So, we all have bad seasons in life. And I had one in 2013. My marriage had just ended, and I was humiliated
by that failed commitment. My kids had left home for college
or were leaving. I grew up mostly
in the conservative movement, but conservatism had changed, so I lost a lot of those friends, too. And so what I did is,
I lived alone in an apartment, and I just worked. If you opened the kitchen drawers
where there should have been utensils, there were Post-it notes. If you opened the other drawers
where there should have been plates, I had envelopes. I had work friends, weekday friends,
but I didn’t have weekend friends. And so my weekends
were these long, howling silences. And I was lonely. And loneliness, unexpectedly,
came to me in the form of — it felt like fear,
a burning in my stomach. And it felt a little like drunkenness, just making bad decisions,
just fluidity, lack of solidity. And the painful part of that moment
was the awareness that the emptiness in my apartment
was just reflective of the emptiness in myself, and that I had fallen for some of the lies
that our culture tells us. The first lie is that
career success is fulfilling. I’ve had a fair bit of career success, and I’ve found that it helps me avoid
the shame I would feel if I felt myself a failure, but it hasn’t given me any positive good. The second lie is I can make myself happy, that if I just win one more victory, lose 15 pounds, do a little more yoga, I’ll get happy. And that’s the lie of self-sufficiency. But as anybody
on their deathbed will tell you, the things that make people happy
is the deep relationships of life, the losing of self-sufficiency. The third lie is the lie
of the meritocracy. The message of the meritocracy
is you are what you accomplish. The myth of the meritocracy
is you can earn dignity by attaching yourself
to prestigious brands. The emotion of the meritocracy
is conditional love, you can “earn” your way to love. The anthropology of the meritocracy
is you’re not a soul to be purified, you’re a set of skills to be maximized. And the evil of the meritocracy is that people who’ve achieved
a little more than others are actually worth
a little more than others. And so the wages of sin are sin. And my sins were the sins of omission– not reaching out,
failing to show up for my friends, evasion, avoiding conflict. And the weird thing was
that as I was falling into the valley — it was a valley of disconnection — a lot of other people
were doing that, too. And that’s sort of
the secret to my career; a lot of the things that happen to me are always happening
to a lot of other people. I’m a very average person
with above average communication skills. (Laughter) And so I was detached. And at the same time,
a lot of other people were detached and isolated and fragmented
from each other. Thirty-five percent of Americans
over 45 are chronically lonely. Only eight percent of Americans
report having meaningful conversation with their neighbors. Only 32 percent of Americans
say they trust their neighbors, and only 18 percent of millennials. The fastest-growing
political party is unaffiliated. The fastest-growing religious
movement is unaffiliated. Depression rates are rising,
mental health problems are rising. The suicide rate has risen
30 percent since 1999. For teen suicides
over the last several years, the suicide rate has risen by 70 percent. Forty-five thousand Americans
kill themselves every year; 72,000 die from opioid addictions; life expectancy is falling, not rising. So what I mean to tell you,
I flew out here to say that we have an economic crisis,
we have environmental crisis, we have a political crisis. We also have a social
and relational crisis; we’re in the valley. We’re fragmented from each other, we’ve got cascades of lies
coming out of Washington … We’re in the valley. And so I’ve spent the last five years — how do you get out of a valley? The Greeks used to say,
“You suffer your way to wisdom.” And from that dark period where I started,
I’ve had a few realizations. The first is, freedom sucks. Economic freedom is OK,
political freedom is great, social freedom sucks. The unrooted man is the adrift man. The unrooted man is the unremembered man,
because he’s uncommitted to things. Freedom is not an ocean
you want to swim in, it’s a river you want to get across, so you can commit and plant yourself
on the other side. The second thing I learned is that when you have
one of those bad moments in life, you can either be broken, or you can be broken open. And we all know people who are broken. They’ve endured some pain
or grief, they get smaller, they get angrier, resentful,
they lash out. As the saying is, “Pain that is not transformed
gets transmitted.” But other people are broken open. Suffering’s great power
is that it’s an interruption of life. It reminds you you’re not the person
you thought you were. The theologian Paul Tillich said what suffering does is it carves through
