Why Creativity Is The Key To Leadership w/ Sen. Cory Booker
Hey everybody, how's it goin'? I'm Chase Jarvis, welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on Creative Live. You know this show, this show is where I sit down with the world's top creators, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders with the focus goal of helping you live your dreams in career, in hobby, and in life. My guest today is the Senator Cory Booker. Welcome to the show.
Thank you very much. (upbeat music) ♪ Whoa ♪ (audience applauding)
They love you! Pleasure to have you.
You say the Senator.
There's a hundred of 'em.
Come on, but you're the Senator Cory Booker.
I'm the boy junior of the hundred senators.
Well, I mean, that's part of what makes you great is your humility by, uh, I'm gonna take the folks who are tuning in right now, I'm gonna take 'em back to the first meeting that we had in January. I was there in Washington D.C. working with a couple of influencers at your influencer committee that was affiliated with the White House ...
and working on pushing social agendas, agendas around education, and you joined us for dinner, and you stood up and gave a very passionate ad hoc speech. It was incredibly moving to me, and it wasn't moving just about the politics that you were advocating for, it was moving in the fact that you are, without a doubt, the most creative and entrepreneurial-minded person in the government that I'd ever come around. So, to me that's, I'd like to hear a little bit about your background and maybe we can march short arc to get to today, but how did you get that? What was the world that you grew up in to be so entrepreneurially-minded and creative about your approach to your job?
Well, the beautiful thing about America is we all, we are this incredible mixture of lots of different cultures and that, you know, immigrant groups, the Irish, just the endurance, surviving, finding ways to move ahead and move American society with them, incredible. You have other cultures, but I grew up in an African-American family, and so, so much of the stories I heard growing up was outrageous creativity against insurmountable odds, and so, if you think about, you know, Birmingham in where Martin Luther King is imprisoned and writes probably one of the greatest pieces of American literature, the letters from the Birmingham jail where he just tells the truth of us, all of us spiritually. We may be different, minor parts of genetics that makes us different races, but he said, look, we're all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a common garment of destiny, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
The poetry to that is so beautiful.
He's amazing, but the interesting thing here is he comes out of prison and he's failing at Birmingham. He can't get people to organize, and it was creatives, Dorothy Cotton and James Bevel, that go up to him and say, you're gonna have to try a different strategy, and they literally get him to do something, pull a rabbit out of a hat, which was their idea, which was, hey, we can't get adults to organize. You've been telling us we can't organize children. We're gonna organize children, and I think it was Taylor Branch and his Pulitzer Prize winning book or it might've been Stephen Oates that calls the chapter, this chapter in their book, it's called the Children's Miracle because when you suddenly had these kids, a thousand of them gather in a church to creatively protest against Bull Connor, who was, when it comes to white supremacy, was sort of like straight outta Central Casting, and they ended up creating such a spectacle, fire hoses on these kids, eventually dogs, that it woke this country, and you had black folks, white folks, Asian folks, people all, people sittin' in Iowa eatin' their meal and watching this on their TV, it so shook their consciousness that they came down, and that's what's the power of the Civil Rights Movement, whether it's John Lewis and marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge--
So inspirational, your work with him recently. Sorry, keep goin'.
Yeah, no, but it's, to me, it's so, it's like, look, we're facing implacable walls of resistance, how do you, like how did Gandhi, this small, little bald man, you know frail bald man, get the British Empire out of, it was creativity, his thinking, but it's also love. It's how can we connect to the love, and I think there is boundless reservoirs, it's the most powerful force in all of humanity, how can we unleash the power of love that seems to be dammed at this point, and so, that's where I get a lot of my inspiration for. I was growing up in this household where my parents are like, look, this is not reality that you're living in. My parents came from poverty, literally, talking about creative protest, they were turned away from the town that I was living in and they had to get a white couple to pose as them through this Fair Housing Council, this incredible group of black and white activists, who sent out a test couple to see, indeed, when my parents were told the house was sold--
Oh my god.
See, so when my parents were told the house was sold, the white couple who had come after them and find out the house was still for sale, and the house my parents fell in love with, but they were told was taken off the market, the white couple found out that it wasn't, put a bid on the house, the bid was accepted, and on the day of the closing, my father and this volunteer lawyer named Marty Freedman show up, and the lawyer was, the real estate agent was so angry, he punches my dad's lawyer, sics on a dog on my dad, and I always joke that every time my dad would tell the story, the dog would get bigger.
Instead of the fish story, it'd be a dog story.
Yeah, but that was, that's the tumult, so now imagine me, 18 years later, I'm a high school senior, All-American high school football player. I always joke that I got into Stanford 'cause of my 4.0, 1600, 4.0 yards per carry, 1600 receiving yards, but I'm, you know, I walk around my house with teenage swagger and my dad would be like, boy, don't walk around this house like you hit triple, you were born on third base, and you gotta understand that these blessings that you have and any of us that could pronounce those four words, which only like 4.5% of humanity can say, I am an American, and the blessings that come with that, they come with obligations. My parents said, look, you gotta keep fighting in this country, and so the instruction that I always took for when I started finally working my first sort of professional job as a lawyer fighting against slum lords in Newark with these amazing tenant leaders, the first sort of draw that I had in terms of informing me on what practices to use was this incredible Civil Rights Movement where people of all different backgrounds came together to advance our nation towards higher principles of love.
