Lisa Ling: Exploring Subcultures, Learning to Feel, and Changing Perception – The Tim Ferriss Show

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • If you’re suffering, you are NOT alone
  • Spend time getting to know your parents and how their childhoods influenced them
    • “If you’ve never taken the time to understand your parent’s lives, I’d really urged you to do so. It’ll bring so much more clarity as to who your parents really are and why they made the decisions they made.”
  • “We ALL experience something as a child that continues to live with us, and in some cases, harm us. Until we take steps to address it, it’ll continue on.”
    • You’re going to deal with your trauma no matter what – either face it head-on or compress it in a box and allow it to seep out the edges where it manifests in strange ways
  • Therapy is never a bad investment
  • Talk to strangers and seek to understand those around you
    • The more we understand one another, the more we respect one another (and respect is needed more than ever)
  • Doctors are prescribing medications to treat anxiety disorders at alarming rates without full knowledge of how to treat symptoms of withdrawal
    • “Isn’t it curious these medications are so widely prescribed yet our culture is more anxious than ever?”
  • A quote to ponder:
    • “If you find yourself on any given week having the day to day experience of not having uncomfortable conversations or reading things that make you uncomfortable… in the sense of deeply stress testing beliefs or narratives you have about the world, yourself, or other people… then you’re really not living properly… So much of what we tell ourselves is utter bullsh**; it’s just complete nonsense. As soon as you start to stress test it, it falls apart.”

Books Mentioned

Intro

The Early Days

  • “When I was a kid, we didn’t grow up with a lot of money. I’ve always been an insatiably curious person, but I never had the opportunity to travel that much.”
  • When Lisa was 18, she was hired to report for Channel One News – she was sent all over the world to cover far-flung stories in distant locations
    • One of those places was Afghanistan where she was posted in the 1990s to cover their civil war (while Lisa was just 21)
      • “From the moment I set foot… I just realized I was very, very far from home… I felt like I was on another planet.”
      • Lisa describes the environment – “There were bullet holes and craters everywhere; not a single wall stood that wasn’t filled with bullet holes”
      • “I kept opening and closing my eyes and just thinking, ‘Where the f*** am I and how did I end up here?”

Dealing with the Emotional Toll

  • Lisa has covered everything from gang rape in the Congo to bride burning in India to child trafficking
    • “It just makes you realize how much people are hurting out there, and how deep and dark people’s worlds are”
  • “I meet people and they share with me things they haven’t even shared with their closest friends or family members. As a result, you can’t help but build a bond or relationship.”
  • Lisa often gives people she profiles her personal cell phone number
    • “I’ve gotten calls from drug addicts at all hours of the night. I’ve gotten many, many calls from prison. So there’s certainly a risk.”
      • Frequently, those drug addicts will be asking for money
    • When she chooses to give out her number, Lisa will often state upfront – “Just to make things clear, I’ll never give you money because I don’t know what you’ll do with it, but if I can help you in any way by directing you to resources, I will do everything I can to try to do so.”
      • “I try to do what I can… but I also make it clear that I can only do so much
      • “I really do care about these people because of what they share with me, but I have to be very careful, especially when it comes to money. I realize that, especially when someone’s under the influence, I can very easily be taken advantage of.”
  • “I’ve definitely been witness to some of the worst aspects of humanity… and I don’t always handle it well”
    • “I’ve gotten fairly good at compartmentalizing. My work is my work, and I’m deeply passionate about it, but it sort of exists for me in one part of my heart and brain. My family and my life are another part. Do they ever get fused? Absolutely.”
  • What keeps Lisa going?
    • “Bringing a lot of these stories to light may raise consciousness among ordinary people who may then feel compelled to take action “

The Impact of Lisa’s Work

  • Tim comments:
    • “There’s a tremendous amount of pain out there. It’s part of the reason I’m so respectful and encouraging of the incredible work that you do. You’re sharing stories that, at the very least, help a not so small subset of the population know that they’re not alone in the type of suffering they’ve experienced. That’s an important ingredient in any recipe that will begin to resolve or mitigate these conditions.”
  • “What I really hope that people will do when they watch any of my shows is just feel something”
    • “We’ve become this culture that doesn’t want to feel… We’re afraid of feeling.
    • “I want to profile or immerse myself among people you might not otherwise get to know… Hopefully, we give you the opportunity to know people who are different than you and gain a better understanding of humanity.”