what you thought was the floor of the basement of your soul, and it carves through that,
revealing a cavity below, and it carves through that,
revealing a cavity below. You realize there are depths of yourself
you never anticipated, and only spiritual and relational food
will fill those depths. And when you get down there,
you get out of the head of the ego and you get into the heart, the desiring heart. The idea that what we really yearn for
is longing and love for another, the kind of thing that Louis de Bernières
described in his book, “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” He had an old guy talking to his daughter about his relationship with his late wife, and the old guy says, “Love itself is whatever is leftover
when being in love is burned away. And this is both an art
and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it. We had roots that grew
towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms
had fallen from our branches, we discovered that we are
one tree and not two.” That’s what the heart yearns for. The second thing
you discover is your soul. Now, I don’t ask you to believe in God
or not believe in God, but I do ask you to believe
that there’s a piece of you that has no shape, size, color or weight, but that gives you
infinite dignity and value. Rich and successful people
don’t have more of this than less successful people. Slavery is wrong because
it’s an obliteration of another soul. Rape is not just an attack
on a bunch of physical molecules, it’s an attempt to insult
another person’s soul. And what the soul does
is it yearns for righteousness. The heart yearns for fusion with another,
the soul yearns for righteousness. And that led to my third realization,
which I borrowed from Einstein: “The problem you have
is not going to be solved at the level of consciousness
on which you created it. You have to expand
to a different level of consciousness.” So what do you do? Well, the first thing you do
is you throw yourself on your friends and you have deeper conversations
that you ever had before. But the second thing you do, you have to go out alone
into the wilderness. You go out into that place
where there’s nobody there to perform, and the ego has nothing to do,
and it crumbles, and only then are you capable
of being loved. I have a friend who said
that when her daughter was born, she realized that she loved her
more than evolution required. (Laughter) And I’ve always loved that. (Applause) Because it talks about the peace
that’s at the deep of ourself, our inexplicable care for one another. And when you touch that spot,
you’re ready to be rescued. The hard thing about
when you’re in the valley is that you can’t climb out; somebody has to reach in and pull you out. It happened to me. I got, luckily, invited over to a house
by a couple named Kathy and David, and they were — They had a kid in the DC
public school, his name’s Santi. Santi had a friend
who needed a place to stay because his mom had some health issues. And then that kid had a friend
and that kid had a friend. When I went to their house six years ago, I walk in the door, there’s like
25 around the kitchen table, a whole bunch sleeping
downstairs in the basement. I reach out to introduce myself to a kid, and he says, “We don’t really
shake hands here. We just hug here.” And I’m not the huggiest guy
on the face of the earth, but I’ve been going back to that home
every Thursday night when I’m in town, and just hugging all those kids. They demand intimacy. They demand that you behave in a way
where you’re showing all the way up. And they teach you a new way to live, which is the cure
for all the ills of our culture which is a way of direct —
really putting relationship first, not just as a word, but as a reality. And the beautiful thing is,
these communities are everywhere. I started something at the Aspen Institute
called “Weave: The Social Fabric.” This is our logo here. And we plop into a place and we find
weavers anywhere, everywhere. We find people like Asiaha Butler,
who grew up in — who lived in Chicago, in Englewood,
in a tough neighborhood. And she was about to move
because it was so dangerous, and she looked across the street
and she saw two little girls playing in an empty lot
with broken bottles, and she turned to her husband
and she said, “We’re not leaving. We’re not going to be just another family
that abandon that.” And she Googled “volunteer in Englewood,”
and now she runs R.A.G.E., the big community organization there. Some of these people
have had tough valleys. I met a woman named Sarah in Ohio
who came home from an antiquing trip and found that her husband
had killed himself and their two kids. She now runs a free pharmacy,
she volunteers in the community, she helps women cope
with violence, she teaches. She told me, “I grew from this
experience because I was angry. I was going to fight back against
what he tried to do to me by making a difference in the world. See, he didn’t kill me. My response to him is, ‘Whatever you meant to do to me,
