Becoming Mindful – ep.117

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Dr. Peter Huang discusses approaches to disrupt racism, the benefits of becoming more mindful and how this practice is key to improving decision-making skills.




Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

Peter Henry Huang is an author utilizing his experiences as mathematically economist, economics professor and law professor to help address problems in our society currently faces. His research includes analyzing how to boost people’s decision-making skills, including retirement planning by practicing mindfulness, helpful thinking styles and cognitive diversity. He endeavors to foster people to become more creative thinkers and innovative problem solvers.

But first, let me tell you a little more about him. He enrolled at 14 years old and graduated in three years from Princeton University at 17 years old. He was a university scholar in mathematics and economics. He earned an applied mathematics, doctorate in mathematical economics from Harvard University. His principal PhD thesis advisor was 1972, economics noble Laureate, Kenneth Joseph Arrow.

He earned a JD with distinction from Stanford University’s law school where he was a Stanford Center on Conflict and Negotiation Fellow and a John M. Olin Fellow in Law and Economics. Dr. Huang was a staff economist in the Division of Consumer Protection in the Bureau of Economics of the Federal Trade Commission. He’s published 68 economics journal articles, book chapters, and law review articles most recently on topics related to anti-discrimination leadership, stakeholder capitalism, and social justice.

He’s a frequent guest on legal and education podcasts where he talks about such topics as how the pandemic changed our personal and professional lives, mental health, the zombification of law students and lawyers, and the bamboo ceiling that Asian-American law students and lawyers often face in the legal profession.

All right. This is again, one of the great weeks when I get to meet somebody new, somebody that I maybe never would meet by doing this podcast. I always get so excited to meet new people and talk about what they are experts in. Dr. Peter Huang is no exception to that rule.

I’m so excited to talk to you because you have written extensively on mindfulness, happiness, ethics, leadership, and I love the fact that you are doing work in disrupting racism, all of those things because obviously it’s so important to the world. The work you’re doing, I love to celebrate people who are doing such wonderful work, and I thank you for that.

But I do want to just start out a little bit maybe with you talking a little bit about how you became the person you are today, because you are … I mean, everybody’s unique. But you got a couple unicorns on your head, I think.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Okay. I like that. I was thinking of, people often say, you have several hats. You’re wearing so many hats. Then my niece, Anna, who’s 12, she goes, “You’re kind of quirky.” I said, “Is that good?” She goes, “Yeah. Quirky is good.” I said, [inaudible 00:04:06].

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it. Yes.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yeah. My life seemed rather normal until eighth grade when I had a question. My math teacher, my algebra teacher, and I would write her poems and then sign [foreign language 00:04:21], which means with love in German. Did she know German? No. But I was taking German, so it was practice.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Then I chose her as my advisor because I liked the fact that she and I talked about truth tables and the Konigsberg, Seven Bridges problem and things like that. I thought, “Wow. She’s introduced a whole new world of analytical, logical and critical thought, which I had not seen before.”

One day my tiger mom said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m just finished up my homework.” She goes, “Let me check it.” I said, “I think that’s the teacher’s job.” The more I didn’t want to show it to her, the more she wanted to see it. I said, “Have you heard of this term called privacy?” She goes, “If you have nothing to hide, you don’t need privacy.”

I said, “That’s the University of Chicago law school view of privacy.” She looked at it and realized I was writing these love notes to my algebra teacher and I was going to Horace Mann, which is a country day prep school in Riverdale. She sent me there because it was all boy at the time, all boys. She goes, “It’s worse than being distracted by a classmate as a girl. You’re being distracted by a woman who’s your algebra teacher.”

She’s thought to herself, “I’m going to have to fix this.” Come summer, between eighth and ninth grade, she took me to the chairman of the math department, Courant Institute at NYU, because my mother was and still is a professor of biochemistry at NYU. She’s now 93 and doesn’t teach, but gets research grants from NIH or other organizations and does research. As long as she has grant money coming in, she I guess will have a job.

We convinced, I guess, the math chairman that I should sit in audit, precalc and calc one, the first six weeks. I did sitting and front and center and took all the tasks, did all the homework, and then both wrote little notes saying, “To whom it may concern, this is to confirm that Peter Huang was an auditor in my class and did very well.” They said, “You’re allowed to take Calc 2 as a 13-year-old for credit.”

When I went back to Harris Van for ninth grade, there was no math to take because even AP math just covers Calc 1 and Calc 2. It doesn’t go at least at that point, I don’t know about now.

Melyssa Barrett:  But wait, you were 13 at the time?

Dr. Peter Huang:  13 at the time. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Dr. Peter Huang:  A couple of weeks later, my mother said, “You know what? I think you should go to college.” I thought, “Okay.” Because I think she wanted me to get away from that teacher because even though I wasn’t taking a class and she wasn’t my advisor, I could still talk to her and see her. I thought to myself, “I can get away from you.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, what.

Dr. Peter Huang:  I applied to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, NYU. I got into NYU, Columbia, Princeton. Harvard said, “Please, with your application and reapply in three years so you don’t have this rejection” just rejected me. That’s pretty funny. We decided to go to Princeton, because Princeton was the best math department. I remember crying though when they dropped me off in a dorm and she wrote a letter to the dean of students saying, “My son is very innocent. I don’t want them to be exposed to rock and roll drugs or sex. Please give him a single room. I don’t want him to be living in a suite which is five or six other roommates.”

