Donna Quesada: Good morning, Mr. Congressman. Congressman Tim Ryan: How are you?
Donna: I’m well, thank you. I’m Donna. It’s so nice to meet you.
Tim: Hi, Donna. Nice to meet you, too. Thanks for having me. Glad we worked it out.
Donna: I am too. And I’ll just officially say thank you for spending this time with us. It is so rare to meet a politician who brings language like mindfulness into the public lexicon. And we’re just grateful for your work and honored to have you.
Tim: Thank you. Well, I’m glad to be with you guys.
Donna: And we have a special way that we like to start. So if you don’t mind, we’ll get right into it. What does it mean to awaken, Mr. Congressman?
Tim: Well, we’re jumping right in, huh?
Donna: Have you had your coffee?
Tim: Yeah, yeah. I think to me, it’s tied to awareness of your own habits that you’ve developed, that you’re unaware of, and that is precluding you from really allowing the deepest part of you to shine through… and see your connection to other people… and that you are connected at a very, very deep level. And so, being awakened is to have that understanding that that junk going on in your head isn’t necessarily real. Sometimes it is, but most of the time it isn’t. And breaking through that noise is to be more awake.
Donna: It is so rare, as I was saying, to meet a politician who brings this language into the public, through your work as a writer and also through your work as a congressman. How does it help your work to bring this perspective of awakening and to bring your practice of mindfulness into the political arena?
Tim: I think in a couple ways. One, you’re dealing with people every single day who have their own set of issues. They’re dealing with traumas throughout their lives, delusions that they’re living in… And you have to kind of see through that into that they’re a child of God, if you come from the Catholic faith, as I do. Or many other religions see that the same way.
But we’re both coming from the same source. We’re connected to the same ecosystem at a very deep level. And so the practice has helped me see through that delusion and that insanity… And try to appreciate where people are coming from. And again, it’s not to apologize for what people have done. Some people need justice. Some people can’t be dealt with. It’s too deep of a problem for them, even to want to work together on anything, or find common ground on those kind of things. But that’s helped me work through some of that without getting overly frustrated. And believe me, I’ve had my moments… you may have seen speeches on the house floor that I’ve given over the years where a lot of frustration comes out. But I also think it’s important when you’re interacting with people like that. We’re an institution that seems to be blocked. You got to have the courage to speak up in a very forceful way. To try to penetrate, to try to wake people up to some extent. Not that it always works.
And the other piece is more from an analytical standpoint, or a strategic standpoint. It helps see the root cause of problems. It can then help you try to address the root causes of the ills of society or the broken systems that we have. And it’s like, well, the government’s broken, or Healthcare is not working, or education is not working. Well, why is it not working? What are the root causes of the problems? Not what are the band-aids we can put on? Because we know what the problems are. What are the root causes of the problems? The practices—mindfulness and meditation of all kinds, breathing techniques, breath-work, and body practices, all of these, to me, help you begin to get some clarity on both from the human aspect. But from also… how the systems are broken. And if we’re going to fix them, you better find out what the root causes are, or you’re not going to be fixing them.
And I think that’s some of the frustration we have today in the country, is that we have a lot of political leaders who want to put band-aids on things. They maybe know what the problems are. And they know what may sound good to put a band-aid on it. But it is not actually fixing the problem because it’s not getting to the root cause of the problem. And then years later, we’ll be frustrated with the leaders, we’ll be frustrated with the political party you belong to. Then the cycle continues. But that’s how it’s kind of helped me in those two main ways.
Donna: What would you say if we could boil it down or distill it down to one root cause as to why we seem to be so broken today as a nation?
Tim: I think, if you had to break it down to one thing, which may be really, overly simplified, but in some ways, maybe not, I think it’s disconnection. I think it’s that our society has become more and more disconnected. People have become… citizens have become more and more disconnected. So in a variety of ways, I think it starts with a real disconnection from nature. The concrete jungles, the lives we lead, the destruction of parks, lack of investment into Green Space and our communities. An appreciation for that. And even when they exist, kids are home on their Xbox or phones, and not experiencing that connection that we have with nature, which, I think is really important.
A disconnect to the deepest parts of who we are, as well… where the noise has captured us. The phones, the distractions, have captured us where there’s no time during a day where you sit beyond your thoughts… Beyond the machinations going on in your own head. And so we’ve become disconnected from the deepest parts of who we are. And that leads to a disconnection from each other and lack of time together. The pandemic exacerbated that problem that we had, that already existed. Disconnection is everywhere. And then you see it obviously spill out into our culture where there’s so much fear and anger. And that fear, I think, comes from that lack of connection.
