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John Perkins

Developing a Life Economy
John Perkins

As Chief Economist at a major international consulting firm, John was advisor to the World Bank, UN, Fortune 500 corporations, US and other governments. His 10 books, including Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, spent more than 70 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, are published in 33 languages, and sold more than 2 million copies. He has lectured at more than 50 universities and been featured on ABC, NBC, CNN, Time, The New York Times, Elle, Der Spiegel, and others.

John learned about the power of using perceived reality to change objective reality from Amazonian shamans in 1968-71 and later from other teachers around the world; he has used this knowledge to help individuals, corporations, universities and governments.

He is a founder of the nonprofits Dream Change and The Pachamama Alliance. He has received many awards, including the John Lennon/Yoko Ono Peace Prize.

Get To Know John

Podcast Transcript
Larry Greene 00:00
From my research on John Perkins, I knew I was in for a fun, exciting conversation. He didn't disappoint. 

From his stories of his Peace Corps days in the Amazon to his life as an economic hitman, and then how he has spent the last three plus decades, repairing the damage he helped create, John shares how one's perceptions shape one's reality. He realized that once he had changed his dominant cultural perception of reality, he could no longer participate in what he calls the "death economy", and instead chose to advocate for a more life affirming path forward. Based on what he continues to learn, after living and working with indigenous communities for the past 50 years, there are such great lessons about developing healthy, resilient, regenerative communities, and evolving as human beings to reach our full potential. In his work, John shares great lessons about developing healthy, resilient, regenerative communities, and evolving as human beings to reach our full potential. John shares his thoughts about the exciting role people can play in this transformational work. And at the same time, how they can understand more deeply what it means to be human and alive. So let's get into it.

Welcome to Navigating Our Future. John!

John Perkins 01:44
Thank you so much. Great to be with you today.

Larry Greene 01:47
Well, it's an honor to be speaking with you today, John. I've really enjoyed learning more about you. As you know, the focus of these conversations is specifically focused on our Salish Sea ecosystem. But of course, we're all impacted by what is happening in our country and around the world. And these challenges are all interrelated. But before we get into your perspective on these challenges, I know that our listeners would be most fascinated in hearing more about your story. So let's start at the beginning. Where did you grow up? What was your life like? And what were the most significant turning points in your life that moved you to do the work that you're doing now?

John Perkins 02:29
Wow. Well, Larry, it started a long time ago. I'm 77, I grew up in New Hampshire. And my family goes back to the 1600s in New England, and so I grew up with an incredibly deep appreciation for the history of that area. And particularly for the history of the indigenous people. 

These were Algonquin speaking people. I had a great grandmother who was was captured by the Abenaki and taken to an abductee village in what's now Canada and really became an Abenaki. As a child,  my dad taught at a boys boarding school. And so I was raised by parents who had basically no money. That school gave us a house and food.  We wanted for nothing. But we had no money. And I was surrounded by extremely rich boys who came from all over the world that had these stories of wealth and riches. And, I had this great desire also to visit places like Paris and Buenos Aires and places they talked about. 

But in the summers we'd spend three months in this little cottage that I still own, on a lake in the woods of New Hampshire. As an only child, my parents were very into their own things. My dad was a gardener, my mom liked to paint, so I would spend my days in the forest talking to the trees. I was practicing shamanism without knowing that's what I was practicing. And so I grew up with this deep, deep appreciation for love of nature. And then, after I graduated from business school, many years later, I joined the Peace Corps and asked for the Amazon because I had read that that's one of the few places in the world where people still lived very much like the Abenaki, who I'd fallen in love with.  So I went to join the Peace Corps and spent three years in Ecuador and a good share  of that in the Amazon.  That really had a tremendous impact on my life. 

After that I did what I've been taught in business school to do. I became an economist. I became a chief economist. I did what we call now the job of an economic hitman, thinking it was the right thing to do at the beginning, because that's what I'd been taught in business school  --  that what I was doing was what would help the world. And it wasn't until later that I began to understand that what I was actually doing was making the rich and powerful, richer and more powerful.

Larry Greene 05:27
So, I believe you had an experience  in the Amazon that during those three years that really changed your life? Can you talk more about that?

John Perkins 05:39
Yeah.  So in the Peace Corps,  they sent me to a training camp in Southern California and  they spent eight weeks to teach me Spanish, which if you speak another language, you know, eight weeks isn't a lot. And because I graduated from business school, they taught me about the accounting systems of credit and savings coops. And then they sent me into the Amazon, to create f credit and saving co ops. 

