Madeleine Albright on the Uses and Abuses of Empathy and Power

Madelaine Albright
I’m Alan Alda, and this is C+V, conversations about connecting and communicating.
Madelaine Albright: I went out and I bought a lot of costume jewelry to depict whatever I thought we were going to do on any given day. On good days I were flowers and butterflies and balloons, and on bad days, I work carnivorous animals and spiders and things. There was a time the Russians were bugging the State Department. We did what diplomats do, which is complained to Moscow, but the next time I met with the Foreign Minister, I wore this huge bug and he knew exactly what I was doing.
That’s Madelaine Albright. I was hoping to talk with her on C+V because when she was Secretary of State, she brought communication skills to international relations that were not only powerful, they were inventive and game changing.
Alan: . I’m so glad you could join me on the show because I’m such a fan of yours and you’re such an important historical figure. What I love about you as a historical figure is that you are a regular person to talk to. I love your sense of humor, you make me laugh.
Madam Secretary: Well, I love being on a show with you because I feel that I’ve known you forever because I have watched you forever and you’re a historical figure so I’m delighted, so to say.
Alan: We are two historical figures.
Madam Secretary: Yeah, right.
Alan: Your book of Fascism: A Warning, really interests me and it was a best seller as a hardcover and now it’s a best seller as a paperback, right?
Madam Secretary: It’s just begun, so let’s hope.
Alan: The thing that interests me about that because we talk so much about communication on this podcast is your take on how fascism spreads when it does spread. We seem to go through these periods where everything spreads or one philosophy will spread across the world, I think you talk about in your book how after the fall of the Berlin Wall there was a resurgent interest in democracy and now we’re going through a period where strong men and dictators or repressive governments are taking over. What do you think makes things spread like that?
Madam Secretary: I think that what happens is that there are things that are going on in the world that affect everybody whether it’s the industrial revolution or in the case right now frankly, where there are reasons for inequality in our society, some due to technology and people feeling that they have lost what they had, so we are affected by similar kind of movements. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, there really was this unbelievable sense of relief that communism had ended and there was this spirit of hope. What is interesting is I think that the things that are going on now, in many ways are a result of not having been able to take advantage in many ways of that spirit of democracy, to teach people more about how democracy works.
Madam Secretary: At the same time, what we had was the problem of not being able to keep up with the technology and that’s affecting everybody. Then somebody that thinks he’s got all the answers says I can solve your problem, and it’s basically, I’m with you and the people that have caused it or these other people and we need to be against them, and that’s what’s really happened.
Alan: That seems to be, in your take on fascism, seems to be a couple of very prominent points that’s always crop up when fascism is on the rise, I can solve your problems and we have this common enemy that we’re facing, how, how do you distinguish fascism from other kinds of authoritarian rule?
Madam Secretary: Well, first of all, I think fascism is hard to define, people throw the term around. Somebody who disagrees with you and you call the person of fascist or I sometimes talk about the teenage boy whose father doesn’t let him drive so he calls his father of fashion. It’s just a term that’s thrown around, but it’s not an ideology. It’s not like communism, it is a process whereby some leader decides to take advantage of the things that are going on in society that are divisive and this person gains power by providing simplistic answers. The reason that I wanted to do the book the way I did, the first part really is historical. Mussolini was the first fascist and what is interesting about that was Italy had actually fought on the sides of the alliance during World War, the Allies World War One, but they didn’t get anything out of it so there was really kind of a sense of disgust and disappointment.
Madam Secretary: Mussolini was a smart kind of outsider who all of a sudden developed a voice and started gathering people together and was able to say that he could drain the swamp and that things would be different and that he had answers. The part that I find interesting, that really became very vivid during my research, was that Mussolini and Hitler came into power constitutionally and it was during a period of disappointment, the Germans disappointed at the results of World War One, and a way of blaming other people. Then the leaders in charge and Italy, King Emmanuel, simply asked Mousseline to take over and in Germany, the president, Hindenburg, asked Hitler to take over.
