ep. 22 - Bruce Feiler: Bestselling Author and New York Times Columnist
Bruce Feiler is one of America s most popular voices on contemporary life. He writes the popular This Life column in the Sunday New York Times and is the author of six consecutive New York Times best-sellers, including Walking The Bible, Abraham, and The Council of Dads.
In this podcast, Bruce will discuss his upcoming book The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us.
ep. 22 - Bruce Feiler: Bestselling Author and New York Times Columnist
Gail Davis: Bruce Feiler is a columnist for the New York Times, and is the author of six consecutive New York Times' best sellers. Including, "Walking the Bible", "Abraham", and "The Secrets of Happy [00:01:30] Families". He's also the host of the PBS series "Walking the Bible" and "Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler".
Hi Bruce, welcome to the GDA podcast.
Kyle Davis: Hey Bruce.
Bruce Feiler: Thank you guys. It's a pleasure to be with you, not only here, but in general. I have just treasured this partnership. I love your family, everyone at GDA, and I'm happy to chat about all the things that we all do together.
Gail Davis: Thank you.
One of the challenges for me with you, Bruce, [00:02:00] is trying to decide which way I want to tee you up because obviously everyone is interested in "The Secrets of a Happy Family", but then you have all this deep religious history. I know you were ... you are Jewish, and you know I'm a cradle Catholic, and I remember when the Pope was in New York every time I saw Anderson Cooper you were right by his side. So, I thought we might start there.
What got you interested [00:02:30] in focusing on walking the Bible and becoming an expert on the major world religions?
Bruce Feiler: Well, there's the short answer and the long answer. The short answer, and especially sitting where we're sitting now when we all have devices in our hands and twenty-four seven social media feeds that are distracting us, I think there is this sort of idea in the world that technology and [00:03:00] brain scans and artificial intelligence and all of kind of these new fangled tools are gonna answer the questions we all have. Whether it's how to have a happy family, how to have a successful relationship, how to get along with your colleagues at work, how to be happy, how to live a meaningful life.
I guess, sort of the core conviction that I have learned in the thirty years that I've been traveling around the world and exploring these and other questions, is that sometimes [00:03:30] the best way to answer the questions that we all have today is to turn away from today and turn back to the past. When people have been asking all of these questions. The questions that I write about in my books and the New York Times. The questions that I speak about and go out on the road and talk about. I believe that the way to answer this, is to in effect to marry the timeless wisdom of the past with the timely knowledge of the present. That's really what [00:04:00] motivates me, and what's motivated me for a long time.
So, that's the short answer, if that's a short answer.
The longer answer is I grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Five generations of Jews, you mentioned, in the American south. That means ... I love the south and I love the stickiness and the family-ness and the story telling ... but because I was Jewish I sort of have one foot in, and one foot out.
Gail Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Bruce Feiler: I also loved Judaism, I love the stickiness, I love the family-ness, and the story [00:04:30] telling, but because I grew up Jewish in the south, not only am I different from the Jews in history, I'm even different from most American Jews. So, I have a foot in and a foot out. My whole life has been about going in to different worlds, entering them, and becoming a part of those worlds in some way, and then leaving and trying to share what I've learned. So, essentially I left Georgia. I went to Yale in the early nineteen-eighties. I found that I learned more as a southerner by leaving [00:05:00] the south, and going north.
Gail Davis: That's awesome.
Bruce Feiler: And then a couple years in I decided I should leave America, right, that was the age of discount airfare. So, I went to Japan, I ... and I'll tell you the whole long story. I wrote a series of letters home, I'm not even sure if you guys have even heard this story, I wrote a series of letters home of the, "You're not gonna believe what happened to me today" variety. I went back six months later and everywhere I went people said, "I just love your letters.", to which I said, "Wait a minute. Have we met?". It turned out my [00:05:30] grandmother had taken these, like, crinkly air mail letters that I wrote home, this will date me, and passed them around, and they went viral, right, in the nineteen-eighties sense of the word.
Gail Davis: That's awesome.
