareness about how other people are feeling. If you don't listen, you're never going to get to that level of understanding, because compassion is defined really by kind of two aspects. Compassion is defined as this 360° kind of holistic understanding of a problem or suffering of another, and then the second aspect of it is then you take action. You have a commitment to do something, to help that person, to address the issue that they're going through. Listening is that first part. It’s about taking that — You’re trying to go for that understanding of another, and we don't do that anymore.
Listening to learn, and then the second step is understanding to know, which is a key aspect of compassionate. You’re understanding what you need to know in order to help them. If you don't listen, I don’t know how you’re going to get to that understanding to know, and so you're trying to gather as many different pieces of information as you can. I see that as creating a mosaic of a problem. You’re putting together pieces as you’re listening and that image and a picture comes to mind of what the actual problem is on how the person is seeing it. The way I describe it is the way you're seeing it is through their eyes. You’re seeing the mosaic through their colors, their emotions, their feelings.
Listening to learn, understanding to know, and then the third is C, connect to capabilities. Sometimes you have the ability to help someone to address their issue, and that other times you need to connect them to other people or other organizations. For example, I had a young man who was an Iraq, Afghan veteran who’s just having a time that I hope no one ever has to go through, where he was losing his wife, he was losing his daughter both to either a car accident or medical issues. He was trying to finish school and he couldn't. I knew I was his last — He came to me as this kind of a last cry for help just so someone would listen. I knew that his problems were bigger than what I could handle, so I had to get him to the counseling center.
I had to connect him to someone who had the capabilities to truly help him. He trusted me enough so that I could walk him over there. Now he's graduated. His wife is fine. His child is fine. They were there for graduation. He has his own business.
Those are the stories that we seem through daily life that gets swept away, but those are the stories and those are the people who make a difference in the world because they’ve been down, but then we all have that potential to connect people that are going through tough times to connect them to others that can really help them. Connect to capabilities.
Finally, you’re acting to solve. You're actually taking the steps. You’re not just understanding, you’re not just listening, but you are making those connections if you need to make this connections. You're taking action to make that solution go away — I mean that solution to happen. Sorry. The problem to go away.
That’s basically the forceps, and I go over different ways that you can do that. For example, listening. Listening, I bring up podcasts, and bringing up podcast that actually challenge your notion and actually sitting through a podcast that maybe you disagree with, but listening to the whole argument, not shutting it off, not walking away. It’s simple things like that that we all can do in practice and buid our compassion muscle I call it.
[0:30:51.7] MB: I want to dig into several of these, but before we do, the last point you made is something that I think is so relevant and has been very very top of mind for me, with the way that the internet has evolved and the way that our society has changed in the last 10 years, everyone lives in a bubble where all of the information that they get is curated to tell them what they want to hear and to make them feel how they want to feel. If you really want to understand reality, if you want to get down to the kernel of truth of what's actually happening, if you want to cultivate a deeper understanding of the world, you have to seek out disconfirming evidence.
We were talking about Charles Darwin earlier. This is one of the core tenants and premises of all of Darwin's work, which is the idea that you have to seek information that challenges what your perception of the world is. You have to listen to people who disagree with you. You have to go and find information from all kinds of different sources and really try to uncover, “Okay. What's true? What's false? How much of this is spin?” I think it's so important to do that in our world today and too many people live in a silo where they’re here only ever comforted by their self-selected pool of information. I absolutely love that advice that we need to find things you disagree with and really challenge our own worldviews.
[0:32:15.1] CK: Yeah. I think it even goes — Yes, without a doubt. I also think it goes further than that. I think that a lot of people — I know that you do this, Matt, because we've had offline discussion before too, that those challenging bits of information are not the Jenga pieces in your ideology or your philosophy.
