Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Restoring Civility With Peter Montoya
[00:00:02] PF: Welcome to Episode 347 of Live Happy Now. As we continue celebrating March as the month of happiness, we’re taking on civil war. I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week, I am so excited to be talking to Peter Montoya, a speaker, thought leader and author who is truly committed to helping restore our civility.
His latest book, The Second Civil War: A Citizen’s Guide to Healing our Fractured Nation looks at the challenges we’re facing as a society, how technology and media consumption, increase our anxiety, and what each of us can do to help stop that conflict. Today, we’re talking about all those things, as well as talking about what he’s creating, to help replace social media with civil media.
[00:00:45] PF: Peter, thank you so much for coming back on Live Happy Now.
[00:00:49] PM: Paula, I’m thrilled to be here. You are one of my favorite hosts, I love your show.
[00:00:55] PF: Oh, thank you so much. And we love it when you come and talk to us, because you always have such great new information for us, and as you know, as part of happiness month, we are looking at the theme of unity and that’s why we talk to you. Because a lot of people were hopeful that this year was going to be one of like more unity, more civility, and that doesn’t seem to be the case. What’s keeping us so divided?
[00:01:20] PM: We are inherently very, very tribal creatures. And that is our default mechanism. So, when I say tribal, we find various different ways of creating cohesive groups, and also creating out others or outside groups. We do this around national lines, political lines, religious lines, racial lines. So, racism is part of tribalism. Company around company boundaries, around sports teams, and even the cliques inside schools. We are tribal, tribal creatures, and that is our default. That’s what we automatically go to.
And over the course of our lives, we have become enculturated, into being cooperative with people who are not of our immediate tribe, which is actually somewhat of a miracle. It really is. So, look at all the ways we’ve been enculturated. So, when we first went to school in fifth grade, even before for fifth grade, before we’re five and went to kindergarten, we watch Sesame Street, and Sesame Street had different colored Muppets and people all cooperating and talking about sharing with the kindergarten. And we’re talking about toll that everyone is the same. We live in a free country of equal rights, and we share with one another. We’re all taught that everyone’s the same and then we went to a church. And we’re told to love thy neighbor as you love the Lord. I love everybody. The same with everyone else.
And then we were taught the Pledge of Allegiance and how we all have the same allegiance to this flag, this country, and we all are all the same. This message is repeatedly beat into our heads over the course of our lifetimes. And so that’s why it’s such a miracle that we actually cooperate. So, there are uncontacted tribes still exist down in South America and other places in the world. And 30% of people die by violence, 30% of people die by human to human violence in those uncontacted cultures, and as the same number as it was 5,000 years ago, or 10,000 years ago, when we’re still hunter gatherers. So, the fact that only 1% of people die in this country by violence is a miracle. The way we cooperate is a miracle.
[00:03:55] PF: That’s outstanding, because we don’t think of that as being very cooperative right now. Because, we’ve had differences for a long time. These differences have always existed for us. But right now, there’s so much more exposed and there’s so much more of a, you have to be on a side. Are you vaccinated? Are you unvaccinated? Are you Republican or are you Democrat? I was talking to a friend who had lived in a purple state and she said, it used to be it didn’t matter. She said now, people want to know where you stand. And so, why is that? Why is that bubbled up and become such a touch point of conflict for us?
[00:04:36] PM: So, I’ve done a great – well, I’m an entrepreneur, and I’ve also been hired to go out and do leadership training. And now this is going to sound like a tangent, but please stay with me. I’ve oftentimes gone into companies which are falling apart and everyone’s fighting and everyone’s angry with one another. I go talk to the sales team, I talk to the customer service people, to the operations people. I talk to the engineering team. And what I do when I go out there is I find about all the things are good about the company. All the things are good about the products. Where are all the places that they agree upon, and it’s like they agree on 80% or 90% of the things, and then I bring everyone together, and we talk about all the things we agree upon. The shared mission, the shared vision, the shared values, a shared culture. We talk about the things that we actually agree upon, and then once we’re in agreement on that, then we say, “Okay, well, here are the couple things we need to fix.”
