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May 8, 2009

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Some good news first. This week, the House of Representatives joined the Senate and agreed to set up an independent commission like the one you've heard proposed on this program. Ten citizens, outside experts, will be armed with the power of subpoena to call witnesses and dig deep into who and what brought on the great financial collapse.

We already know some of the answers with the release this week of an eye popping report from the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity, "Who's Behind the Financial Meltdown?"

The report found that the top 25 lenders of subprime mortgages - those risky assets that triggered the global economic meltdown - spent almost $370 million dollars over the last decade lobbying in Washington to weaken regulation of their behavior. Most of those 25 lenders are now out of business or have been sold to avoid bankruptcy, even as some of the nation's largest banks that owned or financed them - Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America - are being bailed out by your taxpayer dollars. The Center for Public Integrity says, "The banks...were not victims of an unforeseen financial collapse, as they have sometimes portrayed themselves, but enablers..."

Last week, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, himself an admitted beneficiary of the finance industry's deep pockets, had enough. This is what he told a radio station back home:

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: The banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis -


SENATOR DICK DURBIN: -- that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

BILL MOYERS: Why was the Senate Majority Whip so upset? Because his Senate colleagues were about to vote down his amendment, to a bill passed this week. Durbin wanted to allow bankruptcy judges to help desperate homeowners renegotiate their mortgage payments.

SENATE PRESIDENT: The amendment is withdrawn.

BILL MOYERS: The Senate voted no, 51 to 45, and they did so despite the fact that there have been 800,000 new foreclosures in the first three months of this year alone.

As the bill was about to pass without his proposal, we went down to Washington for a post-mortem with Senator Durbin.

Senator, thank you for doing this.


BILL MOYERS: So what did you mean precisely when you said, "Frankly, this place is owned by the banks."

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, I think what I saw was the frustration, that here we are in a recession, brought on by these financial institutions, some very bad decisions that they'd made causing great pain and suffering for a lot of workers and businesses and homeowners across America. And yet, when you sit down and talk about some fundamental reform of these financial institutions, so that people have a fighting chance when it comes to their credit cards, so that folks facing mortgage foreclosure have a final chance to maybe save their homes, that basically the banks are going to have the last word. It's counterintuitive. The people who brought this crisis to us are the ones that are dictating policy.

I saw it when I called this amendment, an amendment which would have changed the bankruptcy code, would have allowed those facing foreclosure one last change to renegotiate their mortgage on their home and to stay in their home, under extraordinary, limited circumstances.

But the banking industry, the associations and groups, fought me all the way. And it was clear to me that even though the mortgage foreclosure crisis is getting progressively worse in this country, and is at the heart, I think, of our economic weakness, that the banks were unwilling to step up and really participate in finding a solution.

BILL MOYERS: When you say they fought you, help us understand what actually happens. What do they do?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Some won't even sit at the table. The American Bankers Association walked away. The Community Bankers walked away. Some credit unions would take no part in this conversation. They wouldn't even discuss the possibility of what we could do to deal with this mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Others participated initially, and when the time came, turned and walked away as well. I was left standing, having basically accepted many of their changes. Meanwhile, they were working feverishly in the halls of the Senate, going office to office, trying to convince people to vote against Durbin's bill. And I knew that I had an uphill battle. They're pretty convincing. They're pretty powerful.

And I have to say that the group I was trying to help, the people facing mortgage foreclosure, don't have that kind of political clout. By and large, these are people who are on the skids. They're running into trouble and voting is perhaps, you know, a sacrifice for some of them. Being involved in lobbying is beyond anything that they'd ever done or could consider doing. So I really was trying to speak for some of those people against some pretty powerful political forces.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN ON THE SENATE FLOOR: Why is it in this country, in America, that we can find hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars from hard-working people all over the United States to come to the rescue of bad banking decisions, rotten investments, mortgages that were fraudulent on their face, but can't summon the political will to do something about 8 million families in America who are going to face foreclosure? That is where we are.

BILL MOYERS: What would your provision have done for those people?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: If you're facing foreclosure and at least 60 days delinquent in your mortgage payments, you would have to present to your mortgage institution all of your documents to apply for a new mortgage. They would look through your income statements and your net worth and decide if you could qualify for a mortgage at a lower interest rate or a principal that brings it down to fair market value. If they didn't offer you a mortgage, you could raise it in bankruptcy court. Just as people can do now, legally, when it comes to a vacation home, a farm or a ranch.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN ON THE SENATE FLOOR: The law prohibits the bankruptcy court from rewriting the terms of the mortgage of a person's home. Why? Why does that make any sense? If the bankruptcy court can rewrite the mortgage on your vacation condos, your farm, or your ranch, why can't they do it for your home? That is what this bill does.

