Dr. Brian Lowry
You Are a Social Creation (with Dr. Brian Lowery)

You can expand yourself and your sense of the world in ways that will be surprising to you, stay curious, and take the time to understand the depth of those around you.

Dr. Brian Lowry
Listen Now
Show Notes

Walter Kenneth Kilpatrick Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University Dr. Brian Lowery (@Dr. Brian Lowery) is a social psychologist whose new book, Selfless: The Social Creation of You, presents a provocative, powerful theory of identity, arguing that there is no essential “self”—our selves are social creations of those with whom we interact. He is passionate about the global discussion of equity and how each individual perceives life through the lens of having advantages vs. disadvantages. His work is one of inquiry where he asks you, the student, skeptic, or reader, to come to your own conclusions after entertaining his research, ideas, and assertions. 

Advocate, social psychologist, and author Dr. Brian Lowery(@ Dr. Brian Lowery) is Walter Kenneth Kilpatrick Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University. He has been an important voice in discussing white privilege and investigating social, institutional, and personal bias from learned or lived experience. His new book, Selfless: The Social Creation of You, is based on empirical science that reads with unintentional notes of Buddhism. 

The self is kind of like a time machine. You can think about the past through the self of who are you right now!”

Dr. Brian Lowery

Key Takeaways:

  • Engaging with People: We are the center of our own world and our life regarding our experiences. Your experiences are deep, interesting, and broad. All people on this planet’s experiences are deep, interesting, and broad. Engaging with people with this mindset will enrich your life.
  • Consider Who You Are: The Self is flexible, fluid, and changing over time. Consider what that means. How does the Self change? Also, how do you want the Self to change? What kind of situations will produce the type of change you’d like to have? Notice how your relationships impact the direction you are evolving because relationships are a fundamental part of being human. To be human is to be in relation with other human beings and your environment.
  • Responsibility as a Leader:  As a leader (and we are all leading whether we are aware of this agency or not), what you do or don’t do impacts everyone around you. Being a leader is not something to ignore. All of us are affecting those around us. When you engage with people in various situations, as a leader, pay attention to your and their desires. This attention will help you be responsible for those people and the outcomes you are co-creating together.
  • Small Interactions are Meaningful: The brief conversation you have in line at the grocery store can and does have meaning. You can expand yourself and your sense of the world in ways that will be surprising to you if you take the small interactions you have day to day more seriously. When you talk with people, ask them real questions, and listen to what they say. You don’t have to agree with it, and you don’t have to like them even. But if you listen, you will find something there for you in that brief moment or their answer.
  • The Sameness in Everybody: You get to know and develop more self-awareness through meditation. When you go deep within yourself, you understand that there is a sameness and synchronicity with everyone you meet. That’s the essence of spiritual practices to touch into what makes us alive and creates us.



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Mark Divine  0:00  

Hi, I’m Mark Divine. And this is the Mark Divine Show. Thank you so much for joining me today. On this show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate, resilient, and thoughtful leaders. I’ve spoke to folks from all walks of life, motivational scientists, nutrition experts, peace, crusaders, and people really studying what it means to be selfless, like my guest today, Dr. Brian Lowery. We’re gonna be talking with Brian about the social nature of self, creation of your social identity, self, and freedom. Dr. Lowery has a new book out called The Social Creation of You. He’s hosted a podcast called Know What You See. Brian is the Walter Kenneth Kilpatrick Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Brian, thank you so much for joining me today.

Mark Divine  0:00  

Hi, I’m Mark Divine. And this is the Mark Divine Show. Thank you so much for joining me today. On this show, I explore what it means to be fearless through the lens of the world’s most inspirational, compassionate, resilient, and thoughtful leaders. I’ve spoke to folks from all walks of life, motivational scientists, nutrition experts, peace, crusaders, and people really studying what it means to be selfless, like my guest today, Dr. Brian Lowery. We’re gonna be talking with Brian about the social nature of self, creation of your social identity, self, and freedom. Dr. Lowery has a new book out called The Social Creation of You. He’s hosted a podcast called Know What You See. Brian is the Walter Kenneth Kilpatrick Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Brian, thank you so much for joining me today.

Dr. Brian Lowery  0:42  

Thanks so much for having me.

Mark Divine  0:43  

I’m looking forward to getting into your book Selfless. As I mentioned a little while ago, I really like to get to know kind of the who and the why of the person I’m interviewing. So where are you from? And what were some of the formative influences on your life that led you down this path or pointed in this direction? 

Dr. Brian Lowery  0:59  

Yeah, so I was born in Mississippi, but I really was raised in Chicago. So I’m an 80s and 90s. Kid, I moved around a little bit, I ended up just going to a number of schools. So I went to six schools before I left for college, two high schools and four schools prior.


Mark Divine 1:14

Wow, what was the cause of all that? 


Dr. Brian Lowery 1:17

Ahh, just like family stuff, you know, mothers moving around, trying to find a better place, you know, just life.


Mark Divine  1:23  

Was your father present? 


