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August 7, 2009

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL. This is that time of year when public television asks you to go to your phone or computer and make a pledge to this station. More than ever, it can use your help in these very difficult economic times.

This week, as we often do during pledge drives, by popular request we're bringing back one of your favorite broadcasts, this one with a remarkable scholar and story teller who has some important insights about growing older - and old.

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 an experienced, 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. 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: The American Dream is an idea as old as the Declaration of Independence, as varied as our many races and colors, as concrete as a winning hand of poker or a brand new car. We've asked you, our viewers, to share with us at our website your vision of the American Dream.

AVERAGE AIRLINE PILOT: The [...] collective Dream Americans share is Abraham Lincoln's and Martin Luther King's vision of a society where an individual American, regardless of wealth or ethnicity, is only limited in his or her best ambitions by the measure of that person's work ethic and personal talents. -Average Airline Pilot

HARVANA MENDENHALL: Growing up in the middle of the Civil Rights changes [...] I dreamed of an America where our differences would be something to embrace rather than fear. Now in the later years of my life, I look around and feel sad. Yes, we have made some changes, but to me they have been tempered by our continued willingness to judge and build walls rather than embrace [...] -Harvana Mendenhall

BETSY GLECKLER: When I think of the American Dream I think of [...] sharing my house and good luck with other people. The American Dream really isn't a McMansion in a soulless suburban street, it is having communion with your friends, neighbors and family. -Betsy Gleckler

MANNY FUENTES: I dream of a nation in which disagreement takes the form of rational discourse, that remembers the spirit of "I do not agree with your words, but will defend to the death your right to speak them." -Manny Fuentes

BYRON GORDON: I hope the American dream dies out entirely and is replaced by some other dream that doesn't have the word, "American" in it. And it's a dream that all of humanity can share and prosper in. -Byron Gordon

MARY: We need no 'American Dream'. What we desperately need is humility. We need to understand that we are only one small part of existence on this magnificent stage of earth. We need to acknowledge our interdependence with all other humans, with all other species, and with the vast natural gifts of this extraordinary planet. -Mary

MARTIN: Before we can take a step forward towards the American Dream again, we need to recognize, collectively, that America has been disassembled and shipped overseas, even as we watched it all happen, believing the promises of "global expansion." Our confidence has been shot through with...betrayals, and, yes, deception... -Martin

MARGARET PAGE: Why a "Dream"? Dreams are nothing but passive wishfulness. [...] Have we become a society of dreamers rather than doers? We can dream all we want about a better life and a better world, but dreaming won't make it happen. Personal commitment and action will. -Margaret Page

RICHARD BARTER: My idea of the American dream is not to wake up every morning wondering how I am going to make ends meet. Not wondering if I can feed my family this month. Not wondering how I am going to pay for college for my two children. Not wondering how to tell my kids to stay in school when PhDs are flipping burgers for a living [...] And lastly not crying because I will never be able to retire. -Richard Barter

SHEILA PARKER: The American Dream has always been right in front of us. We have a beautiful country, great ideals, citizens ready to help and opportunity beyond all imagination. We were too consumed, too busy and too tired to notice the signs along the way. Now we have the opportunity to change perspectives and collective directions as never before. -Sheila Parker

STEVE ZELLER: If "We the People" want our American Dream we damned well better all learn about what is at stake ... We all need to be involved. Everyone that is able needs get educated and must vote. The future of the American Dream is in our hands and we better all stand up and fight for it. I sure as hell am going to... -Steve Zeller

BILL MOYERS: For many more ideas about the American Dream, and the opportunity to tell us yours, visit our blog at


CHRIS JORDAN: The warnings on this one are all written in Chinese characters. Do not recharge, put in fire, disassemble, put in backwards or mix with used or other battery types. May explode or leak.

Our consumption looks like something from a distance, and then, when you get up close, it looks like something very different. From a distance it looks like all these nice, shiny things that we get to own. And these great lifestyles that we get to live. When you zoom in close, and you learn about the toxic metals, and the world-wide pollution, the details look different than it looked when you stood back at a distance.

My name is Chris Jordan, and I used to be a photographer and now I'm some kind of digital photographic artist.

This is called Plastic Bags 2007. This is 60,000 plastic bags, which is five seconds worth of plastic bag usage in the United States. That's five seconds worth of plastic bags.

All of my work is meant to evoke a whole bunch of different layers of discord between the attraction and repulsion that we feel toward our consumer habits and our consumer lives. It's like there's this tremendous power in our culture that has a dark side to it that has surfaced lately. And that's kind of what I'm working with.

Yep,, that's exactly how I'm going to shoot em..

