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Alexei Navalny Receives New Prison Sentence; Interview With Kehinde Wiley. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired February 02, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Fighting for his freedom in court. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny says the Russian president is going to go down in
history as Putin the poisoner. Hundreds of protesters are locked up. And I ask both sides, what comes next?
Then: the unique take of artist Kehinde Wiley. He joins us with new works and a new project from his Senegal studio.
ADAM GRANT, THE WHARTON SCHOOL OF UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Our instinct is to become preachers and talk about why we're right or prosecutors and
try to make it clear that the other person is wrong. And that just makes them defensive.
Psychologist Adam Grant tells our Walter Isaacson how to listen to reach people you might find beyond the pale.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The British, the European, and the U.S. governments are tonight condemning the sentencing of Alexei Navalny to more than two-and-a-half years in jail.
As the Russian opposition leader awaited the verdict, he drew a heart for his wife, Yulia, on the glass wall of his courtroom cage.
He was accused of breaking the terms of his parole, but Navalny ridiculed that, saying: "I fell into a coma. Then I was in the ICU, then in
rehabilitation. I contacted my lawyer to send you a notice. You had the address. You had my contact details. What else could I have done to inform
Navalny, of course, fell into that coma after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in August, and he pins the blame on the Russian
president, Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin denies it.
His arrest after recovering in Germany sparked the latest unprecedented protests around the nation. And right after the verdict, Navalny's team
called for more protests. Parts of Moscow are now in lockdown amid a massive police presence.
So, how much of a threat is Navalny to Putin's grip on power?
We will get both sides tonight, first from Sergey Markov, a former Russian member of Parliament in Putin's party, United Russia. And he's joining me
Welcome to the program, Mr. Markov.
So, can I ask you for your immediate reaction? Is this making Navalny a martyr? Is this really what Putin wants?
SERGEY MARKOV, FORMER RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: No, it's not what Putin wants, but you don't want Navalny to stay in prison, and during a few
years, Kremlin protected Alexei Navalny from going to jail.
And I say Navalny has very unusual, two conditional arrests, which no one, another Russian citizen has. But after the sharp attack against Vladimir
Putin started as a decision was, OK, law just law for Alexei Navalny, and also a demand from our Russian society.
This was also taken account that Vladimir Putin doesn't differentiate Alexei Navalny, because, for him, Alexei Navalny not independent Russian
politician, but just political agent of a big Western coalition.
MARKOV: ... Neo from "Matrix" movie. And he has a real conflict with Matrix.
Alexei Navalny just one of the universe's Mr. Smith which had been created by Matrix and who is attacking now Putin.
AMANPOUR: OK, so that is a really quite an interesting film that you are portraying for us, using all the Hollywood terms.
But the fact of the matter is -- and we will take each in turn -- first, I want to ask you, Sergey Markov, does it not sound ridiculous that he was
condemned for violating the terms of his parole when he was lying in a deathly coma?
I mean, that is absurd on its very face. That goes back to Soviet era absurdity, doesn't it?
MARKOV: It will be absurdity if it will be true.
But it's not the fact. Alexei Navalny left hospital in the middle of September. Then he had October, November, December and part of January to
show up. But he never used this more than 100 days to show up.
MARKOV: So, also, Alexei Navalny violated these rules even before this incident of his poisoning.
I believe that he also had been poisoning, but, of course, not by order of Russian authorities, because Russian authorities has politics to kill
political opponents, no such politics.
Well, let me just fill you in on what the rest of the world thinks. As you know, Germany believes that he had been poisoned, and at the direction of
As you know, the British had a public inquiry when Alexander Litvinenko was killed here in London. And they said it was tied to the Kremlin and that
Putin had ordered it.
So, let's just put that aside.
Now, I want to know from you. When you say he violated his parole, the guy was arrested when he came back to Moscow, presumably, to deal with his
parole and all the rest of it and carry on his politics.
But I want to know what you think is going to happen. You have seen the unprecedented protests around the nation. It's not Moscow and St.
Petersburg, the usual centers. It's all over, huge.
What do you think is going to happen now that he's been sentenced to this lengthy prison term?
MARKOV: Just -- again, it's in two questions, first about the whole world.
Don't make mistake to replace the whole world by a coalition of the Western countries. Only NATO members and close allies of the United States believe
that Moscow is guilty of all the poisoning and Russia is wrong, but most of the world more positive toward Vladimir Putin.
Great China, great India, great Brazil, and most of the other countries look with big sympathy on Vladimir Putin and Russia once they're fighting
against imperialist power of the Western countries. Forget about your former imperialism. It's one.
Second, about mass protests. I expect that some protests will happen tomorrow. But don't overestimate mass support of Alexei Navalny, because
Alexei Navalny is supported only very small group of Russian society, probably no more than 5 percent.