Dr. Brian Lowery  1:26  

Yeah, my dad was around. My parents were divorced, but they were always both in the Chicago land area. So I was with my mom. And we just ended up moving around quite a bit. 


Mark Divine1:36



Dr. Brian Lowery 1:37

And so that was interesting. So I know you you’re in the military, I don’t know if when you had your kids, but it’s a different experience when you don’t stay in one place. And just stay with the same cohort for like your formative years in school. And so Chicago is really diverse, actually quite segregated. 


Mark Divine 1:53

Is it?


Dr. Brian Lowery 1:53

And so the schools I went to were vastly different.


Mark Divine 1:56



Dr. Brian Lowery 1:57

So, some of them were like, really well-resourced. Some of them were under-resourced.


Mark Divine 2:02



Dr. Brian Lowery 2:02

In some cases, I was one of a handful of black kids. In other cases, there was almost all black kids in the school, my graduating high school class was like, almost 800 people. So just really different. And the way that got me here is seeing those differences made me want to understand like how the social world worked. I mean, it was just so present for me. And I could see for people who didn’t have those kinds of experiences, it wasn’t as present for.


Mark Divine  2:27  

So you had a lot of contrast, a lot of different perspective taking that was kind of forced on you. My only relation to that, because I did stay except for of course, the transition from elementary to middle to high school, which is not really the same thing. I went through kind of one cohort, all the way through high school. And then I went to Colgate University. And of course, I was with one cohort, and even a micro cohort with my kind of fraternity and sports people. And then when I went to NYU Business School is similar thing. So all of us were kind of the same. Like we had, I think two blacks in my high school. And I remember thinking, well, I just don’t really know much about that world, you know, so I can see what you’re saying. And then you were right to point out my world broke wide open in the military, where I was exposed to 56 different cultures over a span of eight to 10 years, and got to know a lot of those cultures. Very foreign, that completely shattered my identity in a good way.


Dr. Brian Lowery  3:21  

Yeah, I mean, I just find it fascinating that most people don’t have access to that. The world is such a big place, and though it tends to channel people into relatively narrow lives.


Mark Divine 3:32



Dr. Brian Lowery 3:32

And so it’s just interesting, when for whatever reason, you see a you get a glimpse of the breadth of what’s out there and think it’s literally awesome, like, what’s possible, and what’s out there is so much more than most people can imagine.


Mark Divine 3:44



Dr. Brian Lowery 3:45

Probably I’m sure that I can imagine. And to see a glimpse of it just really pushed me to want to understand that a little bit.


Mark Divine  3:50  

Right. You’re a professor, do you see students these days, having more of that exposure? You know, like many more programs have international studies, and there’s many international students in my program at Pepperdine, and I’m sure tons at Stanford. It seems like it’s just much more of a thing these days to travel and now that we can be a digital nomad and to study overseas, certainly wasn’t common in my time.


Dr. Brian Lowery  4:14  

Where I’m in the business school at Stanford, I mean, it’s a very diverse place. And all the students are required to fill some global requirements. 


Mark Divine 4:22

Are they?


Dr. Brian Lowery 4:22

And they tend to travel much more than what is required. You know it varies, but almost all of our students have significant exposure to other cultures, other types of people for sure. You know, what’s interesting about travel, though, is travel alone is not enough because you can travel and try to bring your home with you. It’s like you can confuse the physical location for like a different social space, right. 


Mark Divine 4:44



Dr. Brian Lowery 4:44

And people sometimes travel and they go to McDonald’s and they go to Starbucks and they sit on the beach with other tourists. So you see it but you’re not you know..


Mark Divine 4:53

I’d like to draw a line between touristic travel and travel for expanding yourself, you know. Like we’re you go with a tension of learning, or at least picking up some of the language and really engaging with the culture and living in a place for a while, I did do a overseas study. And when I was a Colgate Junior, and so that seven months that I was in Europe was just life-changing. On the surface you say, well, you were with your Colgate cohort, and it was kind of a curated experience. But there was so much that we did around the edges. You know, we found friends over there who were British, and Scottish, and Italian and we traveled and visited them. And it was just an incredible experience. And I remember getting back to Colgate, I guess it was spring in my Junior year and feeling like something very substantial, had changed. And it wasn’t Colgate it was me, you know what I mean? I looked at everything differently.


Dr. Brian Lowery  5:43  

The things that I think about a lot is, how much you can learn from other people in the places. But I like how you mentioned it is the people you met when you were over there, right? Like the Italians and the Brits and the Spanish, and in how they allowed you access to something. Right. 


Mark Divine 6:00



Dr. Brian Lowery 6:00

So I think sometimes we forget that people are whole worlds. We are the center of our own world and our life in terms of our experience. And our experiences are deep, and interesting, and broad, at least I hope most of them are. And then everyone you encounter has that has a life. And I think sometimes we don’t engage with each other that way.


Mark Divine 6:18



Dr. Brian Lowery 6:19

And doesn’t require traveling to a different place to access a new way of thinking about the world, right. It just requires engaging with people who have a different experience than you. And often those people are walking past you on the street every day.


