The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Lisa Ling — Exploring Subcultures, Learning to Feel, and Changing Perception (#388)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Lisa Ling (@lisaling), the host and executive producer of the CNN Original Series This Is Life with Lisa Ling. It returns for its sixth season on Sunday, September 29, at 10 p.m. ET. In each episode, Lisa immerses herself in communities across America, giving viewers an inside look at some of the most unconventional segments of society. In 2017, the series won a Gracie Award.

Lisa is also host of the CNN Digital series This Is Sex with Lisa Ling, which explores the taboos around sex in America, and This Is Birth with Lisa Ling, which explores how healthcare legislation, income inequality and cultural shifts shape how people have children in America. In 2011, her acclaimed documentary journalism series Our America with Lisa Ling began airing on OWN.

Lisa is the co-author of Mother, Daughter, Sister, Bride: Rituals of Womanhood and Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home, which she penned with her sister Laura. In 2014, President Obama named Lisa to the Commission on White House Fellows.

Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, StitcherCastbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#388: Lisa Ling — Exploring Subcultures, Learning to Feel, and Changing Perception


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Tim Ferriss: Lisa, welcome to the show.

Lisa Ling: Thank you so much.

Tim Ferriss: This has been in the works for a while, so I’m very pleased to finally be having this conversation and we have a lot to cover or certainly many questions that I would love to ask. I’ll start with age 21, Afghanistan, was that your first time in Afghanistan?

Lisa Ling: That definitely was. Yeah, I was 21 and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would go to a place like Afghanistan at that age or ever, but it was certainly, as you can probably imagine, one of the most eye-opening things that I’ve ever experienced to this day.

Tim Ferriss: Did you at, say, the end of high school, think that that type of correspondent work is what you would be doing? Or did you have other thoughts in your mind for what you were going to be post-graduation?

Lisa Ling: When I was a kid, we didn’t grow up with a lot of money and I’ve always been an insatiably curious person even as a young kid, but I really didn’t have the opportunity to travel that much.

When I was 18, I was hired to report for a show called Channel One News, which was a show that was seen in schools across the country. In fact, Anderson Cooper was one of my colleagues and they sent us off into the world to cover far-flung stories in distant locations.

One day, there was talk amongst some of the executives about sending a correspondent to cover the civil war in a country that at the time I couldn’t even identify on a map and it was Afghanistan and I agreed to go because we’d be going in with the Red Cross.

The likelihood of something happening while with the Red Cross would be far less than had I not gone in with them so I agreed. From the moment I set foot in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, I just realized I was very, very, very far from home.

Tim Ferriss: What was the first 48 or 72 hours of that experience like for you? As a 21- year-old, you’re still very malleable. Your personality is certainly developed to some extent, but at that early nascent point in your professional life, what were the first few days there like for you?

Lisa Ling: Well, I had never, I’d barely traveled by the time I was 21 and so as cliche as this sounds, I felt like I was on another planet. Afghanistan at the time had ⁠— I mean, it was really like a country that had been just completely destroyed.

It was in rubble, really. There were bullet holes and craters everywhere. Not a single wall stood that that wasn’t riddled with bullet holes because when I was there in the early ’90s, it was in the midst of a civil war, but before that, for about a decade, it was the scene of a war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union during which time my country, the United States, pumped billions of dollars worth of weaponry into the hands of the Afghans to fight our then enemy, the Soviet Union.

Here I was in a place that my country had a major, major role in. It had a role in everything that I was seeing around me. So many of the young boys that I was looking at were carrying American-made weapons because they were paid for by the United States, but yet I knew that back home, no one had any clue that this scene existed in the world.

It was just surreal. I mean, I kept closing my eyes and opening my eyes and just going, “Where the fuck am I and how did I end up here?” I mean, honestly, because it was just the furthest place on earth that I could have ever imagined.

Tim Ferriss: You have since covered so many different topics, subcultures, problems, and more. I mean, the Venn diagram, if I were to try to draw it out, would be really remarkable and the question that has come to my mind so many times ⁠— and this is true also after spending time with people like Sebastian Junger, for instance ⁠— how have you handled after covering, say gang rape in the Congo, bride burning in India, and so on, the emotional toll of some of these subjects? I mean, are there any stories that you can share about contending with that? Because I would have to imagine that it hasn’t all been easy to digest.

Lisa Ling: Yeah, I mean, I definitely have been witness to some of the worst aspects of humanity. I mean, covering a story about gang rape in the Congo, what you mentioned, covering stories about bride burning in India, stories about child trafficking and just really devastating and horrifying aspects of humanity.

I don’t always handle it well. I am lucky that I’m not out there on my own covering these kinds of stories. I’m always with a team and when we are out in the field, we are truly living the story.

Every second of the day is consumed by the story, and I meet people, and people share with me on so many occasions things that they haven’t even shared with their closest friends or family members.

As a result, you can’t help but build a bond and develop a relationship with these people. I try to give everyone that I meet my cell phone or that I profile my cell phone because again, like they’ve just shared the depths of their heart with me.

I would be remiss if I were to just say, “Okay, thanks for sharing, bye.” We just shared something really powerful, and so staying in touch with people has really helped me. I mean, I’ve gotten fairly decent at compartmentalizing.

My work is my work and I’m deeply, deeply passionate about it, but it exists for me in one part of my heart and my brain and then my family and my life are another part. Do they ever get fused? Absolutely. All the time. And my husband, my family, they know that sometimes I just need some space to just decompress and process. But what keeps me going honestly is just knowing that bringing a lot of these stories to light will raise consciousness among ordinary people who may feel compelled to do something about it or just become more aware of these issues on their own.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I have a few follow up questions. The first is, do you have any stories of becoming enmeshed with some of these subjects and people who have suffered when you provide, say your cell phone, which is a very human and humane thing to do simultaneously, it opens up the door to, I would imagine all sorts of potential complexity.

Lisa Ling: Oh yeah, I’ve gotten calls from drug addicts at all hours of the night. I’ve gotten calls from prison, many, many calls from prison, and there is a risk. There was an inmate that ⁠— and this wasn’t someone I gave my cell phone number to, but we had this really personal exchange while I was interviewing him.

I mean, it was really, he really revealed so much about his life and what propelled him to become the man that he became and do what he did. He started writing to me and I would write back to him.

After a while, I just, life took over and it became increasingly more difficult to keep up our pen pal relationship, right? One day I get a letter in the mail and he’s threatening me with violence because I stopped.

I hadn’t written to him in a long time and that was certainly a moment. I mean, and it wasn’t just like, “I’m going to kill you.” It was like a really, really terrifying thing that he said.

