Is our society, our infrastructure, built to last? What if it's not? And what can we do, together, to prepare for that possibility?
Bart Campolo is the son of famous Baptist evangelist Tony Campolo, and he's now a secular humanist. He's also the host of the podcast Humanize Me, now over 700 episodes deep, which looks at all sorts of angles on building great relationships, cultivating wonder, and making things better for other people.
We'll be honest: Bart is worried about the future of humanity. He's hopeful, but not optimistic. So he's trying to get people thinking about how to cultivate resilient, loving communities that can withstand the challenges of the years ahead—communities that aren't necessarily bound together by beliefs.
He's trying to teach people skills, some innate and some not, that will guide them to develop close, authentic, resilient relationships: how to listen, how to cook for thirty, how to confront someone when they've hurt your feelings using “I” statements, how to hold hands, how to forgive.
This is a super interesting—and challenging—episode, so get ready to listen and think. There's some swearing, too, so grab those headphones or keep the kids out of the room.
Bart Campolo is a secular minister, speaker, and writer.
Born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, Bart became an evangelical Christian as a teenager and was immediately attracted to urban ministry. After graduating from Brown University and serving as an urban youth pastor in Minneapolis, he returned to Philadelphia to found Mission Year, a national service organization that recruits young adults to live and work among the poor in inner-city neighborhoods.
As he became an influential evangelical leader, however, Bart increasingly questioned his own faith. In 2005 he returned to street-level community building in inner-city Cincinnati, where he eventually completed his gradual transition from Christianity to secular humanism. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2014, Bart’s work has been focused on inspiring and equipping all kinds of people to make the most of their lives by actively pursuing loving relationships, social justice, and a genuine sense of wonder.
Humanize Me podcast
In This Episode
- Bart's experience growing up as the son of a prominent Christian pastor
- Belief as the “price of admission” into a community
- Macro social trends and the erosion of loyalty
- Why Bart is hopeful but not optimistic about the future of humanity
- Implementing “old as dirt” community-building principles for secular communities
- Why Bart found himself teaching “friendship 101” to some of the brightest kids in the country
- The uncomplicated yet difficult reality of creating connection
- The most valuable thing Bart's learned about building community (hint: it's not at all intuitive)
- Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle [Amazon affiliate link]
- Lost Connections by Johann Hari [Amazon affiliate link]
The CX 030: Fundamentals of Community Resilience with Bart Campolo of the Humanize Me Podcast
Bart Campolo: How do you build a community like that around a set of secular values? How do you tell a narrative that convinces people that it's worth sacrificing for the people that they love, that makes sense of, and codifies things like forgiveness, and compassion, and community service?
Tony Bacigalupo: Okay. I don't know if you've ever been to a youth group, but there's a lot that we can learn from religion and from ministers, from folks who have dealt with youth, and from folks who have both been inside of religious ministry and outside of it. And that is who we're talking to today. Bart Campolo, son of famous Baptist evangelist Tony Campolo, who is now a secular humanist. And he's the host of the podcast Humanize Me, which is now over 700 episodes as of this recording, looking at all kinds of different angles on building great relationships, cultivating wonder, making things better for other people.
Jillian Benbow: This is a super, just interesting episode. Get ready to listen and think. I would say headphones episode. Bart is like me and is a sailor, he swears, so put on your headphones if you've got kids in the room. And then get ready to hear some things that might challenge your beliefs and that's okay. We're not here to tell you what to do, but it's all good things to ponder.
Tony: This is The Community Experience Podcast with Bart Campolo, host of Humanize Me Podcast.
Okay. Welcome, everyone. We've got Bart Campolo here. Bart, welcome to the program.
Bart: Well, thank you so much. Glad to be with you guys.
Tony: So great to have you.
Bart: And I mean that in an inclusive way.
Jillian: Well, like-
Tony: Gender nonspecific guys.
Jillian: It's a y'all.
Tony: Use you alls, yins.
Tony: Bart, before we started recording, Bart has been running a podcast, the Humanize Me podcast, which has over 600 episodes from what I can tell. And so he started interviewing us, and it was quite nice, I have to say.
Jillian: He's a natural.
Tony: Almost forgot that we were here to interview you. But now it's our turn. So Bart, just give us a little bit about your story of how you ended up. What your podcast is about, and why you made that podcast, and how your life journey led you to that. Maybe we'll start there.
Bart: All right. Yeah. I mean I'll try to keep it brief.
Tony: Keep it under two hours if you can.
Bart: No. I mean because my is a fascinating journey that I think anyone would want to spend hours and hours exploring, but in reality it's not. But the thing that is interesting vis-à-vis The Community Experience podcast, is that I grew up outside of Philadelphia in the family of a Baptist evangelist. My dad was a college professor, but his side hustle, and his main thing that ended up blowing up for him was he was this fabulous preacher. And if you talk to any evangelical Christian in America over the age of 30, they will know who Tony Campolo is. I mean he's a big, hairy deal in that world. So I grew up in an evangelist family in a very Christian world. And I think that when you are the son of a Baptist evangelist people assume that you sprang from the womb praising Jesus.
And the truth of the matter is that I didn't actually become a Christian until I was 15 years old. And it wasn't because I was rebellious or hateful, and my father was a phony or anything like that, I just didn't believe in God. The narrative never really made sense to me as a kid. I knew my dad really believed in it, and there were a lot of nice people, and I didn't make a lot of waves about it. But when I was in high school I was a soccer player, and a kid on my soccer team brought me along to his youth group. And it was one of these 300 person megachurch youth groups with rock and roll bands, and laser light shows. It was like the greatest community I had ever seen.
I walked in there, it was 300 of the nicest kids that you would ever want to meet and they were from all different stereotypical clicks and things like that. But in this context, everybody was warm to each other, and friendly, and people were hugging. And I was a nice kid, and I walked into this group and I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is like a club for nice kids. I want in." And I quickly realized these are all... This is a Christian deal. And because of the family I grew up in, I knew the language, and so I immediately started faking that I was also a Christian so that I could be part of this community. It was that attractive.