It is very -- they're very aggressive, but they are more looks like a political sect. You know, sects usually are very active and very
aggressive. And supporters of Alexei Navalny are from those people who believe that, in the conflict between the Russia and the Western countries,
Western countries are right, and Russia is wrong, Russia should recognize hegemony of the Western countries.
But, as understand, a majority of Russia believes that Western countries are wrong and Russia is right, and Russia should keep its independence.
Russia independent more than four, and want to stay as such.
And political agent of the Western countries Alexei Navalny can behave, can exist, can make politics, but they will never get real political support
from Russian population.
AMANPOUR: OK, so I know that's what you want to believe. And most people don't believe that Alexei Navalny is a puppet of the West at all. And if he
was, all these tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands wouldn't be coming out on the street all over Russia.
I want to ask you a serious question, because you're right. Up until now, President Putin has enjoyed the popularity of the majority of the Russian
people. That's absolutely true. But it seems to be changing, because this loyalty, this patriotism that you talk about is being eaten away by real
The sanctions are beginning to move into the political space. People have seen their wages take about a 10 percent hit gradually over the last --
over the last seven or so years. People are fed up. They're also fed up with the corruption. They're fed up with no space to breathe.
That's what they're saying now. And internal studies are saying that the people who have come to protest, at least 42 percent of them have never
protested before in Russia.
Are you not concerned about the realities inside your country?
MARKOV: You know, there are a lot of protest potential in Russia (INAUDIBLE)
People dissatisfied by zero economic growth during almost 10 years, people dissatisfied by social injustice, people dissatisfied by a lack of high
technology in the industry of Russia. People hate oligarchs. That is right.
But this protest potential is not going to people which is regarded as agent of the Russian enemies. They will go to leftists and to the
To answer to your question about Russia -- Alexei Navalny and the West, the answer will be very simple. Do not any one politically serious issue on the
position of Alexei Navalny differ from the position of the United States of America State Department and United States of America Central Intelligence
Agency, no one.
That is why people believe that he is a political agent. That is why his political support will be quite limited. Don't overestimate.
This is not only my opinion.
MARKOV: ... attacking for Alexei Navalny, popularity of Vladimir Putin not decrease, but increase.
And number of people who want to take part in the mass protests now, after these 10 days of intensive protests, are not increased, but decreased. More
popularity of Vladimir Putin will...
MARKOV: ... Alexei Navalny.
AMANPOUR: OK, so I just want to ask you a last question.
Freedom and democracy, lack of corruption, a decent living wage is not a CIA policy. It's a human policy. And it seems to be that that's what people
in Russia are reacting to.
But I want to ask you one last quick question. Is your government prepared to keep arresting people if, indeed, these protests continue and get
bigger, as they may do? You don't know that they won't. So, are they prepared to just keep going out there and hauling in thousands and
thousands of people?
MARKOV: I think, let's understand the policy of Russian law enforcement institutions to arrest activists or those who organize the protests which
is not set up as a time and place with authorities.
Previous, 3,000 and 5,000 have been arrested, and 95 percent of them, even 98 percent of them, have been liberated in a few hours. Same, I think, will
MARKOV: You will now an increase of protests because of (INAUDIBLE) Alexei Navalny. Once there, you will see decreasing cause of protests, and it will
be come to the zero in one month.
AMANPOUR: All right, we will we will watch.
Sergey Markov, thank you for joining us from the government perspective there.
Now, listening into that conversation and joining us is Marina Litvinenko. Her husband, Alexander, was the first high-profile Russian dissident to be
poisoned by polonium right here in London in 2006. And a British public inquiry, as I said, found his death was probably ordered by President Putin
The Kremlin denies any involvement.
His widow, Marina Litvinenko, is joining us now from Munich.
Welcome to the program.
You heard the Putin point of view. You heard the government point of view that. Do you believe that these protests are going to fizzle out, now that
Alexander "Alexei" Navalny has been sentenced to more than two-and-a-half years in jail? What do you think's going to happen on the ground?
MARINA LITVINENKO, WIDOW OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO: Very good evening. Thank you very much for inviting me.
And I think previous speech was very interesting, and as the best example how people in Kremlin try to describe situation in Russia. It's
unbelievable. I even should not smile, but I can't stop smiling, because it's really, really difficult to believe how people try to say lies in this
way, because we are living in an open air.
We have communication through the Internet, and we can see everything by ourselves. But as this previous commentator, what he said, I even couldn't
LITVINENKO: But I can't be like him to try to say, in one month, we will not have any protests. For sure, I don't know.
But what happened for last two weeks, it's unprecedented, because it's never happened before. You are absolutely right. Many people never ever,
ever before when for protests. Not the same cities what they saw in the middle of Russia protested like it happened for last two weeks.
And very important to say people went to these protests not only because Alexei Navalny. It's mostly because of themselves. It's -- even they maybe
not supported Alexei Navalny, because, yes, it's a lot of questions to him.
But many people realize they can't live this life anymore, because they don't want this life for their children. They don't want to answer to their
children why you stay at home, when they needed to go outside.
