Steven C. Hayes is Nevada Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. His chief research areas include human language and cognition and its application to various psychological difficulties. His bestselling book "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life" rose to #20 on the Amazon.com list of all books in early 2006 and became the #1 self-help book in the US for a month. He was the first Secretary-Treasurer of the American Psychological Society (now known as the Association for Psychological Science), which he helped form. His other books include "The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living," co-written with Russ Harris and published in 2008.
Question: What keeps you up at night?
Steven Hayes: What keeps me up at night in a positive way is the possibility that we might contribute to the development of human culture in a way that, years from now, people who will never know our names may be able to live more empowered lives. And if you ask like what is the name of your great-great-great-grandfather, you probably don't even know if you get three or four greats out. So it's not that we're immortal; we're going to die very, very soon. It's not that what we produce is going to live on; it will not. But the changes that we can make in the culture can be there for people that we will never meet, that will never know us, and that's what keeps me up at night. It's what excites me about science, that we can learn ways of being with each other. And the behavioral sciences have not been enough of a part of cultural development. The physical sciences have; the behavioral sciences have not. And I would like to see if we can bring some things into human culture that would humanize and soften and empower people.
What keeps me up at night in a negative way is, if we don’t solve these problems of the human heart and of the human head, of human psychology, there is no technological solution so great that it can prevent the world that is coming, and a world of suitcase bombs or of the ability to pollute the planet in a way that it cannot recover, of global warming and the rest. We've created through science and technology a different world that has frightening sides to it, and psychology and behavioral science has to be part of this, because if you take something like the so-called war on terrorism, if we go out another 20 years and it isn't just planes into buildings, but it's a suitcase bomb in the middle of New York, there's not enough soldiers and there's not enough bullets to kill enough people to make us safe. I think we're going to have to find a way to humanize the culture itself.
And it isn't just them; it's us. When we fly planes over countries, dropping bombs on the evil ones, I think we're doing something very similar to what's being done when the infidels are getting their comeuppance with planes going into buildings. So it's gotten to the point where if we are not healthy psychologically as a human society, we will not have a planet to live on. And that's what keeps me up at night, when I see so little focus on the behavioral side of these problems, and the idea that just politics, or just physical science, is going to solve this. Or just the military; it's not true. We have to solve this, and we've got to solve it in our own heads and in our own hearts, one at a time. And I think psychotherapy actually tells us a little bit about what we might need to do to soften the culture and make it more possible for us to live together as human beings on this planet.