Tools and Weapons with Brad Smith

Thomas Friedman: It's not what we know, but how well we listen

Episode Summary

Thomas Friedman believes if you want to understand human nature, live with people in extreme situations. And if you want to know the future, hang around people inventing it.  As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Thomas Friedman has spent a career reporting from a civil war in Beirut, observing some of the world’s leading companies from the inside, and discovering that the key to understanding globalization is studying the only system that mirrors it in complexity – nature.  In this episode Brad and Thomas explore how our biggest challenges in society are tied to the environment and the economy, and how the key to our future hinges not on what we know, but on how well we listen.

Episode Notes

Thomas Friedman believes if you want to understand human nature, live with people in extreme situations. And if you want to know the future, hang around people inventing it.  As a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Thomas Friedman has spent a career reporting from a civil war in Beirut, observing some of the world’s leading companies from the inside, and discovering that the key to understanding globalization is studying the only system that mirrors it in complexity – nature.  In this episode Brad and Thomas explore how our biggest challenges in society are tied to the environment and the economy, and how the key to our future hinges not on what we know, but on how well we listen.

Thomas Friedman is an internationally renowned author, reporter, and columnist. He is the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes—two for international reporting from the Middle East and a third for his columns written about 9/11. He started his journalism career with United Press International in 1978. After serving as a Beirut reporter for UPI for two years, Friedman was hired by the New York Times in 1981, where he served as the Beirut bureau chief, Jerusalem bureau chief, chief diplomatic correspondent, international economics correspondent and, since 1995, its foreign affairs columnist. He is the author of seven New York Times bestsellers — From Beirut to Jerusalem; The Lexus and the Olive Tree; Longitudes and Attitudes; The World Is Flat; Hot, Flat, and Crowded; That Used to Be Us (with Michael Mandelbaum); and, most recently, Thank You For Being Late.

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Episode Transcription

Brad Smith: I'm Brad Smith, and this is Tools and Weapons. On this podcast, I'm sharing conversations with leaders who are at the intersection of the promise and the peril of the digital age. We'll explore technology's role in the world, as we look for new solutions for society's biggest challenges.

Brad Smith: Our complex world can often feel quite overwhelming, but thankfully, some curious minds are out there cutting through the chaos.

Thomas Friedman: If you can enable through technology, ordinary people to do extraordinary things, that's how you change the world.

Brad Smith: That was Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and bestselling author, who is really one of the great thinkers of our time. By examining the interconnectivity of politics, economics and the environment, he brings clarity to complicated topics.

Brad Smith: On this episode, Thomas Friedman reveals how tuning into nature and building community can help us tackle issues such as climate change and the decline of democracy. My conversation with Thomas Friedman, up next on Tools and Weapons.

Brad Smith: Tom, it's great to be with you. We've known each other for a long time. I want to talk about the issues of the world and also talk about the book you're working on. But first, thank you for joining.

Thomas Friedman: Brad, it's a pleasure. Great to be with you too.

Brad Smith: I'd like to start with a more personal question. One of the things that you've said is, you learn differently from other people. Tell us more. How do you learn about all the issues that you think about?

Thomas Friedman: I'm writing a book on how to write a column, and the second chapter is basically how I learned. Now, I only realized how I learned, 40 years later, by looking backwards. I wish I could tell you guys that after I got out of college, I said, "I shall learn this way." The chapter is called "Postcards from the Edge," because the way I learned was to try to go to the outer edge of three different realms, because that's where the most learning happens. That's where you can see things in stark relief. And it's at the edge that you can name things for the first time, like The World is Flat.

Thomas Friedman: So I went to the edge of three different realms. The first was I went to the edge of human behavior. I lived in a civil war in Beirut for almost four and a half years. And I learned how molecules behave at really high temperatures, what human beings are capable of for both good and ill, at a level of extreme that you got to see the whole spectrum of human behavior, in a way you never could before. And what Beirut taught me was to be an anthropologist, because in Beirut there was no data. The only data was talking to another human being. And so I've developed that skill of learning by literally talking to people. I tell the story in Beirut to Jerusalem, my first book, slightly embarrassingly, but I was the UPI reporter in Beirut. That's how I started, and we had to file the weather highlights from Beirut, every night, you know, high-low for the world weather highlights.