And the first thing I discovered was I was being sent to live with the Shuar -- who don't speak Spanish. They speak Shuar. So my first experience with the US government work was they teach you a language and send you someplace where nobody speaks it. There was one guy in the community who spoke Spanish, and that was the school teacher from up in the Andes. I could sort of communicate with him, although my Spanish wasn't very good at that time. 

And I said to him, "Well,  I'm here to help you form a credit and savings Co-op." And he looks at me like, are you crazy? “You know there's no money in this community. It's all barter. You know, it's my bananas for your papayas. What are you really trying to do here?”

The Shuar were very close to nature, they believed in the spirit of the trees, they talked to the trees as I had done, and they encouraged what in my culture  was considered daydreaming. You don't talk to trees; you  cut them down. 

Then I got very sick and I couldn't keep any food down. I was starving.  I was dying. I couldn't even stand up. The nearest medical facility was three days of horrendous traveling, much of it hiking through a very dense jungle, to get to the nearest medical facility, up in the Andes. There was no way I could do that. And one night, a shaman offered to heal me. 

Well, that was a very scary experience because the Shaman was this tiny guy who was ferocious looking at you.  He was naked except for a loincloth and covered with tattoos. He was just very scary looking guy. But he was all there was, my only hope, because I could not get to a medical facility. So I was carried by a couple of strong  warriors to  his house roof in the middle of the jungle and he proceeded to shake  rattles and chant, and he gave me this liquid  -- a very foul tasting liquid -- to drink and, and soon I'm on this shamanic journey. 

And on this journey, I've got my eyes closed and I'm seeing these amorphous shapes and the shaman says to me -- and this is all being translated by the school teacher who's there so it's not not really clear to me, but the Shaman says -- "Touch the Jaguar".  I'm in the middle of the jungle and it's a dark, dark night and at night jaguars are all around.   I opened my eyes and looked around.  Where's the Jaguar?  And the shaman said "No no, no. Close your eyes and see the image of the Jaguar and touch it." 

I closed my eyes and this amorphous form shape shifted into a Jaguar and I touched it. I did so, I heard my mother's voice, saying, "Son, that food and drink will kill you." 

I’d been drinking something called Chicha.   In the Amazon, they don't drink water from the rivers because they know the rivers have a lot of organic matter in the making and you shouldn't drink it. The women make Chicha by chewing manioc fruit and spitting it. In that sense it's a fermentation process and you get a kind of an alcoholic beer. And then you can mix water with it.    I was drinking a lot of spit beer because you got to rehydrate in the Amazon and I was eating squirming white grubs and these other delicacies of food that were just, you know, appalling to me. But that's all there was. I realized I'd be dead if I didn't eat these.  And now I'm hearing a voice saying it'll kill you. 

At the same time, I see this vision of how incredibly robust the Shuar. If they don't die at childbirth, which was fairly common in those days, or in some sort of a hunting accident, then they're likely to live to be very old. So I realized that wasn't the food and drink killing me. It was a perception. It was this mindset.

The next day, I was feeling much better. The shaman demanded that I become his apprentice. This is 1969. There was no future in shamanism in those days.   I had never even heard of a shaman until I got there, but the guy saved my life. So, you know, I did it and one of the first things he taught me was that our reality is molded by our dream -- by that he meant our perception. And I realized, that's exactly what happened with me: my perception of the food had molded my reality. When I changed the perception that changed my reality. 

He said the Jaguar stands as a blockage. For you to "see", you need a new perception. And when you touch the Jaguar, it gives you the opportunity to change your perception. We know that if we run from the things that we fear, if we run from whatever is blocking us, it chases us. But if you touch it, it'll give you power, energy. And, you know, Larry, that was an incredible teaching that after I got out of the Peace Corps and became a world traveling economist, I spent a lot of time studying with Shamans in Iran and Indonesia, and many other places. I found that they all have the same belief. In fact, it's the same belief that psychotherapists have and businessmen, marketing executives and politians. It is all about understanding that changing our perceptions is the way to change our reality.

Larry Greene 13:28
Yeah, absolutely.  I look at the perception as  our "worldview" and the paradigm we're in as the operating aspects of that worldview. And, as you said, I think we've had a death economy, we've had a worldview that is all about take/make/waste. And as Jeremy Lent says the culture shapes our worldview and its values and those values shape history. And we need a more life affirming, integrative worldview that will shape our future. And I think that's pretty much it seems to be what  you're talking about.