Mark Divine  6:30  

Right. Yeah, this is so powerful is part of our culture, right? It’s been baked into our culture is probably that pioneering staunch individual archetype as well as the Puritan ethic that claims that it’s up to you to change, to become a better person, the only thing you really need is God, right? You don’t need others, except maybe the pastor, you know, your church leader. And so we kind of take that on, and then the way our economy is structured, and even our academics to support the economies, in my view, built to really maintain that separation, and that kind of staunch, individualistic attitude. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 7:04

Yeah, I think that’s right. 


Mark Divine 7:05

What I love about your work as you’re trying to break that down and say, you know what, that really limits us because you’re going to be conditioned one way or the other. So you can condition yourself to be a separated, fearful individual, or you can break that down and conditioned yourself to be open hearted and engaging with those in your social settings. Because ultimately, you’re going to be conditioned anyhow, you might as well take advantage of being conditioned positively, right?


Dr. Brian Lowery  7:29  

100%. And you know, the thing is, there’s something about how much other people’s contribute to who you are and what you become, that’s both humbling and elevating. It’s not all on you, and the things that you’ve succeeded, that have required a number of people to, for you to do that, for you to be that person for you to achieve that goal. And I think the focus on the individual sometimes obscures our ability to see the role that other people play in our lives, and to see them clearly.


Mark Divine  7:56  

Right. There’s a past present and future aspect of this as well. You know, when you become aware, this is why I love your book, because you’re helping people become aware how important it is, it’s social creation of your sense of self. If you have that, or let’s say you read your book, and you’re like, oh, wow, now I get to look backward in my life, and to see how the people in my life helped shaped my identity, there’s positive, and then there’s negative. And negative might be showing up a shadow, right and your life, and you might need to go and get a little therapy over that father who disengaged in your life at an early age, and I’m not talking about you, but so there’s that past ability to look at that and say, wow, holy cow, I get to change my relationship with some of the negative people in my past. And I get to honor some of the positive, maybe learn even more from them. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 8:40



Mark Divine 8:40

And then you bring that into your present, because ultimately, everything happens in the present, even you’re changing in relationship to the past or future. And then in the future is more about architecting. Right? You get to architect.


Dr. Brian Lowery  8:50  

Yeah, I was talking about the book recently, I was like, you know, the self is kind of like a time machine. It’s like, you can think about the past through the self like, who are you right now? Where did you how did you get here, and then you can project yourself into the future? Right? And this is the architecting thing I think you talked about.


Mark Divine 9:05



Dr. Brian Lowery 9:06

For all that to work, though. It’s hard to see yourself as just some untouchable, unchanging core thing, right? You have to then think of itself as something that’s flexible and fluid in this changing over time. And and think about what that means and how does it change? And how do you want it to change? And what kind of situations will produce the kind of change you’d like to have? And my focus is really on relationships because I think relationships are just fundamental to being human. There’s just no way around it. It’s like to be human is to be in relation with other human beings. And so if you take that really seriously, it can change the way you think about yourself in your life.


Mark Divine  9:44  

Right. Yeah, there’s a lot of I wouldn’t say controversy but maybe difference of opinions upon whether individuals are naturally prone towards seeing themselves as changeable or whether they see themselves as you know, fixed in personality. Now Carol Dweck’s work for comes to mind, growth or fixed mindset. Ken Wilber in his integral theory, you know, saying that basically 95% of humanity is stuck at a stage of development, you know, which is going to shape their worldview. What’s your view on the changeability of a human being? Is it natural that people come to, at some point in their life, where they say, you know, what, I can take responsibility for changing who I am, or most people kind of stuck in a rut?


Dr. Brian Lowery  10:20 

Um, that’s a great question. And I want to separate it into two questions. 


Mark Divine 10:24



Dr. Brian Lowery 10:25

One is…What I think the reality is? And then the second is…What do I think people perceive or believe about themselves? So I think the reality is that we’re constantly shifting, we might tell ourselves a story that we’re exactly the same. But that is, I think, an illusion. So I think we’re constantly changing. I think there are plenty of people who feel like they don’t change. And this is where you can people can disagree with me. And that’s fine. I just think those people are wrong. I just think they’re wrong. There’s reasons that I believe that based on empirical science, but fundamentally, again, if you take seriously the importance of social connection to being human, to the extent those change is hard to imagine that you’re not changing, too.


Mark Divine  11:07

Right. So when your research, and let’s say you’re teaching a class, this concept of social creation of the self, how do you frame it up for someone who’s kind of maybe even a skeptic be like, where are we coming from here Brian, like, I don’t understand this. What are the different ways of probing at this topic where you can help people kind of lift the veil and be like, oh, I totally get what you’re saying.


