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June 2, 2021 26 mins

Minnie continues her conversation with Baratunde Thurston, writer, activist and host of the How to Citizen podcast. Baratunde reveals why “how” questions scare us, his mother’s story, and how social media opened up his family tree.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
You're right. Love is in the accommodation of where people
are out in their journey, and it is amazing when
you see them hang out and help lift you up,
or just hang out and wait, I mean you and
I could basically distill all of this into like really
cool fridge magnets. I was thinking T shirts, but productizing regardless. Definitely,

(00:22):
for sure, we could definitely like monetize our shared philosophy,
which is cool. Which is the point of life? I
think it's the point of philosophy. Yeah, certainly, money is
definitely the point of philosophy. I think the Plato missed it.
He was too busy talking about, you know, the tyranny
of democracy. You really need to be focusing on. Like, Yo,
how can I make some T shirts for the same

(00:43):
miss of capitalist How about that way? Now, look at
the bright side there, buddy, be a human, don't go
into politics. Hello, I'm mini driver and welcome to many questions.
I've always loved priest questionnaire. It was originally an eighteenth
century parlor game meant to reveal an individual's true nature.

(01:05):
But with so many questions, there wasn't really an opportunity
to expand on anything, so I took the format of
Proof's questionnaire and adapted what I think are seven of
the most important questions you could ever ask someone they
are When and where were you happiest? What is the
quality you like least about yourself? What relationship, real or fictionalized,

(01:27):
defines love for you? What question would you most like answered,
What person, place, or experience has shaped you the most?
What would be your last meal? And can you tell
me something in your life that has grown out of
a personal disaster. The more people we ask, the more

(01:48):
we begin to see what makes us similar and what
makes us individual. I've gathered a group of really remarkable
people who I am honored and humbled to have had
a chance to engage with. In last week's episode, we
heard Barritende's answers to when and where are you happiest?
So standing on that beach, I felt grateful and overwhelmed

(02:10):
and significant peace. I hadn't felt that way up until
that point in my life, all in one moment. What
quality do you like least about yourself? My valuing of perfection,
my association of doing something wrong with being wrong? And

(02:31):
what relationship, real or fictionalized defines love? Fear? But that commitment,
and that then the knowledge that we're there for each
other and growing with each other, giving each other opportunity
to become more. That feels like love. Here is the
second part of our conversation. What question would you most

(02:53):
like answered? It is my favorite question. Ah Mean, part
of me is just like, what is cryptocurrency? Really Like?
I just love a good answer to that. But at
a bigger scale, I'm just like in the headspace of
of what we've been talking about a question I would
like answered. It's a how question. I think that is

(03:16):
exactly right, how asking how do we do something? Fix something?
It's do you see? I think that's it. I think
that I didn't even know that I had like this
easter egg of a trick and side the question, but
that's it. You just found it. Oh my god. I
feel like you need a prize. It's the type of
question that's almost more important than the question itself, because

(03:40):
that is it. It's it's how. Yeah, because I'm more
interested in movement and evolution and growth, and I think
there's a how question in me of you know, how
do we better embraced change? How do we collectively grow?
You know, we feel the potential so often we get

(04:02):
so afraid and we shut down. And there are these natural,
probably evolutionary things triggered in our chemistry and our biology
that make it very hard. Why are we scared? Like?
Are we scared? Because change often requires understanding another tribes
understanding of change, and that that is foreign and terrifying.
Part of me knows some of the answer. Part of

(04:23):
me will speculate irresponsibly, and that's fun. We are pattern
recognition machines. Creatures is a better word than machines. To
call us machines is probably not great, but we have
pattern recognition as a part of our approach right well,
with cabon based carbon based meat, meat covered meat. You

(04:48):
can be in that band with me. Yeah. And so
when something doesn't fit a pattern of experience, of visual recognition,
of emotional familiarity, that's different, different could be threat and
threats must be handled at a minimum with care, often
with aggression, to restore ourselves to a state of a

(05:09):
pattern that we understand and know and can be relied
upon to provide for our needs. And so some new
stuff comes along, and you know, we can respond with
curiosity and and we can learn to embrace the new
We might even find some advantage in the new and
then share that new thing with the rest of us
and have a new familiarity. But that's innovative, that's risk taking,

(05:33):
that's rare by default. I think our default, like factory settings,
sticking to the meat machine metaphor, is don't trust that
new stuff. It could be snakes, you know, saying it
could be bears with snake fangs. It could be a
pack of bears with snake fangs and poisonous farts. Right,
could be all this stuff is gonna just knock us
off our path, maybe even kill us or kill our kin,