Get to Know Your Parents

  • Lisa comes from a “pretty traditional Asian family”
    • And “Asian culture is not the most communicative”
    • Her parents got divorced when she was only 7 
      • “I felt a lot of resentment towards my parents because they weren’t active in the same way that my friend’s parents were”
  • Lisa began working with a therapist in her late teens
    • “I knew I needed help. I had all this stuff percolating in my soul and body, but I couldn’t identify exactly what I was feeling. I didn’t even know what feelings were.”
    • Part of Lisa’s therapy involved getting to know her mother and her background, who she didn’t have much of a relationship with growing up
      • What she learned: her mother had a horrible childhood
        • “And all of the resentment I had for her disappeared; it was almost like I was looking at this little girl and what she had to deal with… I think that really propelled me to want to understand people and their childhoods better.”
    • “If you’ve never taken the time to understand your parent’s lives, I’d really urged you to do so. It’ll bring so much more clarity as to who your parents really are and why they made the decisions they made.”
      • Lisa says this is particularly important for men
        • “I feel like there are a lot of young men who are feeling crisis, whether from the job market or the Me Too Movement… The suicide rate is skyrocketing among men. For so long, men have been taught not to feel or not to show emotion… Young men need permission to be able to feel, and so many men feel in crisis right now because they’ve never been given that permission to feel.”
      • Tim adds – “I’ve had some very open conversations with my parents in the last few years that, if you had asked me 10 years ago if I’d ever even contemplate having these conversations, I would have brushed it aside as completely impossible… It’s given me a level of relief that I couldn’t have predicted beforehand.”
    • Lisa adds – “We’re learning so much about the trauma kids are experiencing between the ages of 1 and 7… If you don’t address that trauma, then it can go on to harm you for the rest of your life and trigger you in ways you’d never expect.”
      • “We ALL experience something as a child that continues to live with us, and in some cases, harm us. Until we take steps to address it, it’ll continue on.”
      • You’re going to deal with your trauma no matter what 
        • Either face it head-on or compress it in a box and allow it to seep out the edges where it manifests in strange ways

The Importance of Therapy

  • “Our healthcare system is NOT conducive to allowing people to find therapists or even having insurance cover therapy; it’s so ass-backward in every possible way.”
    • This is partly why doctors prescribe so many pharmaceuticals to Band-Aid the pain
  • Therapy certainly isn’t cheap if your insurance won’t cover it 
    • “But it’s such an important investment; you’re investing in your future and mental health. Those are things that shouldn’t be ignored.”
  • If you can’t afford a therapist, get a group of friends together every month to talk openly and let down your guards
    • “People need that outlet to be able to release. Whether your friends offer you constructive advice or criticism is almost irrelevant. You just need that release in a safe space to be able to express your feelings. It’s so healthy to do that.”

A Lesson from Barbara Walters

  • “Every time I would interact with Barbara, the first thing she’d ask me was, ‘Are you taking care of your personal life?'”
    • “What she was telling me was that she neglected her personal life in pursuit of her career and I could tell it caused a hole to be unfilled”
      • When Barbara left ABC, she notably said that her biggest regret was not spending more time with her daughter
    • Lisa, 46 now, has two children – a 6 and 3-year-old
      • “I’m so grateful to Barbara for telling me not to neglect my personal life because my children are everything to me. Everything I do as part of my job is to make the world a better place for them.”