Thomas Friedman: Well, there was no weatherman in Beirut, or at least none that I knew of. So I used to make up the weather report every day. I didn't make it up. I would say to my colleague, "Yeah, Ahmed, what do you think it was today? It's like 75, 80." He would say, "Yes, Mr. Tom, 75." "Low tonight, feels like 60." "Yeah, yeah, Mr. Tom, fine." And thus were the weather highlights filed from Beirut. So I went to the first to the edge of human behavior.

Thomas Friedman: Second, I went to the edge of technology. I would come to big companies at the cutting edge of technology, and I'd say, "Don't care about your quarterly earnings. Don't care about your annual profits. Don't care who the next CEO is. Just want to do two things. Want to hang out in your research lab and your HR department." Because whatever was going on in research and HR, at Microsoft, at Mphasis, at Walmart, I felt was coming to a neighborhood near me.

Brad Smith: Interesting.

Thomas Friedman: That if you want to know what the future's going to be like, hang around with people who are inventing it. But not just inventing the future, but then preparing their own people for that future. And so, in February 2004, I went off to India, to Mphasis, hung around in their research lab, saw what they were doing around outsourcing, then hung around with the people they were training. And, that's where The World is Flat came from. And so again, it was very hands on kind learning, and would just go with a completely open mind, like, where are you now? What's the edge of your story?

Thomas Friedman: And the third thing I did is I spent the last 25 years traveling the world with Conservation International, a wonderful NGO working to basically preserve biodiversity. And, I did it, initially, out of curiosity. But over time, I began to realize that this globalization system I was describing, and in some ways discovering, was so complex. There was only one other thing that mirrored it in its complexity, and that was the natural world. So if you understood how the natural world worked, what made for healthy interdependencies in the natural world, what made for a stable ecosystem in the natural world, you could actually have a wonderful mentor and model for understanding globalization.

Brad Smith: I want to build on those three edges, because I think that's fascinating, because what you basically described was the natural world, human nature and then invention. What can we invent as human beings to address the challenges that we face? Now we've been through this extraordinary couple of years, the, hopefully, once in a century pandemic with COVID. When you think about the intersection of nature and human nature and invention, how do you see these as having intersected with COVID?

Thomas Friedman: So, one of the things that happened with COVID early on is that, it was an experience a lot of us, in particular our leaders, had never had before. It was actually an experience with natural systems. And the president of the time, Donald Trump, really had no experience with natural systems except building golf courses. So that was really his only encounter with nature. And I played on some of Trump's courses. They have like artificial waterfalls. So, he actually came at it with a perspective that you can dominate nature. But even beyond Trump, this has been a theme all the way through. Most people have never actually encountered Mother Nature. And what you learn when you encounter Mother Nature is that, this pandemic, the COVID-19, is actually just one of the many fastballs that Mother Nature throws at us to sort out who is the fittest, who will get their DNA into the next generation.

Thomas Friedman: Now, these fastballs can be floods and droughts. I mean, COVID-19 is actually a virus. It's actually a living thing. But when it enters our body, it becomes a fastball basically. But, this is what Mother Nature does. And, she only has one question for you, who's the most adaptive? That's who will survive. Not who is the smartest, not who's the strongest, but who's the most adaptive.

Thomas Friedman: And to determine your adaptation skill, she asks you three questions. First question she asks is, "Do you respect my virus? Because if you don't, it will hurt you or someone you love." Second, she says, "I'm just chemistry, biology and physics. That's all I am, baby. I'm going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate. And, I always bat last and I always bat a thousand. Do not mess with Mother Nature. Unless you build your adaptation strategy to me, on chemistry, biology and physics, you're going to be in trouble. That is, if you build it on politics, ideology and your election calendar, I will hurt you or someone you love." And third, she says, "Are you coordinated in your response to me? Because I actually evolved my virus over a millennia to find any crack in your individual or collective immune system. So if you are not as coordinated as you can be, I will hurt you and someone you love."