A matter of fact, they turn out to be quite often new structural beams in your philosophical house, if you will, right? This idea that — I start the book with Darwin, basically, that the critics, when I was first getting in public talks about compassion would always bring that up, and I decided, “You know what? I’m going to read all of Darwin. I’m just going to get all the books. I got them electronically, I got them in hard copy, and I’m just going to sit down and take notes and learn from the great master himself rather than reading interpretations of them. I think this is the other thing.
We get news through an interpretative lens. It’s not our own lens, and I think we need to go back to the classics and we need to read the original documents from what they are. I would argue that with the constitution as well, not just science. Then, for me, Darwin has turned out to be a pillar of support for compassion. Not the Jenga piece in my house of compassion that I thought it was initially. My critics were spot on, and I learned so much from the people who gave me true criticism of it and it helped me to dive deeper into the science of it all and to really understand what Darwin meant by the fittest. He didn’t mean by someone pounding someone else down. He meant that they are fit for one another, but they fit together. It’s a totally different way of looking at it.
If I didn't listen to the critics who gave some spot-on points, I don't think I would've taken as much time and gathered all the books that I could possibly get and sit down and go over it. I think you’re right on, Matt, that we don't do that enough. I think, in my classes, when I teach, for example, political economy for a week, I’m a mercantilist, because I want my students to know the best of mercantilism. Another week, I’m a classical economic liberal, not liberal the way Americans define it. Liberals the way the rest of the world defines it, that’s someone who’s for free trade.
Then as funny as it is, and students sometimes don't remember my life as a counterintelligence agent during the Cold War, but for a week a former counterintelligence agent becomes a true Marxist, to give them a sense of what the Marxist thought about economics, because think every idea has its strengths and weaknesses including mine, including the compassionate achiever. I think we learned from each other by having these discussions, what's weak, what’s strong, can improve on something or is something so bad that I miss something that maybe when I read a scientific study, someone said, “You missed this part of it,” we can build each other up.
What I mean about being compassionate is that you're not a Pollyanna. In Buddhism there’s this phrase called fierce compassion, and I love that idea, because I think a compassionate achiever has that fierce compassion. You are not a pushover. You're not a doormat for anyone else when you have compassion. Remember that water cutting through rock idea, because that's what I certainly remember.
You can achieve more by being compassionate to others, and that achievement builds strength, not just in you, and we know it through the neuroscience and the first types of blood works, everyone from Dr. Tonya Singer, to Paul Zach, to Dach Ketlner have all proven, but we have yet to talk about it like we are talking about it, Matt, in a popular kind of social science way that everyone can understand. It’s been hidden by science.
One of the things I love about your show that you constantly do week-in and week-out is you bring science to the light of society so that everyone can understand what the heck is going on in recent research, and that's what I tried to do with this book, so that everyone could see that the science is there to support that compassion is about strength. It's not about weakness. That survival of the fittest is about how we fit together, not how we divide one another.
If we can get that message through and show the benefits of that, I think that we can ride the ship that’s going on right now in the world in terms of having to look past one another or not acknowledge that there are issues like homelessness that need to be addressed and that everything from education to healthcare to do business. I think there's more to it. Then, this basic achievement, I think it swells to a wave, this tidal wave of success that lifts all boats together and it’s not a dream. It’s actually from proven from Darwin on up.
[0:37:47.1] MB: I think the idea that feedback makes you stronger, and if your ideas, if you're scared of pursuing or looking at ideas that you don't agree with, because you think you might be wrong, you need to encounter those ideas so that you can find the truth. Ideology fears the truth and doesn't want to discuss it. Doesn't want to look at the evidence, only wants to believe what it believes. Wisdom seeks the truth. Wisdom tries to find out what are the best ideas regardless of what I think the best idea should be. What is the data actually bear out as the best ideas? What is the research shows us or the true things that we need to really understand and focus on. I think that quest for all evidence, whether you like it or not, whether you want it to be true or not and really trying to understand the truth is so important.