I got a single room with my Winnie-the-Pooh or cherry brown bedsheets for my twin bed and a little bookcase that had all of the required and recommended texts for all the classes I was taking. I’m not sure what other people thought, but I didn’t go around saying to people, I’m 17, and sometimes when you have a 17-year-old male going, “Hodge, they look kind of young.”

Everything was fine. Then she said, “I think you should apply to the university scholar, which means that you don’t have to satisfy distribution requirements.” I only took math or economics. I did take philosophy, when it was philosophy of math. I did take politics, but it was mathematical politics. Then she said, “I think you should also apply to graduating three years.”

Melyssa Barrett:  No slackers in your family.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yeah. No slackers. That’s right. I did that and I graduated in three years at the age of 17. I applied to Harvard, pure math department. They sent me a letter saying, “Based on your letters of recommendation and your personal essay, we think you’d be happier in applied math.” Before I got a chance to say yes or no, you applied math department said you’ve been accepted, you get a stipend, you get a scholarship. I said, “Okay.”

But at Princeton, the idea was to do pure math because pure math cannot hurt people like be used to build bombs. Applied math is possibly evil because it can be used by evil people. The irony is things that are pure math, like number theory, they become useful in ways that the people who were doing it didn’t even expect. In other words, now privacy, crypto security is built on prime numbers and stuff like that.

But the people who did numbers theory had no idea one day this would be so useful. In applied math at Harvard, now called a division of Applied Science, it used to be called Division Engineering and Applied Physics. Most of the students were people who wanted to be engineers and interested in decision and control problems. Like, “How do I fire a rocket and control it so that it lands in the correct place if I’m in war or something?”

But there were a couple of people who were not doing engineering time stuff. One was a mathematical biologist, and then there was me. I took the econ classes. They signed an advisor who happened to be Kenneth Arrow who won the first … Was it the first? I don’t know. He was the youngest Nobel Prize winner until I think a couple years ago. He won in the 1972. I think the first one was 1970.

He was one of the early Nobel Prize winners and it was for his work in social choice theory voting and also his work in something called general equilibrium theory, which is looking at a system of markets and also for his work in looking at risk.

He was a very interesting person because he didn’t care what my grades were. He judged me by when I tried to write articles, because that’s what you’re going to do as a professor. You’re going to write articles, do research, write articles, and teach. But the teaching side is … How should I put it? Not something that I think a lot of schools train you for, which I think is to the disadvantage of students.

Yeah. There’s no Nobel Prize in teaching, for example, and there’s no … The higher-ranked schools, the higher-ranked in terms of the research that the people that they publish in more prestigious journals. Like I was saying to someone, “Calculus at Stanford, NYU, Harvard, Yale Community College, it’s the same calculus. It’s not different. Calculus anywhere is calculus. That’s the thing.”

But the people at your community college are not doing research, not publishing cutting-edge research on things that you study in graduate school. While I was there, he left Harvard to go to Stanford where he had been many years. I went out with him every summer. Then he left for good Harvard. I decided to follow him out there because when I went to Stanford, I thought, “This is like paradise. The weather’s nice all the time. I can learn to ride a bicycle. I can learn to play volleyball. I can learn to date undergraduate females. This is wonderful.”

I still took classes. Although because I was not a student at Stanford, I would sit in on them. I took some classes in the business school about game theory or about multi-person decision theory. That’s why I spent … I graduated from Princeton in ’76. I entered in ’73. I did not get my PhD until 1984. I can’t do arithmetic. But I think it’s a larger number of years, like eight.

My mother got her PhD in biophysics in three years and had two kids. She said to me, “Excuse.” I said, “I can’t give birth.” When I came out, I decided to take a job in economics. I was a staff economist at the Division of Consumer Protection in the Bureau of Economics.

Melyssa Barrett:  Okay.

Dr. Peter Huang:  How should I put it? The thing about a government job is a lot of the people there are lifers. They sort of … Yep. Right. I got an assignment the first day. I did it and gave back to them the next day. Everyone said to me, “Do not do that again.” Look back. You get an assignment, ask what it to do. The day they going to get an extension. You want to work as slowly as possible.

Melyssa Barrett:  You are ruining their expectations. Oh, my God.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Well, I decided to go back into academia and I taught at a number of schools, Southern Methodist University, Tulane, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford. Then I would say to people, “Well, if you use economics to analyze this legal rule or statute, it doesn’t make sense.”

They would say, “You don’t know the law.” I thought, “Let me go get a law degree.” I applied to go to law.

Melyssa Barrett:  Why not?

Dr. Peter Huang:  Like yesterday I got a citation and I thought, “Oh, no. This is not good.” It said that I didn’t come to a full stop when I was behind a school bus when it had its stop sign on. I thought, “Okay.” This was November 10th. I remember I did another podcast. I was very happy with it. It was the one that was not recorded. I decided I wanted to eat something. I went to this place called the Nile Cafe, which is like a soul food vegan place.

I was rushing to get there. I saw the school bus and I thought, “I don’t see any kids coming out.” I just drove around it and I was telling my partner about that. She goes, “That’s illegal.” She goes, “Yes.” I said, “Okay. I didn’t know that.” She goes, “Ignorance is not an excuse.” I said, “Oh, my goodness.”

It’s $300. I went and the Pennsylvania statute to see. They said, “Yes. It’s $200 to the school, $50 to the, I guess, school bus company, $50 to the police.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Interesting.

