Christian Madsbjerg
The Power of Perspective

Many of our differences are basically misunderstandings, and the reason for those misunderstandings is that we don't listen to each other or attempt to understand another's perspective.

Christian Madsbjerg
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Show Notes

According to expert Christian Madsbjerg (@Christian Madsbjerg), attention is developed by looking without bias. Christian’s latest book, Look: How to Pay Attention in a Distracted World, is a deep dive into perceptive taking and awareness. Christian loves to communicate his worldview and expertise through writing, teaching, and speaking on the practical application of the human sciences. His work has appeared in multiple publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic, Washington Post, and Financial Times, and he is the co-founder of the consulting firm Red Associates. 

“You can’t see anything about other humans unless you use your own humanity and your own experience. ”

– Christian Madsbjerg

Key Takeaways:

  • Phenomenology: Wikipedia defines this as a “ philosophical study of objectivity – and reality more generally – as subjectively lived and experienced. It seeks to investigate the universal features of consciousness while avoiding assumptions about the external world, aiming to describe phenomena as they appear to the subject, and to explore the meaning and significance of the lived experiences.” 
  • Just Look: Observe without telling the story, release bias, and let go of having to define. Just look, have no opinion or preconceived notions, and observe what’s happening. Letting go of any idea of what something is or is not, try to see what is there; seeing what’s there may be the most challenging thing. Can you perceive from another person’s perspective?
  • 3 Types of Attention: 1) The attention you have when you just walk down the street. When you’re not focusing on anything, you’re just in it/life. You know exactly what cars are, the sounds around you, and so on, and you know how to operate in it; you’re not focused on anything in particular. 2) Attention that is laser-focused when you zoom in on something. 3) Hyper-reflective attention, where you see yourself see, and therefore, you can also see how others see instead of having opinions about them.

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Ted Talk


Welcome to the Mark Divine Show. This is your host Mark Divine on the show, I speak to folks from all walks of life, to learn and discern how to be fearless and courageous. I talk to some of those inspirational, and compassionate resilient leaders, martial arts grandmasters, military leaders, high-powered CEOs, Stoic philosophers, and individuals who are experts at things like consciousness and attention, like my guest this week, Christian Madsbjerg, who’s the author of Look: How to Pay Attention in a Distracted World. Christian is the co-founder of the consulting firm Red Associates. He’s a writer, a speaker, teaches widely on the practical application of the human sciences. His work has appeared in multiple publications, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic, Washington Post, Financial Times, etcetera, etcetera. He lives in New York City with his family. Christian, super great to have you on the Mark Divine Show. 

Mark Divine 0:54

Christian, super stoked to have you today on the Mark Divine show. How are you sir?

Christian Madsbjerg 0:57  

I’m good. I’m good. Me too.

Mark Divine  0:59  

So I always like to kind of get a sense for the life trajectory of the guests. Like, what, what were some of your early influences in life?

Christian Madsbjerg  1:08  

Yes. So I imagine two things, probably many, but I had lovely parents, I grew up on the hard left. Today, it’s not unimaginable. But communism was a thing. And if you lived in Denmark, where I grew up, there were a lot of people with very strong left-wing beliefs. And I grew up in that system without really understanding it. And then when I turned probably 15, or 16, I started realizing how toxic ideology is, to conversation, to thinking, to anything. And I kind of left that whole belief system that I grew up in, and I became quite skeptical of any belief system. 

Mark Divine 1:50

Yeah, well, that’s a good place to be.

Christian Madsbjerg 1:52

I would imagine. Yeah. And the second thing I found out was, I’m kind of a quiet person. I like listening and looking, most of all, and I found out that I had a knack for it. Mostly because I could shut up and see how other people make sense of the world, and try to figure out what’s important to them. And then I made a living out of that, basically, advising very large companies, to the biggest companies in the world, on listening, and looking, and figuring out what to make, and how to form high-level strategies based on the way people behave. From those two fundamental early-age insights. I found a, you know, a way to make a living.