I do not go in there and go to the sales team and go, “Oh, my God, have you heard what customer said about you? They said, you are the worst people in the world. And you are the devil and you’re trying to bring down the company from the inside.” And when you watch the news, that is all they do. They spend 90% of their time vilifying another segment of the country. So, if you are consuming any news, and that means social media, podcasts, radio, cable TV, and 90% of the time is spent vilifying another person or another group, that media company is abusing you. They are manipulating you, so they can extract money from you. And how they do that is by getting your attention. They call fear mongering. They get you nice and riled up. Therefore, you watch their show more, you consume more other advertising, and those companies make more money, and they know it. So, this is not some secret conspiracy, like everyone doesn’t know what the game is. That is the game. And if you hate half of America, you are a pawn in somebody else’s chessboard.
[00:06:47] PF: That was so well said, because let’s talk for a minute about what it’s doing to our communities, to our families, like whatever level you want to take it at. I’ve seen, there’s so much conflict, even within families now over things they shouldn’t be fighting about that, shouldn’t be that big a deal because it doesn’t – at the end of the day does not really affect them personally.
[00:07:08] PM: You’re absolutely right. It doesn’t matter that much. So, Paula, I don’t think you’re as old as I am. But you might remember news in the television landscape in the 1980s. In the 1980s, drama was drama and news was news. We had three or four major news networks get Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jenning. And they all pride themselves on telling the truth. And being first those were the two major attributes. And then we also had these TV shows that got us to exercise our kind of ancient Greek archetypes, they were called Dallas and Dynasty. And news was news and drama was drama. We as human beings have a desire for both. We need more information. Because information we’re taught basically, we believe we’re very, very information hungry, because we want to keep safe. We want to survive. That’s how we’re wired. And we also like drama.
So, we also like these arc types of good and evil that also plays in our minds. And what happened in the 1990s and in the 2000s, and up until now, is that news and drama basically merged. Politics has become almost like a religion for us. And when we’re watching cable news, or watching TV or listening to podcasts, what is happening is these media companies or personalities are creating these very ancient using the ancient archives in our brains of almost like gods and deities. And they are the almost like the Oracles who are helping you tell the future. And then you have the soldiers on this metaphorical battlefield, who are either fighting and thrusting or losing and being taken off the battlefield. And we’re exercising this very, very naturally in our brains while watching the news.
[00:08:57] PF: That’s interesting, because nobody – I suspect that nobody listening to this has ever thought of it that way.
[00:09:04] PM: So, when we go home, we used to watch Saturday Night Live, we used to watch the Oscars, we used to watch football. We used to talk about movies, we used to talk about everything else, but because now we’re consuming so much media, that is the landscape that most people are now entrenched in, so it’s all they think about and it seems really important. I mean, oh, my God, it’s going to be the end of the world. We’re fighting for the soul of our country. The country is on the brink of extinction. I mean, it sounds absolutely horrifying to us. So obviously, it’s the most important thing you need to talk about. And then we’re incredibly tribal and we sit down at Thanksgiving dinner. And we you know, start saying, “Well, I heard that the election was stolen. I heard it was the safest and the most secure election in history.” And all we’re doing is battling different tribal talking points. That’s all we’re doing.
And the second hour I hear the wrong phrase come out of your mouth, let it be black lives matter or all lives matter, my ancient brain goes into fight or flight mode, even though you’re my sister, my best friend, a coworker, and my little midbrain starts firing. As far as I’m concerned, I’m supposed to pick up a spear and kill you. Now, I’ve been enculturated well enough not to do that.
[00:10:23] PF: You might throw the gravy ball.
[00:10:26] PM : Right, exactly. Or scream or throw beer catch can at you.
