Revisiting UCC — "Pushing for Truth in Storytelling and Narratives that Inspire Action"
with Madeleine Brand & Helen Zia

Photos by Christina Choi

Photos by Christina Choi

Unexpected connections are the simplest way of describing creativity. In its most basic form, it’s pattern recognition, and at its most complex, it’s a tangled web that humans have become surprisingly great at deconstructing.

Imprint and MAEKAN: Unexpected Connections is about celebrating those who have embraced new intersections around them in both positive and inventive ways.

Our format invites fascinating people from contrasting disciplines to talk and find an unexpected common ground. How does the tattoo artist connect with the sneaker designer? How can designers of different backgrounds link experience to great work?

Unexpected Connections is about the rich opportunity for exploration when two different vantage points are joined together.

As a fitting end to our series of talks from that day, we’re joined by author, journalist and activist Helen Zia and broadcast journalist and radio personality Madeleine Brand. They unpack the highly topical issue of inspiring people through truthfulness in our narratives and the greater cause of holding people accountable in our roles as media workers.

At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.

Charis: Madeleine is an LA local and the host of the daily program Press Play on KCRW. Helen was part of Princeton’s first graduating class that included women and it was at Princeton that she first became involved in activism. (Madeleine: Thank you) Both of you have been so thoughtful about this conversation. Now, you guys have actually been talking to me about things that you would really like to talk about, ideas you had for this and something Helen said to me just today was that you really want to talk about being creative in storytelling.

Helen: Well, that’s part of it, but also where do we go with it. There are good stories, but what is the message? Where do we want to go, especially in this point in time? And I don’t mean go tomorrow. I mean where do we really see where we are and what that means five years from now, 10 years from now for the audience, the customer base, the humanity that we’re looking at in the future. So that’s kind of where I’m at.

Madeleine: I’m so curious because I am in the quotidian, the day-to-day. I’m sort of in the ever present and so I’m curious to know how people synthesize the current moment, especially when the current moment changes every moment and is so fraught and is so emotional and how they can form a larger and longer narrative — if that’s even possible. Are we in a moment where we can’t even conceive of a future? We can’t even conceive of a long-term narrative. I feel that way. I know that you don’t work in daily journalism, so you probably have a very different perspective. But I can’t even understand what next week is going to look like, much less two, 10, 20 years from now.

Helen: Right. It’s really interesting. I consider myself a recovering journalist and you are in daily journalism. I’ve never been in daily journalism, but I have always watched the news closely except for the last couple of years. And I write books, so now, I am really in the long form and in fact — shameless: this book is gonna be out in January. Took me 12 years, so how to make something like that relevant? So you’re having a day-to-day focus and I’m really trying to think about what does this mean and what will it mean in the future.

And where have we been in the past that we can draw from to understand this moment that we’re in too. Because too much of media is really just the here and now, and we forget that there’s been you know five or six thousand years of civilization that we can actually learn something from.

Madeleine: Right. And it’s so easy to get caught up in the here and now and be on your phone and looking at the endless barrage of stimuli. I wonder what we’re losing by not thinking about the long term and do you think that this is a way in a larger sense when you look at history: a way to exert authoritarian control. Because when the people, you guys, aren’t really looking at the big picture then it’s easy for somebody who has authoritarian tendencies to exploit that.

Helen: I was just talking to somebody about the situation in Hong Kong, which as we know is a special administrative area of — we were talking about that actually.

Charis: Poon You were saying that. I was like, “Yeah I think that’s me.”

Helen: And within a couple of decades — what, three more? It’s going to be fully absorbed by the People’s Republic, and we know that there are many resistance groups, and I mean, if we think that freedom of speech is a question here. Can you only imagine what people in Hong Kong are feeling right now? And the thing is that the “noose,” if we call it that, has been tightening centimeter by centimeter.

What are we experiencing here is that you get people running around like Chicken Little every day so up in arms and freaked out about very real threats, I mean really horrible — well, we already heard a bunch of four-letter words, right — really horrible shit every day. Then it is easy to lose sight of the fact that if we only go you know a couple of decades earlier: what was it like on the day Japanese Americans right here in Long Beach and San Pedro had to pack up and lose everything? What was it like in the McCarthy period where people, just for having a political dissenting view, could completely lose everything and potentially land in a federal penitentiary? What was it like, if we go further back, when the backlash against the Civil War and the reconstruction happened (Madeleine: and Chinese exclusion) and the Chinese Exclusion Act.

