♪ A few years ago, I lost 30 pounds.
Seven years later, it's all back.
I know and love people who are trying to quit drinking but cannot yet.
My children have promised to use their phones less, and they use them more.
There are whole sections of bookstores devoted to self-help because change is that hard.
Even if you're able to push yourself out of complacency, there is the daunting matter of making your new way of being stick for years, ideally for the rest of your life.
♪ Over the last three decades, Father Greg Boyle has been witness to thousands of people who actually changed.
They disassembled their lives and rebuilt them from the ground up.
No drugs, no violence, no stealing, cheating, leaving.
On the east side of L.A. and replicated worldwide, Greg Boyle's Homeboy Industries is a flourishing community, where traumatized people teach themselves and each other how to attach, how to love.
I'm Kelly Corrigan.
This is "Tell Me More."
And here is my conversation with writer, Jesuit, and a man who eschews both applause and sitting in the makeup chair, Father Greg Boyle.
♪ ♪ ♪ A lot of people say a lot of nice things about you in this building and outside of this building-- fancy people, the Pope, and Barack Obama.
[Father Greg Boyle chuckles] What does "notice and return" mean?
I think this is a reference to praise and blame, so that you kind of have the same response to both.
You know, so you notice it.
Maybe you're curious about it to allow it in.
You don't cling to nice things that people say about you and you don't cling to when people don't.
When you notice it, you see it.
You're curious about it, you lean into it, and then you return to, you know, your true self and loving.
Sometimes in your line of work where you're the center of something, a big part of your work becomes decentering yourself.
Do you feel that way?
And if so, like, how do you get out of the way?
Well, I don't know if it's about decentering, but I know that it can't ever be about you, so that's kind of the moral of the story.
And if you're burning out, it's because you've allowed it to become about you.
Because then it's, you're the hero who comes to the rescue, who fixes, who saves people.
And so it can't be that.
So that's kind of a cautionary tale for folks who are of service or who are seeking what we seek here, which is to foster and create a community of kinship.
So it's helpful because, A--you won't burn out because then you're spending all this time just delighting in who's ever in front of you and doing the best you can and paying attention and noticing folks.
You know, it's not about success or tally sheets or, you know, "How many people did I save today or rescue?"
What's the scope of Homeboy Industries?
Like, how many people have you been in contact with?
We've been around for 35 years.
And it was born in a particular community with eight gangs at war with each other.
I was a pastor there, so I'm responding to that group of people and individuals.
So now we serve the entire county.
So there's 120,000 gang members in L.A. County and 1,100 gangs.
I think there isn't a gang member in all of L.A. County who doesn't know who we are or where we are or what we do.
So we also have the Global Homeboy Network, which is partners who are 300 in this country and 50 outside the country, who run programs modeled on Homeboy.
Not all of them are geared toward gang members but usually social dilemma-- homeless, mental health issues, disaffected youth, street kids.
And they're using kind of the methodology that we have here.
Describe the methodology.
Well, it's kind of, you know, if love is the answer, then community is the context, tenderness is the methodology-- all those things that are vexing social dilemma.
You know, kind of begin with a safe place and then people can come to terms with What was done to them and what they've done.
Is it never the case that there isn't some story of trauma?
They have the ACES, you know, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, ranging from a parent who was mentally ill to a father who was in prison to sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglig-- So it's 10 things.
That can happen to a kid.
They say if you're 4 or 5 on the ACES, then chances are you're going to have socializing difficulty and health issues.
I'm a zero on the ACES, which is more a testament to my own white privilege, and that I won all these lotteries from parents to Zip code.
Virtually everyone who walks through those doors is a 9 or a 10 on the ACES, so, which should lead us to stand in awe at what they've had to carry rather than in judgment.
Once you kind of get a sense of injury, you know, Well, what if we instead of punishing wound, we sought to heal it?
And that's kind of what this place stands for.
It's so fundamental whether you believe there are bad people or not.
Either you believe that we're all actually the same, we're living with different experiences and childhoods, or you believe that some people are bad, they're doomed, in which case best to get them off the street.
Father Greg: I think everybody is unshakably good.
Not everybody can see their unshakable goodness, but everybody is unshakably good.
Everybody's born wanting the same things.
We're all human beings.
We all have the same last name: beings, and then things happen.
Once I was at FBI--Quantico giving a training... to Central American chiefs of police, and we were walking around, we were getting a tour.
They had a whole wall dedicated to "America's Most Wanted" top ten FBI list, which is a famous list.
Number one was Osama Bin Laden.
Number two was a kid I had known since he was 10.
Obviously, he's done terrible things, but, you know, tortured, traumatized, mentally ill.
