1 Big Idea to Think About

  • “Life is too big for all of us; traumatic trauma comes for all of us, whether we like it or not. If you want to be able to keep your balance, you need this sense of connection with others.” – Dr. Sue Johnson

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Identify one thing you can do today to make a genuine connection with someone else.
    • Stop by and visit a friend
    • Invite someone to lunch
    • Phone a family member or friend

1 Question to Ask

  • Who is my “one person who will come when I call”?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • The undeniable importance of vulnerability (2:57)
  • Are we building societies that have nothing to do with basic human needs? (14:12)
  • Human connection, technology, and artificial intelligence (19:30)
  • 9/11 and the importance of human connection (33:12)
  • Connection with others is our source of biggest strength (34:47)
  • Will AI save us? (41:19)
  • The phases of moral development (45:40)
  • Tuning in and trusting yourself: “What is a hill you would die on?” (48:04)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Dr. Sue, this is what you did. You have got to the heart of the matter. That’s what you did, and it’s so important, it’s so vital, it’s so powerful. I have spent basically most of my adult life obsessed with the idea that some things matter more than other things. Some things are essential, and some things are less essential. The difference when somebody has identified the real issue versus a good thing, one of the issues, and never mind comparing it to addressing completely peripheral issues that have actually almost nothing to do with the real thing, is immense.

And I see you there even in your description, in part one of this conversation, of you listening to those conversations in your therapeutic sessions again and again and again. Yes, not just not satisfied to just keep doing things that are good, but around the issue, but trying to get to it, the very heart of it. And the reason that matters so much to me personally is because as soon as I understood this, that’s the target, it changed everything. So you continue, for example, in Hold Me Tight and Love Sense, to outline conversations that you can have these kinds of bonding conversations, and I’m not in any way knocking those to say this. That, to me, is all really useful. But once I understood the heart of it, that you’d pinpointed everything already changed, right? I like because I mean, you make this point in there about secure attachment, that it isn’t primarily skill-based, although, of course, one needs to develop skills in life and communication.

But at least for my wife, Anna, and maybe there was enough skill there already. Maybe that’s a factor, but it just. I actually think we had high, high communication skills prior to this, and that’s part of what allowed our relationship to be as good as it has been for all these years: married for 23 years, but a totally different thing once the target is there. I’ve gone from feeling so defensive in whatever argument we would be in about something so quickly. Defensive, maybe not immediately, but pretty quickly into it. It doesn’t matter. Now, it doesn’t. I suddenly hardly feel defensive at all in any situation because I know what the target is.


Sue Johnson:



Greg McKeown:

And that’s back to secure attachment. Your thoughts.


Sue Johnson:

Oh well, hey, what you just said is brilliant and it’s really about the sharing of vulnerability. And you know, for many of us have spent our whole lives avoiding difficult emotions that are associated with vulnerability, avoiding sadness and longing, avoiding our worth, talking about our worst fears about ourselves, you know, avoiding talking about our fears of rejection and abandonment. I mean, most of us find those things so painful. We’ve developed enormously powerful skills to stay away from them. 

The thing about skills is I can teach you communication skills. They’re incredibly useful until you really need them, which is when you’re flooded with emotion. As soon as you really need them, they’re not there because they’re irrelevant. They’re in your prefrontal cortex and what matters is in your limbic system, in your amygdala, and these conversations, these bonding conversations, speak to your amygdala.

It’s what happens on the street when somebody can be lost in thinking about a job or their own. You know what they’re going to have for supper or something, and then suddenly they see a being in obvious pain. You know a dog that’s been hurt, a little child who’s crying and scared, an older person who’s falling down, and suddenly the whole world shifts, and all that matters is this response to this vulnerability, this chewing into this, resonating with another being who is vulnerable. And people respond, you know, obviously, some of us don’t because we’ve been so cut off and so shut down that we don’t allow that. We sort of somehow put it in a box. We kind of are able to sort of contain it and keep it separate, you know. But most of us will respond, and that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about vulnerability and, you know, sharing the most basic part of your humanness, you know, and being able to say to your partner right now I feel scared. Right now, I’m scared, you know, I’m scared that what it could be, anything. I’m scared that I’m going to be fired. I’m scared that, you know, I’ve lost my kid, that that last fight we had was terrible. I’m scared that I’ve failed here. 

We’ve taught men, in particular, I think, to be terrified of failure. You know, men are supposed to take on every task in the world and be fantastic, good at it, and you know, and we’ve taught women to be terrified of isolation and being left alone. Well, look at those two and try to put them together. I mean, it really doesn’t work. You know, when the woman says to the man, “I wish you’ve done it this way rather than that way. And here’s your disappointment. You’ve failed, buddy.” 

