How Stephanie Lepp Makes Room for a Reckoning

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Stephanie Lepp is the creator and host of a podcast about how people change their hearts and minds-- it’s about people who decided on their own to completely change their world views. It’s about people who took a look in the mirror, and realized they did not like what they saw. How do you do that? Her show is called Reckonings...and it sure feels like our society could use a reckoning right about now. But do things need to change on an individual level first? I invited Stephanie to share what she’s learned about how personal change can lead to positive societal change.

RESOURCES:

https://www.sandiego.edu/soles/restorative-justice/campus-prism.php

http://www.againstviolentextremism.org/

TRANSCRIPT. We do our best on these, if you see an error, let us know!

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller. And today on Inflection Point we want a lot of people to change their ways right now. How far are you willing to go to let them?

Stephanie Lepp:                It's amazing what a gesture can do and are we willing to let alone give the person a job, just let the bad guy change?

Lauren Schiller:                  Join me and Stephanie Lepp of Reckonings. Stay tuned.

Stephanie Lepp:                I am Stephanie Lepp. When I feel comfortable with people I would say that I'm a tuning fork. I would say that I am a gentle mirror.

Lauren Schiller:                  Tell me more about the tuning fork.

Stephanie Lepp:                The tuning fork.

Lauren Schiller:                  I love that.

Stephanie Lepp:                I mean, I just came out right now. I guess I am seeing the gravity of the situation or sensing the gravity of the situation but also responding to it in a way that is hopeful and creative and maintains imagination and maintains humor.

Lauren Schiller:                  But it seems like both of your metaphors are about being in touch with the world and wanting to kind of play back what you're seeing.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes, because I think that's part of the idea of in order to get to anywhere we have to start from where we are. Part of it is yes, must see the nature of the situation clearly in order to go anywhere, but cannot stop only at seeing the nature of the situation clearly. That can also just lead us to stagnation and depression. So there is both a seeing clearly and a dose of creativity and imagination and hope to move us forward.

Lauren Schiller:                  This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller. And that's Stephanie Lepp, the creator, and host of a podcast about how people change their hearts and minds. And this isn't about changing your mind on the small stuff like, "Oh, I wanted to cook dinner in but instead let's eat out." It's about people who decided on their own to completely change their world views. This is not an easy thing. I mean, when's the last time you did that, or I did that or made room for someone else to? Her show is about people who took a look in the mirror and realized they didn't like what they saw. As someone said to me, it's like they took their own hearts out of their bodies, took a good look at them, moved things around a little and put them back inside. How do you do that?

                                                      The show is called fittingly Reckonings. And it sure feels like our society could use a reckoning right about now. But do things need to change on an individual level first? I invited Stephanie to share what she's learned about how personal change can lead to positive societal change. So where did you grow up?

Stephanie Lepp:                I grew up in the North Bay [crosstalk 00:03:41].

Lauren Schiller:                  Of California.

Stephanie Lepp:                Of California. Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did that influence the way you think about the world do you think?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah, my mom is a yoga instructor. My dad is in technology. I'm a Mexican Jew. I was raised very much... Spanish was my first language and my mom is an artist who would always kind of take us to every single museum within a 25 mile radius of wherever we were traveling I feel like, grew up in an area and in a family that was definitely very much about being open and available and thinking freely and asking questions. And Judaism also has kind of a practice of asking questions, right? There's kind of like the reinterpretation and re-reinterpretation of every single thing in Jewish history. It's kind of like we continue to ask questions about the same old things forever and ever and ever.

                                                      I think I've just been aware of my evolving consciousness from a young age. I mean, I remember in second grade waiting for the school bus for second grade. And I remember thinking, "Last year I didn't know anything. Last year was first grade. I didn't know anything. Now I really know what's up. I'm going into second grade." And then having that same experience going into third grade, and having that experience enough times that I was like, "Wait a second. I'm noticing a pattern here. Maybe I don't actually know everything there is to know now that I'm going into fifth grade. Maybe my mind is actually just in a process of changing and growing and evolving." And that stuck with me.