I thought about reporting it, but I didn’t and subsequently a couple of months later, he wrote me another letter apologizing profusely, but it was one of those moments where I thought, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea to maintain this relationship.”

That was the only time something like that happened. For the most part, I get asked for money from time to time, particularly from people who are abusing drugs, or I get asked to help in different ways.

I try to do what I can and I tell people that I will do what I can, but I also make it clear that I can only do so much.

Tim Ferriss: That sounds very difficult. What do you say to say a drug addict who’s asking for money who perhaps you’ve helped, which might in its own way set a precedent or an expectation? What do you say to someone who’s asking for something like that that you can’t continue to provide?

Lisa Ling: Well look, Tim, I mean I’ve bought a lot of bus tickets for people and I am though very open now and I did learn the hard way because one of the guys that I was buying bus tickets for, I found out later on that he was continuing to use.

Now I will say to people, “Look, just to make things clear, I’m not going to give you money, I’m never going to give you money because I don’t know, really, what you’re going to do with it, but if I can help you in any way, if I can direct you to resources, I will do everything I can to try to do so.”

I really do. I mean, again, I do take responsibility for these relationships and they’re important to me and they’re personal for me and I really do care about these people because of this thing that they shared with me and that we shared together, but I do have to be very careful because when it comes to money, I realized, especially when someone is under the influence, that I can be very easily taken advantage of.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s a balancing act or it seemed to be, and I remember at one point befriending this homeless man in San Francisco where I used to live and at one point paid him to give me a tour of the homeless economy and the homeless underground in San Francisco and he was entirely coherent.

It was actually a fascinating and really eye-opening experience. I mean, the homeless situation in San Francisco is absolutely terrible for many reasons. Later, not that much later, something like 72 hours later, he had my cell phone and had a complete psychotic break and was just making no sense whatsoever.

It was really gut-wrenching because he seemed to go from periods of lucidity to complete detachment from reality and I was very unsure of how to even approach helping someone like this, which may be beyond the scope of our conversation, but ⁠—

Lisa Ling: Well, it puts in perspective for me always the work that social workers do. I mean, they are on the front lines of all of this stuff, right? They also in many cases become deeply entwined with people and I think the difference between people like you and me is while we may establish relationships, we don’t really know how to deal with people who are in the throes of addiction or who are mentally ill.

Tim Ferriss: Definitely.

Lisa Ling: As much as you want to try and help people, there certainly are risks that need to be taken seriously as well.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about personal risks and you mentioned decompressing and processing earlier. Could you speak to perhaps a particularly challenging experience? It doesn’t have to be related to the television work, but it certainly could be and how you processed and metabolized something that was very difficult because it seems like there have to be instances where as much as you can compartmentalize, you can’t unsee thing or things or unhear things that come into your perception, your perceptive field, and how do you metabolize that, say, some of the more difficult experiences?

Lisa Ling: Years ago, I interviewed a 17-year-old girl named Ashley who was sold into the world of sexual ⁠— commercial sexual exploitation when she was 11 years old. She was basically sold by a cousin to be a prostitute.

I remember we were ⁠— I had an all male team and I asked them all to sit outside so that she and I could have a more candid conversation. We were in a bedroom. The only man in the room was our camera man and the two of us.

As she was recounting her story, I remember her telling me about how at 11 years old she would on a regular basis, call the police and beg them to arrest her so that she could have a safe place to sleep.

Tim, it was just like, it was so gut-wrenching the way she was telling the story. From outside of the room, I could hear my male colleagues going like starting to cry and then I just totally lost it.

She ended up having to console me because I had just been so overwhelmed with grief and after that interview, my team and I, we just kind of like huddled together and just, we all cried together.

Again, this is five men and me and we just had to let it out. It was just so devastating. I mentioned earlier that having these teams who are with you along the way has really been my salvation because if I were alone doing this, I don’t know that I would have been able to survive all these years because it is so emotionally taxing, but having these people by my side and really, my team consists of the most sensitive, incredible people, men and women, has been what has gotten me through all of it.

Hopefully, I’ve been able to help them get through it as well, but it just makes you realize how much people are hurting out there, how deep and dark people’s worlds are, which by the way is why I’m so excited about all the work that you’re doing and in psychedelic research because I think that it’s just to ignore this possible pathway to recovery from trauma and grief would be just a colossal mistake given how much people are hurting.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, thank you. There’s a tremendous amount of pain out there and it’s part of the reason that I’m also so respectful and encouraging of the incredible work that you do, is that you’re sharing stories that at the very least helping a not-so-small subset of the population to know that they are not alone in the type of suffering that either they’ve experienced or that they have felt because loved ones have suffered.

I think that’s a very, very important ingredient in any recipe that will begin to resolve or mitigate some of these whether it’s atrocities or just simply conditions that are debilitating.

Lisa Ling: Yeah, and to be honest with you, what I really hope that people will do when they watch my work, any of my shows, is just to feel something. I think we have become this culture that doesn’t want to feel and it’s really easy for doctors when we’re going through things that are hard to say, “Well, here’s a pill to take.” “Let’s take some edge off. Let me give you something.”

For me, one of the main reasons why I love what I do so much is because like to feel whether it’s feeling heart sick or feeling glee, recognizing what it’s like to feel, it just makes me feel more alive.

My senses are heightened and I feel grateful that I’m able to have this kind of experience, irrespective of the feelings that are generated. Unfortunately, we just, we’re afraid of feeling and I think that it’s becoming increasingly dangerous.

I hope that people, when they come and see my work, they will be prepared and ready to feel, but I also hope that they will come with an open mind because we will often profile or immerse ourselves among people that you would otherwise never get a chance to get to know or you might not want to get to know, but hopefully, we will give you an opportunity to know people who are different from you and and develop a better understanding of our fellow humans.

Tim Ferriss: It’s a fantastic objective and I think, also, it’s important to note that most of the important conversations that need to be had are not going to be comfortable. I’d like to ask a follow up related to feeling and in the process of doing research for this conversation I read ⁠— and feel free to fact check this because we can’t believe everything we read on the internet ⁠— but I had read that your family was not particularly communicative as it related to sex or dating or emotions.

Specifically, I’m interested in that last part because many people listening, even perhaps someone talking like me, comes from a family where there are certain things that were off limits or there were certain things that just weren’t discussed and perhaps feelings and emotions were in that category.

If that was true when you were growing up, how did you train yourself to feel or to discuss emotions more openly?

Lisa Ling: That’s a great question. I come from a pretty traditional Asian family and most people probably have a pretty decent sense that Asian culture is just not the most communicative. On top of that, my parents got divorced when I was seven years old and I grew up mostly with my dad who worked all the time.

