Jul 22, 2022

You v. You

This episode, originally aired more than a decade ago, attempts to answer one question: how do you win against your worst impulses?

Zelda Gamson tried for decades to stop smoking, but the part of her that wanted to quit couldn’t beat the part of her that refused to let go. Adam Davidson, a co-founder of the NPR podcast Planet Money, talked to one of the greatest negotiators of all time, Nobel Prize-winning Economist Thomas Schelling, whose tactical skills saw him through high-stakes conflicts during the Cold War but fell apart when he tried them on himself in his battle to quit smoking. And a baby Pat Walters complicates things — in a good way — with the story of two brothers, Dennis and Kai Woo, who forged a deal with each other that wound up determining both of their futures.

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[RADIOLAB INTRO]

 

LATIF NASSER: Hey, I'm Latif Nasser. This is Radiolab. Starting with a quick announcement, but a fun one: our merch store, which we're calling Camp Radiolab this time around because there's this great camp-inspired t-shirt, is open for one more week. Head on over to Radiolab.org/shop sometime before July 29. You can get that aforementioned t-shirt as well as hats and sweatbands and other summer gear—water bottle. Once you are decked out in all that Radiolab swag, take a pic, tag us on Insta or Twitter, yeah, just show off your nerdy summer self. We'd love to see it.

LATIF: Again, that is Radiolab.org/shop for all your summer gear needs, which you will need because it is hot! I am sweating. You may be sweating. You may not be able to think about anything other than the next time you can get in a pool or a walk-in freezer or something. But let me ask you about something you are probably not thinking about, which is how are those new year's resolutions from seven months ago, how are you doing with those? I ask because the episode you are about to hear, which is an oldie—it's called You v. You—it's all about this kinda struggle. This struggle between the prudent well-planned version of you that you imagined in the past, and then the impulsive, instant-gratification-chasing you of this moment right now. And if you like me are a kind of living, walking mockery of your own imagination of yourself from the past, maybe this episode will help. Who knows? Either way, I hope you enjoy it. Here it is: You v. You.

JAD ABUMRAD: Okay, from the top. You ready?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yep.

JAD: Hello.

ZELDA GAMSON: Hello, hello!

JAD: How are you doing?

JAD: We're gonna start things off today with this lady.

ZELDA GAMSON: Zelda Gamson. Welcome to our little spot.

JAD: It's beautiful!

ZELDA GAMSON: Thank you.

JAD: She's 80 years old. And these days, Zelda lives a quiet life by the sea.

ZELDA GAMSON: On Martha's Vineyard! Did you have some coffee?

JAD: She visits with her grandkids, does some gardening.

ZELDA GAMSON: We have a bird feeder, and it is the bird show of the world.

JAD: [laughs]

JAD: But life for Zelda wasn't always so calm. Back in the '60s, when our story begins, she was a very different kind of lady. She even went by a different nickname. Just ...

ZELDA GAMSON: Z. [laughs] Okay, I was a smoker. 30 years.

JAD: Wow.

ZELDA GAMSON: I started when I went to college in 1954.

JAD: At first, it was just a cigarette here or there.

ZELDA GAMSON: Letting the bad girl out a bit. And then I got hooked, really, and I couldn't stop. Went to graduate school, smoked. Got my dissertation, smoked. Got my degree, smoked.

JAD: And somewhere in the fog, she meets ...

MARY BELENKE: Hi.

ZELDA GAMSON: My friend Mary.

JAD: Also a smoker.

MARY BELENKE: I love smoking. Made me feel very elegant.

ZELDA GAMSON: [laughs]

MARY BELENKE: We were very good friends.

ZELDA GAMSON: We were part, in the early '60's, of the Congress on Racial Equality.

JAD: Together, they'd organize protests.

ZELDA GAMSON: Well, we would demonstrate.

JAD: And the two of them would even go undercover to fight ...

MARY BELENKE: Housing discrimination.

JAD: And the backdrop to all of this social change?

ZELDA GAMSON: Smoke.

