July 08, 2021
Bestselling author Michael Pollan tries to get more out of life by temporarily giving up…
Ruth Crittenden I think I had randomly called Hannah, and this is the second semester of our first year. And, we somehow started to talk about theology. This is a time where I really wasn’t understanding my queerness. It was very, very new to me, and so I was really struggling. I knew that how I grew up in church and what I was connected to was not going to accept that. And so, to put it all in a very blunt way—Hannah was saying that I was going to hell, that people who were queer were going to hell. For me, that just rocked everything because my best friend—it felt like she hated me from then on out. And I was just like, “Well, now what?”
David Kyuman Kim Even our closest relationships suffer conflicts and breakdowns, and sometimes those rifts are because of differences in how we see the world. What can we do to bridge those divides and reconnect, even with people who seem very different from us?
Welcome to The Science of Happiness. I’m David Kyuman Kim, a professor of Religious Studies and American Studies and a visiting scholar at the Center on Comparative Equality at UC Berkeley’s Law School. I’m filling in for Dacher Keltner this week. Our guests today became best friends in high school. Their common bond was their shared Pentecostal faith. But, when they went off to college, they got in a fight. And they stopped speaking.
Now Rue Crittenden and Hannah Carrier are seniors in college and are reuniting on our show after trying a happiness strategy together where they imagine seeing the world through each other’s eyes.
Later in the show, we’ll look at research showing how simply instructing someone to try perspective-taking has lasting effects. But first, Hannah and Rue, thanks so much for joining us on The Science of Happiness.
Rue Crittenden Thank you.
Hannah Carrier Yeah, thanks for letting us be here.
David Kyuman Kim You know, the two of you were best friends in high school in Louisville, Kentucky. How did you become close?
Rue Crittenden We were in Band together. We had a class together and we sat next to each other.
Hannah Carrier And then at one point, I invited you to go to camp with me and that was really cool.
David Kyuman Kim What kind of camp was it?
Hannah Carrier It was a Christian summer camp that I have gone to since I was in third grade, growing up every summer.
David Kyuman Kim And Rue, was this the first time you had been in that kind of setting?
Rue Crittenden Yeah, I moved around a lot when I was younger. We never were at the same church for more than a year or so. And so, going to a camp, I was like, “What is this? What do you do there?”
David Kyuman Kim And then the two of you became best friends in the context of this church.
Rue Crittenden Yeah.
David Kyuman Kim Before the show, Rue, you told us that you and Hannah stopped speaking when you told her that you were queer over a phone conversation after you moved away to college. What happened?
Rue Crittenden I think I had randomly called Hannah and this is the second semester of our first year. And we somehow started to talk about theology. It was very obvious that I started to have a more liberal stance on the Bible and Christianity. For me, the part that really stuck out was—this is a time where I really wasn’t understanding my queerness. It was very, very new to me, and so I was really struggling and I knew that how I grew up and the church and what I was connected to was not going to accept that. To put it all in a very blunt way, Hannah was saying that I was going to hell and that people who were queer were going to hell. For me, that just rocked everything because I wasn’t even secure in who I was. And then my best friend—it felt like she hated me from then then on out.
David Kyuman Kim And Hannah, what do you remember about that conversation?
Hannah Carrier I remember, when we called each other and we started talking and it turned to theology—I remember one of the main things was: she sounds so angry. I don’t know if she’s mad at me or if she’s mad at the church in general, but she just seems really angry. I was kind of confused and it was just a thing of like, “Oh, wow.” I thought that when we went to college—I just assumed that she was learning and going the same direction that I was. I didn’t even think that she could be learning completely different things and growing in completely different ways than me. I didn’t expect it to take that turn.
David Kyuman Kim I hear you. So, the two of you spoke with one another for the first time in years on a Zoom call last night and you tried a practice called Perspective Taking and Giving. In the practice, you pick someone you’re estranged from and you imagine that you are that person. You’re walking through the world in their shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, imagining how the world feels to be them.
The guidelines suggest talking for 20 minutes—but the two of you talked for almost two hours.
Rue Crittenden Hi! I’m pulling up the instructions now even though I’ve read them three times today. What does a world look like from their point of view?
Hannah Carrier Okay, so which situation do you want to start with?
Rue Crittenden We can start with your situation.
David Kyuman Kim You know, Hannah, we reached out to Rue and asked her to try a happiness practice for the show, specifically one aimed at bridging differences across faith and belief systems. When we asked her if there’s someone she wanted to bridge differences with, she immediately thought of you. I’m curious to hear from you—what was it like to hear from Rue after all this time? Were you anxious? Were you excited? What was going on for you?
Hannah Carrier I was definitely confused. I literally asked, “Why me?” After we had our conversations, I tried to reach out to her through text a couple of different times. I remember one time I changed my number and I was like, “Hey, you might not even care and you might not even want to talk to me—but just in case—here’s my new number. And I just remember her being like “Not to be rude, but why are you still talking to me?”