I always felt very conflicted about my identity. I didn’t like being Asian because I was in a community that was totally non-diverse. I felt a lot of resentment toward my parents because they weren’t active in the way that my friend’s families were. In my late teens, early 20s, I decided that I needed to get help because I just, I had all this stuff percolating in my body, in my soul, in my heart, but I couldn’t identify exactly what I was feeling.

I didn’t really even know what feelings were. I started working really hard with a therapist and just talking. The therapist started asking me about my relationship with my mom and my dad. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know anything about my parent’s backstory because we didn’t talk about it.

When I took the initiative to try and learn about my mom in particular, because we didn’t have much of a relationship when I was a kid, I just became astounded by her backstory.

I ended up taking her to Taiwan back to where she grew up. It was really painful experience because she did not have a good childhood. I mean, it was very, very dark, the things that she experienced, but it allowed me to know her and all of that resentment that I felt for her just disappeared because it was almost like I was looking at this little girl and what she had to deal with as a little girl.

It made my issues just seem so trivial even though they weren’t, but they compared to what she went through and I think that really propelled me to want to understand people better because at the end of the day Tim, we all are human beings, right?

We were all born of parents who loved us. We were all born of a mother at one time, right? We’re learning so much about when kids experience any kind of trauma between the ages of one and 17 when their brains are developing the fastest.

Well, if you don’t address that trauma, if you don’t deal with it, then it can go on to haunt you for the rest of your life and emerge in ways and get triggered in ways that you might never expect.

For me, I just, after that experience, I started to really try and dig deep and it made me a better person, it made me a better reporter. It made me, I mean, I’ve always been a curious person, but I think it really ignited this empathy thing because I just, I start thinking about everyone as like a little boy.

In so many cases when I interview people, I ask them to go back to when they were seven or eight years old I ask them how they would feel if they could see, their eight year old self could see them right now and what they would say to them.

The truth is that we all experience something as a child that really has continued to live with us and in some cases haunt us or debilitate us, but until we take steps to address it, it could continue on.

For me, doing this kind of work, that’s always something that I keep in the back of my mind, really trying to understand how this person got to this place, how this person became the way he or she became.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you for sharing that. This is really important and, at least I think it’s important and I’d love to dig into getting to know your mom. Did you sit down, whether over the phone or in person, and effectively interview your mom about her backstory, or was it more intuited traveling together?

How did you unravel that story? I would imagine it would be very uncomfortable if you didn’t have a relationship beforehand or much of one.

Lisa Ling: Very much so. I started to just ask her some questions and I could see that some of the questions I asked her, I could just see her body change. A simple question like, “How would you describe your childhood?” Or, “Were you happy as a kid?”

When you were seven years old, what did you want to be? What was your day to day like when you were an eight-, nine-year-old child? When she would go back to that period, Tim, it was really, I’ll never forget how she went from this adult, my mother who was supposed to be the protector of me, became this little girl.

It was really hard for her to even answer those kind of simple questions like, “What was your childhood like?” It propelled me to want to know more. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, but I knew that this was going to be such a necessary investment for me and for my mom too because it was obvious that she had never talked about a lot of this stuff.

We took this trip to Taiwan and that a lot of it was really painful. A lot of it was amazing because it was just the two of us having this journey and we shared intimate moments that we’d never shared before as mother and daughter and to people out there listening, if you’ve never taken the time to really understand your parent’s lives, I would really urge people to do so because it’s really, it will bring people so much more clarity as to who their parents really are and why they have made the decisions that they’ve made.

Tim Ferriss: I really want to underscore how much I agree with that and have seen the type of conversation you’re describing which can be very uncomfortable, completely changed how my adult friends operate in the world and relate to their family, meaning not just their family, parents, but their family, spouse, kids, et cetera because perhaps on some level, if you have unresolved resentment, not to say that this conversation will resolve it all, but if you have some degree of resentment towards your parents, your childhood, and your ability to parent and so many other things that may be below the liminal layer of awareness, it’s really remarkable and I’ve had some very open conversations with my parents in the last few years that if you had asked me 10 years ago, if I would ever even contemplate having these conversations. I would have brushed it aside as completely impossible, right?

Lisa Ling: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s given me a level of relief that I couldn’t have predicted beforehand.

Lisa Ling: Well, I think it’s particularly critical for men to do this because I do feel like right now, there are a lot of young men and men who are feeling crisis right now. Whether it’s the job market or the Me Too Movement or whatever, the suicide rate for example is skyrocketing among men.

I think that for so long, men have been told to not feel, or to not show emotion. I think that igniting that process of getting to know your parents or your father for young men, I think it’s just a really important thing for people to really do because young men really need permission to be able to feel and so many men feel in crisis right now because they’ve never been given that permission to feel.

Tim Ferriss: Definitely. I would say also that if anyone listening is perhaps saying to themselves as I did for a long time, “Well, I just don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to open that Pandora’s box. I’ve put it behind me.” I’ve compartmentalized what I would say, at least in my experiences.

What I would say, at least in my experience is, you’re going to deal with it no matter what. The question is, are you going to deal with it in a conscious, productive way where you face it head on? Or are you going to compress it into a box, and allow it to seep out the edges in strange ways where it manifests as you getting easily pissed off, or yelling at your kid, or whatever it might be. Because one way or another, you are dealing with it. And my experience has been, it’s really trying to figure out what your coping mechanisms are, and if their maladaptive, causing you further harm, or adaptive in some positive way. And the question of therapy is one that I’d like to return to. How did you find your therapist?

Lisa Ling: Ooh, that’s a tough question, because I don’t even remember.

Tim Ferriss: And I suppose the tack I’m taking is how might you suggest people find a therapist, if they’ve never even entertained the thought before, right? So it can be self referential, or it could be just a broader discussion of therapy.

Lisa Ling: Yeah. Well, unfortunately in our culture, our healthcare system is not conducive for people to find therapists, or even have insurance cover therapy, which I think is so, it’s so ass backwards in every possible way. And that’s why so many doctors are just prescribing pharmaceutical drugs for people to bandaid, or put a bandaid on their pain. And so what I would say to people is check with your insurance plans. See if it’s covered somehow, or if a part of it is covered. And I think people are hesitant to spend money on therapy, because it’s not cheap. You know, therapy is expensive, but I have to say that investing in therapy, if your insurance is prohibitive, and you can find therapists that are less expensive than others.

It’s such an important investment, because you’re investing in your future. You’re investing in your mental health, and those are things that should not be ignored. And if you absolutely can’t afford therapy, if you have a group of friends, and particularly for men, again, they’re not conditioned. They weren’t raised to be communicative and emotional with other men. But if you can get a group together regularly, once a month, once every two months, to just talk and let down the guard, you know? Convey that it’s a completely private conversation. No one outside of the room should know what is said. But people need that outlet to be able to just release, whether your friends offer you constructive advice or criticism is almost irrelevant.