Beautiful background. My, well, I talk on this show a lot about creativity with a small c, which is sort of photography, design, building businesses, entrepreneurship, there's creativity with a capital C, which is that creativity is going to underpin the solution to every problem we will ever know. The fact that a billion people go without access to clean drinking water, and I am, my speeches all over the world, I use the Civil Rights Movement as an understanding of capital C looks like, and to me, that's one of the reasons I've wanted you on the show since before we met in January is, I think, your solution or your mechanisms for bringing about change, for bringing about awareness, for again, not just the political agenda, but in connecting with people, wildly different than any I'd ever seen. Let's, if we can for a second, let's talk about before we go to--
But can I just--
I wanna talk--
This is your show as much as it is mine.
No, this is our show. But I think what you're, I mean, look, I mean, I'm a person of faith, and I love, so, I've studied religions 'cause I just love conceptions of the divine, and who knows who's got it right, but there's this idea that God was a creator and made us in their own image, therefore, what is our most godly quality? Is to be creative. And so there is this ability for artists, whether it's, again, in American traditions from James Baldwin to Langston Hughes that just in their artistry touch people. Why is it that I can tear up as soon as I hear bagpipes playing in Newark from a different tradition or that you have people in Ireland listening to blues, I mean, this connects humanity, and the stories, you say you've used the Civil Rights Movement, I literally just about a week ago was in Eastern Ukraine. I'm in a basement area, meaning with the people. Most Americans don't understand that we are in this existential fight right now, I think, against the Russians. They have attacked Ukraine. There's a line of contact. They invaded the Donbas region and people are dying. We actually lost an American, Joseph Stone, tragically trying to enforce peace accords, the Minsk accords, there, his car hit a landmine. So, you have this kinetic battle going on, and I'm sitting in this basement with military leaders, some have been wounded, some have been captured and then released, in this basement of this building, who all crowd in to see a junior senator from New Jersey because most Americans don't understand what we are giving to the planet Earth in terms of hope. I mean, these guys literally had to go back and forth on bicycles to communicate amongst troops because the Russians were so good at jamming their communications until Americans gave 'em this Harris radio made in Clifton, New Jersey, our technology enabling them to stay alive and to communicate. So, I say all that to say, when I'm meeting with these leaders who are literally on this forefront of this hybrid war that the Russians are doing, which include hacking and propaganda, as well as this kinetic war, the stories that most touched them that I could draw from was telling them stories about the Civil Rights Movement, about this larger fight, and I told these young leaders, when the revolution happened in the Ukraine and they threw out their, the leader, when they, when they turned their back on the West, on the E.U., and there was this unbelievable demonstration in the Maidan, the main area, a new generation of leaders, we sit down with these folks who are practically millennials now in parliamentary positions, and I just looked 'em, I said, look, you guys are in this moment where it's gonna be your creativity to envision stuff that's not there, to see things that other people can't experience yet, your ability to have that compelling vision is gonna drive your country forward, and then I told them stories about people experiencing all types of bigotry and oppression, violence, but yet, they still believed in the hope of democracy, which is what they're, what's driving them on. So, this is not a, these are human chords that are so powerful, and we have an obligation, as a great poet said, and we all watched Dead Poet's Society, to contribute a verse to this larger, larger movement.
Well, that's a beautiful articulation of what I think is a very large opportunity to put creativity at work, and I think as a culture, we've largely repressed it, and it's the rise of the creator, I think it's at an all-time high and rising, and I'd like to touch base on education and the way we look at that, your employment of it, and before we go, I wanna touch base on sports because I think you and I share that in common. I went to college on a soccer scholarship. But before we do, you told a story to me that night at dinner about using social, like in this case it was Twitter, when you were the just-elected mayor of Newark, to send a message, to creatively communicate with people around a message of hope surrounding the potholes, potholes not as fixing the pothole, literally fixing the pothole, but potholes also as a metaphor of what was possible through communication, coming together as a community. So, tell me that story about how you, like people were taking pictures of potholes?
Yeah, I mean, look, we were dealt a really bad hand when I became mayor. The city was dealt a bad hand. We had, I was mayor at a time that our country slipped into this, the globe slipped into a recession. Inner cities faced depression-like circumstances, and I wanna get the people to believe that we were in a partnership, that I wasn't just the mayor, and there was a community, but I wanna believe that we could create a we government, that we were in this together, so decide to be the most accessible mayor I could ever possibly be, and so I used Twitter actually to create a platform to say, hey, Tweet me and I will respond, and I will show you that we are in this together. So people, as opposed to just driving past potholes and cursing, somebody should do something about this--
We've all done that before.
Not just in Newark, everywhere.
Everywhere, and they began, people began to take me up on it, and they would take a picture of the pothole and Tweet it at me and say, on the corner of here and here, there's a massive pothole, and I wanted to show them government responsiveness, so we would go out there and try to do it in a matter of hours, and so I would literally, and I had this response, I would say, on it, that's all I would Tweet to them, and then if we got a fixed, I'd often say, done or I'd wait for them to say, oh my god, you fixed that pothole, and it just created this incredible connection that I began to hold my staff more accountable because I would find out about potholes before my road crews, traffic lights out before my traffic department. It just became, it actually made the whole of our city better because we were all working to fix problems that we saw.
