Anne Marie talks to do-gooder Corinna Bellizzi, host and producer of the Care More. Be Better. podcast. Corinna reaches back to her anthropology roots and shares her take on the archaic human species Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, better known as Neanderthal, how the species has been misinterpreted and misrepresented by the academic gatekeepers of anthropological and archeological studies for hundreds of years.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Truth About Our Neanderthal Kin and Tribalism with Corinna Bellizzi
In this episode, I have a rare treat for you. I had the opportunity to sit down with Anne Marie Cannon of Armchair Historians and be interviewed by her to talk about my favorite history, which is prehistory and one that covers Neanderthals. We talked for about an hour about everything from evolutionary theory to why Neanderthals are cool and even knowing about them could teach us about tribalism and how we live. You get a rare peek into who I am and why I chose the path that I did, as well as in the end, why I started this show. Without further ado, here’s Anne Marie Cannon.
My guest is Corinna Bellizzi, host and producer of Care More Be Better. A show that shares stories of inspired individuals social entrepreneurs and conscious companies from around the globe who create a positive impact in their communities. Corinna reaches back to her early academic days when she was studying anthropology as an undergraduate student at university. She shares with us her take on a topic that she fell in love with then and is still passionate about.
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis better known as Neanderthal. I want you to think of the word Neanderthal. What comes to mind? Is it a hulking unintelligent, caveman? Perhaps the GEICO commercials feature the all too misunderstood species. While you reading this episode, I want you to think about where you’re messaging about the neanderthal species that came from and maybe you will even begin to question your beliefs about the species whose DNA we only discovered is part of the human genome. Corinna Bellizzi welcome and thank you for being here.
Thank you so much for having me.
We talked a little bit about the history you’re going to talk about and I don’t have a lot of information but I have one thing that I’ll contribute. Why don’t you take us there and tell us what is your favorite history that you’re going to talk about?
My favorite history is prehistory. What defines history is essentially having a written record and the ability to go back and see somebody’s perspective on the things that happened. What I loved so much when I was first going to college was learning about anthropology and picturing a world that hadn’t been written down. One in which we had to go from the solid materials that were left behind or the cave paintings to discover what human life would have been like without somebody’s perspective to color it. It’s almost like taking a biological perspective into what our history is.
As I explored and deepened my own interest in anthropology, I got enamored with the Neanderthal species and partly that may have come from reading The Clan of the Cave Bear when I was a young girl, discovering my own wants and desires if I wanted to read something for fun. When I was growing up in the ’80s, Daryl Hannah played this character and it was a made-for-TV movie. I fell in love then. I fell in love further with Indiana Jones and I think I was at an age where I was exploring what I wanted to be in life. It was something that opened my mind and continued to get me seeking.
When I learned about the Neanderthal, in particular, the thing that fascinated me was that they cohabitated with modern Homo sapiens in Western Europe for over 30,000 years. The question I got to thinking about was, “What would have been like to live with a species that’s different from you inhabiting the same space for that long?” Almost every other species on the planet has that and the closest thing we have in our modern life is a chimpanzee.
I’ve often encountered people who didn’t believe in evolutionary thought, who say things like, “I’m not condescended from a chimpanzee.” They just don’t understand what evolution means. That’s ultimately at the root of it but there were these whole thought processes as I was going to undergraduate school.
Can I ask you what year was that? Because I was reading about the things that we found out about Neanderthal.
We’re all the same human race. All of our differences are essentially skin deep.
I was in college as early as ’93. In my senior year in high school, I started attending classes at De Anza College while I was figuring out what I wanted to do and what I want to stay. I took my first anthropology class with Tisa Abshire-Walker, who at the time I had no idea what her background was. She’s a Stanford schooled PhD in Anthropology, incredibly bright and charismatic.
At the time I had a class with her, she was in her 60s, white-haired and talking about controversial topics. Our whole thought process around Neanderthals, she thought was quite antiquated. What she had to say about that was that there was a good reason and that good reason was that what she called DWEMs, Dead White European Males had basically written our history of archeology. That these people had essentially hung onto their tenure and in their positions at universities and doing research until their dying breaths. That these coveted positions didn’t often come open and when they did, they were occupied by other European white males who further perpetuated the same ideas or similar ideas to what had been seen in the past.
What she described to me at that phase was something that resonated with me because it was something I saw even in our culture here in the United States. It seems like histories are written by those who win the war or what we’re taught in school is so focused on the perspective of the winner. This is what ultimately, got me interested in prehistory because there was no one there to say what happened. You had to go to the science to figure it out. While that was true, there was still that cohort of Dead White European Males that had their thoughts, essentially, leading where the science or perspective would go.