And part of it was that they were nice, but part of it also was that they had a mission. They were trying to reach out to other kids who were struggling in life, or who were sad, or who were lonely. And they were like, "Come into our group and we'll enfold you with love, and give you exciting sense of identity and connection." I was just like, "This is what I want to do." And they actually approached me and said, "You clearly have some leadership gifts. We could really use you to make a difference in the lives of other people." And so you're a nice kid and they're like, "We could use you, and this would be great." So community is what drew me in. So I stayed in that group for a while not believing in God just because I wanted to be part of it. That's how powerful that community was.
Finally, we're up on a retreat one weekend. And I don't know if you've ever been on one of those youth retreats. But we're all out there, we're sugared up, and we haven't slept in two nights, and we're standing around the fire, and everybody is singing, and holding candles, and singing our God is awesome. And I felt something, it became real to me. I sensed God. And it's funny because I'm as agnostic about that stuff now as the day is long, but that experience was very real. Probably now I would call it collective effervescence. It was a psychological phenomenon of being in a large group of people who were unified in a way.
But it was real to me, and all of a sudden I was like, "This is real. God is real. I'm in." I mean, I think if I would've been a Muslim kid on a Muslim retreat, I would've been like, "Allah." If I would've been at an Amway convention, I would've been like, "Sell more so." I think whatever group you're a part of, whatever community that you're a part of when you have that transcendent moment, it confirms that narrative. And I was a Christian kid on a Christian retreat and I was in, and that was... And for the next 30... That was the beginning for the next 30 years, I was all for Jesus. And what's interesting, I'll tell you one last thing, Tony.
Tony: Yeah. Go for it.
Bart: That it was really hard for me to buy all the supernatural stuff like flying Jesus, and people rising from the dead, and Red Sea is parting, and all that stuff.
Jillian: Oh, that's my favorite part.
Bart: Yeah. No, they're fun stories.
Jillian: I'm here for that.
Bart: Yeah. No, they're fun stories. I also like the Marvel comic universe, but they're hard to actually believe. But the community that I was in was so powerful, and so wonderful, and provided so much in terms of identity, and purpose, and comradery that I was... For me believing in God in heaven wasn't the motivation to be a Christian. It was the price of admission. I wanted to be a Christian because I wanted to be part of that community. And if believing was what it took to be a part of it, my mind found a way to embrace those ideas because it was so important to me to be in.
Jillian: I'm trying to hold back a little just from my own personal experiences. But there's something interesting and I've been exploring this, just thinking about it a lot lately actually. And it's just that I think churches and youth groups in particular have such a power to draw people in who aren't feeling a sense of belonging almost from a family structure. And I'm not putting that on you Bart, it sounds you obviously had... Well, I won't make assumptions about your family structure. But I know myself and other people who were otherwise unaffiliated with religion at home, getting drawn into that because there was just this acceptance and belonging that we weren't getting otherwise in the home sense.
Bart: Kids are so vulnerable at that age. And even the kids that have the wonderful families are trying to figure out, they're differentiating from their families. So there's this sense of, where do I belong? Where do I fit in? What's my... And yeah, youth group provides this... And so does a marching band by the way, or cross country team. There's these place is where people find a sense of, "Oh, I fit here, and there's a role for me here." And it's very powerful. And the kids that came... The kids like me who did come from really solid families and people were supportive of me, I brought some skills and some strengths to the table, and the youth group looked at me and said, "Oh, we can use all that. That's great. You feel comfortable talking to people. Great. We can use that."
It was like they looked at me and said, "Hey, there's something... You can use who you are to make a huge difference in the world." And that's the age at which people are like, "I want to go off to war, or I want to join the French family." People are looking for a cause. And so it's not just that they made me feel like they cared about me, it's that they looked at me and said, "Hey, you could be very significant here." Did you have that experience, Jillian? I mean did you ever get swept up in a youth group?
Jillian: I got swept up in a youth group. And I don't want anyone to take this personally but had a different experience. But for me, in this particular church that was evangelical, I saw the cracks in the armor pretty quickly and a lot of hypocrisy about... But it took a couple years, and my parents were like, "You're joining a youth group. Neat." But at the same time, "She's fine. Nothing bad. That's a very safe environment, if that's what you want to do with your time, go for it." And they weren't a part of any of it. It was an escape. I made some really... I mean my best friend in the world, that's how I met her and we're still very close. We talk about this stuff still and our traumas and whatnot.
But yeah, I started, and it was over the course of a few years, really was questioning how it all worked. It didn't seem fair, it was very patriarchal. There was a lot of singing on Sunday to save your soul after Saturday is gone type of behavior. And I saw it for what it was, and I walked away. And I could, because it wasn't a huge part of my life outside of just my own choice to go do it. So by the time I was in high school, I was done.
Bart: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people have that experience. It meets a short-term need. And of course if you're a woman in the evangelical world, it's a much higher price. But it's hard on all. It's just a lot of weirdness. I mean I spend a lot of my time now counseling and coaching people that are trying to make sense of life on the other side of faith. And some of them are really damaged in terms of the messages that they were sent about sexuality. The repression that they encountered, that haunts them in their marriages even to this day, the sense of unworthiness. Because the whole gospel is like, "You deserve to burn in hell, but we can save you."
Jillian: This is your only chance.
Bart: I mean they say, "Oh grace, God loves you no matter what." That's a beautiful message. But the flip side of grace is, God has to love you so much because you're so unlovable. It's a miracle. Only God can save you. And so a lot of people really internalize that sense of shame, and that sense of unworthiness. And so there's a lot of stuff that... I sold that package for many years as a missionary and as a preacher myself, and I have a lot of guilt about, a lot of regret about turning kids onto a way of thinking that had a real dark side to it. But there was also some beautiful stuff that happened in those contexts.
But yeah, a lot of people they come and they go. For me, I got swept up in it, then very early in my Christian journey, at the point at which I would've done anything for Jesus, somebody said, "Hey, will you help us run on the summer camp in ghetto Camden New Jersey?" Which if you're from the East Coast, you would know, it's like one of the toughest places in the world. I didn't know any better. I was like, "For Jesus, I'll do anything." I went, me and five other kids running a summer camp. And I walked into this ghetto and it was just I had never seen anything like the urban poverty that I saw there, and the chaos and this stuff. And you spend the summer working with kids in that setting, you just fall in love with them.
