Adam Carolla’s newest Prager U video about our ability to change is very, very important

Adam Carolla has a new video for Prager University about the amazing human capacity for change based upon introspection and self-reflection.  Here’s the video, which I’ll follow with some comments, plus a post I wrote before the September 2010 midterm elections about my own changes:

People who know me know that I read, and read, and read. Kids often ask me “What’s your favorite book?” or “What’s the most important book you ever read?” Most expect me to name some weighty tome about history or culture, or some novel that gripped me at a profound emotional level. I’ve certainly read such books, but they’re not the most important books I’ve ever read. Believe it or not, the most important book I’ve ever read is Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People.

I picked Carnegie’s book off my high school library’s shelf when I was fifteen — a very awkward, unattractive fifteen-year-old, who compensated for social inferiority with a cutting wit that, while sophisticated and often funny, saw people (especially boys) backing away from me as fast as possible. How to Win Friends and Influence People was the first intimation I had that, by changing myself, I could change how people respond to me. I didn’t become nicer overnight, but I made the decision then and there that I was a work in progress and that I had a lifetime responsibility to improve myself.

The following is a reprint of a post that I wrote in response to the glee on the Left when they unearthed Senate candidate’s Christine O’Donnell’s youthful, and long-since abandoned, flirtation with witchcraft, charts my trajectory from Progressive to Conservative, and nasty to nice (or, at least, nicer):

I know this will come as a surprise to all of you, but I was not born wise or well informed.  I blush to think of some of the behaviors in which I indulged, and the ideas that I held, when I was younger.

When I was a very little girl, I picked up from the secular people surrounding me the idea that there is no God.  Not only did I refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I was scared enough of the teacher that I still moved my lips, I also thought all believers were fools.  I held to this belief for many, many years.

After reading Gone With The Wind for the first time, when I was 11, I came away with the impression that slavery wasn’t really such a bad thing, as long as you treated your slaves nicely. It took me a while to shake this belief too, especially because it seemed to me that the way many American blacks lived, whether in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters’ Point, LA’s Watts and South Central, or Michigan’s Detroit, wasn’t a great improvement over the life of a slave.  The concept of freedom versus mere material welfare eluded me.

At around the same time, as a child who grew up watching the Vietnam War on the news, as well as all the antiwar protests, I thought the American military was evil, and that Communists weren’t so bad.

When I was 17, and California voters passed Prop. 13, I thought it was outrageous that people should want to keep their own money when it could go to the government, which would spend it for the people’s own good, only it would do it better than the people themselves.

When I was 18, I voted for Jimmy Carter and was deeply saddened when he lost.

When I was a 20-year old student attending U.C. Berkeley, and I heard that Ronald Reagan had been shot, I agreed with my fellow students that he deserved it, a sentiment that earned me a harsh and well-deserved scolding from my parents.

When I was 21 and living in England, I wore a keffiyeh, because it was a cool fashion statement.  That same year, I listened in silence as a British Arab man told a terrible and cruel holocaust joke, because I was too socially intimidated to speak up.

When I returned to America in the early 1980s, I was fascinated by MTV, and watched it obsessively, believing that somehow those videos, with their rocking beats and alternatively meaningless or crude images, could enrich my life.

Throughout my teens and 20s, I hated Christian proselytizers, because I thought they wanted to hurt me, a Jew.  It took me decades to understand that they were acting out of great spiritual generosity, and that they would respond immediately and respectfully to a politely given “no.”

Also throughout my teens and twenties, I was mean.  I was an awkward, geeky bookworm, with a quick wit that I used to great effect to hurt people before they could hurt me.  I always had friends, but woe betide anyone who fell on the cutting side of my tongue.  A physical and moral coward, I nevertheless believed that, when it came to insults, the best defense was a good offense.

I was young and I was stupid, stupid, stupid.  I cringe when I look back at the things I did and thought.  What’s really sad is that the only thing that stopped me from making even worse mistakes was my cowardice.  I didn’t really live life.  I observed it from the sidelines, and simply managed to collect a whole bunch of bad ideas as I went along.

The good news is that I grew up.  During those same years, I managed to learn a lot.  At Berkeley, because I couldn’t understand the Marxist cant that permeated every non-science class, and therefore ignored it, I managed to learn about history and art and literature.  At law school, I learned how to revere the Constitution, respect the law and, significantly, analyze data.