David Kyuman Kim Were you cognizant of what you had said to Rue regarding her condemnation in the church—that queer people go to hell?
Hannah Carrier She had texted me about it but we had never had a full conversation to actually talk through what had happened. It was just like “You really hurt me. This is what happened.” But for me, that didn’t change the fact that I cared about her or that I loved her. So, even though I hurt her, obviously, I always wanted to make that up, if that makes sense.
David Kyuman Kim Rue, I’m curious, why did you reach back out and why specifically to Hannah?
Rue Crittenden I think part of the reason why I reached out to Hannah was because it still is or still was an open book in my life. It’s really hard to take a friendship and then completely stop it. Oh, I’m gonna cry.
David Kyuman Kim Take your time, take your time.
Rue Crittenden As soon as I heard of the practices that could be done, I was like, there’s nobody else who I even had contact with and there’s nobody else who essentially hurt me as much as anything that she had said.
Hannah Carrier I feel like you probably expected me to agree with you more or at least listen to you more, and I think I went into that conversation and it took me aback. So, I probably seemed very defensive in that conversation to you and very argumentative about some things and blunt about some things, because I didn’t know what you were going through.
Rue Crittenden I mean, it definitely took a toll. My entire life, for a while, just stopped. I was like, “What now?”
David Kyuman Kim We talk all the time about taking someone else’s perspective, but how did it feel to actually do it?
Rue Crittenden It was almost terrifying because, obviously, I know myself from a very different lens and that also made me realize, “No, I was kind of a shitty person, too.” I did some things that if I were to do now, it would be so toxic. It really helped me also reflect on the reason why Hannah and I fell apart. It wasn’t just her. It was a two-way street—there are definitely things that I could have done and we could have communicated better and all this other stuff.
David Kyuman Kim How do you think this practice of really trying to take another perspective affects how you perceive the conversation from years ago, when you had that falling out?
Rue Crittenden Even when I look back on it now, that was a big ask. I obviously knew we went to the same church, so I knew where—at least most of where her mindset was. So for me to ask, even though I wasn’t accepting of queerness like a month before this conversation, I was automatically thinking, “Oh, yeah, she’ll totally understand. This will be fine.” Even though it wasn’t even fine for me.
Hannah Carrier I think that immediately causes a lot of regrets because it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, how much more could I have been loving in that moment and been more intentional about my words and the way that I speak?” Ultimately, loving the person for who they are is so much more important than proving your point or forcing what you believe on them. You know what I mean?
I think intentionally trying to think from that person’s perspective, especially in hindsight—it’s like when you’re watching a movie and you’re watching the character. Like in a horror movie when they’re about to walk into this room, you’re like, “Don’t do it! Don’t walk in the room!” It all makes sense why it fell apart. There were so many things that we could have done and things that we could have said differently and communicated with one another and been more open. And it would have gone so differently.
David Kyuman Kim I’m curious because religion brought you together deep into a relationship and it’s also the thing that effectively broke you apart, right? Where are you regarding your ability to understand the other friend’s perspective but also the perspectives and beliefs that you resist, that you can’t accept.
Rue Crittenden I think for me, overall, I can understand Hannah’s faith because I had the exact same faith and I can understand her perspectives. Even when we had our falling out, I understood what she was saying. I grew up learning the exact same thing, so I understood it. It just was painful to realize, me thinking like she hated me and how much then I hated myself for the exact same reasons.
I think now I, overall, just struggle with organized Christianity because to me, it holds so much pain. I have to justify and defend myself when God is brought up because my relationship with a god is really—that’s also really rocky. Everything in me stops and I go in fight or flight mode.
David Kyuman Kim I hear you. How about you, Hannah?
Hannah Carrier I think the hard part is knowing how big of a part of my life my faith is. Having to be very intentional—I’m really afraid of, now, offending someone or really hurting someone with what I believe because I don’t act out of love or say things out of love. When you are trying to practice a religion, I think it’s very easy to become very focused on rules and really lose sight of the person. So, that has had to be a really big thing that I’ve had to grow in. I think, at the time, that was the big barrier between us—if I was like, “Well, this is right and this is wrong and that’s what matters.”
David Kyuman Kim You’ve both demonstrated tremendous courage in becoming vulnerable to each other and talking through painful episodes. I want to hear from both of you what you learned—what you learned about yourselves, what you learned about the other person. What takeaways did you have?
Hannah Carrier it’s been a good opportunity just to apologize for the places that I have fallen short because I feel like, in a relationship, being able to say you’re sorry and dying to yourself. That’s literally what Christianity is—dying to yourself—and that’s such an important part of any relationship that you have. So, for me, it was just a really good opportunity to reflect on who I was, who I am, who I can be and should be, and just trying to grow and be a better person and be a better Christian as well.
David Kyuman Kim Rue?
Rue Crittenden I mean, the conversation has brought a lot of peace for me. It kind of was what it was, and it happened, and I needed to move on for myself—but there was always still a voice in the back of my mind. “What if you reached out? Where is she? What has happened? Has she grown? Have I grown? Could we really have a conversation again and become friends again?”
