Our guest on Scrubbing In today is Noah benShea, Pulitzer Prize-nominated and international Best Selling author of 25 books. Noah is a scholar, theologian, and private advisor to many political and corporate leaders. In this episode, we discuss Noah’s approach to philosophy, and how to look at the common in an uncommon way. I personally got a tremendous amount out of our discussion, I hope you do as well.
Below is a transcript of that conversation
Todd Schlosser: Hello, and welcome to this episode of “Scrubbing In,” a podcast powered by SpecialtyCare. I’m Todd Schlosser and my guest today is Noah benShea. He is a Pulitzer Prize nominated, international best-selling author of 25 books; a scholar; a theologian; and a private advisor to many political and corporate leaders. In this episode, we discuss Noah’s approach to philosophy and how to look at the common in an uncommon way. I personally got a tremendous amount out of our discussion, and I hope that you do as well. Enjoy.
Noah benShea: We’re a time machine.
Todd Schlosser: Right.
Noah benShea: You’re a time machine because-
Todd Schlosser: We are corporeal forms that pass through time.
Noah benShea: We’re of a time machine. In your memory, you can go backward in time. In your imagination, you can go forward in time. But the only place you can steer is in the now.
Todd Schlosser: Yeah, it’s in the present.
Noah benShea: Right now, in the present. And like the old joke is, the reason they call it the present is because it’s a gift. We’ve all heard … please, doctor.
Todd Schlosser: All right, so we are joined by the wonderful Noah benShea, who is an author, a poet, and a philosopher. And you have been for quite some time, let’s just say it that way. Quite some time.
Noah benShea: When my son was young and someone asked him, “What does your father do?”
He says, “My father types.” That’s … I do.
Todd Schlosser: A philosopher’s work is done at the keyboard. Well, nowadays.
Noah benShea: It isn’t a person on a talk show. I think people tend to think of sometimes when you have public notoriety or such that you’re the guy doing some publicity, doing a radio interview or something. People tend to forget: I’m a guy who if he’s lucky gets to spend several hours a day by himself in a small room.
Someone came to me one time and they said, “Look, you have this beautiful view of the ocean,” because I live in Santa Barbara.
I said, “If I’m looking at that ocean two minutes after I sit down, I’m not in this room.”
The idea is to walk into this room and step out of yourself, go beyond yourself … be humble enough to get out of yourself. Otherwise, you’re only … in my work, you’re only writing what you know. I’m trying to …
I woke up in a hotel room in London once saying, “I write things wiser than I am.” That’s what I’m trying to access, and the access to that is the loss of ego, to step into something.
Todd Schlosser: So I believe you said this, correct me if I’m wrong: “Too often, those who do no dream seek to destroy the dreamer by waking him.”
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Noah benShea: Yes.
Todd Schlosser: So when you’re in that room, locked yourself away, and you truly get to ponder those things that most people don’t … most people live in the humdrum agenda of their day … how do you stay in that state with all of the other …? Because you’re a married man. You’ve got kids. How do you stay in that philosopher state when you have all those other things pulling at you?
Noah benShea: I don’t. I can spend six hours writing 1,800 words on patience and lose my patience in 35 seconds in a parking lot. I’ve witnessed that in myself.
Here’s my take on that. We live in a little blue ball spinning in space at 1,046 miles an hour. We can find our balance and lose our balance at any moment. There’s no mission accomplished. So you can have your terrible 22s, your awful 33s, your tremendous 44s, your uncertain 55s. You can have all of those moments in your life.
So you just try to stay conscious in the moment, establish some character levels in yourself that are okay for you in that moment, and then oftentimes, I get woken by others who remind me of things that I haven’t thought about that. It isn’t like … A poet or a philosopher isn’t someone who’s always espousing great things.
The word in Greek for “prophet” isn’t “he who speaks,” it’s “he who listens.” So every now … You [inaudible 00:03:36] and think. Like somebody says something, I’ll go, “I can take that.”
I’ll give you an example. This is great. I’m not a big jewelry guy, but I like watches. So because I like watches, I get mailers from people who are trying to sell me watches. And I get a mailer one time that says, telling a story as a lead-in to this watch they were selling … that if you looked in the pocket of an eighteenth-century French aristocrat, you would find two pocket watches because pocket watches were inclined to run down. And when one ran down, you would set it by the other watch.
I read this in a mailer. I’m going through the mail. I said, “Thank you very much. I’ll take this. I’ll take this, and here’s how I would translate it into Noah finding metaphor and truth.”
In each of our lives, there will come a time when we will wind down, when we will lose our … we won’t know where we are. We won’t be able to take our own bearing, and we will have the blessing of somebody else being next to us who will help us reset ourself off of them.