Bruce Feiler: I thought, if this is that interesting to me and all these people, I should write a book about it. So, I wrote a book about this experience and I was in my early twenties, it doesn't happen this way, about teaching junior high school in Japan. That really plunged me into this world of entering cultures and writing about them; so there was a book about Japan, there was a book about country music, there was a book about Oxford and Cambridge. [00:06:00] In the middle of this, I was living in Nashville across from three churches, and I thought, "Oh, I'm a writer. I should be more conversing with the Bible.". So I took the Bible off my shelf, I put it by my bed, and it sat there untouched for two years.
Then I went to Jerusalem to meet a friend and on my first day I went to this promenade, and my friend said, "Look, that's the spot where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac.". I was like, "Woah, wait a minute. These are real places you can touch and feel?". This crazy whim of my life [00:06:30] I thought, "What if I join the Bible?". What I really sat and frankly didn't say this out loud, but now I realize it's too late for that, "I would join the Bible, like it's the circus.". I took a year and I climbed Mount Arad, I crossed the Red Sea, I tasted [inaudible 0:06:47], I wrote a book "Walking the Bible" that spent a year and a half on the best seller list. As you just mentioned, became a PBS series and that sort of started me in this world of, "Hey, I can do this modern thing of traveling [00:07:00] and reading and talking to people, that I love to do, but also meld it with the wisdom of the past.".
And that gets back to the short answer, which is, that's what I'm about. Taking the past and seeing how it can effect on what we know and how we experience the present.
Kyle Davis: What's it like to do, in essence, a super deep dive into the deep end, into a culture or idea, or way of life that you're not so familiar with? Just to jump into Japan to teach English, I have some friends that have done [00:07:30] that in South Korea for instance, it's pretty Americanized at least for them, but I don't know how it was in the eighties or so in Japan, or what's it like as ann American southern Jew to go into Israel, then follow the Bible like that in this whole historical cultural sense?
Bruce Feiler: I like the way you phrase that question. I think that it's exhilarating, it's scary. When people call me today, all these years later, "Walking the Bible" came out in 1991, it's still [00:08:00] the first book people read when they go to Japan, they say, "I'm going to Japan" or "I'm going to Israel" or "I'm going to any of these places now", I've been to eighty countries around the world and they say, "What should I do?". Usually I say the same thing, you should assume what you're gonna see is there for a reason. You should make yourself uncomfortable, you should dive in, to use your words, and leave yourself behind and try to understand as [00:08:30] much as possible the world that you're entering.
You're instinct often is to say, "Oh, they do it this way or they do it that way or it's not as good as we do it or they do it" or whatever. That, I think, misses the point of traveling. I'm a dad now, I have adolescent identical twin daughters, as you both know, and one of our family motto's in our family mission statement that I talk about in a lot of speeches I give for GDA is, "Be a traveler, not a tourist.", right. So, a tourist is on the bus, you're in a group, [00:09:00] and you're having food that you're familiar with and you're doing safe and easy things. To be a traveler is to get off the beaten path, to jump in, to dive in and really engage the world that you're entering. That, to me, is the way to learn.
I have to say just to go one step further, being a traveler today when we are in a global society, when we are in a society about differences ... okay ... it's about reaching out to these [00:09:30] other people and building a bridge. I have to say, if there is one thing that links all of my work, is this idea of bringing people together. Might be interfaith people, it might be members of a family who are of different backgrounds, it might be integrating grandma and grandparents of one generation with children who are on their devices to grandparent who have never seen a device. I think what I'm about is traveling, and making that merger between different people and trying to bring people together and live a more connected, meaningful life.
Kyle Davis: [00:10:00] We recently had a family trip where we went abroad and it was a large group of us. We had one group of individuals who were always just comparing the Brazil that ... we were in Brazil, but they were always comparing Brazil to the things that you could find in America. It was just like, for me I'm just sitting there just so perplexed I'm like, "We're not in America.". Why ... that's like me comparing Dallas, where I live now, to New York City. There are similarities, but they're vastly different and it's just so perplexing to me [00:10:30] that people, like you said, are just tourists and they just do this compare-contrast, "We're better at this. We can improve on that.", kind of contrast.
