Charles Duhigg, author, “Supercommuicators,” Interview


Well, whether it is expletive filled letter writing or the kind of political campaigning we discussed earlier in the program, there’s one skill they both require and that is effective communication. Of course, throughout history and still today, it’s a tool of the powerful for both good and bad, but it’s also crucial in all of our daily lives, in the workplace, in our personal relationships, and more than ever online.


So, how can we communicate better and make that a force for positive change? Author Charles Duhigg explores this question in his new book, “Supercommunicators.” And here he is speaking to Walter Isaacson.


WALTER ISAACSON, CO-HOST, AMANPOUR AND CO.: Thank you, Christiane. And, Charles Duhigg, welcome to the show.




ISAACSON: So, this book, “Supercommunicators,” it’s all about how to have a great conversation, how to convince people. Tell me, what is the point of a conversation?


DUHIGG: It’s a great question. The point of a conversation is to understand each other, right? It’s not to convince you that I’m right and you’re wrong or that you should like me or think I’m smart. The point of a conversation and a conversation is a success, if I understand how you see the world and I’m able to speak in a way that you understand how I see the world. And that means that we could walk away from that conversation disagreeing with each other and it’s still a success.


ISAACSON: But what you talk about is that a conversation must make a connection. What do you mean by that?


DUHIGG: What we know about when we have conversations is that our neural activity becomes similar. And that makes sense because when I describe an 

emotion to you or an idea, you actually experience that emotion or that idea a little bit.


Within psychology and neurology, this is known as neural entrainment. And it’s at the core of how we communicate with each other. And so, when we make that connection, when we have a great conversation, when we feel like we’re on the same wavelength, it feels wonderful because our brains have evolved to crave that kind of communication and connection…. 

And one of the things that we know about conversations is that when we ask questions, when we ask a special kind of question known as a deep question, it tends to change a monologue into a dialogue because we really listen to the other person. And when we prove that we’re listening, they become more willing to listen to us.

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Tim Wu on the Economy

This Is the Best Way for Biden to Talk About the Economy
By Tim Wu

To succeed in the 2024 election, Mr. Biden needs to convince voters that he has begun a long fight against today’s toxic form of capitalism. He needs them to understand that he is making the economy fairer and more productive. He needs to explain that Donald Trump’s invocations of economic grievance are real and justified…
Tim Wu
The New York Times

Enemies, Saviors, and Reconciliation

Enemies, Saviors, and Reconciliation
By Wade Lee Hudson

Our winner-take-all society demonizes “enemies,” elevates “saviors,” and promotes hyper-partisanship. Alternatively, King’s Philosophy of nonviolent struggle recommends that activists pursue reconciliation.

Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action. Each act of reconciliation is one step closer to the Beloved Community.

I’d love to see Democrats control Congress and the White House. Too often, however, Democrats dismiss Trump supporters as “irredeemable deplorables,” express amazement about how anyone could vote for Trump, and don’t try to understand his supporters. This approach is counterproductive.

To clarify my understanding, I asked ChatGPT, “Why does Trump’s base support him?” Its response included:

  • Populist Messaging: Trump’s populist approach appeals to many voters who feel disenfranchised or ignored by the political establishment…. 
  • He is promising to prioritize the interests of the United States.
  • Anti-Establishment Sentiment: Trump’s non-politician background and tendency to challenge political norms and the status quo appeal to those disillusioned with traditional politicians and the political establishment.
  • His supporters often accuse the mainstream media of being biased.
  • For some, Trump’s positions on social and cultural issues, including his opposition to political correctness and his support for law enforcement, align with their values and concerns.
  • Their support is as much about belonging to a community or movement as it is about policy or ideology.

David Brooks wrote:

We’re in the middle of the global surge in populism. Populism is belief that there’s a conflict, a class conflict. And the conflict is between the real Americans and the globalized elites. And in America, it’s mostly measured by levels of education. So it’s people with a high school degree who tend to be working class and feel they are being oppressed, looked down upon, condescended to, and morally scorned by members of the highly educated elites who live along the coasts.

Fareed Zakaria summarizes the issues as “class, culture, and tribalism.”

Compassion-minded people must address these concerns by building a united grassroots movement that promotes pragmatic populism and meets the need for deep community. The Democratic Party can support this effort with this message:

Many Americans feel powerless, disrespected, resentful, insecure, and neglected — for good reason. Our society primarily serves the interests of the wealthy elite, the highly educated, and those who hold positions of power. 

The Democratic Party has not adequately addressed these realities. We must do better. We must change how we organize our society and treat each other. 