It’s brought closure that I didn’t think that I needed, because I think you can forgive somebody without speaking to them. But, it’s a whole other level when you actually speak to them and you’re like, “Actually, yes, I have healed from this wound and while there is probably still going to be a part of me that might get defensive, it is no longer a ‘What if we decided to be friends?” I definitely think that we could and that’s very peaceful for me. I also just miss being able to talk with somebody who has seen me grow so much and I think there’s just a level of peace and calmness now—that I don’t have to think about, “Should I reach out?” and all the what-ifs.
David Kyuman Kim That’s terrific. I mean, the idea that you can somehow get to peace, calm through curiosity about the other. Thank you so much, both of you.
Rue Crittenden Thank you.
Hannah Carrier Thank you for having us.
David Kyuman Kim The perspective-taking practice gave Rue and Hannah a tool to reconnect, but how can such a simple practice have real long term effects?
Gordon Moskowitz When you take someone’s perspective, the act of doing that forces you to merge your self-concepts in a way that it asks you to imagine what it’s like to be me.
David Kyuman Kim More on the science, up next.
Welcome back to the Science of Happiness. I’m David Kyuman Kim, filling in for Dacher Keltner. We’ve been exploring perspective-taking and how it can connect people and groups across divides. Our Senior Producer, Shuka Kalantari reports on how seeing the world through another person’s eyes, even once, can have lasting effects.
Shuka Kalantari Imagine you’re looking at a black and white photograph of an elderly man sitting in a chair next to a newspaper stand.
Now, for the next five seconds, do not think about old-man stereotypes. You know, things like he’s sick or lonely or bored or sad. Don’t think about any of that.
Gordon Moskowitz The ironic thing is asking someone not to do something leads them to do it more than if you don’t tell them anything.
Shuka Kalantari Gordon Moskowitz is a psychology professor at Lehigh University. He wanted to find a way to reduce these stereotypes that seem so hard to shake. So, he brought college students into his lab and showed them all that black and white photo of the man that I just asked you to imagine. One third of the students were asked to write an essay describing what a day in the life of this old man could look like. Another third were given the additional instruction to suppress any stereotypes that might bias their narrative. The final group was asked to take on the old man’s perspective.
Gordon Moskowitz When you give them that instruction, which simply asks them to take the perspective without actually using those words necessarily—what you see is a decreased amount of stereotyping. It doesn’t create a situation where the stereotype—they feel the pressure of not using it and then after you tell them they can stop and go about their regular life, the stereotype then really comes rushing out again.
Shuka Kalantari All the participants also filled out a survey rating the old man’s personality traits, as well as their own.
Gordon Moskowitz “Tell me who you are? Tell me who this person is?” The people who do the perspective-taking see a lot more overlap between themselves and the other person compared to the other groups of people.
When you take someone’s perspective, the act of doing that forces you to merge your self-concepts in a way that it asks you to imagine what it’s like to be me. In doing so, you’re thinking about me but in terms of yourself. Because you like yourself—most people like themselves and have positive self-esteem—that act of thinking about ‘us’ simultaneously takes the positive affect that you have for yourself and spreads it to the other person.
Shuka Kalantari There’s also research showing that practicing perspective-taking makes us more empathic, more appreciative of what other people are going through.
Gordon Moskowitz And that empathy leads to greater assistance of other people. So, perspective-taking creates empathy and empathy creates helping.
Shuka Kalantari Moskowtiz says we often fall back on stereotypes because they’re easy. They’re a tool that helps us quickly make judgments about other people.
Gordon Moskowitz But we could very easily change what we hope to get out of our encounters with other people and not rely on that tool.
Shuka Kalantari Just taking a moment to take the perspective of another person can really override that inclination to rely on stereotypes and broadens what we’re able to consider about other people.
Gordon Moskowitz You just need to get in the habit of teaching yourself to take that step—that if you want to be accurate, if you want to be unbiased, if you want to treat somebody fairly, just take a moment and think about their perspective briefly.
David Kyuman Kim On our next episode of The Science of Happiness…
Anna Sale I was like, “Wow, swimming in a river is great. I feel so great!” But I didn’t really fully engage with it until I was sitting down and saying, “What did I feel awe with recently?” You know? I noticed the deepening that happened when I took the time to write.
David Kyuman Kim I’m David Kyuman Kim, filling in for Dacher Keltner this week. Thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness. The Greater Good Science Center will explore the Perspective Taking and Giving practice, and others like it, in our new online course on “Bridging Differences.” It’s free. Learn more at ggsc.berkeley.edu/bridgingcourse. Today’s episode was supported by a generous grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, as part of our Bridging Differences initiative.
Our Senior Producer is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Our associate producer is Kristie Song. Sound design by Jennie Cataldo at BMP Audio. Our Executive Producer is Jane Bahk. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.