By the end of that summer I was like, "This is what I'm going to do with my life. I'm going to serve poor people for Jesus." And that was basically what I did for the next 30 years. So I think that depending on what happens to you in those first few years it becomes permanent or it doesn't become permanent. And for me, I got... And again, I did have family people that were like, "This is great. He's following Jesus." So everyone is thrilled. And so yeah, so I was off to the races there. And I spent the next 30 years basically having this really weird experience whereby... And this is where I'll keep it really short, whereby over the course of those 30 years, my commitment to loving poor people and to building community in which people could find identity, and find connection, and to pursuing values of love and kindness, and building loving relationships, it just grew and grew and grew and grew.
And my ability to believe in the supernatural narrative of a God that had any concern for anything, or that was in any... Just died the death of 1,000 cuts, 1,000 unanswered prayers. I mean if you're in the ghetto, you're praying for really basic stuff that doesn't happen. You're praying that some little nine-year-old girl stop getting raped by her uncle, and she doesn't. That some kid will not get shot, and the kid that gets shot that he won't die in the hospital, and he does. And so in the end, it became harder and harder over the years for me to reconcile where I was living, and the way I was living, and this belief system.
And so in the end, 25 years of marriage, two kids, a whole lifetime later, I'm finally getting a bike crash and almost die. And have traumatic brain injury, I'm not myself for about a month. And when I feel finally recover, I look at my wife and I go, "I think my identity is in my brain because you smash it against a tree at 40 miles an hour and I change." And I said, "And I think I'm going to die." Because I almost died. And I think that when I die and my brain breaks down, I don't think I'll be here anymore. I think this is it. And she looked at me and she said, "Yeah. I've been thinking that for a long time now." She's like, "I think you better stop being a professional Christian because there's nothing left."
I had been every kind of heretic. I had been more and more liberal, more and more open. I was a universalist. I was fine with gay people. I'd done every spiritual gymnastics I could do to stay in the game. But in the end she was like, "We're done here." And then that was it. The second part of my life started where I was like, "What do you do when you're a minister who doesn't believe even God anymore? What do you do on the other side of faith?" That was in 2011. And so it's been about 11 years that I've been trying to figure out what is it...
Because the truth of the matter is when I left the faith, I still believe in loving relations. I still believe in community building. I still want to help poor people. And so the question is like, "Okay. So now, how do you support that old value system on a different foundation?" And so that's the work I've done now. And I've been a lot of things. I consulted with people because I couldn't get a real job. I spent three years in Southern California as the humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California, which was the ultimate community-building gig. Building a campus community of young people who don't believe in God, but believe in love, and want to figure out how do you pursue a loving lifestyle on the basis of science and reason.
I mean it is a truly wonderful experience, stuff that I did. And eventually though my wife couldn't stand living in L.A. and so she wanted to move back to where we had lived before in Cincinnati. And so we moved back to Cincinnati about four or five years ago, and I've been trying to figure out what does it mean to be a community builder in a local neighborhood? And what does it mean to... What do you do? If you're having me on the podcast to talk about my crazy journey, and what I've figured out, that's great. If you're like, "What are the answers, Bart? How does that work? How do you make a meaningful life?" Like, I don't know. I can't tell you.
Tony: Well, we definitely want some answers, but we will get to those.
Bart: I have-
Jillian: Yeah. I was hoping you just fix my life for me. Is that not what we're doing? Just kidding.
Tony: Okay. What I'm seeing Bart, which is so powerful is that your journey while very different from the journeys of many, still mirrors in a macro sense the experience a lot of people have had, which is that grow up with some impression of a way of the world, some relationship to religion, organized religion. And then that relationship changed over time, and then they found themselves not affiliated in the same way. We see religious affiliation has gone down substantially. And at the same time, loneliness has gone up, and we are seeing that people are, maybe, trying to find that transcendent moment. And I think when you said, when you have that moment it confirms the narrative. In my mind that really clicks a lot together for me because we've seen studies about what's going on with loneliness, what's going on with people's sense of belonging, and meaning, and where does religion fit into it?
And one of the topics that him up was, well, are people creating new religious relationships with non-religions? Is it wherever you get that transcendent moment is now your religion. And for some people that's CrossFit, or SoulCycle, or an online group, maybe a conspiracy group even. And so what I'm curious about from the answers perspective is, you're clearly very passionate about this from your own perspective but then also from wanting to support others. So what are you doing? How are you supporting other people in this journey going forward? What are you doing, yeah, just day-to-day?
Bart: As I was listening to you talk, I mean it isn't just that people have found this sense of connection and community in religious communities, and now those are fading or their ability to believe in those narratives is fading and that's where the problem comes from. It's way deeper than that. You guys, I know that your podcast network involves some business podcasts. Ask anybody about the workplace. And what they'll tell you is that over the last 50 years the loyalty of companies to their employees, and of employees to their companies has eroded to the place where nobody expects to work at a company for... The higher up in the tech world you get... Yeah. I'll work for them for six weeks, or for six months.
People don't expect loyalty from the company, and the company doesn't expect loyalty from the people. And then you get down to organized labor. And it used to be that person would go to work in a factory and they could make a career there. They could work their way up. But now, people like... Who's the guy, Jeff, is it Bezos? The Amazon guy. I mean I know Bezos is the Amazon guy, but I'm trying to think... Yeah. He's the one who basically like, "Hey, you know what, if we just turn over our employees we'll pay people like shit, and we'll treat them like shit and they'll work here for 16 months. And that's good, because that first 16 months of somebody working for you is when you get the most work out of them. So we'll just extract their best labor and then we'll discard them and bring in somebody else." He's taken it, and he's turned it into a science of disloyalty.