But when you lend that capacity to others, do not take it too seriously because you too will run down. And that’s what we understand as the shared relationship in the community of people. That’s my take about being disturbed.
And a lot of times, of course, there’s the other truth. A lot of times, we get dragged kicking and screaming to a better place.
Todd Schlosser: I’ve experienced that myself plenty of times.
Noah benShea: We all have because a lot of times we leave our ego in charge. Big mistake because the ego says, “I got plans for you this afternoon. And this is supposed to be …”
Jung once said that ego is being caught in hell. He’s trapped in hell.
So you think of, “This is supposed to happen.” Well, when that doesn’t happen, your ego gets … So that’s putting [inaudible 00:05:17]. And you suddenly find yourself depressed, gray, upset, however it is. And then suddenly because this didn’t happen, just for the sake of conversation, this incredibly beautiful, wonderful woman walks over and says, “I just couldn’t help but notice you there, and I saw how frustrated you’re looking. And I was just wondering, can you tell me where I can have a drink?”
And I go, “This is how life unfolds also.”
Todd Schlosser: So you have shown us a few times just now how you are able to look at sort of common things in a very uncommon way. You actually have a quote about this in one of your books. I wondered when you discovered you had that ability because not everyone has that. I, as someone who looks at things in a very common way, look for that in other people.
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Noah benShea: Part of it is I always refer to my mother. My mother had … Scripture tells us that before we are born, we’re both male and female. And we come into this life, and if you’re a male, you’re trying to find your female aspect. If you’re a female, trying to find your male aspect. I’m not talking about your gender [inaudible 00:06:15], but you move from an objective to a subjective quality, aspect, side in yourself in any way.
So my mother … I have a very strong feminine side. My wife says, “You’re the most definitively metrosexual guy you would meet.” And they laugh because I love cooking. But if you look at my spatula, you’ll find chalk dust because I’m outside doing push-ups or lifting weights in between stirring the spoon. I’m on both sides of the deal.
My mother had a sign up at a house … We come from fairly humble circumstances, and my mother always had … Well, I remember one little thing, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
My parents were not deeply religious, but they were deeply ethical and held an ethical center. I became more of spiritually prayer-observant than they did eventually in life, but they had the sense of faith. And my father, I remember as a child saying to me, “Look, God has blessed you with certain gifts, but he hasn’t blessed you with those gifts so you can get your head further down in the trough. You have another agenda in this life, Noah.”
And that’s what I’m trying to do. It took me a while. I went through a checklist one night. I was up in San Francisco. My wife is from Northern California. We were up there between Christmas and New Year’s. We’re in the city, and it’s a rainy night in San Francisco. Welcome to a rainy night in San Francisco, you can hear the taxi horns down the street.
They’ve got the best of the PBS shows on TV at the end of the year. Peter Drucker, a great business guru, taught at ‘SC, consultant to the chairman of GE and GM [inaudible 00:07:44], and they’re asking him a question. They say, “What was the first question you always asked the chairman of one of these big companies?”
He said, “That was easy. I always asked them, ‘Do you know what business you’re in?'”
So he said to me … When he did it, when he said that, it was like a zen monk whacking me with a bamboo stave, waking me up in a meditation pose, and I said, “Noah, what business are you in?”
I said, “Well, I’ve been a professor, and I’ve written these books. And I’ve been nominated for these prizes, and I’ve done this. But why am I here?”
Everything I’ve done, whether it’s written or verbal or this, has been with the aim to be a source of strength to others. That’s my agenda. I cop to it.
I didn’t know how I was going to make a living doing that. And I’ve been blessed in many ways with things I never thought would unfold how they unfolded. But that’s my agenda. And that’s why early on … And I also found, by the way, when I was about 17 or 18 that being a poet philosopher was very impressive to girls. And that only doubled up my curiosity-
Todd Schlosser: It only added to your drive.
Noah benShea: Absolutely. I remember both sides of the metrosexual guy. But the thing is, what I found in that is that what you thought in life sometimes will seduce someone else is self-seducing. Sometimes what we think, “We’ll impress them with this,” the question is, does it impress you? Does it impress you-?
Todd Schlosser: That’s probably why you assume that it will impress them.
Noah benShea: Yes, right. So you go through it. And that rapprochement between you is built on this quid pro quo. So I’m here to be a source of strength to others, bottom line.
Todd Schlosser: So you have been here helping us at SpecialtyCare this past week find a voice and help us tell our story. And that’s something that you’ve been doing. You’ve been working in the health-care arena for over 10 years now, helping companies do just that. Do you have a certain philosophy when you go in on the ground floor? Your first day there, how do you attack that situation?
Noah benShea: Well, I attack it by not attacking it. I attack it by trying to quiet myself, which is always a wise first step in almost any-
Todd Schlosser: Like philosophers? Listen?
