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Thomas L. Friedman: Why I’m optimistic

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Interview transcript

James Manyika: Are you optimistic?

Thomas L. Friedman: I’m always optimistic. I was born that way. I’m from Minnesota. How could I not be optimistic? My dad never made more than $18,000 a year. And yet I grew up in this amazing middle-class neighborhood, Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. I grew up in the same time and the same town with the Coen brothers, Al Franken, Norm Ornstein, Michael Sandel, gave us Sharon Isbin the guitarist. It gave us incredible optimism about possibility. And my dad only made $18,000.

No one seemed richer or poorer than anybody else. I got the opportunity to be a columnist at the New York Times. How could I not be an optimist? But how could I be a crazy optimist or cockeyed optimist when I’m going around the world, I’m seeing not only the suffering, but I’m seeing these incredible challenges? A lot of other good people born in middle-class circumstances today are really suffering. Suffering by wage stagnation and suffering just under the pressure of all these accelerations.

And so, I’m torn. I lean optimistic, because that’s just how I was born. I’m a cautious optimist. I’m not a cockeyed optimist. Because I know one thing: this actually is about leadership. It’s about making the right decisions. It’s not just going to happen. We’ve tended to treat American exceptionalism as if it was an honorary degree we have on the wall. It’s up there. It always says I’m exceptional. “Just look at it, I’m exceptional.” But you have to earn and re-earn that every day. And that means you need to be thinking all the time.

The listener to this video will have no idea—this conversation is the product of, I don’t know, 30 discussions we’ve had. And we just keep peeling this onion to get down to it. And you go out in the world, and I go out. And we come back, and we share. We take our nuts, we crack ’em open. We share the things we discover inside.

Watch the full interview, “Thomas L. Friedman and James Manyika: The world’s gone from flat, to fast, to deep.

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