He was the whole thing, and he never chose to be mentally ill.
It chose him.
I don't know how to figure that out.
But we're all unshakably good and we all belong to each other, which is kind of the second part of that.
So once you begin there, then you're going to end up in a completely different place.
But if you begin with, "There are some people who are good and some people are bad," we're through, we won't-- And this is why we don't make progress, really.
I was going to ask, Over all these 35 years, are things getting better, are things getting worse in terms of the way that we see?
Oh, way better, way better, but it's incremental.
And if people aren't patient with the long haul of this, they're going to get frustrated.
You don't get frustrated?
I mean, no, I don't because I know how this works, and sort of incrementally, you just make progress in the good and you do what you can today to be as loving as you can be.
But our first 10 years were death threats, bomb threats, hate mail.
Didn't you have this desire to have an outgoing message that said, "Hello.
"We're very busy today.
Your death threat is very important to us"?
Father Greg: That's right!
I forgot that.
[Chuckles] My God, you know my books better than I, or I totally forgot that.
I got you, Mister.
Yeah, you did.
You got my number.
Often, they were from law enforcement, saying, you know, "I'm a sheriff, and I hate you," you know... Why?
Why would a sheriff hate you?
Well, because they demonize the gang member, and the friend of our enemy is our enemy.
So it was a short hop to demonize me for helping the gang member.
Kelly: Did you see that coming?
I guess I was, at the beginning--you know, I've heard people say this, too, where they are shocked that that was the case.
And they would go, "Oh, my God.
Didn't cops see that this would be helping them?"
And I think I felt that way because my experience with law enforcement as a kid was, you know, they got the cat out of the tree.
Well, they got the bad guys.
And they were the good guys.
So I also was naive about that.
You know, I went to the captain of the police, the local police precinct, and said, "Oh, my God.
"I think you might want to know this."
You know, "Your officers are taking these guys "to the back of the projects and the factories, "and they're beating them down for purposes of interrogation and intimidation."
And then it was shoot the messenger after that, you know.
They didn't want to know this.
George Saunders has this line where he says, "Kindness is the only non-delusional response to everything."
And I think this is true and good and right and just.
And what isn't said in that statement is, Everything else is delusional, our righteousness, our high horsiness, our cleverness.
I mean, the list is long.
Everything else is delusional: our fear, our terror at things changing.
Once you know that and you stay centered in that, that's a good practice.
That's a good thing to work at with some daily intention, I think.
♪ Kelly: The thing that's so astonishing is that you have been a witness to thousands of people changing their lives, like, brick by brick and holding the change in place, which is actually quite rare for anyone.
So I wondered, I feel like you're pulling as much from the scriptures as you are from modern psychology and even maybe neuroscience.
Do you feel like you know what the tell-tale signs are?
When they're coming in the door, do you think you could predict, "This is going to work for you," "This is not going to work for you"?
I don't think I ever think, "This is not going to work."
Everything here is a dose.
You're cherishing people.
So if it's true that the traumatized are more likely to cause trauma and damaged people cause damage, then it's equally true-- it has to be-- that a cherished person's going to be able to find their way to the joy there is in cherishing themselves and others.
But we all contribute to that here.
So even if they leave and, you know, start to get high again or get popped and go to jail, it doesn't matter.
They got a dose.
They'll come back.
There's a certainty to it.
So you can't predict-- you know, it's like, they're all going to find their way.
It's just a matter of time if they get enough dose of kindness and cherishing and tenderness.
That's such an incredibly optimistic position to take but borne out by your experience.
You know, with the homies, you're always trying to get them to a place where they see, especially in the excavation of their own wound and story, that they're the hero of their own story.
So, for example, you know, I'm flying home from Boston with two homies just recently.
This kid, Saul, was sitting next to me, and the other guy was knocked out.
And they'd--told their stories 5, 6 times in front of large audiences in D.C. and Boston.
And so as we're flying home, he says, "You know," Saul, who had spent nine years in prison, said, "You know, I think I need to learn how to more and more talk fancy."
And I said, "Talk fancy"?
He goes, "Yeah.
"What's that language they be speaking "where, you know, the guy leaves the house "and he turns around and looks at his family and he says, 'Ta-ta'?"
And I said, "I don't know.
But I knew exactly what he meant.
He had inhabited the telling of his story in such a way that he had discovered he was the hero of that story.
So he wanted to be more articulate.
He wanted to be able to get up and reveal other pieces of the story.
He wanted to "talk fancy," which is, honest to God, his sense of, you know, even more deeply inhabiting his own story, so that he could feel like he did at all those talks, where people gave him a standing ovation.
So you guys do a lot of tattoo removal, and there was a guy that you wrote about that had "[...] the world" across his forehead, and you removed it.