Dr. Peter Huang:  It was interesting because I thought the kids get nothing.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, hopefully they get home safely since you went around them.

Dr. Peter Huang:  That’s the thing. Yeah. She said, “You learned your lesson?” I said, “Yes.” She goes, “What did you learn?” I said, “Never to go out driving between the hours of a 1:00 and 4:00.” Or if I see a school bus.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, my gosh.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Or the opposite way.

Melyssa Barrett:  I love it.

Dr. Peter Huang: I’m going to be overcautious now.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Well, it’s interesting to me that you focus a lot on mindfulness because I’m like, where did you … after going through this path, how did you decide that you were not only going to talk about mindfulness, but then you were going to stretch it into how does the mind make decisions and how does the mind address racism and things of that nature?

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yeah. That’s a great question because my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, my mother’s mother, she came to the United States when she was 60. We were living in Pittsburgh while I was born. She came basically to help raise me. Every morning she would have these mala beads and she would chant sort of things. I would say, “What are you doing, grandma?” She goes, “I’m practicing mindfulness.” I said, “What is that?”

She goes, “You see a lot of people running around chickens without their heads. I’m trying to be calm and realize that when things happen, when thoughts and feelings happen, they’re like clouds that I can watch them pass by. If I’m angry, there’s anger. I am not angry. I’m typically angry, and it’ll pass everything good or bad.”

I thought, “That’s interesting.” Because she seems very levelheaded about stuff and other people seem very buffeted by things like they’re riding a rollercoaster up and down. It just kept that in my mind. Then when I was at Penn, they had a Penn alumni magazine, which they put in every faculty’s mailbox. There was one that talked about Marty Seligman, who was the father of positive psychology.

This idea of using psychology to help people go from 5 to 10 instead of from 0 to 5. Because psychology, I guess because of its history, had a lot of emphasis on people who were veterans who had suffered trauma like PTSD. The question is to help people bring them up to what they were before. His goal was to basically get everyone to flourish and be at their full capacity. Whatever it is they do well to do that and benefit themselves and benefit society, and then that’s something they would like to do as opposed to working on things you’re not good at.

That was interesting. Then in the article, I had something about someone else, Richie Davidson at Wisconsin, Madison had put some electrodes around the head of the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist monks, and they scan their brains. They found that if you startle them, they will go back to being their non-startle state very quickly. It’s not that they don’t react. But they react and they move on.

Most people, when you startle them, they stay startled or they go, “What’s going on?” They’re nervous after that. The point is, when they practice meditation, their brain was in a different state than when they don’t. Yet, they train their minds, I guess, by discipline and practice to be able to have that anytime. I thought that’s really fascinating because one of the things people who study economics and law, both fields, are really focused on is decision-making.

Law you can think of as a incentive device, a price. If you want to deter someone from doing something socially harmful response, you say, we’re going to fine you. The more damage you do, the higher the fine is. If you want to encourage someone to be altruistic or socially aware and conscious, you pay them a reward or you give them incentives, a tax break to take an exercise class or something.

In doing that, law is both overbroad and under broad. I mean over inclusive and under inclusive. It’s like a very clumsy tool to try to incentivize both to do the things you want and not do the things you don’t want. In economics, people also study decision-making because they’re understand what consumers choose to buy. We make this assumption that people maximize their happiness.

But then some of this literature on mindfulness question that’s saying, “Is consumerism, materialism the best thing?” Because your possessions are not you. They’re just temporary. In some sense, many people hold onto their possessions and identify with their possessions. Like, “I am the car. I am the Tesla. If you crash my Tesla or hurt it, I’m going to come out and sue you because you’ve hurt me personally.”

I thought about that and I thought, that’s interesting, because it’s also the case. People feel like they own their ideas. If I have an idea and you attack it’s like you’re attacking my daughter or son, I have to come to the defense. It is funny how people treat certain things that are physical objects that have no life, but they put their identity with that thing and how people identify with their beliefs.

I thought about that and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting. I wonder what other research. There’s in mindfulness.” I looked up some mindfulness articles when I first started dating my partner. She goes, “Why do you have neuroscience books?” I said, “Because there’s the neuroscience decision-making. It’s fascinating.” She goes, “But you don’t teach neuroscience.” But I said, “I teach law, which is about decision-making.”

She goes, “Okay. I could see that sort of.” She goes, “You have a bunch of neuroscience books.” I said, “Yeah. Because I didn’t get them a neuroscience degree, so I had to get them all.” One of the things they talked about was how practicing just half an hour of meditation will make people score on the implicit bias test as being less biased against Black people, against old people, against different groups that are minorities.

I thought, “This is interesting because can mindfulness really be a tool that society can use to solve problems?” There was a book called The Mindful Investor. I thought, “Oh, that’s combining my securities regulation.” Because when people invest in stocks, sometimes their emotions control them in some sense. They’re excited or they’re sad or something as opposed to just, it’s a piece of paper. Is it a good investment? Or just like people who believe in a numerology or something else.

I mean, they have very strange decision rules. There was some evidence that not only does practicing mindfulness make you score as less implicitly biased, it also lessens discriminatory actions. Now, to me, that was fascinating because what goes on in your mind, it’s not illegal to think bad thoughts. But if you hit someone with a club or lynch them, that’s not good.