When you ask the question about how much things have changed in the last many years, it has been dramatic. When I was writing my thesis at UC Santa Cruz. I graduated in 1998. My thesis was in the winter of ’98. I graduated in December that year. I decided to write on the capabilities of Neanderthal to have modern speech capabilities, to communicate with other Homo sapiens living at the time.
Here’s something that your audience may not know. We are Homo sapiens. We have named ourselves wise man because sapiens means wise. Neanderthals are Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. They are only a subgenus. They’re part of the same species. However, we continue to try and separate ourselves from them for all of my education paths. There was Erik Trinkaus who is a Neanderthal specialist who had written a book specifically about the Neanderthals after a hyoid bone had been discovered. The hyoid bone is a bone in your throat by your larynx that has a lot to do with speech capabilities in modern human beings.
He was making all of these scientific suppositions about their ability to speak and what that could have meant for the 30,000 years that we lived side-by-side in Western Europe. If we lived side-by-side in Western Europe for 30 years and the entire academic world is trying to say, “They might’ve lived side-by-side but they didn’t share technology. They might’ve lived side-by-side but they didn’t interbreed.” They were too different.
These were dumb, big and oafish people that didn’t represent this refined human perspective. That was everything about what we were being taught. While I had more, I would say professors that were a little bit more open to the alternative and the possibility that, “Maybe they did speak and interbreed,” and do we know if they were physically capable of breeding or not?
Years ago, we found that we were able to extract the DNA from teeth in a particular Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, a Neanderthal. We were able to sequence that genome and then we were able to analyze modern Homo sapiens genes and say, “This is present in our current genome. That means, that Neanderthals did breed with modern homo sapiens.”
That’s my one contribution. I was looking at my 23andMe because I’m 2% Neanderthal.
If you were from Western Europe, the reality is that you are likely to have more. I took my 23andMe in specifically to find out how much Neanderthal I have by reference to the rest of the population. I have more neanderthal than 34% of the human population from what they’ve been able to see.
I have more than 37% so we’re about the same.
I think the natural question then becomes, “What is different between us? What was different? What does the evidence show was that different?” What we see is that their bodies were a little bit more robust. Their brains were quite different from our own and that is what is fascinating to me. The Neanderthal brain was a little bit larger than modern Homo sapiens by a couple of hundred CC but what was different about it, is that it had less crenelations, it was less ribbed which modern people in evolutionary science have come to say, “That means that they had less dendrites, less neurons firing or less of an ability to have the same cognition as modern Homo sapiens but the reality is we don’t know how different they were.
All we have are this endocranial cast or basically the cast of what would have been the skull. We’re able to take that and see what looks different from the outside. What this gets me thinking about is how different are we between species that are similar, like among the monkeys, chimpanzees, apes, orangutans or other species that are far less related to us.
We have this sense, continual quest, it seems to try and separate ourselves from other species as if we’re somehow better. We’re a wise wise man. I don’t think that as science continues to advance, that is going to continue to be proven. In fact, we keep disproving it. We say first, “What separates us from animals is that we use tools.” A chimpanzee uses a tool. What separates us from animals is that we modify tools. “The chimpanzee modifies a tool so does a crow.” What is uniquely human?
I would argue that almost nothing, except for war. It’s like we have this tribal nature that has some great things about it, the sense of community, helping one another and being there to support the health of our population or our grandparents, children and those that are less abled or differently-abled than ourselves. Yet, what do we do? We create things like war to battle one another for resources in a way that is more brutal than when you often see in the other parts of the animal kingdom.
I might even go on to say that the other thing that goes hand in hand with war is ego. Ego is the downfall of a lot of things in people and myself included. That pigheadedness. What’s the Latin for that?
I don’t know. Why can’t we say, “I don’t know?” Why can’t we get more comfortable with the, “It could be, maybe.”
One of the things that I love about this in the way that you’re explaining it is that I love and studied history. I’ve written historical fiction. The thing that comes to mind is that there was a belief that there was a particular medieval instrument. They believed that it was written that it didn’t come into being until the 1700s. Why did that become a fact? Because it wasn’t written down.