Being a lawyer was also a great gift.  It exposed me to activist judges, something that taught me that, without a reliable rule of law, businesses crumble and anarchy arises.  It was frustrating to know that, if I was representing a bank or business in a San Francisco court against an individual, the bank or business would always lose, no matter how rigorously it followed the law, while the individual would always win, no matter how sleazy or careless.  The same held true in employer/employee cases.  I understood that judicial activism increased the cost of doing business, drove businesses out of the Bay Area (and California), and made it virtually impossible for business people to have reliable predictors to control their conduct.

Earning and spending money taught me that capitalism, if properly policed (not controlled, just policed) enriches people, rather than impoverishes or enslaves them.  Living as a responsible adult (rather than a child at home or a cocooned student) taught me that government, even with the best will in the world, is an inefficient engine that moves slowly and that inevitably crushes individuality.  I realized that I prefer to keep power diffuse, amongst myriad people with different ideas about the world, rather than aggregated in one, all-powerful being, whether that being is a person or an ostensibly republican government.  This made me a strong anti-Communist and, indeed, an anti anything totalitarian.

I learned that the old saying was right, and that I could truly catch more flies with honey (especially true honey, not false words of flattery), than I could with vinegar.  I came to regret very deeply the verbal hurts I had inflicted on people.  You will seldom catch me being mean, in act or word.  (Although I admit to slipping when the migraines hit or the kids fight.)

I found it impossible to cling to my prejudices about God and religious people.  The more I learned about science, the more I asked myself, “How did it begin?”  I accept the scientific record and scientific conclusions all the way back to the Big Bang — but what came before?  Could all this something truly have come from nothing?  I don’t know that there is a God, but I’d be an arrogant fool, faced with those questions, to deny a God.  I’m not a believer, but I try to live a moral life as an open-minded non-believer.  I respect believers.

As for Christianity, I learned that people can hold beliefs different from mine, and still be truly, deeply good people, whom it is often an honor to know.  My history studies helped me to understand that the Inquisition is over and that, for the past two hundred years, Christianity has been a uniform force for good in the world.  There are, of course, bad people who profess to be Christians, but Christianity as a belief system is a good thing and we should be grateful for it.  (I also learned, which few Jews accept, that the Nazis were not a Christian movement, but were a violently anti-Christian movement, something that helped me open my heart and mind to Christianity.)

Watching our military during the First Gulf war, and meeting military people as I got older, I began to understand that ours is an exceptional military:  a volunteer organization, controlled by the Constitution, and peopled by ordinary Americans.  Well, “ordinary” in that they’re neither the dregs, nor the aristocrats, as is the case in other, class-based societies.  Instead, they’re people like you and me.  Except, unlike me, they’re brave, even the ones who just joined to pay off their student loans.  Oh, and they’re patriots, which isn’t that common.  And of course, they’re awfully polite and frequently so kind.  But other than that….

So here I am:  someone who was profoundly stupid as a child and young person, but who had the capacity to learn and who did, in fact, learn and grow.

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  • Danny Lemieux

    It’s OK, Book. I, too, was a craven coward who too often failed to stand up to bullies when I was young. There came the day, however, when I drew a line in the sand with my toe and said, “no more”. 
    Just the other day, a good friend (a very successful and brawny businessman) apologized to me in saying that he didn’t want to appear “judgmental” (it was a Liberal versus Democrat discussion).
    I told him, by all means, he must be judgmental because people have lost the will to be judgmental and are forgetting how to judge between right and wrong. 
    You should expand what you wrote into a book…a guaranteed best seller! 

  • Gringo

    I was an awkward, geeky bookworm, with a quick wit that I used to great effect to hurt people before they could hurt me.  I always had friends, but woe betide anyone who fell on the cutting side of my tongue.
    That is not uncommon. A lot of bright kids – including my self when I was a kid- think that the world cannot wait to hear their latest witty insult.  Most learn without undue harm to themselves that instead of responding with applause, the world does not appreciate their latest witty insult. Some learn this more easily than others.