[0:38:39.5] CK: Oh, man. Yes, it is. That's the thing. I call people like that, and this definitely comes from my — How should I say it? Addiction, affliction to Dr. Seuss books. I call them know-nauts, knowledge astronauts, because I think you're willing to dive into the universe of knowledge no matter where that starship that you’re on takes you, that you’re willing to go to the widespread, the furthest universe of knowledge that you could possibly can and grab all of that together and that excites you.
The idea that there are “alternative facts” muddies the water so much and dilutes this idea of wisdom in ways that just hurt not only individuals, but I think our country. When you see the facts that are out there and you're going for wisdom, one of the things that you really see is — I’m a big fan of complexity science, to show the connections between what happens — It’s like the butterfly effect. The butterfly's wings flaps and we’re in the Halifax, somewhere else, showing those connections between different things. When you have the facts and you slide them in, and we’ve learned new facts and quantum physics has given even more new facts that are what Einstein called weird, but are true. That they connect dots between things that we thought weren’t connected.
As we forward in terms of science, in terms of knowledge, and more importantly I think what you brought up, is in terms of wisdom, you see that more and more things connect to each that we never thought connected. This idea compassion is based on connections. It’s based on human connections. I would argue even further, it’s based on more than that. We know that psychopaths and serial murderers start killing animals before they start killing fellow human beings.
How you connect with the world around you I think will also not just tell everyone what type of person you are, but also will either limit or make your success limitless just by how you connect and how you understand those connections, how you act on those connections. I don’t think we think about that enough. Once you sit down and kind of look at the wisdom that’s gathering storm and that’s moving forward, it is about connecting the dots and it’s sitting back and seeing how those different connections work.
Yeah, I think that knowledge is crucial, but how you used a knowledge and how you connect the knowledge, that either creates understanding or it creates misunderstanding which then leads you on the path towards wisdom or further away from wisdom.
[0:41:49.3] MB: Let’s circle back, and I want to dig in to some of the specific strategies within your framework for cultivating compassion. One of the components of listening to learn is asking great questions. Tell me about that. How do we ask great questions?
[0:42:05.1] CK: Oh, man! There’s many different ways, and in the book I kind of go into one way. I see great questions and I write about this as a great question is like a great photographer, because a great question can bring out the essence of not just the problem, but of the person experiencing the problem. It’s kind of like a light bulb moment for some people when you ask the question, because you’re not giving them the answer. You’re asking them a question, it’s like E.E. Cummings. It’s not about getting to the answers about asking better questions. When you ask a great question or a better question, the person going through the problem actually comes up with the solution themselves and it’s empowering to them, because you’re not looking to empower yourself necessarily. You’re looking to empower them to help them get through their problem as well.
A great question, I see it as the lens of a camera. It’s that aperture. How open or close is the aperture when you take the picture matters on how clear that image is or how murky that can be or if it’s smudged, if it’s light and it’s smudged. Also, the aperture makes all the difference in terms of what you see. I think a great question, whether it’s open or closed will also give you that same type of benefit. It’s going to show you what you can see by simply the question you asked.
For example, a closed question is one that has a very short answer. It’s a yes or no or I don’t know. Very tight closed way of answering it, it’s short. An open question is a question that is literally limitless. It’s wide open. That a person can answer it in many different ways. There’s not one way to do it.
In classes, I try to start off the first part of every semester getting to open and close questions. I’ll have a statement up on the board, a very short statement and then I’ll have students write a question, usually a closed question. I start them off the close questions. They’ll write the close questions and I’ll give them five minutes to do it, working with partners. Then have them change those close questions to open questions, and to hear them go through that process is awesome, because like, “Wait a minute. The way they see that statement changes dramatically between a yes and no question to one that can be a why question or a how question.”
