Stephanie Lepp
Founder and Executive Producer, Synthesis Media
Stephanie Lepp
Founder and Executive Producer, Synthesis Media

How might we move beyond polarization and integrate the truths held in opposing points of view?  Storyteller and producer Stephanie Lepp shares with us her tools and strategies to, in her words, "leave no insight behind" -- a skill essential to address the challenges of our time.

Show Notes

In this episode we talk about the importance of integration for addressing the challenges of our time, the forced working against our ability to do so, tools she employs to help us synthesize different, ostensibly opposing views, the importance of somatic awareness and emotional intelligence in doing this work, and the role that technology and AI might play in supporting a shift away from polarization towards integration.



"SL: But it's not really about any of these individual issues. It's really about cultivating our capacity for unflattening. For moving, in the Hegelian sense, from thesis versus antithesis to synthesis. And I should say, the synthesis becomes the new thesis, right? We keep doing this over and over again. This is not to say that whatever synthesis these videos land on is the ultimate and forever synthesis. It just becomes the new thesis to evolve from." 

[0:00:36] JS: That's Stephanie Lepp, Founder, Producer and Storyteller at Synthesis Media. And this is the Denizen podcast. I'm your host and curator, Jenny Stefanotti. In today's episode, we're talking about integration. It's such an important conversation. Because in the age of the epistemic crisis with the increasingly complex challenges we face, we need now more than ever to learn how to integrate different worldviews. Or as Stephanie would say, leave no insight behind. 

Our guest, Stephanie Lepp, works at the intersection of culture, media and systems change. She's very near and dear to the Denizen community. She and I used to host one of our weekly conversations on Clubhouse. 

She went on to work with Tristan Harris at the Center for Humane Technology as the executive producer of their podcast, Your Undivided Attention. She's now focused on building her own production studio devoted to producing media that integrates the perspectives of different worldviews. I also love that her LinkedIn includes her role as mom. 

In this episode, we talk about the importance of integration for addressing the challenges of our time. The forces working against our ability to do so. The tools she employs to help synthesize different ostensibly opposing worldviews. The importance of somatic awareness and emotional intelligence in doing this work. And the role that technology and AI might play in supporting shift away from polarization towards integration. And, of course, this conversation is so timely because we are all in a deep global moment of emotion and trauma as we witness the events unfolding in the Middle East. 

As always, you can find our show notes on our website, There you can sign up for our newsletter while bring our latest content to your inbox alongside announcements from our partner organizations. We're also gearing up to do more virtual events in the Denizen community including a bi-weekly conversation about the podcast episodes. We also have a book club starting soon. Stay tuned there for the latest in the community events. 

Stephanie and I have been trying to record this for quite some time. And clearly, it was fate to record it this week because it's an extraordinarily timely conversation. And I hope it provides some insight for what we are all going through at this time.


[0:02:38] JS: Stephanie Lepp, I'm so excited. For those of you who don't know, Stephanie and I worked very closely together with Denizen Clubhouse and hosted many conversations. And I'm so excited to highlight the work that you're doing. Welcome.

[0:02:50] SL: Thank you. Thank you. Hi, everyone. You might recognize my voice from the days on Clubhouse when we were called Dent. Yeah.

[0:02:59] JS: I just want to put this conversation in context. One of the biggest challenges of our time is our ability to collectively understand what is happening in the world. And that is a requisite for how we govern and how we make decisions as a society. And we've had a lot of conversations that are related to this one of our earliest was with Daniel Schmachtenberger on the epistemic crisis. I haven't released that on the podcast because the recording isn't high enough quality. But if anyone's interested, you can just let me know and I can send you the recording from our archives. 

We also more recently had Tobias Rose-Stockwell on the podcast. He just 

released a book called the Outrage Machine, which looked at the history of media and information and how it flows through society. And how we can know the veracity of that information. And how those innovations inevitably led to disruption, and people taking advantage of that opportunity and then correction. 

But fundamentally, we have a very significant problem in the current information ecosystem, what Daniel calls the epistemic crisis, is that we can effectively collectively sense make. Because the information, ecology, the tools that we use, the way that information is available to us leads us to increasingly polarize. And so, I'm super excited to talk about this topic with you. And I'm so glad that it's something that you are focused on. 

I did want to say one of denizen's values. And in fact, the first one that we defined is curiosity. And we say inquiry brings our community together, right? Obviously, denizens are curious. That's why we're showing up for these conversations. But also, really critically, there's another layer to that curiosity, which is really essential for the topic at hand. And I remind everyone every time we get into hard conversations, which is, as listeners, we default to curiosity especially when others offer a different perspective. We seek to understand our biases and challenge long-held assumptions. 

Daniel Schmachtenberger also talks about dialectical thinking. And of course, dialectical is a word most of us probably aren't familiar with. But it's relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions. 

And in our community agreements, we talked about showing up in these moments trying to understand and integrate the other opinion and come to an understanding that is superior to the starting point of either people. Coming in with respect for the opinion of the other person and not trying to be right. This is a really potent conversation for our time. 

Especially in this particular moment, we're all at the edge of our seats with what is happening in the Middle East. We'll see how that comes up into this conversation. But I think we can also even land this conversation in our personal lives in the ways than we relate in our closest relationships. And a lot of us feel this acutely in our romantic relationships. Super excited to go from here.

[0:05:56] SL: Amen. Yeah. And I think there are two directions were coming at this topic of integration from. And you've spoken to both of them. One is to build social cohesion, right? To address polarization is one reason we want to learn how to integrate different perspectives. And the other one you mentioned with curiosity and with sensemaking, it is only with good sense-making that we can do good choice making, right? 

