♪ Estimates are that about every 15 minutes, we make a decision, and that decision often involves a choice of who to put first, ourselves or someone else.
The culture and business of self is thriving.
Richard Lui is a news anchor and a journalist whose life has asked him to repeatedly consider the ping-ponging we all do between acts of selfishness and acts of selflessness.
8 years ago he started flying cross-country weekly to take care of his father, a pastor named Stephen who has Alzheimer's.
He is one of many, which brings me to the mother of all demographic truths, 53 million Americans need support.
And if you ask him, caring for them is both a duty and a privilege with many benefits.
I'm Kelly Corrigan.
This is "Tell Me More," and here's my conversation with Emmy-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker, and the son of Pastor Stephen, Richard Lui.
How's it going?
I'm so happy to have you here.
It is a great day to be with you.
What caught your eye about journalism?
I was a radio news reporter at UC Berkeley.
And what is still defining and I bring up still to this day is one of the stories that I had to do was on Rodney King.
And that is like a long time ago.
But I'm still bringing it up today.
At that time was also the first woman ever to be elected to the Senate from the state of California.
And there I was standing in front of her campaign headquarters.
Little did I know that'd be the story I'd be telling as a journalist for many years.
And you covered Katrina and you covered the tsunami, and you went over to Asia and did a lot of work there-- Yeah.
on sex trafficking.
But then, maybe 8 years ago, when your sort of star was rising-- I mean, you won an Emmy and you were getting anchor jobs at MSNBC-- you made this unusual decision, and maybe, I thought, unusual for a man, to go part-time.
Well, my dad got diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
And we all know the outcome of Alzheimer's.
I just didn't know how long.
And so I walked into my boss' office, I was gonna ask her, "Well, what can we do?
"I don't want to leave this.
I've been working on this for a long time," you know.
And there's no such thing as part-time reporting.
Like, you don't-- No.
It's an 8-day a week job.
It really is.
You're jumping all over the world and... Well, one thing you said is for the first 30 days on the job, you worked nonstop and you loved it.
I loved it.
30 Rock 30 days straight.
Just left CNN out of Atlanta.
And it's a hard journey to get into an anchor seat, especially for a person of color.
So when I was aware that my dad was diagnosed, I was like, I need to be there for him, and how can I do that?
Because my dad had fought for me, so there was no way I wasn't gonna fight for him.
When you walked into your boss' office, did you think, "I'm about to lose my job"?
Yes, I did.
Instead, you know what she says?
"I'm a long-distance caregiver, too.
"Let's figure it out.
We'll come up with 4 or 5 ideas."
And one of those was working part-time.
So one time when my kids were little, my husband Edward took them to see his parents in Arkansas.
And he had to fly on the plane with, like, a baby on each hip.
And everybody on the plane thought that he was a hero and should be awarded a medal.
And so I wondered if you think that your request would have been received differently if you were a woman.
One of the parallels I bring up, Kelly, is that, what is that anguish that a woman goes through when they become pregnant and they're deciding who do I tell and when do I tell it?
And I didn't think that at the time, but after going through it and trying to think of parallels to sort of close the gap that male privilege often increases was that very story.
If I were a woman and if I were pregnant and had to do that-- Right.
That's a similar experience.
So yes, I do agree with you.
So you were a kid in high school that you didn't have big dreams of being a journalist.
But you did kind of care about the wider world.
Like, did you teach computer skills to women?
I did, yeah.
That was when I was in college.
But in high school I had zero desire to this sort of stuff.
The main reason that I worked out of high school is I hated school.
I got a grade point average of about a 0.1.
And I was skipping school about a hundred days a year.
You're kidding me.
I am not kidding you.
And my mom being an elementary school teacher in the same district-- She must have been beside herself.
She was more than beside herself, yeah.
What were you doing on those hundred days?
I sat on the tennis court and I'd play tennis all day and was teaching myself how to play tennis.
I didn't believe that teachers were speaking to me, where I felt like when I was in middle school, they were speaking to me.