Tony: So there's this macro trend of the erosion of loyalty …
Bart: But also like that company, it used to be that if you worked for Ford Motor Company, you drove a Ford, you wore a Ford hat. That was your identity and that was your sense of belonging. And those were the people, "Hey, I worked in that factory with Charlie for 30 years. We raised our kids together." And they were going to live in that community, and that was like the village. And so what happens in this scenario is, not only do you have people losing the one kind of community, they losing the other kind of community. But the other thing is, people have become much more mobile. So it used to me that people would live in the same town that they grew up in, and they would hang out with all the people they went to high school with. So then they would get married. And if I married Jillian, if you and I had gotten married in our small town where we went to high school, your family is around, my family is around, your high school friends are there, my high friends are there. So you and I we get married, we raised some kids together and we spent some time together. But you still got all your friends. I don't have to be your everything. I don't have to be your workout partner. I don't have to be your business partner. I don't have to be everything. I'm just your dude. You have friends, you have family.
But now you and me get married, and we move to San Francisco for some job, and all of a sudden we're in a new city. We don't know anybody. And so you have to be everything to me. You need to like the same books I like. You need to want to watch the football game with me, or I need to be able to go on a bike ride with you. And so it puts a lot of pressure on people's marriages because the marriage is supposed to be the whole village for people. And that's a whole difficulty all by itself. And we haven't even started on social media, and people on internets, and phones, and things like that. And the alienating pressures of the media. So Tony, it's way deeper than I can't go to church anymore.
Tony: Totally. So I'm 1000% with you on all this. And you've explored a lot of things from a lot of different angles. I'm just going through the episodes in your podcast, all of that. If you could distill for me your most optimistic take on what could I do as a person, as a community leader, or even just as an individual? Where do you see us being able to take action that will just start to nudge culture in a better direction?
Bart: That's a great question. And first of all, I'm a hopeful man but I'm not optimistic. I'm a hopeful in the way that Rebecca Solnit talks about hope. It's just the sense of, A, I don't know what's going to happen. And B, I think there's a chance that something I might do might make some kind of a difference so I'm going to do my best. But optimism is like, "I think everything's going to turn out okay." I don't think there's any reason to think everything is going to turn out okay. Or if it does turn out okay, it's going to turn out okay on the other side of a great social and economic collapse. And so I'm going to collapse... I don't think we're headed in a good direction, and I don't think there's any way to put on the breaks. So I think we're heading into a really bad time. Think of human races as we're all passengers on the Titanic, and the ship hasn't gone down yet, maybe we haven't even hit the iceberg yet, but there's an iceberg out there, and we're going down.
Tony: Okay. All right.
Bart: So Tony, if you're on the Titanic and it's going to sink before anybody else does what you do? And my answer is you build a lifeboat. And so what I would say is the most optimistic or the most hopeful thing you can do is, can you learn skills and figure out how do I take 20 or 30 people and create a context in which they can develop deep relationships with each other, where they can learn how to resolve conflict, because any community there's going to be conflict. And so the answer isn't to find people that agree with you all the time, the answer is to find people with whom you can work out disagreements in a healthy and a sane way, and reconcile the relationships. So can you learn how to raise children in the midst of difficulty that are hopeful, and that have really cool values, and that will care for each other?
Can you learn how to grow some food, or how to cook and eat food in a way that is sustainable, or in a way that is at least how healthy for the 30 of you? Can you work all that stuff out? Because ultimately, if there is a collapse, it'll be units like that. Like strong families, and extended families, and friendship networks that work like families. That'll be like, when there are no governments, when there are no... And if there is no collapse, and Biden fixes it, and we're all in great shape, and the world gets saved, and Ukraine isn't invaded, and there's no... And global warning, we figure it out. We carbon sequester, and everything is great. Those 30 people, they'll still be the most mentally healthy, least depressed, most unanxious, physically healthy people in your community.
So even if I'm wrong about the social collapse, that's still a good ballgame. Okay. That's still a smart thing to do. And the problem is that you can build a community like that very easily around a narrative that says that if you're not in a community like that, you're going to burn in hell forever. But how do you build a community like that around a set of secular values? How do you tell a narrative that convinces people that it's worth sacrificing for the people that they love, that makes sense of, and codifies things like forgiveness, and compassion, and community service? Like all these values that you sort of, "Without religion, where does these..." You better figure out a way, a way of telling stories to your kids that convinces them that this healthier way of living. And you go like, "Wait, the people in the communities that you're talking about, they would spend less time on Facebook?"
You're damn skippy, they would, because you would have that be... Their community values would lead them to critique and question the value of that kind of interaction. Like, absolutely. You want this community to survive. You want people to move forwardly. You can't have all your people being alienated, and FOMOing, and being depressed, and comparing themselves, and having consumer values. Then you're going to have to change a lot of things. So Tony, if it was me, and I was trying to figure out how to make sense of the world, I would be trying to figure out, what are the skills that people need to build those communities? And Jillian knows that what you need is, you need somebody who is a good youth group leader. You need somebody who can go, "Hey, kids want to play a game together. Hey, let's have a conversation and we'll talk about real stuff."
Like all those old things I learned in evangelical Christian youth ministry, it's all the same stuff I use now. When I was at USC, I ran this unbelievably wonderful group that was so cool, that the New York Times sent Mark Oppenheimer out to write a huge profile in the New York Times magazine about it. And I was laughing the whole time because I'm like, "Mark, this is just youth group. This is as old as dirt. I have a potluck supper on Sunday, all the kids come, I put questions on the table that help them to have meaningful conversations with each other, then I give a 10 minute inspirational talk, and then we play a game."
Jillian: It's a youth group.
Bart: And he was like, "Is it youth group?" But like the people at USC were like, "We've you've never seen anything like this." Because in the secular world, they thought that they would be able to build up atheist communities or secular community, whatever, on the basis of making fun of Christianity, or on the basis of, "We're going to stand for truth, and for science and reason." I'm like, "Nobody is ever going to sacrifice anything except for love. So you've got to build your community around a shared commitment to love." Now, can I make a databased argument that living for love is actually the evolutionary driven most sensible way for people to maximize their potential on this Earth? I can. I got a lot of data. Got a lot of science. But the bottom line is, I got data to support it now, but that's not where I learned it.