Madam Secretary: It comes as a result of huge divisions of blaming some other group and identifying yourself with one group against them and it’s a process. It’s not an ideology, but it is a process and one of the parts that becomes dispositive is that the leader uses violence to gain power.
Alan: I always wondered, I bet many of us do, when you see fascism in full bloom the way it was when Mussolini had the power that he had, you wonder why people would accept somebody exerting that power over them. You said something in your book, there was a phrase that really struck home to me that we seem to have kind of two sides to it, yearning for liberty that’s in competition with wanting to be told what to do. Explore that a little bit.
Madam Secretary: I think that the truth is that liberty is something that is hard to enjoy if you all of a sudden feel unmoored I think and don’t know what to do. So it’s kind of trying to figure out what the institutional structures can be to make sure that people have liberty, that they can enjoy and that actually delivers to them the kind of life that they want.
Alan: I guess you don’t … when you take on a Mussolini, when you accept his initial overtures, he’s not in full bloom as a vicious dictator, he’s a milder version though. I loved the chicken analogy you did.
Madam Secretary: I have to say that really, that’s the best quote in the book, Alan, which is that, if you pluck a chicken one feather at a time, nobody notices.
Alan: And that was Mussolini speaking, right?
Madam Secretary: Yes, right.
Alan: So it was a deliberate strategy to sneak up on his own people.
Madam Secretary: Exactly, he actually also said that he was a stable genius, that he had the answers for things.
Alan: He didn’t use that exact phrase, did he?
Madam Secretary: Yes.
Alan: Mussolini said that?
Madam Secretary: Yup, at least according to what I looked up.

Alan: Somebody like that a guy like Mussolini seems to have the ability to read his audience a kind of what I would call dark empathy, where he knows just enough about what they respond to, to build on that.
Madam Secretary: I think you’re absolutely right. This is a very smart, manipulative kind of a leader but somebody who is at least from all I saw attractive in a way in terms of being able to motivate people.
Alan: I was so struck the more thought about empathy when President Obama said the world will be a lot better if there were more empathy. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, that’s true. As long as it’s not empathy for the purpose of manipulating the people you are expressing the empathy toward because that … a used car salesman, not to denigrate all used car salesman, but the stereotype of the used car salesman is that they are tracking what you’re going through is they talked to you when they focused in on the things that’ll make you buy this piece of junk.
Madam Secretary: I think you’ve put it very well, but I do think that it is important to have empathy and put yourself into the other person’s shoes. One of the things, by the way, I teach at Georgetown and I was just talking about diplomacy, what is the basis of diplomacy and what is important in that case is to put yourself into the other country shoes to know what they need, and be able to identify with that. I suppose you could say that it’s a little bit of manipulation in terms of trying to respond to what they need but you do need empathy if you don’t overly manipulate it, I guess is the way I would put it.
Alan: I can’t imagine actually having a real relationship where you can achieve something that both people can benefit from and even where, I suppose into good negotiation, both people give up a little something, but they both benefit overall. How can you do that unless you know what the other person’s going through and what they really, really need?
Madam Secretary: That is really part of … not to jump too quickly into my line of work of being a diplomat, but what you need if you are in diplomacy is to have intelligence about what that leader needs and what that country needs in order to have a win-win solution, the way that you put it, which is that you both sides get something instead of a zero sum. But it does require a certain amount of empathy for what the needs are of the other person on the other side of the table.
Alan: When you are on the other side of the table, do you find yourself paying close attention to reading them, to reading their … even their body language?
Madam Secretary: You definitely try and I think that part of it is if you’ve … where you may meet somebody for the first time and that’s on the basis of information that you’ve gotten and then you do a lot of reading of language and then you do get to know them a little bit and that helps also. The question is how you have that approach to try to compromise without giving up what your country’s national interests are but you definitely the body language. For instance, Putin, whom I met the first time President Clinton and I met Putin was before he really was president and he was kind of meek and quiet and ingratiating. Then when I went to meet him in Moscow, he was somebody that was very strong, tough, looked you directly in the eyes, did not have notes himself, but took notes, and was really somebody that was very hard line. You could just tell by his body language that he was determined to do what he wanted to do.