And it's, certainly, there is the act of fixing the pothole, which is an improvement, but it sends this message of hope, of accountability, of reliability. It's a similar thing to this, I think the study they did on graffiti on the trains here in New York, that when they could clean the trains within the same day of graffiti appearing on it, and the graffiti, amount of graffiti, now, I happen to be an advocate for graffiti in other circles, but this particular element, when they reduced that, and they could show that the people in the city cared, that there was a disproportionate amount of care that people themselves put back into the system. You feel like that's what happened?
Yeah, I mean, look, when we, there's something about when you take ownership of something that is very empowering, and I think it creates, it changes the energy in a city, but you and I both, and I've listened to you enough to know that we know that about our lives, and I always tell people, we have a choice to make in every moment of our life, it's to accept things as they are or take responsibility for changing them, and when you begin to get that kind of empowerment, because this life, we were talking before we were on camera, there's lots of things going on around the world, and it can feel very disempowering, make you feel small, and I always tell people, never allow our inability to do everything to undermine your determination to do something, even if it's just one small act, and never underestimate how that one small act can resonate. And the great example of this, already on what we talked about, is what did these folks who are marching in the 1960s and all this have anything to do with you and I in a different generation? Well, the lawyers that helped my family move into the house in Harrington Park, New Jersey, I had to track them down for my book because I had to fact check every story I was telling.
Yeah, of course.
I didn't wanna have one of these moments. So, I wanted to find out, you know, what was the size of the dog really.
Ah, thanks dad.
Yeah, so I talked to the head lawyer who was organizing people to help people and their parents, and I said, why would you, young guy just starting out, why would you get involved in this creative protest? And he goes, well, I remember the day, it was a Monday. And I go, it was a Monday? He goes, yeah, it was Monday because that Sunday, I was at my house in New Jersey watching these marchers on a bridge called the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was Bloody Sunday when John Lewis got hit and everything and it just so stunned me to think that those creative protestors in Birmingham, Alabama instantaneously, their love and sacrifice changed the heart of a guy in New Jersey, who then got involved, he said, one of the case files he was handed was Cary and Carolyn Booker, my parents, that literally then changed generations yet unborn. I would not be here right now if it wasn't for that chain of love that moved to space and time to affect my life, and so, we underestimate what small acts, like I can't, pick your headline from today, you feel disempowered by it, but maybe, it's just one small thing I can do to make my city better. I can tell the mayor about this one pothole. And I've had friends of mine since then tell me stories about a lot on a street that everybody passed by with dirt and debris and decide just clean up a lot and how kids would come out, and it changed the temperature. We found that on murals, getting a local artist, say, we're gonna paint the side of this building and how it changes the temperature. One small act of creative engagement can send ripples out that we don't even understand to make a difference. That's the power we have to change our world that we so often don't use 'cause, what, Alice Walker said the most common way we give up our power is not realizing we have it in the first place.
That's a, I love that quote. I've heard you say that before.
And is there something in particular with your DNA? Is it your upbringing? Was it, you know, I'm gonna go here to sports, I mean, sports played a huge role for me in team building, knowing that you could do something if you got a bunch of like-minded people together and worked hard. There's a lotta discipline around that. It's not for everybody. It's not the answer, but I know you played football. You stated that earlier. You went to college on a scholarship. And what role did sports or is there some other part of your familial DNA that gave you the insight to think like this?
Well, I, so I listen to you, and I have a lot of respect for you, and, you know, you and I both know, we're not, you said this yourself, like, I was asking you about your morning routine, and you're like, I don't always do it. I know it's, I need to meditate every morning. I'm better when I do. I know I need to get sleep. Sometimes, I sit up there eating Doritos, watching TV too late. So, it takes work. But I think that it's having that aspiration in your heart to live your life some way, and to know it's a struggle and to know you're not gonna be perfect. There is a, I just, on the way here, I passed by a McDonald's in my neighborhood, and I love this McDonald's because it reminds me of a lesson that my driver, the guy who drives me around, a retired detective, great up in the projects. We drove through the drive thru, and I'm embarrassed to tell you, I'm a vegan actually, so I'm embarrassed to say that I was going into a McDonald's drive thru, you know, very embarrassing, but I'll never forget, they hand us two large fries through the drive-thru window, and I'm, these are succulent, like ambrosia, it's like, I think they must sprinkle them with some illegal substance, and I was so happy about these two fries, but this guy in the dumpster right by us, and I say, hey man, you need some help, and that's how I think I'm wired. I think I'm, hey, I'm doin' the right thing, and he goes, I don't need any help. He sorta waves me off. I go, man, is there something I can do for you. He goes, I'm just hungry. And so, I painfully give him one of my two large fries thinking I've done my good deed, but then he looks at me with anguish in his face, and he goes, hey man, I need some socks, do you have any socks? And I'm thinking to myself, I don't carry extra socks in my car, and just as I'm sort of, like telling him no, Kevin, the guy who's driving me, throws the car in park, reaches between his legs, takes off the socks he's wearing, hands 'em through the window. Now, I'm three blocks from my house. If you're like me, I have tons of socks in my drawers. I don't even wear them. My mother gave me for some birthday six years ago. But I just wasn't thinking creatively enough about how to help people, and so, I don't know where, how I am who I am. I just know that I'm an imperfect model for anybody, but I know the most important thing about what I do is that struggle, and the more you fight, this is sports taught you and I, that the struggle's what's important. Football was one of the best, sports period is one of the best gifts of my life because I just learned that the harder you work, the better you get, and I also learned this incredible lesson about if you really wanna be good at something, you gotta be willing to give something up, and most often, it's time. Like, the best people that I saw were saying, okay, I'm going to give up spending that five hours that the average American does watching TV shows, and I'm gonna invest that in something. I'm gonna dare to be different or weird and so for me, especially at Stanford where I came and was a failure in my first year as, and I, that everybody thought I was gonna be freshman All-American. They thought they had their top, I was the most overrated high school football player ever in America. I was, like, two-position high school All-American, and on the same team as like Emmitt Smith and the USA Today, that was our class coming out of high school, and then I just sat the bench my first year, and I had to re-engineer my body, and I just, you know, just that experience taught me that there's nothing I can't do if I'm willing to put in the time, and I went from having a horrible bench, horrible squats to making the California all-football strength team just because I learned that if you want the things other people don't have, you've gotta be willing to do the things other people don't do, and it was one of the best lessons sports could've ever given me, just that idea of sacrifice in order, something in order to get what you really want.