And it's not only Alexei Navalny. It's a team -- it's more than 10 years is his organization has operated. From few people, it's more people. And I
believe production and investigation documentaries would be produced even after Alexei Navalny would be in prison.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because you have a very personal relationship to what's going on.
As I said, your husband was one of the first, if not the first high-profile dissident to be killed, to be bumped off, let's face it, polonium poisoning
here in the U.K.
What would you say to Yulia, Alexei Navalny's wife? And how do you see -- where do you think the Kremlin might draw a line in this kind of reaction
to political opposition?
LITVINENKO: You are absolutely right.
For what happened to Alexei Navalny and his family, it's very personal to me. And for what happened in 2006 in London, and what happened now, in
Russia, in Berlin and Moscow, it's very, very touching. And I do understand what Yulia Navalny is going through, because, in my experience, being in
the Russian court is well, and understanding you can't find any truth.
Even they try to do everything in the law way, why Alexei Navalny agreed to come back to Moscow, because he knew he would be arrested, but he still
believe in some law system still survives in Russia. But what you saw today, it didn't.
But in my situation, I was in U.K. It was a different background. It was a different investigation, different support. But what I see now, and Yulia
and Alexei and his colleagues, everybody have a lot of supporters now. It's a new generation of young people who are very brave.
And for what Alexei Navalny, it's very important to them to feel and to see how the real politician could be honest and brave.
AMANPOUR: So, what do you think? Because we have seen immediate condemnation from the United States, from Europe, from here, the British
Putin intends to shrug off the idea of sanctions, but from what I'm beginning -- what I'm able to sort of gather is that these sanctions over
the period of years, and as they ratchet up, have actually got a cumulative effect on people's living wage, on their actual economic health.
And that's one of the reasons why they're out on the streets. What should the Democratic world, the West, those who support Navalny's fight for
democracy, how should they respond, do you think, against Putin?
LITVINENKO: I would like to remind you, Alexei Navalny himself say no sanctions against Russia state, because these sanctions against ordinary
And, of course, he is like a politician, didn't like ordinary Russian people will suffer. But he's pointed personal sanctions, and he even named
people who need to be under sanctions. And these people very heavily involved in a business with Western businessmen.
And this will be a very important question. Would you like to do business as usual with the people who support a state who kill, who poison people,
who put people to prison? This is another question.
And in this way, I would be -- mention Magnitsky law. And it would be very important if more countries would accept this Magnitsky law. When there's a
list of people involved in this crime against of politicians, of oppositions who supported this regime, anti-democratic competition, they
need to be in this list and they need to be under sanctions.
And, of course, we're talking about in a very difficult period of time because of coronavirus, economical crisis. But we need to remember, one
day, it will be finished. And we need to think, what money do you accept?
And I point at it again. You don't need to do business as usual.
Let me play you a little bit of really Navalny's manifesto. I spoke to him in December, before he came back and was arrested in January. And this is
what he said to me about Putin, about the state of Russia right now and the state of the people right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: I don't want Putin to be ruling of Russia. I don't him being president, I don't want him being czar of
Russia, because, well, he's killing people. He's reason why our -- the whole country is degrading.
He's the reason why people are so poor. We have 25 million people living below the poverty line, and the whole degradation of system, unfortunately,
for me, including system of assassination of people. He's the reason of that.
And I want to go back and try to change it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Marina, he wants to try to change it.
But in the polls, in several polls done internally in Russia, before these protests and before Navalny went back and was arrested, Putin's popularity
was hovering around 65 to 69 percent. A good two-thirds of the people supported him.
Do you think that's changing? And do you think Navalny has a chance to be, if it's not him, just to at least convene a proper opposition?
LITVINENKO: You have to understand it's still a lot of people in Russia believe to Russia state TV channels, to newspapers, or any other services,
and, of course, all anti-propaganda about Navalny.
And we heard just a few minutes ago calling him as a Western agent supported only by Western alliance, what Sergey Markov said about Alexei
Navalny. And, for some people, Navalny was exactly like this.
But when he returned back to Russia, many people saw, no, something is wrong. It's not an agent, is a really brave man. He could stay in Germany,
and became political asylum or staying just and saying something very good, but not being in Russia.
But he came back to Russia. And for many people who didn't support him before, maybe changed his mind, and, what we already say, went first time
to this protest.
And, again, when Sergey Markov said he is nobody, it's nobody afraid of him. But could you explain to me why you need to reverse or take another
airport to land as his flight? What's the reason? Why you need to bring so many policemen, security service to this demonstration?
Why you not allow people just peacefully came through the streets for two hours and get home after that? Not. And what happened today during this we
can call justice in the court, it was just occupated. All center was just blocked. People couldn't travel, couldn't go.
And what I read just now from news, people just -- if they decide to get out from tube station, they would be arrested.