Alan: He was communicating deliberately, it sounds like with his body language.
Madam Secretary: Very much so.
Alan: This I love, this is so much fun, I want to hear more about this, that you communicate with the pains you wear, the jewelry that you wear. Is this really true? You got a book called read my pins. It sounds like you were deliberately communicating with that.
Madam Secretary: Deliberately. I have to tell you how it all started, first of all, I liked jewelry, but what happened, I get to the United Nations in February, 1993, it was the end of the Gulf War and the ceasefire had been translated into a series of sanctions resolutions. I was an instructed ambassador, which meant that Washington was telling me that I had to make sure the sanctions stayed on, so every and the Security Council, I’d say terrible things about Saddam Hussein, which he deserved, he did invade Kuwait. All of a sudden there was a poem in the papers in Baghdad comparing me to many things, but among them an unparalleled serpent.
Alan: They called you an unparalleled serpent in the poem.
Madam Secretary: Right, in the poem. I then had a snake pin and I started wearing it whenever we talked about Iraq. I think you’ve seen how the ambassadors go out after a meeting and talk to the press and all of a sudden camera and journalists picked up and said, “Why are you wearing that snake pin?” And I said, because Saddam Hussein compared me to an unparalleled serpent. Then I thought, well, this is fun so I went out and I bought a lot of costume jewelry to depict whatever I thought we were going to do on any given day. On good days I were flowers and butterflies and balloons, and on bad days, I work carnivorous animals and spiders and things.
Madam Secretary: The other ambassadors noticed, and I don’t know if you remember how first President Bush said, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” I said, “Read my pins.” That’s how it all started and I’ve had a lot of fun with that. There was a time the Russians were bugging the State Department, and when I was secretary and we found the person who was sitting outside the building and listening to us. We did what diplomats do, which is complained to Moscow and a marsh but the next time I met with the Foreign Minister, I wore this huge bug and he knew exactly what I was doing.
Alan: I’m curious to know, what tends to be the reaction or what tended to be the reaction when they saw the pin, did they break up and laughter or did it open things up a little or were they intimidated by it?
Madam Secretary: Oh, I think a little bit of both, that really did happen.
Alan: In a way you’re saying, “I got you. I know exactly what’s going on here.”
Alan: There’s probably never been an approach to diplomacy that used that tool of costume jewelry, that’s a great contribution.
Madam Secretary: No, that’s new, it’s my thing.
Alan: Yeah, it’s so imaginative. Was there ever a moment where you actually defused a difficult situation or turned the tide partly with the help of a pin?
Madam Secretary: I dunno. I have to tell you this story, I can talk about how pins got me into trouble and how they got me out of trouble.
Alan: I’d love to hear it.
Madam Secretary: What happened during … we’re about to celebrate the 70th anniversary of NATO but when we were in office, it was the 50th anniversary of NATO, there is a photograph of President Clinton and former secretary of defense, Bill Cohen and I sitting on a sofa and we look like crazy people because somebody started the hear no evil, see no evil monkey picture. It ended up in Time magazine and so we really looked nuts. Anyway, I happened to have found three monkey pins and we’re in Moscow for this summit. We walk in and actually, President Putin says to President Clinton, “We always notice what pin Secretary Albright wears, why are you wearing those pins?”
Madam Secretary: And I, you can’t believe I said this, but I said it, “It’s because I think your policy in Chechen is evil.” He got furious at me, rightfully, and President Clinton looks at me like, are you out of your mind? You’re the chief diplomat and you’ve just screwed up the summit. That’s when they got me into trouble. The other thing is I invented the art of diplomatic kissing, you can’t kind of visualize Henry Kissinger arriving somewhere in giving somebody a big hug or Jim Baker or whatever. I started that and it’s much more complicated than meets the eye because in Latin America, some kiss on the right cheek and some on the left cheek and in France, both cheeks and the Dutch three times and all that.