Mark Divine  2:35  

Yeah, that’s cool. Did you have a any sort of like contemplative practice that helped shape you toward this kind of watching observing orientation? Or was it just nature, how you were naturally kind of brought into the world?

Christian Madsbjerg  2:48  

I think we’re all have a natural ability in this area. But I think we can teach it just like exercise or anything else. But it led me to study philosophy. And particularly, there’s a strain in philosophy called phenomenology, which is, I suppose, a theory of how we can study human phenomena. We can study things like what you just asked me like contemplation is a human phenomenon. And you can look at how people contemplate and how people make sense of the world by carefully listening and looking at them. So I found a philosophical framework that I’m trying to describe in the different books I’ve written and, and also the teaching I’ve done and the practice I’ve had as a professional observer, but it was really phenomenology, the theory of phenomenon of social phenomena that sort of clicked for me, and have been sort of a guide for me all along. So I suppose it’s the combination of a natural interest in other people and observing other people and how they see the world and then a philosophical framework that made sense to me and I think is underappreciated and highly exciting.


Mark Divine  4:00  

I think that’s fascinating. You know, I, I started an internal contemplative practice through Zen, when I was 21. And what you just were just talking about with phenomenology is almost the opposite, right? So phenomenology, you’re looking at others behavior, and trying to discern what that phenomenon means and to learn about yourself through observing others. And the Zen or Eastern path was to look within to look at yourself to observe your own nature, and to try to discern, you know, what’s real and what’s not real. I think that they’re complementary, personally, and they can work really well. And it’s interesting to me that ultimately, I think they meet at the same place because the barriers between inner and outer begin to diffuse the more closely you look.


Christian Madsbjerg  4:44  

Yeah. The watch on the watched are highly interlinked. You can’t see anything about other humans, unless you use your own humanity, and your own experience. You can’t look at people and under and truly understand them, as if They are bacteria in a petri dish, you have to use yourself. And so if you don’t understand things about yourself where you come from, you can’t understand how, where other people come from. So I think you’re right, their highly connected. It’s not natural always, for people to have both. It’s often one practice are the other. 


Mark Divine 5:19



Christian Madsbjerg 5:19

I think when they come together, you can lead an analytical life where you analyze others, but not in a cold, scientific way. jokes aren’t funny, unless you use your own humanity. reading Shakespeare is not interesting unless you use yourself in trying to understand what it is.


Mark Divine  5:37  

Yeah, moves yourself through the story. 


Christian Madsbjerg 5:39



Mark Divine 5:40

The idea from consciousness studies is codependent arising, right. This idea that the reality out there is codependency arising with the reality in here. And this is where, you know, the the scientists like Heisenberg and all got, they got a little stuck in the point of this, you know, everything was objective. And also, the subjectivist got stuck with they believed everything was subjective. And so it was, you know, that’s the idea of not to, it’s both, and.


Christian Madsbjerg  6:06  

It’s a big problem that philosophers have been trying to deal with. But it’s a joke that we’re still thinking about. Because, obviously, we are in the midst of things, we’re in the middle of the world, and thinking we can extract ourselves and look at it coldly, is just a complete catastrophe for philosophical inquiry, yet we have whole departments. Looking at it. 


Mark Divine  6:29  

It’s a catastrophe for all Western science, if you ask me, especially medicine and health, you can’t separate the looker from what’s being looked at.


Christian Madsbjerg  6:39  

The observer and the observed has to emerge at some point in order to understand.


Mark Divine  6:44  

That’s the ultimate outcome of the contemplative and meditative practices. So how do we get there with phenomenology and by learning to listen and look and tell us some about your process and what you learned and how you learned it, and then what that meant, when you like, decided to turn it into a teaching?