I want them to understand that the words that they use frames the way they see a problem, and questions do that to everyone. I think some of my greatest teachers that I had from grammar school all the way through college did that instinctively, and I wanted to harness that in a chapter in the book, because I think we don’t give the due diligence to the words we use and the questions we ask. I give this example in the book, how you and when you use words matters to people and it matters from their perspective. For example, if you’re counseling a couple going through marriage and you ask them the word, “Oh, what do you think triggered the experience that kind of set you apart and drifted you off?” is very different than asking a parent who lost somebody, and we just had another example, the school shooting lately, “What do you think triggered the shooters?”
Just using that word takes the person you’re trying to help away from any help. They have an emotional reaction simply to the words that you were using, and you shut down any chance of success moving them forward at least from the temporary time being, maybe for a long time. I think we have to take note of that in the context that we’re in and learn how to connect with people through great questions. I think those great questions, I call them brooms and light bulbs, because they can sweep away problems and they can give aha moments to the people that you’re asking. Great questions to me are simple as open and close questions, and it’s a dance, Matt. You just don’t — I went through a psychology course in college that gave me the funnel. You start with open questions and you end with close questions, and that’s the way you do it. It’s so formulaic. I was like, “That just can’t be right. It just sat wrong with me.”
Going through counterintelligence, working on Wall Street, being a professor. It’s a dance. Knowledge, wisdom is a dance and sometimes you do open with open questions and close, but it’s not that formulaic, because you’re listening to the person that you’re questioning towards. Sometimes you can read their body language. Maybe they’re struggling because they don’t want to open up, because it’s going to — For them, they think it’s going to lead to the wrong roads.
So then you have to adjust your way or questioning by the responses that you’re getting, and it’s not a formula. It’s not the funnel way that I learned in psychology 101. It’s more of a dance, and I think you could see it as a dance. You’re going to get further through the song of life if you do, because, man, people open up in ways that make you feel stronger as well.
The open-close questions are like photographers, because I think for the moment that you both are in, you can either get the essence or turn it into a giant blur and move on, and I think the more we blur each other the more hurt each other and the more we weaken our chances of achieving success in whatever level that you think want to achieve.
[0:48:13.0] MB: Another strategy you talked about is the idea of appreciating silence. Tell me a little bit about that.
[0:48:20.1] CK: Yeah. I think we try to fill the gaps in on each other. You can read body language about silence. A lot of people need time to simply gather their thoughts and people tend to fill in to silence gap, because it’s considered awkward. It kind of goes back to the point that you’re bringing back up to and highlighting, Matt, about criticism.
Criticism, some people think you have to defend against all criticism. One of the points that I think you’re bringing out and highlighting is that you can absorb that criticism and it makes you stronger. That’s the same thing with silence. People want to avoid silence. They think that awkwardness creates a sense of weakness. A lot of times, that silence generates new answers. It generates new answers not just in what the person will eventually say, but also in their body language. We don’t look at each other enough, and we started the show by talking about that, by looking and gathering all the pieces of information that you can gather, and some of those are in body language and how a person looks, which way they look. Are they twiddling their thumbs or their fingers? Are they looking at you? All those are pieces of information that if you’re not looking at someone while the silence is happening, because you’re trying to figure out a way to fill in the void. Then you’re not going to get the information that you need, right?
One of the great quotes I had from one of the people I interviewed for the book, Sir Richard Dearlove said, “A lot of times —” and he’s specifically talking about getting information against an enemy, a terrorist or in his case it was the IRA. He says torture doesn’t work and he goes, “Torture doesn’t work because you get the information you want, not the information you need.” It ties back to everything we’ve been talking about. It ties back to wisdom, because if you get the information you want, not the information you need, are you truly getting the understanding of the problem? You’re not.
Silence provides some of that information that we tend to overlook. We try to raise with the words that we try to fill in the silence. In music, I played bass guitar, trumpet, trombone and guitar. I remember once what Mozart said about silence. It’s all about the silence. Music is all about where the rest are put. He calls it kind of the foundation of music. Silence, the pauses. Think about the great songs in popular culture or even movies, like Jaws, “Dun-dun! Dun-dun!” We remember those pieces, even the short pieces, because of where the silence is put in, the same thing in our conversations.