John Perkins 14:15
Yes. So it's that same thing that I had been instilled with the perception and business goal, and then later by the World Bank and various other organizations that the way to help poor countries is to get them to accept huge loans. But the money doesn't go to the country. It actually goes to paying our own corporations to build the infrastructure projects in those countries -- things like electrical systems, power plants, hydroelectric plants, industrial parks, highways, ports and airports. And it is shown that when you do that In addition to the corporations making huge profits, the country's economy grows. 

I was steeped in that perception. And in fact, statistically, you can prove it's true.  GDP, gross domestic product grows. And that was a measure that was always used and still is. But over time, I began to see that GDP measures only the wealthiest people and the big corporations. When you build these infrastructure projects, in addition to making profits for our companies, that also helps the wealthiest families because they're the ones that own the industries, the banks and the commercial establishments. Those all benefit from more sbetter electricity, from better highways, ports and airports. 

But I also began to see that the majority of people suffer, because money is diverted from health and education and other social services, to pay the interest on the loans. When the loans couldn't be paid, we would go back, usually in the form of the International Monetary Fund, the IMF, which is the policing part of this whole strategy, and say, "Hey, since you can't pay your debts, sell your resources, which have been collateralized as part of the debt, like oil, or gold, or copper.  Sell those real cheap to our corporations without environmental or social regulations. Let us build a military base on your soil, vote with us in the next critical United Nations vote against Cuba or some such thing."

So essentially, what we were doing was creating an empire through economics.  After the fiasco of the Vietnam War, it was pretty obvious that the biggest, most powerful, wealthiest military in the world couldn't defeat North Vietnam. And so the idea of expanding empire by expanding colonization through military was replaced by the idea of doing it through debt, through economics. And that's where I came in. But it took me a long time to realize that this was a false perception, that we were not helping the majority of the people in these countries. We were just helping a few of the very wealthiest people.

Larry Greene 17:33
Yeah. So as you read it, as you come to this realization about the causes  of what's happening in those countries, you realize that, in fact, many of our global crises are shaped from that. You ended up beginning doing different work. And of course, you write these best selling books, Confessions Of An Economic Hitman in 2004 and then the new Confessions Of An Economic Hitman in 2016. Tell us why and how  this realization led you to work on transforming our failing global "Death Economy" into a regenerative "Life Economy"?

John Perkins 18:17
Yes, I began to see that what we were creating -- and what I was instrumental in creating --was an economic system that's failing us globally. It's what we call a Death Economy. As you said, it's an economic system that has the goal of maximizing short term profits and consumer materialistic consumption, maximizing those two things in the short run, regardless of the environmental and social costs. So our corporations have the mandate to maximize short term profits regardless. . . even passing laws that make those regulations much milder or non existent at all. And that is the driving force. 

That's the disease. That's the cancer behind the symptoms that we see of climate change, of income inequality, of species extinction, of our environmental destruction. Those are all symptoms. They're not real causes.   The causes stem from the underlying economic idea of maximizing short term profits.  

The solution is to have exactly what the Shuar had when I was there. It was classified as poverty, but they were living very well and throughout most of human history, the 250,000 years or so that we've been calling ourselves human homo sapiens, we've almost always lived in a Life Economy -- until the last few centuries. 

Especially in the last few decades, we've created this Death Economy. But a Life Economy is an economic system that looks to the long term. It has a goal of creating long term prosperity for us, our children, our grandchildren and great grandchildren. In modern terms, we would define it as an economic system that pays people to clean up pollution, to mine the plastic that's floating around in the oceans and convert it into something else that's useful, and pays to regenerate destroyed environments, to recycle, to develop new technologies that don't ravage the earth. And, you know, we've been in the process of doing that in the last couple of decades, especially pre-pandemic.  We were really moving forward with B corporations, benefit corporations, conscious capitalism, the green New Deal, these kinds of things were taking hold.  It's something that's essential if we want to survive as a planet that any of us would recognize.  We're going to have to transform this Death Economy into a Life Economy.

Larry Greene 21:09
So much of what you believe -- and I think you've talked about this -- is what you've learned from indigenous cultures and what they can teach us about sustainability or regeneration, and transformation.  I think the story that you have about how you came to this realization and the work you did particularly with Pachamama Alliance, while you were doing this work before on your own. You took the Bill and Lynne Twist to the Amazon and that was the beginning of the Pachamama Alliance.   You helped start that program, and also your own nonprofit,  Dream Change. Can you expand a little bit on on what you learned, through through this work, how that all came about?