[00:10:32] PF: How do we change this? How do we get back to a civil discourse instead of a civil war?
[00:10:36] PM: Great question. First of all, I stopped consuming media. I don’t watch any media anymore. I only consume long form media. That means podcasts, documentaries, books, long articles. And they’re usually happening well after the fact what actually happened. So, I only heard about that awful, terrible extraction from Afghanistan and heard stories about people falling off airplanes. But I’ll probably wait a year until a book comes out which interviews all the people and I will spend an hour and a half or two hours watching a documentary, versus watching 20 minutes of news every single night that gets me all anxious and angry and upset in on trigger. I mean, that’s what’s happened. You go to dinner or lunch, and it seems like you’re having a casual conversation. And before you know it, we’re all triggered and all riled up. We talk about these very tribalistic issues. So, the first thing is, is you take yourself off the battlefield. That is the easiest thing and you do that by stopping consuming all the short form media that’s making you anxious, angry and outraged.
[00:11:41] PF: That’s great. And what do we do when we are in environments with people who believe differently and who feel compelled to share those beliefs? And we know, we know that saying, no, but, or anything like that is going to start a war. But it’s very difficult for people. I’ve talked with people who it’s like, I knew I shouldn’t have said anything, but like, because they, say I feel just as strongly as this other person does with a differing opinion, and it’s hard to listen and listen and listen and not share your opinion. So, how do you take care of all this? Because that’s where our problems are coming from.
[00:12:22] PM: So, Paula, what you are going to do the next time you’re in that scenario is you’re going to access your wise mind. And your wise mind knows the following is you cannot change anybody’s mind with facts. Absolutely cannot change anybody’s minds with facts. The only way to change somebody else’s mind is by a relationship, which means repeated long-term exposure to somebody and talking about things that are not in politics and non-religious. We’re doing things we used to do, whether we’re playing games or board games, video games, hiking, camping, boating, shooting guns, whatever you do. But the only way to “change” somebody else’s mind is through relationship.
And next time you’re in that moment, and you see it have compassion for this person who is actually genuinely hurting, and realize that when somebody is expressing their fear and anxiety about the future of the country, understand that they are sincerely in pain. And for anybody who has studied any kind of meditation, they are what the Buddhists call suffering, have compassion for them in where they are, and your job is just to love them and be in relationship with them. Because I promise you bring up the cudgel of facts, does not work.
[00:13:44] PF: Right. And we see that time and time again and things end very badly. It hurts relationships, sometimes irreparably.
I’ll be right back with more on my talk with Peter Montoya about unity and civility. But right now, we’ve got another way that you can bring people together and that is through puzzles. I’ve got KC Johnson, our fabulous ecommerce marketing manager and we discovered Unidragon puzzles. KC, tell me what you love most about these these puzzles or wooden puzzles, for one. They’re very different. It’s not your average jigsaw puzzle. So, tell me what you thought about them.
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[00:14:33] PF: Don’t forget the wolf.
[00:14:35] KCJ: Don’t forget the wolf. I can’t forget the wolf. Yeah, they’ve got wolves. They’ve got everything. And what I particularly love is that you can send gifts to your loved ones. And by gift, I mean, you can choose any puzzle and send it to your friends anywhere in the world. And it’s super easy. Their website is very user friendly. I highly recommend it. It brings people together. There’s so many just like mental health benefits to it as well.
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[00:15:18] PF: Let’s talk about some tools that people can use to have a more civil discourse when these things are coming up. And sometimes it’s at work, it can be at home, it can be with relatives. What are some of the things, what kind of conversations we need to start having, so that we can have more civil discourse and more unity?
[00:15:38] PM: That’s a great question. I’ve got a bunch of questions that I have memorized. And they are, you know, just human. So, here’s some of the questions that I use when someone starts to go political. I’ll usually just go nod and go, “Oh, my gosh, yeah, I can see why you’re really concerned about that.” And then I’ll ask them a question. “What did you learn about your partner going through the pandemic?”