We are literally leaving insights off the table when we refuse to incorporate the insights because they come from the wrong tribe or whatever it is. And given the challenges we face, we need our full genius online at this time. And so, my tagline is no Insight left behind. We cannot afford to leave any of our genius off the table in this moment in order to address the challenges we face.

[0:06:49] JS: We might have touched on this. And this might feel obvious. But I want to ask it because I start most of my conversations making sure we're clear on what we mean by the words that we use. Tell us, Steph, what do you mean by integration.

[0:07:02] SL: Yeah. I think it's helpful to have some kind of a metaphor or an analogy, something that we experience. One that I use is this is something we do with our eyes, right? Each eye, each individual eye, our left eye and our right eye, each actually see slightly different views. But it is only by virtue of looking through two eyes instead of one that we see in 3D. That we see depth. 

They're both seeing things that are true, right? Each view is true, but it is by virtue of putting them together that we see more depth. When I say integration, I literally mean integrating the different perspectives on reality. I mean, considering and incorporating multiple viewpoints into a more inclusive, holistic and oftentimes even a more creative whole. 

A silly example would be Michael Jackson. If you imagine a Venn diagram with three circles, you have spectacular entertainer, likely perpetrator of child sex abuse, victim of abuse, right? They don't cancel each other out. We just have to hold them all together. We can enjoy his music while acknowledging that he was kind of a creep. And, hey, guess what? Maybe it was the fact that he was abused as a young person. That's part of what made him such an amazing musician and kind of a creep. Michael Jackson contains multitudes. 

If we were to use a less silly example that's more relevant into denizen, let's say we could take a look at capitalism, right? We often love to pit capitalism against socialism and communism, but most modern economies are mixed, right? They integrate the decentralized intelligence of the market with the stabilizing force of the state. And it could also be said that capitalism, socialism and communism all share the same fatal flaw. They all prioritize one metric at the expense of others. 

And obviously, we could talk about capitalism for the entire rest of the conversation. But from an integral perspective, how might we take the best, let's say, of all of the economic systems that have come before and go beyond them? How might we integrate what we have learned from capitalism in terms of profit and prosperity, and from socialism and communism in terms of equality and distribution? How might we integrate what we have learned from them all and go beyond them? 

[0:09:24] JS: Great. I mean, I think that doesn't take much further explanation to collectively agree on how absolutely essential this is. Before we get into this a little bit more, I just want to hear your story, Steph. How did you come to this? How did you come to this issue? Why is this what you're thinking about and what you're focused on right now? 

[0:09:45] SL: I think back to the first real activism experience I ever had was completely alienating. I was a freshman at Stanford and I went with the Redwood Action Team at Stanford. Acronym RATS. We went to a city council meeting in Mendocino to protest the logging of the Northern California Redwoods. 

And at the time, an activist named Julia Butterfly Hill, some of you might remember her, was living in a redwood tree. And we called her from the protest to her redwood tree on speaker and she gave us this amazing TED Talk. It was very exciting. It was like, "Wow. We're talking to Julia Butterfly." 

It was very exciting. But I noticed two things. One thing I noticed is that the people who we were protesting against, the loggers and their families, looked like really humble people. Most of them looked like migrant workers from Latin America. And I just remember thinking to myself, "I don't really want to be on the opposite side from these people. I want to be on the same – the trees and the people." But I didn't know anything about sustainable development at the time. I just knew that the ways that these lines are drawn does not make sense to me. And so, that was one thing I noticed. 

The second thing I noticed, we went into the city council meeting and our representative from RATS testified. And he was testifying about all these endangered species that were going to be lost with the law. It's the spotted owl and the salamander. And I was looking at the city council members as they were listening to this testimony and their eyes were just glazing over. I could tell they've heard this a million times. This is not persuading them. I don't know what would persuade them, but it's not this. 

And so, then one question was how to redraw the lines to put trees and people on the same side? And the second question is just was how do people change? What moves people to change their hearts and minds? And so, that experience marked the end of my involvement in politics until I could find a way to redraw those lines and understood better what moves people to change their hearts and minds, which I've kind of found my way into through this practice of integration. 

[0:12:00] JS: Tell us a little bit about what you're doing now related to it. 

[0:12:04] SL: Yeah. Now I run a production studio called Synthesis Media, which is devoted to producing media that very simply integrates the perspectives of different worldviews. It's video. It's audio. It can be experiences. But content media and events that either teach us how, or enable us, or the integration on different political and social issues. And I can be more specific about specific projects I'm working on. But that is that is the nature of my current work. Yeah.

[0:12:40] JS: Okay. Giving us media that presents a balanced view.

[0:12:46] SL: I wouldn't even call it balance. I'm actually glad you brought this up. Because the failure mode of integration is bothsidesism, right? It's this idea that, "Well, if it's not that one of us is entirely right, then is it that both of us are equally right?" Well, no. It's not that either. It's most of us have some partial rightness, but some of us are more right than others, which doesn't make for a great tagline. But I would say that's the nature of what's going on. It's also not that we're each equally right. These are things to be wrestled with. It really depends on the issue and on the situation.

[0:13:21] JS: This actually makes me think of another one of our six values, which is diversity, which is the importance of having diverse perspectives at the table to integrate into our sense-making. We struggle as a community to have the diversity that we would like to have. But I continue to say, we are dead in the water around our mission if we don't have the people that this society we're envisioning will be serving represented in this conversation. Understand the value of the diversity and the integration of that into something that feels like it's holding all of it. 

[0:13:58] SL: One way that I would say Denizen did that this year with the retreat was by integrating children. Wow when we think about viewpoints, different ages is one way in. And learning how to and practicing the art of integrating the experience and perspectives of young people is huge.