I mean, you think about the evolution of our species. We really evolved with a reliance on each other. We weren’t the fastest, we weren’t the strongest, but we were able to figure out how to survive. And read each other’s facial cues, read each other’s emotions, develop a language that eventually allowed us to speak to each other. And that was always in the interest of survival. Like, hey, the lions over there are giving you the head nod. And then figuring out, remembering, and developing a brain that remembers. And remembers fear that allowed us to survive. So we really evolved as a species, as social animals. And so, when there’s a disconnection in that, that brings a lot of anxiety. Because it is a very deep level. It’s threatening your own survival. And so this disconnection you see in statistics… You see it in depths of despair that are out there now, whether it’s overdose, addiction, suicide, all of these things. I think most of those can be connected in some way to the disconnection. And then with that disconnection comes the fear, comes the anger, then comes the trauma, right? Then comes the violence in the home, domestic violence, violence in our communities. So it’s the disconnection, and then the fear and the anger, and then the trauma that stems from that.
And so… I think when we don’t go all in on how do we reconnect to each other?… There should be a big national service program where you have black kids, white kids, brown kids, gay kids, and straight kids working together. Americans from all quarters working together on projects after high school, or maybe during high school, or whatever. I really don’t care how we do it. It doesn’t matter to me, but that needs to be the end goal. Those are the kinds of examples where we’ve got to start figuring out how to knit back together the communities that we come from.
That’s why I think downtown redevelopment’s important. Bike trails, outdoor investments into our parks and to our bike trail systems, renovating theaters and downtown. Building communities again in the downtown areas. That seems like a semi-insignificant thing, but I think it’s one idea of how we’re going to bring people together. National service, how we’re going to bring people together. We’ve got to really think about it. Because the underlying problem is disconnection. So how does the national effort, whatever that may be, promote connection? And then we know there’s a lot of trauma out there from the disconnection. So how do we create and reimagine an education system that goes all in on the trauma? Trauma-informed care, social and emotional learning, these kinds of practices that we talk about here, that can help address the trauma.
How do we create a VA system with our veterans? Still, 20-plus vets a day take their own lives. So how do we look into things like psilocybin that are having amazing impacts on trauma? How do we look at CBD? The efforts around cannabinoids… And there’s a whole new medical marijuana field that’s opening up. We know very little about it now, but we know it’s working, healing veterans, and healing others. So how do we build a healthcare system around that as opposed to getting you on 15 or 20 prescription drugs a day?
So, in all of these things, there’s a way to root cause, trauma, disconnect. That’s where our policy efforts need to be. And the optimistic side of me says those aren’t partisan issues. Those aren’t… you’re democrat, or you’re a republican, if you’re for one of these things. I don’t know. It doesn’t… you’re an American… how do we fix it?
Donna: A human issue. It’s human. It’s being human. It’s very refreshing to hear you using the language of connection and alternative… What is considered alternative treatments for trauma… Because we don’t often hear that language in the political field, in this sphere. It must be challenging for you to go up against a lot of the close-mindedness that you undoubtedly encounter. How do you deal with that?
Tim: Well that’s how it is. I think a lot of this… not creating some extra drama around it… it’s just how it is. Every new idea, there’s an arc to the new idea. There’s an arc to the new way of looking at things.
Donna: And eventually, they can jump…
Tim: Eventually, people come along. And usually, the United States Congress is the last to the dance on these things, too. I mean, you can look back to women’s suffrage. You can look back to civil rights. It was kind of the last one that’s finally… we figured out we have to solve this problem. That’s just kind of the way it is. But underneath, I think there’s a lot more support for these things and openness to these things, than you would perceive. Because it’s not on the news all the time. You’re getting the conflict on the news. And now people are kind of on to it. And you can see with the current political system, it’s rotting. It’s a rotting system, we’re awaiting a new… a blooming. But you watch the politics. You see what goes on, you know, it’s the end of the current system as we know it. It’s just very obvious. And the question is going to be, what’s the new system that is going to emerge? And I don’t know if it’s next year, next month, five years, ten years, I don’t know the answer to that. But I know, through my travels running for the senate in Ohio, and around the country, that there’s a whole group of people in this country that are ready to push that new America forward. And I call it America 2.0. How do we get to that point?
Donna: When I spoke to Marianne Williamson, we talked about this kind of false divide between spirituality and politics. And I do agree that there is a false divide. Because when we use this language of bringing togetherness back and relating to one another as beings, dropping down into the heart, if you will. This is spiritual language. But it also bridges the gaps that are causing all of this friction, hatred, fighting, and fear that you speak of. So perhaps, we need more of that spiritual language in this arena?
Tim: America’s a spiritual country. It always has been, in some way. It’s done a lot of bad… there’s been a lot of… We know the history of this country. And we know, we didn’t always meet those high ideals that were set. But I think those ideals were very high-minded, very aspirational. You can look on the dollar bill. You can see the Latin phrases like, “Novus ordo seclorum,” I believe it is. It’s like a new order for the ages. It was a whole new… It was mind-blowing that we could put this whole thing together. And here we are, still trying to make it better, still trying to move to a more perfect union. But I think, when you look at the leaders that you and I would recognize, honor, and be proud of… President Kennedy… I’ve got a statue of President Kennedy here.