Dr. Brian Lowery  11:30  

Yeah. When I say is, when you talk about yourself, what are you talking about? What are you referring to? You say, I like this, I want that. What are you talking about? When you say I. I want to point out is what most people think and this is this healthy individuals have this experience, certainly in the West, and maybe other places, too, probably other places too. Existing inside their head looking out of, let’s call it a machine for now, and commanding the controls. And you know, that can’t be right. There’s no little person in there. Just ask like, what is it then? What is that thing you’re referring to? And then, you know, people have like, they haven’t generally thought about it that hard. And so they’ll say something like the brain, I guess. I mean, I believe you, I believe there’s a brain in there. 


Mark Divine 12:12



Dr. Brian Lowery 12:13

But that’s like saying that all you are is the machinery, right? I think people mean more than that. People might try to say DNA, but that’s even less compelling then their brain, because DNA is not destiny, right? So it sets some boundaries, but there’s so much variation that you can end up with, with a single set of DNA. And what it gets to at the end is something like, I think people mean, the self is almost like a soul. But most people don’t want to say that. And then they want to etch parts of themselves onto that soul as if it came fully formed into their body at conception or birth.


Mark Divine  12:47  

Like a soul print. I’ve heard that term before. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 12:49



Mark Divine 12:50

There’s a little karmic energy, maybe a little desires and stuff that kind of came in. 


Dr. Brian Lowery  12:54  

Yeah, I like to push against that. I’m like, in the book, I’m very clear. I’m not prescriptive. I’m not saying here’s what you should do. I don’t tell people what they should do. Or try to. And I’m not honestly trying to tell people that this is the answer. This is something to consider. There’s good reasons to believe this, what I’m saying may be true, but it’s okay. If you don’t agree with me, that’s 100% fine. I will be satisfied if what you do is think harder about who you are. And what that means. Even if you don’t agree with my conclusion, that’s fine. And that’s kind of my entry point. So it’s trying to get people to see what I mean, it’s not trying to convince them, they must come around to my view, or they’re wrong.


Mark Divine  13:34  

Right. And I think you’re hitting on the most important job of a leader is self-awareness. Is to ask these questions. Is to do the self-inquiry, because if you just lead with strategy and tactics and concepts of what the perfect leader looks like, that’s likely to be disastrous, you know. This is one of my themes is that the leader is the limiting factor in most teams. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 13:58



Mark Divine 13:58

They bring their perfectionism and judgmentalism and righteousness, they bring all their shadow into the team. So the leader needs to be able to be willing to do the self-inquiry and recognize with humility, or to develop the humility to know they’re not perfect. When you show up and create that psychological safety than the space of inquiry, the team will come up with way better solutions than any one leader.


Dr. Brian Lowery  14:19  

Oh, I think that’s certainly right. And I think that the effect is bi-directional. By that I mean, understanding the team will and should effect the leader. And if you are denying that, then you’re not understanding yourself very deeply either. 


Mark Divine 14:32



Dr. Brian Lowery 14:33

I’m really big on self-awareness. So that’s something I talk about quite a lot. It dovetails with exactly what you’re saying. And if you don’t have clarity about yourself, it’s going to be very difficult to manage engagements with other people productively, it’s going to be very difficult to lead.


Mark Divine  14:48  

Right. So what are some of the surprising ways that the social world and our relationships shape our sense of self?


Dr. Brian Lowery  14:55  

So here’s one that there’s some empirical evidence for that think is surprising. I started out with the easy part. And I moved to the more surprising components. So when you interact with someone and you want to have a relationship for whatever reason, you tend to want to like the things the other person likes, you want to see the world the way they see the world. And that’s an obvious thing, right? If you meet, talk someone and they love football, and you want to be friends with them, it’s going to be easier if you love football too or at least you like football.


Mark Divine 15:20



Dr. Brian Lowery 15:20

So people get that. What they don’t often understand is how deep that runs. So there are things that are going on in your cognition in the way you think that happen below your threshold of awareness. There are things that are happening that just aren’t aware of you don’t have direct access to influence how you engage the world. And that obviously, I think people understand that. Those things also shift towards what you believe the other person believes. And you don’t even know it’s happening. So when you are engaging with someone else, components of let’s call it you, that change how you behave that determine how you show up, are being changed in ways that you don’t probably even recognize or know about.


Mark Divine 16:00



Dr. Brian Lowery 16:00

And that is a powerful thing, like people are shaping you at a non-conscious level when you interact with them.


Mark Divine  16:06  

Absolutely. Yeah. What’s coming up to me is just the whole theory of embodied cognition and this idea of codependent arising, right. So that we think that there’s this back and forth a stimulus-response or I have a thought, you know, put it out in the world. And then, you know, but the reality is, everything is arising simultaneously. It’s codependent. I don’t like the use of that word codependent, because it’s got other meanings. But this notion that the knower and the known are actually a mirage, and it’s just the knowingness that’s happening simultaneously.


Dr. Brian Lowery  16:36  

Yeah, it gets philosophical really quick. 


Mark Divine 16:38

It does, doesn’t it. I love it. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 16:40

Now, I’m just gonna point out Mark that you took it there before I did.