At some point in the mid-1500s, there was a ship that sunk in the English Channel and it was called the Mary Rose. In that ship were a lot of well-preserved artifacts. When it was brought up in the 1980s, it enlightened us about a lot of things and one of those things was that instrument that was found on that ship. What this tells me and I didn’t start to realize until more recently and kudos to you that you had those professors and the open-mindedness to think about things in the way that you did back in the 1990s and be so controversial. You were on a quest for truth.
Yeah. I feel like we’ve been sold a book of lies as we have studied history in school. One of the things that I found most frustrating about the history and in school, I’m talking about high school, elementary, etc. Probably the reason I didn’t want to study it, was everything seemed so sequentially organized. I was supposed to remember the date that something happened and I was supposed to memorize a thing that some particular person said but it didn’t have a frame of context that was meaningful for me.
Part of that is in how history is taught in school, in the public school system. Part of that is getting to not being willing to form a context for people, for fear of stepping on their personal beliefs and raising problems with their parents. I’m speaking in particular of religion when I talk about that because it gets in the way of us being able to have open conversations about things that may be a little controversial, that may be open that don’t have an answer. I wish that we could get a little smarter about how we educate our student body from that perspective so that we raise inquisitive individuals who are seeking to have a better understanding of the context of the why so we don’t keep repeating the same problems, that keep repeating the same mistakes.
That’s important and I had an experience in college. I went to a community college when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and I never liked history. I never had a connection to it and that connection is so important because I ended up with the teacher who taught history and every day it was a great story. She taught it like it was this epic story and I couldn’t wait to go to her class because it had a meaningful context to me. That’s important and enlightening. You had that experience also in college.
Yeah, I did. There was this moment too when an instructor has inspired you to open your mind. When they come from that perspective, when they’re tackling the job of giving a lecture, it changes everything about the experience of the students. I had no idea how lucky I was to be in that classroom. That Anthro 101 with Tisa Abshire-Walker. I had no idea until it started. I described her already. She’s in her 60s and white-haired old lady and she gave this lecture on the etymology of the word fuck. She went way back and started talking about how this word came to be and how it first started as almost an uprising against the royalty of England.
Its first use was in the 14th or 15th century, I can’t remember which. She goes from talking about, it was first deemed as an insult, as you are being a fuck. It didn’t have anything to do with sex. That’s the thing. It was this lower-class of individuals that were working to raise up against the monarchy. I remember very little of the lecture except for the fact that I was sitting there, jaw-dropping over the fact that this 60 something year-old-woman was saying the F word 100 times in a variety of capacities in a variety of ways over the course of an hour.
You had me at fuck.
This is not something that you expect. By being in a lecture with somebody where you had this unexpected experience, got you thinking differently and got you more engaged. Suddenly, I was going from a student who may have dragged my feet on the way to certain classes to I had that spring in my step saying, “What else can I find out?” Even classes that weren’t related at all to hers because that inspiration had gotten inside my belly. It was so meaningful to me to see something done in such a different way in a traditional classroom setting.
I think back to all of the moments in my life when I’ve been in an educational system. All of the moments that I dreaded going to that history class to only find that I spent four years studying prehistory because one teacher opened my eyes to seeing something a little differently and asking questions about what might’ve been.
I have another anecdote about the Neanderthals. This relates back to how we saw them as different. We got to a place where we described what was different between Homo sapiens or Homo sapiens sapiens, wise wise man and Neanderthals. These professionals leading the charge would say, “They were different because their brains were different.” They didn’t have the same art that we had. If you look at what was happening in Western Europe 30,000 years ago, suddenly you see this explosion of art in caves.
If people spend more time together and actually talk with those they disagree with, bridges can be mended.
Yeah, all over France. Lascaux, Spain and Lascaux II. There are all these different spaces that you can go to, to see replications of those artists’ renderings and also all over the Americas too. We see this explosion starting around 30,000 years ago. When I think about what happened, Neanderthals had been living with modern homo sapiens over the course of about 30,000 years up until around that point when suddenly there was this explosion.
That gets me to wondering if there was perhaps some unique influence that came from Neanderthal DNA and the modern Homo sapiens that literally created something new. That period of life, what we refer to as this around 30,000 years ago where we start to see fixed art, not the mobile art and the things that they bring around with them. The Venus statues, stone tools or jewelry that you might have seen from different archeological digs. You then see this explosion of fixed art that doesn’t precede that moment.