You just need to have a release in a safe space to be able to just kind of express your feelings. It’s so healthy to do that. And I’m so emphatic about trying to convey that message, because right now we’re all, humanity is just so addicted to devices that we’re not connecting with people. You know, it’s ironic. We’re so connected with the world. We can find out any score to any game at the tip of our fingertips, but we’re more isolated and lonely than ever, because we’re defaulting to these devices and not communicating enough with human beings. I mean, remember when we were kids and we would call, you know, when I would call that boy that I had a crush on, those feelings that it would evoke, my God. I would get so nervous and like, I would start breathing heavily, and it would take like an hour for me to get up the nerve to make that call.

Like those are really important feelings to experience. And we’ve just like totally done away with all of that, because we’re now existing in just like swipe culture, right? And we don’t even have those opportunities. We don’t allow ourselves those opportunities to even feel anymore. And I think that that is, it’s really dangerous, because if you don’t have those outlets and you just default to those devices, you can find those dark communities and dig yourself even deeper into a hole. And so to the extent that you can seek out human contact, put the phones away, and just sit in a room together without phones. See if you can even do that. Smile at each other. Just have some human contact.

Tim Ferriss: Agreed. And what I’ll do also is take a number of therapy services, and for those people who might be more constrained financially, some apps as well that are related to therapy, and I’ll put them in the show notes. So for people listening, you can go to, and just find this episode, and I’ll put those in the show notes for people.

Lisa Ling: That’d be great.

Tim Ferriss: You mentioned earlier the sort of male demographic, increasing suicide rates as a trend line. I’d like to talk about some of your female influences, extraordinary women who have perhaps influenced you. You’ve spent time with some incredible people. And I mean, just to name a few, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters. What have you picked up, observed or learned from some of these incredible women you’ve had the opportunity to spend time with?

Lisa Ling: You know, it’s funny, because all my life as a young person, I always fancied having a life like Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey. And so when I got a chance to actually work with them, and sit at a table with them, and look to my right and see them, it was just, it was surreal. I had like out of body experiences whenever I’d look to my left and I’d look into the eyes of Oprah Winfrey. And I remember I was always a really ambitious young person. And I’ve always been kind of a sponge that likes to absorb as much wisdom as I can about how to be a better reporter, or how to be more successful. Right? And every time I interacted with Barbara Walters, the first thing that she would ever ask me is, “Are you taking care of your personal life? Are you neglecting your personal life? Are you taking time for your personal life?”

And I remember, I was young when I started working on The View. I was in my mid 20s. I would always think to myself like, “I want to talk about how you got the interview with Fidel Castro or Monica Lewinsky. How did you do that?” You know? But now in retrospect, looking back, I learned so much from these women, because what Barbara was doing was basically telling me that she did those things. She neglected her personal life in pursuit of her career. And I could tell that there was a hole left in her. And I remember when she was retiring from ABC. Barbara Walters has interviewed everyone, but she said her biggest regret was not spending more time with her daughter. And I think back on that, and it makes me really sad, because I so idolized her and wanted a life and a career just like Barbara Walters.

And the most important lesson that she taught me was to not neglect my personal life. And I will cherish that advice, because I was someone who never wanted to have kids. I never had that biological desire. I’ve been married for 12 years, and six years into our marriage, my husband said, “Well, why don’t we just try?” And I thought, “Huh, I don’t really want to, but you know, if it’s something really important to you, we can just, we can try.” And then I got pregnant pretty quickly, and then I had a miscarriage, and then I got crazy. Then I’m like, “I want to have a kid,” you know, because I’m that type a, you know, like how ⁠—

Tim Ferriss: “How do I win at pregnancy?”

Lisa Ling: I looked at myself as a failure, and I had to overcome that. I mean, it was really sick and twisted. But now I look at my children. I have a six- and a three-year-old, and even though they drive me crazy, and at 46 years old, I think to myself like, “What am I thinking with a three-year-old?” But I’m so grateful to people like Barbara for telling me to not neglect my personal life, because they are just, they’re everything to me. And everything that I do now in my work and in my life is to try and make this a better place for them, and to try and bring people together and ignite dialogue, especially in this period of just ugliness and hostility, because I’ve always just believed that the more we know about each other, the more we will respect each other, and the better we become ultimately.

Tim Ferriss: So I want to ask a little bit more about advice, and then we’ll segue to some other spots, including the sort of the hustle of Lisa Ling, but we’ll get to that in due time. Before that, as you were telling me this story about Barbara and her advice to you, it made me think of a story that I heard from the writer Neil Gaiman. And when he was exploding in popularity due to The Sandman series of graphic novels, Stephen King told him at one point, “Enjoy it.” Because he had these long lines of people waiting for signatures, and so on. And Neil would admit that at the time he was not able to take that advice. He did not savor it. It was very stressful for him. A, were you able to take Barbara’s advice at the time that you heard it? Or did it take a while to course correct and take that into account? And then is there any other advice you’ve received that you weren’t able to take but later realized was very important?

Lisa Ling: At the time when Barbara kept asking me those questions, and almost like reprimanding me for, because she could tell that I was just so ambitious that I was not really devoting time to my personal life. I didn’t take it seriously, but now I just, every time I look at my kids, I’m just so grateful that I was able to have them. I mean, I had a number of miscarriages after the first one, and I definitely went through periods where I thought that I might not be able to have kids, but I’m so grateful that I have them, because they not only are my life, I mean everybody loves their kids, and everybody considers their kids their life, but they really have made me want to do the right thing for them, and leave this place better for them, and to do everything that I can and to, you know, like it sounds so cliche, Tim, but like make the world a better place for them.

And so as we are kind of, again, like in this period of just hostility and ugliness and darkness, and the people that we are supposed to look up to are, you know, our politicians, our business leaders, in so many cases are so morally bankrupt. It makes me more defiant than ever to want to ignite dialogue, and to give people a way to get to know their fellow humans better. I just, I don’t feel like what I do is job. I don’t really think about it as a job. I just think it’s something that I’m supposed to be doing right now.

Tim Ferriss: And to do it well is hard, as is the case with so many things. And I’d like to talk about access and being able to cover some of the groups and stories that you’ve been able to cover, or bring a voice to in terms of stories. So again, this is quoting from the internet. So who knows? But this is a quote that I have in my research. “I fancy myself as a bit of a hustler; I’m a very persistent person. I can be aggressive in my own way. You have to constantly be pushing to get the stories that you want told, told.” So you can tell me if that sounds roughly like something you would say, and assuming that it is more or less accurate, what are the keys to getting the type of unprecedented access to groups that you’ve had so much success with?