Mark Divine  16:48  

I did, Sorry about that. It’s not gonna be very practical for the listener for us to dwell in that territory very long. Back to the awareness. Like I think, again, it’s a tool for us to orient ourselves so that we can improve our lives. First comes to the awareness and then comes, what are we going to do about this? Right? So if we can acknowledge that our social settings and our interactions are shaping us and changing us moment to moment, changing our sense of self and identity, and eventually you have these like shattering paradigm shifts that change mental models entirely right? This back to kind of fixed mindset or growth mindset. Most people even though they’re changing, they’re fitting the new reality back into their old mental models. And that only works for so long, because over time, they begin to experience this cognitive dissonance because the reality that they cram into old mental models is creating a wider, wider gap. So you have,have a breakthrough or breakdown. Point here is, you can avoid all that by becoming more open to the evolutionary nature of our minds. right?


Dr. Brian Lowery  17:51  

100%, I think there is benefit in recognizing that you change, you know, the growth mindset is the clearest description of this. And what I’m saying is that the self is fluid that you are constantly being affected by the environment. And mostly, what I’m focused on is the social environment, the people around you. And I think there can be some relief in that, that there’s the possibility of change, right? I think people need that. The other part of this that we haven’t talked much about either, but I think is important for leadership, is recognizing that you also are shaping other people whenever you interact with them.


Mark Divine 18:25



Dr. Brian Lowery 18:26

Like that what you do is not just you did something that person can decide to ignore it or not, that’s just not how it works, right? Like you are affecting that person. Like when you engage with them. That’s just what it is. All situations, as a leader, given the amount of attention people pay to you and their desire to have an engagement with you usually, you have to be clear about your responsibility for those people. 


Mark Divine 18:47

That’s right. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 18:48

And I think we don’t sometimes take enough responsibility for the effect we have on other people. I mean, even as leaders were people should know that that is a part of what it means to be a leader. I think people don’t have a clear enough understanding of the depth of the responsibility because they behave as if it’s the other person’s responsibility to take care of themselves.


Mark Divine  19:08  

Right. Well said and verges on manipulation. And even though oftentimes, leaders won’t look at it that way. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 19:14



Mark Divine 19:15

And they’ll just look at it like, well, I have to be a little bit more forceful or autocratic in this situation, and they’re really trying to do is manipulate behavior. And speaking of manipulations, how do we, you know, talking about the social context of culture, right. And culture being defined by all the countless interactions we have, but also those interactions being influenced in a very deliberate way through news and social media propaganda, and recognizing that everyone has a big dose of that programming that’s coming into the relationship. And so I think awareness is so important here, not just an individual interaction, to be aware of how you affect the other person, how they’re affecting you and how this is cocreating a new reality, but how that collective or consensus reality has been heavily influenced, dare I say manipulated. And then maybe it crosses over into some of the more interesting offshoots of your work, like how race relations have been created through the structures, you know, and especially in the academic institution, critical theory is, has been something that we’ve all been diving into, and like, how does that affect the social sense of self? I don’t know, I just threw a lot at you. But um..


Dr. Brian Lowery  20:22  

Yeah, this is really interesting to me, I think the institutions were involved in and that we can avoid are certainly shaping how we make sense of all sorts of things in such a way that it’s in the background, and we just accept it as true. I think what that calls for is a large dose of humility. 


Mark Divine 20:41



Dr. Brian Lowery 20:42

There’s a sense of like, we know, right and wrong. It’s like, well, I hope we do and I hope people are firmly committed to doing the right thing. But when you confront it with someone else that has a different view of that, rather than condemning them, there’s there should be some humility and understanding, like we’re all being influenced in ways we don’t understand by the environment around us. And that shaping our sense of it, for example, what is right and what is wrong? 


Mark Divine 21:04



Dr. Brian Lowery 21:04

Because none of us have direct access to the good or the only good, right? Or maybe there’s not even one good to be have access to I don’t know, I don’t know. But all this to say that your point about institutions, I think, should increase our need for deep humility, about the way we engage the world. In terms of like race and critical race theory. I mean, that’s become such a bugabear of, you know, certain people like critical race theory is honestly like quite academic, like the way I understand it and read some of it when I was in grad school. I don’t I wouldn’t say I do critical race theory. But what I did with critical race theory early on was simply, I don’t think even that controversial. 


Mark Divine 21:42

You’re just trying to expose the concept to people and say, You know what these ideas get baked into the culture of an institution.


Dr. Brian Lowery 21:48



Mark Divine 21:49

That’s a governmental body or even an academic institution. And so just be aware that this is what I call the background of obviousness use the term background, it’s just, it’s hidden from over view, but it’s there.


Dr. Brian Lowery  22:00  

Yeah, that’s mostly it. There is some claims in it that like, you know, the attempts to dismantle it through the legal system fell short in some way. So and this is just historically how it came to be right. People recognize that. In the 60s, there was a big effort to try to remedy what was going on in the country with regard to race through the legal system, and they were big wins. But when you examine the data, sort of things that look like big wins are somewhat illusory. And the people who were thinking about this at the time were like, what does that tell us? What does that mean? How do we make sense of that? And they came to what you just said, like these things are baked into institutions in ways that are hard for us to even see as we go about our daily lives. And if we really want to understand that we have to examine these things deeply for the evidence of it, because it’s not superficial. It’s not on the surface, it’s not easy to see. I mean, obviously, that’s a simplified version, but that’s more or less it. And what I would say about that, from my perspective, is, I think that’s obviously true. And it’s not just true of race, right? I mean, it’s true of gender. It’s true of nationality, like we just accept these things and engage with each other and in the world as if they have this obvious meaning. Right? And because we do that they do have this obvious meaning.