[0:14:17] JS: I already mentioned it at the top of the introduction around the current state, the epistemic crisis, the importance of moving to a more integral point of view and the importance of diversity for sensemaking. We just mentioned it. But before we get into some of the ways that we can do this and the challenges in doing it, I just wanted to see if you had anything to add in terms of the current state and the need for this.

[0:14:39] SL: Yeah. I think that in our culture, in our politics, we're often given binary choices, right? It's pro-vax or anti-vax. It's pro-choice or pro-life. Woke or anti-woke. And choosing one or the other often leaves insights off the table. It's like vaccines should not be taken never. Nor should they be taken always. And so, it's like I'm pro-vax in the circumstances in which vaccines should be taken and anti-vax in the circumstances in which they should not. 

On abortion, most Americans want sensible abortion rights, but acknowledge that late in the third trimester when the woman's life is not in danger. Perhaps there might be an exclusion there. Again, the failure mode here is bothsidesism, which is also not synthesis. It's not that only one of us is right. It's not that we're all equally right. Again, most of us are partially right, but some of us are more right than others. 

And what integration allows us to do is actually get in there and wrestle with what is actually really going on so that we can not only get along. Civility and respect are a part of this. But I would say even more importantly so that we can see the nature of the situation clearly in order to enable good choice-making, right? In order to enable rightful action. 

Some cases are black and white, right? There's no gray on slavery. Slavery should not exist under any circumstances. It's not that we want to turn all black and white into gray, but I would say we also don't want to collapse two shades into one. We want black, white and gray. Or, ultimately, we want all of the colors. Maybe that's another way to think about this, is seeing the world in more color, in more shades in a way that allows us to pursue rightful choice-making to take rightful action.

[0:16:19] JS: I think also as we move forward, it's important to hold an understanding of what are the drivers to the current state which have led to increasing polarization. Eli Pariser was one of the first people to talk about this with the filter bubbles. And we talked about this in the conversation with Tobias. And it's in his book. There was a repeal of something in the Reagan Era which required media outlets to be balanced. And then we just talked about the issues with balance, right? 

And when that happened, started with Rush Limbaugh actually, radio started to tune into a specific worldview, right? And people then tuned into things that confirm their beliefs and what they want to hear, right? And then you had a shift into cable from there's only a couple different sources for news. We all have that same sense of the world to now I can tune into Fox. Or now I can tune into the most liberal version of that, right? 

We have drivers of polarization around just structurally what's happened in media. More and more opportunities to tune into what we want. It's really interesting if we think about social media is a layer on top of traditional media that then takes the universe of traditional media and gives it another filter bias on top of that, right? Which is kind of supercharging something that was already happening underneath, right? 

And then we talk about, okay, well, if we want to address the issue of social media, what if we move into decentralized social media? So it's not just one behemoth. Okay. But now we have an opportunity to tune into our social network that is confirming it in addition to the media, right? 

Those are just some drivers of the ecosystem that are forces that are pretty potent in opposition to integration that we need that we're talking about today. I just wanted to raise those. And then there's also just the business model of media, right? The fact that it wants our attention. 

And so, as Triston, our dear friend, who you used to work very closely with at CHT, he talks about the race to the bottom and the brain stem that's driven by the business model. And Tobias talks about this in his book The Outrage Machine. We engage more when we go down the brain stem, into the amygdala, into fear, into outrage. 

Now, interestingly, that is much more likely to be misinformation and disinformation, right? There is something that's happening with the business model that is driving us to engage with content that is not just more biased, right? And we'll talk into the like these opposing stories are both true. How do we integrate them? But actually, tuning into things that are not true and challenges in those platforms and identifying the veracity of the media. That's another driver. 

One is the drivers increasingly being able to tune into your own worldview. The business model leading you to engage with content that is bottom of the brain stem and most likely to be untrue. And then I think just really important to understand that a lot of this is something going on in our own psychology around confirmation bias. 

Because if we're really going to talk about addressing this and integration and what you care about, we need to go deep to understand what are these colossal forces. And one of the biggest realizations that I had personally and kind of life-changing in the past year or two is the true and hard fact that we create our own reality. That we all have stories in our head about our worldviews, our paradigms. 

Donella Meadows talks about worldviews, and paradigms and paradigm shifts. And we see the world through a lens based on those paradigms. And it is bias. We pick up on the data points that confirm those stories and we dismiss the data points that disregard those stories. And I think you can see this very clearly if anyone who falls into either a left or right political orientation, the exact same thing done by the other party would be interpreted entirely differently because of those biases. 

There's also recency bias. What happened more recently biases my interpretation of reality. Holding the fact that we all actually are picking out the data points that confirm our stories. And so, we can hold two simultaneously true realities that are actually ostensibly in opposition but both true is an important thing to hold as a key underlying attribute of humans and how their minds work that is at play here.

[0:20:31] SL: Totally. Yes. And we are swimming upstream in that sense, psychologically, economically, culturally through all the forces that you mentioned. Even just psychologically, it's actually easier one side than to really deeply engage with all the different sides and attempt an integration. Yes, there are psychological, economic, political, cultural forces against us. 

And you mentioned wanting to go deep. In Jewish mysticism, and perhaps this is the case in other traditions, it totally might be, the story, the narrative of existence is one of separation and reintegration. In Judaism, the first thing God did was separate light from dark. And the entire kind of narrative of existence has been one of separation into different. We could even call them ingredients. And then learning to reintegrate and remember that we are one, and we are one and we are one. 