You know, and these emotions are very difficult for us. They are painful and, if I think, a lot of what we do in the Hold Me Tight programs. By the way, we have Hold Me Tight online, www.holdmetight.com online. It’s getting a little bit dated now. The outfits that the couples are wearing aren’t trendy anymore. But basically, the conversations they have will be relevant even a hundred years from now because we’re dead just about human beings.

Yeah, so you know, we have these basic fears, and to be able to share them, they’re all the same. It’s not like we’re, you know, we’re structured the same way. You know, people will say, “I can’t talk about this.” 

And I don’t do this. Of course, I respect them, but I could say, “Let me guess, if you talk about this, you’re afraid you’ll go crazy. If you talk about this, you’re afraid the pain will get worse. If you talk about this, you’re afraid the pain will go on forever. If you talk about this, you’re afraid that it means that you’re weird, strange, not human alien, there’s something wrong with you, or or that you’ll just die from it. You know this will be so overwhelming; you’ll just disintegrate.”

That’s it. That’s the list, okay? Everyone has their own version of that. But you know what attachment science does is? It gives you a map to people’s inner world, to their emotions, to their vulnerabilities, and shows you a way to deal with those vulnerabilities, where you make each other stronger and you make yourself stronger and more competent.


Greg McKeown:

There are so many directions I want to go in and explore with you. One is what gets in the way of this because you can go all the way back to Bowlby and say, like, what? Like you know this, this, the video that he made of the two-year-old girl who’s being dropped off at the hospital, and the parents are only allowed to be there for, you know, for one hour within a week period. You know, not even when they drop her off. 

And so not only are they supposed to be emotionally disconnected, and physically also, all of the nurses and doctors will also be treating this little child in this robotic, non-emotional, non-nurturing way. Right? And when you hear about that now, that seems outrageous. There’s something about that that seems outrageous, but it was so normalized and so deep into the psyche and culture and rituals of the time that, as you already described in part one of this interview, that he’s almost thrown out when he starts to push back on these ideas. That was almost a sense of that, that film. 

There’s something so odd about that to me. There’s something so strange about the strength with which the form of paradigm was clung to. Where does it even come from? Why did we build this system of thinking and then everything that grew on top of that false idea?

What are your thoughts about that?


Sue Johnson:

Well, I think when psychology started, and psychiatry started, well, we first decided to look inward, and not just poets and novelists, but we first decided to look inward and try and take science. There, I think people were really trying to find a structure; they were trying to find a way of understanding, and they wanted a sense of control, right? And that came from understanding that emotion is pretty scary stuff If you can’t befriend it and you don’t know what it’s about, can’t listen to it and use it. It’s pretty scary stuff because it can overwhelm you. And I think there was a whole thing about civilization and control, and it was mostly, in those days, male-dominated, so it was mostly the women who were given the emotional role.

And I mean, I still, just a few years ago, I showed a tape at a conference of two women, a lesbian couple, talking to each other and sharing vulnerability, and I was told that I was helping them to collapse, to merge, to become codipped to. I was told all these things, and I said, ”No, no, you don’t understand. They’re dealing with their deepest fears in the most incredible, balanced way. They’re naming them, ordering them, sharing them, helping each other with them. You don’t understand. This is making them stronger.” 

And this person said, “No, your whole analytic view was no, they’re becoming weaker, they’re becoming infantile, they’re going into their vulnerability.” 

We have this idea that civilization and order and everything is about controlling these emotions and not feeling vulnerable. I would suggest that if we’re ever going to have something called civilization, which I don’t think we’ve ever had personally if we’re ever going to have something called civilization, that’s not the way to do it. The way to do it is to acknowledge our joint vulnerability, acknowledge that we can desperately hurt and threaten each other, and acknowledge that we don’t have to do that necessarily, that we can see that vulnerability, respect it, and find ways to deal with it together. That leaves us both whole. That’s what couples do, that’s what we see families do, that’s what I do individual therapy with. 

I do e-fit, emotionally focused individual therapy with trauma survivors. When I see them do that when the figures that they’re working with are in their heads, they’re not out, they’re not in front of them, they’re not having a conversation with their mother, but they are. They’re closing their eyes, and they’re talking to their mother, and then the part of them that desperately, desperately wanted that mother to respond and couldn’t get a response and ended up just shutting down and numbing out and now, as the lady said to me, she can’t live, she can’t feel, and she can’t live numb, so she’s stuck.

So this is about how we deal with vulnerability and, for sure, to have a society, to have a stable, ordered society, you need rules and structures and control, but you also need some sort of human element where people can deal with their vulnerability. 