BILL MOYERS: What you just acknowledged is that there is a two-tier standard here. What did the lobbyists say, when you said to them, "Look, rich people can get this provision. They can get their mortgages renegotiated, but ordinary people can't." What did they say to you?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, they argue about the sanctity of the contract, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: Contract with--

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: With the original mortgage, and I have to tell you that it is a little hard to swallow, when we're dealing with a banking industry that has entered into so many bad contracts, creating these rotten portfolios of mortgage securities. And then in desperation, turn to the taxpayers at large, who had to come in and bail them out with hundreds of billions of dollars. Their holy contracts that exploded in their faces really weren't that holy, when it came down to it. They were ready to take taxpayers' money to stay in business. But I offered this same amendment a year ago. At the time, the projection was two million homes in foreclosure in America. Moody's now projects eight million. That's one out of every six home mortgages in foreclosure. That means that there'll hardly be a block untouched in America, without a foreclosed home, which will affect the other people around them, and the value of their property.

BILL MOYERS: What was the role of the mortgage industry, in this fight?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: They were against me all the way. The mortgage bankers led the fight against it. They organized the major banking associations. And they just wouldn't participate, with very few exceptions, in even discussing the problem. I think they believe that ultimately, they will make more money if they force this to an extreme and the government has to step in. But when I think of what they will leave in their wake, with all of these people and their foreclosed homes, all of these empty homes that become eyesores in neighborhoods, and the declining real estate values of America, it's a heavy price to pay.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN ON THE SENATE FLOOR: The key number to remember is 1.7 million families. 1.7 million. That is the number of families we will either give a chance to save their homes or allow them to be thrown out in the street, depending on how the vote turns out.

BILL MOYERS: You sounded very exasperated.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I was. I worked on this for two years. And I've tried everything I can. I've appealed to bankers that I always believed were, you know, good corporate citizens, who believe they have an obligation beyond the bottom line to our country. And I couldn't even engage them in this conversation. It isn't as if they're solving the problem on their own. Precious few of these mortgages facing foreclosure are really being renegotiated. But ultimately they wouldn't even step up.

SENATE PRESIDENT: On this vote the yeas are 45. The nays are 51. The amendment is withdrawn.

BILL MOYERS: You lost 12 of your own Democrats.


BILL MOYERS: They voted against you with 39 Republicans. Where did they go? Why? Do you think it was the power of the banks?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I don't know, and I think it will come out why the party position was taken by the Republicans, why not a single Republican would even consider this bill.

BILL MOYERS: What's your theory?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, I think there's more to it. There was an agenda at work here, and I don't know all the details of it. There are many more issues coming before us. I don't know what was decided or agreed upon between the banking industry and the Republican caucus, but the fact is, as you said, a dozen of my Democratic colleagues voted against this.

BILL MOYERS: Have you talked to those 12?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Some of them. I've gone to-

BILL MOYERS: What's the consensus of their opposition to you?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, some of them frankly agree with the banks. I'll be very honest with you. They have a position that they think the banks are right, and that we should keep our nose out of it. Others don't see the mortgage foreclosure crisis in their communities and states as much. Some don't want to give this last break to somebody facing foreclosure, thinking some of these people got into this mess on their own and they shouldn't be rescued. But there are a variety of reasons.

BILL MOYERS: Have you given up the fight for this session?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I'm not going to give it up. The sad reality is that next year, if it takes that long to get back to it, we'll be facing the same or even more mortgage foreclosures. And I think people will come to understand that this isn't just a small problem, it's a large problem to deal with. We're worried so much about the safety and soundness of financial institutions. We ought to be worried about the safety and soundness of homeowners and working people across this country.

BILL MOYERS: Charles Munger, do you know him?


BILL MOYERS: He's the vice-chair of Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, which is, by the way, a large private shareholder in Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo. Let me read you what he said the other day. Quote, "We need to remove from the investment banking and the commercial banking industries a lot of the practices and prerogatives that they have so lovingly possessed. If they're too big to fail, they're too big to be allowed to be as gamey and venal as they have been and as stupid as they have been." Not my words, not your words. These are the words of a very important, significant, influential private investor, saying that the people who beat you are gamey, venal and stupid.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I'm not going to go that far.


SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Though I have a high regard for Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, who have really, I think, had a better vision about the future of the economy of this country than most people who are successful in business. But I think he points to something that is obvious. And that is that there are some leaders in this industry who really don't accept a corporate responsibility for the good of this nation.

Harold Meyerson has an article in the Washington Post about the hedge funds, coming into the bankruptcy court, and complaining about the Chrysler loan, in bankruptcy. And their argument is, rather than the possibility that Chrysler might survive, they would rather see it liquidated, so they make more money. Liquidation, of course, costs tens of thousands of jobs at Chrysler and many other suppliers and material men. It also means that thousands of retirees might lose their health care benefits, and ultimately, that the government won't recover the loan it has made to Chrysler Corporation. And you have to ask yourself. At the bottom line here, how could these hedge funds stand up and say, "This is better for our country." It isn't. With all of the people who would suffer as a result of it.