Lauren Schiller:                  So this concept of how people change their hearts and minds, I mean, why is that something you decided you really wanted to explore?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah. So that was through my earliest experiences with activism and social change in college and early into my professional life the question would always come up am I changing anyone's mind? Am I actually moving anyone on climate change or mandatory minimums or whatever issue I happen to be focused on at the time, which then of course, begs the question, how do people actually change their hearts and minds? And that question just kind of became a little bit of a fascination of mine. But I almost didn't even know what am I even researching here. What's the search term in my googling worldview transformation? Is that even a thing? I know behavioral economics is a thing, but I'm not looking to find out what makes people floss their teeth more often. I'm looking to find out what moves people in fundamental ways.

                                                      And it finally just kind of occurred to me that that question might be really powerful to manifest in the form of stories of people who have made these kinds of transformative change as a podcast. And so that's where Reckonings comes from. It is an exploration of the question how do people change, and really kind of more specifically, how do people change in ways that connect to or scale into broader social and political change.

Lauren Schiller:                  And so when you think about your role in bringing this understanding to light, I mean, how do you think of yourself?

Stephanie Lepp:                I mean, a mirror actually is very apt. That's really what I'm doing for the person I'm interviewing. I'm just being a gentle... I deliberately don't do interviews in person. Because a lot of what I'm asking people I'm asking people to talk about some really sensitive stuff sometimes. Sometimes it's the thing that they are the least proud of, the thing that they are really reckoning with. And I find it more helpful if I can just kind of be a little voice in their head that holds up a mirror to them such that they can just see clearly what they have done, the impact that they may have had on other people, and then how they have learned from that and grown from that. I want to make an uncomfortable experience like a tiny bit more comfortable, just a tiny bit, so you can just hang out in it longer and speak from that place.

Lauren Schiller:                  From the standpoint of the listener or the person who you are talking to?

Stephanie Lepp:                The person telling the story. Are we just going to keep taking the mirror metaphor everywhere? We might. I mean, yeah, the listener, there is kind of maybe a collective mirror of us beholding our own capacity to change. That's certainly part of what I'm doing, because I believe that we can at least even just for me personally in producing the show it's like what does it do to us to wander through the world with the belief that the people around us can change? It just creates more room for new things to happen that haven't happened before.

Lauren Schiller:                  Have you ever wanted to turn the mic on yourself? I mean, is there a reckoning of your own that you've been wanting to explore?

Stephanie Lepp:                I find that so intimidating. It's amazing that no one... I've been interviewed a little bit, a couple times. And it's amazing to me that no one has asked me the question of what I'm reckoning with, which I dread, which is so amazing to me or just hysterical to me because yeah, I mean, obviously, that's what I'm asking my guests to do. But I'm kind of just in total awe of all of my guests. I think what they do is so hard. It's like basically asking you in some ways to have a public therapy session. I mean, you're just letting out the hardest things. Have I wanted to turn the mic on myself? No. That sounds really scary. Which is part of why I'm so in awe of my guests.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, what are you reckoning?

Stephanie Lepp:                So therefore, you're going to ask me the question.

Lauren Schiller:                  What are you reckoning with?

Stephanie Lepp:                What I am reckoning with is put really simply my relationship with productivity. It took me a long time to understand what I want to do. And so I feel like I've wasted all this time. And I have all this kind of old regret, and so therefore I must use all of my time super productively. And so I'm in this tug of war with time and I just hold my time accountable to... I mean, even just my understanding of what productive even means it prevents me from really just kind of being inside of and experiencing my life, is what it's preventing. And it became much more apparent to me once my daughter was born.

                                                      I thought she was going to start challenging me when she turned 13. It started immediately. It's like the second she came out of the womb, she was like, "Let me hold up a mirror to you mom and show you how addicted you are to crossing things off your list of things to do, because the second I need something from you have a really hard time diverting from whatever your plan was for what you were going to do in the next 10 minutes or the entire day." So it's just become that much more apparent to me as a mom, and I feel I am reckoning with... I mean, I guess it's also just the way I relate to and then have in my life and I am wanting to feel less like I'm struggling against my life or struggling against time and more in a experience of gratitude and awe for my life.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller being fully present with Stephanie Lepp, host of the podcast Reckonings, a show about how people change their hearts and minds. You can cross one thing off your list when you subscribe to the podcast and make a contribution toward our production at Inflectionpointradio.org. Coming up, Stephanie will share clips from her show, including the reckoning of a former neo-nazi. And she'll share what she learned from a sexual abuse survivor and her perpetrator, both of whom managed to work through it using restorative justice.