Bruce Feiler: Take that same feeling, substitute Brazil, substitute Japan, as you did earlier, substitute Israel, substitute red America and blue America, right? Substitute men and women in the workplace, right? Substitute ... the problems that we all face now, right, when [00:11:00] I talk about families and obviously we're gonna get into that in this conversation, but when I'm talking about families, one of the sort of three pillars of high functioning families that I use is that they talk a lot. Talking is having difficult conversation about what it means to be who you are, and to me, that's what this is about.
It's about going to another country and finding if there is common ground. It's about going to a different religion, finding [00:11:30] where you can find common ground. The workplace. The family. Whatever it might be, because the biggest challenge that we have, what is the backlash that we're in when we're recording this conversation is, people saying, "Whoa, globalism, technology, it's all changing so fast and I'm scared. I just want to block it out and say 'Leave me alone.' Just me friends and Facebook feed, people that all agree with me." That is not gonna work in the 21st century. You have to build bridges and that requires, first [00:12:00] of all understanding what's on the other side, how you're similar and different; before you can make that connection.
Kyle Davis: One of the funny stories you mentioned ... blue versus red and everything else, but a few years ago I was dating this Jewish girl from Boca Raton, Florida and we met when we were in New York, and then I brought her after several months of dating, I brought her to Dallas. She was always goin, "Hey, when I get there. What's it like?" Or "Is every girl blonde?". "Is everybody a Republican?" "Am I gonna see a bunch of George Bush stickers?" Stuff like that. I'm like, [00:12:30] "I think it's a city like everywhere else?".
Bruce Feiler: You know Boca is so Liberal.
Kyle Davis: Yeah. I'm like ... what do you want me to tell you. If I go to south Florida am I gonna be wearing all white and surrounded with cocaine? What's going on?
Yeah. It was funny because we had to make a stop in St. Louis for a little layover and she was just seeing all these bottle blondes and she's like, "Oh God, I'm heading in to the belly of the beast.".
Bruce Feiler: [00:13:00] Well to me, I mean I think that in a kind of way because I'm from south Georgia, because I live in Brooklyn, I have twin daughters. One was named Eden for the garden of Eden, you can't get older than that. One's named Tybee, for this beach off the coast of Savannah where I grew up.
In a lot of way, I think of myself and my work as being in a world of us and them. I think of my work as being a them whisperer in a lot of ways. It's like explaining [00:13:30] people who are different to people who are different because, back to what I was saying before, because I've always felt that I have one foot in and one foot out. I sort of feel like I am translating back and forth, and I think in an odd way that impulsive mind that kind of came from my own upbringing is in some ways the skill that we all need now. Which is, understanding people who are different and learning how to [00:14:00] coexist.
Kyle Davis: I think it's pretty timely, like you said, to have someone like yourself who's a conduit between two different parties and to bring them together. At least, you call it, the them whisperer, but maybe just to explain what the other party is just thinking. Gail Davis: You know it's ironic to me because sometimes I'm like, "Well Bruce can talk about these different religions, but then he can also talk about families.", and listening to you talk today; it's the same issues. Whether it's in [00:14:30] your family, it's learning how to listen, it's accepting the other side, it's trying to accept the other side, so it really isn't that different.
You've taken a skill and you've just parlayed it into different topics.
Bruce Feiler: That's certainly how I feel about it. And that ... somebody said to me recently, I was giving a speech actually, a speech that was arranged by GDA in the middle of the country. It was a speech on "The Secrets of Happy Families" and it was basically what I've learned in the last decade, from writing [00:15:00] two books about happy families, and a hundred New York Times' columns about families and relationships, and this guy came up to me afterwards and he said, "Oh, I just was a big fan of Bruce Feiler, the "Walking Bible" guy, and "Abraham" and all these things and I kept thinking 'Are there two Bruce Feiler's? There must be two Bruce Feilers. Bruce Feiler would be talking about religion and coexistence, not families." And he's like, "Then I realized about a week ago it's the same Bruce Feiler.".