BILL MOYERS: There's also a story in the "New York Times" about how private equity firms want to be able to control banks. Now they can invest in banks as minority stockholders, but they can't control them. The Fed doesn't believe that's a good idea. But they're spending huge sums of money, hiring an all-star cast of lobbyists, advisors and lawyers in Washington, to reverse the Fed's policy.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: That troubles me, because I think it's a step in the wrong direction. If we think too big to fail is a problem, then we're inviting much larger institutions with more political clout and more economic clout, and I don't think that's healthy. I don't really think that moves in the right direction. If you want to get to the heart of this, it's the way we finance our campaigns for the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. It's time for us to move to public financing, for the good of the country. I have a bill which I introduced with Arlen Specter, and we believe that this is the best way to change the way we finance campaigns.

BILL MOYERS: What would that bill do?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, it would basically say, if you can raise small contributions in an amount to show you're a viable candidate in the state, you would qualify for federal funds. And those federal funds would provide you with an adequate campaign, not one that goes on for years, but an adequate campaign to bring your message to the voters. And it's voluntary. I think that is a good move for our democracy, and it's one which we ought to acknowledge is at the heart of many of the issues we face.

BILL MOYERS: But you know that the traditional argument against that, from many people, is that that's welfare for politicians.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: And I would say to those people, and incidentally states as disparate as Maine and Arizona have had public referenda and passed public financing, I would say to people, it's a small investment in financing campaigns, so you know where candidates stand, and not giving away the store when it comes to critical issues and special interests.

BILL MOYERS: Are you proposing doing away with private money?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, it wouldn't be done away with. It's still a voluntary system.

BILL MOYERS: If you were running, you could choose to take public funding--

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: You could choose.

BILL MOYERS: --and forego private funding?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: That's right. And if you took the public funding, you would have to demonstrate with small contributions that you have a base of support, so you are a viable candidate. But it's within the grasp of the average person, to become a candidate and be able to turn to public financing.

BILL MOYERS: I have to ask you this, because you're such a good friend of the president. You've known him for a long time in Illinois politics. You admire him very much. How do you expect to prevail on your proposal for campaign financing reform when he opted out of the public funding last year in his campaign?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: It's a good question, a valid question. And it's interesting.

BILL MOYERS: Give me a good answer.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, I'm going to try my best. And I think that Barack Obama redefined campaign financing. I mean, in terms of democratizing the base of contributors. He used the Internet and computers and emails in a way no one had ever seen. And if you look at his base of contributors, it is a widespread base of small contributors. There are larger contributors, don't get me wrong. But he, at least--

BILL MOYERS: A lot from the financial industry.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: It's true. And it's virtually true in all incumbent races. Perhaps even my own, if you take a look at those who've contributed to me in the past. But he did take it from a different perspective. He really tried to prove that he could create a donor base that was much different than people had seen, and that more average people would get involved in helping him than in any other previous campaign.

BILL MOYERS: But given the fact that there's so much private money out there that wants to influence campaigns and influence those of you in office, why would any candidate choose public funding instead of this other route that's been so profitable and lucrative for them?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Well, there's several reasons. One, getting on the phone, calling strangers, begging for money is a grind. And most political candidates don't like it at all. You know, you notice when you walk down the street in your hometown, people tend to go to the other side of the street when you're up for an election. They're afraid you're going to ask them for money!

And so I think there's this personal thing, that many people would like to be relieved of the burden. And secondly, I think in their heart of hearts, most of the people elected to Congress know that this isn't a healthy or sustainable system, where we allow people to put more and more money into it. There's no doubt at the end of the day that you feel some obligation.

My friend Paul Simon used to say, "You get in late at night in your hotel room. There are ten telephone messages. You're only going to make one of them, 'cause you're so darn tired, and you look through the list and there's somebody who had a fundraising event for you. Now which one are you going to call?" Paul would say. And we all know the answer. You're grateful to somebody who helped you. But unfortunately, that takes its toll, in terms of your integrity.

BILL MOYERS: Congress really does very little for consumers, when you add up the whole score. And there are far more consumers than there are big banks. And yet when push comes to shove, the organized big banks win against the majority of people who are on the other side of the issue. What do you say to people about how you keep faith in the democratic process when money trumps policy and buys the government out from under ordinary people?

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: This isn't a new story. This is a story that's been repeated over the years. The politically articulate prevail, many times, over the public majority sentiment. And this is a good example of it, whether we're talking about credit card reform or some recourse for those facing mortgage foreclosure. Most people understand we ought to be helping out those families and working people who are struggling to get by.

BILL MOYERS: I like your term "politically articulate," but in fact, isn't it the deep pockets that ultimately win? It's not the most articulate and the most eloquent people up on the Hill who win, it's the people who have the support of those institutions, organizations, lobbyists with deep pocket.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Maybe the better term was financially articulate, because it's true that if you have more money to put into the process, it's more likely you'll be heard. But I wouldn't give up. I really, honestly believe in the bottom line here. I think that if you have the right cause, organize people and give them the chance to do the right thing, ultimately you can prevail.