LITVINENKO: Almost three days, people after arresting on Sunday meeting, still be not able to get home. They have not any charge. They have not any
accusation. They are just traveling on a bus, three days without food normal, water, even using facilities.
Why? Why do you say Alexei Navalny is nobody?
AMANPOUR: All right.
LITVINENKO: Why? Why are you just afraid of him so much?
AMANPOUR: Well, they're clearly demonstrating that. And we will continue, obviously, to watch this unfold.
Marina Litvinenko, thank you your incredibly valuable and personal perspective there.
And now we turn to the celebrated American artist Kehinde Wiley. In 2018, he rose to global superstardom with his presidential portrait of Barack
Obama. Since then, he's scaled up his ambition and his work. He spent last year at his studio in Senegal, West Africa, which is called Black Rock.
He's also mentoring a whole new generation of artists, with the second-year students to his Black Rock residency.
Kehinde Wiley joins me now from there, from the capital, Dakar.
Welcome to the program, Kehinde. It's good to have you back.
Tell me what it was like to spend the -- I guess the whole of 2020 and the pandemic in West Africa, instead of in the United States. What was it like
KEHINDE WILEY, ARTIST: It was quite a change of pace.
It's a -- I think it's been a huge adjustment for so many of us. But I think, as an artist, it's been an opportunity to slow down, to pay
attention to aspects of my creative process that I hadn't before, but I think, in some ways, to see the world differently.
I'm so used to working in my studio in Brooklyn and coming here to West Africa for short, brief visits. But, this time, I'm actually living and
working here full time. And it's giving me a sense in which I explore Senegal much more, I explore Africa from a very American perspective.
But I'm also looking at America from a distance. And I'm -- for the last year been seeing so much -- so much change, so much turmoil, so much
confusion. And I think that, for artists of all stripes, functions as a means of challenging ourselves to create new ways of thinking about our own
practices, and about the world that we look at and respond to as artists.
AMANPOUR: Well, before I ask you about reacting to that seminal American year which you spent overseas, I just want to ask you about the works
I think they're some of your latest works. I'm not sure whether they're finished or you're working on them. Tell me about -- you have got -- I can
see the flowers. I can see the young man with the -- is it a leopard or a tiger on his front? Tell me about them.
WILEY: OK, so most of what I have been doing within the last few months is working with subjects who happened to be either at Black Rock, employees of
Black Rock, basically friends and family, the community surrounding me.
We have been braced down for quarantine. And so it's been a time to sort of make paintings about those people who happen to be around. One of the
people that is in the painting behind me is a studio assistant here who volunteered to be a subject of the painting. And then, of course, she
chooses the next person who gets to be a subject in the painting.
It becomes kind of a relay race here at Black Rock. Again, I'm continuing some of the themes in my work, which is using classical poses, ones that
are borrowed from historical paintings.
But I'm also infusing those narratives with the bodies of young black and brown people, who you often don't see in the great museums throughout the
world, kind of changing the narrative of what it means to be resplendent, noble, visible, and celebrated in a painting.
AMANPOUR: And you have done so much of that, made ordinary people, black people look resplendent, noble in all the works that you have done.
And I want to ask you potentially to sort of tie this to what you have been observing from afar, a reckoning or not yet in the United States after the
-- I would say the execution of George Floyd. Given that you're in Senegal, which was part of the slave trade, fostered by the Dutch, it's had its own
Are you able to sort of, I don't know, compare and contrast what you're seeing and living there, compared to what's happening in the United States
on this issue and the legacy of slavery and racism?
WILEY: Well, the blast zone of George Floyd was global.
I think what it did was, it made people of all peripheral positions wake up and say that their lives matter as well. And I think it emboldened a
conversation that allowed people to say, enough already. All manner of feet and knees on next need to stop.
The George Floyd murder is something that we see from many different points of view. But I think, for the first time in history, the technology was
there to make us all slow down. During the corona crisis, we were all sitting at home and having the time to really collectively be horrified and
terrorized by the moment.
And I think part of being here and being at an arm's distance from America allows me to see it as that much more of a freak show, that much more of a
nightmare that only needs to be seen in social media to be understood.
AMANPOUR: About that and about a so-called reckoning, you said to "The New York Times" recently -- or in the summer -- "I'm not impressed yet. I'm
seeing a lot of self-aggrandizing and self-congratulations on the part of our white allies."
Fill that out a little bit. And what do you think? What do you think should happen? What would you like to see happen, like a truth and reconciliation
event in the United States?
So much of that opportunity that arose during the conversation surrounding not only George Floyd's death, but so many young black and brown men and
women throughout the United States who have been subject to state violence.
What we had and continue to have is an opportunity to have and effect real change. What we are talking about educational reform, prison reform. What
we are talking about is substantial reanalysis of the way that justice and policing is carried out in the United States. So often what we do is that
we have these moments where we can all get around a meme, post it on social media and feel good about it and then the moment carries on. The moment
should not carry on. The moment should not pass.