Christian Madsbjerg  7:02  

I was very, very young, I started my first company, because I found academia really boring, and kind of mean, and I found working for someone else was also not attractive. So I tried to make my own. I call it a looking lab, where I could find resources enough to be able to look at social phenomena at a global scale. So that’s what I found. And I found that the only place that really had that kind of resource was big leadership teams, whether those are in public or private sectors. And then I did that for 20 years or 25 years, and ended up working for some of the best, and it quite enjoying that. And then because of that, I got a call from the provost of a really good university in Manhattan, that said, Can you teach this? Is it just something you have? Or is it something you can teach, and then I ran a class for eight years, that became sort of an iconic class that was called human observation. 

But people came from all sorts of life, they would come from all over the world, some of them had experience from the corporate world, some had experience from defense, some people had more public sector or health experience. During the course of the semester, I tried to teach how to look and how to observe. And we did that, through both doing it basically asking people just go look, have no opinion, no preconceived notions, just observe and see what’s going on. And write down as precisely as you can, without any opinion, really about it, just what is there and seeing what’s there is maybe the hardest thing.


Mark Divine  8:45  

It’s very hard to remove the bias, the judgment, that projection.


Christian Madsbjerg  8:49  

But we can give it a go.


Mark Divine 8:50



Christian Madsbjerg 8:50

We can do the best we can. And then we read a series of what I would say, a master’s in observation. So the best in literature, in contemporary art, in practical people that are really good practically at observing others, and we call that hyper reflection. So if you imagine, there are three types of attention, there is the kind of attention you have when you just walk down the street. And you can call that pen optic attention. That’s where you’re not focusing on anything in particular, you’re just in it. And you know exactly what cars are, and what school children are, and so on. And you know how to operate in it. So you’re not focused. The second one is focused attention when you zoom in on something, that’s what we’re doing right now. I’m quite focused on what you’re seeing and what where you’re at in your world. And third is hyper-reflection, where you see yourself see, and therefore you can also see how others see, instead of having opinions about them, just try to see based on what do they do what they do.

I think I found some of the masters of that. And that sometimes clicked for these students and quite often they come back and say I feel healthy because I have a direct relationship to the world, rather than a class between me and the world, because I’ve learned how to observe. And some people said, I can use this to make product. Or I can use this to solve problems in groups of people, including your own family, by instead of concluding very quickly, concluding late.


Mark Divine 10:20

I like that, concluding late.


Christian Madsbjerg 10:22

You know, use the sort of skill of hyper-reflection, to just understand, and it’s so difficult because, especially if you’re a university student, you have been taught to have opinions about everything. So there’s an excavation process where you have to take away all those opinions, and they can be right-wing or left wing, or from Korea from Brazil. But see if you can reduce that as much as you can, and fight it as much as you can, as long as you can, and then observe and make decisions later about what do you think about it. So it’s a kind of, I think, a healthy thing, as well as a very effective thing to do, to try to understand others.


Mark Divine  11:02  

For sure, again, I’m struck by how the similarities between what you’re talking about and some of the, you know, the contemplative traditions, like mindfulness, right, it’s sort of become you’re training yourself to become just mindfully aware, without judgment of what’s happening, what’s going on externally and internally. And over time, that leads to the ability to discern what’s not real, what’s not true. And so you start to see that much of reality was a constructed reality based upon ideas, beliefs, positionality,  opinions, like you said. And so then you start to parse that out, right, and that’s where that term, the Eastern term of emptying your cup comes from, you can empty the cup, just keep emptying the cup, to allow for the freshness for the newness, which is going to lead to knowingness, as opposed to knowledge, which is a boundary piece of information.


Christian Madsbjerg  11:53  

And do you find that when you do that, you have a tool or an antidote to languishing? To the feeling of being lost?