BILL MOYERS: Senator Durbin, thank you very much for this time.


BILL MOYERS: And now back in New York for some counter programming. Flip on your TV and nearly everyone's talking about ways to stay young.

ADVERTISEMENT: For younger looking skin. Feels good and looks even better.

BILL MOYERS: Commercials for skin creams and cosmetics galore. But despite the youthful fantasies on the television screen, we are living much longer. Truth is, there are 76 million of us in what the noted educator Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls "The Third Chapter," a time for passion and adventure.

For her book on that subject she spent two years on the road, gathering the stories of older Americans who have set out on new lives and careers. She added her insights as a leading sociologist, and wrote THE THIRD CHAPTER: PASSION, RISK, AND ADVENTURE IN THE 25 YEARS AFTER 50.

I first interviewed Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot a generation ago, when she was a young professor at Harvard University. Even then she was talking about life as a continuing course in adult education.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Schooling is what happens inside the walls of a school; some of it is educational. Education happens everywhere.

BILL MOYERS: Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has now been on the Harvard faculty for 37 years. In fact, upon her retirement, she will become the first African-American woman in the history of that university to have an endowed professorship named in her honor. Among her nine books, this is one of my favorites - BALM IN GILEAD -- about her mother, Dr. Margaret Lawrence, the pioneering child psychiatrist. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, welcome to the Journal.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Wonderful to be here.

BILL MOYERS: How time flies.


BILL MOYERS: I can't believe it's been over 21 years since I did last interview you. You were writing then about your mother, who is now how old?


BILL MOYERS: And here you are, writing now, about aging. What are you trying to tell me?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, what happened was several years ago, I began to hear at almost every cocktail party, dinner party, professional conference and meeting, someone would lean into me, and sort of say what I began to call confessional moments. Something about what they were truly excited about, passionate about, an adventure that they were on that was new for them, and I would listen.

Their voice held both extraordinary passion and excitement, but on the other hand, sort of a shyness or reticence. As if what they were talking about, we shouldn't take too seriously. But on the other hand, it was something that they felt deeply about. And I began to wonder what were these moments about? You know, that people were talking about new learning in their lives, new adventures that they were taking, new risks and that their commentary about these moments was so much more excited than talking about their work, or even at that moment, talking about their family. So, I began to wonder, again, what is the text, and what is the subtext of these moments that I would- I began to call confessional moments? And so, I wanted to really investigate this curiosity of mine.

BILL MOYERS: Were you having any confessional moments of your own?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: I probably was, but mostly I was experiencing this as listener, as receiver of these other experiences. But there was always something, and this continued throughout the research for this book, that resonated with me about it. That all of us, at this point, to some degree, I think, are on a search for meaningfulness, for purposefulness. And we want to find what this next 25 years. This, in fact, penultimate chapter of our life is going to be about.

And we're ready for something new, for a new experience, for a new adventure. And I think all of us, to some degree, experience some burnout. Burnout is not about-- is not about working too hard. Or working too diligently or being overcommitted. Burnout is about boredom. And so, I think in some ways this is about sort of moving beyond the boredom to compose, to invent and reinvent the path that we're on.

BILL MOYERS: And yet, you say that while they would talk excitedly and with passion about this vision or this confessional moment, there was also a note of fear in their voices.


BILL MOYERS: They were sort of closed down.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: I think two things are happening there. One is that we are still a youth obsessed culture. And so, what we all believe, who have grown up in this culture is that we should be in retreat at this moment. We should be, you know, kind of pulling back and feeling comfortable and staying still. And so, these stories that they were telling me, that were about moving out, taking an adventure, seem to be sort of against the cultural norms that we have been embedded in for most of our lives.

I think the other thing that's happening is that it's hard to leave these roles that have given us status. That have given us sort of responsibility. That have maybe even given us influence and power. Those roles have become comfortable. And to go on this journey that takes us away from that feels terrifying at first.

BILL MOYERS: One of the most interesting revelations in here to me is that you, in just a few pages, discuss the way the pendulum has swung back and forth in this country toward aging. I mean, there was a time, in the early days, when Americans powdered their wigs in order-


BILL MOYERS: To look older and more-and then there was a time when aging was considered an incurable disease to be treated in old folks homes.


BILL MOYERS: As we used to call it. And now, here you are, sitting before me-


BILL MOYERS: - describing this aging, this growing old.


BILL MOYERS: As a time of great excitement and adventure and passion, as you say.