  • Ymarsakar

    One of the easier ways to see the lack of growth or anti growth would be to see adult behavior when they smoked marijuana or used other drugs when they were teenagers or young.
    You will notice a certain narcissistic tendency, inability to be patient with others, and a general childlike intolerance of being denied pleasure. Such immaturity is a direct result of the delay in brain centers, the tri model of logic, emotion, and instinct: the sane conscious, the exaggerated imagined fears, and the instinct of fixing problems before dying right now. But people who are lazy won’t develop the harmony of the 3 brains any time soon either.
    Dealing with children, family ,and others in an inferior social status or a weaker power base, tends to nurture and grow the emotional self control and depth of individuals. Facing life and death risks and situations, grows the instinct part. Reason, logic, and critical thinking accelerates the maturity of the logical consciousness.
    However, when people attempt to use the wrong brain for the task, critical errors develop. A person attempting to use logic or who seeks to use emotion, and discards their instinct or “gut” in life and death situations or even criminal violence and at risk locations, will endanger their own lives. Too much logic tends to produce manipulating people, like hypnotists that implant false memories of child molestation in their clients and use hypnotism to basically brainwash people. Not something unheard of in political speeches either. The Communists and Nazis were in fact very scientifically orientated movements, that believed in the “science” of the super race or the inevitable future of mankind. Mao modeled his movement after the Europeans, and that is why they tried to kill, exile, or burn any trace of Chinese tradition or history, even though now a days they are making sports money from Chinese martial arts. Without emotion and the ability to control one’s own emotions and dark desires, logic becomes a weapon for destruction, not prosperity.

  • weathtd

    Read “Atlas Shrugged” in jr. high school and the realization that this country was full of people who believed governmental direction in the book was the way to go was a big “wake up” for me.  Then a low draft number led me to enlist right after graduation even though that meant trip to Vietnam.  I came to the same new conclusions politically as Bookworm, only quicker.

  • weathtd

    Also, only knew a couple of Jewish kids in school but was taught in church that as a Christian, I had a duty to support and back Israel and the Jewish people.  To this day I cannot understand Christian hostility towards the Jewish people.

  • phillips1938

    My rule of thumb is that less than 1% of all people change their worldview after age 22.  Thinking for yourself is hard work and often lonely.  I know you have changed, Book.  But I know few others who really have.  

  • Ymarsakar

    One of the reasons I react so strongly now to people insinuating or doing/saying things to make me do things they want, just because they want it, is because early on in high school I was part of a certain clique of 5 or so people, and for whatever reasons, a member of that clique earned sanction from the leaders of said group. The leaders of said group then ignored whatever he was saying when he was sitting with us at lunch, walked ahead of him, leaving him behind, and various other things to send the message that he isn’t part, and that he is to leave and be exiled. Though they lacked the courage to say this to his face or even in private. I noticed this because I too sat with that clique, and when they put up the ignore shield, so did I, mimicking the behavior of the influential people, for fear that I too would be cast out and be left alone without a social support net. A few days of such treatment, the member voluntarily exiled himself and found a new group of friends. 
    Looking back afterwards on that set of incidents, I realized soon after that I had allowed my fear of other people’s actions into betraying my own ideals of personal justice. Even back in kindergarten I felt an anxious sweat and pain from having to lie or participate in any kind of deception, nor did I understand lies other people used to hurt those around them. At the same time, because it wasn’t untruth or deception I did, my instincts didn’t activate, yet in retrospect it was an act of injustice greater than the lie, not only to the person being ejected for some stupid reason I never even heard about but to my own soul (tamashi). I had willingly faced far harsher punishment for telling the truth than being ignored by people I didn’t particularly like, yet I had so easily betrayed my own code, for some pathetic social group.
    Never would I allow an external person to dictate to me what is right or wrong, I etched that unto the soul, until I had myself determined what the proper course of action was. But in order to do that, I had to first kill all those various weaknesses first. In order to do that, I had to become stronger, I had to have more power. Not the power to fire people, but the power to kill one’s own weak heart. I finally found a place and people that could teach me what I always wanted to know, but one of the curious requirements to use lethal force against other people for self protection required me to accept my own death on a mental, emotional, spiritual, and instinctual level. At that point, it was much easier to resist the pointless social bantering and rules other people had made out of whole cloth to satisfy their own desires, for they would need to kill me to make me do their bidding. And that wasn’t going to be so easy any more. That instinctual fear of being ejected from the herd, to face predation and starvation, and that pathetic desire to stay with the group to get some safety from numbers and the handouts from one’s betters… started to disappear, to be replaced by something else.
    In a fashion, the desire to control events in the world and the desire to destroy one’s own weaknesses, often complement each other. For to get one, it is often necessary to obtain the other. In the process, I conveniently picked up various propaganda tricks, hypnotic mind control techniques, social manipulation cues, emotional manipulation techniques, and various other shepherd herding skills that I still find bothersome as hell to use. I learned them, if only to understand why other people find deception to be such a rewarding act. And to, perhaps, prove the point that my concept of justice is superior than theirs, because I can become better at deception than them because I value the truth more than they ever did.
    I find myself most comfortable in the age of honor duels, Japanese feudalism, and 1950s style America. But I’m not in such an age, perhaps born in the wrong place or even time. It does give me a lot of free time to study up on what I love though, for it is not that I understand those people and their behavior. More, it is like my natural instinct was to always do the things people in the past did, and probably for the same good and bad reasons.
    P.S. One of my first resources on studying human behavior were romance novels. I used to sneak them out of the room of one of my family members, when I was a small kid. I’m not a Buddhist or Eastern religious student, but what the Buddha said about killing one’s desires to achieve enlightenment had a point to it. Tracing one’s desires to the origin point, however, is easier said than done. And often times, that origin point is a thread connected to some external puppet master’s hands. I know that very well now given how much of the human manipulation technologies I’ve studied and learned over the years.