MARY BELENKE: You got it. I mean, our houses were filled with these ashtrays.

JAD: How much were you smoking at that point?

MARY BELENKE: Probably smoked a packet a day.

ZELDA GAMSON: I was a worse smoker than Mary. And I was sometimes up to two packs a day.

JAD: Wow!

ZELDA GAMSON: Yeah, I had kids. I was pregnant.

JAD: You smoked while you were pregnant?

ZELDA GAMSON: I did.

JAD: Wow.

ZELDA GAMSON: Yeah. I feel so guilty about that.

JAD: So at a certain point, Zelda and Mary decide they want to stop.

MARY BELENKE: Yeah.

ZELDA GAMSON: Yeah.

JAD: Now Mary, who'd never been as badly addicted as Zelda, it wasn't easy ...

MARY BELENKE: It was agonizing.

JAD: But eventually, she's able to do it. Zelda?

ZELDA GAMSON: Nope. I thought sometimes that I could stop, and so I would.

JAD: Over and over, she'd throw out her cigarettes.

ZELDA GAMSON: Okay. Done.

JAD: But then ...

ZELDA GAMSON: Then I'd be around somebody with cigarettes, oh F.

JAD: Any reason that she'd give herself ...

ZELDA GAMSON: Cancer. My kids. The smell. The fact that I could die.

JAD: ... it always lost out to the urge.

ZELDA GAMSON: And I'd always start smoking again.

JAD: And this is how it would go: resolve, failure. Resolve, failure. Okay, so this is not the most unusual situation in the world, but the question I wanna ask right now is, like, how do you get out of this?

ROBERT: You know, you want to do something badly, but then another part of you says, "No, I don't wanna do that." So it's you against you, what do you do?

JAD: I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD: This is Radiolab. And today ...

ROBERT: The little deal that you make when you are stuck ...

JAD: ... with yourself. Okay, so before talking with Zelda, it just so happened that I went with Adam Davidson ...

ADAM DAVIDSON: Hi!

JAD: ... One of the Planet Money guys.

THOMAS SCHELLING: I'm Tom.

JAD: To visit this fellow, Nobel Prize-winning economist named Thomas Schelling, who's written a whole lot about this seemingly simple idea of ...

THOMAS SCHELLING: Commitment. Arranging it so that you can't compromise. I'll give you an example.

JAD: Here's one from ancient Greece.

THOMAS SCHELLING: Xenophon the Greek, who was being pursued by a huge army of Persians, had to make a stand on a hillside. And one of his generals said, "I don't think this is a good location to make our stand. There's a cliff behind us. There's no way we can retreat if we need to."

JAD: And Xenophon told his general, "Exactly."

THOMAS SCHELLING: "Welcome the cliff."

JAD: In fact, he said, "Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna march our armies so that their backs are directly to the cliff. That way ...

THOMAS SCHELLING: "The Persians will know that we can never retreat. We're bound to fight to the death."

ADAM DAVIDSON: You're really binding yourself. You're not binding the other side.

THOMAS SCHELLING: Yeah. It's attempting to influence somebody else's choice by restricting your own choice.

JAD: But then we asked him: what if your adversary isn't on the outside like the Persians, but rather it was you?

THOMAS SCHELLING: [laughs]

JAD: How do you do what Xenophon did to yourself?

THOMAS SCHELLING: Yeah. I—I began smoking when I was 17 years old. I did quit several times, but I always went back.

ROBERT: Ooh!

JAD: But he did tell—he did give us some suggestions.

ROBERT: Mm-hmm.

JAD: One in particular that was so awesome to use your favorite word.

ROBERT: I hate ...

JAD: So diabolical, that we just didn't think anyone would ever do it.

ROBERT: Ooh!

JAD: That is until we met Zelda.

ZELDA GAMSON: Yeah.

JAD: Fast forward a few decades ...

ZELDA GAMSON: 1984.

JAD: Mary and Zelda now live in different parts of the country.