Conversations not only are made up of the words that people use, but where they place the silences. It’s understanding why someone went silent and putting an emphasis on that can give you new knowledge about a problem.
[0:51:45.8] MB: So many great points. The concept of — Even the meta concept of listening to learn the idea, don’t listen to reply, don’t listen to get out what you want to say next. It’s about listening to build understanding. Once you cultivate that understanding, it opens the pathway for connection. Once you have that, you have so much more that you can work with. So many different things that you can do. It’s a great point.
[0:52:14.8] CK: Thanks, Matt. I kind of see it like a combination. There’s so many different combinations out there to move forward, to address a problem. Sometimes when you address a problem you’re not totally solving it, but yet you’re learning, right? That’s also what I want to incorporate in there. Failure is okay. Failure is a part of life, and you learn from that failure. I think we become a culture that’s afraid to fail, but all the great innovators in history have failed more than they succeeded, but yet their success is built on those failures. We tend to sweep that under the rug as well.
One of the things I do for students, especially the honor students, because they’re all type-As and they think they have to succeed all the time, is I give them assignment where they can’t. I want them to learn that it’s okay to learn from failure, because in the real world, as you and I both know, Matt, that’s where you tend to learn a lot is through those failures. We’ve created — Because of our education system based on test, that they didn’t have, and my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Peck, how to work through failures. These students are really good at jumping through hoops, but they’re not good at adjusting to failures on many different levels, because they never really had a chance to fail, because if they did, they didn’t think they moved up to the next level or they couldn’t succeed on the next test. The test of life, man, is so much more about failures than it is successes. The irony of it all is that our successes are based on the failures, and we don’t talk about that enough either.
[0:54:00.9] MB: I think one of the biggest failings of our educational system is exactly what you described. It teaches people how to jump through these hoops, but it doesn’t teach them that it’s okay to fail. It doesn’t teach them how to learn and accept mistakes and that having flaws and imperfections and making errors is part of the learning process and a necessary component to getting better.
[0:54:22.5] CK: Without a doubt.
[0:54:24.1] MB: What are the other concepts that you touched on that I found really interesting, was the idea of the power of non-doing. Tell me about that.
[0:54:30.8] CK: Yeah. It’s not the same thing. The power of non-doing is not the same thing as doing nothing. It’s that inner reflection. It’s taking time, and I use mirrors to kind of explain this. Just like we look at a mirror to either adjust our hair or to find that we have green if we just ate a salad in our teeth an we’ve been smiling and one of those awkward moments where you get this giant leaf in the front of your mouth. You use a mirror to kind of clean that up, right? Realize that there’s something these that needs to be addressed.
We don’t take enough time for internal mirrors, that inner reflection. Taking time to take account of what we have done, what we are doing and maybe what we will be doing. It’s about building that internal mirror. Mirrors in the real world, not only for the reflection that just looking at ourselves to make ourselves — Outward appearances to be better, but mirrors are used in solar panels to generate energy. They’re used — A mirror was placed on the moon to measure the length from earth to the moon. They’re used for so many different things, and we don’t take the time to simply reflect and create that self-awareness that we began the show with at all.
To simply take 10 minutes even of your time, and I do it right after I go for a run or right after I workout. It helps me calm down. It also then brings up, and when I’m running I think of a lot of different ideas, and in that meditation it kind of, in a way, taking time to inner reflect and have that meditation, it cleans and consolidates the thoughts that I have and makes things a bit clearer for me in the world. I use people from different parts of the world to kind of explain that idea, the active non-doing, one, is taking that time to have inner reflection.