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  • stanley

    I changed my worldview after 22, in fact after 30. It was extremely hard. Even now, now that I know better, having been delayed so long, bits and pieces of the past come floating to the surface at unexpected times and confound my thinking and create uncertainty. If what Phillips says is true about the 1%, then I don’t see any hope for our society changing in positive ways, because no significant amount of the 99% will endure the pain of the realization that what they think may be “wrong”. For me, the change was spiritual first, then intellectual.

  • Danny Lemieux

    If I recall my psychology correctly, it usually takes a massive shock to enable adults to change their world views. For many, 9/11 was such a shock. For others…well, stay posted….they are coming.

  • Mike Devx

    Thank you for this post, Book.  You hit the sweet spot, right on target!  It must have been difficult to write a biographical confessional this meaningful and yet keep it so short.  The impulse to give us pages and pages of (unnecessary) context was probably overwhelming, yet you resisted it!
    My favorite paragraph:
    When I was 21 and living in England, I wore a keffiyeh, because it was a cool fashion statement.  That same year, I listened in silence as a British Arab man told a terrible and cruel holocaust joke, because I was too socially intimidated to speak up.
    This one small paragraph infers volumes concerning your journey toward understanding the Jewish part of your heritage and identity; it speaks volumes about the sometimes-ridiculous utter stupidity of youth.  (“How cool to wear a kaffiyeh!”, the young adult Bookworm smugly thought.  “How horrifying, in many ways, for *me* to have worn the kaffiyeh!” reflects the wiser, older Bookworm…)  There are many future posts available in this vein…
    When I look back on the young adult that I once was: in so many ways that person is a stranger to me.  I’ve changed.  I *remember*, and I know it was me, I remember being in that skin, but it is more like sharing the memories of another person entirely.  I think you can only shake your head with bemused amazement, forgive yourself the worst grotesqueries of what you might once have done or believed, and simply continue on the journey.  There is still more to live and more to learn.

  • johnfromcolumbus

    A great companion to How To Win Friends and Influence People is Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey Mackay.

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  • Ymarsakar

    Stanley, one of the reasons why good leaders are rare is because humans desire leadership because it is rare, and it is also because 99% are weak, in one form or another. Democracy is very good at talking about getting the right leaders, but what it misses is the actual training methodology to get a match between the right people and the right leaders. A people that doesn’t deserve their leaders is a bad situation. A leader that doesn’t deserve the people subordinate to the regime, is bad too.
    So leaders exist because most humans need someone to tell them what to do, when to shut up, and how not to be stupid. Of course, if anyone thinks the current crop of masterful intellectuals and brave warriors in DC is someone they would like for that position, by all means… raise your hands.

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