Mark Divine  23:15  

Well we give it to them, we convey it upon it, when it’s just an idea.


Dr. Brian Lowery  23:19  

Yes, right. That’s the whole concept. The social construction is like money. People have it’s not that much cash anymore. Maybe by the time people listen, this, there won’t be cash at all. 


Mark Divine 23:26

It’s going fast, right, it’s going fast, oh my god.


Dr. Brian Lowery 23:30

But like you know dollar bills don’t have any intrinsic value, they have value, because we believe they have value, we have faith that they have value, and we treat them as if they have value. And that doesn’t mean that money isn’t real. That’s important. It just means that the power it exerts comes from the way we engage with each other about it. That’s the idea. And it’s the same idea for race and gender and all these other things that we could label social constructions.


Mark Divine  23:59  

I love the term humility because the challenge is, is these things don’t change quickly, you know, you’re not going to just change their law, like the civil rights law, and suddenly see, yes, legally, blacks had more rights. It’s the attitudes and the beliefs and the subconscious programming that comes from the countless interactions within your cultural group that literally lasts for generations well, after any kind of structural change happens, right? It literally could take five or 10 generations to really, really change the underlying attitudes and beliefs that were caused by racism, right or even longer. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 24:36

Yeah, for sure. 


Mark Divine 25:37

Let’s take the breakdown of cultures. Like there’s a lot of breakdown of cultural or systemic things, but it’s not going to change people’s perception themselves for generations, right? Like if a country goes away, suddenly, the people still feel like they’re that country, even if someone else claims to own them. You know what I mean?


Dr. Brian Lowery  24:53  

Yeah, that’s something I’m bringing up in the book actually, right that these things are not like this is another example where you’re like, I am American or Italian or British? Because I live in America, Italy, or Britain? And you’re like, No, you’re that because of the connections you have with those people in those ideas. Because if those physical places cease to exist, you wouldn’t say there’s no more Britain’s anymore, right? So you can have British without Britain. Right? You can’t have Americans without America. And I think that’s a an interesting point. It’s about how we engage with each other and what we believe not some physical reality that’s out there creating those identities.


Mark Divine  25:33  

I love this talk about social construct in these ideas about how things are that people just latch on to and they take them for gospel. People often ask me because I was a Navy SEAL, you know, how I justify going into a field where I was going to be taking lives? And you know, that’s a tough one. Because on the surface, that’s morally reprehensible. And so I said, Well, you know, there are layers and layers to morality, and morality is all basically a man-made concept. It’s just a belief, right? And so the enemy that I’m fighting believes that they are right and that I’m the enemy, just as much as I believe I’m right, and they’re the enemy. And yet that enemy could easily be at our front door, or the perception is that there’s a risk. And so someone has to protect others. And so there’s a certain class of people who, you know, we call them the sheepdogs who are not violent people, but they’re capable of violence, yet they can control it, and they’re willing to put themselves out there to protect. Okay, so that’s the traditional warrior archetype. And that’s certainly why I joined. I know others joined because the military is a job or to get out of a bad neighborhood or to go to college. But generally, I’m talking about that archetype. So with that belief system, when I face an enemy, I’m not getting all lathered up like the Berserkers did, and you know, want to just go for blood, I’m like, I respect that individual, and taking life as the absolute last resort. But this type of training is actually not something that our military does. It’s something that I came to, through my martial arts in my Zen practice, you know, early before I joined the military, and it’s something I’ve been teaching SEALs and special offers ever since that the highest level of warriorship is absolute great respect for your enemy, and that the last resort is taking your life. Now, that starts to change the discussion around morality, right? Because you see that morality is in the eyes of the beholder. And so to always, always, always step up and take the highest and broadest perspective, human-centric, or even heliocentric or world-centric, Cosmo-centric to use Wilbers term, right? So in trying to come from that perspective, in that perspective, you start with the sameness in all humans. And then you go to appreciate the differences in the diversity, and where there’s conflict, you seek some sort of resolution that doesn’t include death. But if it’s not possible, then sometimes that’s what’s needed to keep order.


Dr. Brian Lowery  27:55  

I’m surprised that there wasn’t more training for you, or people in those kinds of roles on this.