Like, "Richard, I care about your ideas and I want to hear about your passions."
I didn't find that in high school.
I got kicked out of my first high school and almost flunked out there.
And the second high school, I almost flunked out again until when Mama came to school-- Uh-oh.
and she didn't tell me.
She sat with the principal.
And she cried.
You made your mother cry, Richard.
You know what that means.
That means sit up straight, get to work.
Get it back together.
That was the come-to-Jesus moment.
So the principal walks down the hall during the break, says, "Richard, can you come here for a second?"
"Oh, OK, yeah."
Never talked to me before.
"We're both school teachers, Richard, your mom and myself.
"I told her I'm gonna take care of you.
I'm gonna get you to graduate."
And he said, "You have to go to summer school "after the graduation day, "take as many classes, the maximum, "and still you won't have enough to graduate.
"You'll be 5 short.
"But I, because I am the principal, "have the ability to write a special dispensation "that says, 'Richard, you can walk with everybody else this May.'"
But, no, I hated it.
It's amazing to think about the one person who intervenes.
Like, I feel like a lot of life stories hinge on that moment where one coach or one teacher just takes an interest.
But when it came down to going back to school, yes, it was City College of San Francisco.
And then Berkeley.
Berkeley, who rejected me.
And then I wrote a protest letter.
And then I got the chubby letter about two weeks later.
And they said yes.
One of the sweet moments were the commencement speeches I gave at City College of San Francisco and at UC Berkeley.
There's my mom and dad sitting in the corner rooting me on.
What--what a full circle moment, huh?
And your dad knew how to give a speech.
He was a pastor.
Yes, he was a Presbyterian pastor.
And he-- Was he good on the pulpit?
Oh, he was good because my mom was good and they worked together.
And so he would write something, give it to my mom, and then she'd fix it, and then he'd speak.
I think what he was really good at doing as a pastor was understanding that it's not one way of being a pastor.
Your pulpit can be you and me sitting together, right?
Or it can be in the courtyard or it can be getting a coffee.
Tell me about Stephen Lui.
Stephen Lui as a seminary student in Southern California at Fuller Seminary was one of, I think, 4 Asian American/Pacific Islanders out of 400 graduates at the time.
Probably one of the first 10 Asian Americans who graduated from that seminary.
My dad, he wanted to become a youth pastor, but he didn't get it.
What happens is he wants to make enough money.
So he took the job and then he left it, and that was really difficult for him.
That was the beginning of us living on welfare because, you know, he had 4 kids and he didn't know what to do.
So he became a social worker.
And then he served at the end of his career those who are like him today, who need help.
And he would tell their caregivers, "Go out and get help.
Don't do this yourself.
And I can help you find those spaces."
He was the guy that would say, if you met him in the street and you'd met him several times and you'd go-- and you'd say, "I'm Kelly, remember?
We met yesterday."
He'd say, "I'm sorry, I have Alzheimer's."
He would recognize his weakness.
When he knew that-- And how lovely for other people.
Holy hand, yeah.
As I'm going through my own journey of caring for him, I do think about accepting those weaknesses and asking for help.
Can you imagine if people felt comfortable saying, like, "I'm sorry, I have depression"?
"I'm sorry, I have anxiety."
"I'm sorry"--you know, like if you were just able to name it and everyone was able to absorb that, that would be incredible.
The one silver lining of many is that now we're very open to addressing that issue.
That it's--especially as caregivers.
We're challenged by mental health, you know, but we're challenged by physical health.
And why can't they be in the same space?
I agree with you.
When we can address it just like everything else as humans without putting it in a category with an angry person walking down the street and screaming in the sky.
That's not always mental health.
That's not the whole story.
That's not the whole story.
The other thing about your dad is that he was a hugger.
Yeah, as his Alzheimer's progressed, he became very much a super hugger and a super affectionate person.
So when I was home, I'd cook, and my dad, who loved to shower and loved to eat, 'cause they would forget that'd eat and they just keep on wanting to eat, just like he forget he took a shower 30 minutes ago, take another shower.