(05:55):
which we are so connected to. So change of any
kind is the new introduction threatens the pattern, the familiar,
and so we are programmed somewhat to react suspiciously and
against that. And so the how question is how do
we do less of that? How do we do more
of the embrace of some new things. I don't think

(06:17):
we can get rid of that, because everything that you
spoke to it does feel like it's hard wade into
the meat machine. But the other beautiful part about being
human is taking an idea and adding it in and
expanding on it. So then maybe it's about focusing on
those things which embraces the little scared of the bad
part and encourages facing towards everything that could help our

(06:43):
evolution more smoothly and certainly more peaceably. It's peaceable. Thank you.
That's such a great word. Peaceably. We don't say that
very much in the US, but I'd like that a
key to what you said. You know, we were acknowledging
the scared part right, And I think for anyone who
is pro change of any kind, I mean, this could

(07:06):
be technological change, it could be social change, it could
be you know, wardrobe change. If there are members of
our society who see the benefits of that thing. We
jumped straight to this is great. Why does it everybody
doing this? And we skip over the acknowledgement of the
human and all of us that is terrified. And if

(07:28):
we can acknowledge that name, that hug, that love, that
part right in some way, that might help us embrace
an upgrade ourselves. Because the how for me is also
such a technophilic person, like we upgrade our operating systems
all the time, like often without consent. You know what
I'm saying. I just said, I turn on the screen.

(07:49):
It's like updating that up? What do you got for me? Now?
What you got? Yeah? Why do our brains update? Can
we have updates for your humans? Oh my god? But
now I'm into like some tech dystopia where there's like
mandatory updates. Oh the black Mirror thing? Yeah, this is terrible. Well,
we talked ourselves out of that one. We were really

(08:10):
close to, like Shagula there, you know, I like it
was just there and then it turned into a dystopic calscape. Literally,
my reptilian brain took over and I stopped embracing the change. Gosh,
you we just saw it in real time. Just get
the upgrades. Many everybody's doing it, Oh, Bert, don't do
it terrifying. So what we're saying is it's not simple

(08:33):
cool cool. But I like the question that you asked,
and I like the most, particularly that it's a how question,
because how is useful? Yes, my mother used to say,
why should be taken out in the back and put
in a hole and have flowers grown on top of it?
But how? Wait, that's a beautiful way to describe murder.

(08:53):
Oh yeah, she was. She was full of making peaceable murder. No, no, no,
she could definitely like she could definitely make terrible things
sound incredibly kind of approachable and intellectual and and funny.
I mean that is terrifying. That should be taken out back,

(09:13):
put in the hole, but in the hole and flowers
grown on top of it. But what happens in between
the whole and the flowers smacked on the back of
the head with a shovel. Yes, she would love this conversation,
she would think it was hilarious. But how is how
has has possibility in it? Why it feels despondent and

(09:35):
kind of whiny? I think why is still useful and
just as you know, awareness is useful regardless of whether
you change things or not. To understand is powerful. Yeah,
so there's value to it. I don't want to dismiss
why so much. But I'm a how person. I'm so

(09:57):
glad you're a person. I mean it's literally I just
with the name of my podcast is how to Citizen? Right,
It's not why are things the way they are? It
also makes citizen a verb, which is another doing aspect,
and not how to be a citizen? How to citizen?
So it's you who has to do it. Yes, I

(10:19):
love that what person places or experience most altered your life.
There's there's an interesting way to collapse that the answers like,

(10:41):
it's always my mother, man, I was like, well, I
could overthink this. I can imagine that. It's just it's
just my mother. She was the person. So much of
that influence took place in Washington, d C. On our
block where I grew up. My mother she was a force,
Arnita Lorrain Thurston. That was her full name. And she

(11:04):
had experienced a lot in her life, a lot of
pain in her life, a lot of courage and bravery
and boldness as well, and a lot of joy. And
I think I got the benefit. I certainly got the
consequence of all of her. I am you know there's

(11:24):
a version of my mother's influence on me, which for
much of my life I was like, it was great,
this is just it was a simplified hero story. My
mother went through a lot of stuff. She came through it,
my father's murder, being one step along the journey of
both of our lives. And she raises me, and she

(11:45):
raises my sister, and she innovations, she's a computer program.
Those are all true, they're not the whole truth. M hm.
And so I just I saw that influences like, yeah,
this is she saved me. She made me both literally
and she had an influence over me because of the
experiences she had that have led me to see the