Powerful story. My next question is, we're gonna go from sports to the what is often considered something very different, which is creativity, and that was a thing for me. I was a jock trapped in an artist's body, an artist trapped in a--
Yeah, and it was reconciling those two things. It was when you were the creative kid, where I grew up in very suburban, very white, middle, lower-middle class suburb of Seattle, the creative kids were weird, and I didn't wanna be weird, so I did the opposite. I was like, okay, well, what's easy and socially acceptable and fits in and a girl will look at you, like, okay, great, football or soccer. Great, I'll do that. Now, was there any sort of pressure in your world? Did you feel, I don't know, did you feel culture telling you what to do, what to be as a young man? Because, for me, and the folks who are listening, I found it, I come from relative privilege, I mean, all those things, I mean, I did have Adidas with four stripes, I had upside down Nikes.
Parents told me those are Nikes, and I was like, why do mine look different than the other ones. But, relative privilege, and I felt that in order to find out who I was, I had to wait, basically, until I was a young adult. Did you feel pressure to be an athlete? Or did you feel pressure to be something that you maybe were or were not?
God, that's a great question. I think all of us, when we were teens, we feel ridiculous pressures that now, in retrospect, don't seem, like, why were we stressing over things like that, but I think there's a desire not to be different, right? And you wanna fit in, and the challenge I had, and now I see as a gift, is that I was very visibly different than everybody in my school 'cause I was the only black kid, obviously with my brother and maybe a small group of minorities, but we were a very homogenous town in terms of just basic race, even though we had Jewish community in the town, Irish, Italian, but I was the black kid, and I think that that, you know, it had some painful childhood, really painful childhood moments, but it also taught me the bravery of being different, and I think often when you experience difficulties like that, especially at a young age, it could either make you mean, you know, people who are bullied often end up bullying, or it can make you more compassionate, and I always feel like my childhood of being that different kid made me, you know, when that new kid moved in, I was the first person to defend them--
Have lunch with them.
Lunch with them, whatever. If somebody was different and being made fun of, I felt like I was gonna jump in there, and benefit of the fact that I grew really big really quick, so I was the kinda guy that could stop fights before they start or get in somebody's face if I felt they were being mean. I now look back, and I think it was a really, even though I had some humiliating painful moments of my childhood, I think that those were blessings because it taught me the power of compassion. There's a great author and thinker, Skip Yates, who wrote this wonderful book where he talks about luxuriating in his ethnic identity, in his case, it was blackness, but he said it was a portal for him to have a deeper understanding and connection to humanity, and all of us have some experience that defined us, whether it's our cultural upbringing or religious upbringing, but even more importantly than that, it's something that made us feel alone or isolated or hurt or different, and I just think that that's gotta be fuel for us to be more compassionate and more open. I still remember when I got to college and I started working in a crisis hotline center, and it was wild to me to sit on a phone that people are calling about issues from eating disorders to suicide, it was almost like the veil was lifted for me because the quantity of calls was so shocking to me, and it really shook me to realize how much rape was common on the campus or sexual assault was or it shook me to see how much people were stressed and depressed or worried, but it almost made me feel that we're all struggling with something. We're all going through hell, and then it also opened up to my eyes my biases. I still remember, and I remember his name, I don't know where he is today, but Daniel Bow, like one of the more beautiful men, people I've ever met, but he was the gay counselor, and I had so much ignorance from a 1970s and '80s upbringing in a massively hetero sexist world, but the patience and the love with which he allowed me to ask dumb questions and sort of opened up my heart and my compassion and helped me understand, one of the biggest lines of calls we got were kids struggling with their identity and coming out.
And also suicides. Most Americans have no understanding that over 40% of our homeless youth are gay and lesbian youth who are coming from hostile environments. The biggest hate crimes in America are gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender kids or people, and so, you know, all of us in America, we should be a lot kinder to each other and a lot more compassionate, and even if we have ignorance, I wish everybody--
Do it from a place of love, or, yeah.
I wish everybody would have a Daniel Bow in their life to, even though looking at me with my ignorances and my biases and loved me through them and was willing to, to be there for each other, and we've all gotta, I wish we can all, I always say that the, wouldn't it be great in America if all of us had to work, wait tables at some point in our lives--
That would so brought me some humble pie.