BILL MOYERS: What has happened to bring about the change in our perception of the elderly?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, we're living longer. That's one big piece. That the arc of our lives have changed enormously. So, we're not dying at 50. We are, if we're lucky, living to 80, 85, 90. So that this period that I'm talking about, between 50 and 75, as I said before, is a penultimate period. So that it offers us the opportunity and the challenge of doing something meaningful in it. I also think that there's a way in which my message anticipates what I hope will come. That's when I say, and I really mean it, that this is the most, perhaps, transformative time of our lives. Most exciting, in terms of new learning. Limitless in its opportunities. A lot of people don't experience that, because the cultural shifts and the institutional shifts haven't yet happened, in order to support that in most of us.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, it- what I mean is that most people really do see this time, as I said earlier, as a time of retrenchment, right? As a time- they don't enjoy the beauty, the wisdom, the experience that comes with aging. And we continue to look at younger people, as those people who have the energy and the drive and the new ideas, right?

Now, I must say that Eric Erikson, my favorite Developmental Psychologist from way back, said in the early 1950s, talked about the stages of life across time. And talked about this time, the third chapter, as the penultimate of eight stages.

BILL MOYERS: The next to the last.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: The next to the last. And he said, even back then, that each one of these stages is characterized by a crisis, a crisis of whether we're going to move forward, progress, or whether we're going to move back, regress. So, it is this tension always, at each of our developmental stages, between progression and regression. And this third stage is a crisis between what he calls "generativity" and stagnation. Sounds very dramatic. Generativity, having to do with using your energies to serve, to teach, to mentor, to express through art, to innovate, to give something to society, right? To leave a legacy. And stagnation, meaning, "I'm going to stay right here, and make my mark, continue to make my mark, in an individual pursuit."

BILL MOYERS: Well, there's something of a cultural and political factor there, because it was, what? In 1935, in the New Deal, that the Social Security Act was passed, and people were told they have a quote "right to retire".

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: And a lot of people experienced stopping work as a kind of death.

BILL MOYERS: My father did.


BILL MOYERS: I mean, when he retired at 65, something in him died. I know that's a cliché. But I could see it.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: And a lot of people continue to experience that. And one of the things that happens in this book is tracing these 40 people, many of them deciding to retire, but continuing to do work that's meaningful. Continuing to figure out a way to be productive. To be purposeful. To be creative. To be innovative.

BILL MOYERS: You acknowledge in here that these 40 people you have interviewed across the country do not represent the majority of people in this country. You just put a face on some of these figures by men and women by talking to them. And it's also obvious that the book deals with people of an affluent class. People who have the means to make choices and to go this way instead of that way. Whereas there are, you know, six, seven, eight million people in this country, over 55, who are living in poverty, and they don't have choices.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Right. Well, we think they don't have choices. One of the things I talk about is perceived abundance. How do we experience our life? Do we see whether we have a great deal of material resources or not, do we see choices in front of us? And so, a factory worker, who's been laid off from his job in Madison, Wisconsin, tells me that he was laid off. That he and his wife went to the flea market every single Saturday with their stuff, trying to trade it or sell it, so that they could put food on their tables, and continue to feed their family.

And at the flea market one Saturday, he saw these strange and interesting sculptures and pieces of art made by artists who were bringing their art to the flea market. And he said, "You know what? That's interesting. I could do that. And I'm good with metal. I'm a welder. I'm good with metal." And he went home, and began playing with the metal that he had around his house. And he began sort of saying, "What do I like? What do I care about?" He loves dinosaurs. He's always loved dinosaurs since he saw "Jurassic Park". And he begins to create these animals, these sculptures. He takes them back to the flea market. People become interested. He sells them for almost nothing. It catches on. And by the time he's talking to me, he's telling me that he's gotten his first gig with an art gallery. So, his sort of innovation, his resourcefulness, and ultimately his pride in his own creativity, comes through. This is a factory worker.

BILL MOYERS: One of the interesting insights in here to me is that you say there's a difference between this new learning we have to do when we enter the third chapter, and the old narrow cognitive learning of the classroom. What's the difference?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, almost everyone that I talk to in this book, even if they were very successful students in school, had very successful careers by all of the sort of traditional standards, talked about the fact that the learning that goes on in the third chapter is often contrary, a contradiction to the ways in which they were taught, and excelled in school. So, school taught us to move quickly with speed. To be singular in our ambitions. To be competitive. To not waste time. To not show failure or weakness. And in the third chapter, they talk about the learning as needing to be creative, needing to be collaborative. That we need to fail, in order to discover the best way that we can learn. In other words, at the best diagnostic for learning.

BILL MOYERS: To make a fool out of ourselves, you say in here.


BILL MOYERS: To be willing to make a fool.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: To be willing to fail and make a fool out of ourselves, at least in the short run. And, of course, the ingredient that's so important, which is humor. Being able to laugh at ourselves. Lighten up. You know? Not worry about our facade and our persona. But really just get into the process.