And so, Tony, what I would do if I was really concerned about the future of humanity in this dark age coming out of post COVID, is I would really try to teach people listening skills. And I would want to teach them how to cook for 30 people, and how to organize a dinner party so that nobody feels left out. And I would have a whole section where we would talk about how you confront somebody when they've hurt your feelings using I statements. And then what are the five or six elements of a really good apology? And then what does it really mean to forgive another person? You go like, "Well, you learned that stuff in the guise of Christianity." I did, but I don't believe in God anymore, but I still believe in forgiveness.
And so how are we going to tell stories about that? And then I would want to come up with some really inspiring stories of forgiveness, and maybe a song because people really remember songs. And then we would tell that story, and then somebody would sing that song, and then maybe we might all sing the chorus together. And you'd go like, "Oh my gosh, you sound like youth group." I go like, "Yeah. I also sound like a bunch of Aboriginals around a fire 5,000 years ago." This stuff is as old as dirt. This is basic tribe building.
Jillian: Holy shit, you're right. I didn't know I had even more deconstructing to do in my brain. Look at that. I'm really curious-
Tony: Great fodder for the therapy talk this week.
Bart: Jillian, a lot of us when we leave the faith, we got so burned, and you didn't sound like you didn't get burned as bad as some people. They got snookered, and they gave up large chunks of their lives. And they were told that they were second class citizens, and they got shame issues, and they were forced into marriages that they didn't want to be in and blah, blah, blah. So when they leave it, they're like, "Fuck all of this." They're like, "I don't want any of it." You show me a charismatic guy who can give a 10 minute talk that I want to listen to, and I will walk out of the room. You start singing a song and you can just stick that guitar up your nose. They want nothing to do with any of it.
And what I always say to those people is, "Look, you are throwing out the baby with the bath water. Christianity didn't laugh for all these thousands of years because its narrative is so sensible. Its narrative is batshit crazy." Like God was born in a manger, and then he lived to who was 30, and then he died, and then he rose three days later, and then he flew away to heaven. It's absurd, right? There's no evidence for that, it is not possible, defies the laws of physics. You're like, nobody's buying into Christianity because it really makes sense to me. People buy into Christianity because of the music, and because of the rituals, and because of the gathering together, and because of the youth groups. And so I'm like, "Don't throw out the music. Don't throw out the gathering together. Don't throw out the inspiring talk. Throw out the batshit crazy narrative. That's the part that's problematic."
Jillian: So is that... Just to shift gears a little because I'm just curious. So what you do now is basically you've taken, like you said, all those principles that are old as dirt for community and storytelling, and you have it implemented in a secular way. Is that what it-
Bart: I'm trying. It's hard. It's easy to do on a college campus because on a college campus everybody lives within a mile of each other, and they all eat their meals together. And if you know how to... And everybody is lonely and trying to figure out their identity, and reading books all day. So if a smart guy like me shows up and says, "Hey, you want to read this book? Let's talk about this." And then you go like, "Hey, you're an adult, and you care about me. Gosh, none of my professors want to talk to me." And so it was easy to build a community on a college campus. You get on the real... I came back to Cincinnati and you try to do it in the real world with families and stuff. And people are really busy, and then COVID hits, and COVID just blew apart so much of what we're trying to do.
And the problem is, you go like, now you don't have mask mandates, and now you can get together and stuff like that. I go like, "I know, but people's spirits are broken. My Spirit is broken." I have a much harder time generating the energy that I had to walk into a room of 30 people and pour out energy on them. Especially when some of them are very socially awkward, and it takes a lot of work to be with them. Part of it is just like, I look at my wife and go, "Hey, why don't we just stay home? We're cool." And we were never like that. And so I want to believe that I'm going to recover from COVID, but if you put me one-on-one... I'm a therapist in my real life because nobody pays you to be a humanist minister.
And so I went back to school and became a therapist. I can still do it one-on-one. You put a person in front of me, and I will love that person like crazy for an hour. That's easy for me. I'm an extrovert. I really care. It used to be that if you showed me a room full of 30 people, I would be the glue that would pull that room together. I do not have the same moxie as I had before. Maybe that's just because I got old and I did... You know how sometimes you're working out, but if you stop you can't get started again. Maybe I stiffened up during COVID, but I was getting old. I don't know. But all I know is it's really hard to do now. It's hard to get people to leave their houses, and come out, and actually be together. [inaudible], well, we have virtual communities and stuff like that. And I go, "Yeah. Virtual community when your husband is dying of cancer, it's of limited utility. You need somebody to show up. You need somebody to sit with you."
Jillian: It's ironic in a way because we need community more than ever right now, but we've all put a wall up between us and that in a way. And I think part of it is safety, literal personal safety with things. Now, like you said, masks, and vaccines, and there's ways to do it, but we're all like, "Well, let's see. Now what's going to happen?"
Bart: The truth is Jillian, a lot of us were anemic before. Like I would have these college kids come to USC, and I mean these were brilliant kids. They were getting six figures jobs coming out of school. They were gorgeous, and attractive, talented. They could write a paper. They were excellent sheep in the sense of, they could jump over any fence, do any hoop, follow any assignment, but they had no idea where they were going, or why they were there. I would take these beautiful kids, and I would put them in a room together, and they would not know how to have a good conversation. And so then I would teach them, I'd be okay, "So here's how you make eye contact. And when somebody is talking, you nod your head." Like you're doing right now Jillian. You nod your head to let them know that you're still with them.
Jillian: Caught myself, is like, oh …
Bart: And if they're saying something that's really hard, sometimes you just reach your hand across and you just touch their arm, is you can touch them just a little bit, not creepy, but just touch them a little bit. It's going to change the nature of the thing. And they would come back and they would go, "Oh my gosh, I used that stuff. It works like crazy." I'm like, "Yeah. Did nobody ever teach you how to ask a good question? How to show up?" Most of these kids, they were all on Tinder. So they had sex with 15 people they barely knew. But I would say, "How many of you have ever written a love letter?" None of them. None of them had ever held hands. So they’d had sex with lots of people, but they hadn't learned those simple skills of connection that you're supposed to learn.