(12:05):
world in a certain way, some experiences which maybe don't
serve me that well, like seeing value in perfection to
an unhealthy degree, fearing mistakes and binding up my sense
of esteem in that. Can I ask you about your mama?
Do you embrace the mistakes that you saw her making?
Do you embrace the mistakes that maybe you saw her

(12:26):
making with your sister or that you felt like around
parenting or whatever it was. Do you or did you?
Or have you consciously downloaded that into who your mother
is for you? And is your mother still alive? No,
she's not mine neither, And I I think I think
what I'm asking is that in your memory, does it

(12:48):
incorporate all of those things in a way of what
we've been talking about, of the mistakes at the step
so the journey. So the short answer is yes, slightly
longer answer is increasingly it's to stick with the update
and download kind of metaphor that is in progress. You know,
it's like that progress bar when you're installing some some software,

(13:11):
and so I'm installing a new story of my mother.
Is that the installation that happens after she dies? In part,
it's also just time as I get to know myself more,
I start to ask why, questions about how I got made,

(13:32):
how I got here? Boom Wise in house they can coexist.
Look at that, and so my mother is an answer
to many of those questions for my own existence and
my own belief sets and my own quirks, my own mistakes.
And so to look back at this version of her

(13:53):
that I have been holding for quite some time that
did almost everything right, and then to see that that's
not the case at all. Initially it's you know, with anger, frustration,
you let you come back to life and let me
talk to you. Right, I got some I got some
questions for you. I got some big questions, and I

(14:16):
got somehow don't make how end up in in the
shallow grave with the why exactly? I need some answers.
So that's the first response. And then it's slower but
deeper compassion. It's like, of course, of course you're a person,

(14:36):
right and and knowing what I already have long known
of what she experienced, of course She's gonna show up
in some ways that are always amazing, in some ways
that are painful or even harmful to herself or two
people she loves. And then I feel a sense of

(14:57):
frustration with myself because it's like, don't even know my mom?
You know, Did I let myself really know her? Was?
Did I need to maintain a pattern and put her
in his box of No, She's the hero. I needed
a hero to define myself, right, I emerged from these
fires and she was my firefighter. And that's it. Why

(15:17):
you gotta go complicating things? Or maybe she dropped a
match mores or twice whatever, like it's you know, sticking
to the metaphor. We're playing with fire metaphors. So it's
now at a point where all these things are happening
at the same time, my increasing awareness of the multiple

(15:38):
types of influences my mother had on me, positive, negative, neutral,
accepting that range is more of the truth than any
particularly positive thing I have clung to, and then freeing
her in my mind from this standard ah, who oh,

(16:01):
my gosh, that's a big one, and freeing myself. Yeah,
you know, because I'm like rocking around here, thinking I
gotta do everything a certain way of and I'm thinking
she made me do it, and I'm not giving her
to grace to understand that she's actively choose, that she's
responding to the stuff she went oh man. And then

(16:23):
I feel just grateful on the best days, on the
best days, in the best moments. I agree with you,
the loop closest with gratitude on the best days and
the days that it doesn't. I think having patience for
it being a process in your life. Can you tell

(16:59):
me something that grew out of a personal disaster? I mean,
let you in on my process. I'm catalog and personal
disasters trying too came out. It was a fun inventory
to just put oneself through. It's like, okay, father murder,
like that counts mother's death, calling cancer, divorce that I

(17:19):
didn't see coming from first marriage, which one of these
were to pick out of the cave, Oh my goodness,
and it will health issues and things like that. But
that grew from personal disaster. I think it's the idea
of something which whether it forced a U turn in
one's life or it was an apparently in quotes bad thing,

(17:42):
But when you look through the lens of time or
perspective in looking backwards, you can actually see the tributaries
that sprang from that moment and the things that grew
out of it. You know, things we call bad, they
could be bad and they could also have been super
a fertile ground. My father's death, my father's murder was

(18:07):
most definitely a tragedy, and a lot grew from that,
most of me. I was seven eight years old the
early nineties. I had infinitely more life without his having
life than with the tectonic plates undergirding the structure. The

(18:34):
ground on which I grew shifted dramatically when he died,
placing a ton more influence in my mother's hands. Defining
or not what masculinity is because I don't really have
anybody to do that, And there's so many blessings in that,
which is such an odd thing to say about a murder.