Could it be that right around the time that we’ve seen Neanderthals phased out? They’ve essentially come into our species and changed it. If something around that moment happened in this supposedly behavioral modern experience this behaviourally modern human, became behaviourally modern, not only through evolution but through influence from the neanderthal species. Something I think about and I don’t know if it’s anything that could ever be proven but to try and think differently about the things that we’re taught in school. We’re not man, we’re wise wise man. What makes us so wise? Shouldn’t it be the skepticism, seeking and thinking that makes us wise?
Being able to sit in discomfort instead of going to war and have difficult conversations.
Share technology and resources. Why can’t we get to a space where we can say, “There are enough diamonds in the world for everyone to have one. Let’s stop making some precious gem that we will wage wars over or that individuals will die mining for.” Why do we have to have that existence and human experience? Can we shift? Can we move to something different?
Let me ask you that question. Why can’t we?
I don’t think it’s a, “We can’t.” I think there’s resistance to change that is also endemic in our species. We in particular after about the age of 30 resist change, learning something new and trying to discover new music. There are statistics around this that people stop discovering new music often in their early-30s. Like by the early-30s, it’s like their music taste is fixed. It doesn’t change. They don’t find new things. They might not even listen to new music. If there’s a way that we can move forward and pass that or we all seek to embrace continual learning throughout our lives. If we can all accept that we don’t know what we don’t know and seek to continue learning then we can shift out of it but there’s resistance to even that.
I have to say I’m guilty of all those things and yet putting new things in is always vital. There’s a vitality to learning and hearing new things and thinking of different ways. Yet, I have to say I’m that person. I’m way past 30.
There is a lot of comfort in what you know. What do you reach for when you’re feeling sick? It’s probably the same basic staple foods that you had when you were a little kid. It’s not likely to be something new because there’s comfort in it. It’s a worn path. Forging new trails is important. Continuing to read and learn is important. I embarked on graduate studies years ago. I’ll be graduating with an MBA from Santa Clara University. I would have never thought that my path would lead me there.
I start out as this hopeful little kid that wanted to be Indiana Jones. I graduated with a Degree in Anthropology, writing a thesis about Neanderthal modern speech capabilities based on lithic reduction sequences and stone tools. What did stone tools have to say about the share of technology? That’s what I was looking at. What did I end up doing? I ended up going into natural products and sales marketing and spending twenty years doing that before I decided I wanted to go get my MBA, which is not related to anything in Anthropology and Archeology. Why did I make that choice?
I did want to ask you to stay with the history before we delve deeper into who you are, where you come from and what work you’re putting out in the universe. I’d like to ask you one of the things you already touched on is, where do we see this history in pop culture? You said clan of the cave. There was one that I thought of.
Neanderthals have never been portrayed in the kindest of light. It’s interesting because we see them as brutish. If you look at cartoons from evolutionary science history over the course of the years, they were essentially these lumbering hulks of people with a wood stick that they’d clobber you over the head with or hunt for mammoths.
In The Clan of the Cave Bear, you’re exposed to this species that is seen as rudimentary, only grunting and not having the ability to speak. The primary character who is played by Daryl Hannah in the movie is seen in a rape scene where she’s taken by this hulk of a person that is depicted as lesser than modern Homo sapiens. Even in that first exposure, when I was first discovering what this caveman was like, I was being influenced in a way by our culture to think of this other as bad.
That’s something that we encounter constantly in our culture. You see this hate towards from one group to another. It’s connected to that tribalism I was speaking of. That the same thing that bonds us together also has the capacity to create some toxicity and dislike between groups or prejudice between groups. I feel like how we have seen the Neanderthal for the bulk of my living life and the bulk of history is of this other brutish and necessarily bad in the perspective of pop culture. That’s only starting to change a little bit as we understand that we have 2% or 3% of Neanderthal DNA in our bodies.
I also thought of the insurance commercials. I can’t remember if it’s GEICO. It’s probably GEICO. Do you know which one I’m talking about?
I think I’ve seen it. I don’t remember it clearly.
They are the cerebral ones and they’re tired of being depicted the way that they’re depicted. They’re very funny commercials because it embodies this whole idea of how misunderstood Neanderthals have been based on the Dead White European Males, DWEMs.
If you remember The Clan of the Cave Bear if you read that book.
I saw the movie.
If you read the book, which is an entire series, it ends up being almost like a romance novel. There’s a lot of sex in those books, which is probably also why I wanted to read them at 12 and 13 years old. Their theory was different. What they shared was that the Neanderthals in that book series had this memory of generations. Thinking about how their brain was different. Perhaps they had some stored memory where they could remember the lives of the communities that existed before them somehow or something magical along those lines. That also leans to considering the neanderthal more like an animal, more based on instinct, which is also still a common thought. We would see them as more animal-like than human-like. We don’t know. That’s the reality.