If you will do less of that through mindfulness, that’s much cheaper than having police and jails. It’s a social improvement, because mindfulness also has benefits like reduces insomnia, increases productivity, lowers your heart rate. You have a calmer, your emotional … heart variability. Yeah.

Then I thought, someone said to me, “You think mindfulness is a pan?” I said, “No. I don’t think so, because mindfulness doesn’t always say you should be happy. Because if you’re being discriminated against, you should be upset because that’s not the way it should be.” The upset is information telling you, “You need to change this.”

Once you change it, you can go back to sort of a happy state. By happy, I don’t mean young kids, you be skippy and love, I mean joy and contentment and having a belief that your life has meaning. That if you were at the end of your life and you wrote a eulogy or someone else wrote a eulogy, they would say, “Peter was an interesting guy. He studied a lot of things, but he actually near the end of his career, got into things that are actually useful, like mindfulness, happiness, and not these other things that he had written tons of articles about insider trading or corporate governance, which are not useful, but they weren’t as general, didn’t apply to as many people.”

Whatever it gave a talk of happiness or mindfulness, a lot of people come. When I give a talk at insider trading, it’s only a few insider trading specialists, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. Then you’re effectively saying that if we … I mean, because obviously being an African-American, we have a lot of trauma that comes with the discrimination that has been perpetuated consistently. Not that it’s over, because it still happens obviously to many people of color, not just African-Americans. Mindfulness being a tool to disrupt racism is what you’re saying can happen. Now, how do we get these crazy people, I’ll just say, to actually be mindful?

Dr. Peter Huang:  Tough question or a question with a tough answer. There’s also a woman, I can’t remember her name right now, Rhonda Magee, who’s at the University of California. I think it’s either University of California, San Francisco. But maybe it’s the University of California Law School. It used to be called Hastings. But they found out Hastings actually had a part in killing Native Americans or doing something else that was not good. They changed the name of the school.

She actually was one of the first people also to talk about mindfulness, and she talked about how mindfulness could help the victim of racism also achieve peace. Yeah. It’s on both sides, and it’s a thing that …

Melyssa Barrett:  But I think it would be good if we didn’t have racism, and then …

Dr. Peter Huang:  I agree.

Melyssa Barrett:  … the victims wouldn’t have to go there.

Dr. Peter Huang:  I mean, I titled my book Disrupting Racism because I didn’t … I thought about saying eradicating racism. But I thought, “I don’t know if we can eradicate racism.” I don’t think people are born racist. Because if you see a kid, a baby, they will play with you whether you’re white, black, yellow, red, and they won’t ask to see your CV or your bank account. They don’t care about these things. You’re playing with it. You’re playing with them.

But their parents say, “Well, those are not our kind of people.” By the age of six or seven, they learn white, black, they learn these distinctions that are observable, but they’re actually very superficial, and it’s just one piece of information about a person. Any person is multidimensional. You have many different aspects and characteristics.

You’re such a high dimensional space or manifold that try to project you into one dimension is in some sense impossible and insulting to the person’s humanity. I’m not just an power of Chinese people or yellow people or Asian people. I’m an individual. When people say to me, “Why you did well in math?” I said, “Why?” They go, “Because Asians are good at math.” I go, “Oh, my God.”

My mother said something funny to me. She goes, “Why are you good at math?” I said, “I studied hard.” She goes, “No, no, no.” She goes, “When I was pregnant with you, I was taking calculus. Through osmosis, you’re a scientist, you have a PhD valve visit.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Your mom is one of a kind, for sure.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yes. Oh, my God. Yeah. I think mindfulness should be taught in law schools as a way to help lawyers become more resilient or effective for their clients. Because if you’re mentally impaired, you’re actually not competent. I think practice online is very stressful. Now, someone, them might say being a doctor is stressful being a business, yes. But practicing law, you’re doing something and there’s a doctor on the other side trying to undo everything you’re doing.

I think a lot of things are stressful. We can’t control whether we have stress or what happens. What we can control is how we respond, and we should respond mindfully as the react in a knee-jerk faction, mindlessly. No one would say, “Oh, I’m pro-mindless. I’m the pro-mindless camp. I want people to be mindless.” Because that doesn’t make sense.

But some people do want people to be mindless. The people who are politicians might want someone to vote for them without thinking, is this a good person? That people who are marketing might want to need to buy a cigarette or buy liquor or buy … because …

Melyssa Barrett:  Does you feel good? It makes you feel good, or they’d give you someone. Yeah.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Everything is like … I remember those jeans when Brooke Shields had wore those jeans. The idea is that you want to look like or feel like Brooke Shields or some other football star or something, and on some basic level is completely false, but you fall for it. One of the things I think we should teach consumers and investors is how to make consumption choices and investment choices better.

We should teach everyone some financial literacy or economic literacy because they did a survey in the US and Canada and they asked you the question, or survey was just one question, how do you plan to pay for your retirement? Some people said, “I’m saving. I have a 401(k).” Some people say, “I have a pension.” Two-thirds of the people in American Canada said, “Lottery.”

Melyssa Barrett:  No.