Lisa Ling: Well, yes I certainly have been aggressive throughout my life and my career about trying to get access. But in recent years, since we’ve had this show, This Is Life on CNN, on the air for the last six seasons, six plus now. I think that people have gotten a good sense of our show and a good sense of me, and I think if you’re a regular viewer of our show, you see that I am not a sensational or exploitative person. I like to think of myself as the vehicle through which people can experience other cultures or communities that are different from theirs.

And over time, I think that people have started to recognize that if they are going to share their story on a show, ours would probably be a good one to do it, because we do give people an opportunity to tell their stories. I mean at the end of the day, irrespective of what you may have been accused of, or how you may live your life, we’re going to give you a chance to tell your story. I might ask you some tough questions, but ultimately this show that we do is really about giving people a chance to share, and I try really, really hard to be as nonjudgmental a listener as I can.

Tim Ferriss: And as far as catalyzing conversation, getting people to think differently or take action of some type, do you have any success stories that come to mind for you that have made their way over the transom somehow after people have seen the work that you’ve done, these various interviews, and programs that you’ve put out into the world?

Lisa Ling: Well, Oprah was certainly, when I was a correspondent for her show. I mean, it was pretty remarkable what she was able to do when I reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a story about gang rape, and just these women having to endure the most unfathomable horrors. I think in two airings of that segment, over $3 million was raised for the organization that helped me do the story, that was providing aid to these women. And that really showed me the power of Oprah. I mean, it was unbelievable. I don’t know that there will ever be that kind of force for good as Oprah, and I really miss her on television, because she really, I think, elevated humanity, and brought things to light that otherwise like no television outlet or media outlet would touch. For me, our shows are less shows about activism.

Our shows really are an exploration of different worlds or subcultures or different issues, and just people coming up to me constantly and just saying, “I had no idea that black Muslims had such a big presence in this country, and that the women actually feel very liberated by being able to wear a hijab because they don’t feel the pressure of having to show their bodies, or using their bodies to influence anything.” You know? I mean, I think just people expressing their enlightenment, their enlightenment, or just that they learned something from something that I’ve done, like that is really satisfying and fulfilling for me.

Tim Ferriss: I think it’s a real service, because you’re offering people the opportunity to stress test a lot of their assumptions, and to sort of broaden their picture of reality to accommodate firsthand reports from people that might conflict with whatever stories they’ve kind of fabricated or inferred from sensational news headlines, and so on. Right?

Lisa Ling: Yeah. I mean, a couple seasons ago we did something about gender fluidity, and we profiled a man named Steve who was starting to dress in women’s clothing, and Steve told me that he’d always wanted to, like, he always felt this connection with his feminine side, but because we live in a culture that has never welcomed it, in fact to the contrary was really, you know, he felt like he had to suppress that feminine side. He never would wear women’s clothing out. Like he always felt like he was more gender fluid than not. And so I was in a room with him as he was putting makeup on, putting earrings on. He put a dress on, and I literally said to him, “Steve, I have to be honest with you. If I saw you walking down the street randomly, I would probably look at you like, Oh my God. Like what is going on? Like, that guy is a freak.” I might just be predisposed to have that feeling. But having spent time with him, getting to know his story, just like getting inside his head allowed me to see him so differently that that whole exterior, the dress, the makeup, it was almost like that was what he was supposed to be wearing. Like I saw him no differently in lipstick and earrings than I did an hour before when he was just talking to me as Steve in a t-shirt and jeans. And it’s just like such a testament to this idea of listening to people and hearing people out. I’m as guilty as the next person of just following the people on Twitter who espouse the same beliefs as I do.

It’s so easy. I watch the media that espouses what I believe, and it’s easier than ever to exist in these silos. And so what I’m trying really hard to do in life, but also in my show, is break out of those bubbles, and really hear people out and understand how other people live. Because that’s the only way that we’re going to be able to come to an understanding politically or socially. I can’t see us existing this way forever. It’s just like, it’s too volatile.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It absolutely is. And the more that we can at least be exposed to samples of profiles like you’re providing, where we can see the sort of inherent complexity may not be the right word, but I’ll use it for lack of a better stand in, sort of the complexity of each human as this tapestry of emotions and feelings, the harder it is to paint with a broad brush and hate someone because you view them as one issue, right? You view them as a walking opinion that you disagree with, but when you start to flesh that out as a portrait, you realize that the vast majority of that person is shared. It’s a shared experience that you also have.

Lisa Ling: Absolutely. Tim. I mean, when we worked on a piece about the MS-13 gang, you know, the gang that president Trump has called animals, right? And yes, they have as an organization committed unspeakable atrocities, and have committed the most violent acts imaginable. But if you, and this is not in any way to condone that savagery, but when you take the time to understand the kinds of things that these people were exposed to in their home countries, or the pressure they may have been under to do what they did, it doesn’t make you, or doesn’t make me, I should speak for myself, feel sorry for them. It doesn’t make me condone what they’ve done. It doesn’t make what they’ve done right in any way.

But it gives me the ability and the opportunity to try and figure out how to prevent the next young person who may be exposed to the same things from going down that road. Unless we can identify like where that behavior comes from, and what those people were exposed to, it’s not going to make it any better just to call them animals, and try and hunt them down.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Lisa Ling: You have to attack it at its root, if you’re ever going to be able to make real progress.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, definitely. Looking at causes and not just symptoms, and it’s very easy to discard or kind of brush away.

Lisa Ling: Yeah. It’s just easy to characterize a group of people as savages who need to be punished at all costs.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It sort of absolves you of the responsibility of thinking, which doesn’t ultimately solve anything. Lisa, what is up next? I believe that you have now season six, is that right, of This Is Life with Lisa Ling?

Lisa Ling: Yes. Season six.

Tim Ferriss: What does season six have in store? What are some of the topics that you’ll be exploring, and also where can people find it?

Lisa Ling: So our show, This Is Life is on CNN. It premieres on September 29th, a Sunday, and will air on CNN every Sunday thereafter. Our first episode is called Porn X, because so many young people are getting their sex ed from pornography. You know, porn has always been around, but now the ease of access, any kid with a device or access to a device can access unlimited amounts of porn, and it’s having a devastating impact on an entire generation, and the way they perceive sex and relationships. We’re also doing a piece about benzodiazepines, so we’re talking about Valium, Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin. These are medications that are used for anxiety. If you’re not on them, you probably know people who are, and they are medicines that should be used for very short periods of time, but there’s a whole generation of people who’ve been on them for years, and it’s a highly, highly addictive drug. And there is a fear that benzos are the next opioids.