As technology advances, the more we know, the more we realize how wrong we’ve been. The DWEMs have ruled and are based on their egos.
The path that has been well-worn, like from Socrates to presence.
You’re kinder than I am.
They get used to a particular idea and that particular idea gets passed on. One of the things I love about scientific theory, in general, is that it’s seeking to prove and replicate what your ideas are and being open to being disproven. How many times in my lifetime have we considered Pluto a planet or not? I don’t know if it ever will affect me personally to beyond being like, “When I was in school, it was a planet so it’s got to stay at planet because that’s a well-worn path for me,” but it doesn’t have any real impact on my daily life. The sorts of things that we need to be concerned with as we head forward, particularly through this time when there’s so much polarizing thought out there are that we are more similar than we’re different.
There’s no difference between the races. We’re all the same race. We’re the human race. All of our differences are essentially skin deep. There are a few very minor physical traits that exist beyond the grave where you can analyze bones and see small differences. The orbital ridge is slightly sharper in my eye. I have a more pronounced shoveling in the back of my teeth, which is an indication of Mongolian history and I take the 23andMe test and they show me no Eastern Asian ancestry. What does that say? Maybe the test isn’t even completely accurate.
They’re constantly changing it. For Ancestry, they’re taking away some of the things that they told me I was and they’re updating their algorithm. It’s constantly changing.
A few weeks ago, I was 2% Norwegian. Now, I’m not at all. Now I have Malta on my history. I’m like, “More North African.”
The thing is we still don’t know what we don’t know and we should still be in discovery mode. We should remember that we are one species and that our neighbors don’t have wants and desires that are all that different from our own. They don’t seek to understand one another, lock their arms together and get through the difficult times together like the time of COVID.
This has been an insane year and if I look back on all the prehistory that I’ve read over the years too, I don’t know that I could put my finger on a single time that I’ve studied where it’s been this toxic and crazy, where human connection has been more challenged because of a disease that can wipe out a significant portion of the population. It’s been a difficult time to be alive.
That coupled with the political climate over the past years but we don’t need to go there. When you’re talking, I’m like, “She’s a better person than I am,” and that’s probably not the right way to put it but I have such a knot in my stomach when about reaching out to what I consider the other side. I’ve never felt this polarized from a part of the population in all of my life than I have. I am part of that problem. I think we all are. This is what goes on in my mind so I need to take a look at myself. Are they doing that? No. This is where my thinking goes and then it builds up all this energy.
That’s a negative thought cycle to get stuck into. One of the bits of knowledge that I’ve gleaned from the past few years of my life is that if we spend more time together. If we talk and connect with people that we disagree with, typically, you’re able to mend bridges.” It’s a path that is more uncomfortable than some. There’s this whole perspective of an African-American male that started to befriend people in the KKK to try and change their minds through friendship.
He was successful in converting a couple of people to walk away from that because they had this one framed idea of how black people were. Because they had this singularly framed idea of who this other was, they had developed all sorts of prejudiced thoughts about what that other person was like. Similarly, I was listening to a podcast where an individual had a roommate that was from a completely different religion. They had a lot of ideas that were very dissimilar and over the course of living with one another, eating meals together and cooking with one another, essentially became best friends and how that changed their perspective on the other person’s culture.
What we need to keep in mind is that we aren’t that different and if we can find commonality with one another, we can bridge gaps solve complex problems and start to see one another as the same as opposed to different but it doesn’t come without work and people have to be willing and open to doing the work. That’s the hardest thing.
That’s very insightful. There’s a lot of truth in that. I see and feel it. Even though it brushes up against that tribal mentality in me.
It’s hard to look at oneself. It’s easy to get defensive and that’s what happens often when you have two polarizing opposite ideas in the same room. One person will get defensive about their beliefs. I interviewed somebody for my show about sustainable minimalism. I consider myself to be a sustainability champion and I try to be a minimalist but even reading a book about minimalism sometimes I had to put it down because I felt judged by the book, with the words on the page. I was like, “I look too much like that. Am I a packrat?” I have a hard time letting go of things. I’m internalizing too much some of these judgments about myself like, “Could have, should have didn’t and would have.” I think we have to give ourselves a pass. Give ourselves a break.
I needed to hear that. Thank you.