John Perkins 21:51
So once, I discovered that what we were doing was wrong, once I saw the light,  I didn't want to see the light. I'm suddenly making a lot of money as an economist, chief economist,  I'm traveling around the world. I'm flying first class.  I'm going to Buenos Aires and Paris, all the places that I had heard about as a kid, living on this campus of a boys prep school. Suddenly, I'm doing all the things I've always wanted to do. 

I think so many people are caught in this sort of cycle.

I had this enlightening experience after 10 years on the job. 

I was in the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. I had this experience where  I realized I had to get out of this business.  I ended up going back to the people that I had lived with, the Shuar. I knew that their rainforests had been destroyed.  I said, "Hey, you know, I've been part of the system that has led to this destruction. And now I want to help change that. "

And they said to me, "Well, that's great. But don't come here and try to change us. We're not destroying these forests. It's your companies that are destroying the forest, your mining companies, your beef companies, your logging companies. But more than anything, it's your dream. It's your perception of the world  -- of a world that needs more oil, or minerals from mines, more beef, more lumber. You've got to change the dream of your people to a less materialistic dream." Basically, they're saying you got to move out of the Death Economy.

Larry Greene 24:22
What year was this, when you quit the corporate position and really began to make the change?

John Perkins 24:31
 I quite as my job in 1981 but continued as a consultant to a certain degree throughout the 80s in order to make a living as I wrote books and went back to the Amazon  and found the nonprofit Dream Change. 
But  at the end of the 80s I completely got out and devoted myself  to changing this dream.  

So the story is that I started to write a book about my experiences as an economic hitman. And I decided to make an expose where I would include stories from other people who had jobs like mine. And we haven't talked about that but there's another story. 

There's another level called the "jackals".  If a president of a country doesn't accept the deals that I offer -- the big loans  -- the jackals step in. The  president Omar Torrijos of Panama, and the president of Ecuador, Jaime Rhodos, did not accept these. 

The jackals are basically CIA operatives who overthrow governments or assassinate their leaders. Both Roldos and Torrijos died in very suspicious private plane crashes. 

The US has admitted to taking out Allende of Chile,  Arbenz in Guatemala, and Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, and Lumumba in the Congo, and Diem in Vietnam.  We've admitted to doing these horrendous acts to people who don't buy into our system. 

And so I decided to write this book and contact other economic hitman and jackals. And very soon, I got several phone calls, anonymous phone calls with muffled voices threatening my life and that my infant daughter. And I took them very seriously, because I knew who these people were. I mean, I didn't know the specific individuals, but I knew what they could do. 

At the same time, I get taken out to dinner by the president of Stone and Webster Engineering Company, another Boston-based firm that was a rival of the company, I had just retired from.  He takes me out to dinner and he says, "You know, we would like to use your resume as a chief economist of a major rival of ours. You have a very impressive resume; we'd like to use your resume on our proposals.  You won't have to do any work for us, or very little work.  We might ask you to go to a meeting once in a while. But you don't have to do much. And I am prepared to write you a check for half a million dollars tomorrow morning as a retainer, a consultant's retainer."  He said, "Just don't write that book. We know you're working on the book because you've been contacting our people. You can't write that book and be in this business." 

So Larry, I'm being hit the same way as my clients had been. I'm being offered a carrot of  $500,000. This is in the late 80s. You know, $500,000 is nothing to laugh at today. But it was a lot more back then. And I'm also being offered the stick. And so I took the money and I didn't write the book. 

I stayed on that retainer, and they continued to pay me the consultant's fee on a monthly basis. But I did write five books on indigenous people. I put the money toward forming nonprofit organizations and traveling down there and reinstating myself with indigenous people. 

Larry Greene 29:03
The one final question on your life as an economic hitman is when you published the book in 2004. Were you no longer afraid that people were going to come after you?

John Perkins 29:15
I was in the Amazon on  9/11 and when I came out, I flew up to ground zero. As I stood there looking at that pit, I knew I had to write this book. But I decided that I wouldn't contact other economic hit men or jackals. I would write it  completely secretly and it would be a confession, a personal story, not involving anybody else. And I wouldn't tell anybody I was writing this book. 

I figured once I got it in the hands of a very good New York agent and it was being distributed to publishers, it was my insurance policy. Because if people like ones in the CIA know that you're planning on exposing the system, then they try to stop you, they threaten you. But if the book is already out there, they figure that if something strange happens to you, you become a martyr and the book sells millions of copies Although it did sell millions of copies, it would have probably sold millions more if something had happened to me. And they knew that so I looked at it at that point as my insurance policy.