ZELDA GAMSON: I happened to be going to a conference in Vermont, and Mary picked me up at the airport.

MARY BELENKE: Right.

ZELDA GAMSON: And I was smoking when she picked me up.

MARY BELENKE: Which was curious because nobody smokes anymore.

ZELDA GAMSON: She said, "Why, Zelda. Are you still smoking?"

MARY BELENKE: And Zelda said ...

ZELDA GAMSON: "Yeah. And don't tell me to stop."

ROBERT: [laughs]

ZELDA GAMSON: I was very belligerent.

MARY BELENKE: Yes.

ZELDA GAMSON: [laughs] So I went to the conference, and smoked.

JAD: And were they guilty cigarettes?

ZELDA GAMSON: No, they were delicious.

JAD: [laughs]

JAD: But what Mary said was starting to worm its way into her brain.

ZELDA GAMSON: "Are you still smoking?" And when she dropped me off at the airport, I said, "Okay, Mary!" As if she had been putting pressure on me, which she wasn't at all. "If I ever smoke again, I'm gonna give $5,000 to the Ku Klux Klan."

ROBERT: What?

MARY BELENKE: Did she say $5,000 to the Ku Klux Klan?

ZELDA GAMSON: Correct.

JAD: This was Schelling's suggestion.

THOMAS SCHELLING: It can work.

JAD: But he didn't think anyone would ever do it.

ZELDA GAMSON: $5,000 to the Ku Klux Klan. It just came out of my mouth.

JAD: Huh.

ZELDA GAMSON: You know how horrible they are, right?

JAD: Sure.

ZELDA GAMSON: So heinous.

JAD: But her and Mary made a deal.

MARY BELENKE: A pact.

JAD: If Zelda smoked, she'd have to tell Mary to send the KKK her money.

ZELDA GAMSON: Take it out of my savings or something.

JAD: And you were really serious? You were gonna do this?

ZELDA GAMSON: Yeah. But I have to say, after I made this pledge to Mary, under my breath I said, "But I can't be responsible if she smokes again."

JAD: What? If she smokes again?

ZELDA GAMSON: If she smokes again.

JAD: Who's the "she" in that sentence?

ZELDA GAMSON: Me.

JAD: You. What does that mean?

ZELDA GAMSON: Well, that means that a part of me, the part of me that was smoking and that might pick up smoking again was an alien part.

JAD: You're saying you were two people at that moment?

ZELDA GAMSON: Yeah.

JAD: And she ...

ZELDA GAMSON: Z didn't really want to stop smoking.

JAD: She.

ZELDA GAMSON: She. Yeah.

JAD: After the pact, Zelda says that often when she would fall asleep ...

ZELDA GAMSON: I would dream of myself smoking.

JAD: And she'd wake up ...

ZELDA GAMSON: In a terrible sweat.

JAD: ... reach for her cigarettes. But every time, she says, this other thought would just rush into her mind.

ZELDA GAMSON: The KKK.

JAD: Robes, burning crosses, lynchings.

ZELDA GAMSON: Oh God!

JAD: And she'd throw the cigarettes down.

ZELDA GAMSON: I couldn't!

JAD: The idea of them having her money ...

ZELDA GAMSON: I can't even imagine it.

JAD: Sounds like you really backed yourself up against the cliff.

ZELDA GAMSON: I did. [laughs]

JAD: Zelda had found a thought that was hotter than the urge.

ZELDA GAMSON: And she didn't smoke again.

JAD: Never again.

MARY BELENKE: Nope.

ZELDA GAMSON: That was it. Cold turkey.

JAD: Wow.

ZELDA GAMSON: Look at this. There's a picture of me on a cruise that Bill and I took.

ZELDA GAMSON: Here she is.

ZELDA GAMSON: It's a profile picture of me.

ZELDA GAMSON: Look at the cigarette.

ZELDA GAMSON: I look gorgeous there. That's the best picture ever taken of me.

JAD: Now if we are many people on the inside, and we've talked about this on the show before how, like, our brain is literally divided into camps that sometimes wrestle and fight.