Do you know that the last minister of education in France? I think they’ve changed him now to something else he bought in a program to teach in the main program in France. He bought in a thing where all the children would be taught empathy. I thought, oh my God, oh my, we spent time telling kids about concepts, talking to kids about, you know, diversity, fairness, justice. You know, we spend time doing all this stuff. When he’s talking about teaching them empathy for another human being, teaching them how we’re all the same and we’re all fragile on some level. 

Oh my God, I mean, that goes to the heart of the matter. For me, that goes to a real civilization, you know, where people can respond to people and where the structures of that civilization are about our human needs. We’re building, it seems to me, a society that has nothing to do with our basic human needs.

Every time I go into a big city these days, I’m maybe I’m weird, I probably am weird. Every time I go into a big city these days. I look around me, and I say all these glass boxes for people to live in by themselves, it’s just like rats in a lab, you know. And rats in a lab are weird because relationships are the water we swim in. If you take a fish out of the water and put it on the dock, it looks weird, it goes strange, it does strange things. And we’re building societies that have no connection. In them there’s no community, there’s no sharing, there’s no sense of mattering to others.

And then we wonder why everyone’s depressed and anxious. Well, it’s pretty damned obvious, you know. I mean, England now has a minister of loneliness. The medical professions are starting to understand something about all this that we have this epidemic, particularly in young women, by the way of depression and anxiety. That should be concerning everyone, and for me it’s obvious. It is about disconnection. It’s about that contact now is on your iPhone, that you talk to somebody in a very short format, not about vulnerability, but about what you think they’re going to be impressed by on a screen that you don’t you know. A young person said to me the other day, “I don’t phone people anymore.” 

I said, “You don’t phone people?” 

“No. The conversations are too long; I just text them.” 

I thought, “Oh no, you know, this young woman isn’t learning to look into somebody’s face and pick up the emotional cues and let them resonate. This young woman is just learning to pick up, you know, cognitive words from a screen. Is that really the world we’re building?” 

Yeah, that’s the world we’re building. I don’t know; I’m getting a bit dark here. I don’t know how we got into this, Greg. It has to be your fault.


Greg McKeown:

No, no, we should say do you say it has to be my fault? Is that what you said?


Sue Johnson:

Yes, of course. We’ll discuss marital distress here. It’s your fault, okay? No-transcript.


Greg McKeown:

No, we should go there because, well, partially because I had a conversation yesterday with somebody who is an evangelist—literally, it’s his title is chief evangelist for technology—and I really like him. But we got to this question. In fact, I’m going to put it to you because of what I said to him. I said, “I’m going to say something to you, and I want you to agree or disagree.” 

And I thought he would agree. But that was naïve of me because then I thought, “Okay, well, he is a chief evangelist, you know, for technology.” 

But still, here’s the statement. I said the device in your pocket is not a phone; it’s a $3 trillion military-grade disconnection machine, and we’re no match for it. That’s what I said. I thought, okay, it was an easy question, and I thought you’d agree. But anyway, I’m curious what your reaction is to that.


Sue Johnson:

Oh, my reaction is you’re completely right. My reaction is that we are letting technology control us and we are letting technology define our world, and it’s a world that has nothing to do with the most basic human needs for connection and to matter to others, and to contribute to others.

You know that’s my response, and I understand that the internet has bought wonderful things and so has had. So have iPhones. It’s wonderful to be able to contact my son and talk to him. That’s wonderful, there’s wonderful things.

But when you look at the fact that you know well, the last time I taught an undergraduate class, which was not a good experience for me okay, the last time I taught an undergraduate class, I hadn’t taught an undergraduate class for a decade, and I was flawed by the difference that had happened in that decade. I couldn’t believe it. It’s like nobody was home. They’re all looking at their screens. Nobody’s home, nobody’s engaging with me. 

So I ended up getting mad and saying, “In this class, there’ll be no iPhones and no computers. Close your computers.” 

And so somebody said something like, “You can’t do that.” 

And I said, “I just did it.” 

And they said, “Well, what will happen if we won’t?”

And I said, “I’ll fail a lot of you.” 

And they said, “You won’t do that.” 

And I said, “Just try me. I’m a weird, strange, rather aggressive little English working class,” my mother would say, cow right. And I’m, you know, and just try me because I assure you. 


Greg McKeown: 

Raised in a pub, I’ll tell you I’ve seen it all.


Sue Johnson:

Yes, For the people who were with me in the class and half of them were enraged that I would actually demand that they let go of their technology because it’s become a security blanket. You know it’s. I mean, I agree with what you said. We have to know. 