[00:16:02] PF: Oh, wow.
[00:16:00] PM: What did you learn about your relationship going through the pandemic? Here’s another question. What made you smile today? What made you smile today? What was the most meaningful thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours? What are you most excited about that’s coming up in your life? What is the most important thing, a tangible thing to you in the world? What’s the most important thing to you in the world? Those are some of the questions that I have memorized at the tip of my tongue. I use those things freely and give them away, because they’re really effective at making as human beings.
[00:16:45] PF: That’s fantastic, because everyone likes to feel included, and everyone wants to talk about themselves. And so, when you give them that opportunity and take their focus off of what’s riling them up, I imagine there’s an incredible physiological change going on with them.
[00:17:03] PM: Absolutely. And you’re connecting with them again. Because the truth is, this these studies are in my book, The Second Civil War: A Citizen’s Guide to Healing our Fractured Nation is my book. It’s the first political self-help book. And one of the things that’s in there, a whole bunch of charts, where they actually go and poll Americans on different issues, Republicans and Democrats. They asked the questions about gun control. Abortion, which is a really sticky issue. They ask questions about immigration and thoughts on the police. And guess what? On issue after issue 70% to 80% of Americans agree on even the most controversial issues.
One of the questions is, should guns be more regulated? Yes or no? 70% to 80% of both Democrats and Republicans say yes. Now, you would think well, no Peter, that’d be 50/50. It would be half and half, or 100% of Democrats and 0% Republicans. It’s not. It’s 70% to 80% on both sides. But what we’ve been taught is by looking at the news is they only show the extremes of each of the other parties. They don’t show the broad middle. They don’t show all the stuff we agree on, they concentrate on the differences.
So, walk into any conversation you’re having here, looking for the 80% of agreement, versus the 5% of the most volatile issues you could possibly talk about, which is the news of war. The news of the day that people are both, just so you know, I really don’t believe there are very few people who have original thoughts and that includes me. I don’t think any of my thoughts are original. I’m always called a cryptonesiac. That means I consume so much information, I don’t know where it came from. And then I spout all the information as if it’s my own. And so, 90% of the time, most people are only spouting opinions, or catchphrases, or talking points that they heard from their “pastor”, which is their media source. And what their pastor or their media source told them is now cocked in their brain. And when they have a conversation, they bring out what they’ve been told, and all we’re doing is repeating somebody else’s thought. Very few people have really original thoughts.
[00:19:23] PF: And as soon as someone disagrees with us, we dig in and go deeper into that thought.
[00:19:29] PM: Because we’re tribal. Our default mechanism is to look for people who are different than us, and then to expel them, shun them, or shame them out of the tribe. That is what our default settings do.
[00:19:41] PF: So, as you’ve been studying this, you do so much research and look at what we’re doing, do you have optimism that we’re going to heal this divide? That we’re going to come back together? And if so, please tell us how because not everyone shares that optimism.
[00:19:58] PM: Yeah, I do. So, when the printing press was back in the 1400s, there was 30 years of global chaos. After the printing press was created, everyone thought all the intellectual thought leaders, the day basically thought, “Oh, my gosh, well, now the masses will be educated. We’re going to make sure that everyone’s able to read and write. We can disseminate human information.” And that was true. But also, what happened was massive misinformation was spread. All of a sudden people, one person was able to spread to many thousands, hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people misinformation. And after that there was massive war, massive political upheaval, and it took about 30 years for society to figure out the ethics, the stopgap measures, the measurements to put in place to get things kind of stabilized against, they could use this amazing information transfer responsibly.
So, the first step of all problem solving of all leadership is to agree upon a common set of facts. And what has happened between the confluence of social media and cable media is now we’ve had massive misinformation, and it only takes 5% of all information, that is misinformation, to completely disrupt cooperation. That’s it.
[00:21:17] PF: Wow.