If we go abroad, even though people say we shouldn’t talk about Hitler and Goebbels, I think we’re seeing playbook after playbook after playbook about how lies can be told and with fake news, how reporters can be made the enemy. Truth tellers can be assassinated and nothing happens.

And we’re supposed to not make those parallels. But we can really see real examples in history. So what I’m saying is we as people, as human beings have been through this in the past.

Charis: Well, my question would be: both of you are asking these questions. Very real, something that you deal with when writing and putting your show together. In practical terms, how do you encourage someone to have perspective when it seems so difficult.

Madeleine: Yeah, it’s hard. Well, read your history. Read period. I interviewed a guy today on my show. I had to do a two-hour Election Special, most of this was live. Mostly, we interviewed experts, but then we also had people — we had call outs to voters about their reactions — and I interviewed a guy who’s Japanese American or Republican, Trump supporter whose grandparents were were interned.

And here is California, so part of Japanese internment and we were talking about immigration and a caravan of immigrants coming up from Central America. I asked him on the air: did he see any parallels between the rhetoric that’s happening around this caravan and his background and his grandparents. He said absolutely not. He saw absolutely no similarities because his grandparents were legal immigrants and these people were not legal immigrants.

So what I’m taking from this is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently and that is our increasing tribalism these days and the fact that all of us in times of stress, strife, panic, anxiety, fearfulness are clinging to our tribes.

He is clinging to a tribe that he has decided that he is part of this group and not that group and he refuses to see the similarities. Even though he does know his history intimately, he knows it personally, and I think a lot of us are doing the same thing. The big question is what is going to take us to break out of these tribes? Is it even possible? Because I think by human nature we are tribal as humans.

Charis: Well, what does it take? I definitely agree people tend towards tribalism and also to simplify a situation. They want to make it very “me versus them” or “this versus that.” And how do you nudge someone to see it differently?

Helen: Human nature is naturally tribal. Any behavioral scientists can go into that. I think people can be manipulated into tribalism. There is a whole other element of humanity that is about universality and the ability to feel compassion for a child that may not look like your child and to feel like this is a child and or these are people who need protection or they need food or water or something basic. And I as a human being — they may not be of my “tribe” whatever that is — and that’s a whole ‘nother conversation because I think the political moment that we are in and end by the way, I got my census form. We were among the random people to figure out and I’m not sure how to answer some of the checkoff boxes, but that’s the whole thing: the movement, especially I would say in the latter part of the 20th century has been to identify which group?

Now where did that come from? It might have come from both the left and the right to do that. But in any case, I don’t think we are naturally tribal. I think that there has been a lot of movement toward that and we the media have played into that. Why? My journalism and media experience has been in magazines, which were the original segmentation you know demographic segmentation thing. Now we’re even more into that for all of the data splicing that we’re into now. Like, “what little dot can we reach?” And that’s about tribalism. I don’t need to tell any of you about how while the advances in media have really expanded our ability to reach people, it’s also made it possible to just focus on our little own little dot.

This is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently and that is our increasing tribalism these days and the fact that all of us in times of stress, strife, panic, anxiety, fearfulness are clinging to our tribes.

— Madeleine Brand, on an adherence to tribalism that clouds judgment.

Charis: How should media correct its course then, if media has been somewhat — or a lot, depending on your perspective — responsible for people going against their nature then, what is the way to right the path?

Madeleine: Well, as someone who talks about tribalism because I’m glad we have a point of disagreement because it would be boring otherwise: but I do think that in times of strife we tend to man the barricades and what one answer to you is unfortunately, what broke people out of out of tribes in the past has been a common enemy. So during the ’50s and the ’60s, 70s, I remember we had Russia, the Soviet Union, the Cold War and so we as Americans could band together in the face of this common enemy. World War 2: we had a couple common enemies.

Aside from that: what can the media do now. What I try to do every day is to push against that because the whole idea of a reasonable discussion on public radio is to bring in all different kinds of perspectives, have a reasonable discussion even when you disagree, learn something, move forward and realize that you are connected. I mean, today on the air, we had Republicans and Democrats and no party-preference people all on the air together. All civilized discussion, all having different perspectives. And yet they all did have a common point of view, which was surprising to me. They did not want any more of the of the crazy fighting going on in Washington. They all wanted politicians to stop doing what they were doing and focus on issues like health care and taxes, what have you.

Charis: In the current age, I feel that a reader and a listener would like to have a little more guidance than just being presented with a multitude of perspectives as they are; just broadcasting someone else’s opinion. I think this is my interjection, is that people would like guidance: what should we give more weight to, what should we not be giving weight to?