It is literally – I mean, we could just call this – perhaps it's like a moment of peak ingredient making if we want to think of it very optimistically. And it is literally sacred work. I mean, I would call it holy work to bring the pieces back together again.

[0:21:42] JS: I appreciate that. That makes me think of Charles Eisenstein and his work. And just the story of separation versus the story of interconnection and how that plays into this too. Okay. We're all on board that this is being really critical. The current environment making it really hard. Let's talk about how we can address this. 

You sent me a great video that you just made about the faces of capitalism. And you talked about having a flat view and how we might unflatten our view. Maybe we can just start there. I think this just lands a lot of things that we just said. But I want to hear it from you. What does it mean to have a flat view? And how might we begin to think about unflattening our view? 

[0:22:23] SL: Yeah. Well, a flat view, quite literally, if we take one side of an issue – there's an image that kind of goes along with this, but I'll just try to verbalize it. If we look at one side of a cube, let's say, it just looks like a flat square, right? We're literally seeing the cube flat. Whereas when we look at it from different perspectives, we realize it is a cube. Or perhaps it is even something else. 

This notion of unflattening is seeing the different perspectives on something in order to make it more multi-dimensional. The video that you're referring to, I still haven't fully decided on the name. It's going to be Unflattening Our Thinking or something like that. But it will basically be a series of short videos that articulate what I would call an integrated or a synthesis perspective attempt to articulate what I would call an integrated or a synthesis perspective on different political issues like gender, abortion and guns.

Yeah. And when I say synthesis, it's neither left, right nor center, but a perspective that actually synthesizes the insights that are coming from the different worldviews. But it's not really about any of these individual issues. It's really about cultivating our capacity for unflattening. For moving, in the Hegelian sense, from thesis versus antithesis to synthesis. And I should say the synthesis becomes the new thesis, right? We keep doing this over and over again so this is not to say that whatever synthesis these videos land on is the ultimate and forever synthesis. It just becomes the new thesis to evolve from.

[0:24:05] JS: It makes me think of just the mindsets and tendance of design thinking, which is I've got my best version of the answer now, but new information will come in as we test this idea that we have. And I will evolve that. And it also makes me smile because it makes me think of Donella Meadows, which is this is a really complex system that we have fundamental limitations to understand as human beings, right? That now we're talking about systems. You're talking about specific issues that might maybe easier understand, but maybe not, right? 

Let's take universal basic income. People may have different opinions about that. And you can make a case for it. And then when we actually start to implement it, the complexity of the benefits and spillovers from UBI are really high, right? It affects crime. It affects civic participation. It affects mental health and stress. It affects children. It affects women's rights. And so, try to have an integrated position on UBI and then we go, and implement, and we get new evidence and we update that. 

A lot of these interventions are affecting really complex systems. And so, I think that point that you just made around holding the frontier synthesis and constantly evolving that synthesis is really essential. Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate that.

[0:25:17] SL: Yeah. And I love where Donella comes from on this too as a dancer. Because I think it – I can't remember in which piece of hers. That's kind of where she lands. 

[0:25:25] JS: Dancing With Systems.

[0:25:26] SL: Yeah. That's kind of what we have to do. Dancing is kind of an ultimate act of just perpetually adapting to the unfolding reality in front of you. I guess if you're paying attention to the music or the person you're dancing, that's what that is. You might have some ideas and you're perpetually adapting in real time.

[0:25:44] JS: There's a great quote in Thinking in Systems about dancing with the system, but then there's actually a blog post called Dancing With Systems on the Academy for System Changes website. 

[0:25:52] SL: Oh, my God. There should be a dance party.

[0:25:54] JS: I will drop that in the show notes. Okay. Well, then let's talk about making it real. Let's talk about tools for integration and how we might do this. Okay. You've got your interventions, which is media that shows a balanced perspective. And so, what other tools – let's talk about tools. How you do this? 

[0:26:13] SL: For me, it's like all the leverage points. Please. All the way up and down the scale. I just happen to be situated at culture, media and culture. But integration, there are leverage points to push all the way up and down the scale.

[0:26:27] JS: Let's get into how we actually do this given the torrent of forces in the opposite direction. You've got your media intervention. We can talk – but you've thought about this broadly. I know we want to talk about Venn diagrams and other actual tools. There's a lot of really complex things that came up for me when I think about how hard it is to actually do this. I want to get into those things too. First of all, let's talk about the tools that are top of mind for you and your work.

[0:26:52] SL: Thank you. I have been experimenting with various ways of doing integration. Yeah, I was thinking that for our conversation I would share two of them. The first way I've been experimenting with uses the tool of Venn diagrams. And I know that this is visual and people are just listening, but you can just imagine in your mind. 

I take an issue. I identify different perspectives on that issue and then I steel man those perspectives, which is the opposite of straw manning. Instead of representing the – 

[0:27:28] JS: Quick question. 

[0:27:29] SL: Yes? 

[0:27:29] JS: What does steel man mean? Because I didn't know that. I had to look it up. 

[0:27:32] SL: Straw manning represents the weakest version of a perspective. Whereas steel manning represents the strongest or steel version of that perspective. For example, with abortion, a straw man of the pro-life position would be something like, "Oh, those are people who don't care about women's rights." That's the straw man. The steel man, if I'm really trying to steel man that perspective would be something like the pro-life position is a position that cares about the sanctity of life and acknowledges that the moral calculus of abortion changes over the course of a pregnancy. Because we're dealing less with a potential life and more with a real viable life, I would be the steel man. That's what I'm really trying to articulate this version of that perspective. 