                                                      I'm Lauren Schiller and this is Inflection Point. I'm here with Stephanie Lepp, host of the podcast Reckonings, and we're talking about how personal change can lead to positive societal change. Well, let's talk about some of the people that you talked to on Reckoning. I would like to start with your episode 19, which is about violent white extremists, because that... well, I mean, we can't walk away from it. So in this episode you talk with two different men-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... Jesse and Frank.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Why don't you tell us a little bit about each of those guys and then we'll play the clip.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah. So Frank is a former white supremacist. Jesse is a former jihadi extremist. And I weave their stories together. And part of the reason I do that is because I guess on the one hand we kind of think of those ideologies as somehow kind of like opposite or something. But you get to see how when you need something, when you are just feeling broken, and don't have many options and it's like you're going to reach for heroin, or alcohol, or white supremacy or jihadi extreme, whatever it is that helps you cope. And either one of them could have gone in the other direction. And there are times in the episode where you may not even be able to distinguish between their voices, but that's kind of part of the point.

                                                      So this is when Frank, he just got out of jail. He's looking for a job. He can't find a job. He has swastika tattoos all over him. And through a friend he manages to get a gig at a trade show with a Jewish antique dealer. And the Jewish antique dealer knows that Frank is a neo-nazi, but he says he doesn't care what Frank believes as long as he doesn't break the furniture. And so this clip picks up right after Frank has worked to this gig at the trade show with this Jewish antique dealer.

Lauren Schiller:                  And this guy Frank is the basis for the-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... character that Ed Norton plays in American-

Stephanie Lepp:                American History X, yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  1998 for those of who are wondering when did that movie come out. Yeah. So if you've seen that movie or if you go see that movie that gives a instantaneous visual-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... from what we're talking about here.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Frank:                                        He gave me a ride home that night. And when he gave me the ride home and then as he's dropping me off he just goes, "Hey, what do you do for a living?" I said, "I don't do anything." He goes, "Why don't you come work for me?" And I'm looking down at my Dr Martens on my red laces, which meant I'm a neo-nazi. And I keep looking down at the boots as he's talking to me, this Jewish man, and I'm trying to hide the boots underneath the other part of the seat. I'm just looking at him like, "Thank god this human being is in my life."

                                                      It's fear. I was full of fear. I was full of absolute fear for everything. And so I got with a group of people who also were fearful people, their fear for losing their homeland are going to lose their women to the black man. You name it. And my fear I felt made me weak. And so what they did is they turned my fear into an anger. And they made it to where it was my strong point. I was embarrassed. I was completely embarrassed of my beliefs. I was wrong, and I'd been wrong for the last seven years of my life. I'd been completely wrong. This is all [inaudible 00:16:42]. I believed in something that I was willing to die and kill for, something that is [inaudible 00:16:48].

                                                      I had so much seniority in this group. Seniority was important to me because I had nothing in this world. I cut everything and everybody that was not part of the movement out of my life. So that's all I have. So the car ride is coming to an end and he drops me off. And he goes, "I'll see you Monday, right?" And I took my pay and I went home and I could not wait to get home and get them boots off my feet. My whole image of me is gone. And I got to build something new.

Lauren Schiller:                  So for this episode the overarching question that you ask is what happens when we look past ideology.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  And, I mean, this guy that gave him a job, this Jewish guy that gave this neo-nazi with swastikas all over himself a job. I mean, it's kind of incredible.

Stephanie Lepp:                It's completely incredible. It's completely incredible. I mean, it's both incredible that he was willing to do that, and it's also incredible how much that does, how much a gesture like that can do. And yeah, it poses the question back to us if we were that Jewish man would we have given Frank a job? I mean, even less than that, like giving someone a job, even talk to people being willing to talk to people. So yeah, it's amazing what a gesture can do, and yeah, I take that back to are we willing to let alone give the person a job just let the bad guy change?

Lauren Schiller:                  I mean, one of the things that this episode made me think about and even just that clip is the responsibility of the person who is going to change or wants to change or maybe doesn't even know yet that they want to change and that it has to be a two way street. So there's the input from someone showing compassion. But then there's how is that received? How was he in that place at that time to be able to accept the work, even if he had reservations about whether or not he would get paid, which is part of what we didn't hear.