We also explore women in the Marines. They’ve been the last branch of the military to allow women to participate in combat, and we embedded with the Marines at Camp Pendleton. We’re doing an episode about swingers, because swingers aren’t what you think they are. They’ve now evolved into like an entire lifestyle that just welcomes free sex. And we also have an episode about this gang in Mississippi. It’s the fastest growing gang in Mississippi. It’s a white gang, although they’re not a racist gang. But we understand why, we attempt to understand why that gang is growing so fast in the state of Mississippi.

Tim Ferriss: How do you choose your subjects? I mean you have the ability to canvas extremely widely to pick groups and subjects. How did you end up deciding on some of these?

Lisa Ling: Well, very randomly actually. I mean I’m a pretty voracious reader and consumer of information, and we will generally pick about 20 topics and present them to CNN, and they will approve eight of them for us to pursue. But for me, it’s really about exploring worlds that are just different from me that I think people would find interesting. You know, the porn ed episode and the benzos episode, to me they’re two issues I think people need to know about. As far as the pornography episode is concerned, parents need to wake up and acknowledge the fact that the moment they give their kids a device, they have unfettered access to extreme kinds of pornography, even if they have really rigid filters on their devices. I mean, you’re basically giving your kids a supercomputer to have on their bodies. And so there are some issues that we take on that I just think people need to know about.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the porn is tricky. I mean the parental controls. I saw a tweet. I won’t mention his name just in case he wouldn’t appreciate it, but he put up a tweet recently which said, “You know, my wife set up parental controls, forgot the password, needed my son to figure it out. Now she has to ask him for the password to log into the parental controls to watch television.” And it’s a very challenging, I would imagine, a situation where you have digital natives who, by almost every measure, are more savvy with technology than the parents who are trying to implement controls.

Lisa Ling: For sure.

Tim Ferriss: It’s very challenging.

Lisa Ling: Well in our episode, we feature an adult film actress who is on a mission to tell porn consumers that it’s fantasy, and that what you don’t see is that before cameras even started rolling, they negotiated what they will, and will not do, and they had a conversation about consent, what kids can access. I mean, you don’t see people talking about consent, or negotiations, or women exerting any kind of power at all.

We also spend time with a woman who created this website called Make Love, Not Porn, where she shows real people having real world sex, which means they’re not perfect body types. There may be mistakes, it may get messy, but she thinks that we need to start seeing what real sex really looks like, and not this artificial porn that is heavily produced, and plays on in most cases, your wildest fantasies, because it’s just not real, and it’s damaging kid’s minds.

Tim Ferriss: What was the hardest episode — and you can interpret that however you like; hard could take many different forms — but what was the hardest episode on some level for you to get done this season?

Lisa Ling: Well, the benzos episode made me the most pissed, because I started to realize that this class of medication is one of the most widely prescribed on earth, yet doctors in many cases don’t know how to get people off them if they are starting to exhibit symptoms of withdrawal.

I talked to a very high-ranking psychiatrist at Stanford in the Stanford medical school, and I asked her, “When you were in medical school, did you learn how to deal with benzo withdrawal, or did you learn how to get people off of these medications?” She said, “No.” This is a psychiatrist at Stanford, and now you have general practitioners, you have internists, you have pediatricians prescribing these drugs for an indefinite period of time. It has made me infuriated, because doctors are the people that we entrust with our safety, with our lives, and they in many cases don’t realize how to treat the symptoms of these drugs.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s such an important point that before you start taking any medication, and unfortunately this is incumbent upon the consumer, which is very unfair, but nonetheless, caveat emptor to figure out what the termination clause looks like in the sense that having a clear understanding of what the physical dependence can be if you take any drug, right?

Which is the reason, for instance, my girlfriend had a really bad injury sometime ago, and we have an unused bottle of tramadol at home, and I was like, “You know what? I want to get rid of this right away, because having it in the house is a liability,” and a lot of these drugs are so powerful, but because they’re common, the incredible potency in some cases for good therapeutic effect, but often for devastating negative effects, are really underestimated.

I mean, my best friend not too long ago died of a fatal combination of fentanyl and alcohol because a friend of his said, “Oh, you have a headache? Here, take this,” gave him fentanyl, and this friend, meaning the guy who gave it to him, had developed a very high tolerance, because he was an opiate user.

My friend had never used opiates, and fell asleep, and didn’t wake up, and just because something is common does not mean that it isn’t extremely dangerous if misused, or abused, or simply used for a long period of time. So I look forward to seeing that episode.

Lisa Ling: Yeah. I mean, I really, really hope people tune into this, because isn’t it curious that these medications are so widely prescribed, yet our culture is more anxious than ever? You know, that’s the irony in all of this.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah, it is. I was moderating a panel on psychedelic science, which you mentioned earlier, at the Milken Global Conference, and I asked two questions before starting, and one of them, well, I’ll tell you both questions. The first was more of a statement, “Raise your hand if you know anyone who is taking antidepressants and is still depressed.”

Every hand in the room, like 400, 500 went up. This is a pretty muckety-muck crowd, keep in mind, right? And I asked them, “Have you personally, or do you know anyone who has been affected by opiate addiction? Raise your hand.” And again, every hand in the room, 400, 500 went up, and it really begs the question, are we treating causes, and do we have a system that allows for the treatment, or the investigation of causes? Or are we simply masking the symptoms of dis-ease that we really haven’t taken the time to properly understand? So it is a very, very important subject.

Lisa Ling: Well. Yeah, and that’s again, that’s why I laud you for really taking on the psychedelic therapy, because I think that it could under the right guidance, in conjunction with therapy, I think it could be really revolutionary, and allow people to kind of open up those pathways that have been closed up for so long, and I am absolutely terrified of a lot of these pharmaceutical drugs, but what terrifies me even more is that a lot of the doctors who are prescribing them don’t really know, really, really, really know the consequences, and how to help people get off of them if they find themselves dependent on them.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s terrifying. Well, I hope that the broader awareness generated by the episode will catalyze some different thinking, and maybe some different action by perhaps regulators, or at the very least, physicians who are prescribing these medications.

Lisa Ling: Yeah. I mean, I say in the episode, the one thing that I’ve done, because I’ve gotten medicine prescribed, and I get the literature, and I don’t even open it, but I realize now that it’s incumbent on me if I’m going to put something in my body, I need to look it over, and if I have any questions whatsoever, I need to ask.

We all need to be doing that more regularly. You know, we have to take the initiative even though I do believe it’s the doctor’s responsibility to really know what he, or she is prescribing, we also need to take responsibility, and read through the literature when we get it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, absolutely. I want to change direction for just a couple of minutes, because I know we have limited time left, and we’re going to come back to This Is Life, but you mentioned earlier that you’re a voracious reader. Are there any books in particular that you have gifted often to other people in the past?