ROBERT: Right.

JAD: Well the problem, according to Thomas Schelling, is that these cells ...

THOMAS SCHELLING: Never exist simultaneously. We're never at the table together. The one who's in charge never confronts the other. I guess that makes it hard to compromise.

ROBERT: Well, you know, there is another way to think about the problem.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: Things that are offered right now have so much more power than things that are offered in the future.

ROBERT: Oh, this is David Eagleman. He's a neuroscientist, and he says, you know, really, you could think of this whole thing as a battle about time.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: We'll make all sorts of very economic decisions ...

ROBERT: ... now versus later, really.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: If something is offered right now versus. When you look at the neuro-imaging, it becomes clear that there are different parts of the brain that are battling this out.

JAD: And the "now" parts are way stronger.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: Yes. Here's the key. What she's doing in the case of the cigarettes is she's saying, "I know that I want to win this long-term battle, but I'm having a heck of a time doing it. But if I can make the long-term plan tied into a different, immediate feeling of disgust, then all I have to do is have the disgust battle the desire."

ROBERT: I see. So she's—what she's done is she's turned this battle into a present-tense battle on both sides. "I want a cigarette now!"

JAD: Versus "I hate the KKK now!"

DAVID EAGLEMAN: Precisely.

ROBERT: So it's a now versus now thing.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: And I think that's the only way we ever win these long-term battles is to give them some sort of emotional salience, some reason why they matter to us right now. Otherwise it'll never work.

JAD: And there are any number of ways of doing this. Here is how Thomas Schelling did it.

THOMAS SCHELLING: 1980. Gather my children together and I said "I quit." And that they should never have respect for their father again if I returned to smoking.

ROBERT: And he never—he never did?

JAD: No, that was it for him.

ROBERT: Huh.

JAD: The thing I like about those two stories is that, like, there's a case where, like, okay, say you've got these cells battling in your head. You've got the "now" part and the "later" part. And the "later" part's weak.

ROBERT: Yeah.

JAD: But in this case, the "later" part found a way to trick the "now" parts.

ROBERT: Hmm.

JAD: And this has a name, this kind of approach. It's called "The Ulysses Contract." In The Iliad ...

ROBERT: Make that The Odyssey.

JAD: ... there's a moment where Ulysses and his men have to sail past the Island of the Sirens. And Ulysses knows if they hear the sirens' song, they're dead.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: Sailors were so attracted to these melodies that they would steer towards them and crash their ships into the rocks and die. So on his way there, before the music started he came up with a plan. He had his men lash him to the mast with ropes so that he couldn't move, and he had them fill their own ears with beeswax. And he said, "No matter what I do, no matter how I'm gesticulating or shouting or acting like a crazy man, just keep rowing. Just keep going."

JAD: And so when they got to the Sirens, Ulysses ...

DAVID EAGLEMAN: He goes nuts! And he's screaming and yelling and telling the men, "Go towards the women! We don't want to pass this up!" And of course the men have these wax in their ears. They're not swayed by the Sirens' song.

JAD: Because he had planned for this.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: The present-tense Ulysses ...

JAD: ... by using his men and the rope have literally bound ...

DAVID EAGLEMAN: ... the future Ulysses ...

JAD: ... to the mast. Because he knew that guy would be weak.

 

***

 

ROBERT: If we can just move off the ocean for just a moment.

JAD: Gone. Get outta here, ocean.

ROBERT: [laughs] Radio. What a weird medium! Anyway, what if the bargain that you strike isn't just about something, you know, very, very, small and now like this puff of smoke? What if it's a deal that you have to do that will decide what you're gonna do for every day of the next 40 years?

JAD: Yeah!

ROBERT: What then?

JAD: Well, this brings us to a story from our producer Pat Walters. Ready?

PAT WALTERS: Mm-hmm.

JAD: Okay. Set it up.

PAT: Okay.

PAT: Okay, I'm in Chinatown.

PAT: About a year ago ...

PAT: The corner of Pell and Mott.