Dr. Peter Huang:  To win that much money, you have to be struck lightning twice. That’s the odds of that. That’s why you hear about old people eating cat food, and it’s very sad. But …

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yeah. I thought to myself, if people could learn to be mindful, that would help them. That’s why they would do it. But it would also help society. But we don’t have to tell them that. There was a guy named Chade-Meng Tan. He was the chief happiness officer at Google. He would book …

Melyssa Barrett:  Chief Happiness Officer. I love it.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yes. Isn’t that great? The business card that says that, H-O, Cho. He was at Google. He is one of the earliest employees. One day he decided to schedule a talk the next week about mindfulness as a way to reduce stress. Nobody came. He asked why. They said, “Ballroom type A. I live downstairs. I eat stress for breakfast.” He scheduled another talk called mindfulness, how to be more productive. Everyone came. Because we want to be more productive. We want to do more things for our employees.

Melyssa Barrett:  Right. We don’t want to be more mindful. We just want to be more productive.

Dr. Peter Huang:  That, that that. He said, “But the way to do it is through reducing stress.” By reducing stress, you become more productive. It’s a little chain. It’s true. If you’re stressed out all day, you’re not going to be able to sit and concentrate if you’re thinking and worrying about things in the future. I said this to my partner, I said, “Worrying is like a downpayment on the house you may not buy. Why worry if it hasn’t happened yet? If the only reason you’re worried is to prepare for that, then prepare for that without the worry. Just plan your” … Yeah.

I remember, I forget who said this, there was a spoken word song. They often play graduation. It was attributed to a man, but it’s really by a woman. It was this thing about sunscreen where the guy says, “I have one piece of advice.” It says, “Wear sunscreen.” Then he goes, “Also, don’t worry about things because the things you worry about are not the things that are going to get you. He isn’t going to get you. It’s something you’ve never thought about at Tuesday at 4:00.”

He said, “Worrying is about as useful as chewing gum to do a math problem. It doesn’t help.” I said, “It’s true, because worrying takes a lot of energy out of you. When you worry, people feel tired after being worried. It’s hard. People fall into habit also. They get used to that.

But I was fascinated by the idea of emotion regulation through mindfulness. The idea of achieving a serenity like Spock, if you will, through using logic and mindfulness and the idea that we could make society a better place if everyone was mindful.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Yes. Well, I mean when you talk about disrupting racism, what other things can we pull on? Because a lot of times the victims I find are doing a lot of the work to help disrupt it. I mean, not that that’s the right thing either, but I guess it’s better than nobody working on it at all. What other types of things could we use to disrupt racism, especially when it comes to our own ethics leadership decision-making?

Dr. Peter Huang:  Right. I’m trying to remember. I think I had five different takeaways from my book. But I can only remember three of them right now. What is the practice mindfulness? The other is to learn to be an active listener and the art of conversation, because lawyers are trained when you talk to, not listen to you, but to look for flaws in your logical arguments to basically when it’s their turn just demolish you.

That may be good in court. But it’s not good with your spouse or your kids. You should actively listen to your spouse or kids and actually check in. What I hear you saying is when I don’t take out the laundry, you feel belittled or you feel like I don’t care about you because I do the laundry and I take it out of the dryer whenever I want. There. I said, “I’ve never thought that, because I forgot.” That’s all that was.

But people make up these stories and they don’t check reality. The other thing is trying to … This is more of an organizational thing, trying to create social norms or organizational cultures where people accept DEI, where people say, “What? We want diversity. We don’t just want old white men on corporate boards because our company sells products to people besides all white men. It sells products to women, sells product to minorities. It sells product to women and minorities. We should get some of them on our board so we know what they think. It should be logical.”

There was an article I read about experiment that did when they had women on a corporate board and they said, “They were able to consider a range of different views.” That’s actually what a corporation does because it has stockholders, bond holders, the environment, government, regulators, consumers, investors.

You want to consider all these views. There are multiple stakeholders. In some sense, you want to balance that, whereas men didn’t seem to do that as much. They also talked about other reasons why women are good decision-makers. I said to my partner, I said to her, “I try to find women to be my dentist, my primary care physician. I now have a need as kind of bone-on-bone.”

I said, “I don’t know why there’s so few women, orthopedic surgeons.” She goes, “What is your deal with that?” I said, “I feel women are better than men.” I was speaking as a male in terms of concentration and empathy. I also think there’s evidence like women leave smaller scars after surgery. Men don’t care about that. Men are just very macho, and I’m here to fight with you, or I’m smarter than you or whatever.

Women aren’t like that. They’re very cooperative and thoughtful. I think in law school, whenever you ask any question, it’s the white males who will go, “Oh, I have an answer.” They just say gibberish. I can’t say that’s gibberish. I go, “That’s interesting. I never thought of it that way.” The women and minorities are thinking about what to say because they don’t want to say something and blow it out something that’s silly because then the rest of the class will think all women or all Chinese are like that.

But the white men feel entitled to say anything they want because they’re the dominant people in our society. But that’s going to change also. I think it’s not just being nice, being Paula Abdul on a … What was that show? I can’t remember. Terry Underwood was a winner of Kelly Clarkson.

Melyssa Barrett:  America’s Got Talent. What? Oh, American Idol. American Idol. Yeah.

Dr. Peter Huang:  American Idol. Yeah. Remember when they had the three judges where Paula Abdul who always found something good to say, the guy from [inaudible 00:34:08].

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. I forget who the other guy.

Dr. Peter Huang:  I always found something bad to say and then sort of the guy in the middle. But I was thinking, when I give criticism or try to help people, I always say things like, “You write in a very focused way. That’s great. But one thing to think about is not just soak fast, zoom into one answer because maybe there are multiple answers and you want to think about other possibilities.” Because there’s this idea that when you give criticism, legal writing, you want to sandwich it with compliment criticism. Because then it’s more palatable.