I was thinking about the differences and there was an interesting effort in San Francisco. This gentleman created this Kosher and Halal Company where he’s doing both things at once and there aren’t many that are doing that because you have the people that want a Kosher product and the people that want a Halal product. The practices are quite similar so you could certify both but no company had taken the charge to do that. He decided to.
Social media essentially feds people what they want to hear, which does not encourage an inquisitive mind.
He also decided to launch a conversation with Abe’s Kitchen. He would host these dinners and this is before COVID. He’ll probably get back to it but he would host these dinners where he brought together people that were Muslim, Jewish and also people that had no faith like atheists together for these dinners. He would organize the seating arrangement so that you didn’t have any people of a particular faith sitting together.
By doing this, his whole quest was to essentially enable people to open that conversation with one another and discover that their differences were less than they had thought. One of the stories that he works to tell is about the people that would come to him after dinner and talk to him about it. Like they say, “That made me uncomfortable but I want to talk to you about this because it got me thinking about X, Y and Z differently.” That’s where we need to head as a people. We need to be able to create these opportunities and spaces, where we can connect as opposed to only hearing our own points of view.
As we look at social media, we are essentially being fed what we want to hear and that is not encouraging and inquisitive mind. We follow the particular news channels that are telling us the things that we agree with already or the things that we have been taught to be concerned about in a particular way and then we’re not hearing the other side.
It’s like the old journalism of our youths seems to have died. We should seek to try and replace that with more truth and a broader perspective. If we can push in this perspective where we’re seeking to be informed in an open way and able to extend a hand across an aisle to somebody who has a different point of view. I think that would be tremendous progress. Would you host a dinner with people of different faiths? Wouldn’t that be so interesting?
I was married to a Palestinian Muslim. He’s the father of my daughter and it’s been interesting watching her evolve and grow up. She embodies that because she would go and spend summers with her grandmother in Jordan and she learned how to cook. She was tapped into the culture and rituals. That’s when my eyes opened up was when I traveled to Kuwait to meet my in-laws back in the ’80s.
I saw how narrow-minded we tend to be in this country, especially, the towns that we grew up in and then we don’t move out of that. It enlightened me and I started seeing the world in a very different way. Unlike you, you seem to intuitively have your own sense of morality. When you were in college, even probably before that, I admired that about you that you were able to see through what you had been fed. With this new information that you’re getting, we’re able to write that paper for your thesis.
Everything you’re saying, I know to be true. I for myself have struggled because to protect myself for years, I had to put literally, a figurative wall to survive. I don’t even know that I did that but what you’re saying is true and I know that. I’m glad that you’re sharing this with me. Thank you for taking me down the rabbit hole because they ring true. Is there anything else about the history that you wanted to talk about before we delve into who you are and your podcast?
The takeaway, we want anyone to walk away from a conversation about history with, is simply that we only have the perspectives that have been written down or studied and we don’t have everything. We never have the complete picture. As hard as we’ll work, we’ll never have the complete picture. Remaining open to new thoughts and ideas is imperative no matter what you’re looking at.
There is this whole concept that we’ve worn these paths before, that history repeats itself. I would argue that it’s not exactly true. It’s something that we’ve been told time and again and it feels true. It feels cycles repeat themselves but never quite in the same way. If we are to learn anything, it’s that we don’t know everything and we should continue to stay open.
With regard to Neanderthals, I would say if you do decide to study them, study them with a kind mind. Understand that human history is interesting. There’s so much to it but we’re not unique in the challenges we face. We are in a sense like a chipmunk that’s trying to survive out in their natural habitat. The primary difference between us is that we can build a house, air conditioning and cyclic heat. It doesn’t mean that we’re all different. I think that’s it. That’s what I want to say about history.
We found each other on Facebook. It was a group on Facebook and it had nothing to do with podcasting. I don’t even remember what the group was. You said something about your show, we started talking and then we connected. You extended a hand and said, “I’d love to talk to you.” I was like, “Yeah,” because I’m still new at this. I’m always interested to talk to other podcasters about how they do what they do and what they’re doing. Can I fit them in as guests to talk about their favorite history?
We had a couple of conversations. One of the things that I noticed is as you would talk about your history and probably also from reading the show. It seems like everything that you have done from your undergrad studying the Neanderthal and the things that you were doing because you’re not doing one thing. If you looked at it, it would have been the perfect design to lead you to where you are. I want you to talk a little bit about that history. What happened after your undergraduate? I also want you to talk about the show because I feel like the show came about because of all these other things that were a part of your life.
