VIDEO

Want to Be More Optimistic? Consider the Triumph of Human Reason

For once, an optimistic worldview is the one sparking controversy. Paul Bloom thinks humans are not prisoners to their emotions, but have great capacity for rationality and reason. This makes him an anomaly among his fellow psychologists, and philosophers and neuroscientists, who often argue that we’re fundamentally and profoundly irrational. Paul Bloom is the author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Paul Bloom's most recent book is Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.

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Paul Bloom
Professor of Psychology, Yale University
04:28
VIDEO

What It's Like to Be a Muslim-American Woman in the US Today

When she was nine years old, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh heard her first racial slur, from the mouth of one of her classmates. It was 2001, and 9/11 had just shocked and shattered the US's sense of safety. "I grew up through the worst forms of bullying, through an extremely low self-esteem, and it was very difficult for me to formulate who I was and what my identity meant to me," she says. So what was it like, 15 years later, being an American-Muslim woman in New York the day after President Trump was elected? Braced for the worst, Al-Khatahtbeh left her home and under the grey mood and matching skies of the day, was surprised by warm smiles and kind gestures from strangers in New York City. Even compliments on her headscarf. They were tiny exchanges that signified to her that there was a common understanding, and that hope was where it always has been — in other people.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh's book is Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.

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Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of MuslimGirl.com
02:20
VIDEO

America’s Next Moonshot: Cut Poverty 50% by 2030

Optimism, as defined by economist Jeffrey Sachs, is more than just a translucent, faraway wish. It means having bold goals and acting on them—even if you have no plan or existing knowledge of how you'll get there. The US was once good at this: In May 1961, President Kennedy stood before Congress and announced that the US would land a man on the moon and bring him back safely before the decade was out. In the summer of 1969, that mission was achieved. If American politicians, scientists, engineers and the public could unite for the space race, then the same is unquestionably possible for the urgent humanistic causes of poverty, inequality, and curbing global warming, which will create millions of climate refugees this century. Optimism doesn't just require vision and determination—it needs a deadline, as JFK showed. By 2030, let's mobilize our optimism to cut poverty in half in America, and make a decisive move to renewable energy.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Jeffrey Sachs is the author of Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable.

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Jeffrey Sachs
Director, The Earth Institute
03:14
VIDEO

How Going Blind Showed One Man the Light

If Isaac Lidsky had not gone blind by the age of 25, would he have graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude, or clerked for two Supreme Court Justices, or created a technology company worth hundreds of millions of dollars? It is impossible to say. But it is difficult to imagine his life being any better with the supposed gift of sight. Indeed Lidsky says losing his sight was the true gift he received in life. Why? Because it showed him how literally everyone creates their own reality — even seeing the world, says Lidsky, is an act of creation. Once you learn that reality is yours to create, you will only want to create a better one for yourself.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Isaac Lidsky is the author of Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly

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Isaac Lidsky
Author 'Eyes Wide Open'
03:26
VIDEO

The Universe May Not Have a Purpose — But You Do, Thanks to Science

The universe doesn't care about you, and the future is miserable. So begins theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss' guide to optimism. Optimism? You heard us right. We may never find meaning or purpose in the universe, but to assume that our purpose is interlinked with that of the universe is what Krauss calls the height of solipsism. Life is beautiful precisely because it's so temporary, and if anything helps us to be optimistic in a morally neutral universe, it's science. Asking questions and understanding what something is helps us realize the consequences of our actions. Armed with knowledge, we can make decisions for the common good. If that's not hope, what is?

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Lawrence Krauss' most recent book is The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far: Why Are We Here?.

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Lawrence M. Krauss
Director, Arizona State University Origins Project
02:22
VIDEO

Whether You Believe You Can or Believe You Can't, You're Right!

Life advice is awesome under one condition only: when it's being given by someone who has truly lived. That's Kyle Maynard defined. At 26 years old, Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. He's an award-winning mixed martial arts athlete, best-selling author, and Arnold freakin' Schwarzenegger has described him as “the real deal.” But Maynard didn't always believe he would have a life like this. He talks us through two key moments in his youth where he felt a sense of hopelessness, and shares how he shook fear and doubt, and found the mindset that has been his path to success.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Kyle Maynard is the author of No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life.