IT’S like that spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Yeah. I think legal teaching is not really good in the sense that it’s very stressful and it may not achieve what they’re trying to achieve, which is you can think fast on your feet, because it’s not critical do that. I mean, you should be prepared when you go to court. You should not be going, “I’ll think fast.”

I mean, the other thing is Socratic dialogue, or as Keanu Reeves would say, creates dialogue would involve questioning back and forth and so forth. But no judge is going to do Socratic dialogue with you. They’re in a hurry. They’re busy. We are teaching students a skill that’s really not that relevant. Also, not everyone’s going to go to trial. A lot of people don’t do litigation. They do corporate securities work, which doesn’t involve going in front of court or tax.

Yeah. It’s a very outdated model of education, I think. But Lani Guinier, who used to be at Penn, then went to Harvard. She was interviewed for this special about Harvard Law School and female students. She said … I think I’ve talked about this in other context. It’s like canaries in the mind. She was affected. Women and minorities are having higher stress, higher cortisol levels because of this teaching ate. Maybe they’re the first ones. But the men are not being stressed. They’re just used to the stress or they have less stress because they’re the top of the hierarchy. They’re the top dog. They’re the alpha dog.

She was saying, we have to ask ourselves what is the point of law school? Also, when we admit people, both LSATs, which we know any standardized test is discriminatory. She claimed, which I believe that if you just randomly accepted people, they would do just as well at law school. A lot of it could be like self-fulfilling expectations. I think you can do this, they can do it. If I tell them, “Oh, you can’t do it,” they won’t do it. All of a sudden …

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. They’ll convince themselves going, heading back right into mindfulness, right?

Dr. Peter Huang:  Exactly. Right. Right. It’s amazing because there’s a cartoon that has, it says, “When your mindfulness, you can see yourself clearly.” There’s a guy shaving, and he’s got a belly like Winnie-the-Pooh, and he’s got all this, what is it called, when you don’t shave for many days? Anyway, he’s got this ….

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh, the shadow?

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yeah. Exactly. In the mirror, he sees himself as a 6-foot 4 gorgeous, handsome, GQ magazine person. Underneath the caption is mindfulness. It helps you see who you are really or how others see you, right?

Melyssa Barrett:  I love that. I love that. Yeah.

Dr. Peter Huang:  The other thing I think is funny, I’ll tell you one quick story.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah.

Dr. Peter Huang:  My partner’s youngest sister’s, youngest child, David, when he was six or so, he was acting up at a social event, I think it was Thanksgiving or something, and my partner said to David, “What? You need to go take a timeout?” He goes, “No, no, no. I learned about this in school. I need to go hesitate.” But they were talking about meditate. But he misheard that as hesitate.

But from the mouths of kids, mindfulness is a lot about hesitating, thinking about what you’re doing, how it affects other people, how it affects you. Do you really want to do this? I think, yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. I think that’s where the intention actually occurs. Because you take that hesitation and then you become intentional about where you want to go, what you want to do, what this conversation is going to be about, whatever you’re working on. I love that. I love that.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Right. Absolutely. Sullivan had this story in his book about how the US, I think Army, wanted to teach mindfulness to sharpshooters. They would shoot better and concentrate better. At first it worked, but then some of the sharpshooters say, “Why are we killing people? Is that the best solution?” I said, “It’s interesting because there’s something called loving kindness meditation.” What you do is you say, “I wish health and prosperity and all the good things in life for myself, then I wish it for my family. Then I wish it for someone who’s been difficult in my life, then I wish it for all humans. Then I wish it for all life forms. Maybe so I’ll become vegan or vegetarian.”

But you can stop along that path. It doesn’t mean you have to go through the whole path. If you stop and just care about your family, that’s being mindful, but it’s also being very sort of selfish or you just care about your race or ethnicity. It’s bizarre because we’re all human and we live as Carl Sagan would say, I can’t … Do [inaudible 00:39:19] well, tiny blue dot in space of darkness, and every one we know, every person who was president, king, every good person, every bad person has lived on this tiny blue dot.

You realize looking at pictures of us from far away, we’re alone. It’s like when Apollo 8 had this picture of the earth rise, we’re just floating in space. If you don’t like someone on the lifeboat, you don’t poke a hole in their side because that’s going to make you sink also. I told my partner, she said, “I’m concerned.” She goes, I didn’t use the word worry. “I’m concerned about our niece and nephews,” nieces and nephews. I said, “Yeah.” I said, “I’m not sure what kind of world they’re going to grow up in.”

My 12-year-old niece, who’s my brother’s daughter, Anna, she said to me, “Uncle Peter, can I ask you something?” I said, “You can ask me anything I want. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out.” She says, “Are we going to war with China?” I said, “Where did you hear this?” She goes, “At camp.” I said, “I thought you were going to a summer camp, not like a political theory camp.”

She goes, “People said we’re going to have war with China because of Taiwan.” I said, “That’s there’ve been there a long time.” She goes, “Well, there’s Ukraine and Russia, then there’s Israelis and the conflict with Israel and the Hamas.” She goes, “The world is very messed up.” I said, “Yes. It is.” She goes, “Why would a human kill another human?” I said, “I don’t understand.” I said, “There’s would be called Planet of the Apes, where there’s a ape who says that. Gorilla will never kill another gorilla. But humans just kill each other for ideas, for supremacy, machones. It’s amazing how we don’t take and treat other people’s lives. We’re not mindful about other people’s lives.”