Thomas Friedman: So if you go back now, look how we responded. We were uncoordinated. Our leaders put politics, ideology and election calendars sometimes before chemistry, biology and physics. And we really didn't respect the virus. And Mother Nature added one little dash of salt to this mix. The virus she threw at us was going to hurt a lot of people a little and a few people a lot, and you never knew which box you were in. And so, from the very beginning, my view was that, our goal should be total harm minimization. How do we maximize saving lives and saving livelihoods? Because if you crush people's livelihoods, you'll get deaths of despair, every bit as profound and lasting and meaningful as deaths from COVID. But because we couldn't have this realistic discussion about nature, you know, some people wanted to protect every life, some people wanted to protect every job, and we couldn't find a kind of balance of total harm minimization.

Brad Smith: You know, we've suffered so much the last two years and, we've also advanced in a number of ways, especially, say, compared technologically with what we could do a century ago with dealing with that influenza. What do you take away about the application of human nature to this conversation, if you will, with Mother Nature?

Thomas Friedman: Well, it starts with the fact of which ecosystems thrive when the climate changes. If you think of the Prairie, for instance, the Prairie was a polyculture, this natural ecosystem. And then the settlers came and they plowed it up and planted monoculture crops, wheat, corn and sorghum. When the Dust Bowl happened, all the monoculture crops died, but the little parts of the Prairie that were left, they all survived, the polyculture.

Thomas Friedman: So, what I learned from that and other experiences that, again, when the climate changes in nature, which ecosystems thrived, those that built complex adaptive networks, where all the elements of the ecosystem are in balance because they have healthy interdependencies. Now with nature, complex adaptive networks are produced in an emergent way and in a violent way, actually. You know, the ibex eats the grass, the lion eats the ibex. But when it's all in balance, there's a kind of healthy interdependency between all of these.

Thomas Friedman: My view is that, and this is what my book is about, we are going through simultaneously a technological climate change and a real climate change at the same time. By the way, this has never happened. When we had the printing press, we were still in the Holocene climate era. When we had the scientific revolution, we were still in the Holocene. When we had the agricultural revolution, we were still in the Holocene. When we had the industrial revolution, we were still in the Holocene. For the first time, we are having a technological climate change and a real climate change, that is actually driving us from one climate era into the other, from the Holocene into the Anthropocene.

Thomas Friedman: So, if in nature, it's complex adaptive networks with healthy interdependencies that make an ecosystem stable, I think the same is in human communities. It's communities that build complex adaptive coalitions, where business, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, educators and local government all work together to maximize the resilience and propulsion of their community. And people think, Brad, that America is a country divided between two coasts that are liberalizing, globalizing, and everything in between is just Flyover America. Frankly, because I am from Minnesota, I know that's not true.

Thomas Friedman: Our country's actually a checkerboard of communities that are rising from the bottom up, because they've built complex adaptive coalitions, and other communities that are collapsing because they can't. But it's the complex adaptive coalition that allows you to adapt to these climate changes that's the key differentiator.

Brad Smith: Well, and I very much share your perspective having grown up in Wisconsin, which was very much like Minnesota, it just produced a better football team. But other than that- but one of the things I find so interesting, Tom, is, it's about an ecosystem. It's about a community. And, when I think of the COP26 in Glasgow, it was very much a debate about what the world's governments should do. But what you just described is really about what the world's various communities should do. Talk a little bit about that, and what you saw in COVID, and what that might mean for climate.