Mark Divine  12:02  

Well, I think what it does, from my perspective, it allows you to continue to operate more and more in the present, because the language and ideas and beliefs know that I have the boundaries around them, they really operate from memory, it takes your brain into operating strictly out of memory. So you have to draw up the memory, you have to organize it into your you know, system of information or belief system, your mental models, when we trained this way, which is the way we’re trained in the West, then you’re always operating in the past or a future temporal sense, moment. And you’re not able to be present, which is where the rich texture of the experience is, is lived. And so having a practice, like what you’re describing, have deep looking and listening, which is not dissimilar from, you know, mindfulness, if practiced, well, you know, because that’s the rub. I want to get into that, like, how do you teach these skills, and you don’t have to tap into memory, right? You just begin to open up to the reality of what is right now happening. You don’t need the name, everything is but like you said, you, you appreciate the context. You don’t need to name it and parse it and store it just allow it to flow freely. And then, and that’s what you know, those flow states begin to you experience it as a state of effervescent, kind of rich texture flow. As opposed to that looking glass, you know, you’re staring out of the world, and you’re locked inside this little mental prison.


Christian Madsbjerg  13:28  

For me, the world is of other people is so interesting, not magical in the sense of religion. But just wow, I mean, just when you walk out the door, and you see how why do they do? Why did do they do it in that way? And where does that come from? So an example could be, if you live where I live, the relationship to nature is abstract. And the relationship to nature is very, almost scientific. So, for instance, people are concerned with climate change. And climate changes are graphs coming out of abstract systems, like the UN. And temperature is quite abstract for people. But that’s the relationship we have to nature. Now, if you take somebody from here that has very strong opinions about that, and you transplant them to northern Texas, say, or in the Midwest somewhere, and you take that idea of what the phenomenon of nature and how humans relate to that. And you then instead of saying these people don’t care about nature, because they don’t care about those graphs, you can look at how do they relate to nature and the word nature might be the wrong word. But they do care about the outdoors, and have a very concrete relationship to nature. So maybe we don’t disagree so much. Maybe we just have different ways of saying how much we love the natural world. Where one is seen through one lens of abstraction and the other one is seen through one lens of basically taking care of the waterways, and so on. 

If you’re for instance, if you want to make electric vehicles, it’s nice to know know that people relate to the electric vehicle differently because we talk about nature differently, you can’t see that by having judgments about other people, you have to be in the midst of it, and understand the context of the relationship to the world. And then it turns out that many of our differences are basically misunderstandings. And the reason why we have those misunderstandings is because we don’t listen to each other in a way where first and foremost, it is about, shut up, you know, collect information about other people and the way they talk about and see if you can piece together, they are world based on what they do what they do. And for me, that is not just magical and beautiful, it’s also enormously practical. If you want to make things do things with other people create new things, you need that sort of skill set, I think at least you don’t need it, but it’s rather helpful.


Mark Divine  15:55  

And like you said, you’re dealing at a very holistic level. So the benefits of this are not just in innovation, right, or even in just creating a better work culture, like there’s some serious psychological and physiological benefits to this orientation that you’re talking about. I mean, I think there’s, you’ll see some distinct, I don’t know if you’ve ever done in these studies, like longitudinal studies on individuals who learn this practice, but you’re gonna see like this subjective experience that you related earlier of individuals leave feeling better about themselves, because their interior state is, is more relaxed, you know, they’ve given up a lot of the stress, starting to shed the stress of holding up some of those mental models and belief systems. And in being an opposition right to others, or one of my most favorite quotes that I stumbled across recently is that “the ego is opposition to life”. 


Christian Madsbjerg 16:50



Mark Divine16:50

It’s the opposition to life as it is.


Christian Madsbjerg 16:51  

For me, abstraction is always the enemy. For mental health, for relationships with the world, if you have an abstract relationship with the world, which ego is an example of, you end up feeling distant and lost from the world. So there’s something so healthy, in having a direct, concrete relationship to the world, rather than an abstract scientific one. And I’m the biggest fan of science you will ever find. But it’s not always the way you relate to other people and how other people think.