Venn diagrams, I take an issue, identify different perspectives on that issue. Steel man those perspectives and then integrate those steel man perspectives into a Venn diagram. And at the center I write we can be here. I'll give an example right now. We can be here is what's written at the center. We can hold these different perspectives simultaneously. I didn't invent this use of Venn diagrams. I just found a couple of them floating around the internet and realize they are a simple but powerful tool for perspective integration. 

What does this look like in practice? Let's take COVID. COVID, we're going to do this very crudely. We're going to give ourselves four circles maximum. Two circles for the left. Two circles for the right. I know I said both sides of them is a failure mode, but that's just how we're going to do this. Remember, this is practicing. 

The first circle on the left for COVID is life is precious. And I think, pretty much, we can all get on board with life being precious and deserving of being protected from harm. Okay. First circle on the right. Bodily autonomy is a foundation of freedom. Yes, again. Right? We should have freedom over what we put in. This is the vaccine. Kind of bodily autonomy is a foundation. Okay. Second circle on the left, shared facts are vital to democracy, right? And shared facts and science in general is a basis upon which we govern ourselves. I can circle on the right, economic devastation also harms lives. 

If life is precious, then we want to protect it. Let's think not just physiologically, but also economically, right? And at the center, we can be here. We can care about protecting lives while caring about sovereignty over our bodies, while respecting science, while caring about protecting livelihoods, right? We can actually hold all of these things simultaneously.

[0:30:07] JS: one of the things that made me think of, which I think is really important to raise, which is this tension between freedom, which is such an important value. Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom is one of my favorite books ever. What is human development? Human development is increasing freedom. 

I went to Harvard and we talked about economic growth being the thing. But economic growth meant needs were met. But Amartya Sen talked about freedom. Freedom is so important. And the social contract fundamentally requires us to compromise freedom for peace. 

I don't get to do whatever I want to do. Because fundamental human needs are often in opposition. And the way to reconcile them is to make compromises. And you can do that minimally with skill. But at the end of the day, we compromise our freedom to be in harmony socially. I compromise my freedom to be in harmony in my marriage. 

And what's challenging here is that we will have different points of view around how much to wait freedom versus something else. And I think we also have to hold that there is no answer. But we can also understand – we value different things. And so, we can at least understand the perspectives relative to how we weight those different values.

[0:31:27] SL: Well, it's interesting. Because we also value the same things in different context. Because on abortion, it's the right that is bringing life as precious and the left that is bringing bodily autonomy as a foundation of freedom. I think most of us know what it's like to value freedom and value peace or equality. Or it's kind of the individual and the collective. 

Most of us know what it's like to choose different values in different context. We can actually really – we can really relate to where each other are coming from. And within the context of abortion, let's say, we cannot in any meaningful way be anti-life or anti-choice. We cannot choose one of these – this is the perfect example of a dialectic. These values actually coexist. They exist in a dynamic tension with each other. Only one of them is meaningless. They kind of need each other and need the tension between them to have meaning. 

[0:32:25] JS: Well, I think it's also, to your point, the values coexist. And once we have a better – I would state this also in terms of needs, right? The needs coexist. The need for freedom coexists with the need for care. And when we actually put the collective perspectives, and values and needs on the table, sometimes we change the weights in our own personal calculus about what matters. 

I just went through this in my personal life. I had a need that was very significant that was in conflict with someone who I cared about's needs. And once I understood their needs, my need to care for that person superseded my other needs. And I think this points to something really important in this conversation, which is that I believe we deeply want to care for each other. And how can we come into conversation to surface that inherent nature of humanity versus coming into conversation in ways that put us in opposition, put us in polarize, me versus you? If you're right, then I'm losing. Right? And I think that is really critical. 

Do you have any other tools you wanted to talk about in addition to the Venn diagram?

[0:33:34] SL: Sure. Actually, the second one, and I'll present it briefly, is actually one that I think you in particular, Jenny, would be interested in. We're going to get a little nerdy here. I'm just warning you. 

[0:33:45] JS: Isn't that what we do all the time? 

[0:33:45] SL: It's a matrix. 

[0:33:48] JS: Okay. Go on. 

[0:33:50] SL: Yes. Yeah. This is a matrix we're getting into. So, we're full-on getting nerdy here. Basically, how it works is I'll give an example of it and that will explain what it is. A few years ago, Daniel Goldman, who's an expert in emotional intelligence, did something that I found really brilliant. Every couple month on HBR, Harvard Business Review, there's an article that's like the top 10 qualities of being a good leader. As if there's one way to be a good leader. 

What Daniel Goldman did is he interviewed hundreds of leaders and he identified six distinct leadership styles. Commanding, visionary, affiliative, democratic, pace-setting and coaching. You don't need to know them all. The map is also not the territory. Let's just say there were six clusters. 

What he then did was he identified the circumstances in which each style is most effective. Commanding, which demands immediate compliance, is really helpful in a crisis to kickstart, or turnaround, or with problem employees. Visionary, which mobilizes people towards a vision, is really helpful when changes require a new vision or when clear direction is needed. 

I'm not going to go through all of them, but I'll just give one more. Affiliative creates harmony and builds emotional bonds, which is really helpful to heal rifts in a team or motivate people in stressful circumstances. That's already a really helpful frame. Because instead of saying there is one way to be a good leader, he's saying there are different leadership styles. And different leadership styles work better in different circumstances. 

But that's not where the brilliance ends. He also identifies each leadership style's impact on the overall organizational climate. Commanding, surprise, surprise has a really negative impact because it does not feel good to be commanded. Visionary has the most strongly positive impact because it does feel really good to mobilize around a shared vision. Affiliative is positive because it feels good to get along with people. 