The 24-hour news cycle should not have anything to do with the justice that should be served for any one of those bodies, any one of those lives, any
one of those stories that we see sadly increasingly across America. And so, when I said that I was not satisfied with -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
AMANPOUR: No, no. Go ahead.
WILEY: When I said that I wasn't satisfied with self-congratulations, I simply said that posting Black Lives Matter memes that on social media is
not enough. I think that what we need is much more in the way of political organization, galvanizing all of our allies, people of goodwill towards
making and effecting key legal and social change.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you about change and how you observe, you know, what is around you in relation to your art. Because, again, you
really had these amazing standout pieces that we have not seen anywhere else. And right now, your latest, one of the latest works is this massive
ceiling in the new part or the new old part of Penn Station in Manhattan, it's the old post office and it's been amazingly redone. And you have a
huge work there, a fresco, that you say is sort of inspired by Michelangelo's creation fresco in Sistine Chapel, but it is all black
people and it is all break dancing. I want you to tell me about that.
WILEY: Well, I think it is inspired by Michelangelo but it is also inspired by so many artists who worked in the ceilings and worked towards
the kind of heavenly divine space. I am thinking about Tiepolo and his ceiling frescos, I'm thinking about a sense of light and buoyancy and
religiosity in painting that happens and it's more about a type of optimism in that particular body of work.
What I wanted to do is I wanted to fuse the language of the 1970s and 1980s when young black and brown kids evolved the language that we call the hip
hop, that we call break dancing, that we call this new means of expressing yourself and transpose that into something that is cathedral like. Stained
glass is what the material is. And in stained glass, light actually pierces through the material and bathes the viewer in light.
Here, in this new piece of work, what you are starting to see is a new sense of levity, optimism and sheer light turned towards the bodies of
young black and brown New Yorkers. And I think that that type of work, that type of optimism and celebration of American possibilities is what New York
really needs right now, what America really needs right now. I think it's really coming along at a very timely moment.
AMANPOUR: So, back to where you are right now, the Black Rock Studio in Senegal. I don't know whether all your entrants or your residents are
African or are they from all over the world, I am not sure, you can tell me, but what are you -- I think what you're trying to do is, through art,
also expand the discourse of what it means to be African and about what Africa is. Tell me a little bit about that.
WILEY: Well, my first time coming to Africa was as a young African- American who grew up raised by a single mother in South Central Los Angeles. I came to Africa to find my father. My mother and father broke up
before I was born. He goes to Nigeria. I get on a plane at the age of 18 and stop on my way to Nigeria at a small town -- trying to find him in a
small town in Nigeria.
But my first stop was in Senegal. And so, all of the years later, I wanted to come back and try to rediscover Senegal and I created a space where I
can create my work but I can also invite any number of artists. Black Rock is a studio program that has an open call to artists from all over the
world with the specific interest in the conversation around how we see Africa, how we can engage Africa but also invite African artists themselves
to work here and collaborate with artists from all over the world.
And so, what we have is a kind of catalyst, a moment in which Senegal, Dakar as a city, becomes the cause for a conversation and a place in which
black artists, Asian artists, artists from all over the world can work, collaborate and evolve a new sense of what Africa means and what the
possibilities are for the way that we think about this as a place and a state of mind.
AMANPOUR: Well, Kehinde Wiley, thank you so much. It's great to see you and it's great to see all that wonderful color and all those works that
we've been showing during our conversation.
Now, we just want to mark the passing of an ordinary man who captured the hearts of the whole world, Captain Tom Moore, the British World War II
veteran who raised almost $45 million for the NHS by walking laps in garden died today at the age of 101 after being hospitalized with COVID-19 and
pneumonia. The queen who knighted him last July sent condolences to his family who were with him in his final hours.
Now, here's a question, in our world of tribalism and echo chambers, it is possible to unlearn firmly held beliefs and opinions? Adam Grant is an
organizational psychologist who explores how to navigate discussions with people that you disagree with. His latest book is called "Think Again: The
Power of Knowing What You Don't Know."
And here he is talking with our Walter Isaacson talking about steps to bridging these divides.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNNI HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, Adam Grant, welcome to the show.
ADAM GRANT, AUTHOR, "THINK AGAIN": Thanks, Walter. Great to be here.
ISAACSON: So, you have this great new book "Think Again" and the point of it is that people who are really good leaders they aren't just the smart
ones, they are able to pivot, they are able to rethink things. Give me an example of how you would use that to get people to rethink vaccines,
because there are so many people, it seems, who are resistant to getting the vaccines.
GRANT: Yes. I think that we should start with what doesn't work. We know that when we try to convince other people to open their minds, our instinct
is to become preachers and talk about why we are right or prosecutors and try to make it clear that the other person is wrong, and that just makes
I think what we want to do instead is show a little bit of humility and curiosity and say, look, I would love to know what your concerns are, as
well as whether you have any reasons to consider a vaccine. And I think we have seen a lot of people who are hesitant because they feel like it is a
threat to their freedom. And one of the things I would do is I would actually reframe the vaccine as a source of freedom, to say, look, if we
can get enough people vaccinated, we can recover from this pandemic.