PAT: ... my friend Jenny posted something on Twitter that said, "Overheard: I flipped the coin and I lost my life."

JAD: I flipped a coin and lost my life?

PAT: Yes.

JAD: And what's Twitter?

PAT: [laughs]

JAD: No, I mean, she—she actually heard someone say this?

PAT: Yeah, she was just like—she's a reporter. She was just chatting with a guy, and he—and he said that to her.

PAT: I flipped a coin and I lost my life.

JAD: Wow. What was the context?

PAT: Well, she was getting a massage in Chinatown.

JAD: And how would that phrase come up in the middle of a massage?

PAT: I don't—I honestly don't know.

JAD: But she's a reporter. Didn't she ask?

PAT: She ...

JAD: She didn't say, "Get your hands off me, man, and tell me the story?"

PAT: I don't know exactly what went down, but I asked her what the situation was. She said that she basically didn't know anything.

JAD: But she just heard that?

PAT: She heard it, and she told me that it was at this place that was, like, either at one of seven different addresses that she gave me.

JAD: [laughs]

PAT: So I just wandered around.

PAT: Do you know of some place around here called Health Pro? A massage place?

WOMAN: I have no idea.

PAT: No?

PAT: Wandered around to several different addresses.

PAT: Damn!

PAT: And eventually, I found this tiny little storefront.

PAT: There's a little sign with some feet. Hello?

PAT: Kind of hidden.

MAN: Oh. You want to see my—my son?

PAT: And I found the guy who said the thing.

PAT: Hi.

DENNIS WOO: Hi.

PAT: How are you?

DENNIS WOO: I'm okay.

PAT: His name is Dennis.

DENNIS WOO: I'm Dennis.

PAT: And I just asked him. Tell me about this coin flip.

PAT: Can you tell me—can you—so when did this happen?

DENNIS WOO: Well, it happened about four years ago. I was 26 and my brother was 21.

PAT: Both of them had gone to college. Dennis for photography, his brother for art. And they'd come out of school with these big dreams.

DENNIS WOO: Seeing new places, meeting new people, making a life and making money.

PAT: But that hadn't really worked out.

JAD: Oh.

DENNIS WOO: No job for me.

PAT: They're having a hard time finding jobs. And they ended up living at home with their dad.

DENNIS WOO: Yeah. With my dad. So basically, I was staying at home taking pictures. And my brother ...

PAT: He was just working at a restaurant.

DENNIS WOO: No life either.

JAD: So this is basically post-college flail.

PAT: Yeah. Like they're stuck.

DENNIS WOO: Stuck in the middle of the road. That's what happened to us.

PAT: And one day their dad comes up to them and says, "Look guys ..."

DENNIS WOO: "One of you guys gotta follow me."

PAT: "I need one of you—I don't care which one of you, but I need one of you to take over the family business."

DENNIS WOO: My father's getting old. Either both of you come out or one of you come out.

JAD: Oh, so one of them now has to carry his—his thing.

PAT: Yeah.

JAD: So what does the dad do?

PAT: He runs this massage parlor.

JAD: Yeah.

PAT: Sons were not interested.

KAI WOO: Yeah, neither of us really want to do it.

PAT: That's Kai.

KAI WOO: Kai Woo.

JAD: Dennis's little brother.

DENNIS WOO: Because touching people's foot, it sounds kind of disgusting, right?

KAI WOO: You know, there's always a hairy guy or, like, some girl with, like, busted toes.

DENNIS WOO: Disgusting and annoying, plus it's 24 hours, seven days a week.

KAI WOO: Yeah, a little more than I can take. Like, I love my dad.

DENNIS WOO: But you just don't want to follow your dad's footsteps.

PAT: But their dad says, "Get over it. This is about family."

KAI WOO: Keeping the business alive.

DENNIS WOO: Keeping the technique he has alive. In the whole Chinatown, I don't think any massage place or any therapy place would have my father's technique.

JAD: It's a special kind of thing?