Thomas Friedman: So, impacting the climate is a scale challenge. And if you don't have scale, you have a hobby. I like hobbies. I used to build model airplanes. I wouldn't try to change the climate as a hobby. You know what I mean? And to me, there's only one thing that has the scale of Mother Nature and that's Father Profit, the market. And so to me, the challenge is always, how do we incentivize the market to produce the outcomes we want? Because we haven't been doing that. The market's just dumb, in the sense that we can shape it any way we want. And if we shape it to produce efficiency, at home and in businesses, if we shape it to produce innovation around clean power and clean tech, it will do that for us. And that to me is the biggest challenge right now, because coming to people and ask them to change their lifestyle, that's just a very hard ask. For a threat that may affect their unborn grandchildren, I think it's going to be much sooner. I think it's about us right now, but that's a very hard threat.

Thomas Friedman: The way you get big change in the world is when you get the big players to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. If you wait for everyone to become virtuous about the environment, you'll wait forever. But if you can enable through technology, ordinary people to do extraordinary things, that's how you change the world. How do you do that? Well, if Microsoft builds a home that you just walk into it and the lights go on, you walk out and the lights go off, the temperature goes up, the temperature goes down, then you're allowing me as an ordinary person to act extraordinary. I'm actually saving electricity, but I'm acting ordinary. And I think that's the challenge.

Brad Smith: I think 2022 is in part a year of COVID fatigue. And, you know, we're tired for so many reasons, but a lot of the debates that were taking place today are really not about Mother Nature. It's about the government forcing adaptation to deal with Mother Nature, having to wear a mask, having to get a vaccine. And, when I compare it, for example, to some of the stories, even of World War II, there was unhappiness in communities on the Eastern Seaboard because the lights of the amusement parks were turned off as part of blackouts. There's a limited period of time that I think any government can really compel people to adapt to things that people don't like.

Brad Smith: Now, nature can require it. Markets can require it, and then government can help people deal with the change, but not necessarily require it. And I just wonder, as we think about the role of the market, the role of technology and the role of government over what now is not just two years, but 20 or 30 or 40 of climate change, how do we find that path that puts everything together?

Thomas Friedman: Yeah. That's going to be a real challenge, and it's going to take a very different kind of leadership, because you have to lead much more through people than down on people. You've got to basically inspire and educate the right kind of behaviors. I did a column early on in the pandemic with Dov Seidman, who wrote this book called How, and we talked about who are the leaders that we'll remember the most from this pandemic. And Dov's point was, we'll remember most the leaders who put more truth into the world than they took out of it, and who put more trust into the world than they took out of it.

Thomas Friedman: Because truth and trust are the pillars of any healthy democratic system. Without truth, we don't know which way to go, and without trust, we can't go there together. And Dov always says, "Trust is the only legal performance enhancing drug." When there's trust in the room, it's amazing what you can do. And so, I think about leadership now at a much broader level. If you are putting truth and trust into the world, people will follow you on any number of things, whether it's climate, whether it's economics, whether it's skills. But if you have leaders who are actually taking truth and trust out of the world, actually, you can't do anything.

Brad Smith: And, how does this then compare or contrast with what you're writing about, how to write a column, because I do think you try to put truth into the world with every column you write?

Thomas Friedman: A news story is meant to inform, but a column's actually meant to provoke. It's meant to produce a reaction. That's what differentiates a column from a news story. So I'm either in the heating business or the lighting business. I'm either stoking up an emotion in you or I'm illuminating something for you. And if I do it right, I'll produce one of these reactions. You'll read a column and say, "I didn't know that." That's illumination. That's good reaction. More illumination, more light. "I never connected those things. Boy, I never connected Putin and climate change and Ukraine." That's more illumination.

Thomas Friedman: Fourth, you'll live for this, Brad, it happens three times a year. "You said exactly what I felt, but I didn't know how to say it. God bless you." And fifth is, "I want to kill you dead, you and all your offspring. Your column is so stupid. I only read it to see how dumb you are this week," because your column is defined as much by people are against it as you are for it. So, I'm always really toggling between those two, trying to illuminate and also challenge, provoke people to think differently.