I find myself walking these lines. Like I might be an artist, but I also might be an activist. And I'm trying to be both in a way that honors both and doesn't stray too far into either.

For many years, all I was interested in about photography was aesthetic beauty. And so, I would go out looking for that. And what I would do is go out driving around the Port of Seattle or I'd go down to Tacoma and drive around the port there. What I was interested in at the time was just color, places where color appears inadvertently or places where there's this color that appears in a very complex and beautiful way, but nobody intended it.

A lot the photographs I took back then, I had to trespass. I had to sneak in or climb over gates or over fences on Sundays to take these photographs. I worked with this camera that was about, I don't know, three and a half or four feet wide. It was an 8x10 view camera. And a tripod that went up 11 feet.

And one day, I found a pile of garbage that was really beautiful, I thought, and so I photographed it. And I made a big print and hung it on my wall. And people would come over and look at it and they would start talking about consumerism. And they'd walk up and say, "Oh, look, there's an Altoid's can." Or there's a, whatever particularly consumer product that they recognized in the photograph. And then they would start talking about garbage and waste and they would tell me, "Chris, this is a different kind of image that you haven't made before." And they would sort of urge me to follow the thread. And I told them "I'm not interested in all that. Like, don't talk to me about modern art. And don't tell me to come up to date. Just check out my cool cosmic color theory." And it really took a while for me to assimilate that this was a new kind of path I could follow. It and as I look back, it's something that I truly cannot take credit for -- is finding my way to consumerism as a subject, because it found me. My own idea of it started to change. And it went from these brightly colored things, and it slowly started to get a little darker.

There's this contrast between the beauty in the images and the underlying grotesqueness of the subjects. And it's something that I put there intentionally. Because I was using beauty as a seduction, to draw the viewer in to sit through the piece long enough that the underlying message might seep in.

It was frustrating because I would show my work to people and they would tell me how beautiful it was. But, they wouldn't get that it's about consumerism. Then, I would think, okay, I can go further. I want to make an image that is affirmatively ugly.

A visceral pile of twisted wires - supposed to look like monster guts, or something like that.

I couldn't really show the scale of American mass consumption -- I could only hint at it. I would always have to say, "And this photograph only represents a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the actual quantity of things that we use or we discard." And as it came time for me to think about doing a new series it occurred to me, what if I could show the actual quantities of the things that we consume? One of the dilemmas I faced was that there's nowhere where there are massive piles of the actual detritus of our entire country's consumption. And so the only way I could possibly depict those things was to create digital images that put together lots and lots of little photographs.

This one is called "Toothpicks". We have 100 million trees in the United States that are cut every year for mail order catalogues. Each toothpick in this image is one tree cut just to make mail order catalogues in one month. Eight million toothpicks.

Our minds are just not wired to be able to really comprehend and make meaning of and feel numbers that are that huge. And if the only way we're getting all of this information about these profoundly important phenomenon that are going on in our society is through statistics, then we aren't going to feel what we need to feel in order to make the radical changes we need to make. This one is called "Plastic Bottles" and it depicts two million plastic bottles - the number that we use in the United States every five minutes. This is the equivalent of eight entire football fields and that's five minutes worth of plastic bottles.

So I'm just curious what lots and lots of these are going to look like. I think of other artists who get to create for long periods of times. Like painters who might take 'em a month of actual-- the creative process of putting paint on the canvass. And, with my work, the way it happens, is I have a flash of an idea that'll just be this instantaneous "I got it." And it might be weeks and weeks of just the most incredibly obsessive work in Photoshop. But that's the only way that I can realize the idea that I had. And so I really don't-- it doesn't feel like there's a lot of creativity in my work. It's mostly just pure, obsessive tedium in Photoshop.

As I released the first few images in my running number series, I got some really negative feedback. One person said this "This is computer shenanigans that my 12 year old daughter could do." But I'm just willing to be with that, because what I care about is the message.

This one is called "Prison Uniforms, 2007" and it depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005. We have the largest prison population of any country on earth. There's also no other country that has that percentage of its population in jail. And that includes all of the dictatorships that we think of as the enemies of freedom. I want people to realize that they matter. Because, to me, that's the key. When you stand back from the print you see the collective. As you walk up close, you can see that the collective is only made up of lots and lots of individuals. There is no bad consumer over there somewhere who needs to be educated. There is no public out there who needs to change. And that's kind of the underlying message that I'm trying to convey. It's each one of us.

BILL MOYERS: That's it for this week but the JOURNAL continues on our website, log on to, click on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL and you can see more from Chris Jordan and hear more from Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot.

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

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