So he would run to the restroom naked wanting to take a shower.
We had a water cutoff so he couldn't turn it on, so he'd go to the shower and couldn't turn it on, come back out, see me standing in the kitchen and say, "Richard," naked, "Richard, can you please go and turn on the water?"
I'd say, "Dad, you already took a shower."
He'd see the food and say, "Ooh, can I eat some of that?"
I'd said, "No, I'm still working on it."
But he'd do that every 30 minutes, Kelly.
Ha ha ha.
And he loved being put to bed.
He did, yeah.
He was just like, "Ooh."
Like, this is actually the noise he'd make.
When he'd go to bed.
And just knowing he was happy, right, at that moment.
Despite all the other difficulties of slipping out of bed or tripping and falling or couldn't eat after a while, he was still smiling.
He'd say, "You're wonderful."
So I think 53 million people are caregivers in the U.S. right now, at least.
Yeah, I mean, there's probably another 5 million family caregivers out there because of COVID.
And then that means that there are 53 million plus people who need caring.
These moments where we're face-to-face with mortality or decrepitude can be moments where you can't bear it.
Like, it's very difficult to see someone that you loved and counted on in a diaper.
It's difficult to help them in and out of a shower.
Are you surprised that your reaction to all of that was to lean in and not to turn?
I was surprised that, um, I was able to find moments of joy despite that.
Seeing your parents fall on the ground and they can't stand up on their own is one of the most head spinning, head hurting experiences anyone can have.
And you're crying inside.
But at the same time, you are charged to do something, you're invigorated.
And so, you know, what happened, Kelly, is we started to laugh about poop.
Well, you do have to.
You do have to, for sure.
Laughing about poop, you know.
Like, if you look at our family texts, we're--'cause we're watching how much Dad was pooping, it could be a one poop emoji, a two poop emoji, or a 3 poop emoji.
And if it was a 4, it was a big day.
It was a big poop day.
Listen, it's not unlike parenting in the early years when you're like, you know, like I would text my husband and say, "Huge poop."
She's got to feel so good right now.
And it's not that we are making fun of them.
We are laughing with everybody.
And we need to be honest about our emotions during that time and-- Yes, and about these things that we live in.
I mean, it's just a body.
Everybody has one.
And-- The Queen of England poops.
So this experience with your dad and this caretaking got you thinking about the choices that we make all the time between putting ourselves first or putting someone else first.
And the thing that's interesting about the book that you've written, which is called "Enough About Me," which is a pretty good title, I have to say, is that it wasn't so much cast as a tragedy.
It was really cast as this incredible opportunity to experience different levels of our humanity.
Letting down our guard, finding strength in vulnerability, to challenge some of those things that we think are untouchable.
Mental health is a good concept around that space.
Do we explore?
You know, because being selfless and being a caregiver, these are all tests of our brain.
I'm writing about things in the book I've never talked about out loud.
And I wanted to explore something that was way above my pay grade.
I mean, the topic of selflessness in an anti-self-help book, come on.
I'm not the person to be writing this.
Let's call Desmond Tutu, right.
Let's call Mother Teresa, if we could.
I'm not that guy.
But as a journalist and as a businessperson, I was thinking, OK, just because it's above our pay grade never stops us from attacking that which can be improved and made better.
So that's the way I approached it.
Well, I mean, I think it's really important to flag that one not need be Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu to be sort of an extraordinary, ordinary person.
If that's the bar, then-- Forget about it.
None of us will clear it.
It's done, right?
We couldn't do it.
And so you talk about these small moves, intellectual moves, emotional moves, and physical moves towards something.
Yeah, we focus on the idea of muscle tone and that we can do something every day or lots of daily things as opposed to the big things.
So if we make a conscious decision every 15 minutes, why not for that moment think about it being selfless?
I'm walking down the street and the person who's living in the street, I'm going through all these different things about how they're gonna use the money, should I give them the money or should I not give them money?
