Transcript: Arianna Huffington on We Are Drowning in Data and Starved for Wisdom

Arianna Huffington: Well, it was a mindset that was very much something that my mother kept talking about. One of her favorite sayings was failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a stepping stone to success. But the obnoxious roommate, that voice of doubt and self-judgment, remained very loud. And people don’t write about it. But I can tell you, I can still hear it. I can still hear, for example, when I gave my first big speech at the — what do they call? Do they still call it a paper speech?

Interviewer: They do indeed, yeah, traditions die hard.

Arianna Huffington: Meaning that you actually are one of the main speakers as opposed to somebody they call on after the main speakers. And I was speaking on the same side as JK Galbraith against William Buckley and I remember every detail. And the topic of the speech was The Market, meaning the free market is a snare and a delusion. And I was sitting next to Galbraith and while Buckley was speaking, Galbraith leaned over to me and said, can you stand up? You have the right at the union to stand up and every speaker has to give way for the point you want to make. So can you stand up, he said, and interrupt him and make it. And he mentioned some kind of recondite econometric point, which I stupidly stood up and interrupted Buckley with. And then he turned to me and said, well madam, I don’t know what market you patronize and brought the house down. And I sat down feeling completely humiliated, which would have been neither here nor there. Except the obnoxious roommate, for the next week, I’m not exaggerating, was replaying that incident as though this was the end, not just of my career, but my life.

And looking back, of course, it is none of the above, but that’s what the obnoxious roommate does. And it kind of basically tears you apart. And I’ve had so many experiences like that, where all my energy would be absorbed in listening to that voice. And that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time in my life trying to evict the obnoxious roommate from my head. And I’m doing a pretty good job now but it took many, many years. And it changes your life when you don’t have to waste your energy dealing with that voice but you can actually go on with your life and recognize that sometimes things are not going to go well. And sometimes you’re not going to perform at your best and that’s part of life.

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Interviewer: It’s funny you say that because I read somewhere that you appear to be in your own person from a very young age. Would you mind sharing the story about your fifth birthday party?

Arianna Huffington: Yes, I always love to read. I love to lose myself in books. And so from my fifth birthday party, my mother had invited my best friends. And I told them they had to go home because they were interrupting my reading.

Interviewer: Yeah, well this is clearly a passion. And although you’ve written 15 books to date now across a wide variety of topics, it seems to be politics that’s kind of captured your attention the most. What is it that drew you to the political sphere, especially in the discussion and commentary side?

Arianna Huffington: So, it was politics and as the Dean mentioned, the Third World America book was very much sort of my deep concern about what was happening in the country and how we are not paying sufficient attention. And that remains a very deep concern of mine. But, I now feel increasingly that the thing that we are most starved for in our political lives as well as the rest of our lives is wisdom. And I feel that we’re kind of drowning in data and starved for wisdom. And so my passion now is, how can we connect with that part of ourselves, that is the wisest part of ourselves? And whether we are politicians or business leaders or media leaders, there are huge problems in front of us. And if we don’t connect to that part, we are going to be operating and making decisions from the surface. And as a result, missing the opportunity to really come up with big solutions. And I was fascinated by how leaders that we admire throughout history have done that in the past. Like one of my favorite stories that I’ve included in my new book, is about FDR.

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In 1940, when there was all this pressure on him to enter the war. But the American public was completely opposed to it, so he didn’t literally, he didn’t know what to do. And what he did would never have happened today. He took 10 days off and went on a naval ship around the Caribbean. And Eleanor would send him letters saying things, I’m so happy to think of you sleeping and refueling. And his aids afterwards have written how he truly refueled and in the process of refueling, he came up with what was a political masterpiece of a solution: The Lend-Lease program that allowed America to enter the war at the time when otherwise public opinion would have been completely opposed to it. And I feel we all need to do that. And we need to validate people who do that as opposed to judging politicians who go on vacation or who play golf, or who do anything to refuel and therefore ideally come up with the solutions that are really at the heart of leadership.

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