Noah benShea: Yeah. So I try to listen, pay attention, ask questions, allow people to feel … And I think people oftentimes do feel when they’re around me that I’m a white light so that if I ask them questions they know I’m not doing it to embarrass them or to make them less but to have a better picture and to be a healing source even in the questions.
So my first job here at SpecialtyCare, which has been rather remarkable, is to quiet myself and witness, and witness, some rather amazing people who are doing some incredible things not just in their individuality but in their shared teamwork and making a difference in the lives of so many, of so many. I’m just looking … I look ahead down the road for the joy of this.
Todd Schlosser: I love what you helped us do over this past week, and I did notice that … Of course we introduced ourselves when we walked in, and you sat down … I think the next 10 minutes or 20 minutes, you didn’t say anything that wasn’t a question. If it didn’t end in a question mark, you weren’t saying it. So you were asking questions and absorbing information.
And then one of the things that you were doing was chiming in on other people’s ideas and helping them hone their idea. So how much of what you do when you’re helping a company craft their vision like you are here at SpecialtyCare is sort of taking other people’s thoughts and ideas and honing them in a way that is more conducive to conveying the message?
Noah benShea: Well, two thoughts. One is the gestalt that one and one is three. So there’s that in trying to work together.
The other is that in the work in my lifetime, a long time, has been twofold. One is to see things, to have a vision, some insight. Two, to find the language that will speak to that most clearly. And then three, to put the language together with the insight in a way that people go, “That’s really cool. How do you do that?” in as few words as you can.
Todd Schlosser: That way it sticks with them?
Noah benShea: Exactly. So I feel that we’re a team. I hear somebody saying something, and when I’m working on … I was being interviewed … A number of years back, I wrote a weekly column for a group of New York Times papers for about five years. I was being interviewed by somebody, and they said, “How long does it take you to write one of those pieces?”
And I said, “Usually about 15 hours.”
He said, “It just seems to flow so naturally when you read it.”
I said, “That part. That part took 30 years.”
Todd Schlosser: Well, that’s where you save yourself, in the edit. Because most writers write 1,500 words, they cut it down to 750 because they’re cutting out what they don’t need.
Noah benShea: And I’m trying to cut it down to 15. I’m trying … That’s the work. I’m trying to hone it in or put a collection of them together in that regard.
Anyway, the lesson to me is that in this community here at SpecialtyCare, this community brings two elements. There’s a lot of really smart people, and there’s a lot of really kind and caring people. So if I can help people who bring real genius in the sense of ideas that are important and are caring, and I can help give that language to translate it, then it’s like adding a megaphone to an effort.
And that’s what I’m here to do. As much as I can understand it, that’s what I’m here to do in this lifetime.
Todd Schlosser: I do feel like a lot of the work that my team does here at SpecialtyCare revolved around honing that story and honing that voice and holding a megaphone up to it and getting that message out there. So how important is it for a company like SpecialtyCare or health care in general to have a story and a message to get out there? Why is that effort important?
Noah benShea: Well, it may not have struck you, but 24/7, 365, there seems to be a lot of people screaming at us. A lot of people trying to send us message. We live in an information age of such an extent that in case you’re dying of thirst, you have to drink from a fire hose.
So what I think is if we’re doing something really important and we want to have our voice heard in this broader, intense world, then we have to have our voice. And when I was talking with Dr. Sam, the CEO, it isn’t about finding a voice better … We have to have our voice so that when everybody is shouting, we can be a small quiet voice. When everybody else is putting up big neon signs, we can be a beautiful panoply of candles.
We can do something and all the rest of it will play to us. All the rest of it.
If you put a single black dot on a big white canvas, all the eye will see is that single black dot. It will keep being drawn to the [inaudible 00:14:51]. So I think we just have to recognize our voice, and my work with the team of so many people here is to help us find voice because we have a story to tell and we’re going to tell it. We’re going to tell it.
Todd Schlosser: Awesome. Well, Noah benShea, I appreciate you joining us for our first ever “Scrubbing In.”
Noah benShea: I’ll tell you a great story. Years ago, my mother was toward the end of her life, and my mother … I was at a hospital, and I said, “Mom, you remember, you always wanted me to be a doctor when I was a kid. And now I just want you to know, I’m a professor to doctors.”
She looked at me, she says, “Put on a white coat and have somebody take a picture.” So she still wanted me to be …
Todd Schlosser: I bet we could do that while you’re here.
Noah benShea: SpecialtyCare, we have a story to tell. A lot of people tell you stories to put you to sleep. We’re going to tell you stories to wake you up. Nice to be here.
Todd Schlosser: Thank you so much.
Noah benShea: Thank you.
Todd Schlosser: I appreciate it.
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