Helen: I would like to get to that but also come back to your earlier question about what can we as media do about it. I think we have to remember that media is driven by money. We are a capitalist society, every magazine I’ve worked for tried to stay afloat. Some of them tried to make a profit. Ms. Magazine just tried to stay afloat and still exists, but the segmentation and one of the things that I knew in the for-profit magazines that I work for is: why do people buy media? Fear, sex, and money. Those were the main themes when we talked about what to put on the cover and we were saying you know earlier that “fear sells.”

When Trump was running for president back in 2015, 2016, Les Moonves who you know is now not there for many reasons, but as president of CBS, he said “Trump may be bad for the country, but he’s really great for our bottom line.” And so we have to also recognize that mentality is what also helped promote him and to your guest that you had earlier. He didn’t really know his history. You know, he was a second-class citizen, his grandparents were second-class citizens. And there have been studies done about the internment of Japanese Americans and the role of the media back then. For example: the Denver Post they did studies about selling the paper and when they produced headlines that showed how evil and how dangerous Japanese Americans were, they sold a lot more papers than when they said “well, they’re really not a national security threat.” So that you know that partly is what drives things.

What can we do about it is — I was really listening very closely to John Jay this morning and he was talking about that “learn, unlearn and relearn” and one of the things I really believe is that we have all been drinking the poison for a long time. We all learned about each other, about society, about history, about Columbus, and all those things more or less from the same master narrative. And there is a lot of poison in there. “Why can’t people get along? Because we’re too tribal. We never can.” Or things like that. And so there’s a big hunk of that that we have to unlearn and as media creators, we either examine that, we get curious, we ask questions, we challenge.

“Why do I believe that? How do I know that? Is what he said true?” There’s not enough of that going on. Having guests on Newspeople that just don’t get challenged from the White House on. We ourselves, whether we see ourselves as conduits or creators, we have to do that unlearning and re-learning ourselves and really learn some of that history to do it. To just say “well, wait a minute. No that actually is not true. And here’s what really happened.”

Madeleine: And in terms of what you were saying about wanting to be told — rephrase your question.

Charis: I said I feel like there are people that want to be guided. There are so many perspectives being presented and maybe, without enough structure around it or without enough framework, that it’s hard to know what am I supposed to take from this. Is everything equal weight?

Madeleine: No. But I hesitate to say “you have to think this” or “this is the way for you to think.” I don’t want to do that. That’s not my job. And I don’t think that’s that should be the job of journalists.

Helen: But you select.

Madeleine: I select the stories that I think are important that you need to know, but I present different perspectives on those stories. I don’t say that this perspective is exactly the same as this perspective. But I think different opinions, different viewpoints — I’m not saying different facts because that’s a different issue — is healthy. If you’re just going to hear one viewpoint then you will be in your tribe, of that part of that group of people who only think one way and you won’t be challenged. And I think what’s important is for you to not be a passive consumer of media but to actually be challenged and to seek out different opinions and to challenge your own received wisdom.

Charis: How do you judge whether your work is effective, whether what you’ve been trying to do with your program is achieving that with listeners? Or for you whatever you set out to do in your writing, are there metrics for you to know? How do you get feedback on that?

Helen: Well I know we’re in a very metric, data-driven world now and that’s always that, but quality. I used to work with the public radio station in the Bay Area KQED and there was a whole thing about “well, but what about the quality of the news? How do you do the metrics on that?” And so for me as a writer, there are a couple of things: one is from book sales. Is anybody buying? Is anybody reading it? Where is it in the libraries? All of those things.

From a publicity point of view, where is it getting picked up and in those things. So those are ways, but another intangible is how many people come up to you and read the book? My first book Asian American Dreams, of people who come up 20 years later and say, “I just read your book” and it really spoke to me or it made me change my career direction or something like that. That also is a piece of it and I know there are many metrics for —.

Madeleine: We have a lot of metrics. We have ratings, all sorts of stuff. I know roughly how many people are listening every quarter hour. I mean, I don’t know what they’re thinking. I can’t read their minds, but again, I have a similar situation. I’ll meet people out in the world and they’ll tell me we have fundraisers and they we have people calling in or writing and about what moves them and why they give money.

I think that speaks volumes: if they’re giving money to support this programming and obviously, they like it and a lot of people talk about it that it is “a lifesaver” for them. They use that word all the time. That we don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have public radio. Maybe that’s because they’re in their cars all the time. There’s not a lot there. But I don’t know. So it’s mainly anecdotal. We do have the data, as I said, but I think it’s just mainly anecdotal. And again, it’s just like person-to-person contact.