Mark Divine  28:01  

You would think there would be, you know, there’s probably at the Naval Academy, I think they would probably certainly address some of these issues in like ethics class, or the academies are big on Aristotelian ethics and stoicism, which, you know, they do have some kind of relationship to what I’m talking about. But most of what my lessons around this came from contemplation and self-awareness studies, meditation, and thinking deeply about the nature of human beings. Cause meditation, you know, self-awareness development, when you go deeply within you get to what I just claimed earlier, you get to see the sameness in everybody. That’s the essence of spiritual practices to touch into that which makes us alive, that which creates us. And then you’re like, wow, why would I ever want to hurt another human being? How could I? Possibly because I’m hurting myself. Anyways, I hear what you’re saying. It is surprising that the military doesn’t teach it, I started teaching it. I teach it to SEALs now and the SEALs are starting to teach mindfulness, and my breathing practices or our breathing practices. So there’s a little bit of a Trojan horse there. I don’t have to teach them the theory but teach them the self-awareness practices, and they’ll find it themselves.


Dr. Brian Lowery  29:05  

Yeah, no, I like that. Yeah, I come at this not from like, the book is written mostly from an empirical science, like, that’s the base that stands, where I start. But even from there, once you start examining, and I think some things you’re talking about become self-evidence is too strong. I think there’s strong evidence that pushes toward this idea that we are all connected in some significant way. The way I get there, again, is just the empirical evidence, like studies in the lab and you know, research done in the field, but there’s a way of reading that, which looks really close to what you’re describing in a more spiritual kind of language. And you know, people want to talk about the book, some people will bring up Zen Buddhism because it seems pretty close even though, again, that’s just kind of how it ends up, and I get why people see the connection,


Mark Divine  29:52  

The title of the book, Selfless, right? Points right directly to that.


Dr. Brian Lowery  29:58  

100% it does The thing I just point out is like, it wasn’t purposeful. And I don’t claim any special knowledge of Buddhism at all, like, you know, I’ve read a little bit, but I will say at the best, I have a very novice, very limited understanding of it. But, when people talk about I’m like, yeah, they, you know, there’s evidence to suggest, for example, that I can get you to include someone else’s face and your perception of your own face, that’s just cognitive science, like, we can talk about what that means, at a philosophical or spiritual level. And, and that’s what I think I get really interested in what it means. But that’s not speculation, that’s demonstrable. You can show this effect. And then then the question becomes how do you guess how do you interpret what that means? Or why should you care about that? There’s not a question of is that possible. And so in the book, what I really do is focus on like, hey, what kind of the data show, and then I kind of play like, alright, if we take this seriously. And we accept this idea that we’re social constructions that are produced in relationships or interactions with other human beings? What are the consequences, and what you’re giving in that spiritual kind of description of a warrior ethic is the very end of that, like the sense that we are all connected in some way.


Mark Divine  31:12  

With social media. I don’t personally engage my social media. Few listeners might be like, what I see you on social media; well, someone takes a video clip of my podcast and puts a quote to it. And it’s not me. I’m a little too old for that. And I just don’t like it. But younger people love social media. And yet, a lot of times this, this social identity they create is disconnected from their actual sense of self. What does this mean in your kind of theory? Like, how does that effect them and others in their relationship to them?


Dr. Brian Lowery  31:45  

The disconnect you’re talking about, I don’t have a strong view of that. I mean, I don’t yet know how to think about this construction of a alternate self. Through technologically mediated relationships, I’ll put that relationships in kind of quotes there.


Mark Divine 32:01



Dr. Brian Lowery 32:02

I don’t know what to make of that completely yet. But I will say when I talk about tech, and I do talk about a little bit in the book, I think that it might be hindering the possibility of the self to evolve in the way it has in the past. And by that, I mean, it’s hard to forget now, because you know, if you were born in I don’t know, late 2000s, then everything you’ve done is probably been online. Right? 


Mark Divine 32:26



Dr. Brian Lowery 32:26

And there’s still there were I don’t know about you, but hardly anybody knows what it looked like pre Middle School, like maybe there’s some yearbook photos, nobody, you know, those things, there’s more flexibility, because they’re not etched in some medium, some media somewhere that forces me to continue to engage with that version of who I was. That’s one thing. The other thing that I think is also maybe lamentable is the reliance on algorithms that tell us what we’d like or what we should do.


Mark Divine 32:54

For sure. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 32:55

I get the convenience, right? Like, I’d love to listen the songs. I listen to Spotify, and it sends me songs and tells me what I’m gonna like. I’m like, yeah, they’re right. I love that song.


Mark Divine  33:03  

Yeah, it channels your variety, though. It takes away the variety of experience.


Dr. Brian Lowery  33:07  

Yes, it limits serendipity. Like, you know, it’s nice to go into a record store and just flip through stuff and find something you didn’t think you would like. And an algorithm wouldn’t tell you to try. Or go to the bookstore and just browse books and see what you find. And not to mention, like, if you’re dating or relationships using these apps, I mean, it’s channeling you in a way that doesn’t allow for the kind of variety or, you know, surprise that you could have had before. And I think that is not fantastic, let’s say.


Mark Divine  33:36  

It goes back to what we were talking about whether it’s deliberate or accidental, that it’s a form of conditioning. So the broader point here is human beings, we can either be created, or we can be the creator. And your example of going into the record store. Gosh, I haven’t heard that term in a long, going into Tower Records and browsing. 