[00:15:30] So, yes. I'm the same Bruce Feiler and this is what I do and I take kind of pain points that I have, whether it was "Abraham", which is "Oh my gosh, after 9/11 we're gonna be at war among the religions." Or in "The Secrets of Happy Families" it's, "Oh my gosh, I'm raising children and we have all these problems and I'm exhausted and stressed and my parents, I might call them, but their experience is so outdated as to be quaint or I can Facebook my friends, but 'Hello, they're just [00:16:00] as clueless as I am.' So, why don't I go out and talk to families and see what they're doing right." And I wrote "The Secret to Happy Families" and a hundred speeches about that.
My new book, which is coming out soon, is ... grows out of the fact that I live surrounded by women, right? I've got these young daughters, I'm a [inaudible 0:16:16], I have a working wife. Like everybody else, I'm just terribly confused about how men and women relate to each other anymore, right? We've got women working more, you've got men parenting more, [00:16:30] you ... everybody is trying to search for what's a meaningful life and then the internet has made this more confusing, and so what I have done in the last couple years is go say, "Okay, same question. Let's turn away from the present and go back to the past. Adam and Eve have been in the middle of this conversation for three thousand years, maybe they can teach us something about relationships.", and sure enough I found in their story, something that's incredibly modern and related to what we're struggling in every day.
Gail Davis: What is that?
What did you find?
Bruce Feiler: Well, what I [00:17:00] found, and just to set the table a little bit more ... So, basically I spent the last couple years traveling from the garden of Eden in Iraq to the old city of Jerusalem to the Sistine Chapel in Rome to John Milton's London to Mae West Hollywood. Basically trying to figure out, is there anything from their story that's relevant today. And I would say what I found, is kind of this amazing story that no one's really ever talked about, which is Adam and Eve introduced the idea [00:17:30] of love. Basically there had never been a story, in all the great religions of the world, where you had Gods and God's created him and you had a God and the human would create him into this ... the Bible is the first to have a man and a woman at the start of the human mind. Basically God says to them, "You guys are going to have to work this out.", and their story is this remarkable story of persistence and balancing independence and interdependence and like, learning to tell your own story.
[00:18:00] So they start to gather, right, in the Garden of Eden. Then they split up. Eve wants to be an independent woman, so she goes off, she eats the apple, it doesn't bring the world to an end as she was told, it ... she has this apple and says, "You know what, but I want live with Adam.". She goes back to Adam, she shares the apple with him, they are together. They couldn't get out of Eden. They couldn't separate. In fact, they stay together. They have children. Then, hello, one of those children murders the other, Cain murders Abel, they could split apart. In fact that do split apart for a while, then they come back together [00:18:30] and have a third child, Seth, who becomes the pregenator, the ancestor of the human line.
That's an amazing story about having breaches, mending breaches, learning to stick together, learning to forgive, learning to be resilient. I find that story to be remarkably parallel to what, I'm facing it with my working wife every day, other people I know, and I really believe that this story has a lot to teach [00:19:00] us about what it means to be alive and struggling and trying to make a relationship work today.
Gail Davis: I love it when a historian or storyteller can talk about someone from so long ago like they had breakfast with them yesterday.
That really brings me in.
So Bruce's new book is called "The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us", and it will be released on March 21st, so everyone needs to go out and advance purchase a copy of that.
[00:19:30] Bruce you've mentioned a couple of times your twin daughters, and I follow you on social media and I just love it. I mean just the antics of raising twin girls I think are fantastic, but also I'm very moved by your Ted talk, The Council of Dads.
Can you share with our listeners a little bit about your health journey, and why you created The Council of Dads?
Bruce Feiler: So to go back to this narrative, right, so I got you through "Walking the Bible" [00:20:00] and "Abraham" and basically "Walking the Bible" came out in 2001, I made the TV show I mentioned. I went back to the Middle East, wrote a book on Abraham, that was inspired by 9/11 and this question of, "Are we in a religious war or can we find a way to get along?". I wrote two more books in that space, and for all the world I was sort of known as "the walking guy" because "Walking the Bible" spent a year and a half on the best seller list, sold a lot of copies, and I have this TV show.