Stephanie Lepp:                Well, and it's a gradual... so Frank's transformation process actually started in jail when he started playing sports with black people and started getting to know black people really for the first time in his life. And it was coming from that experience and the confusion that that brought up of like, "Wait, actually black people are fine." Then he had this experience, so generosity from a Jewish person, and that just kind of sealed the deal in terms of revealing to him the absolute bankruptcy of his ideology.

                                                      And so it was a gradual thing. But yes, that is kind of what put him in the position and say, "Well, wait a second." Because you go through this process of like, "Okay. Fine, black people are fine, but Jewish people?" And it's like me with the school bus. After having enough experiences of seeing yourself repeat the same pattern you start to wonder is there a pattern here? Am I going to just say, "Okay. Fine Jewish people, but then the next person." Or am I finally going to say, "Actually, maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with the way that I have been seeing the world"?

Lauren Schiller:                  So on this topic of domestic terrorism and white supremacism and the attacks in El Paso and Dayton and Gilroy, and you reference in this episode the Oklahoma City bombing. One of your characters, I wouldn't know if it was Frank or Jesse.

Stephanie Lepp:                It was Frank. It was Frank, yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  So Frank, the same fellow has insight into the bomber.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Timothy McVeigh. And so he wants to go and talk to the FBI-

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... about that. So can you just share a little bit about what happens as a result?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah, he watched the bombing or he watched kind of footage from the bombing on TV. And it was one scene in particular of a firefighter carrying I think a very young girl who looked like she might have been killed. And he just realized like, "I actually understand where this bomber was coming from, and I need to help. I need to use that understanding I have to help us prevent this from happening." So that's when he showed up at the FBI and he kind of... I think they first kind of were a little disarmed, but he showed up, he was like, "I need to talk to you about the bombing." Like, "No, I don't know information about the person but I understand where that person was coming from. And I need to help you understand where that person was coming from."

                                                      First I think he worked with the FBI and then even started working with the Anti-Defamation League and talking to Jewish audiences about what gives rise to these kinds of ideologies. And I guess this is kind of the concrete thing if you want to share with this episode. Actually both he and Jesse are part of this... It's called the Against Violent Extremism Network. This is unbelievable too me. It's a searchable database of former violent extremists. You can literally search for the kind of violent extremism you're looking for, so that you can find someone, a former extremists, who can then talk to current extremists or their families and basically help people exit lives of extremist violence, because they can speak to, they were there, they can speak to who they are coming from and kind of make the bridge to where they have come to.

                                                      And yeah, it's unbelievable to me that something like that even exists. But that's basically what they have made themselves, both Frank and Jesse and the others who are a part of it, made themselves available for is available for people who are still in those ideologies to even just kind of explore, experiment, or conceive of the possibility of moving in a new direction.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Which gets back to this question of when is someone ready? How can their path change sooner before the violent act?

Stephanie Lepp:                I don't know if I have a specific answer to that question. But certainly making it possible, making it available for them. I don't know if the Against Violent Extremism Network has an anonymous hotline or something where you don't have to... yeah, I don't know. But at least having that be... and I don't know how it's promoted. And actually, here's a kind of a similar example. Are you familiar with Footsteps?

Lauren Schiller:                  No.

Stephanie Lepp:                And I do not want to equate these things at all but just kind of an analogy in the sense that... now I'm almost hesitating. But it's an organization that helps Orthodox Jews explore the possibility of leaving the orthodoxy. That's really all it is. And I don't know how they promote themselves, but even just knowing that there's somewhere you can go, maybe it's anonymous or the person doesn't have to know you where you can even just dip your toe in the water of change, just see how it feels, try it on, don't have to commit to anything, don't have to change your public identity about it yet. But yeah, I mean, it's like if we're going to ask people to jump ship we need to give them a ship to jump to. So to the extent that there can be ships out there, that is helpful.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's play a clip from another episode. This is episode 21, a survivor and her perpetrator find justice. For this one, you pose the question what does it sound like for a survivor to get her needs met? And what does it sound like for a perpetrator to take responsibility for his sexual abuse of power? Before we even play the clip I'm curious. How did you get answers to these questions? How did you find these people who are willing to talk to you?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah. So I was looking for them for a long time. I knew I wanted to find a perpetrator and survivor of sexual assault who managed to work through it using restorative justice. Because I just felt like that's what we weren't hearing and would be really helpful to hear the voice of a survivor who got her needs met and the voice of a perpetrator who actually graciously skillfully takes responsibility for his sexual abuse. And so I just reached out to and bugged all the practitioners of restorative justice for sexual assault violence that I could find, which, by the way, the fact that that's even a job that people have is amazing to me that that's some people's job, what they do for a living. So I reached out to as many of these practitioners as I could find. And someone named David Karp kept my name and got back to me a year later, and said, "I think I found your guests."