ISAACSON: That is interesting, because you are framing it in ways that says, you should not just think about what it will do for yourself but what
it will do for everybody else and give them freedom. Does that work better than appealing to somebody's self-interest?
GRANT: It seems to. My colleague, Dave Hoffman (ph) and I actually did some experiments years ago in hospitals where we were trying to get doctors
and nurses to wash their hands. And we found that reminding them that that would protect them from getting diseases did no good whatsoever. But when
we said, think about vulnerable patients, they actually become more likely to wash., And there's been some evidence around COVID that, at least in
March, encouraging people to think about not spreading it was actually more effective than getting them to think about not getting it.
And, Walter, one of the big reasons for that is we are all vulnerable to an illusion of invincibility. I don't believe that I'm going to get sick. I
don't want to believe that I am going to be at risk. Whereas, with other people, particularly the vulnerable population, I recognize that, yes, you
know, this might be dangerous. So, I think doing it for grandma is one of the more effective arguments that we have.
ISAACSON: And you have a friend who has been anti-vax for a while and you almost lost your friendship, but then you applied your new methods and
you're going to restore your friendship and open both of your minds, right?
GRANT: I think we did both become more openminded. So, one of the first things I learned was he didn't want to be identified as anti-vaxxer. He
said, look, I try to look at this in a way the pros and cons for me and my family, and my views are a lot more nuanced than that, and that was a
lesson for me to say, you know what, whatever your stance is, it is probably not always going to fall under one label.
And I think my biggest breakthrough in conversation was just to say, look, you know, I know there are probably some situations where you'd be more and
less likely to consider a vaccine. What would lead you to say maybe? And he said, well, you know, if I were in an area with a major outbreak, I would
definitely at least look at the evidence. And I never heard him admit before that he was even open to the possibility. So, I don't expect him
necessarily get any vaccines anytime soon, but it was a mark of progress.
ISAACSON: One of the amazing things that you pulled off was getting the Red Sox fans to not hate the Yankees? How did you do that?
GRANT: Well, that might be a high bar. But my colleagues and I tried a couple of approaches that did not work. So, I ran a couple of experiments
with Tim Condrio (ph) early on where we said, let's humanize a fan of the opposing side.
So, you know, if you are a Red Sox fan, let's think about all of the great attributes of Yankee fans, totally ineffective. Right. People just said,
well, that person, you know, routs for the wrong team. And then we tried to give them a common identity as baseball fans, and they said, yes, but I
understand we both love baseball, unfortunately, they are on the ugly side of this debate. So, I can't get on board with that.
What was effective was when we got them to think about how their allegiance to a team was actually malleable, that it's not something that was innate
or fixed. So, we said, hey, Red Sox fans, who would do you think you would rout for if you had been born in a different city? And we did the same for
the Yankees' fans, who said, hey, if you grew up in Boston, who do you think would be your favorite team?
And as they thought about that, they actually felt less animosity toward the other side, they were more willing to wear the opposing team's jersey,
they were less likely to try to sabotage fans of the rival team by preventing them from getting a bonus in their study. And I think this idea
of counterfactual thinking is something that we should all invite a little bit more often, saying, you know what, a lot of the beliefs and opinions
that you hold are actually a product of your life circumstances and maybe even your upbringing. And once you understand that, you realize, you know
what, the group that someone belongs to, it doesn't actually tell you everything about who they are.
And we have recently extended this to gun rights and gun control advocates and found that a very similar technique was effective, that when we got
people who are very strongly in favor of gun rights to think about what attitudes they might hold if they had grown up in Columbine, they actually
become more open to hearing the other side and have less animosity toward them.
ISAACSON: What's your advice or debating somebody with polar opposite views from you, especially if they had fallen down the rabbit hole and
believing all sorts of conspiracy theories?
GRANT: I don't think it's ever going to be easy, but I think part of the problem is that we see it as a debate, which means we're supposed to argue
with the person and even maybe bully them into changing their mind which obviously is just going to increase their resistance.
I think we know there are a few steps that seem to be more effective than that. The first one is to start with areas of agreement, figure out whether
there's any areas of consensus that exists between your views. Because usually when you're disagreeing it's on complex issues and there might be a
couple of areas where you are actually on the same page.
So, let's say it's on guns, for example. We know the vast majority of Americans, whether they are pro-gun rights or pro-gun safety, they support
universal background checks. And so, I might start the conversation there. And then you're dealing with somebody who really is believing in conspiracy
theories, I think you can make more progress by asking them questions than giving them answers.