Larry Greene 30:43
One of the things that you've mentioned, that I'm really interested in hearing a little bit more about -- because I think it's a challenge that I face -- changing this worldview, or perception is the huge challenge. We've had hundreds of years building our society up from imperialistic and colonial times forward. But I'm really interested in this issue of how we get people -- and I'm just looking at the bio region here, 8.7 million people living in this region -- to change their worldview?

John Perkins 31:20
What I Yeah, you've touched on the biggest fear.   I think  the biggest Jaguar that we all have to touch is fear of change. 

It seems to be in modern cultures, a pervasive fear of change. That is not true in the indigenous cultures that I have known. They embrace change as an opportunity. They know everything is going to change. The rivers are always changing their course. And they know that their community may be threatened by the river tomorrow if it  changes its course, or climate is going to change. So they're gonna have to adjust to that. They're gonna have to change. I think throughout history mainly people have been nomadic and they've always embraced change as an opportunity. 

We don't usually see it that way. We don't want to change.  

I think the pandemic, Larry, has taught us not only that we must change at times, but we can change and we can even enjoy the change.  I don't mean to negate the terrible suffering that people have experienced -- the deaths of loved ones  and others.  That's extremely difficult. And yet at the same time,  it gave me more of an opportunity to write more. Or just last night, I was on a TV show in Moscow, Russia, talking about what's going on there.  Three or four years ago, I went to Russia to do these kinds of things. But  we've realized how much we can change. And we can enjoy the change. 

People have learned to play the flute, read more; they've changed their lives as a result of the pandemic. 

In this particular region where we live, we've seen a huge changes. Look at Seattle; when I moved here 12 years ago, it was an incredibly thriving city. It isn't anymore. It's a true city in trouble. A lot of restaurants and a lot of businesses have closed. There are  huge problems in Seattle today. And  there's the homeless issue that we keep hearing about, and violence and so on and so forth. 

Seattle  needs to change. What can we learn from that? How can Seattle re-envision itself? How can Seattle become a model of the Life Economy? How can it move in that direction?

Seattle's has a great opportunity. It's a city in crisis. It's a city that needs to rebuild itself, that needs to re-envision itself. And I'm not talking about rebuilding itself by constructing bigger buildings. I'm talking about rebuilding its attitude. What does it mean to be a successful city? On the west coast, on the Salish Sea in the United States? How do we recreate what the original people who lived in this area knew? The indigenous people were so prosperous in this area and that should help us understand the kind of a lifestyle that is aligned with a life economy.


Larry Greene 36:54
Yeah, I believe it starts with story. And we've got to change our story. And that's a huge challenge as you know. And I want to get into so many things. But you just keep on creating more questions to ask you.

John Perkins 37:17
That's my job. Questions.

Larry Greene 37:21  So tell us more about Dream Change, which you started in? 1987? 
John Perkins 37:32
So  when I went back to see the Schwa  and they said  if you want to save these rainforests, change the dream of your people, I came back and formed a nonprofit called Dream Change. And we took a lot of people down to study with and learn from indigenous people and we still do. We also brought them up here, we formed bridges, and we wrote books. And we're not just with people living in the Amazon, but we were forming bridges with indigenous people in Siberia, and in Africa, and Asia. Our real job was to encourage individuals to have dreams and  build their own, whatever was around that. 

And, you know, it's something I still encourage people to do.  Out of that group, Bill and Lynee Twist joined me on a trip to the Amazon and they were deeply impacted. The three of us then formed the Pachamama Alliance, which is spread around the world.  

But, Larry, what's most important is for each of us as individuals to look at what is our dream. There's certain things we can all do. We all know what some of those are cut back on using fossil fuels, cut back on eating meat, live different lifestyles. So we all know these different things.  I think it'd be very important to have social networking, consumer campaigns, to speak out to corporations to tell them, hey, you know, I love your product and I want you to prosper as a corporation, but I'm not going to buy your product anymore until you clean up the pollution you're causing. 

But beyond that, I think there's something each of us can do as an individual. And I end the book, Touching the Jaguar, with three questions we can each ask ourselves, and if you want me to go into those. 

So I think the first question is, what do I want to do for the rest of my life? What will bring me the greatest satisfaction? And I would answer that question by saying, I want to continue reading books.  I love to write. But I have a friend who's a carpenter, kind of the opposite end of the spectrum, and he would say, I want to work with my hands. 

The second question is, how do I do that in a way that helps to create a life economy? How do I help others people because we all want to help other people.   We all want the world to be a better place. All of us, conservatives and liberals alike. 