And so, I did a Senator Heidi Heitkamp, and the other bald black man in the Senate, Republican Tim Scott, the three of us teamed up because here are the pages that work in the Senate, and some people treat them like furniture or like servants, and Heidi is one of these people that sets the example, like sets the, treats 'em kindly, so decided to have a pizza party for them, and at the end, we just were giving them advice, and I said, how many of you know how it felt when senator was rude to you or treated you like you were help and think about that for a second, and they said, yeah, and I said, how many of you remember when the senator that was nice to you and made your day, and I said, realize that you have that power as you go on in your life, that you're gonna encounter people, and the question is, are you gonna see them, see their beauty, see their divinity, and treat with that kind of love and respect, or are you gonna be that person that's rude, and I said, that attitude of kindness and attitude of gratitude and remembering what it feels like, that's gonna take you so far in life, just something, the basics like that.
I happened to marry that person.
Yeah, she opened my eyes in ways, and I'd always, historically been hard charging, type A person. When you come up against someone who's so soft like water, and your sort of anger or frustration just rolls off them, and they can show you love when you're not at your best, it's like, wow, and that was a different, she was very different kinda woman than I'd ever dated, and so, my Daniel Bow happens to be my wife, Kate, so, shout out to you, Kate. So, I think the arc that we're on right now, I wanna interrupt for just a second and tie back to something that you said, we're gonna go back to creativity, but you said, fight, you were big enough to break up fights. I think it's interesting that the documentary that was made about you, it's quite interesting, and it was called Street Fight, and so, for the filmmakers out there, I think, and this was in 2002 or three.
I think it came out in 2005.
It lost in the Academy Awards to March of the Penguins, for crying out loud. (laughing) Which is very humbling to me that the documentary I was in lost to these, you know, flightless rodents.
But, again, you are an amazing orator, you're a great storyteller, and I find it intriguing that someone made a film of you back in early political life.
Yeah, I just was starting.
And then it lost in the Academy Awards, nominated and lost. A, what was it like to be the subject of that? B, do you think it shared a piece of you with the world that hadn't been seen before? Was it a catapult, was it a hindrance? How do you look at that experience?
Well, I mean, at that point in my life that it came out, I wasn't mayor, I was in this long eddy between losing a mayor's race, painfully, as the movie says, and leading into a 2006 mayor's race. So, we eventually won, but, you know, it was a struggle, and Newark was going through a tough time at that period, so in many ways, the film was, it, I always say, if you're gonna have a spectacular loss and failure in your life, have a documentary team there to capture it because there's something redemptive in many ways about other people getting an insight into what was going on in that race, and it's outrageous. I mean, most people watch it say, I can't believe that kind of stuff goes on in America, but look, let me tell you, so just this, just day before last, there was a shooting in my neighborhood, and it bothers me that we've become a nation that has normalized stuff that if it went on 50, 60 years ago, it would be, literally, lead the nightly news. What we now think is just part of American society that dozens of people will be murdered every day in gunfire, and they're often the people that live on the margins. I live, I think I'm the only senator that lives in a community that's below the poverty line, median income in my area's like $14,000 per household, but it's an amazing community. This is where I first moved in when I came to Newark. I mean, heroes, champions. I mean, this is one of the places that is so special to me, but the problem is is that folk aren't even woke to the fact that we have Americans struggling with the kind of issues that we're struggling with, and so, when you have a documentary or an artist that's able to pull some of that out and show America that we are not who we say we are, that there are still levels of injustice and unconscionable evil that goes on, and we have the power to stop it, and it's not their problem over there. Remember, it's out problem. We're in this together.
There is no they.
There is no they, it's us, and so, for me, a lot of what I'm trying to do, and this is the reason why I stay living in this neighborhood because I love representing my state, but I have a bias, and all of my public life has been towards those people who have been left behind or ignored or overlooked, and those of us, and I include myself, 'cause as I said, I'm struggling, I'm not always perfect, when we indulge in the worst type of privilege, which is that there's a serious problem out there, and we know there's a serious problem out there, but it doesn't affect us or our family, so it's not that urgent of a problem, and for us to get over, find ways to get over that is so critical, and this is where creativity in the love space is so important is to be, how do we prick each other's compassion and sense of urgency, and I love this, you know, your folks should know this because you carry that spirit that I love, and I think this is one of the reasons why conversations like this are so important, but I'm walking in here, tomorrow I'm gonna be in a prison because, again, my faith talks a lot about people in prisons, and this is the greatest shame in American, and I'm telling you, most Americans have no conception that have 4% or so of the globe's population, but one out of every four imprisoned people on the planet Earth are in America.
Highest level of incarceration in the history--
And we, and who we incarcerate are the most vulnerable of our citizens. We basically say, let's design system where the sick, mentally ill, addicted, and poor, where we can drive them further into pain and misery. Let's design a system that preys upon minorities in such a way, I mean, there's no, you and I both, college scholarships and the like, and my school hates when I say this, but there's lots of drug use at Stanford, you know. I mean, you can get your Adderall, you can get your X, you can get your pot, you can get your cocaine.
I went to San Diego State. They were the number one party school in the country.
Okay, and there's no sting operations set up for nonviolent drug crimes, and so the difference of privilege, all of us, in fact, just by race alone, and by the way, there's African-Americans who are privileged who don't have the same experience, but if you are black in America, you are, there's no difference between blacks and whites for using drugs, no difference between blacks and whites for dealing drugs. In fact, young white men have a little higher rates, according to some studies, but if you're an African-American, you're almost four times more likely to be arrested for that problem, and for that so-called crime, and so, you have guys that become president of the United States admitting to felony drug use. Obama and Bush didn't just try a little marijuana, serious felony crimes that you have teenagers in urban, poor communities that get ground into a system. Most people don't understand that you get arrested, kid, go out to Rikers Island, you could spend months or years before you even get a trial in this country.