It's not that commanding is always bad and visionary is always good. It's that different circumstances call for different leadership styles. But some leadership styles are more enjoyable than others. If we're in a crisis, I can tell my team, "Yo, team, I'm going to shift into hard-ass mode for a second in order to get us out of this crisis and in order to get us into a new circumstance where I don't have to be a hard-ass anymore." Right? 

We use commanding so that we don't have to use it. We use the less desirable strategies to change the circumstances so we can use more desirable strategies. Posed as a question, we could say under what circumstances, if any, should we use which strategy in order to achieve the goal? 

If any is important. Because there might be none, right? We could just say like slavery, none. Factory farming, none. Coal, none. But at least it's a shift from strategy, right, wrong, to under what circumstances, if any. This tool is what I'm calling an integral matrix. Because it integrates different strategies for achieving a goal into one, let's say, meta-strategy. And once you see the matrix in this way, har- har, you see it everywhere, right? 

Energy sources. Under what – wind, and/or nuclear, and/or fossil fuel, and/or – we don't have to say no. We would theoretically be using fossil fuels in a way that allows us to not use them anymore, right? It just puts a different spin on this.

[0:37:06] JS: Okay. You mentioned the Venn diagram and the matrix as tools. One of the things I talk about a lot is just we spend so much time in our heads and this really requires us to get into our bodies. And Donella Meadows talks about complex systems are so complex. We can only go so far with our models. And we have to use our whole humanity to the task at hand. 

And so, I want to talk about a really critical piece of this puzzle and how you think about it. And I'll lay down some thoughts on my own on how to address it, which is that this is often not rational at all. It's not rational because we have confirmation bias. Fine. But it's not rational because it is really emotional and really triggering. And it happens really quickly. 

And so, every time we get into one of these conversations I'm always, "Hey, everybody, remember our value of curiosity." When you see that and you were there at the retreat, we had hard conversations." And what I also said to everyone was, "Okay, I want everyone to be in your bodies and really be aware of when you get triggered and when you have a somatic response. And how you respond and how you show up in that moment." Right? Because this is emotional period. But not only that, there's trauma. There's a lot of trauma. 

Look at what's happening right now in the Middle East. There's a lot of trauma. Not just recent trauma, but intergenerational trauma. There is deep, deep complex somatic response. And we know that what happens in the moments is that we move into fight or flight. We are less capable of engaging productively. We feel attacked and triggered. And there's just a necessity of having the competencies and skills. 

I'll just lay my own piece on this. Then I want to hear your thoughts, right? Okay, we have Venn diagram, the Matrix. But building our own relational competence to be able to step into a conversation holding one perspective against someone who holds another in a productive way to get to an integrated perspective requires us to have relational confidence to understand that this is going to get triggering, this is going to get emotional. I may be too upset to engage productively, I may need to step back and take a breath. 

NVC is very valuable around this too. And maybe we'll get into it. But I'm just wondering what are your thoughts around just the complexity of doing this due to the deeply emotional somatic component of this and how that compromises the rational productive integration that we're calling for.

[0:39:39] SL: Yeah. I mean, I think these are crude tools and they are for practicing. And kind of the key word there is practice. Because they're kind of training wheels for letting go of the extremes, like no abortion under any circumstances or vaccine mandates for everyone. We can let go of the extremes and integrate what's left. 

But really, someday, we or at least our kids won't need Venn diagrams or these kind of matrices anymore. This will become more fluent. And I think in that sense, integration, both meanings of the word. I use it within this kind of a context of integration of different perspectives. But there's also, in our work, integration of our shadow or integration of traumatic experiences. All of that comes online in this context. 

And I guess maybe a frame that might be relevant here is, when we think about what you just said, the emotional side this, and the trauma that we bring and the triggers that will come up, what does critical thinking in the 21st century look like when we are aware that what it requires to think clearly involves our emotions and our bodies? And I would say our critical thinking approaches in the past have focused exclusively on the rational. 

But in the Greek philosophical tradition, there is first person, second person and third person epistemics. First person is know thyself. Know your biases. Know your triggers. Know your trauma. Know where you are coming from. Then second person is know the other person's perspective. And then third person is what we usually do with critical, is know the world. But you cannot really only know the world without knowing thyself and knowing the others. 

You're almost pointing to a more expansive or more evolved understanding of critical thinking. Of sense making, really, that also incorporates or integrates our emotions and our body. 

[0:41:40] JS: In my mind, I'm parsing this into two layers. And so, I think it's helpful to articulate them as such. One is the layer of when we are in the space and we are sense-making, we are also tapping into our bodies. How does that feel this thing that you just said? And partially, of course, that's informed by our trauma. But Donnie McClurkin does some amazing work in his organization with just using our intuition and our gut to inform sense-making. That's just one. And obviously, there's not intuition. 

I mean, I actually got in a really interesting conversation with someone at the retreat. Is intuition and gut pure because we're tapping into source? Or is intuition and gut informed by our own personal story and trauma? Bookmark for another time. 

Suffice to say, there is a sense-making to tap into intuition. And also, there is a relational competence that is required that is not pervasive around I'm watching what's happening in my body. I am understanding that I'm feeling triggered. What just happened in the way that you spoke to me that did that or what just happened in my history that did that let you understand me so that we can understand how to engage productively. Let me take a step back and understand that I can't engage productively right now because I'm upset. And so, I think that competence in society writ large is really critical to be able to do this work that you're interested in and that we're talking about here. 

[0:43:05] SL: Yes. Well, and I would say two things. One is I often say, "Uh-oh. What's going to happen when we need scientists to tell us that we need to drink clean water and affection is important? Oh, shit. We're already there." Some truths should be self-evident. Some things we should not require truth for because we can just so deeply know them. That's one. 