I appreciate the invitation to tell my story. It’s not always easy to describe what choices you made along the way and why. I studied Anthropology and Archeology in school because it’s a silly story but my dad was putting pressure on me to go into the sciences. He knew that I loved biology and I loved the life sciences. Everything animal-related, I was into. He was like, “These are growing fields. Why not become a biotechnologist? You could do this.” I’m like, “I hate math. I can’t do this.” I was an avid reader. I loved reading literature and writing. I wanted to study English and literature. He’s like, “No.” He didn’t want to fund that. It’s not like he was giving me a lot of money for college but he was giving me some of it.
I compromised on anthropology after taking Tisa Abshire-Walker’s class. Years later, I’m graduating. I’ve done a couple of archeology digs in Western Europe and France, as well as in Central California and I knew I loved it. I loved digging in the dirt, exploring it, the site, trying to discover something new, spending the time in the lab, cataloging what you’d found and writing about it. I loved all of it but I also didn’t have the money that I would need to fund an education for a PhD. In the world of Anthropology, this is something that’s a little unfortunate but it’s not super funded. Specifically, Archeology and Pre-history, you’re relying on endowments and things like that to help fund education. It’s expensive.
What did I do? I chose to go to work and try to figure out what I would do next. Maybe I would be able to pay down my college debt and get enough money to go and pursue my PhD one day. I decided to go out into the workforce and I had five things that I wanted from a job I would take. I hoped that it would help me continue to learn because I wanted to always learn. I hoped that it would be rooted in some way in the sciences so that my inquisitive mind could be scratched at. I wanted to make sure that if anything, I was doing good. In some way, putting good out into the world. I also wanted to earn $15 an hour or more. That was the financial fees. It’s not a lot of money but as a recent college grad in 1998, it was slim pickings.
We were entering the bubble burst and all of that from Silicon Valley, which is where I’m based. Lastly, I wanted not to fall in love with it. That was one of my five requirements and I fell in love with it. I was working in the natural products industry for an herbal extract company, helping other companies to make finished products that would support people’s health.
I dug into the science. I’ve learned about how over 100 different herbal extracts benefited health. I started to work with big companies and create products that would benefit people. I felt like, “Here’s the difference. I could have gone and studied Archeology and what good would that have done? How would I have improved people’s life by studying Archeology?”
I’m improving people’s life by creating products that support their health. I am helping to further my own education about nutrition and how it will impact my health and the lives of those around me that I love. I’m doing good. I’m fulfilling all these other things and now I’m also making a good living. I’m saying goodbye to scholastic life and that was a conscious choice but I missed formal education. I loved being in school. I loved seeking.
2019 hit and I had a disagreement with a CEO I was working with and I wasn’t able to get past it. I said, “I want to go explore something else and chose to apply for and enroll in graduate school for business, which is what I’ve spent twenty years doing and ratify, learn and see what I might need to know differently if I was to start my own business.”
Weirdly, I’m deciding I don’t necessarily want to be in that traditional business space. I want to do something different. I’m decided to go this podcast route because I want to put more good out into the world than I’m even able to through my work. Highlight some of the social challenges and sustainability issues that we confront with the hope of inspiring people to get involved and maybe create their own effort to do some good in the world.
You’re doing a traditional MBA. What are you getting out of it that’s leading you into this path? Have you already come into it, taking what you can get out of it and reformulating it into a way that’s more meaningful, that leads you to the ideas that are in the show?
I think about this at the end of every term. Each term is ten weeks. I’m entering my eighth and final term. I haven’t taken summers off. I’m completing it in two years. I’ve typically had between 1 and 3 weeks off between the terms and every time I asked myself some simple questions, “What did I learn? Has it been worth it?” It’s simple.
I came to graduate school because I felt like there was a hole in my understanding with regard to how the financial backend of a business was run. I’ve been on the sales and marketing side. I have done a lot in cost analysis, building projections and all that other fancy stuff that you do within a business. What I’ve often learned is that I knew more than I thought I did and the holes in my knowledge are in different spaces and I expected them to be.
I expressed earlier that I hate math and that is still true but now I’ve had to learn calculus. That was something I avoided like the plague when I was an undergrad. I took the bare minimum. I got through statistics and that was it because I had such a hard time, even I tried to pass Algebra 2 and Trigonometry and I couldn’t get past it. Now the mathematics, I understand at least on a theoretical level is much more advanced than I had anticipated. I don’t know that it’s all that usable, to be frank. Technology has come so far.