I think that the thing about radio which is different from other media is that it is so personal because you’re often listening by yourself, you’re in the car or you’re in the shower or whatever — usually in a car. You’re not with other people. It’s not a communal activity, listening to the radio. We’re not in 1930 anymore. So if you have a powerful connection to that voice — people say to me, “I think you’re just talking to me” — that’s really powerful stuff and humbling as well.

So when I’m broadcasting to the void I don’t see any anyone. Well I just imagine that there’s like one person sitting opposite me and I’m telling that person’s story and I need to visualize who that person is. That person is someone who is smart and curious and maybe it hasn’t done the research that I’ve done or doesn’t know the person I’m about to interview, and I’m telling them a story that will hopefully give them more information for them to lead a more meaningful life.

Charis: Both of you mentioned anecdotes in terms of the way that you think about the effectiveness of your work. That’s one thing I want to ask you guys about is how you incorporate considerations of your reader, your listener into the work you do. But I feel like Madeline’s just sort of answered that exactly, picturing this person that she’s speaking to. The truth for you as well?

Helen: Oh yeah. When you’re writing, doing a project that takes a lot of effort, you go through highs and lows by yourself, your’re internal and you’re thinking, “who cares. Who gives a shit about this thing that I care about and I’ve spent so much time on.” Then there’s part of it like, the ‘why.’ “Well, then why am I doing it? What is the meaning. Why is it important to me. Why or how can I make it relevant and important to somebody else?” So there’s also trying to gauge a sense of — take the temperature. If I’m writing about China, which this book is, or my other one’s about Asian-Americans. What would the average reader know about Asian-Americans, for example. Many don’t even think we read English. Here’s a book in English.

How do I address that level of ignorance or incuriosity or whatever. I want them to get something out of it. I want to elevate them. And then here are other people who are going to know a lot and so to kind of balance the different audiences that I know are there or about China or Asia. A lot of people can’t find Asia on a map let alone China. Or if you say, “I’m from Taiwan,” they’re gonna say, “oh, I like Thai food too.” That’s a reality.

So knowing that about your audience, I would like to say, about the selecting topics like the influence and the connection. You’re a gatekeeper. As media people, we are gatekeepers. So you pick the topic and your selection of a topic is what is also going to speak to your people. And that’s an insight and that we all do and I have to say for people who create ads. I’m watching and seeing a lesbian or gay couple and their children on there that is has nothing to do with the car that they just bought or whatever, it’s like, “whoa.” I used to as a child talk about “Asian sightings” when I saw an Asian on any media at all, the whole family would run to the TV set. But that makes a difference. Madeline’s subject today is something that I thought I only cared about and this is where we really sort of reach people’s hearts.

When you’re writing, doing a project that takes a lot of effort, you go through highs and lows by yourself, your’re internal and you’re thinking, who cares. Who gives a shit about this thing that I care about and I’ve spent so much time on? Then there’s part of it like, the ‘why.' Well, then why am I doing it? What is the meaning. Why is it important to me. Why or how can I make it relevant and important to somebody else?

— Helen Zia

Madeleine: Yeah, definitely. And that is not something that you can — I mean you can, but then you’re taking all the joy out of it — focus group. It’s gotta be something that you feel passionately about and that you have to, as a creator — and Ira Glass talks about this a lot too — it’s like you create this thing and put it out there and hopefully you make a connection. But if you’re going to think what is it that people want and then try to focus try to do it reverse it that way, that doesn’t work. So part of it is having experience and also part of it is I think you have to be a humble humanist too. So it’s easy for me to talk to my people, like I know exactly what my people are interested in and who they are. I mean, middle-aged Jewish woman. I could talk to you forever about whatever, but that’s not very interesting for everybody else. So there’s there’s a constant balance.

Charis: Both of you have spoken a lot about providing people with perspectives and also making selections right in what you broadcast and then encouraging people to be thinking readers and listeners. I also wonder: do you hope that the people who listen or read you will go out and take action in some way in your work. Are you inciting action?

Madeleine: No.

No action.

Madeleine: Well other than being an engaged person and care about the world.

Helen: Well, that’s an action isn’t it? You them to care.

Madeleine: I don’t mean specific action. I’m not telling people to go vote for A or B or picket or go to that protest. That’s not what I’m interested in.