In fact, and their parents were both working all the time so they didn't sit around the table and have meaningful table conversation. Sometimes when they were around the table, they were all on their devices. And so you say, what are the skills of community building? Well, some of those basic skills are just... Listening skills, repeating. Somebody says something and you go like, "So what I hear you saying is, that you're really upset about that." And they would go like, "Why would you say that?" And I go, "It's funny how... Try it out." And so I spent a lot of time teaching friendship 101 to kids who were the best and brightest that this country has to offer. And they could learn it, but they weren't learning it in a classroom, and they hadn't learned it on the soccer field.
Because of course in the old days, you go to the playground, you had to work out all that shit between you and your friends at the playground. But now everybody goes to soccer practice, and there's an adult who has a schedule, and he tells you to stand on this line, and do this and then you'll be on the travel team. And the kids don't learn the self-organizing skills that you're supposed to learn when you're a little kid playing because all of their play is sponsored, and overseen, and watched. And so it's deep, this inability. So again, COVID hits, and then you say, "Go back to it." You go, "Well, it's harder than it used to be." And I go, "Well that's okay because you guys have really robust skills." And they go, "Eh, actually we don't have any skills at all."
Tony: I want to reflect because I'm seeing this thread come through, and I'm remembering, I don't know if y'all remember this. But at the very end of the movie WALL-E, the Pixar film. When the humans come back to Earth on their space, cruise ship. The animated sequence during the credits is the robots and the humans learning how to repopulate the Earth. And they learn how to farm again, and they learn how to... They're remembering what they used to know and forgot, and now they're relearning again. And what you're describing is... We touched on some pretty dark territory there for a good chunk of the middle of this conversation. But when we talk about, how are we laying the groundwork for better future? We're talking about really, really basic fundamental things. Not taking for granted that people know how to communicate, how to be intimate, how to hold hands. That there are some basic, basic fundamental things that it might just be as simple as... Not as simple as that, but in terms of what we want to focus on, that it's going back to the basic, basic, basics.
Bart: Yeah. Tony, there's wonderful woman. I'm trying to remember her name. She wrote a book called Reclaiming Conversation. And she's an MIT technologist. And 15 years ago she gave a talk in which she talked about how all this new AI technology was going to create all kinds of wonderful relationships for people. And 10 years later she came back and she gave another Ted talk, and she was I was like, "I was completely wrong, technology is a nightmare." And she wrote this book about how technology is eroding our ability to connect with each other. And the last chapter of the book, last few chapters of the book, she said, "Here's the good news. The good news is this stuff is so hardwired into us, biologically. It's deep in our DNA." She's like, "That when people try to relearn those skills like you're talking about, instant success. Amazing things happen."
If you've ever known anybody who's done a digital fast for a weekend, it doesn't take them six months to see an impact, to see their mood bright, and to see their... They instantaneously have these experiences. And so that's why this stuff I am hopeful is because I've seen people who decided that they needed to change and who made those changes and their recovery time, the strength that they gained back was very fast. I'm not saying they became world class in a week. But what I'm saying is, it's like when you're losing weight, the first five pounds come off real easy. And the early gains in this stuff are really-
Tony: Because you're not swimming upstream anymore. You're coming back into alignment with your nature. And so we have it in us, even if we were never taught it, we have it in us to connect, to communicate, to sing, to commune, to have those transcendent moments like-
Bart: You've got mirror neurons that when you make somebody else happy a bunch of endorphins are going to drop in you and you're not going to know where they came from. But your body is hardwired for connection.
Tony: So this is a big part about why I am so passionate about this, because we have a lot of people who are building communities right now, who if you can just learn... If we can appreciate the simple but deeply impactful ways that as community leaders we can be creating the circumstances that lead to these meaningful moments for people. Hopefully transcendent will moments if we're lucky, but even just those little flashes of, "Oh, wow, this is what it's like to hold someone's hand, and actually feel a real..." Or, "This is what it means to forgive..." Something like that. It's not complicated once you understand how to approach it, and then people's lives are changed through very, very simple prompts. And I feel like that's something that's available to us as community organizers.
Bart: It isn't complicated. It is difficult.
Tony: Well put. Fair.
Bart: I want to make it really... There's some things that are easy. Like calling my mother, it's easy on the cell phone but it's incredibly complicated the process by which I talk to my mom.
Jillian: Oh, yeah.
Bart: Befriending another person is very simple and it's very difficult. If you've ever had a close friendship you know that there are times when you suffer, and there are times when you have to work, and there are times when your whole weekend gets ruined because your friend needs you to do something and because they're your friend you have to do it. That relationships are difficult. And in a culture that prizes ease and convenience, and user friendliness, that's sometimes the hard sell about relationships, is I can get you connection. And you go like, "Yeah. But can you get me connection without any obligation?" Oh, I can't do that.
Can you get me connection without any pain? And I'm like, "You haven't listened to enough country music. You would know better." No, there's no such thing. Every rose has its thorn. And so this is what you need, and this is what will cause you to thrive. And in the end of your life, your best stories would be rooted in some of the most biggest struggles in those relationships. Nobody has kids because it'll make them happy. Every study, every scientific study would tell you that having children will reduce your level of moment to moment happiness, not for a few weeks for the next 25 or 30 years. You're like, "Then why do people do it?" Because it'll really raise your sense of meaning and connection. And it turns out that human beings they want to be happy, but they also want to feel meaningful, and they want to feel connected, and they want to have a sense of agency.
So what I'm saying is the relationships the communities that we're talking about, they can be amazingly significant in people's lives, but they are not without cost. So it's I can get you to be better at connecting real fast. Okay. And so you go like, "Oh great. This will be easy to sell." The problem is, once you're connected to somebody then they might need something. And if you care about them, you'll feel like you want to do something about that.