BILL MOYERS: One of these people actually says to you that she's learned that patience is a major gift of life. And that it's so important to do things slowly. Which she had forgotten over the course of her life.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: That's right. Right. This is someone who was actually a filmmaker. And she talked about the fact that it was always rush, rush, rush. And her parents actually had talked about the fact that, "Quickly, quickly, quickly." You know? Always being the best by shooting your hand up first, by making it to the front of the class.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about it.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: All of that. And what she realized in this third chapter was how glorious it was to slow down. How glorious it was to be able to be reflective. To be sort of meditative. And my favorite thing about this period is restraint. How wonderful it is, I mean, this is my own revelation. How wonderful it is to know a little bit more about when not to talk. When not to move forward. When it's best to listen and sit back. When it's best to just witness and observe. And that kind of slowness of pace offers us the opportunity to see things newly. To discover things that we hadn't seen before. To see the small, incremental steps, rather than expect the large leaps forward.

BILL MOYERS: You say in here that you looked into the eyes of these people, and saw your own reflection, with confessional moments of her own. Are you facing having to unlearn some things that have made you-- the success you are?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, I think that I'm in one of those rare and I think you are, too. Rare professions-

BILL MOYERS: No, no, I'm graduating from your third chapter.


BILL MOYERS: I'm like your mother. I'm moving on into the epilogue stage.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Exactly, But as I say, these boundaries are arbitrary. I think my being a scholar and a writer and a researcher, each one of these books that I write is really a quest a new quest for me. I'm able to engage in new learning. And that's a huge, huge luxury. Without many constraints I'm able to do that. I think there are those professions, I do, and those careers, and the kind of work, really. There-where it sustains your curiosity throughout. Where you're able, we're very privileged to grow in it. But I also think that there are ways in which I behave within the context of my institution. I can feel it at a faculty meeting.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, for one thing, for example, I used to reject the idea that I needed to mentor other people. It seemed to sort of make me feel old, to establish myself as a mentor. And guide. And now, I embrace this job of mine. It is important that I let myself be a mentor to my younger colleagues. That I work with and support them. That I guide them. That I give- I tell them stories about my own life and my own career. That's one piece. Another, in terms of the restraint piece, is that if I'm in a senior faculty meeting now, I speak once. I listen.

BILL MOYERS: How uncharacteristic.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, I've learned timing is important. When I speak is important. All of that. But this way of sort of engaging a conversation that's much more listening. And that also offers sort of a historical perspective, is important. And I'm likely to say what I think. You know? Really be very honest, very clear. I'm much less cautious about that. And those two things coming together, a kind of a courage to speak your mind and speak your heart. And to say where your ideas come from, even if they don't come from cognition, in a scholarly session. And the idea, as well, of waiting and waiting and choosing your moment.

BILL MOYERS: Is it true, as I have heard, that you went canvassing, knocking on doors, door by door, last fall, in the Presidential campaign with a 24-year-old?


BILL MOYERS: Tell me about that.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: I did. Well one of the things I talk about in this book, that's so important, that we need to do, in terms of projects for the future, in our society is really engage in much more cross-generational encounters, discourse, conversation, and movements.

BILL MOYERS: But that's so hard to do, because we are separated into our-


BILL MOYERS: -into our different realities, right?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: I think that's absolutely true. But I think that one example that I found so exciting, of working with young people, and young people working with old people in a common project, was this Obama campaign. So, in New Hampshire, three or four times, I went out with a young kid, from Dartmouth who we were paired together. And this was a really interesting, I kept on wishing that I was a fly on the wall, or an ethnographer, watching us navigate our relationship.


SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: And these encounters. Because this was a kid who had, you know, voluminous knowledge about the sort of politics and the names, who was incredibly energetic, who had great ideas. Who was completely urgent and impatient and a terrible listener, right? And also someone who's stereotyped all of New Hampshire. He thought they were all kind of backwoods, rural, country people. Republicans. Right? And that they hadn't really thought deeply about these matters. And that all he needed to do was feed them the information. Right? And not expect them to change. My approach, of course, was one of beginning by listening to them. Not assuming that I knew who they were, just because I knew where they lived. Right? Not beginning with a stereotype, but with trying to-with expecting that they had the capacity to think deeply, as well. You know? And so the negotiation of our relationship was one of my helping him wait. Helping him listen. and for me, it was really sort of experiencing and catching his energy, his drive, his impatience, and his optimism.

BILL MOYERS: Clearly, he had more energy than you, right?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: He had more energy. But his impatience often depleted his energy, right? You know, because he was so impatient to get the message across.

BILL MOYERS: You quote throughout this book, someone who was on this show recently. Nikki Giovanni, the poet. And she has a poem in which she says, "There are sounds which shatter the staleness of lives, transporting the shadows into the dreams." Most people I know, 24 years old or 74 years old, want to shatter the staleness. What have you learned about how to do that?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, one of the things that I experienced here in talking to people was this dynamic of loss and liberation. That most people that I talk to in the third chapter had to begin with childhood stories, in order to begin to explain the ways in which they were able to move forward into new learning in the third chapter. Because much of what happens in that early time is often a feeling of not being supported, not being nourished, maybe even being neglected and abused.