You started off this whole session by talking about learning what matters. I think we have to if we want something called civilization. You know, somebody asked Gandhi years ago, and he went to England, what he thought of British civilization. He said he thought it would be a very good idea. 

So if we want something called civilization, we have to understand and prioritize and structure for human connection, not for this strange isolated, you know, and it’s an interesting one because we’re we’re a capitalist society. So you know relationships don’t don’t buy stuff. You know, individuals buy stuff. So you know, we talk to individuals, and we tell them you can have all this stimulation and all this distraction and all this you know I can make. You know this movie will make you feel good about yourself, etc., etc. And it’s all kind of. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that it fills our lives and takes us away from, “Wait a minute, when’s the last time I turned to someone I loved and said what you did right there really mattered to me, and it changed my whole way of thinking about something, or what you did there really hurt me, and I don’t know what to do with the hurt.” 

When’s the last time we did that? Do we do that anymore? Can we even imagine that? This is the tricky part. Most people haven’t seen a good relationship. My parents had the most terrible relationship on earth, right? And if you’ve never seen it, how on earth do you journey towards it? Well, you listen to the longing in your nervous system. You listen to your deepest longings as a human being because they’re there; they’re wired in a little child knows. A little child knows in a completely visceral way. If I call and no one comes, I am vulnerable. If I call and no one comes, I die, and that’s. I don’t think we ever lose that, and we’re building societies where people don’t know how to call. They don’t even. There’s no way of calling. It’s about how we deal with our human vulnerability. Do we deal with it with balance and grace? And turning to others, do we teach our kids things like empathy, or do we teach them communication skills on a computer? You know, surely we can do both. But the first one, it seems to me, is pretty, pretty basic, and pretty key, and most kids now learn that in their families, except they don’t.


Greg McKeown:

Yes, well, there we go, and there are so many things I want to build on with what you’re saying, but like to pick up one thread. I interviewed the president of Microsoft on this podcast and he’s written a book about how technology can be a weapon or a tool. At least he has taken the conversation that far. He’s very rare in my experience with technologists. So I have worked with these companies as a paid speaker, consultant, and so on all of the tech companies, every major tech company, over the last 15 plus years, and so, like, I know them on the inside too, and there’s lots of great people and talent and interesting things and good things.

But the weakness in all of it, the vulnerability, is they’re just drinking the Kool-Aid, and the idea that there’s a downside is not considered in any serious way and so and so, and that continues to be the case that there’s this sense of we are changing the world. I mean, that was Silicon Valley’s sort of unofficial motto: we change the world. That’s what we’re about. And well, yes, but nobody was clear about in which way and nobody was clear enough about, yes, the downside. So, anyway, the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith. One of the things that he said is that for 100 years, we have created technology that has made it easier to connect with people a long way from us at the expense of connecting with people closest to us.


Sue Johnson:

Yes, that’s very profound.


Greg McKeown:

So it’s a very powerful thing to say. But now bringing that idea, his phrase, into this conversation with you and all that you have done and unlocked and demystified and brought precision to what the essence of that connection is and why it matters so much, it’s like, well, that trade-off that Brad’s talking about not a great one.


Sue Johnson:

Well, it’s a disastrous one. Okay, because the bottom line is the World Health Organization is talking about the fact that depression in this day and age, when we live longer, you could argue that we’re most of us are physically safer, we have enough food. In this amazing day and age, we have all these things. We’re all getting depressed and anxious because we’re all isolated. 

So, without this emotional balance, without this emotional connection with other people which translates into us being able to connect with ourselves, what is all this technology for? In the end, you have to say what’s it. I look around; I say what’s it for? Do we need everything to be faster? Do we need everything to be easier? Do we need everything? What is this about? Human fulfillment, human growth, human civilization? I don’t know what it’s about.


Greg McKeown:

And there’s almost an infinite array of technology. It’s not like there’s one kind, but I just heard an interview with somebody who’s midway through writing a book. But they’re gathering all of the data that we have now finally about when this anxiety epidemic in, especially adolescent girls, took off, and they can date it to 2012, which was when smartphones and social media made their unholy alliance, and from that point, especially adolescent girls. What they found was, so far as they’ve been filtering the data, is that adolescent girls by far the worst hit from that. Conservative, religious adolescent girls have done the best. Conservative, secular girls have done the middle, and the worst have been, and I’m not making a political point; it’s science; it’s the data that liberal adolescent girls have done the worst in it. Now, I’m not philosophizing as to why; I’m just stating the data, but this well, and maybe one can extrapolate a little, which is, in general, a conservative, religious adolescent girl will generally be in a, let’s say, more intact family, perhaps certainly the more likely to be at a church or a synagogue or a mosque and so on. But there is something to be said for an inbuilt community that can be there. 