Mark Divine  17:22  

I agree. That’s such an important point. And you know, we have these crazy ideas of like, packing people in 50-mile-long cities, you know, and stuff like that, that seems to me extremely dystopian, and like, talk about cutting humanity off from what makes them human. That’s definitely a judgment on my part. But um, what is your perspective on that? What do we do about it?


Christian Madsbjerg  17:45  

I think we just went through a big experiment, where life became very abstract, you know, it was work happened through screens. And there was this idea that the new normal was that we don’t need others. We don’t need offices, we don’t need, we don’t need the interact a deep, everyday, holistic interaction with other people, we could really, basically be a brain in the vat, in a vat.


Mark Divine  18:10  

That’s right, the ultimate version of that.


Christian Madsbjerg  18:12  

I don’t like that. And I think it’s wrong. And I think it’s very unhealthy.


Mark Divine  18:16  

Agree. So listening and looking, these are senses that we have, we look with their eyes, we listen with their ears, but you know, I think it’s more you’re talking more about just how do we use our eyeballs? And how do we use our ears? So break down for us, what it means to listen and to look. And how do we, how do we develop these skills in a way that brings us more of this vital lived experience and context?


Christian Madsbjerg  18:41  

If you talk to scientists about what perception is, they’ll say, it’s a data input, our retina is hit by a color, let’s say, or a distance, an abstract thing, and then somehow our brain adds that all up to our meaningful world. So take a color of a sweater, let’s say it’s red. Then there is a Pantone strip that has that exact color, and it probably has a number, you can precisely measure that. But that red strip on a firetruck or a sweater are vastly different. Same color, same data input, but completely different in terms of how it’s experienced. One is very woolly and the other one is very fire truckee and shiny. So a data input belongs in a world. It belongs in the world of fire trucks or sweaters. Thinking that we see data, unique, individual data points, I think is wrong. I think we see wholes, we see the whole of something. So the idea to add up individual discrete data points, I think is wrong. 

You know, an example is for instance, if you see a train in the distance, and you stand on a train station, it comes at you and it’s quite small. It’s like a dot in the distance and then suddenly it snaps into place and it gets big.  a ramp of even increments that it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s either small or big. It’s either a dot or a train. So we don’t see individual data points, we see the whole of a train or the whole of a school or the whole of a city. And that’s how you look, you look for how does this whole hang together? How’s that a meaningful thing, rather than splitting it up in its individual decisions or individual units, you have to start with a point that the world of humans are experienced as wholes, fundamentally at the deepest level. And looking and listening is then figuring out how this whole hangs together. Whether that is for being in a different city in the world, being in a new culture, going to a dinner party, anything like that works as a holistic structure. And for me seeing is figuring out how that looks holistic structure, what it is, and how it works for others. So that’s what I tried to train my students in. And it’s what I’ve done in my practice is that these wholes, it doesn’t have to be in that way. But they are in that way, right now. And we try to look for that. So the scientific idea of empiricism, of empirical evidence that somehow makes a meaningful world is just a blind alley. It’s misunderstood. And it’s what we have in the technological world right now. You You think you can piece together a human world through sensors and cameras. And in my opinion, you of course, can’t do that. You need a human to make sense of that world. So that’s the fundamental, you can say, philosophical point, is that humans experience and perceive the world in wholes, not in parts. And the part only makes sense, on the background of a whole, there is no such thing as an individual impression, it’s always on a background of something bigger and more important and more human.


Mark Divine  21:59  

This difference between looking and perceiving, I think, is really important, because it helps to recognize that the lived world is ultimately a mental representation. And we can then work with that in a different way than just thinking subject-object.


Christian Madsbjerg 22:15



Mark Divine 22:15

Bunch of billiard balls bouncing around hitting each other, you know.