Brad Smith: What do you think that has to offer to people who aspire to lead countries, communities, the world through these big challenges we're talking about?

Thomas Friedman: Basically, I think we're in a new Promethean era. So if you think of printing press, scientific revolution, agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, and this moment, that's been called all kinds of things, the fourth industrial revolution, information age. So I realized one day that I've actually written seven books, but they were actually all one book. They were looking at a giant elephant from seven different angles. And so the first chapter of the book is called "Stalking the Giant Elephant." What did I actually see? What did we live through these last 40 years? So I think we lived through a new Promethean moment, you know, Prometheus, Greek god, steals fire from a closet on Mount Olympus and gives it to humans to build civilization. So, what was the printing press that drove this Promethean revolution? It was this ecosystem of sensors, chips, software, bandwidth, AI, what I call sense, connect, process, learn, share. Sense, connect, process, learn, share. Sense, connect, process, learn, share, sense, connect process, learn, share.

Thomas Friedman: So it's this ecosystem, where each part improves individually, and the whole thing keeps improving collectively. And what it's done is create a world of what I call acceleration amplification and democratization. More and more people have tools that amplify their power at an accelerating rate, being democratized, with a small d, to more and more people. That's what we're in the middle of, I would argue. It's given the world five new attributes that require governance.

Thomas Friedman: It's made the world really fast. That's a challenge for education. How do we educate people if things are changing so fast? It's made the world really fused. We're not just interconnected. We're not just interdependent. We are fused together. It's made the world really deep. Wait a minute. We suddenly added the adjective deep to everything. There's no global lexicographer who said, "Thou must call that deep research." No, no. We intuit technology was going so deep, we had never been there before. Fast fused, deep and dual. Everything is now dual-use. Abu Dhabi, just yesterday, announced no more toy drones in Abu Dhabi, because they've been hit by real drones from the Houthis. And no one knows what's a real drone and a toy drone anymore. And finally, everything's becoming open. Everyone can comment and play. One of us can now talk to all of us without a filter, editor, libel lawyer. And when the world gets this fast, fused, deep, dual and open, it can only be governed by complex adaptive coalitions. It can't be governed the left-right way.

Brad Smith: And I think that is such a key point, because I think most people, when they say we need more governance, will say, "Oh, you're saying we need more government."

Thomas Friedman: It's very different thing. Yeah.

Brad Smith: Exactly. Tell us more.

Thomas Friedman: So I'll give you this example. Right before the pandemic breaks out, I'm in Jerusalem. And I run into Amnon Shashua, he's the founder of Mobileye that Intel bought for $18 billion, because Intel wants to be a car company, autonomous driving company. So Amnon says to me, "Tom, have you ever driven in a self-driving car?" I said, "Amnon, I was just at Google Waymo in Mountain View a month before, and I rode in Waymo's self-driving car on Mountain View." He said, "Mountain View. That's a grid. Try driving in a self-driving car in Jerusalem, where there are no two parallel streets."

Thomas Friedman: So, I go up to Jerusalem. We drive in the car. Unbelievable. Hairpin turns, up, down, camels, donkeys, Jews, Arabs, and no one's driving. There's someone's sitting there, but no one's driving. So we get done, he tells me an interesting story. He says, "Tom, you know, to test a self-driving car, in Israel or anywhere, you actually need an insurance protocol that governs what constitutes safe self-driving. Otherwise, anything you hit, or anyone hits you, you get sued." Well, the rabbis who run Jerusalem have no idea about self-driving cars. So Amnon and Mobileye had to convene a complex adaptive coalition of Volkswagen, their car supplier, Mobileye, the rabbis who run Jerusalem and the Israeli Ministry of Transportation, and collectively, they wrote the law. It's so good that Yandex, Russia's Google, now test their self-driving cars in Israel. And China just took the entire Israeli law, translated it into Chinese and made it their law.

