Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Just A Little Nicer.

About Sally Kohn's TED Talk

Political pundit Sally Kohn says we shouldn't worry as much about being politically correct; instead, she says, we need to focus on being emotionally correct.

About Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn is one of the leading progressive voices and television pundits in America. She previously worked as a Fox News contributor, which was the motivation for her TED Talk. She is currently a CNN contributor and columnist for The Daily Beast.

Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, New York Magazine, USA Today, Salon, Politico, Time and many other outlets. She also works as a communications consultant, providing media and public speaking coaching.

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It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, just a little nicer - ideas about compassion and empathy. And is there any more compassionate place this time of year than cable news?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Nobody else in America earning a hundred...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: OK, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a second. Wait a second.


RAZ: One of the voices you're hearing here is Sally Kohn.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: First of all, Sally, the Congressional subsidy...

SALLY KOHN: So all it does is let the Congress continue to play a portion of those costs...


RAZ: Sally Kohn is...

KOHN: ...A columnist and a political commentator at CNN.

RAZ: And that means she does this...


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: See, again, (unintelligible) their entire objective.

KOHN: That, Monica, with all due respect, is apples and oranges. In other words, if there are - every time you go to look for a job, there are five to six other people...

RAZ: This is what Sally does for a living - she argues with people on TV about politics. And for that she gets lots of hate mail.

Can you take - like take out your iPhone or whatever you have there and just read like some of the things that people have tweeted at you or emailed to you just like in the past couple days.

KOHN: Let's see here. Just last night after putting my kid to bed after our Christmas tree decorating party, I got a tweet that said [bleep] you.

RAZ: Huh.

KOHN: That was it. Let's see here. You can't really be that dumb. I'm not sure how you were raised. You stupid [bleep]. That's a good one.

RAZ: Wow.

KOHN: That one was spelled correctly.

RAZ: Right, yeah.

KOHN: So two thumbs up for Brad.

RAZ: Way to go Brad.


RAZ: So for Brad, for Sally, for all of us, there are more ways than ever to be cruel or mean or nasty. And yet, as we we'll hear from Ted speakers on the show today, compassion is actually necessary for our health, for a well-functioning society, for our survival. And it's often easier to be compassionate than you might think.

KOHN: It's like, you know, if you have that uncle who you disagree with at the holidays...

RAZ: Yeah, he still loves you.

KOHN: ...You know, might argue politics, but you still love them and they love you and they're still nice and they care about you. But you would never say the things to your uncle in person that people say to complete strangers on Twitter. So, you know, we have to figure out a way to relearn compassion and that is ultimately being able to appreciate and validate someone else's experience even if it isn't our own.

RAZ: So even when you get all this stuff, you kind of internalize it and you say you know what? Actually, I think that we can become more compassionate, and I'm optimistic we're going to get there.

KOHN: Yeah, like six days out of seven.


KOHN: I allow myself sullen Sundays. I just, you know, sit and mope about the future of humanity.

RAZ: All right, so Sally's TED Talk is short. It's about four minutes, and she spoke back when she worked as a progressive lesbian political pundit on Fox News.


KOHN: So y'all heard that, right? Just make sure, right, I am a gay talking head on Fox News. I'm going to tell you how I do it and the most important thing I've learned. So I go on television. I debate people who literally want to obliterate everything I believe in - in some cases who don't want me and people like me to even exist. The hate mail I get is unbelievable. Last week alone, I got 238 pieces of nasty email and more hate-tweets than I can even count. I was called an idiot, a traitor, a scourge, a [bleep] and an ugly man. And that was just in one email.


KOHN: So what have I realized being on the receiving end of all of this ugliness? Well, my biggest takeaway is that for decades we've been focused on political correctness. But what matters more is emotional correctness - the tone, the feeling, how we say what we say, the respect and compassion we show one another. And what I've realized is that political persuasion doesn't begin with ideas or facts or data. Political persuasion begins with being emotionally correct.