Lisa Ling: The book that I have gifted the most often, you would not expect this of me, but it’s called Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

Tim Ferriss: Fabulous book. Fabulous book.

Lisa Ling: You’ve read it? Isn’t it amazing?

Tim Ferriss: It’s incredible.

Lisa Ling: The reason I love that book so much, well because I think that history has portrayed Genghis Khan is the ultimate raper, and pillager of the universe, but what people don’t realize is that his Mongol army, I mean, he was one of the world’s great democratizers, and that the only way the Mongol army was able to take control of most of the world in 25 years, it took the Mongols 25 years to conquer the amount of territory that it took the Romans to conquer in 250 years, was that the Mongol army would go in, they would take out the aristocracy, and give the lowest level citizen, the slaves in some cases, an opportunity to rise up within his army.

Khaleesi’s character on Game of Thrones I heard was based on Genghis Khan, and if you were to look at his army, it would consist of people who in some cases had blonde hair, and blue eyes, because he conquered so much of Eastern Europe, but that’s a story that I think also in this period of class divide is really a moving one, because he was this character who was a slave at one time himself, went on to conquer two thirds of the population of the earth, because he elevated people, he elevated slaves, and the lowest level of human to rise up in his army.

Tim Ferriss: I’m really glad that you brought this book up. It was recommended to me by, I won’t mention him by name, but one of the best-known CEOs in the world, and I thought it was kind of a strange recommendation at the time, because I had the same assumptions about Genghis Khan, and then came to read this book, and the story of the author himself is also fascinating, because he went back, and traced these historical paths, and what you really come to appreciate is A, the magnitude of this empire that was built compared to, like you said, the Roman empire is just one example, and also how surprising many of the realities are of this army, and the leadership style, or the conquering style of Genghis Khan, and so much as one example, the freedom of religion that was not just allowed, but encouraged.

I haven’t read this book in a few years, but as I remember it, the one caveat was you can continue to pray to all of the gods that you want to pray to, as long as you also pray for Genghis Khan, which seemed very fair. Seemed very fair, but that’s a fantastic book. Definitely a highlight of mine.

Lisa Ling: It’s so good. It’s so good, and you would not think when you hear the term democratizer that the greatest among us, or who ever lived with someone who has been reputed to be such a villain in history, but that’s all contrived too. You know, his portrayal, and the portrayal of the Mongol army was all contrived. So it’s just so fascinating to read, and I cannot tell you how many people I’ve gifted that book to.

Tim Ferriss: And just to also be clear, I mean, his army was excellent at killing people. I mean, there was that, but it was not as one-sided a story of a roaming horde of sort of foaming at the mouth savages that many of the other portrayals would have you to believe. It was very sophisticated in a lot of respects. So I second that recommendation. Are there any other books that you’ve gifted, or recommended to many people?

Lisa Ling: I mean, I also love The Alchemist.

Tim Ferriss: Paulo Coelho.

Lisa Ling: It’s one of my favorites. Yeah. Yeah. You know, just following the journey of this shepherd boy to far flung corners of the earth was just such a fantastical journey for me. You know, though he realized that the most fascinating place was inside of him, and the most thoughtful, important place was inside of him, that book will always have a very special place in my heart.

Tim Ferriss: It’s such a fast read, such an easy read, and I remember reading that when I was, I want to say first traveling. I didn’t travel much at all when I was younger, and it did have a lasting impact, and the story behind that book also I find very encouraging, and I might get the numbers wrong, but I believe that Paulo Coelho, the author, had an initial print run of something like 500 copies, and then that first publisher gave up on The Alchemist, shelved it, and then he had to later republish it, and of course now it’s sold 100 million plus copies.

Lisa Ling: Wow, I didn’t even know that story. Wow. It’s such a simple little book.

Tim Ferriss: So simple.

Lisa Ling: But it’s just so profound. Yeah, and one more book, even though I haven’t gifted it to a lot of people, but I credit this book with propelling me to dig deeper, and to not always believe the narrative, and that book is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

Tim Ferriss: This is one I haven’t read. So tell me more.

Lisa Ling: You have to read this book, because it will turn on its head so much of what you have always believed to be true about this country. You know, it goes into graphic detail the savagery that took place with Christopher Columbus on the Native Americans, the Native people who inhabited this land.

I mean, it just forces you to rethink everything that you’ve learned, and to think about it in another context, and it’s a profound experience to read this book, and think about it in the context of history.

Tim Ferriss: I love it.

Lisa Ling: You need to get this book, Tim, and then after you read it, call me, and let me know what you think. I mean, it’s incredible.

Tim Ferriss: I will, and you know, what I love about the two of the three examples that you gave, much like the show I suppose, so it shouldn’t be surprising is that these are assumptions, and narrative-testing books, and I would say that if you find yourself, say, for any given week, having the day-to-day experience of not having uncomfortable conversations, or reading things that make you uncomfortable not in a mud-slinging capacity, but in the sense of deeply, and legitimately stress testing beliefs or narratives that you have about yourself, or the world or other people, then you’re really not living properly as far as I’m concerned, because so much of what we tell ourselves is just utter bullshit.

It’s complete, complete nonsense, and as soon as you start to stress test it, it just falls apart. It’s like the wizard behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. So I’m really glad that you mentioned these, and I will pick up Howard’s book.

Lisa Ling: And when you read that book, I mean, everything that you just said, after you read that book, you’ll go, “Okay, now I get why she responded to this book,” because your jaw will be dropped, and again, like everything that you learned in school, you will think differently about it.

You’ll think about this other perspective, and I think it will change the way you view our institutions. I think it’ll change the way you think about what it means to be an American, and hopefully it will strike a chord with you, and you will just feel more empathy, because of the way this country was founded.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Empathy, man, we could definitely use a heavy dose of more empathy, and I think one of the ways that you develop empathy in part is through allowing, and even encouraging your own beliefs to be tested, developing more flexibility in how you perceive the world in other people, right?

Lisa Ling: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: Because the more labels you apply to other people, and yourself, the dumber you become, to borrow a Paul Graham, and paraphrase a Paul Graham expression, and it’s through, I think this productive discomfort of reading things like this, or watching television shows like those you put out, that you develop a cognitive flexibility that opens the door to emotional development in terms of empathy. It’s really, really important.

Lisa Ling: Yeah. Hey, it’s easy to live in a bubble, and to be told what to think, and then spew what you’ve been told. That’s easy, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Lisa Ling: It’s hard to try, and understand the truth, or take the time. It requires time and energy to get invested in other people’s stories, but I do in my heart of hearts believe that you emerge a better and smarter human as a result of taking that time. It is in no way a waste.