But just back to this trade-off. No, no, no. The thing I wanted to say about this is that, like, social media wasn’t built neutrally. Like you could build a lot of different technologies, right? There’s a million different kinds of technology. You could build cars, or you could build, you know, you could build Tesla, you could build SpaceX, you could do, you could build AI systems. I mean, there’s an enormous array. But somebody said social media is what we should use the technology for, and the fundamental assumption of that, right? Zuckerberg’s fundamental premise was that you could translate the entire social experience into a digital world, and you can see exactly the same assumption being made as he’s now shifting his. You know, $10 billion a year in loss trying to build, you know, a metaverse. That’s an even more absorptive digital process where you enter together. 

What I’m saying is that this technology, from the beginning, made a serious assumption that I think is fundamentally wrong. And you can you can make $100 billion in profit annually from it, but that doesn’t make it actually right. The assumption’s wrong. It’s good for money but profit, but it’s bad for all of those close relationships, the idea that that’s a good trade-off or the reasonable trade-off. You know, not that Brad’s saying it was, but what a horrific, what a horrific idea. Oh yeah, I can connect with people all over the world, okay, but I can no longer connect with the people closest to me, right? 

One more thought on this and then your reaction. I once did a little kind of coaching thing. We were working on a TV pilot around essentialism, and one of the people that I was sort of doing a pre-interview with she’s a very stoic Asian young woman, married, no children, and she’s very. There was very little emotion, and I was just asking her about her life and, you know, what it was like and what was the effect of, you know non-essential technologies in her life. And she started to describe this thing that how many people know it? But she sits in bed every night after she’s worked and her husband has come home and they sit in bed both on their phones for hours until eventually they go to sleep. As she’s telling me that story, she suddenly, and to her total and obvious, not just surprise, shock, maybe even shame, just burst into tears. Yes, she was just like flooded with emotion, and the person that had invited her in, who was a friend with her as well, said I’ve never seen her share any emotion, you know, like ever. And suddenly it was there, and I thought there was both, in that moment, a microcosm of a massive phenomenon of disconnect, and when you think that that’s exactly the opposite of what you’ve identified as the heart, the heartbeat of relationships and survival. My goodness, what an outrageously bad trade-off we’ve made.


Sue Johnson:

We have made an outrageously bad trade-off. And you know, what is interesting is that, in the end, if you look at things like my wonderful colleague, Mario Michelanza, who’s a social psychologist and who looks at attachment, no, it wasn’t him; it was his colleague, Chris Fraley, who did this study after 9-11, looking at the people directly in the area of 9-11. And they found that the people who had a connection with at least one close other where they could go and confide in that close other and talk to that close other that three years later they were doing pretty well. They still had some flashbacks, but they were doing pretty well. And the people who were not doing well, who had all kinds of symptoms and flashbacks and fall out from all that, were the people who didn’t trust others and who didn’t have anyone to really connect with and so would flip into, you know, panics and freak-outs. 

All the people who basically said I’m fine, I don’t need anybody, I’m fine, I can deal with my I don’t believe in. You know, talking about your emotions it doesn’t help. It doesn’t help, as one of my clients said. How’s that going to help anything? It’s not going to help anything, you know, and so it’s all about shutting down and holding it in. Well, the trouble with that one and I think it’s useful to have a metaphor, is literally suppressing emotion which you’re born with. By the way, you don’t get to say I don’t have all these longings. 


Greg McKeown:

Right, we were designed this way.


Sue Johnson:

Yes, we’re designed this way Suppressing emotions, like pushing something down all the time. You get really used to it so you don’t even know you’re doing it anymore, but you’re pushing it down. Pushing it down, this takes effort, physiological effort, okay, and there’s a certain point where you can’t do it, and then it backfires and explodes all over the place, and it’s. And then you feel like, who am I? I’m last time. You know I’ve been taken over by this dreadful set of feelings and then you’re really, really lost, right, but it’s. The evidence is that the people who could turn to others and who could confide in others and get comfort from others were the ones who dealt best with a 9-11 and the trauma. 

And this is all over. I can’t tell you how many studies this is all over the literature for anything that you can look at that. Life is too big for all of us; traumatic trauma comes for all of us, whether we like it or not. If you want to be able to keep your balance, you need this sense of connection with others. It’s our biggest source of strength. You need it. 