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's see hear this clip. So you've given names to these people. These are not their real name.

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes. These are pseudonyms. They gave themselves their pseudonyms.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. Great. So just introduce us to who these people are.

Stephanie Lepp:                Unwin and Sameer. Yes. So Unwin and Sameer met freshman year. Sameer was into Unwin, and they started kind of seeing each other a little bit, but then Unwin kind of blew him off and one night they ended up at the same fraternity party, which is when Sameer convinced Unwin to come home with him and then coerced her into sexual activity. So that was freshman year. And then their senior year, and you're going to have to listen to the episode to find out what happened between freshman year and senior year, but their senior year Unwin invited Sameer into a process of restorative justice.

                                                      Restorative justice basically is a response to crime that engages offenders and victims in repairing the harm that was caused. So Unwin invites Sameer into this process, and I also want to be really clear that in this episode we hear from both Unwin and Sameer, although in this clip we're only going to hear from Sameer. So this is kind of in the middle of the restorative justice process. This is right after Sameer reads Unwin's written testimony of what happened that night.

Sameer:                                   I thought in my brain I had asked her to take her shirt off. I didn't. I told her. I did not remember emotionally manipulating her to coming back to staying with me. I thought from my perspective I was being a potential teacher when it came to oral sex. Turns out, I was basically coercing her into doing this even though she wasn't comfortable. For my end I was like, "Oh, this was just a fun hookup." But then from her end it's like, "This guy is like pushing himself on me," and it didn't sound like me. It sounded like a monster. But that was the hardest part was that this guy who forced himself onto this girl is me.

                                                      I think it was combination of desperation, validation, wanting to finally get the girl that I've been after forever. I wanted to have fun and run around and just have a bunch of sex because that's what I thought college was. But now I wish I could just go back and talk to the kid and just be like, "Hey, dude, your heart is may be in a good place right now. But here's some things you need to know before you start engaging in sexual activities with other people that will prevent a lot of pain. You're a larger guy. You can't just go ahead and ask things and then expect people not to be intimidated by it. If it's not an enthusiastic yes don't do it."

                                                      I've made it very difficult for her to enjoy many parts of intimacy. I absolutely terrified her for years just being around. She would spend every day or at least once at some point almost every day trapped in that night and basically reliving it and she's had to think about it every single day. And I'm not sure if the wounds are all the way healed. I doubt they are but it's a pain that I can't take away no matter what I do. I can't take that away, and I know I've said it 1000 times but I am sorry.

Lauren Schiller:                  I've listened to that so many times and every time-

Stephanie Lepp:                Me too.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... it just gets me the same.

Stephanie Lepp:                Me too. Me too. Yeah. Me too. Me too [inaudible 00:32:00].

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I mean, what was your takeaway from what they went through and what people who are listening to this could take away too?

Stephanie Lepp:                Well, first of all it's just so refreshing to finally hear a man take responsibility and do it in a... he did kind of at first get a little stuck in this whoa it was me thing, which is not... this isn't about you. You can't get too stuck in self pity because then you're not actually helping the other person. So it's not just about hearing someone kind of like grovel. It's see clearly what they did and then be inspired by it, take that as, I don't know if inspiration, but yeah, it's motivation to help and to heal and for Sameer to work on this issue in particular. And so it's really refreshing to hear a man do that gracefully.

                                                      And it actually sounds... I mean, that's part of what I feel like my job here is, is to make it sound more stunning, more powerful, more manly I could say, to take responsibility, and to, let's say even be also just communicate around sexual intimacy in an open and mature way than to do the other thing where we're just kind of aloof and don't know how we affect other people or maybe don't care about that. Part of my goal here is to make it sound more beautiful and powerful and sure, manly to do what he did. And it does actually sound beautiful and powerful to take a look in the mirror and grow from what we see.