PAT: Yeah, it's this, like, deep tissue acupressure ...

DENNIS WOO: It's painful.

PAT: ... type massage.

DENNIS WOO: I don't know if Jenny told you that.

PAT: No.

DENNIS WOO: It's really, really painful.

PAT: Anyhow, they're sitting at home and this question is kind of like silently hanging over them for days and weeks, until one day they're having some tea, talking about their dad. And Dennis looks up at his brother and says ...

DENNIS WOO: Let's make a bet.

KAI WOO: Let's do a tea leaves thing.

JAD: The what?

KAI WOO: Let's see what the—what the tea leaves say.

PAT: Well, Dennis says when you're drinking loose tea the Chinese way, you put the leaves right in the bottom of your cup and you pour the water over them. And usually the leaves float up to the top flat on the surface of the tea. But every now and then ...

KAI WOO: Every tenth cup you might see the tips is floating and the rest of the body is inside the water.

PAT: Like the stem, sort of?

KAI WOO: Yeah, yeah.

PAT: And then the leaf is hanging down?

DENNIS WOO: Yeah.

JAD: You mean, like, every so often instead of the whole leaf being on the top of the water, the leafy part just falls to the bottom?

PAT: Yeah. And just the tip of the stem is touching the surface of the water. Almost like it's hanging down from the surface of the water.

JAD: And this is rare?

PAT: Yeah.

DENNIS WOO: So when you get that that means good luck.

PAT: And is that like a traditional ...?

DENNIS WOO: That's when the old people that was doing that. That's how we understand it when we was kids. So we just decide okay, whoever gets that ...

PAT: Whoever gets the most lucky tea leaves ...

DENNIS WOO: ... wins. Whoever wins, you're out. You don't need to work for my dad.

KAI WOO: Yeah.

DENNIS WOO: Whoever lost, follow my father's footsteps.

JAD: They trusted their whole future to this?

PAT: Yeah.

KAI WOO: It was like a spur of the moment thing. Yeah, we didn't really plan anything.

DENNIS WOO: But sometimes people just flip a coin. Like, they can't figure out which way should they go so they just flip a coin. When you pour the hot water in, they were, like, floating around like a small tornado inside. They were spinning.

PAT: And then ...

DENNIS WOO: Once it's done ...

PAT: ... each cup has a layer of tea leaves on the surface. And Dennis notices ...

DENNIS WOO: Whoa, look at it!

PAT: ... that he'd gotten one.

DENNIS WOO: One piece. I was like, "Wow! That's incredible!"

PAT: Then he looked over to his brother's cup.

DENNIS WOO: Oh my God.

PAT: Way more of these lucky leaves.

KAI WOO: It was pretty obvious, you know, that he lost.

PAT: It wasn't even close?

KAI WOO: No. [laughs]

PAT: Do you remember if he was, like, angry, or ...?

KAI WOO: It looked like he was deep in thought, kind of thing. Like, "Damn!"

DENNIS WOO: It was like, it was the worst thing in my life.

PAT: And it basically was, because now he was bound by these tea leaves to go and work for his dad.

JAD: Oof.

PAT: What—what happened? Do you ...

DENNIS WOO: The first day I come here to work, I don't feel like touching anybody's foot. So he forced me to touch his foot.

PAT: Did he have to, like, grab your hands, and ...?

DENNIS WOO: So he just sit there, take off his shoe. Without washing his feet. Okay, that's kind of disgusting. So he just tell me to try and work on it.

PAT: His dad eventually said, "Practice on your friends."

DENNIS WOO: So I was like, "Oh God, no! They still hate me right now for giving them all the pain.

PAT: When that was going on, do you remember, like, what was going through your head? Were you like, "What am I doing?" Like, did you feel like you were on the wrong track?

DENNIS WOO: Well, I don't know how to explain.

PAT: Here's the funny thing: Dennis says that there came a point ...

DENNIS WOO: After a month of working on my father's feet, I don't think it's disgusting anymore. I kind of like it.

JAD: He likes it?