And my answer to that  I'll write books that inspire people to change,  to change these things. And my carpenter friend would say, Well, you just use sustainable materials, and build. 

And the third question is, what's the Jaguar? What's the blockage? What's keeping you from doing this? What's holding you back? And I might answer as a writer, well, I just don't have time to write every day like, I know, I should. I know, I need to write for at least eight hours a week and every day and I don't have time. And my carpenter friend might say, Well, my clients don't want to pay the extra price for sustainable materials. 

And the fourth question is, when you touch that Jaguar, how does it change your perception? And my answer would be, well, the Jaguar tells me, Hey, you can watch an hour less than television every night, and write for that hour. Get up a half an hour earlier in the morning. 

And my carpenter friend would say that his Jaguar tells him, Hey,  tell your clients that paying an extra price for sustainable materials is not a cost. It's an investment in the future for them and their children. 

The fifth question is, okay, so what actions do I take every day, now, as a writer? I have to write, like I said, eight hours a week or something. I set some goal that I have to stick to. 

And my carpenter friend would say he's gonna build things with sustainable materials and tell his clients and his client's children: hey, you know, I built this house right off this cabin with sustainable materials because it's an investment in the future for you and your children. And it's as important as a college education or whatever else you've been hearing. We can each ask those questions and answer them. 

And the last three, will change periodically, frequently. And we may want to ask those questions quite frequently. So once I decided, hey, I'm gonna write for eight hours a day. The next question is, well, what am I going to write? And then the next question is, firstly, what's the first sentence?  You go on.

And the carpenter's? How do I get the message out there that I want to build sustainable materials and so we can keep doing this process. But I think the most important thing is that first question, what do I want to do for the rest of my life? What will bring me my bliss?

Larry Greene 42:29
I am very much a believer of a whole system's perspective on things. And through a whole system's perspective, you begin to say, well, people are doing different things. Yes, but there's unity and diversity. You know, there still can be unity there, even though everybody is playing different roles, as long as you have shared interests and the shared interests might be the survival of the species, survival of life. 

By the way, I love some of the terms you use --  "experiencing," "innovating", "incubating". And I know you've got an incubator  in the Dream Change program  --  transforming, generating, repatriating restoring, reconciling and learning with our indigenous brothers and sisters. Now, that's what we have to do here in the region, because he said, we have very, very rich indigenous cultures here. They want to work with us to change our dream. So these partnerships are really important. Would you like to speak a little bit more about your feelings about that?

John Perkins 43:42
Yeah. I think it's so important that we have so much to learn from indigenous people andnd they do from us too. I want to make a point that I do not idealize indigeous people. What I do idealize is that their long term view of always trying to make the world a better place for future generations, as well as for their own generation. That's pretty consistent throughout all indigenous cultures, including all the ones that we've all come from. Over the years, we all come from indigenous cultures. And so I think  that's the biggest thing we have to learn from them -- that they have some incredible techniques. Dreaming, the approach of looking at  and touching the Jaguar comes from them. We have a lot to learn from that. And I think in our own particular area here, there are a lot of indigenous leaders that are taking a very strong approach to how we do things more environmentally and how  this message that we are a part of, not apart from nature is so important. When we define ourselves as a part from nature, we're defining ourselves as aliens. That's right. We're not aliens. We are part of this planet. And we need to really understand that and I think we're all live, Larry, at this very blessed time now where we can truly understand this.  So we're truly getting strong messages from Pachamama, the Earth, the earthquakes, the fires, all of these things that these are messages that we must change, and the pandemic is the most recent, and perhaps the strongest one, the most global anyway.

Larry Greene 45:13
Yeah. Well,  there's an awful lot of restoration that is needed. And then there needs to be regeneration of the long life-affirming path, I believe.   So I'm going to get a little bit into some personal questions with you. I think you've answered them in certain ways, but I want to really hone in on it. What are the values and principles that guide your life?

John Perkins 45:40
Well, I think one of the most important ones is trying to be honest with myself, as well as others, about what I'm really doing, what's really going on, who I am, because I spent a lot of my life being dishonest. 

You know, when I was an economic hitman, I was convincing myself that what I was doing was the right thing because I was making money and traveling first class, and living what I thought was the my own dream and the American dream. And then I realized that I wasn't happy. I was living the dream. But it wasn't the dream. It was a false dream. And so that was a great learning experience. 

And now, that I realize what I really want to do with my life, and I'm doing it, I'm the happiest I've ever been. So I think one of the most important values is to be honest with ourselves about what it is we really want, and where we want to go. 