Lauren Schiller:                  In kind of the bigger picture of social change and being convinced that there's a better way forward if we think things are going arise, say, I don't know, with our society [inaudible 00:34:07] people who we might not agree with on a whole host of issues from the political on down to the biological let's say. They think they're right and they don't need to change, and we think we're right and we don't need to change, and finding a way to open the conversation and communication feels like the hardest task of all. So in terms of the kinds of things that you've learned from hearing these stories, these stories of change, I mean, is there kind of an anatomy of change or a way to take this personal change and think about it in terms of how does that scale-

Stephanie Lepp:                How does that scale.

Lauren Schiller:                  ... to social change?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yeah, and that's kind of precisely what I'm playing with here, is the relationship between personal and social change, this idea that big change out there in the world can start in here, inside of us, and that therefore we can be the change. But how does that actually happen? What does that actually mean? Well, we can look at these episodes as example. How does Sameer's personal change translate into social change. It's one less dude who's just kind of going around engaging in sexual activity in kind of a mindless way and one more mindful dude who has done this thing and has really learned from it and grown from it and can talk to other men about it.

                                                      Frank. It's one less white supremacist and one more advocate who can talk to people who still live lives of violence and can also kind of help us understand where he was coming from and where people are coming from and what would speak to them. So part of it is, let's say, growing the cadre of advocates or allies, and these people are kind of like uniquely effective advocates because they are kind of these bridge people. Sameer can speak to guys. He's a young guy. Frank was a leader in the movement.

                                                      So part of it is growing the team. And I tend to think about things in terms of power. And we all have the power to change ourselves, but some of us have more power in this world than others. And put crudely, their personal change would therefore translate into even broader social change. There have been guests of mine, for example, who have a lot of influence. So let's say for former congressman Bob Inglis made a really dramatic shift on climate change. He has a lot of power, and so his personal reckoning had that much more kind of social impact.

                                                      Jerry Taylor was a prominent... he was kind of like the spokesperson for climate skepticism. And his transformation also can lead to... So when I think about my wish list of guests I kind of think about who are the fewest number of people that if they had a personal reckoning that would lead to the biggest social change? What if Charles Koch had a reckoning? But that's still kind of coming from how does personal change lead to social change. We can also kind of think in the other direction, how does social change translate into personal change? How does or should the experience of participating in social change kind of change us as individuals when we have participated or when I have participated in activism and social change? Has it made me more angry? Has it made me more compassionate? Has it made me more hopeful? How does even engaging in social change or how do we want it to kind of change us personally?

Lauren Schiller:                  Have you heard from any of the people that you've spoken with... Well, you know you can kind of like feel a cold coming on? You get a little tickle in the throat or whatever, have they ever talked about feeling a change coming on whether it's a mental or physical sign that I am about to think about something differently? And how do you recognize that?

Stephanie Lepp:                I love that question. I've never heard a guest say that. And also for some people, they hit a rock bottom and clearly something needs to change. A white supremacist I interviewed a while ago, he hit a point where he said he was sitting over a bridge with a gun in his hand, and he said, "Wither I'm going to kill myself now or I'm going to change." For other people there's also kind of a house of cards thing that happens where... because a lot of our ideas are kind of like interconnected or held up by each other.

                                                      And so once you start dismantling one thing the entire house of cards just comes crashing down. So there was a young man I interviewed who he was in the military. He fought in Afghanistan and he became a conscientious objector. And once he started dismantling his ideas about the military and war all of a sudden his ideas about religion, politics, everything came crashing down. So sometimes there's also just an initial change that is kind of like, I don't know, canary in the coal mine or the kind of like a sign that more change is coming.

                                                      A third thing I'll say is we kind of create opportunities for ourselves or at least we can for I'm thinking specifically of Yom Kippur in particular. Is my favorite Jewish holiday. It's a holiday where you basically take a day too fast and reflect on how you affect other people and how you want to affect other people. And thank God I could definitely use that once a year. It's really helpful. Thank you God.

                                                      I mean, that's kind of like planting opportunities for change in your life. So maybe it's not like I can feel it coming on like a cold, but I at least want to make a little space in my life for it to happen if it needs to happen, and it probably does need to happen on a somewhat regular basis throughout my life with intention.