BILL MOYERS: When they're young?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: When they're young, and to return to that place of hurt. To try to understand it. Not to blame anyone. But to try to understand it. Whether that's a metaphoric return, or whether that's literally going back to Ohio and walking up the steps of your father's house and knocking on the door, and talking to him, honestly, about what you're experience was as a small child. Whatever it is. It's often getting over those early negative experiences, if you had them. It's very- at least I experienced it with these 40 people. As a very common theme.

And people sometimes discovered those early hurts in the process of the interviewing. That some story that they had told many, many, many times before, which were the positive, affirmative, optimistic story. They discover the underbelly of, as we talk. And the discovery of that underbelly illuminates their reasons for moving forward now.

BILL MOYERS: So, when they identify these wounds, and they begin to open them, what happened? What do they tell you happened in enabling them to go forward?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, let me just give you an example. There's a public health doctor, 67 years old, from a middle class African American family. And he is someone who's always worked very, very hard, most of the time in West Africa, to work on malaria, eliminate malaria. Takes his work very seriously. And he has begun to take voice lessons, which he loves. So, I say, "Why voice lessons?" So, he begins to tell the story of sitting in his mother's arms, at age 6, every Sunday, listening to the Metropolitan Opera, right?

And he loves this moment, because he's sitting in his mother's arms, and because there's nothing more glorious or radiant than these resonant voices of these opera singers. And he says to his mother one day at 6, "Mom, that's what I want to be. I want to be an opera singer." And she doesn't respond with any words. But what he remembers, in conversation with me, is this sort of dismissive look that she gives him. And he says with tears in his eyes, now talking to me, it's as if she thought that opera singers were sissies, right?

So, he retreats, immediately. He never raises that up again. And he becomes a wonderful public health doctor, right? Giving to the world, you know? And at age 65, he begins to take voice lessons and he realizes that this is resonant from this early denial. And he experiences, as he says, "a liberation I've never felt." "A freedom I've never felt." And the real kicker in this story is that he discovers in conversation with me that this learning to use his diaphragm, learning to make the sound come up through his entire channel, body channel, not only feels liberating in that sense. But also that somehow learning, discovering his voice, his new voice at 67, has helped him to become a better doctor.

BILL MOYERS: And in contrast to that, there's a woman in your book named Pamela, a psychologist and an activist, who talks very poignantly about wanting, in this stage of her life, to do the quote "radical thing." To make a difference. And she's disillusioned or disappointed, at least, to find that the solutions seem out of reach. That it's harder for her to rally people to a collective sense of responsibility than she had thought it would be, at this stage. And that's neither government nor private institutions are designed to prepare to help her make a difference.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, this is someone who is progressive. Who has been an activist all of her life. And who sought to make a difference beyond the sort of domain of psychology or clinical psychology and what she discovers, at 60, and she is worried about death. Many of the people in her family have died early. She sees the finiteness of her life. And she wants to take on something big, right? She wants government and hospitals and the whole medical, psychological establishment to respond to the veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. To recognize that they're not crazy. That they've been through a trauma of huge, profound, significance. And yet, she can't get this message across. She feels as if the institutions, the government, the hospitals, the medical establishment are not recognizing their trauma. And so, she feels enormously frustrated.

BILL MOYERS: So, is she going to spend the third chapter sullen and resigned?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: No. She's keeping on pushing but our conversations gave her an opportunity to really weep at the fact that she believes, "I'm at my most powerful now. I have the most to give. I'm the wisest. My voice is strong. My influence should be great, and I feel it diminished, at this point."

BILL MOYERS: Does it strike you that there are not enough people in our society who listen?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. If I could think of-there's sort of two things that came out of this book. One, the most important in new learning is curiosity. And that's often dampened or muted in school. When somehow children stop asking what I think is a primal question. "So, where did he go? So, then what happened? So, why do you feel that way?" I mean, just, these are primal questions. You know? And somehow if there's an answer, and only one answer to these questions, people stop asking the questions. And I think the other thing that's important is the listening. When I talk about this, the importance of cross-generational projects and dialogues. It is about young people listening to old people. Old people listening to young people. Having a real discourse with respect and with empathy.

BILL MOYERS: That 24 year old you politicked with last fall in New Hampshire. What does he want to do with his life and what did he learn from you about what he could do?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well one of the things that I think he learned from me was that he will have many chances to remake himself. Meaning that there will be many chapters and many challenges. I think the other thing that we talked a lot about in our walks from house to house was this sort of failure. That is, what I have learned, and what most people at our age have learned, as we look back on our lives, the value of those moments when we have failed, and we need to pick ourselves up and move on. And so, I sort of talked about welcoming those moments. But most of the time, he was talking. And he was talking about politics, right?

BILL MOYERS: The people in here don't talk much about death.