screw you, you’re not going to do it.'” These weavers are not living
an individualistic life, they’re living a relationist life,
they have a different set of values. They have moral motivations. They have vocational certitude,
they have planted themselves down. I met a guy in Youngstown, Ohio, who just held up a sign
in the town square, “Defend Youngstown.” They have radical mutuality, and they are geniuses at relationship. There’s a woman named Mary Gordon who runs something
called Roots of Empathy. And what they do is they take
a bunch of kids, an eighth grade class, they put a mom and an infant, and then the students have to guess
what the infant is thinking, to teach empathy. There was one kid in a class
who was bigger than the rest because he’d been held back,
been through the foster care system, seen his mom get killed. And he wanted to hold the baby. And the mom was nervous
because he looked big and scary. But she let this kid,
Darren, hold the baby. He held it, and he was great with it. He gave the baby back and started
asking questions about parenthood. And his final question was, “If nobody has ever loved you,
do you think you can be a good father?” And so what Roots of Empathy does is they reach down and they grab
people out of the valley. And that’s what weavers are doing. Some of them switch jobs. Some of them stay in their same jobs. But one thing is,
they have an intensity to them. I read this — E.O. Wilson wrote a great book
called “Naturalist,” about his childhood. When he was seven,
his parents were divorcing. And they sent him
to Paradise Beach in North Florida. And he’d never seen the ocean before. And he’d never seen a jellyfish before. He wrote, “The creature was astonishing.
It existed beyond my imagination.” He was sitting on the dock one day and he saw a stingray
float beneath his feet. And at that moment, a naturalist was born
in the awe and wonder. And he makes this observation: that when you’re a child, you see animals at twice the size
as you do as an adult. And that has always impressed me, because what we want as kids
is that moral intensity, to be totally given ourselves
over to something and to find that level of vocation. And when you are around these weavers, they see other people
at twice the size as normal people. They see deeper into them. And what they see is joy. On the first mountain of our life,
when we’re shooting for our career, we shoot for happiness. And happiness is good,
it’s the expansion of self. You win a victory, you get a promotion,
your team wins the Super Bowl, you’re happy. Joy is not the expansion of self,
it’s the dissolving of self. It’s the moment when the skin barrier
disappears between a mother and her child, it’s the moment when a naturalist
feels just free in nature. It’s the moment where you’re so lost
in your work or a cause, you have totally self-forgotten. And joy is a better thing
to aim for than happiness. I collect passages of joy,
of people when they lose it. One of my favorite is from Zadie Smith. In 1999, she was in a London nightclub, looking for her friends,
wondering where her handbag was. And suddenly, as she writes, “… a rail-thin man with enormous eyes
reached across a sea of bodies for my hand. He kept asking me the same thing
over and over, ‘Are you feeling it?’ My ridiculous heels were killing me,
I was terrified that I might die, yet I felt simultaneously
overwhelmed with delight that ‘Can I Kick It?’
should happen to be playing on this precise moment
in the history of the world on the sound system, and it was now morphing
into ‘Teen Spirit.’ I took the man’s hand,
the top of my head blew away, we danced, we danced,
we gave ourselves up to joy.” And so what I’m trying to describe
is two different life mindsets. The first mountain mindset, which is about
individual happiness and career success. And it’s a good mindset,
I have nothing against it. But we’re in a national valley, because we don’t have
the other mindset to balance it. We no longer feel good
about ourselves as a people, we’ve lost our defining
faith in our future, we don’t see each other deeply,
we don’t treat each other as well. And we need a lot of changes. We need an economic change
and environmental change. But we also need a cultural
and relational revolution. We need to name the language
of a recovered society. And to me, the weavers
have found that language. My theory of social change
is that society changes when a small group of people
find a better way to live, and the rest of us copy them. And these weavers have found
a better way to live. And you don’t have to theorize about it. They are out there as community builders
all around the country. We just have to shift our lives a little, so we can say, “I’m a weaver,
we’re a weaver.” And if we do that, the hole inside ourselves gets filled, but more important,
the social unity gets repaired. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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