Helen: But if you were to select another topic. You know, away from politics. Let’s say violence of any kind. You know you’re not wanting them to commit violence.

Madeleine: There’s no “violence on all sides.” There are good people on all sides. There’s none of that.

Charis: I know you’ve done programs on homelessness in LA and that might be less touchy than politics right. Maybe there is action to be taken there.

Madeleine: The action is I’m not going to tell people to go out and volunteer with us. Go and “you need to accept a homeless shelter in your council district and not be such a NIMBY”. I’m not going to say that, but what I am going to do is put a perspective on the area that says “this is what happens when you’re a NIMBY. This is what it means.” Think bigger than just your particular block.

Helen: And also by the guests you choose, that might point them in a certain direction.I got into journalism and then writing by being an activist first. I will say that I see creativity as a way to bring our common humanity together and hopefully move society in a direction that is toward peace and toward justice and those kind of things. I don’t tell people how to vote or anything like that. But I’ve written stories about sexual harassment, campus rape, things like that, hate crimes and not telling people what they should do. But my hope is by who I interview, the perspectives I show, the organizations that I choose and maybe to have a little help box too. “Want to get involved? Here are places you can contact.”.

If you want to volunteer at a homeless shelter or at a domestic violence shelter, here’s how you learn about that. Separate from the story. Yeah but in doing that — I mean, I actually do think there’s no such thing as a absolutely objective thing by just the choice of our subject matter, the choice of who we have on.

Madeleine: I agree. I agree totally with you and the Mencken quote “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That’s what I think about all the time. I think that’s what journalism is to you. It’s one of the goals for me practicing journalism.

Helen: It’s our noble goal.

Madeleine: Yeah is to hold the powerful accountable and to give voice to the voiceless. So I guess that’s some kind of activism in a more kind of abstract way. I guess it’s about having a view of a liberal democracy where all people’s rights are respected where it’s not just the rights of the powerful that are respected but that everyone’s rights are respected. Journalists are the ones — I mean, there are many there activists — but there is a crucial role for journalists to keep that idea alive because if the powerful are not being held accountable, they’re just gonna do whatever the hell they want because power is quite addictive.

And the only thing I think that can constrain them is knowing that they might get into trouble! And who is going to get them into trouble?

Charis: How do we meet those responsibilities. If that’s the responsibility to hold the powerful accountable, what can maybe not just the two of you in your roles but what would you say to writers and journalists and broadcasters? “This is how you meet the responsibility you have.”.

Helen: Well, there are many who are doing that work, who are going through all of the data who are waiting for the tax returns to be revealed and who will be going through those with a fine-toothed comb. And so that’s part of it. The people who slog through and do the hard work of reading every word and comma in a you congressional bill or something like that. That’s all part of the work or going to a school board meeting. And I have to say that there are times we can certainly point to where things people have fallen asleep or whatever. “When did we not notice that the redistricting was happening in such a ridiculous way.” I mean that’s been going on for decades now. And so those are something we can learn from. And to say, “okay, where did we fall off the watch on this or got too complacent about it or felt that it didn’t it wasn’t worth the bottom line.”I think that’s a big issue.

I think for daily journalists now and content creators, one of the big challenges is the 24/7 news cycle we’re on. Every moment right now, there’s something new to jump to. It doesn’t give a lot of time to do the necessary digging and the necessary homework. We were talking earlier about Wen Ho Lee, the Chinese-American scientist who is falsely accused of being a spy for the People’s Republic. And I don’t know what you wanted to say about it.

Madeleine: I want to hear what you have to say about it since he co-wrote this book.

Helen: Right. Mm hmm.

Madeleine: Well I guess in that way, I remember I was in Washington when that happened and I remember the press corps immediately jumping all over him. And I think a lot of it was, part of it had to do with racism. And I was wondering if you could talk about that and your interpretation of that. Why were people so eager willing and quick to believe in his guilt.

Helen: So that was 1999. And what happened was the New York Times, on its very front page above the fold, said that there was a spy at Los Alamos’ nuclear labs — one of our most secret laboratories. All they do is create nuclear bombs. He was one of the scientists there and there was an unnamed spy who was worse than the Rosenbergs, and we know what happened to the Rosenbergs, right?

And it was here this guy was tried and convicted on the front pages of one of the most esteemed news organizations. And what was the cause of that? Then everybody jumped on it, like you said. And yes, it was racism because there was an assumption of guilt and from a news point of view — and these are like Pulitzer Prize winning journalists who were rushing to get the scoop and to out scoop each other. So do you have time to actually double check and see do you actually have any evidence that says? And so it just gained momentum and we are in that moment today, by the way too.