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Kyle Maynard
Author 'No Excuses'
05:35
VIDEO

Is Hope for Weak People? One Man's Journey through Life with MS

When Richard M. Cohen visited the Big Think studio, he came in carrying a quote by Virginia Woolf. It was printed in large font, which seems an odd choice unless you know that Cohen is legally blind, one of the many consequences of the multiple sclerosis he was diagnosed with at 25 years old. Another is his fluctuating voice, a neurological symptom of the disease. Unable to read the quote, we promised to place it here:

"...how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul…" — Virginia Woolf, 'On Being Ill' (1926)

For Cohen, there is an unspoken element to the somber terrains that Woolf describes: the country of hope, which he only recently came to fully understand. Richard M. Cohen's new book, Chasing Hope, which chronicles his personal relationship with hope and faith, will be released in early 2018.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

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Richard M Cohen
Author 'Chasing Hope' (2018)
05:50
VIDEO

"Us vs. Them" Thinking Is Hardwired—But There’s Hope for Us Yet

Robert Sapolsky has a bone to pick with oxytocin, or rather the public's perception of oxytocin. It is the love hormone, we've surely all read by now. It helps us bond to our parents, then to our lovers and later to our own children. An extra dose can increase empathy, goodwill, and understanding. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows, here's the catch: those warm fuzzy feelings are only generated for people you already favor. Oxytocin, represented more honestly, is the hormone of love and violence. Its effect in the presence of people you consider "others" is preemptive aggression, and less social cooperation. It creates distance as often as it bonds love, and we are hardwired for those social dichotomies.

Humans invent "Us" and "Them" groups wherever they look, whether it's on the basis of sex, race, nationality, class, age, religion, hair color—there's nothing we won't discriminate against, and we do it within a twentieth of a second of seeing someone. Are they an "Us" or are they a "Them"? The flaw in this hardwired thinking reflex is also its silver lining: it is ridiculously easy to manipulate. A racial bias can be duped by something so simple as putting a cap with your favorite sports team's logo on someone's head, for example. You can overthrow your brain's most primal reactions in this way but, as history shows, other people can also get in your head and manipulate the Us versus Them reflex to tragic and catastrophic results.

Robert Sapolsky is the author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

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Robert M Sapolsky
Author 'Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst'
06:40
VIDEO

The Science of Optimism: How Your Outlook Predicts Your Lifespan

Optimistic people tend to live longer than pessimistic people. That's true whether you're rich or poor, young or old, and no matter your race, says sociologist William Magee. As part of a five-year study on hope and optimism—a collaboration between the Templeton Foundation and Notre Dame, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania—Magee looked at what personal characteristics overlap with having an optimistic worldview. Are the well-educated naturally more optimistic? What about those who have a financial advantage in life? As Magee explains, reverse causality can obscure the relationship between education, class and optimism (does good education produce optimism, or vice versa?), but more immutable factors such as age, race, and gender paint a more realistic picture.

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William Magee
Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto
09:44
VIDEO

The Truth About Optimism, and How to Manage Your Biases

Think you’re not an optimist? Neuroscience begs to differ. Dr. Tali Sharot explains that 80% of people globally present with the optimism bias—even if they describe themselves as pessimists or realists. In a nutshell, the optimism bias is the tendency to think that the future will be better than the past or present, and to underestimate negative experiences, and overestimate positive ones. This is neither a good nor bad thing, but rather it's both: we evolved to be optimistic because our primordial ancestors needed to think that there was something better out there, beyond the cave, in order to survive, migrate, and evolve. Optimism is a powerful motivator and has proven health benefits, but it also has downsides. Here, Sharot explains that delicate balance, and how understanding the nature of our cognitive biases can help us better protect ourselves against failure.

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.

Tali Sharot's newest book is available for pre-order: The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals about Our Power to Change Others.

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Tali Sharot
Neuroscientist, Author 'The Influential Mind'
08:55
VIDEO

Want the Benefits of Faith without Believing in God? Try Hope.

If faith is what bolsters the believers, could hope be a form of secular prayer? What is the difference between faith and hope, anyway? Philosophy professor Sam Newlands explains that while the two occupy the same categorical space, they are fundamentally different philosophical mindsets. Faith is fueled by a sense of certainty about an outcome, even if that conviction outstrips the evidence. Hope on the other hand can be cognitively inconsistent and still escape scrutiny: you can think something is highly improbable and still hope for it to be true. Here, Newlands discusses the intersection of hope and faith in a religious context: is religion without faith possible? Can hope manifest religious belief?

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Sam Newlands, head to samnewlands.com.