So, I have been reading a lot of the research on this, and I had a friend who is actually believing in some government conspiracies and I decided to
strike up a conversation. And instead of immediately trying to debug them, I just said, well, how would that work? Can you explain to me how in the
world this government that you think is completely incompetent, by the way, has managed to pull the wool over everybody's eyes on an issue like vaccine
And it was a very interesting conversation because instead of me trying to attack and him going into defense mode or attacking back, what he was doing
was actually thinking creatively and saying, well, how would I pull off a conspiracy like that? And again, I said, look, some conspiracies theories
are real, right. I think for a while Watergate was a conspiracy theory, that turned out to obviously be a huge problem for America.
But what I want to understand better is how we know which conspiracies we should take seriously and which ones we should be a little bit more
skeptical of. The lesson I took from the research on this, Walter, was why questions, asking people why they believe what they believe just gives them
a chance to make a long list of reasons to stay where they are. Whereas asking them how question, how would this work, how did somebody actually
orchestrate this, how would you pull this off, it makes them realize their gaps in their knowledge and it helps them see the complexity of the issue
which makes them a little bit less polarized typically.
ISAACSON: How could you reduce the total amount of polarization that we have in our society especially when social media seems to do the --
encourage the opposite of what you recommend, it encourages people to engage and fight and preach and prosecute as opposed to understand each
GRANT: Well, ultimately, we need to approach our conversations differently. And I think a lot of the time, if we talk about political
polarization, people are diving into these conversations, basically making the arguments that they themselves would find convincing as opposed to
understanding what somebody else might find appealing.
So, let's take Black Lives Matter for example, anti-racism. Very often, the movement is framed in terms of liberal values, like equality or justice.
And I think there's a missed opportunity to appeal to conservatives by saying, you know what, we believe that everybody deserves freedom. Freedom
from oppression as well as freedom of opportunity. And I think that just thinking about, what are the values that might be relevant to the other
side or even crosscutting means you don't have to change the other person's values, you can actually appeal to values they already hold.
ISAACSON: Our response to this pandemic as a nation has been pretty weak at times. To what extent does that cause the leadership's inability to
rethink or repivot when new information came out?
GRANT: It's been frustrating to watch as somebody who spent a lot of my career studying the importance of rethinking. I've watched a lot of leaders
prefer the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.
And I think it's not a coincidence that when we look at leaders like Jacinda Ardern, a lot of people are celebrating the confident humility that
she brought to the table, right. Saying, look, you know what, we actually don't know how to stop this virus. We don't know yet how deadly it is very
early on. And so, we're going to take what may seem like extreme measures. And as we learn, we may evolve our stance.
And I think we have obviously seen the benefits of that approach, if you at the -- you know, the ability of New Zealand to limit the spread of the
virus and how well they've been able to maintain a functioning society in the face of that. So, I'd love to see more leaders adopt that stance.
And, Walter, for me, confident humility is recognizing that it's OK to admit what you don't know, and sometimes that is a source of confidence or
a signal of confidence, right. I have to really believe that I know what I'm doing to say, you know what, we're not sure yet, but I believe we have
an incredible team here and we're going to try to figure it out together.
ISAACSON: You say that one way to create leaders that can pivot and rethink is to have, what is it, a challenge network, I think, is the phrase
used, a challenge group around them. Explain if you were advising President Biden now how you would create a group around you to make sure he was
always able to pivot and rethink.
GRANT: Well, I'd probably start with a page out of the Lincoln playbook and say, a team of rivals is a great way to, at least, put the odds in your
favor of hearing arguments that you wouldn't think of maybe even ones that you disagree with. I think what you want to start with though is really to
recognize that the group you're going to assemble around needs to be willing to experiment. They need to recognize that whatever opinions they
hold about effective policy, those are actually hypotheses, right. And if think like a scientist, those are hypotheses that need to be tested. That
means you want to go out and run experiments and gather data to try figure out, OK, this policy that I've been passionate about, is this actually
effective or not? I don't know yet. Let's see what the evidence shows.
And I don't know, as a social scientist, it is hard to imagine ever really trusting a leader who doesn't put evidence ahead of opinion.
ISAACSON: President Biden is now faced with the question of whether or not he can help unify, bring people together, and specifically over a COVID
relief bill and stimulus bill, whether it's best to try to work with Congress or whether it's best to drive through. In your own research and
all, what do you think would be the things President Biden ought to be thinking about now as he weights that decision?
GRANT: Well, as an organizational psychologist, I am not sure I'm qualified to answer that question, right. I'd probably want to turn to
somebody with real expertise in policy and political science. I do think though, when it comes relationship building, there's been a lot of debate
about respect, and whether, you know, President Biden should respect people who spread lies about, you know, his success in the election or who stood
And I think there's a distinction that is very relevance here. Kristie Rogers (ph) and her colleagues have studied the difference between what
they call owed respect and earned respect. And they would say, look, owed is just the dignity that you deserve as a human being, and that is a
fundamental right that everyone is entitled to. Earned respect is saying, you know what, I don't necessarily have to listen to all of your arguments
if I don't believe they are credible.