There's another element that's added to that in the book, which is what we call sort of like the 51% rule.
That if it is 51% good, you're still moving the ball forward.
Well, you know, you talked about being in San Francisco General at the kind of crest of the AIDS crisis.
And you saw something that changed the way you thought.
There was a ward, W-A-R-D, that was created for AIDS patients in the eighties.
And there's a great documentary on it that you should watch.
I think it's called "5B."
They put all the AIDS patients in that ward, and all the nurses would go home and talk to their family and say, "I'm now gonna work in this AIDS ward."
They didn't know what AIDS was at the time.
There was more questions than there were answers.
And there are pictures from that time of these nurses touching, getting into bed and holding these terminal patients.
They didn't know the answer, but they did it every day.
Those were their hero moments.
So we have a thing at "Tell Me More" called Plus One.
And this is a chance for you to talk about somebody who's had a sort of profound impact on your thinking.
So who did you pick for your Plus One?
It is Tiffany Parada.
And Tiffany Parada was a person that I was interviewing during a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.
She came up in my ear.
My executive producer said-- because it was breaking news and just rolling-- and he says, "I've got somebody on the ground.
Her name is Tiffany Parada."
That's all I got.
She proceeds to tell me how after they were shot at by this shooter who was in a car moving around, she and her husband decided they'd go back and turn around, try to warn the other people that he was driving towards.
I was just like, "What is she thinking?"
I mean, wouldn't you just want to get out of there as fast you possibly can?
I would go the other way.
I was like, "Well, how did you come to that decision?
What did you do?"
She said, "We drove past him, "we floored it.
We're in an old Suburban, "you know, this thing was shaking.
We bypassed him.
He shot at us again."
Oh, my god.
"We got past him at a hundred miles an hour.
"And then we were rolling down our windows, we were screaming, 'Get out of the way, get out of the way.'"
And I said, "Didn't people think you were the crazy ones?"
'Cause they didn't know what was happening.
She said, "Some got out of the way, some didn't.
And then we pulled over after we warned people."
And then I said, "Well, who was in the car with you?"
She said, "Well, my 3 children."
I said, "How old are your 3 children and what are their names?"
"Oh, there's John.
And there's Rebecca who's 3."
And then she hit the third child and she started to break up.
But she had her whole world in that car.
And she and her husband decided, "What are we gonna do?
We're gonna go try to save other people."
So, yeah, I tell her story very importantly to me because that is what's good.
That's what good out there.
And it makes me want to do more myself.
So you rounded up a team of volunteers to work for 5 years on a documentary about young people who care for their parents.
It's called "Sky Blossom."
Tell us about that project.
You know, the book was inspired by my caregiving and so was this movie.
For me, seeing young caregivers in America aged 11 to 26 out there doing just heroic things at home, but then they're at high school or college and they look like any other student until you talk to them.
And I really wanted to focus on this idea that we do have to look deeper and listen deeper to folks because they're doing some super good stuff.
You see all these different parts of the fabric of America doing one great thing, and that's just caring for family.
We named that movie "Sky Blossom" for a reason, 'cause Sky Blossom during World War II was what the troops used to use when they would look up into the sky and there would be paratroopers coming in to help them.
All of these 11 to 26 year olds are doing the same thing.
And the subtitle.
Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation.
After interviewing them and following their lives for 3 years and then working on the project, I really do believe the next Greatest Generation are these folks.
Well, it's interesting to me because the Greatest Generation refers to people who served, and so many of these kids' parents were injured.
That's exactly why we used that term.
These are the real deals.
These 5 million children across the country that are family caregivers doing amazing things.
We need to hold them up.
We need to support them.
We need to talk about them, because that's good for other folks their age and folks my age to see.
It really complicates the narrative.
[Laughs] It really does.
In a great way.
Yeah, in a fantastic way, you know.
Sorry about that, right?
I must say that when I watched it, I thought, oh, my god, I've never done a worthy thing in all my days.
I mean, these kids are astonishing.
They continue to surprise me and inspire me to do the things that I do every day.