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Sam Newlands
Co-Director of The Hope & Optimism Initiative
04:22
VIDEO

Cornel West: Hope Is an Action We Can All Take

Institutions—governmental, religious, financial, even revolution itself—have a way of turning stale and sour. "Thank God for the history of the heretics and the blasphemers. That's my crowd," says Dr. Cornel West. Quoting from some of history and literature's greatest thinkers and doers, West presents a poetic lecture on the role of hope in America's past and its future, and how to make your voice matter.

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Dr. Cornel West, head to cornelwest.com.

Cornel West
Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
09:37
VIDEO

Cornel West: Hope Is Spiritual Armor for Fighting Righteous Battles

There is a spiritual war happening in the United States, and to be silent is to be complicit, says Dr. Cornel West. He takes his starting point at the elimination of arts programs under Reagan in the 1980s, and traces how that lack of spiritual nourishment has created a society of solitary nomads where once there was community. It has created consumers where once there were citizens. What must fill that emptiness is hope, West suggests—and hope not as a wistful wish for a better future, but as an enactment of a better future through action. Quoting from some of philosophy and music's greatest thinkers and doers, West presents a lyrical lecture on the role of hope in the battle over the soul of Americans, and American democracy.

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Dr. Cornel West, head to cornelwest.com.

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Cornel West
Professor Emeritus, Princeton University
11:03
VIDEO

What Hope Actually Meant to Martin Luther King Jr.

Here's an exercise: If there's someone near you right now, ask them to define hope. Quickly. What did they say: was it motivational? Did it deal with future ambition, expectation, and desire? Historically, hope has not always had such sugary connotations, and at one point—not so long ago, actually—it was more about confronting suffering in the present than mentally projecting yourself forward to a time where you have overcome your suffering. Drawing from an 1886 painting by George Frederic Watts called 'Hope', which inspired Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1959 sermon 'Shattered Dreams', Andre C. Willis presents a view of deep hope, a method of facing adversity that is woven together from the African American Protestant tradition.

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.

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Andre C. Willis
Philosopher of Religion
08:52
VIDEO

Addressing Racism Means Educating Our Children Differently

There's no getting around it: we're all a little bit biased. But when do harmful implicit biases, like racial judgements, form? Developmental psychologist Lori Markson and her colleagues have identified racial bias in preschool children aged three to six years old. Despite learning that kids this age—both black and white—prefer white teachers, or that white kids trust black adults less, Markson is not pessimistic about the future of race relations—in fact she's the opposite. The more data we can collect on racial bias, the more information we have to develop strategies to close social divides. Based on the research she presents here, Markson outlines three strategies—diversity exposure, bias intervention, and cross-race friendships—that can help to end racist behavior in the next generation, and hopefully in the current one. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism.

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Lori Markson
Director of the Cognition & Development Lab at Washington University
10:15
VIDEO

Prison Dehumanizes the Incarcerated—The Prison Project Brings Them Back

In the last 35 years, California has built approximately 22 new prisons, and the state has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. The US's prison industrial complex has been called America's human rights crisis. So is it possible for prisoners have hope for their future? How do you retain your humanity in an inhumane system? Ten years ago, actor Sabra Williams had an experimental idea: she wanted to bring The Actor's Gang Theatre Company into prisons to work with non-actors, and offer them the emotional tools needed to heal from the trauma of being incarcerated, and all the events of their lives before that. That was the start of the Prison Project, and a decade later it is operating in 10 prisons across California. How well has it worked? It has transformed prison yards. It has built bridges between gangs. Participants have just a 10% recidivism rate and in-prison infractions have dropped by 89%. Engaging in the safe and playful space of theatre is a way for incarcerated people to engage with their emotions, often for the very first time. The entire prison community is deeply interwoven and affected by each other, so the Prison Project is developing a program for correctional officers too, who are often highly traumatized by their experiences, and have highest suicide rate of any job. Sabra Williams runs us through the Prison Project, and introduces former-inmate and student Chris Bingley to share his personal story of reconnecting with his humanity while in prison. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. The Actors’ Gang conducts weekly and seven-day intensive programs inside the California prison system, a weekly re-entry program in the community, as well as a program in juvenile facilities, and soon to be a program designed for correctional officers. Head here for more information on The Actors' Gang Prison Project.