Tony: What I'm hoping is that there is enough of a need, enough of a hunger right now for something meaningful. That if you give people the right circumstances, they get a taste of that. "Oh my God, this could be awesome. I'm feeling something. I'm feeling connection." Then maybe you can open the door to, "Hey, if you want to keep going with this, it's going to require a little bit of commitment. But if you're willing to, then you can keep this feeling, and you can go deeper with it." So I'm hoping that's the direction we’re gonna go for sure.
Bart: No. And that's a really a... The other hopeful thought, Tony, is that it may be... The one time when people do always see the need and pay the price is in the midst of crisis. Like in war, little communities, people band together. In a natural disaster, people's guards come down. You may not be old enough to remember 9/11 as an adult, but-
Jillian: Bless you.
Bart: All right. Good. So you know. Right. That there was-
Bart: ... a thing that happened, it was a thing that happens, it's a thing that always happens in wars, and in disasters, and in crises. And you go like, "Wow, are you saying that maybe if we don't figure it out the easy way, we'll definitely figure it out the hard way?" And I go like, "Yeah." I don't know if everybody will figure it out. Some people will die for the lack of it. But yeah, the people that will survive, they'll be the ones that are connected. They'll be the ones that know how to make those connections. And so one way or the... I don't think our society is going to make it. I don't think our infrastructure is sustainable. But do I think like the species? It's a pretty adaptable species. I think there's a good chance.
Tony: I like to think of us as the B student, where we wait till the last minute to cram for the test. But it's like we're pretty scrappy and we might have to guess a few, but we get it together in time to get the assignment in. Bart, I am so excited-
Bart: Okay. Listen, wait, wait. Wait, I have one thing. One thing.
Tony: Yes. Okay.
Bart: I know we got to go, I got to.
Bart: I like you guys, so I'm going to give you the one thing I've learned about community building.
Jillian: The secret to community.
Bart: It's the one thing I've learned that is the most valuable and it's the least intuitive. You would think that people that highly value community, and that start a community in order to build a community for themselves because they value community would build the best communities. And the answer is, they don't. People that build communities because they want to be a part of a community those communities never last. Because in the end there's conflict, and there's difficulty. And the very reasons that people are like, "I wanted to be with people that I agree with, that I connect with, that I feel comfortable with."
And discomfort happens, and then they're like, "This isn't worth the trouble and they leave." The communities that cohere are communities that are formed around an external mission. So for instance, the high school football team. If you said to all the Black kids and the White kids, and these kids, "Hey, we just want to... We're just going to get together and become friends." Never happen. But if you talk to anybody who has played at a high level of football, they'd go, "Yeah. Black kids and White kids, there's always a lot of connections." Pro football teams, you see hugging, kissing, my best friends. But it's because they got together, and they don't get together for the sake of becoming friends, they get together for the sake of winning games. And then when there's conflict and difficulty on the team, they go like, "Man, you got to figure out a way to work it out with Charlie because he's awesome linebacker, and we can't afford to lose him. We will lose games."
Jillian: We're committed to this thing. Yeah.
Bart: We're committed to this thing and so, all right, you and I, we're going to hash it out. That's that Denzel Washington movie, Remember the Titans. It's when they figure out, "Listen, you work this out or we're not going to win a game." And the people are like, "All right." So nobody works things out in a community for the sake of the community, they work things out for the sake of the mission. So if you want to build a solid community, you build it around putting on a show. You're like, "Oh, well, if that were true, all the drama kids would be really close." Like they are.
Or winning a marching band competition. You go like, "Ooh, that will work too." Or saving the world from damnation, that worked from my community. You go like, "What would a secular community build itself around?" And you go like, "Well, one thing it could do is, it could look out into the world the way you do Tony, with your eyes full of love and compassion, and it could say there are a lot of lost and lonely people out there, let's build a team that can go and rescue lost and lonely people. And that can create meaning in their lives. Let's be evangelical about this. Let's have our mission be not to try to talk people out of their communities, or out of their missions. Let's just go look for people that don't have anything, and try to suck them into ours."
And you go like, "Wait a second, then would what happen would be somebody would be a great singer. They can inspire people with their voice. And they would be just a difficult person." And you go like, "Yeah. But you know what? When she sings those songs, it really makes the meeting come alive so we got to figure out a way to work it out with her." And communities that cohere are communities that share, not only common values, they share a common purpose. So it could be to save the world from carbon usage, or it could be about rescuing the whales, or it could be around helping lonely people, or mothers against drunk driving. I don't care what it is, but there's got to be something where you're community exists to benefit people outside of your community. That's my one big secret-
Jillian: A mic drop.
Bart: That's my mic drop. I'm out of here.
Tony: That's it.
Jillian: Before you go-
Tony: But please don't drop the mic.
Tony: We do still have to do rapid fire and I can't wait for your responses. So the way this is going to work, Jillian is going to pepper you with questions. You're going to give her answers that are one sentence or less, and we are just going to go whatever pops into your head just-
Bart: Do you not know me at all by now?
Tony: No. I do. I feel like I know you pretty well already, which is great. Bart, get ready for rapid fire time. Jillian, I'm turning the mic over to you.
Jillian: All right. Bart, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Bart: A race car driver.
Jillian: How do you define community?
Bart: Oh, stop. I just did.
Jillian: Okay. Fair enough.
Tony: That's fair.
Jillian: Bart, what's something on your bucket list that you have done.
Bart: I sky dove.
Tony: That will do it. Yeah.
Jillian: And what is something still on your bucket list that you want to do in your life?
Bart: Oh man, it's the honest answer, and then there's the one I should give you.
Jillian: No. Honest answers.
Bart: Well, the other thing that was on my bucket list, the thing I should tell you is, I really spent 10 years wanting to use psychedelic drugs, and then I did, and they totally changed my life in a really-
Jillian: In good way?
Bart: Yeah. It's amazing. That'd be a whole other podcast.
Jillian: And then I regretted it.
Bart: No. No. It's amazing. Okay. So the things still on my bucket list. Gosh, I want to have my own office where I can hang things on the wall and it stays the same way because I'm the only one that use it. Once in my life, I want to have my own office.
Tony: That's beautiful.