Madam Secretary: I arrive in South Korea and big embrace, good meeting. Then I leave and all of a sudden I get a call from a journalist saying, “Don’t you think the South Korean foreign minister should be fired for what he said about you?” And I said, “What did he say?” And he said, “I really like it when Secretary Albright comes because we’re about the same age and when I embraced her, she has very firm breasts.” So what do you have to say about that? I said, “Well, I have to have something to put those pins on.” They’ve gotten me into trouble and out of trouble.
I’ve known more than one diplomat in my life and I’ve found that they weren’t always terribly diplomatic. I wondered what Madelaine thought about that. When should you be diplomatic and when should you be blunt? Right after we come back from this short break.
This is C+V, and now back to my conversation with Madelaine Albright.
Alan: You raised an interesting question in my mind when you talk about saying something so blunt as what you said to … it was to Putin, right?
Madam Secretary: Yeah.
Alan: How often should you be blunt in diplomacy?
Madam Secretary: I think you do have to figure out what the best method is with some people. We talked a little bit earlier about kind of body language and things, I think sometimes you do have to make sure that your message is received clearly so the other side can’t say, “Well, I never understood what she had to say,” or, “She actually was very nice and didn’t say anything.” The other part that I think is very important, that it’s clear that you’re not there as Madeline Albright, but you’re there as the secretary of state of the United States and remembering that role.
Madam Secretary: I always felt, especially for instance in China, that we had to talk about human rights. That might not be the first thing out of my mouth, but it had to be part of the discussion so there are a set of things that you’ve got to get out there, otherwise it’s useless.
Alan: Do you find that these years of communicating with world leaders in tough situations, attacking really complex problems where the stakes are enormously high, has that affected the way you communicate with people in your own life?
Madam Secretary: That’s interesting. To some extent, I think it’s had taught me how you get the point across, but it also has taught me the importance of compromise no matter who you talk to and on my to do list is to talk to people with whom I disagree. I’ve decided I don’t like the word tolerance because that’s tolerate, put up with, but I do-
Alan: I feel exactly the same way about that word.
Madam Secretary: It’s just out of respect so that’s why it’s important to figure out what people have to say.
Alan: Funny I have in a way the same mission, I long to talk to people I don’t agree with or who I think I might not agree with and then find out that we agree about so many things. Is that a technique that you have used ever in diplomacy to establish what you share in common before you get into the what you disagree about?
Madam Secretary: I try, I really do. For instance, let me just say, I was born in Czechoslovakia and I understand Russian and I understand Serbian because they’re Slavic languages and also my father was the Czechoslovak ambassador in Yugoslavia. When I met with Milosevic, who is one of the more horrible people that I ever met with, I made … he was telling me about the history of the Serbs and I said, “You know, something, I actually know about the history of the Serbs because I lived here.” I think he knew that, but I did in fact try to figure out how to at least let it be known that I knew something about it. With the Russians, same thing, I think you try to figure out what is in your background that you can share and try to figure out some common ground, I think that’s very important.
Alan: I heard you say somewhere maybe in a book or an interview, that you spent a lot of, sorry, I heard somewhere rich somewhere that you had spent a lot of time with Jesse Helms with whom I’m sure disagreed on many points, but you had a cordial relationship that you could build on?
Madam Secretary: I am so glad you brought that up because it’s a very good example of something. What happened was that when I was ambassador at the United Nations, I had been asked to go and speak at a women’s college in Raleigh in North Carolina and what happened was Senator Helms called in order to follow up on the invitation. I have to admit, I actually thought I could get out of it by saying, “I’d be happy to do it if you go with me.” And he said, “That’s a really interesting idea, I’ll call you back.” Then he calls back and he says, “I’ve changed my schedule, I’m going to go with you.” Then what happens is it’s very hard if somebody is introducing you to say, this is the stupidest, nastiest person I’ve ever met.
Madam Secretary: He gave me a nice introduction and then we went through this whole thing together and we’re flying back and he said, “You know what? I think it’d be great if you came to my Alma Mater, at some point, it’s called Wayne Gate College.” I said, sure so he picked me up in Raleigh and we started driving around North Carolina looking for barbecue places and we finally get there. He had had a hip replacement or something and was having trouble getting out of the car so I was helping him get out of the car and the press took this picture of me hanging onto him and they said, “This is the odd couple.”