[00:20:30] That was really my moniker, if you will, until in 2008 a routine produced evidence there was a tumor of some kind in my left leg, and I got a series of tests and the doctor called me on the second day of July in 2008, and said, "The tumor in your femur is not consistent with a benign tumor.". So it [00:21:00] took ... I stopped waling for a second. It took my mind just a moment to convert that double negative into a much more horrifying negative, which is, I have cancer.
Ironically, painfully, quite real-ly, I had a tumor in my left leg and I was looking at the prospects I might never walk again. So, I was worried, my daughters at the time were three, and I was worried that I would miss all [00:21:30] the walks I wouldn't take with them, all the art projects I wouldn't be able to do, and all the aisles I wouldn't be able to walk down ... and maybe because I'm a writer I was worried they wouldn't have my voice in their life. Two days later, whatever is was, hours after this diagnosis I awoke in, very early in the morning, with this idea. Which is, I would reach out to six men from all parts of my life and I would ask [00:22:00] them to form a group. To basically be supportive to my daughters, to be my voice in their lives. I decided to call this group "The Council of Dads".
It's interesting having this conversation, I have to say, because it makes me reflect anew really on that experience is one of the great things about talking about your life is you find these connections. The second I had this idea, I thought it was an old idea. That I was somehow in service to this idea, but it was bigger than me. That it was like an old [00:22:30] idea and an idea that would last forever at the same time.
So essentially over the next year, as I went through nine months of chemotherapy and I had an extremely elaborate surgery to rebuild my left leg, in which my doctor took out my femur, replaced it with titanium. Took my fibular and relocated it to my thigh, where it now lives, and took out half my quad. The surgery was so rare, only two people before me had ever survived it. I was basically reaching out to these men [00:23:00] and ... I was sort of friend marrying them, you know, asking them if they would be present in the lives of my daughters. I told my wife this idea, and against my wishes cause I thought I would keep it secret, and I told her and she's like, "Well, I like this idea.". Then I was sort of throwing out recommendations; she said, "But I really don't like any of your recommendations.". So it turns out forming The Council of Dads was a very efficient way of finding out what my wife really thought of my friends.
So I did this thing, and I wrote a book called "The [00:23:30] Council of Dads". [inaudible 0:23:31] made a documentary on CNN about it and ... that really is when my work took this turn from religion to family because what happened what, I had this curiosity, and this adventure streak, and this sort of ... you know ... private eye anthropologist part of me that likes to analyze and dig into whatever I was experiencing, back to your phrase Kyle of jumping [00:24:00] in to the deep end. But I couldn't ... I didn't leave my house. I was in bed for a year, I was on crutches for two years, I was on a cane for a year after that. During all that time I basically started applying all this curiosity to my family, that's really what let to "Council of Dads" the book, "The Secret of Happy Family" the book, my New York Times column. It's basically, "Okay, I'm going to analyze my family with the same intensity I analyze the ancient world."
Kyle Davis: What would you say, and this is to pivot back [00:24:30] in, but what are some of you think the top two or three things for a happy family. Cause family, the term, is simplistic, but they're incredibly complicated.
Bruce Feiler: So when I set out to write about families, my wife ... okay, so now you've learned a lot about me in this conversation. So my wife is like, "Okay. I got it. I married a circus clown. You're gonna try a bunch of new things, but here's the thing. Just don't bring me any, I don't want ideas, I want to know what real families [00:25:00] are trying things I'm willing to try.". So I basically ... I made three promises, okay? I kept the one to her, one to her, two to me. The her was, "Okay, I'll bring you real families.". The two I made to myself were number one, I wasn't gonna talk to any therapists. Okay, so if we're a hundred years after Freud, they've had their say and all of us are still messed up. So, "Okay, enough with the therapists." You guys can go on morning television and be on the women's magazines, I'm gonna talk to real people doing real things, and [00:25:30] to businesses about how to bring business ideas, and to sport figures about how to build teams, and I was gonna go to financial, to Warren Buffet's banker, about how to manage money. I was gonna go to real people.