Someone will cut me off in traffic and my partner will say, “Don’t you want to speed up and see who that was?” I said, “No. They may have a gun. B, I’m just going to assume they’re going to the hospital to see their spouse or their kid or something.”

Melyssa Barrett:  Something is going on, yeah.

Dr. Peter Huang:  That’s fine. It’s not my business. She goes, “But you want to teach them to be polite?” I said, “University of Colorado does not pay me to teach people on the highway anything.” I just teach law, the law students. It is weird that many people go through life mindlessly in a fog sort of, and routines. They just get into a rut.

Melyssa Barrett:  Before, I mean, I want to make sure we get … I wanted to ask you this question because I know now, we’re headed into the holidays. We’re in them. There are so many people that this is a time that while lots of people are very happy and excited, it is also a time where people get very depressed, very stressed out.

I know you also have spent a lot of time talking about just the near epidemic levels of depression and errors and dissatisfaction and all of those things going on. But also, in relation to the pandemic as well, just coming out of that and that whole solitude. Not that we’re all the way out of it. But can you talk a little bit about just the depression? I know you call it the zombie apocalypse, if I remember correctly.

Dr. Peter Huang:  The lawyers.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. For lawyers. But can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yeah. Sure. I think, ironically, Rosalynn Carter passed away recently. She was a champion for mental health. She was before her time. I forgot who it was. I think it was Ed Muskie or someone who picked a vice-president of candidate who it came out that he had been in therapy and people thought, “Oh, we don’t want a crazy person running our country.”

I remember one of my nieces, Kelly, said to me, “My brother has to take his crazy pill.” I said, “Really?” He goes, “It doesn’t work.” I said, “Why doesn’t it work?” She goes, “He’s still crazy.” I said, “Well, it works perfectly because it’s not an anti-crazy pill. It’s a crazy pill.”

But if you’re physically injured, if you have a cane or a walker or bandages, we all know. I mean, you could still be faking it. But most people will say, “Oh, I’m sorry to see that you twisted your ankle or whatever.” But A, mental illness is not something you can see from the outside necessarily.

I think a lot of us suffer from anxiety, from depression. I know I did. If you’re raised in a culture where you have to … I got three A pluses and two As in seventh grade. When I brought that home and showed my mother my transcript, she goes, “Why didn’t you get five A pluses?” I thought, “Oh, my God.” She goes … I think she’s right.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. I had a father that literally told me, he was like, “You and the president of the United States have the same 24 hours in a day. What are you doing with yours?” I was like, “I was nine at the time.”

Dr. Peter Huang:  No. That reminds you of how they say Obama wears the same tie or whatever, because he doesn’t want to spend mental effort on these trivial things because …

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Or Steve Jobs in the black. Yeah.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Right. Right. I think it’s a thing which COVID really made people more aware of mental health issues. There was not only solitude. But the solitude is something I think people want to be alone. There’s loneliness, which is a condition where the amount of human contact you desire is much greater than the amount of human contact you have.

Because we have to be 6-feet apart, we had to wear a mask, which not everyone did. I think it made us feel isolated or not as socially connected. But I think even before that, if someone wrote this book about Bowling Alone, sociologists, how people used to bowl together in the ’50s and now people just bowl alone.

I thought, yeah, I mean, even watching movies because of COVID, we watch streaming. Now that the movies are coming back, I’m not sure I want to wear a mask. I want to go through all that. I think they’re trying to get people back in the theater. I think mental illness … I don’t even know if I want to say illness, mental health issues or having just like you can have physical ailments and some people work out and people … if you said to someone in the ’50s, I’m going to go run. They go run where? Run to something, run away from something.

Now, I’m just going to run in circles. I would say, you’re crazy. But now most employers who want to attract talent, Google, Apple, some law firms, they have their own gym so that you can stay there 24/7. You have no excuse to go out. I think in the future, hopefully, these same employers will have a mindfulness place where there’s a mat or there’s something, the walls are sound buffering or something, so that people can go in there and be mindful for half an hour and then come out feeling refreshed, feeling less exhausted, less stressed out.

It is weird because mindfulness is both good for individuals and good for your society. It has spillover effects. If you’re mindful, you’ll probably be a better spouse, a better friend, a better parent. But that may not have [inaudible 00:46:38] seen do it. I mean, even though that has all these beneficial effects in, at least in the way it started, mindfulness is a way to perfect yourself, to be a better person, to be a better part of humanity.

I do think in America and in China. China is I think even worse. It’s considered a social taboo to talk about illness, especially mental illness, because I think they think mental illness is contagious by touch or something. It’s considered not something you want to admit. Whereas I think we should not have that attitude. We should say to people, “Look, if you feel stressed or if you are anxious or depressed, that’s okay. These are things you can do. Get a therapy land, get out.” What is that? The Sunland for the winter, if you have a effective seasonal disorder.

If you keep a gratitude journal, you realize your life is not as bad as you think. If you think of good things that happen to you every week or something, you realize good things do happen to you. But a lot of it’s your mindset. If you’re looking for bad things, you’ll find them. If you’re looking for good things, you’ll also find them.