Madam Secretary: Then my name comes up to be secretary of state and you have to go around and meet the members that are going to vote on you. I went to see him and he said, “Ms. Madeline, we will make history together.”
Madam Secretary: But I have to tell you some of the things, he really was … when I was getting my confirmation, you bring your children with you and mine were all very grown up and my youngest daughter … you introduced them and my youngest daughter’s name is Katie. At that state chairman house, he said, “Katie, I have a granddaughter called Katie. How old are you?” And she said, “I’m an attorney.” Then he said, “A lady attorney?” And then I thought, oh my God, Katie, don’t say anything.
Alan: Katie was going to let him have it.
Madam Secretary: Yeah, but anyway, we are friends in the end and together as a result of that cooperation, we were able to have NATO expansion. And people find that hard to believe.
Alan: That’s such a good story because there are people surely beyond redemption but the idea that more people than we imagine can find a way to talk together and resolve their differences without hating one another, without assuming that if I know one little thing about you, I know everything about you when it’s hateful and demonic. I think this is a very powerful pull from that kind of a story on all of us. I find, maybe it’s just me personally, but I find some of the most engaging stories in films and on the stage are stories where people reconcile whether it’s parents and children or political enemies. This kind of story you just told is very moving to me because that reconciliation from a previous position of this must be the worst person in the world, to this is a fellow human who I can relate to.
Alan: You mentioned a minute ago that you were born in Czechoslovakia and that reminded me that you have a very personal antipathy toward authoritarianism and I am probably why you react so strongly to fascism because you had to escape Czechoslovakia twice, right?
Madam Secretary: Right. What happened was, I was born in 1937 and in 1938 was the Munich agreement when the British and French made an agreement with the Germans and Italians over what Hitler wanted in Czechoslovakia. In March-
Alan: So essentially they said, it’s okay go get Czechoslovakia.
Madam Secretary: Go get them, yeah.
Alan: Don’t bother us.
Madam Secretary: Right? That, that’s kind of where appeasement word comes from and where Neville Chamberlain said, why should we care about people in far away places with unpronounceable names?
Alan: Oh, I forgot that, he actually said that. It’s believable.
Madam Secretary: Then what happened was the Nazis marched in, in March, 1939 and my father was a Czechoslovak diplomat. Somehow they managed to get out of Czechoslovakia and escaped and join the government in exile in London so I spent the war in London during the blitz. . We came back to Czechoslovakia after the war and then we went to Yugoslavia where my father became an ambassador, then the communists took over and we had to leave again. We have been immigrants twice, and came to America in 1948. The thing I found out subsequently, first of all, I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian, and found out I was Jewish so I have my own religious discussions in my head, but I found out also that 26 members of my family had been murdered in the Holocaust. So I do have a reason for explaining to people that fascism is a killer and that people need to know what happens.
Alan: It’s striking. It must have been a powerful experience to find out that you were Jewish and that you shared that intimate connection with people who had been murdered by Hitler. How did you find out? I forget that story.
Madam Secretary: It’s a complicated story. What happened when I was ambassador at the UN and it was the first time that my name was out there and all of a sudden I started getting letters from people either in Czech or some unreadable English, saying, “I’m a relative send money,” or, “I need a visa.” But usually the letters had something wrong in them like the wrong dates or villages. One letter, I remember some man saying, I went to high school with your father in 1915 which would have been impossible since he was born in 1909. I kind of just tried to sort out what to do about all that and then just before, when my name came up to be secretary of state, all of a sudden I get a letter from somebody that has all the villages right and the dates right from this person who said, “I knew your family to be a fine Jewish family.”