Lauren Schiller:                  What are the lessons that you have learned from all of these stories that you're gathering?

Stephanie Lepp:                Yes. So I used to have this extremely unscientific list of things that I thought radically transformed people. So falling in love, near death experiences, psychedelics, sometimes very rarely information because we usually just trust information that confirms what we already believe. And from what I have seen from the hours and hours of talking to people who have made transformative change, it's not that those things make us change. What those things have in common, or what they do, is that they reveal to us the difference between who we think we are and who we actually are, or the difference between the impact we think we're having on the world and the impact we are actually having on the world. And it's seeing that difference. It's seeing that gap. That is what initiates the process of transformation.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, what's the best advice that you've ever been given about how to change?

Stephanie Lepp:                How to change myself?

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah.

Stephanie Lepp:                What's coming up for me is a quote by a philosopher named Ken Wilber, which is, "Any good theory helps you get to a better one." So to kind of just treat where I am, what I believe as kind of the provisional on my way to where... it's not the end all be all. I haven't figured it out. It's just the next step. It's what's going to help me keep moving forward in my pursuit of unimaginable happiness, joy, understanding, peace, love, all of it. So yeah, to just treat what I believe now or where I'm at now as the provisional and part of the movement forward.

                                                      I'm not all for like peace, love compassion, always. I'm a mischievous, pragmatic pluralist. Within the context of restorative justice, restorative justice and traditional criminal justice are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone is sitting in jail doesn't mean they can't work to repair the harm that they caused somebody else. So people should enjoy the consequences that are appropriate to whatever they did. And if we're also interested in having people also learn from and grow beyond what they did well, then, restorative justice is really helpful. It's not compassion or consequences. It's all of the above, under the right circumstances, in pursuit of our collective liberation. We have the punishment thing down. We know how to do that in this country. Actually then learning from the thing we did, that's the thing that we like, have it totally engaged.

TOOLKIT

Lauren Schiller:                  If you're considering a change stick around and hear Stephanie Lepp's toolkit for how your small personal change can lead to greater societal change. I'm Lauren Schiller. And if you're wondering what personal change you can make that can lead to positive societal change here's your toolkit with Stephanie Lepp. First things first, Stephanie says we need to make room for change.

Stephanie Lepp:                Over the years of producing Reckonings I have been able to witness our human capacity to change. We are capable of all kinds of extraordinary change, and we need room. We need room to change. And we are such a punitive culture. It's like even after perpetrators have taken responsibility or let's say kind of healed things up with their survivor or their victim, which in my humble opinion that's the most important stakeholder here, we often are still not even willing to see them kind of beyond the worst thing they ever did, or let them help. I mean, Sameer is a perfect example. He tried. He reached out to local public high schools and tried to kind of tell his story as part of their sex ed program. And they didn't know how to let an ex offender help.

                                                      And so the personal change, I think we can make, that could translate into broader social change is yes, to make more room for each other to change and grow, to make room under the right circumstances for perpetrators to become allies, which might sound like a blasphemous thing, but then when you hear it within the context of Sameer that can make sense.

Lauren Schiller:                  Stephanie says to keep a conversation open try not to respond with judgment or shame when you hear ideas you disagree with.

Stephanie Lepp:                I mean, if you think about Me Too as an example let's think about how have we each kind of participated in the Me Too conversation, how have we talked to the older men in our lives or even the younger men in our lives, or what have we liked online, or shared online, or commented or tweeted? Have we kind of adapted our ideas about someone to the way they actually behave to whether or not they have actually taken responsibility? I mean, I can give a personal example. I had a really long conversation with my father-in-law recently. We ended up in a car together for a long drive. And he heard Unwin and Sameer's episode and he responded in, I hate to say it, but it's kind of like the typical way that men his age kind of respond which is like, "In my day that wouldn't have been sexual assault. And so is that really sexual assault?"

                                                      And my response to him is like, "Just because there wasn't sexual assault in your day doesn't mean it's right. It doesn't mean like someone wasn't hurt." And so I think in our conversation I guess I didn't respond to him with judgment or shame. I made enough room, I think, in our conversation for him to kind of expand his mind on this and in a way that actually made me want to talk to his siblings, like my aunt and uncles in law. They kind of came into the conversation at a certain point, and I decided I'm going to talk to them over Thanksgiving, which is the whole trope of not talking about politics at the Thanksgiving table. But yeah, I guess the question to ask ourselves is am I engaging in the issues I care about in a way that makes enough room for my adversaries To change.