Christian Madsbjerg  22:19  

The fundamental misunderstanding is the subject-object distinction, that we are subjects and we perceive objects. But we live in the midst of them, we’re in the midst of a meaningful world. I can look at you as an object, I can look at a chair as an object. But that’s not how fundamentally I experienced it, I experienced the situation we have here, and a chair I experienced force sitting in a room rather than an abstract object. And it is a misunderstanding of human perception to think that we perceive objects as subjects. So that distinction, which is Rene Descartes really, all the way back, is a misunderstanding, I think. And that’s the beginning. That’s the philosophical beginning. But the consequence of it is, if it’s true, that we don’t have that subject-object distinction, and if it’s true, we live in worlds that are whole, we can maybe try to understand other’s worlds. So instead of just looking at, which is very important to figure out how we perceive, figuring out how other people perceive in their world is even more interesting and complex and fun to try. And rather helpful if you are in that situation. So a lot of the cultural misunderstandings we have between us, I think it’s because we’re not very good at looking. And we’re not been very good at figuring out how other people’s world what other people’s worlds are like.


Mark Divine  23:41  

So in your work with global leaders. Have you had an impact? Has this work had an impact where you see it maybe influencing policy to help change some discourse?


Christian Madsbjerg  23:53  

I hope so. Maybe I’m kidding myself. But first of all, I like big companies, I like big organizations, I like figuring out how they work. And I’ve seen that if you can challenge personally, the leadership in terms of seeing the world in this way that I’m talking about, you can transform product lines, you can transform relationships to employees, you can transform the very way they see things. Helping, you know, healthcare systems to understand what it’s like to be a nurse. What’s it like to be a patient who has just told that you have cancer? If you don’t understand that, how can you run it? How can you meaningfully run things efficiently, well. For instance, if you’re an executive in a in an automaker in a car company, then you live a life where you’re so distant from people that actually buy cars, because you haven’t bought a car for 25 years. They give them to you, and they’re clean, and they’re full of gas every time. So how are you going to understand what it’s like to own a Fiesta that’s breaking down, and you can’t afford fixing it? 

So when you take executives out and do that, you can see them change the perspective they have. And that can change everything in a company. So I’ve seen that many, many places in the world over the 25 years of career of my career. I’ve seen it in public sector in the public sector as well, where if you have that perspective, you get much closer to the people you serve. And if you get closer, and you have a true interest in understanding the people you serve, you can serve them better, but also cheaper. There’s a lot of junk we do that’s not necessary, and then cost a lot of money. The work I’ve done, I think, have had fundamental consequences for a series of very, very large companies that also, either they were in trouble, and we helped turn them around, or they needed to innovate, or they had a bad relationship to their employees. And you could at least start with figuring out what that’s about. So there are concrete examples that we sold a lot of TVs with a Korean TV maker. But we did that because we understood how people use media and how that is changing. 

The examples before with the electric vehicles, we were part of reorienting electric vehicles, for a very large automaker. To say it’s not an elite coastal thing, it’s something we can all engage in. And just because we misunderstand our relationships with nature, and we talk differently about it, that doesn’t mean we can’t get together around this very helpful new product that would help everybody for different reasons. So new product, big changes in terms of perspective of the world. And also maybe global perspective that if you are from Detroit, Indonesia is very far away, you know, you don’t sell vehicles in the same way, you don’t think about vehicles in the same way, it plays a very different role, if you live in India, say. The same with food, the same with many, many aspects of life, that if you gain a global perspective, by looking, you can change strategy. And by changing strategy, you can change the way we invest, the way technology is developed, and so on. So it’s a deeply human thing. But you can transform organizations in that way.


Mark Divine  27:09  

So when you, let’s say, you’re working with a new team, and I imagine, you know, when you say you have to look and get, so you get to get out and ask questions, or what so what is the process look like? I mean, are there particular like practices that use prescribe? And or do you like, take them on field trips? I mean, how does it work?


Christian Madsbjerg  27:28  

So for leaders, we take them on field trips, we force them, like wear a pair of jeans, and you’re with normal people doing normal things on a normal Tuesday for a while. And I know, that sounds frivolous in terms of people’s time, but it’s not.