Wen Ho Lee was a well-known case because it was on those front page of The New York Times. It was a case that almost went to the Supreme Court to challenge the First Amendment and his privacy rights, and was settled by the New York Times and CNN and all of that stuff because they didn’t want it to go to the Supreme Court. But we’re in a moment today where there are so many Asian-American and especially Chinese-American business people, scientists. They’re not nuclear physicists. They’re people who if they leave the company that they don’t like because they’ve never been promoted in 20 years and go somewhere and create their mom-and-pop company, they are immediately slapped with an industrial espionage lawsuit that brings in the FBI and there are like hundreds of those cases right now.

If it’s not an Asian person let’s say like Uber and Waymo which has a lawsuit. It’s called trade secrets and that is a civil suit. That’s been going on and it’s going to be settled. Nobody got arrested. Nobody got thrown away. And we know that since Putin is our friend, China is the worst enemy of all. So in the case of Wen Ho Lee and these other cases, it’s a career maker for the FBI anybody there to find a Chinese spy. There are many studies that say every Chinese waiter every Chinese student is a potential spy for China. And you can’t dispute a negative: if you’re a spy, prove that you’re not. So our responsibility is to, within that rush to judgment, be able to stop and to challenge it.

Madeleine: And as you say it’s harder now than ever before. I mean you reminded me of that Rolling Stone story at UVA where the woman.

Helen: The fraternity rape.

Madeleine: This women who accused this guy and fraternity of raping her and it was a horrible story. But it was coming in the wake of all of these stories the campus sexual assault and the reporter just went with it. And it became a huge journalistic scandal. On the other side, and I don’t know if Rolling Stone has recovered — I’m sure that journalist hasn’t recovered. But I think it did a lot of damage to all the credible stories, which there are far more credible stories of sexual assault and campus sexual assault.

So there’s the long term ramifications for not doing our homework.

Charis: I wanted to refer back to a conversation the three of us started and I feel like we didn’t really finish and it was about this quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Helen: “The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.”

Charis: I actually checked, but you can interpret it either way, but the question you were asking each other was whether you believe it. So do you?

Madeleine: Oh, wow. God. Really. Finishing with an with an “easy” question!

Helen: I do believe it. I will say I refer to that quote often and as I was saying earlier, if we look toward history, we got through the McCarthy hysteria, we got through 30 years later, there was an apology for the internment of Japanese Americans. It’s a lesson to us today about “let’s not intern everybody who is Muslim or who might look Muslim.” And so the arc of history or universe is long. It bends toward justice, if we make it, we help make it bend. We have agency. Can I just say some of the other speakers have referred to that we’re here, we’re floating protoplasm and then we die. I agree in general that’s true, but that piece of being alive is partly the why. So what are we doing here and what can we do to make a difference? And that’s the piece that will help bend the arc of history or the universe toward justice. (Applause)

Madeleine: I used to say it can be really depressing when you focus on the day-to-day, and you see the two steps backwards and one step forward (Charis: or five.) or ten or 20 or what have you, and you see what’s happening is, “oh, things can change like that right.” Things can change like that too because sure, we can change in a bad way just like that, but then we can have gay marriage in a second. Like it really was a second in historical terms, and change everything for so many people.

So that does give me hope. And you’re right about being a protoplasm and yeah, you die and what does it all mean and all that. But I think when you live in the ever present — I’ll just bring it full circle to the beginning of our conversation— and you think “okay. I’m just here in the present. I’m not going to think about the past. I’m not going to think about the future. I’m just going to live for now,” which is a valid thing these days when everyone’s into meditation and just being Shanti and all that. But I think that can be an excuse not to act and not to position yourself in the long arc of humanity. And we are all on that long arc and we have a responsibility to be part of it and not to step off.

Because if everybody did that we would be you know protoplasm living in the mud and not doing anything and not creating and and not realizing our full potential. Now live in the present really live and let’s see where you are in the art and exert your eyes forward and keep your eyes backward too and.

Helen: Doing nothing is still doing something. Doing nothing is an action as well. So we can choose to do nothing and be a protoplasm or we can at least be part of that glorious civilization.

Charis: I agree. Thank you to both of you so much. This was such a pleasure. Thank you!

When the people, you guys, aren’t really looking at the big picture then it’s easy for somebody who has authoritarian tendencies to exploit that.

— Madeleine Brand, on the risks of focusing merely on the short-term.

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