PAT: Yeah.

DENNIS WOO: I don't know why. It's just like, making me oh, it seems nice to work on people. I don't know how to explain it. I just stopped worrying about this job. I don't know how that happened. I just started working here seven days of the week. It's, like, become part of my life. Wake up in the morning, come here, work. Go home, sleep. Come here and work. So it's just become part of my life. And if I got a day off, I don't know where to go. I'm just staying home. Let me come back out here and work. That's what happens. It's just that I think that's how falling in love is. You don't know how it's supposed to happen, when it happens, it just happens. But it was a good move I was thinking. I love this job now.

JAD: Aww! So it sounds like he made this deal with fate, and he just got lucky.

PAT: No.

JAD: No?

PAT: Kai has a slightly different read on the whole thing.

PAT: Well, so if he had won, would you have had to do it?

KAI WOO: No.

PAT: No?

KAI WOO: No.

JAD: No?

KAI WOO: No.

PAT: Kai said the whole tea leaf deal was really just about Dennis.

KAI WOO: I think at that point, in the back of his head he wanted to do it.

PAT: Just an excuse.

KAI WOO: I think he was just looking for a sign.

PAT: I'd have to ask him, I guess.

PAT: And when I did ask Dennis, he didn't really agree with his brother.

DENNIS WOO: Well, it's just—how you say ...

PAT: But he didn't entirely disagree either.

DENNIS WOO: It's not that because I wanted to do it, it's just like, it's kind of I'm using my brother to push me to work for my dad.

PAT: What do you mean by that?

KAI WOO: I don't think he wanted to make his own decision.

DENNIS WOO: It might be better if I just work for my dad, but I don't want to face him. So if my brother just pushed me, okay I'll be facing him.

PAT: Ah.

DENNIS WOO: That could be what happened.

JAD: So he just needed a push. All right.

ROBERT: What a wimpy thing to do, though. You know, when you think about it?

JAD: Why is that wimpy?

ROBERT: Well I mean, he—he wanted to be a masseuse, you know? And ...

JAD: He didn't know what he wanted.

ROBERT: No, he knew. And he set up his brother to make him do it.

JAD: No. No. If you call it wimpy ...

ROBERT: I call it wimpy.

JAD: I call it powerfully wimpy.

ROBERT: [laughs]

JAD: Muscularly wimpy.

ROBERT: Meaning what? What does that mean?

JAD: Meaning that—oh, I got one for you. I'm gonna lay this—you ready for this? Maybe the new strength is understanding your own wimpiness. What do you think about that? Ooh, I just—I just tied you into a philosophical knot right there, buddy.

ROBERT: [laughs]

JAD: You're gonna be thinking about that one for years!

ROBERT: I'm thinking about it. I'm overthinking about it now.

JAD: Just take it in. Take it in, the complexity.

ROBERT: [laughs]

DAVID EAGLEMAN: Can I speak now?

JAD: Yeah.

JAD: David's gonna say something.

DAVID EAGLEMAN: This is who we are. I mean, that's the reality on the ground. We're just weak. We need help. And I actually think this gives—this gives us a new way to think about and understand virtue. I think it gives us a much richer view of human nature.

JAD: Thanks to Pat Walters, our Chinatown correspondent. And to Thomas Schelling, who's written many, many books including The Strategy of Conflict. And to Adam Davidson from the amazing Planet Money team. And to David Eagleman.

LATIF: Something to note since this story aired is that Thomas Schelling passed away in 2016 at the age of 95, and Mary Belenke passed away in 2020 at the age of 87. David Eagleman released a new book in 2020 called Livewired. You should check it out. It's a great read.

[LISTENER: Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser are our co-hosts. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Our staff includes: Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, W. Harry Fortuna, David Gebel, Maria Paz Gutiérrez, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Alex Neason, Sarah Qari, Anna Rascouët-Paz, Sarah Sandbach, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster. With help from Bowen Wang. Our fact-checkers are Diane Kelly, Emily Krieger and Natalie Middleton.]

 

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