Then, also, as a dad, it’s about purposefully not jumping in to do something for another. You’re purposely holding back. For my son, one of my sons had a rare medical issue, and it turns his voice into Darth Vader type voice, because he’s having hard time breathing. He’s able to go back to school once we got the oxygen levels back right. I wanted to go to school and kind of set the stage for his class so he wouldn’t be picked on or wouldn’t be bullied.
I talked to him about it and he said he wanted to do it. As a dad, you kind of want to — Your initial instinct is to kind of help your children in any way you can, but sometimes the best way you can help them is through the purposeful act of non-doing. I purposefully had to hold myself back so that he could go in and do it, and he did an awesome job. His teachers called us later and said they were nervous about it, because he made jokes about being Darth Vader with it. The kids has settled right in. He knew his problem better than anyone else, including me. He knew the context it was in better than anyone else, including me.
As a dad, listening to that, I have a sense of pride for him, but also there are times where you’ve got to let the people that you love and you care about around you to handle their own issues and hopefully you ask them the right questions to help them come up with the ideas.
Another example I talk about that, about another instance of actual bullying. That active non-doing is not only just that inner reflection, but it’s purposeful act of allowing someone to resolve their own problems. That’s compassion, because you’re getting an understanding about them, not just about the problem. Hopefully later on, I have more information that I can use to help not only my son, but others in that situation. We constantly always think we have to do something to help another. Sometimes the best act is the act of non-doing.
[0:58:59.3] MB: What would be one simple actionable step somebody listening today could implement that you would give them as home work to start down the path of compassion and to implement some of the ideas that you’ve talked about today?
[0:59:14.1] CK: After our conversation, I’m going to give two now. Usually I just give lesson to learn, like practice learning. Going and going to a friend, listening to the problem and not jumping in. Not saying that you have the solution to it. Jump in with questions, not with solutions. Listen to not reply. Listen to learn to them.
After talking with you right now, that understanding of wisdom that you highlighted I think is equally as important, is to go out and get those different perspectives. Sit down and listen to a podcast of someone who’s diametrically opposed you and listen for what you are bringing up before the truths, because every perspective, every ideology is based on some type of truth even if you don’t want to mimic, it is. That could be a bridge to learning about a friend or about starting a constructive dialogue, not a debate dialogue. Something where both parties can learn.
I talk about this a little bit more when I talk about knoxers, I call the knowledge boxers, that any new knowledge that against them or their ideology, they fight off. One of the ways that you can actually have a constructive dialogue with a knoxer, a knowledge boxer, is to actually start with one of their basic truths and agree with it, but you won’t learn what those basic truths are unless you actually listen to them.
After listening to you in our conversation today, I would say get down and sit down to a podcast, maybe one of the people that you interviewed that maybe someone said, “You know what? I’m not going to listen to that show, because I disagree with that person.” Listen to them. Go through the entire episode and listen to what they’re saying, not listening to reply, because I think you’ll find out surprisingly enough, and people don’t do this enough, is that there is something that you agree with with them, and that can create a bridge of understanding that we also need right now. Listening to learn and get out there and listen to different perspectives.
[1:01:30.1] MB: Chris, were can people find you and your book online?
[1:01:34.2] CK: I’m at chriskukk, Chris — and that weird last name — kukk.com, and you can find a lot of my talks there, upcoming appearances and also the book, but you can find the book at any book seller. Barnes & Noble, the indie book shops, Amazon, iTunes. It’s also on CD. It’s also on audio. The book is anywhere you can buy a book. You can get out there and I can — If you want, you can connect with me on chriskukk.com. We can have a discussion. I’d be more than happy to link up with anyone to have a talk about compassion. Chriskukk.com and any book store.
[1:02:11.8] MB: Chris, thank you again for coming back to the show and, once again, sharing some incredible wisdom and insights. It’s been a pleasure to have you on here once again.
[1:02:20.9] CK: Well, Matt, I’m honored to be the first guest that’s back the second time. Thank you so much for that honor.
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