(18:59):
They so many consequences more neutral e of that, And
this journey thing we've been on has let me see
that I'm still growing from his death, and not just
because he wasn't around, but what it, what it meant

(19:21):
for me, what I never dealt with because it happened
and I was so young, and no one really helped
me deal with it, and so I'm sitting here now
like revisiting it, and Michael, that's a pretty big deal.
And then it brings me to this place of knowing

(19:43):
myself more. You know, again, I had this simplified factual.
Let's move on from Okay, agree you Daddy's not here.
It's a whole bunch of stuff about his life, you
don't know. It's a whole bunch of people. Part of
his life you don't know anyway, life of mine, you know,
and life with my mother and life with my sister
and blah blah blah blah and all these things. That's

(20:04):
been also a very public version of the story that
I've told. And to go back to that tragic moment
and say like, oh, I'm still living with that death.
Actually it's so so much has comfortable. I've reconnected with
his family in the past few years. I've got to
live in grandmother I didn't know about. There's a lot

(20:26):
of other relationships and experiences and parts of my life
that are activated much later. But the piece of it
that feels most fertile is this internal journey of who
am I and how long I didn't approach that part
of myself did it live in a separate place, like

(20:49):
in a box in a room and a yeah, it was.
It was in It was in a room in the
house of me, and I had locked the door. Was
there a moment or an occurrence that made you go
and open the door and begin that work. That's it's
difficult to pinpoint, but I know a precipitating moment. I

(21:11):
hate I hate that I get to say this. I
think I have to thank Mark Zuckerberg for it. I know,
I know, all right, well, well okay, but I mean
I can be grateful for him if he can SA
tell me, tell me it was Facebook, wasn't it? It was?
It was the Book of Faces. It was that, you know,
ad serving democracy, undermining birthday reminder service. Um. And I

(21:32):
got a message on it from a cousin who saw
me on TV and was it's like, I'm your cousin. Hey,
I remember you from blah blah blah blah blah. We
wonder what happened with you? And I was like, everybody
says they're your cousin when you're on TV, and to
to tell you to so much. There's a lot of

(21:57):
we've got a big business. Many many tunday to be
our brand. I you know, I saw that message and
I put it back in that locked room in the
house of me, and I just ignored it. You know,
I think for a couple of years, if I'm honest,
I have to. I mean, there's time stamps on everything,
so I could go back and find out. But it
was it wasn't the next day or the next month,

(22:20):
because that is one't ready. And I went back and
we finally, you know, we met up. She introduced me
to the others. It just there's ripple effects to this,
you know, in all parts of my family and and
in all parts of me. So that unlocked a wing
of the house, it turns out. And then I started

(22:41):
walking down the hall and I'm like, oh, what's in
this room? Oh? This relationship with my sister, what's in
this room? Oh? This is what? What? What is? What
is even a man relationship in this room? Gun violence?
What's in this room? Racism? Police, brutality? What's in this Oh?
My goodness, there's rooms inside the rooms, and there's forgiveness

(23:02):
in there. You know, there's updated stories of self behind
those doors doors. I didn't even know we're there. That's
my answer for now. I reserved the right to update, upgrade, modify,
and change these at any point. Great. I'm glad that

(23:23):
you are in charge of your own updates and it's
not Tim Cook. You are a joy. I'm so grateful.
I just thank you are the best. I really did
thank you so. I mean, you are the best at this.

(23:47):
You have successfully brought me to the brink of many tears.
I have successfully me to manage them. I had my communication.
I was digging my nails into my palms to cry.
So yeah, thank you. Thank you for opening some more
doors and for being fun about it is what I

(24:09):
try to do, and to be in the compassionate hands
of someone else who does that is I felt taken
care of here. Oh, thank you, thank you so much.

(24:29):
Season two of Barrotunday's brilliant podcast, How to Citizen is
out now on the I Heart Radio app. In this season,
he asked the question how can we citizen with so
much division? And I absolutely loved the first episode with
the writer and documentary and Astra Taylor, where they basically

(24:50):
talk about the Platonic idea of democracy, which, as far
as I can make out, Plato sort of meant that
you should just get rid of politicians and just have
the thinkers lead everybody into whatever was coming next. Please
check out his podcast, it is extremely edifying. Mini Questions

(25:11):
is hosted and written by me Mini Driver, Supervising producer
Aaron Kaufman, Producer Morgan Lavoy, Research assistant Marissa Brown. Original
music Sorry Baby by Minni Driver, additional music by Aaron Kaufman.
Executive produced by me Mini Driver. Special thanks to Jim Nikolay,

(25:36):
Will Pearson, Addison No Day, Lisa Castella and a Nick
Oppenheim at w kPr, de La Pescador, Kate Driver and
Jason Weinberg, and for constantly solicited tech support, Henry Driver
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