You were saying is my trauma or is my gut instinct, is it something worth trusting? And how do I know? And I would say I have a kind of a silly kind of analogy. I have had experiences in my life where the shitty peanut butter like the Jif tastes good. And I have also had experiences in my life where the healthy peanut butter tastes good. 

But where I was in my life and what was going on and the entire ecology of it, I was definitely in a better place in my life when the healthy peanut butter was tasting good. You can look at the entire ecology of the situation. And it's similarly with toothpaste. It's like there have been times when I like the shitty kind, but like the things that were going on when Tom's tasted better to me. It's not just that it tastes better. It's like what else is going on in the ecosystem when that is what tastes better to you? Is that what you want to trust? We can tune our instruments. We can tune our instruments so that the gut is more trustworthy in a way that we want to trust. 

[0:44:26] JS: And that makes me think really important point again. Self-awareness is so important to bring into these conversations. Oh, I'm getting triggered. I'm not that productive right now. But also, there's a layer of dynamism that comes from – my sematic emotional response in this moment is contingent on things that have nothing to do with this conversation. 

I didn't sleep that much last night. I'm stressed about something else. No, I did this time. But I'm stressed about something else. I'm triggered because of this thing. And to really understand ourselves and that our feelings themselves and response is also contingent on lots of things I think is important.

And that goes back to the critical thinking, know thyself first. Person epistemics should be an essential part. I don't know if it's like before you tweet it or something, but there is a moment after you read something and it's like, "Okay, the thing." But then it's like why am I having this reaction to this thing is a question to be asked. 

[0:45:20] JS: And it's hard – because I don't know if you have some thoughts on this. I'm holding this as a steward of Denizen, as a curator of this conversation, of a moderator of these conversations. Because there is so much trauma. And we can't have a conversation about integration without saying, "Okay, there's deep trauma." And if we want to move forward as a society in the ways that we envision, that trauma needs to be tended to. 

And so, I have been in spaces where we are trying to have a conversation to get to synthesis and integration and someone gets triggered. And in that moment, their unprocessed trauma wants to come out. And what do we do is the right thing to do to – because when, suddenly, everyone's witnessing someone else's pain, as a moderator, you're not going be like, "That's great. Can we just table this? Because we're here to get down to business." That's not what you do. 

And I've had this happen on multiple occasions. It, at once, feels like, "Okay, we need to see this space and process this trauma." And sometimes that's not the right place to process the trauma. Sometimes the person who's surfacing the trauma is surfacing some really hard things to listen to potentially without the consent of the audience that is hearing them in the moment. 

I don't know, again, if this is something that we care about getting to the ability to have productive conversation to get to an integral perspective. What are your thoughts on how we address trauma and the likelihood of that trauma to come up in those moments and hold those conversations when that happens? 

[0:46:47] SL: That's a challenge. I mean, this goes without saying that I think it really depends on the context of course and what you're trying to achieve in that context. But I guess if the goal is integral sense-making, then we can consider trauma part of the first-person epistemics. 

Let's say – and this is very crude and I don't know – whatever. But let's say there was a conversation that was devoted to integral sense-making about X. Whatever X is. And you devoted a third of the time to first-person epistemic. Knowing ourselves and knowing our own biases, and triggers and traumas around this issue. A third of the time to knowing each other. Knowing each other's a third of the time. Really diving into the issue itself as it's been written about and taught throughout history. Then maybe there would be space there for that. But, yeah, that's a challenge. 

I guess I'll say one other thing though. I do also think that we're going through something right now that I often think it's like when we give birth to something, we have to make more room for it in order to give birth to it. It's a little bit of if you – I don't know if you've gone into Rupert Sheldrake and morphic resonance. I don't need to go into that here. But it's like the first time something happens, it needs the most room because it's never happened before. 

We might be even peak this. Like, including our personal trauma in a sense-making conversation is something we haven't really done in the past. Maybe we're at peak making room for it right now so that it can just be part of our sense-making apparatus. 

And then, as we like kind of learn how to do this, then it'll just kind of be part of the – we don't need to – yeah. Maybe we're in a moment right now with it. And that moment really needs to breathe.

[0:48:40] JS: Yeah. And this part of the conversation reminds me of a paper called White Supremacy Culture. It's a triggering paper for lots of people and a lot of people just like kind of disagree with it for a lot of reasons. I think that calling a white supremacy culture I think makes it challenging to engage with the content. But the content is really important. And I'm actually thinking about doing an episode on it soon. And it talks about just kind of dominant cultures and organizations that perpetuate white supremacy. 

And I might reframe it to say they just perpetuate whatever the dominant group is, which in our case is – yeah. And one of the things that they talk about, I just pulled up the paper, is quantity over quality. And I'm just going to read it because I think it's useful here, "Resources of an organization are directed to producing measurable goals." Analogous here is we are having a conversation and we have an outcome. 

Little or no value is attached to process. If it can't be measured, it doesn't have value. There is discomfort with emotions and feelings. No understanding that when there's a conflict between content, the agenda of the meeting, and process, people's need to be heard or engaged, process will prevail. 

For example, you may need to get through the agenda. But if you haven't paid attention to people's needs to be heard, the decisions made at the meeting are undermined and disregarded. 

And interestingly, Donnie – we'd go back to Donnie and the embodied leadership conversation, which is really powerful. He runs his organization in a really different way where it starts with people turning inwards and doing check-ins. Talking about what's going on with them. And there's an agenda. But sometimes when those check-ins happen, the agenda just gets thrown out the window with the belief that the agenda is irrelevant. We can't address the agenda until we've tended to the people here. And you were just at the retreat with me. And what did I say to everyone? We have a theme. It's activate. And we are here to connect. 