Then the other ... I wrote that once, because I did talk to a Belgian sex therapist and turned out turned be happy that did, but I won't get into that now because your mom is there. Okay.
Gail Davis: Is it Esther?
Bruce Feiler: It is Esther, yeah.
So the ... but the second promise was I wasn't gonna cram [00:26:00] everything into a list of like, "the seven or ten things you have to do to have a happy family' because I hate those lists ... because I usually forget number three and I disagree with number seven and I think my kids will never get into college.
Kyle Davis: Listicles can do that.
Bruce Feiler: Yeah.
But I'm a writer, so we have to do it to survive, but it turns that everything that I was learning kind of fit into these patterns and so I sort of ... when I talk about families I say I'm gonna, "I stand before you [00:26:30] eating crow.", and saying, "Here's my non-list list of things that high functioning families have in common.". There are basically three. One is, adapt all the time. It's not what I thought, which is, "I'll do that, we'll make three rules. We'll stick to them and everything will be clear.". Nah. Doesn't work because things are changing, we're all moving so fast and ... I think that families have to use this line, that I've heard about on the internet, here we are on a podcast, which is, "If you're doing the same thing today that you were doing six months ago, you're doing the wrong thing.". So, you need to adapt.
[00:27:00] As kids go through phases, as mom has the business trip, as grandma comes to visit, as somebody gets sick, as whatever it might be. Someone has a play or a big sporting event. So you have to adapt, and I talk a lot about this family meeting structure, and mornings, and how to have adaptability be organized. That it is some of the most effective things that people take away from these talks.
The second thing is that high functioning families talk a lot, and not just difficult conversations that I've been talking about earlier, but also [00:27:30] what it means to be part of a family. So what I lay out in these talks, what Linda has found for example, to be the best of these ideas, to write a family mission statement, to what you should talk about at dinner. How you should talk about money with your children. How you should talk about sex with your children. The value of talking about family history, sort of a lot of meat and potatoes of what I've learned, you can just see people in the audience, like, scratching notes. It's really satisfying to hear from people that they're excited and they try these things out in their homes.
Then the [00:28:00] third one, sounds the simplest, but is the most complicated. Which is, high functioning families go out and play. All families have conflict and I try and bring forth ways to limit that conflict and talk about going out and making a positive memory.
I kind of, when I talk about this, I sort of use this as a building block, but I have found very effective these conversations that used to happen one or two weeks before the talk that we're doing together, me and GDA, [00:28:30] in which I say, "Look, I'm not coming with the can speech. I want to hear what's on your mind and at this point I have written about so much; technology, family reunions, sex, money, aging parents, sibling rivalry, what if you don't like your children, your kids' friends. All of these, what do you do with a nosy grandma.", I'm not saying Gail you're a nosy grandma, but you know ... [00:29:00] but, so what I'm saying is, I bring a bunch of ideas and I usually say to people, let's do half laying these things out and half what's coming from the audience.
When I talk about religion or the interfaith dialogue or what's going on in the Middle East or how to have meaningful life or health, some of the things I talk about, the questions tend to be very big and broad and important and fascinating, but when I talk about families [00:29:30] the questions are raw and real and "this is what I faced this morning, how do I get out of this situation". It's a completely different event when you talk about families, than when you talk about these other issues.
Kyle Davis: So you're telling me you're never asked about the Sunni-Shia divide with the Peshmerga to the north in Iraq, and how that goes against Isis.
Bruce Feiler: As it happens, I have four things to say about that, that I'm happy to go in to.
Kyle Davis: Go into it.
Gail Davis: That's Bruce's thing. He'll go for it.
Kyle Davis: He can go, "I can go super deep on that."
Bruce Feiler: I've been to northern Iraq, actually.
Kyle Davis: Yes. [00:30:00] Please. Let's talk about Peshmerga. Let's go.
Bruce Feiler: My kids were screaming about getting their coats on the table and throwing spaghetti at breakfast, and we didn't even have spaghetti at breakfast so they had to go into the kitchen in the leftover bin and get it. So, like, how do I solve this problem. You're right. It's very immediate and personal and now and desperate.