The question is why do people look for bad things? I think it’s because we’re raised that way. I mean, danger is something that can kill you. We want to avoid bad things. If there’s a rustle in bushes, it could be a snake, so I jump back. But good thing is like, I don’t know, pecan pie in the forest, it’s not going to kill you, but it’s also eating. It’s not going to make you live forever. It’s less important for our survival, our evolutionary fitness, I guess.

But it’s funny because one of my nephews said to me, “Uncle Peter, what?” I said, “What?” He goes, “My plan is to never die.” I said, “Good plan.” I didn’t say to him you’re going to fail. Who knows? Maybe he won’t.

Melyssa Barrett:  This generation, now, I’m sure they have lots of ideas on what they will do.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Yep. They’re more conscious. They want more work-life balance. Or someone said to me, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance.” They want work-life connectivity.

Melyssa Barrett:  Integration.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Integration. That’s great. That’s the word. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Dr. Peter Huang:  I think we were willing to put up with more stuff, and especially Asians are taught to be not subservient, but quiet. You don’t want to make a scene. You don’t want to be like the noisy person. But in America, it’s a spooky wheel that gets the oil. Whereas the Asian culture, there’s a saying that if you’re a nail that sticks out, you’re going to get pounded by a hammer.

You don’t want to complain. You just want to work hard. You want to do the hardest work possible to show people I can do bitter work. Guess what? They’ll give you more better work. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. That’s what you learn. I know. I think even in my generation. I would say probably in my father’s as well. It was all about acculturating and making sure you could fit in and do whatever it took to fit into that mold. Now, I think there is a … It’s just we’re fed up with that. No. We need to be able to create the life we want so that the life fits me, not the other way around.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Right. That reminds you of this joke some comedian told. He goes, “When you ask the kids in the ’60s why they cut their hair short, they go, because I want to express my individuality.” Everyone’s cut near hair short. It’s just like when you ask Madonna fans or Taylor Swift fans, why do you like Taylor Swift? To express my individuality. But everyone holds. There’s a little irony there.

But I do think America’s a great country. As Obama said, we have not lived up our potential. But people have freedoms and rights here that don’t have in other countries. People have the ADA. You go to other countries, there’s no ramps or wheelchairs. There’s no protection for people taking off for a couple months getting their job back.

But I think that the thing is people should be allowed to bloom and flourish. People do change over time. I think in Germany, they separate students into a high school that’s focused on academia, and then another one for trade school. It’s around the age of 14. I don’t know if you can tell us what someone is doing. They might change and people grow and change. I’m not sure that’s a great thing.

But yeah, I think we should respect people’s autonomy to a large degree. But also, if people are doing things that are not socially beneficial, we leave parenting to the parents in America. We usually don’t intervene. But if you’re beating up your child in public and punching them, well, we call child services. That’s a good thing.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Yes. That’s a good thing. That’s awesome. I have to say, I have really enjoyed this conversation.

Dr. Peter Huang:  So, have I. So, have I. It’s been so much fun.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. I just look forward to hearing more from you, especially in what you’re doing. I thank you for the work that you are doing to bring focus and attention in a real way to people that are out there working in America and around the world, really, to really focus on things as you think about democratizing mindfulness and thinking tools and all of those things. I hope this is not our last conversation.

Dr. Peter Huang:  I’ll say two things. I want to say two things. One is some of this commercial public service announcement. They said Israel is 11 hours from the United States. But they go in each hour, there’s so many antisemitic things that happen. Then they go when there’s antisemitism, there’s also more discrimination against Blacks, against Hispanics, against Asians, because it’s the same hate.

If you’re white supremacist, you hate every one of them, not white. It’s like my niece said, “Is there a white crayon?” I said, “No. There’s no white crayon.” But the other thing is I’m working on a book now tentatively titled Diversity Realized, and the subtitle is Essays on Women Leaders and Stakeholder Capitalism.

Because I really believe we should have women leaders, political and economic or corporate and the global climate crisis, which some people say, “Well, it’s just global warming. It’s just like a few degrees hotter at the beach next summer.” No. This is a serious problem, which is non-linear, which will destroy humanity. Don’t do something fast. I think we need to wake people up.

But if you are mindful, you would understand that. If you realize that this is a very fragile planet and we need to take care of it, otherwise we don’t own it. We’re just like stewards. We’re not the, what is it, the landlord. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Yes. We just only have a short period of time that we’re here. Yes. Yes. Well, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation. Again, I hope we connect again for many of you. I will put it in the intro and we’ll make sure that it gets into the notes, your books. You have been doing all sorts of publications and now many podcasts as well.

But I find each of them are so different because you talk about so many different things and you have such a wide variety of expertise. Thank you so much.

Dr. Peter Huang:  People say, it’s dilettante.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. Well, one day we’re going to have to meet this partner you keep talking too, because she’s got to be fabulous.

Dr. Peter Huang:  She is fabulous. As I say, she’s really the better half. I said that saying, happy wife, happy life is really true.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Saying in a couple, you cannot have an odd number of people happy. It has to be even numbered zero or two. Because if your spouse is unhappy, usually unhappy that she’s unhappy or he’s unhappy. But I think Gretchen Rubin said this, she wrote a happiness project and she said, “The days are long, but the years are short,” which I think is really true. They would be very exhausted.

But when you look back, the years go by quickly. You have these Thanksgiving, Christmas, family gatherings, you only have so many of them.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. I love it. Great point to end on. Thank you again for joining me.

Dr. Peter Huang:  Thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.