And we talk about the future we envision being caring at its core. And so, that need to first and foremost care for each other as individuals and not see each other as instruments for the task at hand. Whether that'd be changing the system or getting to an integral understanding of the thing I think is a useful piece of the puzzle and talking about I think this challenge with integration. Because on the topics that really matter, it's going to get really emotional and there's going to be a lot of trauma.

[0:50:51] SL: Yes. I would say it's not even just about caring. I mean, obviously it's also about reflecting on whether we have chosen a worthwhile goal to begin with, right? We can spend all our time focused on the goal. But when do we make time to question whether that is a worthy goal? When do we make time to question what is worth caring about to begin with? Yeah, definitely need it all. I mean, that is – again, just to go back to Judaism, that is part of the purpose of Shabbat, is we spend six days focused on the goal, the narrow goal that we have defined for ourselves. And at least one day, one day, 25 hours, sunset to sunset, just reflecting, remembering or, yeah, reconnecting with the bigger picture. 

[0:51:34] JS: Two more quick questions and they'll bridge quite nicely and it'll be a nice close to the conversation. You're executive producer of the podcast at the Center for Humane Technology. And so, you are very close to this question of how tech is influencing this. 

When we talk about integration, how do you think about doing this work in the context of the current information ecology? How do we overcome those dynamics of tuning into the channels that we want to confirm? Like, okay, we create these spaces and we have these practices. Does that offset it? Or is there something else to be said around acknowledging the fundamental challenge and doing what we're trying to do with the epistemic kind of reality, the information ecology? How does that get held in this for you? 

[0:52:19] SL: Yeah. I mean, again, we're swimming upstream in our current information ecosystem. There is an emergence. An emerging cadre of cultural influencers who they were on the left, they were cancelled by the left, but they're not on the right. Or they were on the right, they're – so where are they? They're kind of purple. I would put contra points in this category. I would actually even put Joe Rogan in this category. And people might disagree with me on that. But there are people who are left legacy media because they weren't able to be as nuanced as they want to and have gone independent. And their audiences are growing. I think there is a growing demand and a growing supply. 

That said, I think what can sometimes happen to these people, I'm not going to name any names, is they can often get stuck resenting the tribe that canceled them. And so, right now we're kind of learning how to do equal opportunity criticism. It's like, "Good job. You learned how to criticize the right and the left." But what we actually need is equal opportunity praise, right? We need that insight. 

I think we are streaming a stream. I do think that there is kind of a growing – it's emerging. It's emerging. And I think there are ways to redesign. But right now, the metrics that we get, we get just likes. We get vanity metrics. What about likes by people who usually don't like the same thing? There are all kinds of different ways to design these systems that would incentivize – 

[0:53:35] JS: Yeah. And Tobias has perspectives on solutions. And so, he has them at the policy level with CDA 230. But he also has solutions on the design level and product level. Companies know how to do this and they could do this. And then, also on our own personal. What do we tune into? How are we aware of our biases? We can look at what's there in the tech and how the tech could actually point us in a different direction. Of course, we can't do that without addressing the business model. But that's a separate conversation. 

I'm really curious here. Again, let's point back to tech and let's point back to CHT. Because CHT is super focused on AI right now and the trends in AI. Because we're talking about current state. And AI is poised to supercharge all that is problematic about our ability to make sense in the epidemic crisis. But I'm wondering, do you have thoughts on how AI could actually facilitate integration? 

[0:54:22] SL: I do actually. Two things. One is I think AI is actually kind of a perfect manifestation. We could even call it a lack of integr – because what AI does is it optimizes. The entire frame is optimization of one thing at the exclusion of others, right? Hence, the paperclip maximizer kind of notion of we tell it to make paper clips. Make maximum number of paperclips. And then it ends up turning the entire planet into paperclips. 

And the entire frame with integration is one of moving from optimizing for one metric to accounting for everything we value. Integrating everything we value. I think AI is kind of the perfect – I don't know. It's such a perfect kind of example of what we're manifestation of what we're ultimately up against here. 

And I'm going to say this in a very abstract way and then I'll give a more concrete example. But if we could somehow engage AI to help us shift from optimizing for a narrow metric to synergistically satisfying – sorry. That's such a nerdy way to put it. But that is what it is. Synergistically s fying for many, for everything we value. Then that would be a way that AI could help. I mean, a concrete – maybe I'll just leave it there. 

[0:55:44] JS: I appreciate that. Because as I'm thinking about, "Okay, but we have this really complex system." And again, Donella Meadows says we're so limited in our human capacity to understand it. But AI gives us the potential to extend our rational capacity to make sense of something beyond what our brains can do. Very interested in seeing what that looks. 

Okay. Thank you so much, Steph. This was great.

[0:56:10] SL: Thank you, Jenny. 

[0:56:10] JS: This is really great.

[0:56:11] SL: Yes. 

[0:56:12] JS: I think it's also just so timely with what's happening in the Middle East. It just clearly was meant to be. Thank you so much for joining us for this.

[0:56:19] SL: I appreciate you. Thank you, Jenny. Love you. And love Denizen. Yeah, may we here – I guess I can just conclude with a little prayer. Yeah, may we – I guess going back to my experience with the redwoods, may we redraw the lines in such a way that puts all of life on the same team. 

[0:56:41] JS: Perfect way to end that. Thanks so much, Steph. I'll see you soon.

[0:56:43] SL: Thank you. Yeah, see you soon.


[0:56:45] JS: Thank you so much for listening. And thanks to Scott Hansen, also known as Tycho, for our musical signature. In addition to this podcast, you can find resources for each episode on our website,, including transcripts and background materials. 

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