And I think another incredibly important value is basically the golden rule, which is says, "Do unto others as you'd have others do unto you."  But I would like to expand that to say, "Do unto the planet, as you would have the planet do unto you."  

And I think this idea  of compassion, and not just compassion for other humans, but compassion for everything that surrounds us -- compassion to those trees that are outside my window.,  I'm looking at my cat that's wandering around here, and the squirrel that's up on top of the fence over there that my cat would love to get out. But that squirrel's too smart. 

So I think compassion is very important and the idea of doing unto the planet as you would have the planet do unto us. So, you know, I think those are probably the two most most powerful guiding lights in my life right now.

Larry Greene 47:35
Based on  your life right now and the work that you're doing, it doesn't sound like you get discouraged too much. But what do you do  when you do get discouraged, other than go back to writing? What else? What do you do to balance your life and work?

John Perkins 47:54
So  when I get feel discouraged, I love to go to nature, and often walk, jog, and then stop and meditate for a while. And it's something that the Schwa taught me when I first lived with them all those years ago. you Just sit in and listen, close your eyes and listen.   What do you hear as you walk through the forest? Listen nd then  I write. So that's  the action part of it. And action can be, you know, you could be a paraplegic and a wheelchair, you can still take some sort of action. But I think it's important that we not just wallow  in our grief, discouragement.   Let's face it, Larry, if you don't get discouraged, sometimes if you don't feel grief, if you're not mourning about what's going on in the world right now, there's something wrong with you. And Larry, I wanted to just go back to this business of taking action.

Larry Greene 48:55
Okay, go ahead. I'm right with you.

John Perkins 48:59
So a number of years ago, I  I was hosting a group of 33 people on a trip  to Ladakh, which is in North of India and used to be part of Tibet. It's an Indian protector. And as a result of that trip, we just serendipitously got invited by the Dalai Lama to hang out in his house one afternoon in Dharamsala. 

And we spent the afternoon in his living room with at least 33 people. And he just opened it to questions. And one person asked a question, and they said, you know, there's a writer in the United States who is suggesting that we all take 15 minutes off on a certain date, and pray for peace all over the world. What do you think of that Your Holiness?  The Dalai Lama thought for a minute and then said, "You know, praying for peace or meditating on peace that's really, really good. And basically saying, that's part of the perception. But he says that if that's all you do, it is probably a waste of time, and maybe it's counterproductive, because you've also got to act for peace every day.  He likes the daily action. You have to take daily action. So he said pray for peace, meditate on peace, perceive peace, but also take actions to make peace happen and what you're doing. 

I was so pleased that you mentioned that you're doing what you really want to do. You had to touch a Jaguar to do that even you weren't sure how it would work. You weren't sure you really could do it even though you want to do it. But you knew in your heart, it's what you wanted to do. So you touch that Jaguar, and some of the Jaguar said something to you, that convinced you to do it. And now you're doing it.

Larry Greene 50:34
Yeah.  I've been I've been at peace around this. I've been at this work for a number of decades. So I'm very clear about my path. And it just happened that when we came up that doing these podcasts was a great way for me to go, I felt it was the right way for me to go.

John Perkins 50:53
I had the book, Confessions Of An Economic Hitman. I talked about the manuscript I wrote and got in the hands of a great literary agent, and it was rejected by 39 publishers. I received 39 rejection letters. And that could be very discouraging. But every time I got one of these letters, I tried to put in perception of what I had learned in writing five other books. I talked to the editors and publishers, and they said, you know, we're just human. And I realized that when your book gets rejected, you just got to tell yourself, well, probably the editor that rejected it had an argument with her husband at breakfast and was just in a really bad mood, and threw everything onto the rejection pile. 

Or maybe they just published a book on a similar subject last month, and just automatically threw them out. So every time I get a rejection letter, rather than say, Oh, my God, my book's not worth it, I said "this guy, this person is just human, and they had a bad day, something happened, and so the book is a great book. And I just gotta keep going. I gotta keep trying. Yeah.  I think this is the whole idea of how do we perceive everything in life. How do you perceive something you call receivers  or receivers perceive as a rejection, (?) or you can perceive it as a stimulus to move forward and do it even more? 

Larry Greene 52:28

Let's get down to even a deeper level. And the deeper level  is in a question, and the question is, what is most sacred to you?