BILL MOYERS: Why is that? Was that deliberate on your part?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: No. It wasn't. I think Pamela, who you just talked about, is one of the few people in the book-


SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: -that talks about death. They're too busy living.

BILL MOYERS: But surely they have to think in the back of their mind-


BILL MOYERS: They can see the grains of sand going down the hourglass.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: I think there is an expression of urgency in their work, in their new work, and in their new learning. This notion of limited time is very much there. So, you see this incredible paradox of the emerging patience of this period, and this sense of urgency, of time moving on.

BILL MOYERS: So, I'll come back to you. Are you feeling that sense of urgency? You're only 64 To me, that's just adolescence. In the third chapter.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, I certainly am feeling the curiosity. I'm feeling the urgency. I'm feeling the patience. I'm feeling the courage to ask questions that may not have been asked before. To say what it is I need to say. It isn't that I think I'm invincible at all, but I have these qualities that have been, I think, deepened during this period of time. That I think will hold me and will help me move forward in this third chapter.

BILL MOYERS: People in here talk openly about their own fears. What are you afraid of, at this stage?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Sometimes I'm afraid of loneliness. Even though I'm surrounded by glorious family and Friends and have lots of love.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, I think there is-what I experience when I look at people in their fourth chapters is the possibility of isolation. Is the probability, not just the probability, but the certainty that as you grow older, your friends will disappear, they will die. And I look at my mother, who's 94, who has deep curiosity. Who's using this stage and chapter of her life to give forward. Who's mind is vital and alive. And who's a fabulous listener.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean she's giving forward?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Giving forward, I talk about in this book as a way of serving society. And as a way of serving society that's contemporary, that's meaningful. Giving back seems to be asking for sort of anachronism. It's like looking backwards. This is looking forwards and trying to figure out a way of giving and serving that fits the contemporary cultural context.

BILL MOYERS: So what is she doing? I mean I know about your mother, we talked about her 20 some odd years ago. I read your book about her. What is she doing now at 94?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: She's very much in the world and engaged in the world. But in the meantime at 94, most of her friends have died. And I think that I see that as a profound loneliness. Right? And so that's one of the things that I worry about.

BILL MOYERS: You finish this manuscript, had to finish this manuscript, shortly before the great economic collapse.


BILL MOYERS: How do you think the new reality would change the answers they gave you to their Questions because these people largely could afford to make this change, make this turn.


BILL MOYERS: How do you think the great collapse would change their answers?

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well, I don't know that it would change it very much and one of the things that I get back that I've been hearing is the fact that the capacity to innovate in a time of reduced resources, in a time when you need to sacrifice, in a time when there is less stuff. The capacity to innovate is very much what these people are talking about. Innovation, creativity, that comes out of an experience that we have now of less. You know, that this notion of 'we have less.' We are forced therefore to do more with less. To figure out ways of combining our resources, of collaborating, of, as I say, innovating.

I remember times a time in my life when I was lowest and my mother saying, "Sweetheart, out of this suffering will come creativity." And she was right. And I don't mean to be idealizing this at all. But I think there are ways, I mean, even at a place like Harvard, right? That's lost 30 percent of its endowment. There's a way in which this reduction in our resources forces us to think more dynamically, more creatively, about how we can do more with less. In fact, how we can shape a new legacy in this time of sacrifice.

BILL MOYERS: You make me think particularly about the baby boomers, about who you write in here without categorizing them I mean, because all these people are not baby boomers, but some are. The baby boomers in particular grew up in a period of prosperity of relative abundance and they saw themselves as powerful actors who wanted to shape the culture and paradigm of their era. And they brought as you know considerable resources and wealth to the challenge. Now the rug has been pulled out from under them. And I wonder how they are reacting to the new reality.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: Well it's true. I think that part of what we did as baby boomers in our younger years, you know, we were bodacious, we were audacious. We were entitled, we felt we were empowered. And we felt that we stopped the Vietnam War. Right? We felt that we grew the women's movement. We were engaged in civil rights activities, we made a difference. We were the actors on the horizon. And even as it seems to me, with the rug pulled out as you say, we still have this feeling about ourselves. We still believe that we can make a difference. We still believe that we can come up with good ideas that might help to solve what's happening now. And we must learn however that we are not the owners of this intellectual capital or this cultural capital. And that's why I say this sort of energy of bringing people together, cross generations to solve these problems.

BILL MOYERS: The book is THE THIRD CHAPTER: PASSION, RISK, AND ADVENTURE IN THE 25 YEARS AFTER 50. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, thank you for being with me on THE JOURNAL.

SARA LAWRENCE-LIGHTFOOT: You're welcome. It was a great joy.

BILL MOYERS: That's it for the JOURNAL. To learn more from Sara Lawrence Lightfoot and to share stories from your own third chapter, go to the Moyers Web site at You can also track campaign contributions to our politicians from special interests, just who is giving what to whom? Log onto, search "Moyers" and click on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

I'm Bill Moyers and I'll see you next time

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