[00:21:18] PM: So, if 5% is misinformation, of the available information, that’s enough to disrupt cooperation. Basically, I would look at Facebook, its invention in 2014, as being the kind of the starting gun as to when like the start of the printing press. So, that was basically 14, 15 years ago, we’re about 15 years away from solving this problem. And I really believe that a civil media, which is a different category than a social media platform, will be the solution to that. And that’s what I’m doing, is building a civil media platform, which we think will eliminate bots, and trolls, dramatically reduce misinformation, so that we can all agree again on a common set of facts, so that we can then cooperate.
[00:22:08] PF: Tell me more about what you’re building, because I’ve looked at your site, and it is pretty fascinating. And I guess first, this is going to be a multiple part question, because I want you to tell us what it is you’re building, and then how it’s going to alter our experience with what we now call social media.
[00:22:26] PM: Yeah, great question. So, that lends us to what we believe is what we’re doing is we’re creating a new category of media called civil media. And social media means a couple of things. Number one, nobody – you don’t know who you’re talking to. So, people use pseudonyms, they’re anonymous, and in which case, they have no reputational risk, which means that people behave on social media in very uncivil ways. There are the people who use their own names, their own pictures, and among their own friends, who usually behave the best. And if you want to see the most uncivil behavior, you look at platforms like HN or 4N, where everyone was anonymous, and you will find the most hateful, vile, disgusting, inhuman, uncivil behavior possible.
So, we think we can introduce civility again, which means people will be kind and respectful, because, people will be who they say they are. They will have reputational risk. Their identities will be verified. And the second thing that we put in place is what’s called trust score. And trust score is not created by a computer. The trust score is created the same way we create a trust score in the real world, and that is through your friend group. So, in the minds of every one of your friends, Paula, your friends go, “Is Paula a good person or a bad person? Do I trust Paula or not?” And we more or less have digitized that, such that it’s not any one person who is basically saying your civil or uncivil, but a whole web, a whole collection, we built a very complicated algorithm that helps compute this trust score. And the higher your trust score, the more your content is amplified, and the lower your trust scores, the lower is amplified.
I believe in freedom of speech. And if somebody wants to be a hateful, vile racist, and they want to spout racist epithets, they are free to do so in the privacy of their own living room. They just don’t deserve necessarily to be on the front page of the newspaper or get primetime on any news channel. And the same thing with a social media platform, we just don’t have to amplify people who are not trusted.
So, between the trust score and identity verification, we think we can bring back kindness and respect. And the second thing that makes a civil media platform different is that not only emphasizes communication, but more importantly, cooperative action. And so, we are building tools that will help people, leaders, unifiers, gather people who care about causes to either give their time, their money or resources to solve problems. My heart has broken this last year at least twice as I’ve heard about pandemic outbreaks in India and 5,000 people were dying a day in the streets because they didn’t have hospital bed. I heard the stories I shared earlier about in Afghanistan, people falling off airplanes, and I thought, “Oh, my God, this is horrible. What can I do?” And there was no button for me to push. There’s nothing for me to do. I didn’t know where to go. And so, what a civil media platform does is not only shares the information, but provides the tools for the organizations and the people who are on the ground, looking for support to solve the problems. So, the job of our civil media platform is to perpetuate the survival of our species by getting the right people, capital, and resources to the people who need it most.
[00:26:01] PF: And you’re really dialing down all the hate talk and acrimony that’s going on right now. And as people are in that environment, how is it going to change in the real world? Like as we spend less time in these street fights of social media, and more time in like a genuinely nurturing, supportive environment, whether that’s online or at home or in real world, how is that going to start rippling out?
