How can social media drive compassion, curiosity and courage? | Techy Kings


In a week when political discord seems as vocal as ever, social media and mass media are often seen as part of the problem. But billionaire bridge builder Daniel Lubetzky says the opposite may be true. And so he hired Tom Fishman, a media veteran from MTV and Facebook to build Starts With Us, a movement to promote the daily habits of curiosity, compassion and courage.

Nell Derick Debevoise: What is Starts with Us?

Tom Fishman: Starts with Us is a growing movement to facilitate a more constructive dialogue across different borders. Many of us are tired of the division in this country – 87% to be specific, according to our latest research. Furthermore, we found that ⅔ of Americans say this country is headed in the wrong direction in terms of how we treat each other.

We’re taking a really unique approach to tackling these issues, leveraging media and technology to lift tips, behavioral nudges to disrupt reactive habits, and the stories of people connecting across divides that we don’t really see in the media to reach people in large scale and catalyze an “I, we, the world” theory of change. We believe that by changing individual behavior we can change teams and communities, and that leads to change in our society.

We see what we call the “3Cs” – curiosity, compassion and courage – as the cures for ingrained divisions. And we’re building an engine of content and creating tools to help people build these skills and practice them daily in their personal, professional and civic lives.

Derick Debevoise: How did you come to this work?

Fishman: My previous work directly informs what we do at Starts with Us. I came up in social media, especially on MTV. I cut my teeth building scale and engaged audiences. We would develop communities around our shows, and the artists and musicians that everyone cared about. We would even engage audiences around shows from other networks, to be relevant in pop culture more broadly.

Then, at Facebook, I had a front-row seat at a company driven by data and analytics to deliver and iterate on products that reach billions of people. I helped create a new type of content and experimented with interactive experiences that brought our community members together around video.

Now I’m applying everything I’ve learned in media and technology to crystallize a community that wants to move our culture forward from extreme divisiveness and to scale the daily practice of the 3Cs.

Derick Debevoise: How does that background inform your work with Starts with Us?

Fishman: First and foremost, I know how iterative we need to be to engage and grow our community. We are constantly learning from our community to design the content and products that entertain and move people while achieving our mission.

Second, I don’t think we’re as clear in the nonprofit or social space – I run Starts With Us knowing that we’re competing with a lot of high-quality content and products for people’s attention! The research I mentioned earlier shows that there is a market. Again, 87% of us are fed up with the level of division in our country.

And we know that there is a gap between what we want to see in the world and our sense of personal responsibility and agency. We asked people about how they see themselves and how they see other people. While only 8% of us consider ourselves judgmental, our perceptions of others are far more negative than how we see ourselves. But the odds are that we are actually more like other people than we think.

As with any for-profit company, we see a market, we see an opportunity, and we try to develop products that fit the product market and scale them. We think about the value of the 3Cs. Not only do they help move our culture forward and support democratic principles, they help us realize our individual potential in our own lives – “selling” is essential. Practicing the 3Cs makes us sharper thinkers, more powerful communicators, more effective negotiators and better problem solvers. It makes us more effective in our relationships, our workplaces and our communities.

I’m excited to see the early market validation of our content and tools, all built around habituating the 3Cs. In less than a year, our community will reach 1 million members (from 900,000 at last count). This includes experts who have joined as our founding partners, such as José Andrés, Barbara Corcoran,, Adam Grant, Bobbi Brown, Eboo Patel, Michele Gadsden-Williams and, of course, our founder Daniel Lubetzky.

Derick Debevoise: How exactly do the 3Cs help reduce fragmentation?

Fishman: We recognize the systemic barriers. From wealth inequality, racial inequality – the intersection of so many crises globally. But we will never be able to correct the causes of these problems unless we change the assumptions we make about “the other” and seek a new level of cooperation across borders. We must develop our willingness to be personally introspective, and also to be generous and more forgiving with other people.

But it is not only that we are willing to assume the other’s good intentions. Can we see someone with an opinion “on the other side” of us and still have compassion for them? Are you curious about how they formed that opinion? Have the courage to ask more about their position or their lives in general. Many of us really oppose it these days; we are so convinced of our own righteousness, or we apply extreme, blanket judgments and labels to other people.

However you voted in the last election, what are the odds that the seventy to eighty million people who didn’t vote like you did all, or even mostly, evil or unintelligent? We are used to acting and judging as if this were the case. The 3Cs challenge us to show humility and give us the tools to argue passionately while maintaining shared humanity. Given the habits so many of us have acquired, practicing them can be extremely uncomfortable and even threaten our identity. But it’s worth it.

Derick Debevoise: So in the short term we have, among other things, midterms. What do you hope to see this election season and in the coming months?

Fishman: We want to see the rule of law prevail. See that people trust the results. We want to see people think critically about news and results, and resist the impulse to rage and demonize. And we want politicians to lead by example, not so much discord or angering their bases through reckless conjecture or spreading misinformation.

Our recent “87 Lincoln Activation” called attention to all the forces in media and politics that are intentionally divisive, for profit and power. We work for more awareness of these forces. And we built an augmented reality filter to help.

We want to help people develop the muscles necessary to resist our base impulses. Our evolutionary heritage leads to tribal defensiveness and a focus on the negative and threats. But those approaches are not what we need in the world we say we want to live in today. And when we are intentional, we can overcome what seem like obvious reactions. As this mother did, by forgiving her son’s drug dealer.

So we’re excited about the potential for more compassion, curiosity, and courage during these midterms. And not long after that, in schools, universities and workplaces using our tools to help build the 3Cs.

Derick Debevoise: I hear your evolutionary perspective. But I have also studied physics. Inertia says we will keep doing what we have been doing. Why are you hopeful about the potential for change now?

Fishman: Because just like many paradigm shifts, practicing the 3Cs is the way to success today. Managers who are compassionate, curious and courageous will thrive in today’s complex workplace. Navigating conflict and collaboration in our offices, homes and communities requires these very skills.

And the need to navigate that dynamic cuts across demographic, economic, generational and psychographic factors. Managers, parents, leaders, investors, students, elders – we can all use the same approach to get out of this problem we’ve come up with and see immediate personal value in the results.

The good news is that the majority of Americans agree on the values ​​we believe are the way forward. We are all the proverbial boiling frog right now, so we need a way out is not only inspiring but it is actionable. And that’s what you can expect from Starts with Us in terms of content, tools and community going forward.

Email me for the full results of this research, or for a worksheet to build purposeful habits (such as compassion, curiosity and courage).


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