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Sabra Williams
Founder & Director, The Actors’ Gang Prison Project
06:31
VIDEO

Optimists Do It Longer: How a Positive Outlook Will Boost Your Longevity

It's not considered ultra-cool to be an optimist in today's culture. Too much pep comes off as naïveté and we're just one motivational poster away from self-implosion. But do you know what is cool? Living for a long time, with mobility, good circulation, and all your cognitive faculties. Numerous scientific, long-term studies have shown that this goes hand in hand with an optimistic outlook on life. The core difference for why optimists consistently outlive pessimists has to do with how each type copes with adversity. The former engages with their stress and takes action, while the later is less likely to seek positive change, and more likely to disengage with or deny problems. It's not just psychological either, your outlook on life is evident on a cellular level. In this talk for Hope & Optimism, Professor Michael Scheier describes some of these health-damaging and health-promoting behaviors, and provides a (frankly terrifying) list of ways pessimism can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Optimism is something you can learn, and knowing it can keep you in good health for longer is all the motivation you need to break negative thinking patterns. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.

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Michael Scheier
Director, Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center
07:21
VIDEO

A Philosophical Guide to Coping with Life, Death, and Sour Grapes

Life throws us curveballs that test our ability to cope, but perhaps none is more curvy than the end of life itself. Philosopher Luc Bovens examines the idea of secular hope, the forms it takes, and the function of it. He asks: what does it mean to live a meaningful life, and is it possible to die as well as you lived?

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. For more on Luc Bovens, go here.

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Luc Bovens
Professor of Philosophy, London School of Economics
10:34
VIDEO

What Psychiatric Wards Teach Us About the Nature of Reality

Novelist and author Yiyun Li tells deeply felt stories from her stay in a psychiatric hospital, after two suicide attempts. The patients Li shared space with taught her a great deal about living in a world that is sometimes lacking in apparent meaning, and how close reality and unreality truly are. For anyone who has ever felt that "patients running the asylum" is an apt analogy for human society, Li shares the stories behind individuals too readily dismissed or forgotten about. Whether in the field of psychology or politics, tension between orthodoxy and imagination will continue to exist. But if we can find ways to keep our imagination alive, we can thrive in a world that is calling out for answers. Yiyun Li's newest book is Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life

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Yiyun Li
Novelist and Author
07:39
VIDEO

How to Increase Your Will Power? Make a "Ulysses Pact" with Yourself

The only thing between you and your better self is your brain. Programmed to maximize short term reward, we often find ourselves struggling between what we want in the moment and what we'll gain in the long term if we forgo immediate gratification. As neuroscientist David Eagleman reveals, the ancient wisdom of Ulysses remains useful today as a way to contextualize current scientific research. Before temptation strikes, it pays to have a plan for when it arrives. By making a contract with your future self—as Ulysses did with his crew—you can avoid occasions of indulgence. And when you do give into immediate satisfaction, you can build in supports to keep it from wreaking havoc on your life.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

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David Eagleman
Director, Laboratory for Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine
05:07
VIDEO

Hope and Despair Exist on a Spectrum—Here's How to Move Toward Hope

Hope's reputation is so good, it's bad. People hear the word and dismiss it as Hallmark, doe-eyed, emotional fluff. But hoping is not the same as dreaming or wishing: it is constrained by rationality, and unlike fantasy the possibility has to exist, even if the odds are slim. As Professor Andrew Chignell explains: you can wish the weather had been nicer yesterday, but you can't hope it. Hope is a spectrum of how you react to possibility, and it runs all the way to despair. Here, Chignell explains his latest research in philosophy, mindfulness, and uses The Shawshank Redemption to illustrate how closely hope and despair are related. This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which has supported interdisciplinary academic research into under-explored aspects of hope and optimism. Discover more at hopeoptimism.com.

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Andrew Chignell
Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania
06:02
VIDEO

Stop Negative Emotions from Defining You: Welcome to The Actors' Gang

Ten years ago, actor Sabra Williams had an experimental idea: she wanted to bring The Actors' Gang Theatre Company into prisons to work with non-actors, and offer them emotional training to recover from the trauma of incarceration, and the events of their lives that landed them there in the first place. With an incredibly low recidivism rate of just 10% among her students, Williams' experimental idea has proven its worth and now operates in ten prisons across California, which is where Sabra Williams met former inmate and Actors' Gang student Wendy Stag. Wendy recently shared her personal story of learning to cope with trauma and negative emotion at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. The Actors’ Gang conducts weekly and seven-day intensive programs inside the California prison system, a weekly re-entry program in the community, as well as a program in juvenile facilities, and soon to be a program designed for correctional officers. Head here for more information on The Actors' Gang Prison Project.

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Sabra Williams
Founder & Director, The Actors’ Gang Prison Project
07:09
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Hope & Optimism: The Science, Philosophy, and Psychology of the Mind