[00:26:30] PM: Oh, gosh. That’s a great question. I think about that, the answer, the question and the answer every single day. So, the goal of social media companies is to keep you on their platforms as much as possible. The average human being, or the average social media user spends 2 hours and 25 minutes a day on social media. They scroll through 325 feet of feed, which is the same height as the Statue of Liberty. And we think that social media is at its worst, when it’s keeping you from having real world interactions with people sitting right next to you, or lying next to you in bed. That’s when social media is at its worst. When civil media is at its best, it facilitates real world interactions. We are an incredibly social creature. We need the connection or the approval of other people. And so, what on Urth, which is the name of our platform, Urth, urtch.cc is about is about facilitating real world interactions, and actually minimizing the time they spend on our platform.
[00:27:38] PF: That’s excellent. So, you have a beta version coming up?
[00:27:43] PM: Yep. Beta version should be out in early 2023. It’s a big plot platform. It’s a big product.
[00:27:49] PF: Yeah. So, what do we do until then? Because we can’t wait to get civil until then. So, what is it we need to be doing? We can’t change others and we shouldn’t try. So, what is it that we should be doing to promote more unity, and create our own community? Let’s start there.
[00:28:07] PM: I attended my first personal development course back when I 18 years old, or maybe 19 in 1987, that’ll tell you how old I am. Well, I remember the following message. They told me this, 30 some years ago. They said, if you’re in a relationship, you can’t change the other person. The only thing you can do is change yourself. And I’ve heard that message and I remember that message from 35 years ago, and that is the absolute truth. For anybody who’s been married, and said, “Well, my partner’s broken”, and they’ve tried to fix their spouse, or their boyfriend or their girlfriend or their partner, you will learn very, very quickly, you cannot change them. However, if you change yourself, it changes the relationship. So, when you accept them wholeheartedly, you reduce your anxiety. You are healthy of mind, body, and spirit, and you bring yourself to that relationship, you will notice the relationship changes. You’ve never tried to change somebody else. You only change yourself.
[00:29:13] PF: And for people that say, “But I don’t need to change. They do.” Because that’s the common response, right?
[00:29:22] PM: Yeah, I’m done. I fully evolve.
[00:29:28] PF: So, what’s our, like prescriptions, doctor? How do we start doing that? How do we start taking a step back, taking a breath, and coexisting more peacefully?
[00:29:39] PM: Yeah. I think probably the first thing is to realize, and I’ve asked people that question before in training rooms, who here is perfect, and there’s usually 10% of the hands that go up, and they kind of laugh when they’re saying it. But there’s a secret to that. When they actually are raising their hand, they actually believe it’s true. And they’re kind of joking about it, but no, that’s what they think. They really do think that they are perfect. And it is a trap that some people – I’m sorry, all of us to a certain degree fall into is that we think if we’re perfect, we’ll be more lovable. And it’s exactly the opposite.
The more “perfect” you are, the less likely you are to change. The more inflexible you are, the more righteous you are, the more intolerable you are, the less likely people want to be around you. So, thinking that you don’t need to change or grow is a trap of the ego. And it is the best way to keep yourself lonely, isolated, and suffering. So, the first realization is, nobody is perfect. We are not a done. There’s not ultimately who we are, there is a process of what we are, we are all in process. We are all in a journey. And as soon as you not only know that, like you heard me say it, but you know it into the fiber of your being that you are a process, that you are imperfect, and you’ll never be done growing, and the best way to have connection with other people is humility and authenticity, not putting up this phony facade that you’re perfect, the better off you will be and the less suffering you will have.
[00:31:22] PF: I like it. Peter, thank you for breaking things down for us today. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. You always have so much wisdom to impart on us and I really appreciate you coming in and talking with me today.
[00:31:35] PM: Paula, I could talk to you every day all day.
[00:31:38] PF: we should do that.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:31:45] PF: That was Peter Montoya, giving us some great advice on how to help create a more civil world. If you’d like to learn more about Peter, follow him online, learn about the New Earth civil media platform, or check out his latest book, just visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab. And remember to check out those amazing puzzles at unidragon.com and get a 10% discount by entering the code live happy now.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every, day a happy one