Mark Divine  27:43  

Well, it’s such a pattern, interrupt from their normal in office, you know, routines, PowerPoints, presentations, keynotes.


Christian Madsbjerg  27:49  

They love it. And it’s as if some people say, like a bomb went off in my head, I understand how people live their life, and how we can serve them better. Here’s an example. So we did a lot of work with Lego the toy company. And you can look at kids in a very abstract way, and see how many you know how many have ADHD and how we medicating them, and how statistics changing and so on. But you can also be on your knees playing with them. You know, we might think that they have short attention spans. But once you spend time with them, and just observe, you have no opinion about them, you just observe what they do, you will see they have long attention spans. And that means everything for a company like Lego because they make objects that are necessary to have long attention spans for. So you can redesign based on an understanding of kids that comes from being with them for long enough and concrete enough to understand things on their terms, rather than projecting your own ideology on them.


Mark Divine  28:51  

Is hyper-reflection, something that just kind of comes about as the process of spending more time just watching and listening, or is it something is there some method to develop it?


Christian Madsbjerg  29:02  

So hyper-reflection has a data collection part, which is looking, recording. And then it has an analytical part, you could say, which is using theory. And in my case, it’s phenomenology to see how you piece together what’s going on here. So you need some sort of framework where you try it out to see, is this the way that makes sense to them. Is that the way that makes sense to them? 

And in my new book, I tried to describe a series of tools that you can use on top of, you know, I call it empirical, you can call it many things, but looking recording what’s going on. And it’s a two-step phase. If you start using theory, from the beginning, you know, you misunderstood the whole thing. You start by looking and then you try to make sense of it in my previous book was called Sensemaking, which is basically the tool with which you can make sense of collected evidence about how If something works. 

You know, maybe I can give an example. So homelessness is a debate we have in America right now. And you know, one side of the debate, we say, well, that is a horrible thing. And we should fix it with police. And other people say, No, it’s a kind of understanding and empathy to have it happen. And both sides, I would say, haven’t spent much time looking at what it’s like to be homeless, and what it’s like to not know where to sleep tonight. And I had one of my students out, so he basically he was out, I can’t remember how many nights but following what it’s like to sleep on the streets. And he found three things that were quite interesting. He said, smell, light, sound. So what really was interesting was that the smell, if you get close to homelessness, has the same smell as tooth decay, which is the same smell as bodies that are dead. So it smells of death, you know, just permeates the experience. The second was sound, we think, for sleeping in the streets, you need low levels of sound. But the sound level in New York City where he did the research is so high, it’s really intense at night, because there are trucks and garbage collection and all kinds of things happening. So the sound level was completely surprising to him. And the third one was light, the brightness of the light, for sleeping in the streets needs to be very high, because outside of bright light, it’s unsafe, all kinds of things can happen to you. So he learned basically, through a very simple framework of light, sound, and smell, he learned a little more about what it’s like. And he went to talk to the government to the city about it and took people out, that make big decisions about what it’s like to be homeless and what to do about it. Like in a visceral way, in a bodily way, understand what it’s like, what it’s like to not only sleep two hours at night, because you’ll never ever get more when you have that level of smell, that level of sound, and that level of light. And it’s torture, really. And it gives you a very different sense. You know, he’s not homeless, but he understands it way better. And I think he would be better at formulating policy than if he hadn’t done it.


Mark Divine  32:20  

Right. What’s coming to mind is just the integral theory, which says to when you’re trying to come up with a solution to understand the, the interior, as well as the exterior of the individual and the collective. And that takes work. And I think that your book is going to help a lot of people do that work or move in that direction. 


Christian Madsbjerg

Thank you.


Mark Divine

Your book titled, Look: How to Pay Attention in a Distracted World. And so is it a practical book, you know, where like I can, you know, pick it up and start learning some practical methods for improving my discernment?