Jillian: I like that. Bart, what's a book that you just love, or would love to recommend to other people to read?
Bart: Based on this conversation, like flowing out of this conversation, I would say that a book that I think would be just to really important for people would be really helpful was a book called Lost Connections by Johann Hari.
Tony: Johann Hari. Nice.
Bart: Yeah. Who I had on my podcast a couple of months ago.
Tony: I know. I saw that. Way to go. Congrats on that. Amazing.
Bart: He's so beautiful. I mean we-
Jillian: We all have homework. Yeah. We all have homework to go find that episode.
Bart: Yeah. But that's a wonderful, wonderful book. It's a really good book, and it would cover a lot of the ground in a much better way than I did.
Jillian: Bart, if you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Bart: New Zealand.
Jillian: Same. And finally-
Bart: Best place I've ever been.
Jillian: I've never been, I just know I want to move there. Finally, how do you want to be remembered?
Bart: As a world class people lover.
Bart: It's what am working on.
Jillian: Perfect. Excellent.
Tony: Bart, how do we find you on the internet for the listeners tuning in?
Bart: I mean the only thing I do that's of any significance to anybody is this podcast called Humanize Me. I mean anybody outside of my circle, is this podcast called Humanize Me. And it's a lovely conversation. And so it's on all the platforms, it's just Humanize Me. if somebody wanted to find me, and sometimes people want to find me when they have been battered by religion, and they're trying to figure out how to find their way out and I coach them. If anybody wanted to find me, you would find me at BartCampolo.org. And-
Bart: Yeah. I'm easy to find. And if you hit the contact thing, and you send it, it comes right to me, there's no filter. And I will take a while, but I will always write you back. So if there's anything I've said here that startled somebody, or been helpful to somebody, and they're could you, just one more thing, just feel free to reach out. I love to hear from people.
Tony: Bart, thank you so much. What an incredible experience. I got a lot to reflect on after this. And so I appreciate your time, man.
Bart: Oh, man. It's the CX experience, right?
Tony: Yeah. It's a... You got it.
Bart: That was the CX-
Jillian: Yeah. How we do it.
Bart: Thank you both so much for being so patient and kind to me.
Tony: So there was our conversation with Bart Campolo. Jillian, I got to say I'm really vibing on the whole transcendent experience. Confirming the given narrative thing, makes me think of when I go see a live band, and if I have a really good moment while I'm listening to that band, I'm a fan of that band for life even if they're not actually that good. Have you ever... You know what I mean?
Jillian: You just, yeah, the moment. You have the magic moment. And that's the best part of life, having those moments.
Tony: But I think as a community builder, is it possible for me to create the circumstances where it's at least there's a chance that somebody is going to have a really special moment? I feel like that's a really good thought prompt for me as an organizer.
Jillian: So you're saying there's a chance. Yeah. I agree. It's a great way to look at things as a community builder, what you're saying exactly. Could I create this experience for someone? That is a great way to think about community programming and just gathering people, whether it's a dinner party at your house, or talking to someone at the bookstore. One of my favorite examples because I love my local bookstore. It's a really interesting personal challenge.
Tony: Yeah. And I agree. And I think getting to the fundamentals as well, recognizing how simple... The simplicity of the activities that can generate really meaningful connection especially in this time. My friend asked me if I wanted to just hang out, and have dinner, and watch a movie, and I was like, "Oh my God, yes. That sounds so good." Yeah. It's like we're so starved for just hanging out. But teaching fundamentals.
Jillian: It's interesting to me, I think this is the third guest where we've talked about how we don't know how to make friends.
Tony: Yeah. At least the third. Yeah.
Jillian: Yeah. Like we as a society, and I think technology good and bad, we have lost our way in human interaction in that meaningful way. Because now it is just so easy to keep it shallow for lack of a better word. And it's just, "Oh, I'm friends with this person. So I follow their Instagram, so I feel connected to them." But I'm not going to call them. I might not even have their phone number, but I went to college with them, and they're in Bali right now living their best life and I feel like a loser because I'm not. Or just like, "Oh, they're so pretty." Or just, "Oh, they had a third baby. How exciting for them? I feel connected to this. I said congrats." I'll never meet that child.
And so just taking a step back and understanding acquaintance, versus friend, versus legitimate actual talk on the phone, meet in person friend. I think it's getting very blurry, and it makes me sad to think about kids my daughter's age that have grown up with social media in existence. What is their college experience going to look like? It's probably going to look like what Bart was just talking about where people don't know how to make eye contact, and that's just really sad.
Tony: Which leads me to think, it just comes back to, let's exemplify that as best as we can. Let's practice that, let's practice being more vulnerable, being more available, being willing to commit to showing up to something and going through hard times with people as well to forge those bonds.
Jillian: Although, it does bring up the question. Cool. How? And I think like your point, invite a friend over for a movie and dinner. That's so simple. It's not that hard, but we just have gotten... And with the pandemic too like Bart was saying, we've all gotten just, "I'm good. I'm in pajama pants, though."
Tony: Well, you don't want to impose your life on somebody else, but practice being vulnerable. Tell people the truth about what's going on for you. There's a good chance that other people are feeling the same thing you are, or they can at least appreciate talking through a difficult situation.
Jillian: Yeah. Call somebody.
Tony: Modeling vulnerability creates the space for the other person to open up too, and that's when I think there is a lot of opportunity.
Jillian: That is the perfect endpoint. You can't beat that.
Tony: Y'all, appreciate you coming along for this crazy ride with us with Bart Campolo, Tony, Jillian. Signing off till next time. We are Team SPI on Twitter.
Jillian: Indeed, we are.
Tony: Let us know what you think of the episode, and we will catch you next time.
Jillian: Will see you next Tuesday.
Tony: This has been The Community Experience. For more information on this episode, including links and show notes, head over to smartpassiveincome.com/listen. So if you want to learn more about Bart and his podcast, go ahead and look up the Humanize Me podcast on all of your favorite podcast platforms. And if you want to learn more about Bart himself, it's Bart. B-A-R-T. Campolo. C-A-M-P-O-L-O dot org. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound design by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.