Donna: I noticed it.
Tim: President Lincoln, I mean, you look at those leaders, Lincoln, Kennedy, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson. Flawed human beings, but in some sense, amazing spiritual leaders. You read their speeches… You read their public statements. You read their… you see their public courage around civil rights, around emancipating the slaves. Just look at George Washington. Can you imagine today, someone having as much political power as he did after serving two terms as president… And he steps down. The king in England and leaders around the world thought he was insane to give up his power. But that was a spiritual act. That was a moral act. That was a values-based act. It’s just like, how do we keep… And I think part of the problem today is, we have leaders who aren’t pitching us into that other realm that John Kennedy pitched us in. And he had the visual too, of like, we’re going to the moon. So it was, yeah, we’re… We’re operating at another level here. Lincoln, taking on the issue of slavery, like courageous, bold. But the right thing… people knew. Unfortunately, sometimes the leaders who end up in the backlash of those kinds of things, manifest in some pretty gruesome acts.
Donna: What is your pet issue, or the issue that faces us today, the way slavery did yesterday?
Tim: Well, we have a lot of them. I think the ones we talked about aren’t as sexy, or glamorous. But the issues of disconnection, I think are underlying. And I think, we have to re-evaluate how we look at politics. So politics to me, is downstream of culture. And Lincoln always used to say, too, the only thing that matters is public opinion. Because if you don’t get public opinion on your side, you can’t do anything. Because the Congress, the way our government is set up is really to reflect the whims, in some sense, of the people. You’ve got a bunch of human beings who want to get reelected. So the key for leaders is, how do you shift the culture in the disconnection piece? That’s a culture piece. The understanding of trauma is like a cultural… an awakening, an awareness.
And understanding that… that is the root cause of the problem. And so, the first step has got to be leaders saying the issue is disconnection. The issue is trauma. The issue is not going to be solved with a 10-point policy plan. Because that plan, no matter how good it is… it’s not going to work if the people don’t understand why you’re doing it.
I’ll use the example of civil rights. The civil rights was not moving until there were baby steps, integration of the military through Truman, and those kind of things. But why it worked in my mind, is that there was a generation of Americans who then were embodied by President Kennedy, who served with each other in the war, fighting fascism, terrorism, Hitler, the whole nine yards. And it was the Tuskegee Airmen.
It was Italian Catholics from Youngstown. It was Irish Catholics from New York. It was Jews from New York, and Connecticut New Jersey, whatever, right? They were all on that boat, going over and on the boat coming back. They were the ones who served with each other, bled with each other. They fell in love with each other, they lost each other.
So, that generation came back and understood why they were fighting. And when President Kennedy went on TV and said, how can we fight for freedom around the world when we don’t even have it here at home with all our citizens, or for all our citizens? That resonated with a generation of Americans, who went through the depression together, fought the war together, and had common cause together. So the culture was ripe for the political evolution. That’s why I say we’ve got to figure out how to knit this thing back together. I mean, we’re completely divided, literally, in the political sense, too. A republican analyst… barely a Democratic Senate, and barely a Democratic president. It’s a divided country. So we’ve got to shift the culture. And that means a conversation. Like, I’ve got ideas about what’s the policy to heal the trauma. What are the policies to heal the disconnect, to bring people together? I’ve got a laundry list, you and I could talk. We could drink coffee and tea all day, talking about those things. But if we don’t shift the culture, the policies aren’t going to shift.
Donna: What you’re saying is, underneath the income inequality, the homelessness, the discrimination, all of these things, is the same root cause… that we’ve got to find a way to realize that we’re on the same side here?
Tim: Yeah. 100%. Like, if you don’t feel connected to people in the community, you’re not going to care about the homeless person, right? And you just thought, in part, of the income inequality. The financial institutions of the country got disconnected from the workers of the country in the last 30 or 40 years. And so, you have workers that are stressed and fearful. They’re like, I would love to care about the homeless person. I would love to care about the climate change. I don’t have time. I’m trying to pay my bills, and if you think I’m a bad guy, fine. But I don’t have time for that. Because I don’t have the bandwidth.
That’s why that connection has got to be… the drop in Union Workforce. Unions were like the community… that was the connection, when 30%, 35% of the workforce in the United States was tied to unions. You can look at who went to church, and who belonged to the rotary. That generation, the greatest generation, they did all that stuff. They were connected in every which way. That’s got to be the focus. But you’re right… because it’s that disconnection that allowed a system to be put in place to have the level of income inequality that we have. If that’s not fixed… if we don’t have really rich people in the United States seeing themselves in the workers who are just trying to make a living, and saying, “Yeah, the system’s kind of screwed up. We’ve got to do something about this,” then we’re not going to get to where we need to be.
Read and Watch Part 2 Here: Awaken Interviews Congressman Tim Ryan Pt 2 – People Want to Know You Care
Read and Watch Part 3 Here: Awaken Interviews Congressman Tim Ryan Pt 3 – We’re All In This Together