What does it do for people to be able to change their presentation?
Well, we don't insist on it, you know.
And because, you know, he came into my office, and I had just met him, and that was on his forehead really in dark black letters.
And then he says, you know, "I'm having a hard time finding a job," you know.
And I go, "Yeah, well, maybe we could put our heads together on this one," you know.
So, and that's when we started tattoo removal.
I went and found a doctor who donated an hour a month to chip away on his forehead and a few others.
Well, you know, what's interesting about that is that our very first "Tell Me More" was with Bryan Stevenson, who talks a lot about this also fundamental belief that we're more than our worst act.
And you wonder what the circumstances are that would have somebody commit to a tattoo like that.
And you think, "Maybe you don't need "to remember that day "every time you look in the mirror... "that moment in your life.
Maybe we could let that one wash away."
But also kind of, that's an indicator.
It's a window into how we could be better at diagnosing things because, you know, who puts [...] the world on their forehead?
So how you answer that, you know, will determine everything, you know.
A bad person?
You know, smart person?
A dumb person?
But once you kind of get to the place where you go, "Ah.
Nobody healthy has ever done that before."
And so none of us are well until all of us are well.
None of us are whole until all of us are whole.
Wouldn't it change only everything if our frame of reference was loving each other into wholeness?
That would change everything, I think, if we saw things that way.
♪ Kelly: So this is the kitchen?
This is the bakery?
Yes, this is the Homeboy Bakery.
We have about 500 people who work here in all our 10 enterprises.
Everybody works with an enemy, so folks they used to shoot at are making croissants together.
It's not only just a paycheck and a community, it's an opportunity to put a human face on your rival.
Right, right, which starts to just disintegrate all the emotion.
Yeah, bet you can't demonize people you know.
And so you get to know-- even if it's kind of an osmosis, you know, shoulder-to-shoulder, "We're making croissants."
I don't know what happens.
There's a kind of a thing that breaks down where there's a sameness.
So you throw people together, and you go, "Oh, God.
I'll work with him.
I'm not going to talk to him, though."
I go, "OK." See how long that goes.
♪ Kelly: There's a religious type that is way less inclusive, way more punitive.
What is there to be done about that?
We're invited to be inclusive and take seriously what Jesus took seriously about non-violence and loving and kindness.
And if your God is punitive and puny, you're going to be that.
But if God is kind of infinitely merciful and giving and loving and adoring of us, then that's how you're going to be with each other.
It matters how you see these things, I think, because it always shows up in how you treat people and how you are extensive with them.
♪ Kelly: What's beginner's mind?
You know, it's kind of a Zen concept where you're always in a place where this is new.
How do you keep things new?
It's a little bit like an actor, when you go, "Wow.
That's his 4,000th performance, and it feels like..." He's right there.
it's the illusion of the first time, they call it, in acting.
You really want to have beginner's mind when you come to things.
It's hard as you age and as you think you have wisdom, but you want to catch yourself.
Catching yourself is what adults do.
They catch themselves.
OK, I'm about to think, "This kid just wants me to pay his rent."
But you want to have beginner's mind.
You want to say, "This moment has never happened "in the history of the world, "and it'll never come again ever, "no matter how much it feels like other moments.
This is absolutely new," and that's beginner's mind, I think, I think.
What do I know?
[Laughing] You're a beginner?
I'm a beginner.
You are a student of trauma and attachment repair.
What brings people through the doors?
That's a mystery to me.
They say, in recovery, it takes what it takes, you know.
Gang recovery, it's the same thing.
You don't know what it is.
You know, people always say you have to hit bottom, but it's the death of a friend, it's the birth of a son.
It's, you just finished 25 years in prison.
"No, thank you.
I don't want to go back."
It takes what it takes.
It's like any AA meeting.
Some people are 20 years' sober at the meeting.
Some are 20 minutes', and some are drunk, but they're there.
I used to get this, you know, from our other businesses.
The supervisors would go, "You know that guy you sent me--Carlos?"
"Well, he doesn't want to be here."
I go, "Well, where is he?"
I go, "Trust me.
"If he didn't want to be there, he wouldn't be there.
"And, you know, he's there and he's a knucklehead, "and he's belligerent, and he's giving you attitude, but he's there."
Now, you know, within limits.
if he's disruptive or dangerous, you know, we're going to do something, but he would not be there unless on some deep level, he wanted to be there.
So nobody walks through these doors unless on some deep level, they're tired of being tired.
And all the while, you keep burying people.
You've buried 300 people.
254 on Friday.
That doesn't slow you down?
You don't want to stay in bed some days?
Again, I've learned how to deal with death, sort of.