And you're then experiencing things inside that prison that other countries call torture, juvenile solitary confinement, and then you have the pressure, most Americans think we still have trials and juries. No, 98% of our criminal convictions now are done by plea bargain because we've ratcheted up these mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses that now, this is, I've talked to so many kids where similar things happen. I'll try you in adult court, you'll face 40 years or you can plea right now, guilty. I can get another guilty notch. You come out now, and most people don't realize when you plead guilty, and this whole book--
On your record.
You cannot Pell Grants, business licenses, a loan from your bank, public housing, food stamps. You're put into this black mark that stays with you for your life. I've had people come to my office 20 years ago, a nonviolent drug crime, doing things that half of congress and two of our last three presidents admitted to doing.
Probably in the last week. (chuckles)
It's been one of those weeks in Washington. There might've been a lotta smoking going on after this last week. But for doing things that people joke about doing in their younger days, there are kids right now who've had their live devastated, and I was told the story of my high school, again, a good solid community, four of my friends on senior cut day tried to use fake IDs to buy alcohol, the place was closed, so they kicked open the back door, stole some beer, got caught. That's a felony, breaking and entering. Fathers got involved, you know, things were taken care of, and the right thing happened. Those kids are on, those young people are on doing great things, good people. The problem is when it happens in a different community, you know, Bryan Stevenson says, we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than poor and innocent, and people are being ground down. Mentally health, our mentally ill are being made more unhealthy. The drug addicted are not getting the services. We're trying to incarcerate ourselves out of an opiod addiction. And the poor folks, we've criminalized poverty. So, I go on that rant to say, you know, I'm going to a prison tomorrow, to a women's prison because shackling pregnant women to beds while they're giving, as if they're gonna run away, as if they're a flight risk. The kind of stuff that's going on, as a female population increases, and so where's the moral urgency in our country? Why is these things normalizing? And to me, that is about poverty, not poverty in terms of money or resources, it's a poverty of compassion, poverty empathy--
A poverty of love at a time that we have reservoirs that we don't use of this. And so, that's why documentaries going back to how I got on this one tangent, an art in any form that can enlighten us, that can open up the floodgates of love, that can make us understand that we are in this together, and our country is based on this ideal. I always quote the end of the Declaration of Independence where they say if this country is gonna make it, because we're the we're the, in fact I was told this in Poland on my last trip when they bragged to me about, you know, Poland was formed, like 900, they say, but they wrote a constitution and they told me, I don't know if this is true, I haven't fact-checked the Polish, but they were telling me that they are the second oldest Constitutional Democracy. Well, we're number one! We're gonna form a country not based on that we look all alike 'cause we all have Polish ancestry, not because we speak the same language, we're gonna form a country on these amazing ideals. And, our founders knew that that's a tenuous way to form a country, and so we're gonna have to form this country and we're gonna have to make this unusual commitment to each other. We're gonna have to pledge, mutually pledge, it's the end of the Declaration of Independence, mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. And that's where I wonder when we pledge allegiance to the flag, when we sing songs abut our country, are we internalizing that and making that real every single day, pledging to other people, I mean we are at the point now where we can't even be nice to each other if we find out you're a different political party.
And that's not--
I tell this story about Chris Christie, I was sitting there, again probably on my couch, eating.
You're friends but you disagree, right? Is that how it goes?
Chris is my friend, I could write a dissertation on my disagreements with him. But I'm the mayor of the largest city, he's the governor of the state, our state needs us to work together. And so I'm watching his Republican primary and I, like, I was ready to scream at my, I think I had an Afro then, I pulled all my hair out. And I look at this, I look at this as he gets lambasted by others for hugging Barack Obama. Now, when he hugged Barack Obama, it was after Hurricane Sandy had devastated our state, people died, billions of dollars of property damage, people lost their homes, all their possessions. Chris showed real emotion, like crying, in these places. Obama flies in on Air Force One to survey the damage. He comes down, the two of them hug. Now I'm a hugger, that wasn't even a good hug. It was one of those uncomfortable guy hugs, but we've created an environment right now that just because you have different political beliefs, we're so vilifying you that human contact now is being, we can't survive as a country if we can't love one another. We don't always have to agree, doesn't mean I don't fight against your policies, but there's gotta be a core of love where I look at you and I see your divinity or I see your worth, I see your importance to the larger cause of our country.
Powerful medicine again. That's, the power of art to unlock those stories, I think that's one of the things that I'm hoping to inspire people to take that as their media or as their medium for unlocking A, love, B, opportunity in this country. I think it's, I look at creativity as the new literacy and there was a time prior to literacy where we, you know, was reserved for aristocracy and the wealthy and the clergy, and then the Gutenburg Press came along and we realized that if we could educate our population and make them more literate, that you had the infant mortality rate decline and you had the longevity, life--
So how do you, how do you exercise your creativity?
Me, day to day?
Yeah, like all, I think that it's, as you and I probably know, everything, you've got to practice at it. Everything's a practice, life is a practice.
So how, what are like the tips for me?
Well, first of all, creativity is not a skill, it's a habit.