Tim Ferriss: No, no, and it’s deeply positive. It’s also deeply practical, right? At least in my experience, and what I’ve observed. If you don’t have any empathy, or you have very minimal empathy for other people who are labeled your enemies, or the other party, or whatever it might be, that’s also reflected in, I think, how you treat the people around you, including the people you love most, and not excluding yourself.

So how you treat others as you would have them treat you, it goes the other way around as well, and I think that how you relate to the world, and treat others is also often mirrored in how you relate to, and treat yourself. So this is deeply positive, I think. It makes you more adaptable, and it’s also very practical from an emotional health perspective.

Lisa Ling: Well, they say that empathy is a key driver in success. You know, some of the most successful people those characterizations, or could be characterized as being empathy. I mean, there’s a direct correlation between empathy and success.

It’s also, you can develop empathy too. You know, it’s not like it’s something that you’re born with, right? And I think for young people, for any parents who are listening to this, or just young people who are really attached to their devices, I think take that time, as I mentioned earlier, to just put it away, and have conversations with people. Really, really connect with people on a human level. I think that the further we get away from that, the further we get from being able to feel empathy.

Tim Ferriss: And I think a great example of one of those conversations is the conversation that you had with your mom, and the steps that you took after childhood, which is very common for many people listening, of not discussing emotions through therapy, through this conversation with your mom, and so on, creating access to your own emotions, and greater awareness of your own emotions naturally led you to a greater development of empathy towards other people, because you were able to recognize.

Lisa Ling: Yeah. I know I’m a better person as a result of that experience, and ultimately I do think I’m a better mom because of it, because I recognize how much it benefited me to take the time to understand my mom’s past. It was one of the most important life lessons for me.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I would imagine your kids are going to benefit tremendously from the effort that you took in having some very uncomfortable conversations at the time, and let me ask just a few more questions. I know we’re coming up on time shortly. This is a hard question, so you can sort of tackle it from any angle you’d like, but the billboard question.

So if you could put a message, a quote, an image, anything non-commercial on a billboard, metaphorically to get something out to billions of people, let’s say, does anything come to mind that you might put on such a billboard?

Lisa Ling: You know, the thing that I think would speak to these times would be like, “Stop texting and start listening,” because I feel like so much has gotten lost in this digital culture that we are living in.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yes, indeed. I think we’re very poorly, poorly designed for the environments that we have created for ourselves from a digital perspective.

Lisa Ling: Yeah, and I need to practice what I preach, because I’m on my device a lot. I try really hard now to put it away when I’m at home, and if I have to do some work on it, I’ll tell my kids I’m going to go upstairs into another room, because it’s rude for me to be on my phone in front of them, and how can I expect them to not be on the phone all the time when they get their devices one day, or when they’re parents one day?

So I try really hard, and I am as guilty as the next person of going down that rabbit hole of social media late at night, and just an hour will elapse, and I’m still on Instagram, and feeling really shitty about myself, because I’ve just looked at these perfect lives of people, and look, I’ll be honest, there have been dinners that I see my friends posting about that I wasn’t invited to, and I feel this pang of, “Why wasn’t I invited to that?”

You know, I definitely have felt that, and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m an adult, I can get over this stuff pretty quickly,” but for this young generation of kids that is growing up with this, not getting invited to a party, and not just any party, because you don’t just post any party on Instagram, you post the sickest party you’ve ever been to on Instagram, right?

And not getting invited to that, what does that do to your ego? You know, it’s like the thing I hated the most about high school was I remember that kind of obsession I had with popularity. You know, because I think all young people, they want to know what their place is, and they want to have friends, and they want to be popular.

Social media is that which I hated about popularity in high school magnified, and I think that we all need to just put it aside from time to time, and just breathe, and really, really connect with people. So the message that my billboard would contain would definitely have to do with just connecting with humans.

Tim Ferriss: Well, you do a good job of of showcasing that in the work that you put out, and you have this season six, This Is Life on CNN. It’s premiering Sunday, September 29th 10:00 PM Eastern, and Pacific, and since we just mentioned social media, people can find you on Instagram. Correct me if I’m getting any of this wrong, Lisa Ling Instagram, that’s your handle.

Lisa Ling: Lisa at ⁠—

Tim Ferriss: I’m sorry, go ahead.

Lisa Ling: Lisalingstagram.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, there we go. I missed the S. Lisalingstagram, oh wow. Okay. Yeah.

Lisa Ling: Lisalingstagram, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Okay, I will link to that just to save people the spelling challenge. Twitter, a little bit easier, @lisaling, is that right?

Lisa Ling: That’s right.

Tim Ferriss: And then we’ve got the website to This Is Life, which I’ll link to in the show notes, Facebook. Is it

Lisa Ling: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: All right.

Lisa Ling: It is, and I try hard to read a lot of the messages that I get, but I’m not great at it, because I’ve been trying really hard, especially when I’m around my kids to be present with them, and I am going to start taking bigger breaks from social media, because I think we all need to just have those breathers, and I hope people will do that along with me.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. Social media will still be here when you get back.

Lisa Ling: Exactly. Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: It’s not going anywhere, for better, or for worse. Lisa, do you have anything else you would like to add? Any suggestions, comments, any parting words before we wrap up?

Lisa Ling: I mean, I think we covered a lot. I think you’re great, and I hope we can work together in some capacity maybe on psychedelic stuff.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I would love that. I would love that. I’d love to be a resource, and help in any way.

Lisa Ling: I appreciate that you’re out there having really thoughtful conversations with people.

Tim Ferriss: You too. You too, Lisa. You’ve been doing this long before this podcast was even an idea in my head. So you’ve paved the way, and provided a really inspiring example, no doubt to so many people who have then wanted to emulate what you do, which is providing a full human picture in subcultures, and related to topics that can be polarizing, or uncomfortable, and that’s a very important service in the world, and it’s hard for me to imagine, at least as long as I’ve been on this planet, a more important time for that type of influence to exist, offset so much of the terrifying sort of polarization that exists in the world right now. So thank you for doing what you do.

Lisa Ling: Thank you. Thanks Tim. Likewise.

Tim Ferriss: And so I think this is a natural place to close, so thank you very much, Lisa, and to everybody listening, you can find links to everything we’ve discussed in the show notes as usual at, and just look up Lisa Ling, and it will come to your fingertips, and until next time, thanks for listening.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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One Reply to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Lisa Ling — Exploring Subcultures, Learning to Feel, and Changing Perception (#388)”

  1. Many interesting insights. My takeaway is to delve further into Howard Zinn. This is the second time I’m hearing his name and book. I want to look at his narrative and retoric. His perspective may be more biased than Lisa reports.