You know, I mean when I think about my husband, my relationship. I’ve been married for 35 years. We’re both very strong personalities. You know, when we first got together, everyone thought it was hilarious that we would try and have a relationship, you know. But the bottom line is my husband is my safe haven, secure base, my rock. I can reach out and touch him and know that he’ll be there and respond. And if he doesn’t know what to say, he doesn’t know how to respond. He’ll say, “I don’t know what to say; I don’t know how to respond.” 

He’s still there with me if you see what I mean. It’s not our time to have this expertise. It’s about him being present. Present, present, emotionally available, and present. That’s what people are looking for in relationships, and when they have that, they are stronger and resilient than they can deal with trauma, they can solve problems, they can deal with ambiguity. The research on it is astounding. 

It seems to me, and I’m just a psychologist it seems to me that our world is becoming more and more chaotic and more and more uncertain and, therefore more and more unpredictable and dangerous, and we all feel this. Well, in this circumstance, this is when we need connection with others the most. And if we are creating a situation where we are creating more and more uncertainty and chaos, and we don’t even know what is normal anymore. You know, we don’t even have an image of what health looks like in a relationship, or you know, right? And these young adolescent girls don’t have an image of what a normal 12-year-old girl, you know, feels and looks like. And she doesn’t look like something from a movie screen or, God forbid, a porn movie, right?


Greg McKeown:

Yeah, I’m just sorry.


Sue Johnson:

Yeah, if we don’t know what normal is anymore and we’re lost, this is exactly when we need this connection with other people. And so it’s kind of a perfect storm if you create a more and more uncertain world and then you teach people that emotional connection is not necessary or they don’t have time for it or it’s a waste of time. You’re, it seems to me, you’re creating mayhem. And if I’m on a dark day, I live on the west coast of Canada, when it’s raining and gray, on a dark day and the sea is rough, you know, I look out there and I say we are dishing the main resource we have for solving our problems on this planet, which are growing all the time. We are dishing them. We are dishing our ability to listen to each other, to connect with each other, to share with each other, to admit what we don’t know, and to resonate with each other. We’re dishing that just when we need it the most. And in the end, what I hear from the technology people is technology will save us.


Greg McKeown:

Do you know the person I spoke to yesterday? I haven’t quite decided whether to include it in the interview, but it was all recorded, so we might just do the whole thing. He literally said that to me. He said, ” Greg, I really believe AI will save us.” 

No, he went further. No, no, he said something, and he said, “Do you want a crazy theory?” 

I said, “Of course, I want a crazy theory.” I mean, it was a really rich conversation in one sense and very open, but he said this. 

He said, “I believe AI is actually God.” 

He actually said that I actually believe it is actually God. So, he wasn’t saying it as a symbol. He was saying I believe that from the other side, unseen, god has come and is giving us this, and this is going to be the antidote and solution to all of the other problems that we have. I mean, that is about as evangelical as you could possibly be Regarding technology. So it’s meeting the name.


Sue Johnson:

Yeah, I would say to him have you seen the movie Oppenheimer? Because that movie unless I’m a crazy person, that movie is about a man deciding that he’s God, that he can make this amazing thing, and he makes it.

And then he realizes that human beings can’t deal with this thing he’s made, and human beings are not in control of this thing he’s made, and it’s absolutely disastrous, and it’s too late. He can’t put the rabbit back in the stomach. No, right, and I think there’s a lot of that. But the idea that our technology will save us is, I can’t even what will save us. 

What will save us, Greg, and I’m not saying this as a belief; I know this in my bones. What will save us is for us to come to terms with who we are as human beings and be able to connect and acknowledge our frailty and our vulnerability, which isn’t a weakness. To do that, it’s like looking at reality the way it is and joining together in that and taking account of that vulnerability. That’s what will save us, and I don’t think there’s anything else going to do it. So you know, from that point of view, creating connection is well. It’s what my life is all about.

You know, I grew up in an English pub. I didn’t know anything but connection. I grew up with 25 aunties and 30 uncles. You know, I grew up with working-class aunties, upper-class aunties, uncles who were the captain of the Admiral of the Fleet uncles, who were the man on the corner who sold newspapers. You know, I grew up with an enormous different group of people who all found a way to connect, just as human beings, and who fought and wept and argued and loved each other through the whole thing.

So you know, I grew up with that, so maybe that’s why, for me, you know, I look at some of these things we’re talking about, and I don’t see them as normal. I think the real disastrous thing is that we are presented with a reality and we see it as normal, and it’s not normal. It’s the reality we’ve made, and you know that’s huge because norms, I think, are changing in our society as we speak. Norms are, and the norms and values they give us our direction. And that guy who says AI is going to save us I think it’s fascinating because I think AI is the demon that needs to be put in the box and sealed and buried under the Rockies. Okay. So because I think of course it can have all kinds of good effects. Of course, it can, but we don’t know what we’re doing with it. It is running around.