Get Our of Your Silo

  • “I try to bring people together and ignite dialogue… I’ve always believed that the more we know about each other, the more we’ll respect each other.”
  • Tim adds, commenting on Lisa’s work – “I think it’s a real service because you’re offering people the opportunity to stress test a lot of their assumptions and broaden their pictures of reality”
  • “It’s such a testament to this idea of listening and hearing people out. I’m as guilty as the next person for following people on Twitter who just espouse the same beliefs as I do… It’s easier than ever to exist in these silos. What I’m trying to do, in life and with my show, is to break people out of these bubbles, hear others out, and understand how they live.” – Lisa
    • “The more we can be exposed to a sample of profiles like you’re providing where we can see the inherent complexity of each human as this tapestry of emotions and feelings, the harder it is to hate someone because you view them as a walking opinion that you disagree with.” – Tim
  • “It requires time and energy to get invested in other people’s stories, but I do in my heart of hearts believe that you emerge a better and smarter human as a result of taking that time

Season 6 of This is Life

  • It premieres on CNN on September 29
  • The first episode dives deep into porn addiction among the younger crowd
    • “Any kid with a device, or access to a device, can access an unlimited amount of porn and it’s having a devastating effect on a generation and the way they perceive sex and relationships”
    • “Parents need to wake up and realize that the moment they give their kids a device, they have unfettered access to extreme amounts of pornography.”
  • Another episode takes a look at the prevalence of anxiety disorders and treatment with Xanex, benzos, Klonopin, etc. 
    • “If you’re not on them, you probably know people who are. These are medicines that should be used for very short periods of time, but there’s a whole generation of people who’ve been on them for YEARS. They’re highly, highly addictive drugs. There’s a fear that benzos are the next opioids.”
    • “This episode made me the most pissed. I realized this class of medication is the most widely prescribed on Earth, yet doctors don’t know how to get people off them if they exhibit symptoms of withdrawal.”
      • “General Practitioners, internists, and pediatricians are prescribing these drugs for an indefinite period of time; it has made me infuriated because doctors are the people we entrust with our safety and in many cases, they don’t realize how to treat the symptoms of these drugs.”
      • “Isn’t it curious these medications are so widely prescribed yet our culture is more anxious than ever?”

The Books Lisa Has Gifted or Recommended Most Often

  • Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
    • “FABULOUS BOOK! FABULOUS BOOK! It’s incredible!” – Tim
      • Tim adds that the book was recommended to him by one of the world’s best CEOs
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    • “That book will always have a very special place in my heart”
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
    • “I credit this book to propelling me to dig deeper and to not always believe the narrative… It will turn on your head so much of what you’ve always believed to be true about this country.”
      • Tim adds – “If you find yourself on any given week having the day to day experience of not having uncomfortable conversations or reading things that make you uncomfortable… in the sense of deeply stress testing beliefs or narratives you have about the world, yourself, or other people… then you’re really not living properly… So much of what we tell ourselves is utter bullsh**; it’s just complete nonsense. As soon as you start to stress test it, it falls apart.”

How to Develop Empathy

  • “You develop empathy by allowing and encouraging your own beliefs to be tested and cultivating more flexibility in how you perceive the world and other people. The more labels you apply to other people and yourself, the dumber you become.” – Tim
  • It’s EASY to live in a bubble, to be told what to think, and to spew what you’ve been told
    • It’s HARD to seek the truth and aim to understand the stories of others
  • And remember: “How you relate to the world and treat others is often mirrored in how you relate to and treat yourself” – Tim
  • To add – “There’s a direct correlation between empathy and success”
  • Take the time to connect with people on a deep level – put your devices away
    • “The further we get away from that, the further we get from being able to feel empathy”

What would Lisa put on a billboard to get a message out to millions of people?

  • “Stop texting and start listening”
    • Lisa adds – “So much has gotten lost in this digital culture we’re living in”
    • “We all need to put our devices aside from time to time to breathe and really connect with people”

Additional Notes

  • Tim once paid a homeless man in San Francisco to give him a tour of the “homeless economy”
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