We need a moral America. We must honor the Golden Rule and treat others as we would want them to treat us if we were in their shoes. We must talk less, listen more, and fight for compassionate policies most Americans support.

Wealthy and powerful elites are selfish. They want more money and power to tell others what to do. They don’t worry about how they hurt others and the environment. Too many Americans admire them and do the same. We can do better. 

We, the American people, can stand together and care for others, knowing we depend on each other. We can help each other and our society become kinder and fairer. We can set up ways to help people better understand each other, including ways for citizens to engage in dialogue with elected officials. 

We can guarantee everyone a dignified life rooted in economic security. We can break up monopolies that keep prices too high. We can limit Big Money in politics and lobbyists going back and forth through “the revolving door” between corporations and Congress. We can stop elected officials from investing in the stock market and using their office to enrich themselves. We can stop the government from violating individual liberties and ensure the government is no larger than needed to promote the general welfare. We can strengthen family farms and rural economies. We can enforce laws against discrimination, prevent cruel and unusual punishment, and ensure everyone can vote in free and fair elections. 

These are some of the steps we can take to move forward. Congress must determine how to do this through debate and compromise. 

The starting point, however, must be a moral foundation that sets aside the materialistic “what’s in it for me” mindset and the belief “it’s the economy, stupid,” and focus instead on the common good, trusting that the more you benefit, the more I will benefit. 

Paradoxically, the best way for Democrats to win a decisive victory is to focus less on defeating Republicans and more on serving humanity, cultivating compassion, and promoting justice. The “us-versus-them” mentality limits progress. Instead, Democrats should promote a positive-sum mindset centered on respect and dignity for every individual and a strong sense of morality — simply doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, however, the Democratic and Republican parties reinforce moral corruption. Once elected, officials face powerful, corrupting influences. They focus on winning the next election by any means necessary. 

Whether any one politician is morally corrupt or virtuous is impossible to day. We can only judge them by their actions, not their character. We can judge without being judgmental. 

However, if they say nothing about whether their behavior is morally right or wrong, if they don’t discuss morality, we can justifiably say they’re being amoral, by definition.

I don’t know why Joe Biden decided to run for re-election even though numerous other Democrats would be stronger candidates, and his determination to run makes it more likely that Trump will be elected. However, in “Democrats Have a Better Option than Biden,” Ezra Klein envisions that there’s still time for Biden to step aside, open the Convention, and let the delegates select the candidate. 

Unless the poll numbers improve quickly, I hope he does — and says he’s doing it because it’s moral. Then I’ll say he acted ethically without saying anything about his moral character.

We can’t count on any President or the Democratic Party to save us. We need a mass movement that forces them to do the right thing.

Readers’ Comments

Kathy Labriola:
I appreciate your explanation of your essay, and in calling Biden amoral, although I do disagree very strongly and do not think he is amoral. I believe he has a strong moral compass and that he has proven that over the decades in his work as a Senator and his votes in the Senate, and as VP under Obama and as President over the past 4 years. I believe his position so far on Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians is very very wrong, and that this is an aberration from his usual clear sense of right and wrong, and that he has been deluded by nearly 80 years of of US foreign policy in supporting Israel no matter what. I believe he felt he had no choice but to continue this completely immoral policy of military aid to Israel because it had so much history behind it and it is extremely hard to force the nation to change course on something that is so entrenched. I believe that in the past few weeks, he has shifted to trying to force Israel’s government into a cease fire and has threatened to with hold aid. So I believe that, finally, his moral sense that supporting this mass slaughter is wrong, has come to the forefront and he will act to stop Israel from invading Rafah.

This may not really be what you were addressing, but I feel that it is very unfair to call Joe Biden amoral, when he is running against Trump who is such a psychopath and has no conscience whatsoever and who rapes women, commits fraud, and caused an insurrection that killed people and tried to overturn a democratic election.

Roger Marsden:
Yes, good points – very hard to know precisely what motivates Biden, i.e., he could care less about Palestinians; he prioritizes our toe hold in the Middle East via Israel; he’s not in control of these geopolitical issues; he thinks this is “working.” ??  and what we do know is that US funding and arming an ugly genocide. If one criticizes that are we increasing the chance of getting trump elected?     Overall I think it’s best to tell the truth as best we know it (and maybe that creates pressure for our lead politicians to act in a moral manner).

NOTE: After watching Rhonda Magee’s presentation to the Upaya Zen Center (the video is here), I emailed them:

Dear Rhonda and Joan:

Following are my notes from the session with Rhonda. I plan to post it on the Compassionate Humanity Community website. If you see the need for corrections or additions, please let me know.

I wonder, What institutional or structural changes do you recommend? 