And I guess if I were President Biden, the first thing that I would do, which is seemingly something that he has a long history of doing is offer
everyone owed respect, and then say, here's what you can do to earn my respect. If you are willing to put the country above your party, if you're
willing to put your principles above your politics, if you're willing to put truth above pride, then that's how you earn my respect and you'll end
up with more of my support that way. It's hard to imagine that that wouldn't be a constructive conversation to have.
ISAACSON: You know, I sometimes, I think followed your formula, which is I always challenge my assumptions, I always doubt. You know, I wake up in the
morning and don't agree with the opinions I went to bed with. But somehow, I think that's made me a less good leader of big organizations at times,
it's paralyzed me a bit. How do you prevent it becoming paralyzing when you are questioning your own beliefs?
GRANT: Oh, that's interest. I think it's actually a common experience for a lot of people to say, look, if I am willing to be intellectually humble,
if I'm curious, if I'm full of doubt, then I might never act. I think probably the best antidote to that problem I've seen is from Bob Sutton's
research at Stanford. Bob describes an attitude of wisdom as basically saying, look, I'm going to act on the best information I have while
continually questioning what I know.
And actually, had an interesting conversation a couple of years ago with Jeff Bezos about this. Whether you love or hate Amazon, I think Jeff
obviously has demonstrated a pretty impressive track record of leadership in terms of changing the way that we all can see him. And I wanted to
understand how he makes decisions and avoids paralysis. And he said, look, if a decision is highly consequential and irreversible, I will wait as long
as possible, even procrastinate until I have the best information, because it really matters and I'm not going to be able to undo it. But if the
stakes are lower or I can change my mind, then I'm going to act as quickly as I can and treat it as a gamble. And then, whatever I learn going
forward, I have lots of time to rethink that decision.
And I think just drawing that two by two and asking yourself, how important is this decision, how irreversible is it, that that's a good guide for
figuring out, OK, should I be paralyzed for a little while or should I just act quickly?
ISAACSON: People like Malcolm Gladwell and others have done experiments where they talk about the importance of -- you know, in Blink, the
importance of going with your intuition, sticking with it as opposed to rethinking things. How would you modify that theory?
GRANT: Oh, I think that the common advice is trust your intuition. My recommendation would be test your intuition. Walter, when I think about
intuition as a psychologist, I think about it as subconscious pattern recognition. And open question is whether the patterns you've recognize in
the past are relevant to the present situation you're in.
And so, I think what you want to do is ask yourself, OK, is my experience in -- you know, in whatever domain I've had going to apply to the current
circumstances? And if the answer is yes, by all means, you can follow your gut. But I want to know where that gut is coming from and whether it's
leading you in the right direction.
ISAACSON: One of the arguments for free speech in our society has been that if truth and falsity have fair play in the battleground of ideas that
truth will win out. But now, people -- some people have started to argue and try to push back, even censer or at least cancel certain people and try
to restrain free speech because they say it's dangerous. How would you argue that?
GRANT: Well, I think in the long run, we can all hope that the marketplace of ideas is efficient. But it doesn't mean it's going to be efficient day
by day or year by year. And I think there are certainly steps we could take to make it more efficient.
The place I would start is to really separate out the freedom of speech from cancel culture, right. I don't think that we need to cancel a person
because we disagree with their views, but I also don't think that people should be shielded from criticism if they express views that are hateful or
that are clearly inconsistent with the best available evidence and facts that we have.
And I think there have been a lot of people crying cancel culture and saying, my rights have been taken away, and when you look at that, you
said, no, there's not a right to be able to say whatever you want even if it hurts people. There's a right to holding an opinion, and if that opinion
is something that people find objectionable or incorrect, then, you know what, they should be able to correct it.
And so, I think, I guess, I would say we need a more nuanced conversation about free speech and cancelling and I don't think we're going to get
anywhere by crying cancel culture anytime somebody disagrees with you, right? Disagreement is how the marketplace of ideas works and I think we
need to hear a variety of perspectives as long as those perspectives are grounded in a good faith attempt to move a conversation forward as opposed
to trolling or as opposed to tryin sow some kind of discord.
ISAACSON: Adam Grant, as always, it's been fascinating. Thank you so much for joining us.
GRANT: Thank you, Walter. This was a delight.
AMANPOUR: Important points for all of us there. And finally, in case you missed it, you would be hard pressed to find a more classical protester.
One of Alexei Navalny's allies, Anastasia Vasilyeva, refused to budge from her piano the Russian police came to arrest her after the last round of
demonstrations. She was playing Beethoven's Fur Elise. Take a listen.
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AMANPOUR: She played right through them serving her papers. And on finishing the piece, she asked whether anyone there would applaud her. No
response from the police. Now, she's been put under house arrest separated from her children.
Art, culture, music, they have always gone hand in hand with resistance in Russia. And Anastasia's was certainly artistic.
That is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.