Gail Davis: I love it Bruce your signature story, if you want to share it, about how you learned everything at tables, but how you start out by like, "Look, I'm not the guy that has all the answers.", and you talk about the family dynamics [00:30:30] at one of your get togethers.
Bruce Feiler: Well that is really, that is how I open my talks because my wife, basically, every single time I talk about ... let's just be clear. I wrote a book called "The Secrets of Happy Families", it was a New York Times best seller. I'd given a hundred speeches with this name. It can sound like I'm a know-it-all, and so my wife reminds me every single time I go on stage, she says, "Please tell them you wrote [00:31:00] about happy families not because you had one, but because you wanted one.". I just gave a speech four days ago for GDA and this morning we got a response, and your team forwarded it to me and basically, what it said was he was so authentic because he's talking about real problems. So, my thing is, I'm not an expert in any of these areas. This is a fact that consistent ... I'm not an expert. What I am is you. I'm your surrogate. [00:31:30] I happen to live this crazy life where I've been to Iraq, and I've been to eighty countries, and I've been in the middle of interfaith conversations, I've interviewed every expert on families. I am a dad and I have written a hundred New York Times columns about this, so I'm your surrogate giving answers and bringing them back to you.
Therefore, it sort of gives me permission to say, "This is what I've learned.", and it gives you permission to not ... I don't ... I really don't like ... It's just not how the world [00:32:00] works anymore, where someone ... people want someone to stand up on the mountain and wag your fingers and tell you what to do. It certainly not the voice that I have in the world.
So the story that I have tells us quickly, at the beginning is how I got in to this, which is that I have this big family and we gather every year in Hiltonia, Georgia, with this camp fire type of thing with the grandparents. We got there, our girls were four or five, we were dealing with ... basically what happened, you played defense early on where I just did sippy cups and diapers and napping and all that. [00:32:30] You're ready. You have this kind of window where you can develop a family culture, but we didn't want ... we didn't know how to do that. We were still playing defense, we needed to play offense. My sister got there, she had adolescents, she was dealing with technology and cyber-bullying and sex and drugs and all that stuff they deal with. My brother was focused on my parents, he doesn't have kids, it was ... could we put dad in a wheelchair full time, should we ask mom, could we ask mom to stop driving at night. So, classic sandwich generation.
So we gather [00:33:00] around the table, and I notice that my nephew is texting under the table, my adolescent nephew. Now I know, I wrote, please trust me, I know I'm not supposed to say anything. I can't control myself. So, I ask him to put his device away, and it's like "Boom!" a mushroom cloud. My sister snaps at me not to parent her children, my mother points out that from her point of view none of the grandchildren has any manners, my dad observes that it was my children who were balancing spoons on their noses, [00:33:30] my brother complains that we could never have an adult conversation anymore with all the children around, and then my wife who can't take it and goes to the kitchen to get ice cream, which is exactly what her mother would do under that circumstance.
I ... because I'm sort of the strict one, says, "Wait a minute. They haven't had their vegetables.", and at this point everybody fleas to all corners of the house and my dad that night, he's like, "I think ..." on his bed cause he's sick and he says in his bed like, "Our family's falling apart.". [00:34:00] I'm like, "Oh no, we're not.", and my voice cracks, "I think we're stronger than ever.". Lying in bed that night I thought well, "What is the secret sauce that holds families together? Why is some of them successful, resilient, effective?", basically, "How do I get some of that for myself?".
Basically I've gone out all these years and tried to find what do happy families do right and what can I learn from them to make my family happier.
Gail Davis: I love it. I love how real you are and I think with social media, so many people project [00:34:30] the Facebook version. So then you're sitting around thinking you really are messed up because look at all these other highly functioning, happy families that have no problems. So I love that you bring just ... reality. That we're all trying to do the best we can.