So when I first went to go work at Fox News - true confession - I expected there to be marks on the carpet from all the knuckle dragging, right? That, by the way, in case you're paying attention, is not emotionally correct. But liberals on my side, we can be self-righteous. We can be condescending. We can be dismissive of anyone who doesn't agree with us. In other words, we can be politically right but emotionally wrong. And incidentally that means that people don't like us, right?

Now, here's the kicker. Conservatives are really nice. I mean, not all of them and not the ones who send me hate mail, but you would be surprised.

Sean Hannity is one of the sweetest guys I've ever met. He spends his free time trying to fix up his staff on blind dates. And I know that if I ever had a problem, he would do anything he could to help. Now, I think Sean Hannity is 99 percent politically wrong, but his emotional correctness is strikingly impressive. And that's why people listen to him, because you can't get anyone to agree with you if they don't want to listen to you first.

It actually sounds really hokey to sort of say it standing up here, but when you try to put it in practice, it's really powerful. I'm not saying it's easy.

An average of like 5.6 times per day, I have to stop myself from responding to all of my hate mail with a flurry of vile profanities. I'm not perfect. But what I am is optimistic, because I don't just get hate mail. I get a lot of really nice letters - lots of them. And one of my all-time favorites begins - I'm not a big fan of your political leanings or your sometimes tortured logic, but I'm a big fan of you as a person. Now, this guy doesn't agree with me - yet.


KOHN: But he's listening, not because of what I said, but because of how I said it. And somehow, even though we've never met, we've managed to form a connection. That's emotional correctness, and that's how we start the conversations that really lead to change. Thank you.


RAZ: So what do you do? Do you, like, when you're with somebody who just - whose views you just think are totally like reprehensible, you hate everything they say - like do you think, OK, let me just imagine what the world would be like if I was them? Like, do you actually go through that process in your head?

KOHN: Yeah.

RAZ: Huh.

KOHN: Yeah, and it's almost a meditative practice. You know, when someone - I don't know, pick an issue - they don't want immigration reform, because they're worried enough about losing jobs and how the economy is changing in their community - all of that. And, you know, if I think OK, what emotionally can I connect with?

The economic anxiety piece - I can connect with that. And it's not just like I feel your pain. I get it. I feel it, too. I actually understand that feeling. If I can start the conversation there with a connection and then say that's why actually I support immigration reform because X, Y, Z, P and Q, I'm not invalidating that other person's experience. I'm not invalidating their emotions, their sense of the world. I'm saying yeah, you're valid. Look, all we all want to be told is that our feelings are valid.

RAZ: You see, I never thought that I would be making this observation, but it seems to me that cable news has actually made you more compassionate.

KOHN: (Laughter) Wow, I think you're right.

RAZ: Yeah.

KOHN: I mean, wow. Gee, Guy.

RAZ: Right? Yeah, yeah.

KOHN: I had to think about that for a second, but yes. No, there's no question that I, you know - I've been thinking about this more and more lately. I have a, you know, we all, I guess, have a mean streak, and I've definitely had to learn to temper that. But compassion where it's not compassion for my neighbor or my friend or my relative, but compassion in an anonymous sense is a form of trust and faith and hope. Doesn't mean I don't lose faith like with any form of faith. Your faith isn't tried or tested daily but if I - it's sort of if I didn't believe it were possible, well, then where would I be?

RAZ: That's the political pundit Sally Kohn, who is actually pretty compassionate on TV. She's got two TED Talks. You can find both of them at


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And he's now calling her a train wreck.

KOHN: Look, first of all, the premiums - let's address a lot of the things that are in here. Let's address a lot of the things that are in here - the premiums, the...


RAZ: So Sean Hannity - actually a warm and cuddly guy?

KOHN: It really throws people, yeah (laughter).

RAZ: If you could get like a Sean Hannity blankie, would you buy it and snuggle with it?


SEAN HANNITY: There are only four states that have lower rates, am I right?

KOHN: And in New York, for instance, they're going down dramatically.

HANNITY: Yeah, OK, that's...

KOHN: Whatever - but wait, but wait. Point number two, point number two, you know, Monica's point would be really interesting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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