Dr. Brian Lowery 33:54

Ah, yes.


Mark Diviine 33:55

Vinal, that’s being the creator, right? You are deciding to explore and see what comes up. And you might be surprised, like, Wow, this looks cool. As opposed to an algorithm creating your likes and dislikes by pushing onto a certain thing that they think you like, or what the consumer, or the corporations want you to see, or the government. And I think that’s a big deal. Like I have a saying with my team, that I train, they say that if you’re not training your mind, someone else is training it for you. And the results will speak for itself.


Dr. Brian Lowery 34:24

I like that. It’s a good one.


Mark Divine 34:25

So what I love about your book is you’re expanding the horizons of what people can now perceive as training the mind and it has a lot to do with the situations and the people that you place yourself in or you find yourself in.


Dr. Brian Lowery  34:39  

Yeah, one of the things that I think that people don’t think about enough is how these even small interactions are meaningful. So I think one of the things I hope people take from this is that you can really expand yourself and your sense of the world in ways that will be surprising to you. If you take these small interactions you have day to day a little bit more seriously, like when you talk to someone like ask them real questions and listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to agree with it, you don’t have to like them. It’s still there’s something there for you. And I think that it’s amazing that I said this earlier, we walk past whole worlds every day, like every person you pass or encounter has some incredible stories you just haven’t heard we don’t know about. In most of those you’re not going to get and that’s fine. But when you are interacting with someone and create that possibility, is really a worthy goal to create the possibility of having your world expanded and that interaction…


Markk Divine 35:28

I love that.


Dr. Brian Lowery 35:28

Is a worthy goal. And this goes to your point of, are you going to be a creator? Are you going to allow other people to give you material that will shift who you are and how you see things like that is a incredible opportunity that we think often take too lightly.


Mark Divine  35:45  

Wow, I can’t improve upon that at all. Nor would I try? So I’ll kind of wrap up here. But I do love what you just said because I don’t think people understand enough how unique everyone’s world is. Because we just look out we see this reality where we’ve named things or identified things and say, oh, everyone experiences it the same way as I do. No, there’s not one world out there. There’s 8 billion worlds. And every interaction is an opportunity to understand someone else’s world. That’s great.


Dr. Brian Lowery  36:15  

Yeah, my goodness said it better. There are a billion worlds out there. And man that opportunity to explore is vast. 


Mark Divine  36:22  

It’s vast, limitless.


Dr. Brian Lowery 36:25



Mark Divine 36:25

Awesome. So Selfless. Dr. Brian Lowery, available where books are sold. Do you have a website or social media like people that interact with you?


Dr. Brian Lowery  36:34  

Sure. I have actually do a podcast too, in part because I love having these conversations and have an opportunity to talk to incredible people like you, sometimes I do the interviewing. It’s called Know, K-N-O-W. Know What You See. Then I have a website, knowwhatyousee.com. Most of my material is there. You can see other podcasts that I’ve been on and such. I also don’t do much social media. I do have a Twitter account, but like you it’s very, very similar. It’s @ Brian Lowery Ph.D.


Mark Divine  37:05  

Awesome. Well, thanks again, sir. This has been a delightful conversation. I really enjoyed it and appreciate you for doing the work and for doing your own work.


Dr. Brian Lowery  37:13  

Thank you. I really appreciate the time was a great conversation great questions, and I really admire the work you’re doing.


Mark Divine  37:19  

Thank you. Hooyah, take care. What a fascinating conversation with Dr. Brian Lowery, author of Selfless The Social Creation of You really really enjoyed that conversation. And it was very, very valuable. Hope you enjoy it. Please share it with your friends. Shownotes are up and MarkDivine.com and the YouTube is on my YouTube channel. You can reach out to me on Twitter @ Mark Divine, on Instagram and Facebook @ Real Mark Divine or you can find me on my LinkedIn profile. quick plug for my Newsletter Divine Inspiration, which comes out every Tuesday. Where I have show notes for the week’s podcast, I’ve got my blog, I’ve got a practice and a book I’m reading, and other interesting that comes across my desk. It’s exclusive for subscribers. Go to MarkDivine.com to subscribe and also share that with your friends. Thanks so much to Jason Sanderson and Geoff Haskel, and Catherine Divine, who helped me produce this podcast and newsletter and bringing incredible guests like Brian Lowery to you every week. Ratings and reviews are very, very helpful. So if you haven’t done so, please consider reviewing and rating us wherever you listen to. It helps us stay at the top of the rankings and helps other people find us. Thanks so much for being part of the change you want to see in the world. As I mentioned with Dr. Lowery, there is not one world out there; there’s 8 billion. And so if you take care of your world first, then you can inspire others to take care of their worlds and, ultimately, through that practice and process of changing individual worlds. The external consensus reality will begin to change. It’s the only way to do it. And thanks for doing your part. Until next time, this is your host Commander Mark Divine. Mark Divine out, Hooyah!


Transcribed by Catherine https://otter.ai



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