Madam Secretary: I was trying to figure out what it was about and I was just being vetted to be secretary of state by the White House counsel and they ask you all the normal questions about taxes and nannies and things. Then they said, “We always ask everybody this question is, is there anything that you haven’t told us that we didn’t ask you that you might want to tell us?” And I said, “Well, you know, I just got this letter and it’s perfectly possible that I’m of Jewish origin.” And they said, “So what? The president’s not antisemitic.” Then what happens-
Alan: That’s a funny response.
Madam Secretary: One of the things you can’t do is to talk to the press between the time that you have been named and the time you’re confirmed but there was a reporter from the Washington Post who wanted to do a profile of me. My office gave him the names of a lot of people that he could get in touch with in Europe and in the United States and all of a sudden I’m sitting there and this office of the secretary of state, and he’s handing me these disgusting cards. The Nazis were very bureaucratic and they had little index cards about everybody that they’d sent to a concentration camp and all of a sudden I look at these cards and their family names.
Madam Secretary: It’s one thing to find out you’re Jewish, it’s another to find out that you’re … the family went to concentration camps. I could not go to Czechoslovakia to look to see how true this was so I asked my brother and sister to go and they did confirm this story that is so unbelievable. Two summers ago I took my children and grandchildren to Terezín, where we dedicated a plaque to the 26 members of my family but it was a horrible, horrible shock and so many ways. My parents were dead so I didn’t know … I couldn’t figure out why or what or any of it.
Alan: Did you have no way of knowing why you didn’t know you were Jewish?
Madam Secretary: My only thought is because my parents were very protective and that they … I think they must have thought, and this is speculation, is why bring this burden onto the children when they can’t do anything about it. And now since then, there are more people that I’ve met who all of a sudden have said, “Guess what, I have exactly the same story. Nobody told me, I found out later that I was Jewish.”
Alan: That’s so interesting. My Italian grandfather told me that the Italian family came from Spain in what would have been about 1492, so I might be genetically Jewish too, because that was the year of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, probably more of us are everything than we imagine. I was struck by something your father said because he had that same … I’m sure he had that same feeling having been forced to leave or to seek refuge in another country when he finally wound up in America. You say in your book that your father felt that Americans might, having been free so long, might take it for granted and were in danger of taking it for granted. Did he make that point to you a lot, was He really worried about that for us?
Madam Secretary: He did make the point a lot, he was very, very appreciative to be in the United States. One of the things, his story that he used to tell, as I said, we were in England during the war and then we came to the United States and he used to tell the story that when we were in England, people would say, “We’re so sorry. Your country’s been taken over by a terrible dictator, but you’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when are you going home?” When we came to the United States, people said, “We’re so sorry your country’s been taken over by a terrible system. You’re welcome here, what can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?” My father said, that is what made America different from every other country.
Madam Secretary: We came and we … the only way I can describe us was grateful Americans but it also … he made very clear about the fragility of democracy, having lost it twice in the country where he was born and the fact that the Americans took it for granted. He delivered that message all the time and that is definitely what I grew up with. I describe myself as a grateful American and by the way, one of the things I love doing is giving people their naturalization certificates. First time I did it was July 4th, 2000 at Monticello. I figured since I had Thomas Jefferson’s job, I could do that. I gave the man his certificate and all of a sudden I hear him saying, “Can you believe it? I’m a refugee and I just got my naturalization certificate from the Secretary State.” I go up to him and I said, “Can you believe that a refugee is secretary of state?” That is what is amazing about America.
Alan: It really is. I want to get back to your father’s worry about us and I don’t understand how we could get jaded enough to take this freedom, this comparative, amazing freedom we have for granted compared to so many other places. Why don’t we vote, why don’t more of us vote do you suppose? Is it that we’re taking it too much for granted or there are other factors?
Madam Secretary: I think it is that we are taking it too much for granted and to go back to something that we said at the beginning of our conversation, I think the much larger issue at the moment in the world is that what we call the social contract is broken. People historically gave up their individual rights in order to be protected by the state and that is a contract that both sides have to fulfill. The state is the one that makes sure that roads are built and that things function and you are able to get an education. It is the privilege and the responsibility of a citizen to vote and I think that we have taken, both sides have taken the contract for granted and I think that that’s part of the issue.