You know, death is the worst thing that can happen to you.
You're going to be toppled by life itself.
So I think it's important to put death in its place.
It doesn't mean you don't grieve, like this kid I'm going to bury on Friday.
A sweet kid.
I've known him 35 years, since he was a little 10 year old in the projects.
So, he's a tough one, you know.
And a month ago, I had just baptized his son.
And I always was kind of astounded at him because he had such ability to be affectionate, which is kind of remarkable given, you know, what he's had to endure.
That's my enduring image of him.
I know that's probably not in the shot, but that's him right there, the little kid.
Anyway... ♪ So, a thing we like to do at "Tell Me More" is called Plus One, and it's our way of reminding ourselves that nobody gets anywhere alone and that we all affect each other in these incredibly powerful ways.
Who did you pick for your Plus One?
There's a homie named Sergio Basterrechea, and he works in a program called God's Pantry, and it's in Pomona.
And we communicate every morning via email, and I call him my spiritual director, and he runs this program where he's totally immersed in addressing food insecurity, and they have a transitional living house for homeless folks.
He's a wisdom figure, even though, you know, he was a homie who worked here, you know, 25 years ago, but now he's kind of inhabited this role where he's an important person in terms of helping folks on the margins, all the while having a kind of an image of God that really feeds me every day.
So I'll write--usually, I get up at 2:45.
He's pretty early, too.
So we communicate every day, and he'll just share these little tidbits, and we go back and forth about kind of exploring who God is and stuff that happened.
I mean, it's really quite remarkable, but the work he does is remarkable.
So it's really anchored in the God we actually have, not the god that, unfortunately, we sometimes settle for.
It's very spacious, expansive.
♪ Kelly: We have a little speed round.
Are you ready?
I'm not a big concert person, but 54 years ago, I went to the Hollywood Bowl and heard The Supremes, Diana Ross and The Supremes.
What's the last book that blew you away?
Richard Rohr's "The Universal Christ," but I always have about nine books on the floor.
What's your go-to mantra for hard times?
This day with Me, paradise.
It's what Jesus says to the guy hanging next to him.
What's something big you've been wrong about?
I think in the early days, working with gangs, where we had peace treaties, truces, cease-fires, and I can see that it served the cohesion of gangs.
It supplied oxygen.
I don't regret that I did it, but I'd never do it again.
If you could pass one law or overturn one Supreme Court case?
John Lewis, voting rights.
You know, we're never going to make progress if people can't vote.
If your mother wrote a book about you, what would it be called?
Because I'm Irish Catholic, you know, that generation didn't want to praise so much because they didn't want your head to get big.
So it's like, "Don't Let This Go to Your Head."
And it's like, No, we're human beings.
Nobody has a big head.
You know, everybody's insecure.
What are you talking about?
But that would be the name of her book.
Mine would have said, "Oh, for God's sake.
Who's looking at you?"
If you could say 4 words to anyone, who would you address and what would you say?
Oh, it's always the same 4 words.
You know, I need my calculator, but you're exactly right, you know, that people are enough.
People are exactly what... what God had in mind.
There's all this awesome research coming out about awe-- to be in a state of awe, which used to refer to the divine, but now could refer to the Grand Canyon or a person holding the door for someone.
These little acts can be a guide that makes us more cooperative, it makes us more ripe to sacrifice.
I feel like you're a person who's using awe to keep your hope sort of sturdy and intact in the face of waves and waves and waves of trauma.
Yeah, the thing that gets us into trouble is if your goal is to be happy, then you're not as sturdy as you think.
Don't settle for happiness when you're being offered joy.
So joy is really a totally different thing.
Joy doesn't really ask for a return.
It's just out there.
It's loving, being loving, you know?
The trouble comes when it's about success.
You know, reporters will ask me all the time: "Give me a success story."
And I always say no, you know, because I don't even know what you mean.
What does that mean?
You know, because if there are good people, then there are bad people, and there aren't.
There's just us.
And if there are successes, then there are failures.
Well, there aren't.
What does that mean?
I don't know what that means, you know?
And that's what gets us into trouble because we think it's about the measurable and the evidence-based outcome, as we always talk about.
No, it isn't.
It's just about dosing and loving.
And what happens when you cherish people is that you can watch them inhabit kind of a sturdier being.
Now the world will throw at them what it will, but they're not going to be toppled because they're sturdy.
You know, they're anchored.
They know who they are.
♪ If you loved this conversation, you might also enjoy related episodes with Melinda French Gates and Bryan Stevenson.
To learn more about the kind of faith and humility that Father Greg Boyle so exemplifies, listen to my follow-on podcast, "Kelly Corrigan Wonders," or watch our companion video on pbs.org.
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