Bruce Feiler: Well first of all, I love being part of your family. I like being in this community, and what you said is really what motivates me and to do one more tease here, I'm ... soon as I publish "The First Love Story" and go out talking about Adam and Eve and how we can make our relationships stronger. [00:35:00] I'm gonna write a book about the stories we all tell in our lives, and it has to do with how to bring everything to life and how we use story telling from when we're adolescents figuring out who we are, to young adults in the workplace, to young parents, to aging seniors, and how the key to living a meaningful life is learning to overcome set backs, to adapt, to be flexible, to reach out, and to make meaning through the good times and the hard times. I'm [00:35:30] writing a new book called "The Story of Your Life: the art and science of living with meaning". I'm looking forward in coming years to going out and sharing that story of to the various people that we are able to talk to together.
Kyle Davis: One other questions that kind of ... before we wrap this up, but just one other question that's just wracking my mind and what you've mentioned is that you've been to over eighty countries, you've been to war torn countries like Iraq and Iran and I think you just got back from Israel as well, [00:36:00] you've been all over the place. You've been to some fun places and probably not so fun places, but what would you say when you look at all the different people and all the demographics, all the different religions, ages, sexes, everything that you've seen, what's this constant trend or ... gosh what am I trying to say-
Gail Davis: Commonality.
Kyle Davis: The strand that pulls us all together that we miss and we overlook for the things that make us different.
Bruce Feiler: Well again I love that question and I would say the [00:36:30] common strand that pulls us together is the fact that we're all being pulled apart. I think that technology is a, at it's core, instinctually disrupt to togetherness. It pulls us all looking into our devices, it separates us, yes to a certain extent it can connect us with people ... friends far away, but in the core family, in the core way we relate to each other, in the couple, [00:37:00] in the family, in the parent, in the child, in the grandparent and the grandchild I think that technology is a force that is fundamentally isolating.
So I think that we are in this great paradox and all these places. We live in a hyper-connected world and yet we have a crisis of connection. That's what I fundamentally believe. I think that this is what social science is telling us and what the timeless wisdom of the past is telling us and that is ... you know ... twenty years in positive psychology [00:37:30] and the number one idea of positive psychology is that our relationships define our wellbeing. It's that happiness is other people. Yet, the biggest problem we have today is loneliness and isolation and feeling left out.
I can't help putting a pitch in here for the Bible, that the first thing God says about humans in the Bible after he creates Adam, and Adam looks to the animals for companionship and he can't find it is, God says, "It's not right for humans to be alone.". I think it's fascinating [00:38:00] that the oldest story and the most contemporary brain research is showing us the same thing, that we need connectivity to be fundamentally alive. That connectivity requires learning to relate to the other. Not the self, but the other. How to bridge, build a bridge, between two different people in a couple, in different members of a family, a neighborhood, a community, our country now. We are in this moment where our country feels like it's being pulled apart. [00:38:30] We need to reconnect that and the same thing with the world.
So the thing that we all have in common is that we all want to isolate ourselves and go off an live in a "me, me, me" world, but what we need is the "we, we, we" and that's the thing that brings us together. Is that the thing we most want is the thing we resist, and I think that therefore the challenge that we all face, and the opportunity, is to learn and reconnect in this hyper-connected world that we live in.
Kyle Davis: Well now that you've listened to this podcast you can take your headphones off and go get connected to the world.
Bruce Feiler: [00:39:00] Right on.
Gail Davis: That was great Bruce, and it does make total sense. What a gift you are to the world, seriously. I love what you do for a profession. I love the way you can bring us together through your stories, your books, and the talks that you give.
Bruce Feiler: Thank you. I love being a part of your family and here's to many years together for all of us.
Kyle Davis: Cool.
As mentioned Bruce does have a new book coming out. It is released on March 21st and the title is "The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, [00:39:30] and Us". We will provide a link on GDA podcast where you can do a pre order, so go ahead and do that. Also on GDA podcast dot com there will be transcripts of today's episode with Bruce.
If you want more information or you want to book Bruce for your event you can do so by calling two one four, four two zero, one nine nine nine, or visit GDA speakers dot com.
Gail Davis: Thank you Bruce!
Bruce Feiler: Good talk guys, see you soon.
Kyle Davis: Bye.
Gail Davis: Bye.