Thomas Friedman: And so that's what happens when the world gets this fused and deep at the same time. And governments then has to parallel that. But where are we? We're still in the left-right mode. Well, let me ask you, is it a Democratic issue or a Republican issue to establish insurance protocols for self-driving cars? Of course, it's neither. You know what I mean? That's a wholly new issue. But they're not trained to do this, so what do they do? They tend to fall back on tribalism. How do they hold their adherence? By going to all these cultural issues basically, because they actually can't address what are the core issues now of this new world.

Brad Smith: Anything, it seems, can be turned into a political, polarized, even tribal issue. But what you just described is a need to move beyond that. For issues of extraordinary complexity, how do we move beyond this tribalism?

Thomas Friedman: So I'm going to give you a simple answer. It doesn't exactly answer it, but it reflects what I mean. The Washington Post, every once in a while, where they have this section out, maybe called Good News. It's just people doing nice things. And, at Christmastime, they ran a story about a small town here outside of DC. And this guy was putting up his Christmas lights. And he knew the woman who lived across the street, I think she had recently lost her husband. She was alone, really down about COVID and really kind of depressed. And, just on the spur of the moment, he took his Christmas lights from his house, and across the telephone wires, and lit up her house as well. And she came out, and she was just blown away. Well, all the neighbors saw it. And so they did the same thing. And everyone, they have a picture in the Post of this town, where all the Christmas lights are criss-crossed across the street.

Brad Smith: Wow.

Thomas Friedman: And I get choked up just telling the story, because it's just so authentic about people connecting with other people and creating a sense of home. Because, if you ask me what ails the country today, one of the lessons I tell in my book is that, there's no place like home. There's no place like home. And you know what? When you disturb people's sense of home, oh my god, they will come at you like you stepped on an anthill of fire ants. And there's so many people in America today, left, right and center, who feel their sense of home is being disturbed. Whose home is this anyway? Mask, no mask. Be able to say this, not that. Whatever it is, I've never felt that more Americans were homeless than I do today, and I'm not talking about physically, I'm talking about emotionally.

Brad Smith: And that is, I think, such an apt description of what makes all of this even harder. I think human nature, and I'll even say sort of American Spirit at its best, is to pull together when the moment is the darkest. And yet, it keeps feeling like the moments, in some ways, are getting darker. The problems are getting bigger. The divides are getting greater. How do we close the divide?

Thomas Friedman: Yeah. You've just asked the central question. Because we can do it at the community level, but we've lost our ability to do it at the national level. And that's very scary to me, because when you think about the challenges we face in a fast, fused, deep, dual, open world, we have no time to lose. And I've said before, Brad, there's only one thing worse than a one party autocracy. It's a one party democracy. See, one party autocracy, like in China, if you've got leaders who are reasonably intelligent, whatever they're doing by way of human rights, they can still order a lot of the right things from the top down just to get done. But a one party democracy, where one party's governing and the other is doing everything it can to subvert it, well, you can do that for a year or two, but in a time of rapid change of the world, you do that year after year, you are really going to fall behind.

Thomas Friedman: And so, that's where we're at, and that's why I'm terrified. And I think people, again, they're so missing the danger of this moment. So, if you talk to Earth system scientists today, what they will tell you is that, they're seeing now some really, not just extremes, but what they call super extremes. A hundred degrees in the Siberian Arctic region on June 20th, 2020. They just had a forest fire in Siberia, 10,000 miles from Moscow, in the middle of winter, that Russian firefighters had to stamp out with their feet and tree branches because all the water was frozen. This is an incredibly freakish climate event and incredible warning sign about what's happening in the tundra. These are super extremes. Why is that?