Greg McKeown:

We’re the weakest link in the digital chain. Okay, well, I have a fun one. Where do I start with this? Okay, one thought: I was just speaking to a therapist, like a week ago, and she introduced me to a like phases in moral development within a person and three phases. Phase one is quite egocentric, but you’ll get your safety from following the rules. This is right, this is wrong, and some people never develop past that, but if they do, she sort of described phase two as being a more social belonging, although that word can mean a lot of things, but you’re trying to keep the rules still. It’s still rules-based, but you’re trying to read what other people are doing and try to fit in, and so that’s sort of the next phase of moral development. And she has this idea that in phase three, one of the terms for it is self-authorship. But I don’t even know if that’s what she means like I don’t know if that language captures what she means because it’s more like a co-creative process that she’s describing a spiritual co-creation even. But what? What seems right and what? What am I learning myself by trying these things?

And it’s an agency-rich stage, and that’s why I mean I like the word authorship and what she’s saying, because you are using your own agency, and you’re not trusting the mental models of the past or the rules that you were given or the rules that you learned by osmosis in your family of origin or whatever you are. You are choosing and learning. Oh, what happened when I did this? What happened anyway? I didn’t want the conversation to end without sharing that because there seems to be something in that to what you were describing about civilization and and this idea that maybe sort of that 1910 version of the world was so rules-based. We want to control it. We need to control people and get rid of the emotions because we don’t know what to do about that and cut out anything that we don’t understand enough to control. It seems to be sort of phase one of moral development and and and and, and I just wondered if you had a reaction to that 


Sue Johnson:

What that lady is talking about in stage three, as far as I understand it, is being able to trust, tune into, and trust yourself, so you stay open and curious, and you explore your universe and you ask yourself the difficult questions you, what’s important to me here?

You know, you know, I mean, I had a conversation with a friend the other day where I said somebody used the phrase that’s not a hill that I would die on. And I said to my friend, “Is there a hill that you would die on?” 

And my friend looked at me and said, “What do you mean?” 

I said, “Well, is there something that is so inherent for you that you would, you know, say it’s more important than me?”

She said, “I don’t know.” She said, “What about you?” 

I said, “Oh, yes, yes, there’s definitely a hill I would die on.” 

She said, “What is it?” 

I said, “It’s something to do with feminism and a world that recognizes the value of women and the wisdom of women, and I would die on that hill.” 

You know, and I think that is that I had a father who said to me a lord knows where he got that he was talking to her, his working-class female kid. Okay, he basically said you have to decide what you think is special and worthwhile and holy and sacred in the world and you have to, on some level, you have to be willing to fight for that. And he came from the war, right? And he said, “I don’t mean fight in some nice liberal; I don’t mean chat about it or become unpopular. He said I mean fight, I mean fight. You know, like literally. You know, die for it, kill for it.” 

And so when my friend said to me this might be an illusion, I shouldn’t say this on media, but what the hell. When my friend asked me, could you kill somebody? I said, “Yes, I think so, depending I’d have to be very clear that what they were doing was really awful and destructive and couldn’t be solved another way. But yes, I could.” 

She said, “Well, I couldn’t.” 

And I said, “Well, I could”.

But this is about in the end, it’s about tuning into you and trusting you. In the end, being able to say this is why I can never working organizations every organization I’ve ever worked in, I’ve been the rebel, the outsider, the naughty one, the one that everyone got mad at. Okay, because in the end, you know, I’m the one that would say I wouldn’t say it this way. I’d say, “When I’m when I feel into this, you know, when I feel into it and when I feel, for example, for the students that I see in our program and I see their pain, I don’t really care about whether these rules work for the administrators and the university. They don’t work for me and the students. So I’m going to fight you, and I’m going to make everything difficult for you because I don’t accept what you’re saying.”

That’s me trusting me. That’s me trusting me resonating with myself, and what we try to do in E-fit is we tune into people’s reality, we help them see it and hold it and accept it, and then we help them see the patterns in it and how they can transcend those patterns, the patterns of how they deal with their emotion, the patterns of what they say to themselves. You know what this means is I’m inferior, I’m a bad person or I can never trust anybody. I must never, ever share with anybody. This is what you decide here.

You know, we help people tune into themselves and how they create their world, and they create their sense of self, and I think she’s talking about that she’s talking about. But to do that, that’s damned hard to do on your own. Most people who can do that, we need need to be loved to do that. They need to be validated. They need, they need some environment where they’ve been taught to listen to themselves and trust themselves, and so many of us are not taught that.