And it is available for everyone, and I know you, I've seen you take pictures, I think you and I took a selfie the last time we were together, so the small act of creating every day unlocks creativity with a capital C, so brain surgeons that take pictures every day or play music or cook are better brain surgeons based on neuroplasticity, and this is something that's available to everybody. We talked about the documentary filmmaker, but my goal with my own life's missions with Creative Live is to unlock that creative potential in everyone, and the fact that it is available, it's the only, I think this is the Maya Angelou, it's the only natural resource that the more you use, the more you get.
Right, that's awesome.
So, I expect the next time we talk, you'll tell me your creative practice. Do you have a creative practice?
What I wanna confess to you is something that's really, like I do it and I know my staff cringes, but--
They're over there right now, Chris and Derrick, oh no, what's coming?
Well, this is, like, I do think its, I think you're right, the better, so I love writing poetry, I do, and it's bad poetry, but I love writing it, and I think that something I've learned is if something sources you, like if I'm really emotionally stuck, I'll write a poem, and occasionally, I'll post 'em online, and you know, maybe 10% of the comments is, thank you for posting. Other people will just shellac me for like, you're a politician, why are you doing this? And, you know, it's like, I just think that the one, often the fear about being creative is that you're taking a risk, you're exposing yourself, especially, I don't care what your form of creativity is, but you're risking criticism, and I think that's often a thing that makes people feel constipated in their desire to continue the practice.
For sure, there's a great, for those folks at home who are identifying with what Cory is saying about risk, there's a great bit called, it's the, versus, The Man in the Arena, it's a Roosevelt quote and Brene Brown helped me understand that, I don't know if you know Brene, she's an incredible thinker, and it's, you should be, you should listen to criticism only from other people who have put themselves in the arena, not from the people--
"It's not the critic who counts, "it's not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled "or how the doer of deeds could have done better, "it's the man actually in the arena, "face marred with sweat, dirt, and blood." I mean, it's a powerful, powerful quote. (laughing)
Talk about hijacking your stuff.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
Comin' off the turn, the top turn buckle--
No, no, no, it's like--
Super Fly snuck it right on my neck. (laughing) Beautiful, thank you for grabbing that 'cause I don't know it well enough. I know it just enough to be dangerous and I miss like very other word, but you just, that was beautiful. (chuckling) No, it's good. So, aw, that was great.
But seriously, that's like even me, and I have to say, you know, I have this one poem I wrote, like may your critics make you humble, may your haters make you wise, may you learn from every stumble, and when you fall, may you rise, rise, rise, and so, I write poems that I want, to remind me that, like in the job I'm in, and my staff is dealing with this situation now, like, we get outrageous criticism from people who should be our friends, from the left, from the right, and you have remind yourself every day, why are you doing this? Are you doing this for the applause and for people to stand up and say how great you are? Or are you on a mission that's bigger than you are? And if you're on a mission that's bigger than you are, you can't let people snuff out your energy, your desire to fight, your desire to keep being in it, and that's hard for me because I'm a big social media user, and I see it all, and my staff is like, please put down, you know, the Twitter, or they'll preemptively say, you're gonna get a lot of criticism for x, but whatever, and it's just hard, it's a hard thing to get over, and this is something that I don't often talk about, but I was terrified as a child, and I say it's child, it lasted well into my, maybe early 30s is when I finally really turned a corner in speaking in front of people, and I, my most embarrassing childhood moment was the first political office I ever ran for, president of Harrington Park Elementary School seventh grade class--
Oh my god.
And I literally had this moment where I froze in front of my class, including the girl I had a crush on, and you know, and just couldn't get a word out, and I went home that night and I literally cried and was so devastated by this embarrassing moment, and I was just petrified and terrified, but I still swore at that moment, literally lying in a ball on my bed, that I would one day be a great speaker, and the thing that enabled me to do it, and my, some of the people who've been with me in politics since I was in my 20s still remember how I would just sweat, and fear sweat is like a stinky sweat, and when I had to give a speech, I would get, I would just get nervous, and it just took me a while, a long while to get over, but it meant me getting up and throwing myself over the cliff I was afraid of again and again and again until I got to the point where I started to thrive off of the jump, off of the leap, and so, you know, I just think that I could've been stifled in terms of my life or I could now be, the gift that I've gotten from all that struggle is it's now one of my favorite ways to communicate, to stand in front of a crowd and try to take my heart plug and plug it into the people who are there.
You're an incredible orator. I didn't know that about you and your poetry. Thank you for sharing that. I always ask--
I could send you bad poems any time you want.
I'm gonna take you up on it, like, over there, staff's takin' notes. And that's one of the things about this show, I want someone to reveal something that they have not really revealed elsewhere, so thank you for that gift. I'm trying to be mindful of our time, but I do have a couple areas I wanna explore really quick.
And they're a little bit more about you than policy, and the nebulous, like the out there, the big concepts, and that's personal things that you do on a daily basis to not just survive but thrive, how do you take care of yourself? I'm advocating, you know, we have a creative, a myth about creators that they, you have to throw all in and if you don't have a scary, hairy background than you can't, there's not stories that are worthy, and I believe in self-love and self-care, and that's, yeah, you gotta put your own oxygen mask on before helping other people, so what are some, just some simple things that you do to take care of yourself or do you have anything?