Thomas Friedman: Because Mother Nature's kind of like a car. She's got a bunch of spare tires, thick bumpers, all these dampeners. And what she did over millennia was she compensated for our abuses to the system. So we melted a little too much ice. She found ways to compensate around that. We raised the sea levels a little bit. She finds ways to compensate around that. But what earth system scientists will tell you is that, today, Mother Nature is running out of dampeners, bumpers and spare tires. And that's why we're now seeing these super extreme events. But just to completely ruin your day, we're seeing this at 1.1 degrees rise Celsius average temperature since the Industrial Revolution. Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. No, no, no. They told us in Paris that if we just stayed below two, ideally 1.5, we're seeing this at 1.1. But what that may be telling us is, the Earth may be much more fragile than we realize.

Thomas Friedman: Now I'll give you a parallel to that. What basically Mother Nature is to our natural world and human behavior in it, the Fed has been to American politics. We've had deeply aberrant and divisive behavior in America in the last six, seven years, like none of us have ever seen before. But as long as the stock market was going up, we could laugh at it on Saturday Night Live. But what happens when the Fed has to raise interest rates and take away the stimulus? We thought everything's okay if the stock market's going up. What if the stock market starts really going down? And suddenly, the buffers that we thought were there are not there. And then suddenly, you've got this really aberrant political behavior going on. That really concerns me. Because we tend to tell ourselves stories, and one story we tell ourselves is that, Americans will always do the right thing after they exhaust all the alternatives.

Thomas Friedman: Well, that reminds me of people who said, you know, in nature, there'll always be four seasons. What if there isn't? What if our system is so broken that we can't do the right thing once we've exhausted all the alternatives? And so this is why I'm so concerned about truth and trust and bringing that back into the system.

Brad Smith: I completely agree with what you say about the importance of truth and trust. I'd like to push you a little bit on one aspect, Tom, because one of the things I've always appreciated about you is, I think you're an optimist at heart. Maybe most people who grow up in Minnesota grow up as optimists at heart.

Thomas Friedman: Yeah. Wisconsin too.

Brad Smith: Yeah. But think about COVID. Think about this extraordinary period of disagreement. Think about the tragedies of the lives lost. But then, think about the lives saved because we did some things right. The government couldn't agree on a lot, but they agreed to fund Operation Warp Speed. The private sector went to work and invented these vaccines. People collaborated in local communities to distribute the vaccines more broadly and quickly than anything medically had ever been distributed before. So, is it possible that those three edges that you described, maybe they never come together perfectly, maybe we live in an imperfect world and maybe the best basis for hope and optimism is just to do enough and keep building on it, even while every day it feels like we're engaged in a political food fight?

Thomas Friedman: Yeah, I hope so. I just hope things aren't irreparably broken. Look, we're going through our third great civil rights moment, Civil War, the 1960s. And now, as we go from a white majority country to a minority majority country. And first it was to resist civil rights for Blacks. Then it was to integrate them, but not through Jim Crow. And now it requires a much deeper form of integration. The way I say it in my head, Brad, is that, we need to go as a country from out of many one to out of many we.

Thomas Friedman: When we get fused and we can feel each other's breath now and hear each other whisper, it requires a deeper form of pluralism. I do believe that there will be a new generation that will get us from one to we. And I think right now we're in that transition.

Thomas Friedman: So I had a friend, whose husband was one of the first COVID victims and was on a respirator. And there is a platform that's called CaringBridge. It's a website where basically a whole community can kind of root for someone who's sick. And somehow they sent it to me. But this is like March, February in the pandemic. And I got so involved because we're all rooting for him. He's on the respirator. He's going down. He's up. He's reviving. He's getting out. And this went on for weeks. And, every Friday night, they would send out a song video. And, I got to look forward to them. And, I got this video. It's called "We Shall Be Known," by two songwriters, Karisha Longaker and Sarah Nutting. And I'll read you the verses.

Thomas Friedman: "We shall be known by the company we keep, by the ones who circle round to tend these fires. We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap the seeds of change alive from deep within the Earth. It is time now, it is time that we thrive. It's time that we lead ourselves into the well. It is time now, what a time to be alive. In this Great Turning, we shall learn to lead in love. In this Great Turning, we shall learn to lead in love."