Lauren Schiller:                  And number three, the easiest way to remove barriers is to make connections. Ask questions and understand where someone is coming from.

Stephanie Lepp:                What I have found is that you may actually have similar values or similar intentions or similar... My father-in-law is and example. It's like he would not want anyone to be hurt either. And so if we can agree from that then we can kind of reverse engineer how do we get there. The LGBT Center in LA, this is a story, but I think it'll help answer the question, the LGBT Center in LA so after Prop 8 passed in California, which anti gay marriage, there was this whole reckoning really like how did that happen in California, in a state like California.

                                                      And so they did this thing, which apparently is really rare and political polling, where they decided to talk to people who voted against them, who voted against gay marriage, to understand where they were coming from and kind of with this idea of like, "Maybe we're going to change their minds." And so firstly knocking on doors and talking to people and kind of like shaming them a little bit. And of course, that didn't work. And what they learned, what they realized was that all they have to do is ask people open ended questions. And you can actually watch these conversations. They have videos.

                                                      So you watch this person knock on someone's door. It's like, "Oh, how did you vote on Prop 8?" It's like, "Okay, do you know anyone who's gay?" And the person's like, ""Oh, yeah. My cousin is gay." It's like, "Oh, tell me about your cousin. It's like, "I love my cousin. We have Thanksgiving at their house every year. And he's amazing with my kids. And I love him," whatever. "Okay, great. Are you married?" Like, "Yeah, I'm married." Like, "Well, tell me about your marriage." It's like, "I have the best relationship. I'm in love with her. We've been married for 50 years," whatever. And it's like, "Does your cousin know how you voted on Prop 8?" It's like, "Well, no. I haven't really talked to them about it." "And so how do you think they would feel about how you voted?"

                                                      You watch this person in real time, a stranger just asking them open ended questions about their life. And what I've learned about what moves people to change it's really just about seeing the difference between who you think you are and who you actually are. And it's seeing that difference, seeing that gap, that is what initiates. So all these people are doing is just holding up a mirror. You think you are, whatever you think you are. Frank thought he was this defender of the white race, but here is what you actually are, Frank, You were just an angry and violent and bigoted individual. And that person can make their own determination based on that. And so yeah, I mean, this isn't like a short tip or trick but hold holding up a mirror showing people themselves asking them open ended questions about themselves. People can come to it.

Lauren Schiller:                  That was Stephanie Lepp, mirror, tuning fork, and the host of the Reckonings podcast. I've got a link to her show on my website at Inflectionpointradio.org. You'll find this episode in the Inflection Point podcast feed in two segments. One is the full interview, and the other is the toolkit you just heard. With three ways your personal change can lead to positive societal change. Find Inflection Point episodes in any podcast app, or go to Inflectionpointradio.org. This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller, and this is how women rise up.

                                                      That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on Apple podcasts, RadioPublic Stitcher, Pandora, NPR One, all the places. Give us a five star review and subscribe to the podcast. Know women leading change we should talk to? Let us know at Inflectionpointradio.org. While you're there support our production with a tax deductible monthly or one time contribution. When women rise up, we all rise up. Just go to Inflectionpointradio.org. We're on Facebook and Instagram at Inflection Point Radio. Follow us and join the Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small daily actions. And follow me on twitter @Laschiller.

                                                      To find out more about today's guest and to be in the loop with our email newsletter, you know where to go, Inflectionpointradio.org. Inflection Point is produced in partnership with KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco, and PRX. Our community manager is Alaura Weaver. Our engineer and producer is Eric Lane. I'm your host Lauren Schiller.

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Joan Blades & John Gable, Bringing Civil Conversations to Schools

Liberal activist Joan Blades co-founded MoveOn.org, Moms Rising.org and Living Room Conversations.org, to provide a guide for meaningful conversations between people with different views. Now, she has teamed up with Republican John Gable on an initiative called AllSides for Schools to bring civilized conversations about controversial topics to the classroom. We talk about why students need these tools now and what these conversations were like in high school for Joan and John. Listen to our conversation on iTunes or NPR One.

JOAN BLADES

JOAN BLADES

JOHN GABLE

JOHN GABLE