I have lots, and again, it's a practice, so there's times I'm in it when I feel incredibly effective and I feel like I'm channeling something that's not me, but that's like proper sleep. It's like sleep, my uncle, Uncle Butch, hi Uncle Butch, tells me, he lectures me, sleep is weapon, sleep is a weapon, sleep is a weapon, but finding a way to get proper sleep is like, it's a difference between me being effective and being able to summon good spirit and energy easily or have to struggle to be positive.
We did talk about that before we started recording too that--
And I'm going to try--
The sleep pack.
I am going to try your sleep pack.
Okay, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, one tablespoon of honey mixed with water in cup. Drink that before you got to sleep.
I should report in on how--
Yeah, you should, just slip me a note. I wanna know tomorrow morning, you wake up, and it's either gonna be like it's on or hmm, nah.
I wanna give it, like I--
Yeah, do it a couple times.
I'm a vegan now because I did, you know, I love Gandhi's autobiography, My Experiments With Truth. I decided three months I was gonna try being a vegetarian, and it's, and I was a competitive athlete at the time, transformed me, workouts, everything like that, so I'm gonna give this a little time. But sleep, exercise, meditation, if I can get those three things in, and then I have to say, I learn from, the podcast, we were talking about Tim the other day, this is why I like the two, one of you two together lecturing me about sleep packs.
And meditation, I was the one who got Tim to meditate first.
Did you really?
Yeah, me and Rick Rubin, the music producer, hittin' him from both sides, like dude, you gotta do this, it's gonna unlock you, and for hard charging type A people, you think that your edge comes from your aggro nature, and then you realize after meditation that that thing that you thought was your catapult--
So, this is something I don't think I've ever shared publicly, but my aha moment that I got from meditating, and I started when I was coming out of England going into law school, and I sought out this Buddhist teacher to teach me to meditate, and I didn't realize that my emotional states were the product of my thoughts. It was like a really interesting aha moment in that I control, could control my thoughts, and that was the thing that, my thoughts weren't me, and that I had records that I would play over and over again and if I could pull myself out, just be a witness. It gave me so much more power over my emotional states, and it was an awakening I had in law school, not in any of my legal classes, but literally sitting with this Buddhist teacher. It was like this shift of consciousness that I had about so much more control, and that's why I love quote like Viktor Frankl's book, A Man's Search for Meaning.
Powerful book, yes.
Unbelievable, and this one I used to be able to quote directly, but paraphrasing him, he said, you know, we were in the concentration camps, remember those people who shared their only piece of bread even though they, themselves, were starving, comforted others, even though they, themselves, were suffering the same circumstances, it's a testimony to the greatest of all human, of freedoms, the ability to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances, and that's why when you, I've listened to you talk a lot, it's beautiful, it's like, it's poetry to me when you talk about gratitude, and I think you have, for those of you who have not listened to you speak about gratitude, about it's a choice, and so that was the power of meditation for me is that realizing that, and it also reminding me, and I'll remember this at times, that just breathe, and somehow then, I'm able to witness my emotional state and realize that that's not who I am. I'm not that emotional state. I'm something larger, bigger, that's reflected by all the people around me, and it's also helped me when somebody is making me wanna punch them, and I'm a very peaceful guy, but the body slamming of reporters seems to be in.
Oh my gosh.
But to all of a sudden, you know, just breathe, and then it helps me to see the divinity in whoever I'm around.
It's such a simple thing and then it's so profound.
You talked about state, Tony Robbins does a great job of, I think, organizing this, you can't get to the strategy if you're not in a good state. There's a very simple, very linear connection between you have to be in a great state to be able to tell yourself the right story, and that's the only way you'll be able to access the right strategy. If you try to go right to the strategy, but you're in a bad head space, strategy's not gonna be effective.
And the things, I've heard you say this, and I struggle with this decision in the morning, 'cause you're like don't check your, I think you might've bleeped yourself. (laughing)
Oh, you're good, Senator, you're good.
But, you know, checking your email. So, that's really, I literally have these, this feeling when I get up in the morning, so if I'm in D.C., I'll get up, I have a bike, literally, in my basement now, so I like going to the Senate gym 'cause I can socialize with senators across the aisle, but my ideal morning is get up, I learn this from Tim Ferriss, make my bed. I just never realized the power of that. My mom wished I learned this lesson decades ago 'cause she would lecture me about it.
That's why my mom has a saying, behind every successful child, is an astonished parent because my mom can't believe this is the guy I couldn't get to make his bed, to mow the lawn, you're a senator? But make my bed, work out, meditate, but then there comes that choice, tune into my electronics, flip on the news, 'cause I'd much rather listen to a podcast from you, on Bean, something that sources my soul or my spirit or instructs me, or to tap into the news of the day. Go right, and that's always a, 'cause then my state often gets drawn right in.
Yeah, you're not deciding what your state is if you're not prepared before you go in.
Senator Booker, thank you so much.
I'm enjoying this, I keep forgetting the cameras are there and that's dangerous.
That's good, no, that's good. I wanna thank you for all you've done.
No, thank you and you should know you're living that life of how love leaps time and space. I mean, you're making influences on people's lives because I don't care who you are, and I know, and I love the fact that your audience is left, right, all over, but we're all Americans, and I know you have people outside this country, but when you help people live life at a higher frequency, be who they wanna be, aspiring, it has ripple effects. So, thank you for being an agent of change and of love, and I feel grateful for you.
I feel grateful for you.
Thank you, man.
Thanks so much for your time.
Appreciate it. Folks, see ya again probably tomorrow. (pensive music)