Thomas Friedman: And I tell you, I listened to this thing. And I just said, these women, they're channeling something really deep. "We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap. We shall be known by those who circle round to tend these fires."

Brad Smith: I love it. And it's not what we shall know. It's how we shall be known. It's about other people. So, take us back to Beirut, because I would have to believe that of all the places you've lived and work, it was one of the most challenging. I mean, you saw people literally trying to kill each other, not politically, but literally. What did you see about the best of human nature, that you think we may have the opportunity to summon from those streets in Beirut?

Thomas Friedman: Well, just to remind, in my four years there, I covered the Israeli Invasion. I covered the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. My own apartment was blown up, and my driver's two daughters and wife were killed in my apartment. I had to help dig them out. I covered the US Embassy bombing. I covered the US Marine bombing, and I covered the Hama massacre. So, I really saw the darkest side of human behavior. But, if you ask me what's my big takeaway from Beirut, I would tell you a very personal story, which is that, I was a little Jewish kid from Minnesota who wanted to cover the Arab Muslim world. That was not a natural thing in the 1970s, okay? The New York Times had a rule. You couldn't be Jewish and go to Beirut or Israel. And with me, they broke both those rules.

Thomas Friedman: And I went out there, and if you read my coverage or my books, I was not out there saying, "You're all great. You're all wonderful. It's all Israel's fault." I actually would be in people's faces a lot. But I learned the biggest lesson of life from that, Brad. How did I survive in that environment? As, I hope, a truth teller. I survived by being a good listener. And I learned that two things happen when you listen. One is what you learn when you listen. Because all the things I got wrong were because I was talking when I should have been listening. And the other, much more importantly, is what you say when you listen. Listening is a sign of respect. And it's amazing what people will let you say to or about them critically, if they think you respect them. If they don't think you respect them, you cannot tell them the sun is shining. But if they think you respect them, it's amazing what they will let even someone like me, an outsider coming in, say to or about them by way of constructive criticism, because they always knew one thing about me.

Thomas Friedman: I really did respect them. I really liked them. I love the culture. I love the people. In a previous life, I was probably a bizarre merchant. But most of all, I wanted them to succeed. I was on their side. I was not there to put anyone down. And so, when young journalists ask me, what's the biggest thing you should know going to the Middle East or anywhere, I just tell them, "It's very simple. It's what you say when you listen."

Brad Smith: And I just think that is so eloquent in capturing what it takes for us as a country to go from one to we. I think, sometimes, people characterize it as, we have to find a way to all agree. We don't have to all agree.

Thomas Friedman: We don't have to all agree. We just have to agree to respect each other.

Brad Smith: Yes. That is the path. It's actually easier, but it's more profound.

Thomas Friedman: My politics is very messy. I'm a pro-business Democrat. There's like three of me in the zoo anymore. You know what I mean? But it's very important to me that, be they progressives or conservatives, I want to be read. And so, I go out of my way to make sure that I'm respecting them. You know what I mean? And where they're from. Because people don't listen through their ears. They listen through their stomach. If you connect with them on a gut level, oh my God, they'll listen to you. You know, Maya Angelou said, and it's just so profound, "No one remembers what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel."

Brad Smith: Made them feel. Yeah. That's great. Well, a lot of food for thought. Thank you, Tom. It's so great to be with you.

Thomas Friedman: Brad, this was really fun. Anytime.

Brad Smith: You've been listening to Tools and Weapons with me, Brad Smith. If you enjoyed today's show, please follow us wherever you like to listen.

Brad Smith: Tools and Weapons is produced by Corina Hernandez, Mark "Frosty" McNeill, and Jordan Rothlein, with production assistance from Emma Foley. Our executive producers are Carol Ann Brown and Aaron Thiese. This podcast was edited and mixed by Jenny Cataldo, with production support by Sam Kirkpatrick at Run Studios. Original music by Angular Wave Research. Tools and Weapons is a production of Microsoft, made in partnership with We Are Listen and A_DA.