And, do we need to provide mutual support for unlearning or controlling the desire to dominate and submit for personal gain, which our society inflames, so we can better relieve others’ suffering and promote justice?

With love,

Joan replied, “thank you. this is wonderful.” Rhonda replied, “Wonderful, indeed. Thank you, dear brother Wade. I will review and respond to your questions within the coming few days. With appreciation, hope and love.”

Hannah Arendt, On Violence

Progress, as we have come to understand it, means growth, the relentless process of more and more, of bigger and bigger… (and) the need for…the anonymous power of the administrators… Monopolization of power causes the drying up or oozing away of all authentic power sources in the country…. This generation, trained like its predecessors in hardly anything but the various brands of the my-share-of-the-pie social and political theories, has taught us a lesson about manipulation, or, rather, its limits, which we would do well not to forget… The manipulation addicts, those who fear it unduly no less than those who have set their hopes on it, hardly notice when the chickens come home to roost… They discovered what we call today the Establishment and what earlier was called the System, and it was this discovery that made them turn to the praise of violent action…. It goes against the very nature of self-interest to be enlightened… The self qua self cannot reckon in terms of long-range interest… Self-interest, when asked to yield to “true” interest — that is, the interest of the world as distinguished from that of the self — will always reply, Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin.

Editor’s Report

I didn’t want to discourage anyone from voting for Biden with “The Amoral Joe Biden” and hope it didn’t burn bridges. I merely believe that if he presented his case within a more robust moral framework, it would be more effective politically — and help nurture change throughout society.

Biden never said we should support Ukraine simply because it’s the right thing to do — for ethical reasons. He could’ve said, “When we see a bully harming someone, we should intervene, whether in a school, workplace, community, or on the global stage.” Making that point would encourage people to improve their interactions in general and help build a powerful, independent grassroots movement.

I don’t judge Biden’s moral character. I don’t know his motives, and I can’t read his mind. I can only judge his actions. I called him amoral, as I might call someone a “criminal” when they break the law. We can make judgments without being judgmental.

I only know the motives of a few close friends, but I don’t trust any politician to that degree. Some politicians enter the arena because they want to do good, but most soon become focused on getting re-elected for selfish reasons.


I read an essay from James Baldwin’s Cross of Redemption daily. I only read one because the essays are intense, and I want to absorb them before moving on.

I’ve considered inviting 100 or so Contacts to a “James Baldwin Zoom,” but none of you have commented on his 1959 essay, “Mass Culture and the Creative Artist,” which I posted two weeks ago. So, I suspect Baldwin doesn’t impact others as strongly as he does me and have placed that idea on the back burner.

However, here’s a link to another Baldwin essay, a 1962 New York Times piece, As Much Truth As One Can Bear.

After I finish Cross of Redemption, I may comment on it with an essay and share quotes and excerpts.


I recently added the following to the opening of the Systemic chapter introduction:

Egalitarian Seeds: Holistic Reform

Numerous advocates presented in the Systemic knowledge base promote holistic reform rooted in compassion. They address the whole person and the whole society. These efforts differ; none echo each other precisely, but they share core principles and move in the same direction.

I’m adding summaries of some of these essays and books to the end of the Systemic chapter.

I’m using “holistic” rather than “holistic and systemic.” Holistic means “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the individual parts,” so it incorporates “systemic.”


Taking Away a Social Safety Net

Is This What Happens When You Build a Real Social Safety Net, Then Take It Away?
By Bryce Covert

It’s a riddle that economists have struggled to decipher. The U.S. economy seems robust on paper, yet Americans are dissatisfied with it. But hardly anyone seems to have paid much attention to the whirlwind experience we just lived through: We built a real social safety net in the United States and then abruptly ripped it apart.

Take unemployment insurance….

Many told Dr. Michener about having to hustle harder for work, and she told me that the word “struggle” comes up over and over again in the researchers’ interviews. Americans have less sense of security, she said, “that you’re going to be OK and you’re going to be taken care of should the worst-case scenario befall you.”

The disillusionment this creates is incredibly harmful. Yes, if people feel pessimistic about the economy, it may very well swing the election away from President Biden. But it’s bigger than just this election. Even if somehow the experience of losing benefits doesn’t diminish political participation, it’s a lost opportunity for the government to continue demonstrating to Americans that it can make their lives better. That draws people into democracy and strengthens it. The worst — and more likely — case is that it turns them off.

“There were a lot of things across many programs that changed and made people’s lives better, and so many of those things have been pulled back,” Dr. Michener said. “We’d have to think people are idiots not to notice that.”

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The Amoral Joe Biden