So your book "Enough About Me" is loaded with social science.
And I'm a total sucker for that stuff, too.
And one of the things that you talked about is that selflessness makes us more attractive.
Ha ha ha!
It sure does.
It makes you more attractive.
And make more money.
And live longer.
So let's just hit these real quick.
Tab through it.
The typical self-help book has those things.
You live longer, you look better.
Right, all those things.
We make more money.
All these promises.
So I said, well, why not attack that?
So we did a sort of self-test to say, is this really possible?
And I had a scientist and a researcher working with me on the book.
And they made me the character.
And they had Selfless Richard and Selfish Richard.
Selfish Richard came in at a 6.4.
This is like other people evaluating your attractiveness.
And then Selfless Richard came in at 7.1.
So, ladies and gentlemen, yes, selflessness does make you more attractive.
And the longevity thing is incredible.
I mean, the-- 4 years.
4 years longer if you're honestly selfless in your life.
And making more money.
Over a 14-year period, about 50% more.
It's like an unassailable argument.
When it comes to gratitude, it is the healthy cousin and close cousin of selflessness.
And one of the things that I learned from that particular chapter was, number one, the gratitude apps out there, try them out.
They really are helpful.
Like, there would be days where I'm writing, "I'm grateful for my brother Rob "and my brother Mark and my sister Kristen for giving so much to my father."
And when you reflect back on those things that you're grateful for, it reinforces the things that you will do in your life.
It's like the eulogy effect to me.
I am so moved and affected by eulogies.
I feel like they end up being sort of blueprints.
It's a gratitude letter.
And so find that person that you've not told that you're so grateful for what they've done for you.
Write a letter, doesn't have to be long.
Bring it to them and read it.
But it's been proven by the scientists that, yes, your oxytocin levels say high for a month and the cortisol stays lower for a month for the person you actually read it to and you.
I gotta go.
I gotta go write some letters.
You're good at this.
I mean, this is-- I mean, I've heard your gratitude speeches and eulogies.
I mean, you're a-- you're a--yes.
I just want to say, Steve Goldbloom, who's the director of this project, wrote me the nicest thank you note ever, and I still have it.
And I look at it every day.
I could like quote it to you.
Steve, can I get one, too?
See how grateful he is.
So you had this job that you totally loved.
And you went in and you, you know, you slashed your time on camera, you cut your salary, I'm sure.
Do you have any selfish impulses?
I've got a ton.
And, you know, one of the things when I think about this is what did I leave behind?
But as I was going through the process of these last several years and my projects, I realize that this whole idea of zero sum game is completely and often wrong.
If I didn't do that, I would never have been able to explore these characters in "Sky Blossom."
I would have never been able to explore the idea of selflessness in a book.
You know, it's funny, I think most people cast this thing, this problem that so many people need care and so many people are providing that care as a tragedy.
But I don't think you would.
I would say that it is a tragedy, but it's not only a tragedy.
I was able to learn something from my father that I never thought I'd be able to learn at this stage of his sickness.
And that's why I do say to him, "Thank you."
"Thanks for this.
"I know you didn't want it this way, but you're still teaching us."
♪ Kelly: OK, this is the "Tell Me More" speed round.
Are you ready?
I love it.
If I looked at your Spotify playlist, what song would be the most listened to?
"Bad Habits," Ed Sheeran.
When was the last time you cried?
Best live performance you've ever seen.
Rolling Stones in Oakland Coliseum.
I think I was there.
If you could say 4 words to anyone, who would you address and what would you say?
It would be to my family.
Together, we can do it.
Nobody ever does 4 words.
I knew it was 5 words.
I was like, OK, let's see if they catch that.
Loved being with you.
Thank you so much.
♪ Kelly: If you loved this episode, you might really enjoy our conversations with Ai-jen Poo and Judy Woodruff.
For more about the science of selflessness and altruism that Richard Lui so exemplifies, listen to my podcast, "Kelly Corrigan Wonders," or watch our companion video on pbs.org.