Madam Secretary: I know other people have talked about this, but there’s not enough discussion about what civics is in schools about the responsibility of citizenship. I’m chairman of the board of something called the National Democratic Institute and we help in terms of monitoring elections in other countries and the lines that people line up that haven’t had ever have the chance to vote in the rain and the sun. They see it as a privilege and I think we taking it for granted.
Alan: What about the people who vote and have the disadvantage of not being informed about who they’re voting for? The Internet particularly has given us a poor source of information.
Madam Secretary: I think that we have a genuine problem, a real paradox. There is more information out there than ever before, but that’s surfeit of information comes from a variety of different sources and people need to figure out where the information is coming from and I think that’s the part that’s hard and it takes a little bit more time. I do think that the community part of this is important in terms of town hall meetings and the candidates getting around not just to be seen on television but to really be around, trying to talk to the people and respond to what they’re asking, and then people have to make up their minds.
Alan: That gets back to what we were saying about making contact with people and finding out who they are as people. I just have realized that you have to get to your next appointment and I don’t want to keep you long, I could talk to you all day. We always end these conversations with seven quick questions, I hope you are game for this. They’re simple-
Madam Secretary: I am, definitely there.
Alan: Roughly related to communicating and just quick answers will be fun. What do you wish you really understood?
Madam Secretary: I wish I really understood what makes the universe work, I really do. In terms of, I talk about climate change and various aspects about science, I wish I knew more about science.
Alan: What do you wish other people understood about you?
Madam Secretary: I wish that they would understand that I am endlessly curious and that I love trying to connect the dots of the various things I do so that it makes sense.
Alan: What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
Madam Secretary: Let’s see, why I don’t speak more languages when I actually speak quite a few, but I have to think about that a little bit. I was going to say why I wasn’t taller.
Alan: That’s the best one I’ve heard, I think. How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Madam Secretary: I usually try to say, “I understand everything you’ve said and I thank you very much and I now have to go to the bathroom.”
Alan: Is there anyone you just can’t feel empathy for?
Madam Secretary: Yes. I think some of the people that I’ve written about in my book, those that take advantage of their position to lie to people and to motivate them in a way that is counterproductive.
Alan: How do you like to deliver bad news, in person on the phone or by carrier pigeon?
Madam Secretary: Carrier pigeon, definitely.
Alan: I think you’re the first person to actually pick carrier pigeon. Okay, last question. What if anything would make you end a friendship?
Madam Secretary: I think it would be if somebody had deliberately lied to me about something that they knew I needed to have … to deliberately undercuts something or say something about my family that I knew wasn’t true, but that they were deliberately trying to make me believe it.
Alan: I have to tell you, you’ve been so open and fun to talk to. I feel like I became a friend of yours in this conversation.
Madam Secretary: Definitely.
Alan: So I’m going to do everything I can never to break that bond. Thanks so much for coming in, I just love it.
Madam Secretary: This has been so much fun for me, Alan, and you really have been somebody I feel I’ve known forever, but to really become friends is wonderful. Thank you for this great conversation.
Alan: Thank you. Bye, bye.
Madam Secretary: Bye.

This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.

My thanks the sponsors of this episode. All the income from the ads you hear go to the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Just by listening to this podcast, you’re contributing to the better communication of science. So, thank you.

Madeleine Albright is an inspiration to millions – and I think especially to women. In 1997, she was named the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. She’s been a ground breaker her whole life and she’s someone I very much admire .

Dr. Albright’s latest book is called, “Fascism: A Warning” and it’s #1 New York Times bestseller. It’s also recently out in paperback. Some of her other New York Times bestsellers include her own autobiography called, “Madam Secretary: A Memoir” … a unique work called, “The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, and “Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership.”

And don’t forget her trademark pins! She includes a wonderful explanation of their diplomatic use in her book from 2009 called, “My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box.”

For more details about Secretary Albright, please visit the global strategy firm that she chairs. You can find it online at:

This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill.

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Thanks for listening. Bye bye!