You know, I was. I was taught to stand up and recite enormous pieces of the Bible off my heart, and if I couldn’t, I would have to go and imagine this as a punishment. I would have to go and say these prayers, using prayers as a punishment. That’s a crazy thing. But that moral level is about knowing who you are and trusting yourself and feeling competent to say, yes, this is, this is a value important, special, worth fighting for, or I’m gonna take a stand here, or this is what I believe or no.

This is. This is not what I believe. I’m not going to do this. You know, like we have a thing right now where people say to me, “Do you use pronouns?” 

And I say, “No.” 

And it’s got nothing to do with LGBTQ. You know my family are. They look like the United Nations, and they’re incredibly varied in every way, including gay and straight, and you know that’s it’s got nothing to do with that. It’s got to do with the fact that I believe in looking into people’s faces and calling them by their name. This is what I was taught to do as a child. I remember the names of all those uncles and aunties in the pub who held me and took care of me.

You call people by their specific name. They tell you their name. You respect them by calling them by their name. You don’t put them in any group, to any she, he, them, they, you know. Put them into any group, you say, “I see you, Jim, I see you, Greg, I see you. I’ll be with you here in this space. I’ll give you my presence.” 

That’s what I believe, and you know, if some people say that’s not acceptable, all right, that’s their right to say that. But that’s my moral, whatever you want to call it, my one of my moral decisions because I feel like we are putting people in groups ironically, you know, we were all trying to be more liberal, and we’ve ended up putting people in groups and seeing people as LGBTQ or, you know, brown, or black or white, or you know people are people. You know, what is your name? Your name is Sarah. Well, you know, okay, Sarah, be with me here in this space right now. Never mind, you know, and I’ll listen to you, and I’ll accept that as a brown person, you’ve experienced the world differently than me as a white person. Talk to me about that. Help me understand, help me tune in, you know, help me tune into you, you know this is and this is part of who I am and who I was taught to me as a child. I watched working-class people who most people would say, oh, they had no skills, and they weren’t sophisticated. And they were, you know, but they had the skill of being human down. You know. When one of those people said to you, “Oh dear, would you like a cup of tea, dear?” 

It didn’t mean, would you like a cup of tea. It meant I see you, I see your pain, I want to be with you. How can I comfort you? I’ll comfort you by giving you hot tea and being with you and sitting with you. It meant all those things, you know, and the tea was just a sort of symbol. You know, somebody said if, if we knew the world was going to explode, all the English people would sit and make tea, of course they would have. You got a better idea. They sit and make tea together and sit in their kitchen and talk together. Got a better idea? You know, I haven’t got one.


Greg McKeown:

The tea is the gateway to the connection. 


Sue Johnson:

That’s right, and so I agree with her. And morals and values and norms and emotions and how we tune into the world and what we cut out they’re all part of the same story. And what happens in a good relationship, which is magic, is that people don’t just comfort each other and give each other balance. They grow each other. They grow each other, and that is what always intoxicated me about couples therapy. Not just that these people would change their relationship, but they. They’d start to do things that I just couldn’t –  I would need a lifetime to teach them if I was gonna teach them. They start to do things like really tune into an empathize with each other. They’d start to discover new things about themselves. They start to define themselves differently. All these things that we’re told take years and years and years of therapy. No, they don’t. They don’t not if you put it off to the matter,


Greg McKeown:

Not once you have the right target, once you understand the concept of secure attachment, and one that, then you can start to immediately. How would we say, not transcend is not, transcend is immediately start to to orient every other skill, every other communication skill and choice that you are aware of, in its correct order. And until you have that, you are guessing, so, so. And if you add to that the problem of, oh, I’ve never actually seen a healthy relationship, I don’t know what that looks like, well then you can’t even copy that. So that’s just you’re guessing; you know you’re in the dark. And then, if you add to it these philosophies of independence as the highest aspiration you know, which, of course, is itself such a stupid nonsense. I love the term effective dependence from your work. I have a question about that, too, but but it’s like all of these things will keep you from utilizing the assets you have.


Sue Johnson:

That’s right, that’s helpful, that’s right, and you know what? We are having the most amazing conversation and I’m realizing I have to go because I was supposed to be talking to somebody else five minutes ago.


Greg McKeown:

I’m glad that we’ve been able to have this time.

Sue Johnson:

So am I. It has been amazing fun.


Greg McKeown

Marvelous. Thank you ever so much, Sue.


Sue Johnson:

Fantastic conversation. Thank you appreciate you take care.