Christian Madsbjerg  32:52  

It’s not a three-step process like you wish it would be. And maybe I should write that book someday. But for me, it was more just to show my way of how I arrived at that. And there’s a whole chapter about looking at birds. And the best birdwatcher I’ve ever seen. There is a chapter on modern art, some modern art pieces that when you see them, you will viscerally understand how humans see and how you see. So it’s a series of examples that I know work on the students, because I’ve seen it many times now. I think it might have a more of a baseline or a framework to do this. And then there’s a lot of practical things, but it’s not as practical as many people want. And I probably should do something about that.


Mark Divine  33:39  

I think it’s just the nature of kind of the Westerner to want to be told what to do, in three steps. 


Christian Madsbjerg 33:46

Me too, me too.


Mark Divine 33:47

Well, we gotta wrap this up. But what you know, there’s there’s a lot of people living in fear right now with what’s going on in Ukraine and saber rattling, China and Taiwan and another potentially catastrophic, crazy political cycle coming up in America like, what’s your view of like the state of the human being and in the future? 


Christian Madsbjerg 34:10



Mark Divine

Are you bullish and positive?


Christian Madsbjerg  34:11  

I’m so bullish on people. I’m really up on humans, I think human skill sets are amazing. I think human societies are amazing. And I think if we only looked at each other, and if we only listen to each other, in an organized, systematic way, a lot of our misunderstandings, political misunderstandings would go away. So I think it irons out a misunderstanding. And I think humans have the skill sets and the capability and intuition to do that. We should just do it a lot more. So I’m up on humans.


Mark Divine  34:46  

Me, as well. Well, thank you so much, Christian, for your time today and for bringing this book out. Look: How to Pay Attention in a Distracted World. We’ll put the links to it in the show notes. Where can people learn more about you besides the book you have, social media website or anything?


Christian Madsbjerg  34:59  

I don’t have much because it distracts me. But I do have a, I do have a LinkedIn page. And I do have a website, but mostly I just communicate through books.


Mark Divine  35:08  

Well, thank you again. And I look forward to learning how to look even better, more, proficiently, I think. 


Christian Madsbjerg  35:16  

It was delightful. And it was interesting to see how you come from a different angle, but it’s probably pretty much the same thing we’re talking about.


Mark Divine  35:22  

I think, you know, there’s a lot of that going on, then that’s part of why it’s great to have these conversations, right, just to see the similarities instead of always pointing out the differences. 


Christian Madsbjerg 35:31



Mark Divine 35:31

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you. 


Christian Madsbjerg 35:33

Thank you, you too. 


Mark Divine 35:34

What a fascinating conversation, learning how to look and listen, from the philosophy of phenomenology which study of human behavior, I love this idea of hyper-reflection. Very cool, and learning how to conclude late, perceive more, and get away from your biases. So important. And I agree that we need more of it in all walks of life. Show notes are up at Mark Divine.com YouTube video will be at the YouTube channel, Mark Divine’s YouTube channel, you can find me on Twitter at Mark Divine or on Instagram and Facebook @Real Mark Divine, where you can connect with me on my LinkedIn profile. Quick plug for Divine Inspiration, which is my newsletter, which comes out every Tuesday, where I have show notes from the week’s podcast, my blog book, I’m reading other interesting things that come across my desk that I think you’d find valuable. So go to Mark Divine.com to subscribe and please share it. Thanks so much for my team does amazing work Jason Sanderson and Geoff Haskell and Catherine Divin, who bring incredible guests like Christian to you every week. Ratings and reviews are very helpful. So if you haven’t done so, please consider rating wherever you listen to the show, Apple or Amazon or whatever, or Spotify. It’s very helpful. Thanks so much for being a listener and a supporter of the Mark Divine show. Very helpful. It keeps me motivated, and it is great to see that others are working on improving themselves day by day, doing the work to be the change that they want to see in the world. So Hooyah to you, till next time, this is your host Divine out.


Transcribed Catherine and by https://otter.ai



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