John Perkins 52:40
What is most sacred? It's a really tough question to answer.  I guess, because I say "everything". I mean that I don't mean that lightly. That seems like a frivolous answer, in a way. But what I've learned over time is that the bee is sacred. The fly is sacred. The tree is sacred. Yeah, I think I'd have to say that the sort of  knee jerk reaction  is life, but we don't usually just defined stones and mountains as life but I would they're sacred. And so I think it's all sacred in the universe, and sacred is something that I am totally mystified by. We can't conceive of what the heck's let's get to be sacred. And I do believe that there's some greater consciousness that I don't believe necessarily directs  all my personal life. If I get hurt or sick, I don't blame some very consciousness for this but a consciousness that has created all of this and that we can tune into if we do and our greatest inspiration comes from being able to tune into that is when I'm at my best as a writer or speaker because I'm opening myself to be inspired which means to be in spirit, listening to the spirit, to imagine again. I think that word comes from either Magus -- either the magician listening to the spirits we're surrounded by incredible spirits, by incredible information that we just need to tune into.

Larry Greene 54:36
Well, John, it's  just been an absolute pleasure. I've just loved getting to know you better and having this wonderful conversation with you with so much wisdom coming through. We all have it, and we all know it. And we all are connected. I think your idea of life includes even the rocks, the stones, the mountains, all these other things, and the earth. , We have to look at it as we're integrally connected with all of that. So we're swimming in this wonderful soup. And life is good.  Any last thoughts you would like to leave  with our audience?

John Perkins 55:27
Well, you know, Larry, I think we've talked about indigenous people. We've talked about history. I think it's fair to say that for hundreds or 1000s of years, there's been prophecies about this time, and many of us know the prophecy of the eagle and the Condor, or the prophets, the Mayan prophecy of 2012, which is a very hopeful prophecy, unlike the way Hollywood once tried to portray it. There's the prophecy of the 14th Dalai Lama. And  as the Jewish prophecy, there's the Hindu prophecy, the Christian prophecy, the Islamic prophecy, and all of these prophecies.  

Most all of these prophecies tell us that we're in a time of incredible transformation and I think I feel that consciousness is rising all over the planet. I've had the great opportunity because of these books, to speak and  I am trying to teach an MBA program in China to speak at  big conferences in Russia and Latin America ...all over. And, everywhere I go, I see that people are waking up to the need for change. They are waking up to this huge change of consciousness. You don't have to tell people anymore, especially not young people.   That was climate change. 20 years ago, you had to convince me even 10 years ago, not anymore. There's a huge consciousness change. And it's a revolution. 

And whenever there's a revolution of consciousness, revolution, any kind of illusion, there's also push back by the status quo. They want to stop that because they think that "they've got it". Maybe they don't, but they think they do. And throughout history, agents of change, when there's a push back, take energy from it. It's like a good martial artist. If you're up against somebody who's bigger and stronger than you, you don't try to overpower them. I trained in martial art for most of my life. You use their energy to change them. And I think that's where we are today.  The pushback by the status quo that's trying to keep us from changing. We need to take energy and realize that yes, our consciousness is telling us that we must change. I think you and I and everybody  who is listening to this program is very blessed to be born at this time, this time when the prophecies tell us that we have the opportunity to do something  very special, to evolve as human beings into an epoch that creates a life economy instead of a death economy that creates a regenerative, sustainable, and it's not just the economy. It's a social economic, political system. And we're part of it.

Larry Greene 58:20
Maybe this is a good time to touch our own Jaguars. John makes painfully and personally clear that failing to change our perspective impedes our ability to understand and practice the importance of living in harmony with nature and one another. Failing to do so can lead to some terrible decisions that cause pain to oneself, but more importantly, can be catastrophic, even deadly to others. Yet he represents what is possible if we choose a more life affirming path. His work through his nonprofit, Dream Change, has grown to be adopted in 87 countries worldwide, and has introduced millions of people in these countries to indigenous people's wisdom, not just in the Amazon, but around the world. Through John's nonprofit Dream Change, he has developed programs for people to learn more about the historical, socio-economic and political context that describes how we arrived where we are today. And the benefits and costs of globalization versus the benefits and costs of a life economy that welcomes diversity of thinking and perceptions that can lead to personal as well as community healthy growth. To learn more about John, please visit his page on our website,, for a recording and transcript of our conversation, as well as more links to John's website, samples of John's best articles, videos and more. 

And if you appreciate our ongoing series Navigating Our Future, please consider contributing to support us on our subscribe donate page. Navigating Our Future is a 501  (c)(3) nonprofit organization. So your contribution is tax deductible. Thank you for your support.

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