I joked with another marketer in another class and said, “We’d be fired if we try to do it this way,” all the longhand. There are cheap tools out there that can do all this stuff for you. The thing that has given me more than anything is the time to reflect, think about what I don’t know, continue opening my mind and reading case studies that are interesting. Thinking through problems and meeting other like-minded individuals who are trying to work through similar problems in their own lives. That’s given me more than I had anticipated before. The new connections I’ve built.
You found out that you know more than you thought you knew. You’re forging meaningful connections with like-minded people who have similar ideas. Tell us about the show. How did that evolve? Where did you get the idea to do it? What it’s about?
This started a couple of years ago before I started graduate school. I met with a girlfriend of mine from a prior job. We worked together at Nordic Naturals and she was the marketing manager and I was a sales and education leader. We were sitting down a row, a long cup of coffee and she said, “I was thinking at the time, I was going to build a company that was going to create products that gave back to bees in some way. Supporting the health of bees.”
I was going to call the company Care More Bee Better. She said to me, “Corinna, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always had this desire to help those that can’t help themselves but your passions have been all over the place. I’m not saying that as a criticism but it’s like you want to help the sea turtle. You rescued a horse from a racetrack and that’s your horse or you decided to get a rescue animal for this. You don’t want to support puppy mills. You’re always thinking about all these more mindful, ecological ways to live. What if you were to do something different? Maybe you could help match companies to these not-for-profits or something along those lines.”
I was chewing on that for a long time and deciding whether or not that was something I wanted to do. Do I want to spend time trying to create a monetization path for myself as work for that? Do I want to pitch companies with a service like that? I didn’t feel like it was right for me in a way. I started listening to a particular podcast. I had not been a podcast consumer and I suddenly was listening to podcasts every time I was out for a walk with my dog, every time I was at the gym or every time, I was doing tours around the house and then I was discovering new podcasts and another one.
I felt like they were feeding my brain and getting me to think in different ways. Bringing up different passions and making me feel I had more full days. Like my life felt more complete. I think part of the reason that my life felt more complete has to do with COVID. We’ve been so disconnected over the course of the last year. Not being able to meet with my girlfriends and have, weird conversations about the thing that came into our mind that day. Living on Zoom or on a phone hasn’t provided that same experience for me.
No matter how much history is written down and studied, no one can ever get a complete picture of everything.
When I was listening to some of these podcasts, I was finding myself getting that same itch scratched. I thought, “If I’m going to put more good out into the world, maybe I can use a show to do that.” Maybe I can use my skills as a marketer and also as a storyteller to help amplify the good that some of these companies are already doing or some of these inspired individuals. Maybe I can get over some of the hurdles I have. I don’t love networking with people I don’t know but this show gave me an excuse to do it and now I’m meeting incredible people like yourself but tell great stories. It’s true. You’re one of the kindest people I’ve met. You’ve criticized yourself and here’s the, “You’re kinder than me,” and I’m thinking, “I don’t know that that’s true.” I feel like you are a gentle soul. That’s a compliment.
That’s very kind. Thank you. That means a lot to me.
I felt like if I could tell some stories and also in so doing put some good in the world and inspire other people to act or to open their minds, to see their neighbor down the street a little differently, to consider the homeless person that’s living on the street and not think first that they’re there by choice. That suddenly I could be changing things a little bit. That’s the hope anyway.
Tell us about the show. What is the premise?
I look at the show as an invitation. I’m inviting the audience to care more about a particular issue on each show so that we can be better and it takes we to be better. It’s not something I can do on my own. It’s not something they can do on their own. I consider it an invitation to a community of people that are going to support a better future. I consider it an invitation to think about something differently to stretch yourself.
I feel like if that’s the gift that I have to leave the world with, it will be something. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do because I feel like I’m putting myself out there in a way that’s way more revealing than I’m typically comfortable doing. I don’t know if you encounter that yourself too but it’s been something for me to get used to.
I haven’t thought about it a lot. You do, do that. You allow yourself to be vulnerable. I was relistening to Love Without Borders, which I’m interested in talking to you about. It’s Kayra Martinez. She works with refugees and she provides them with the opportunity to create art and then she sells their art. That’s one of the parts of it I know. I think there’s more to it. I was looking at the art, trying to figure out which piece to buy because they have an Etsy shop but that’s neither here nor there. I’ve gotten something out of every single episode that you’ve put out. I’m caught up.
I’ve relistened to a couple of them to prepare for this interview but also because they’re very compelling and I get something new out of them every time I listened to them. I like it because it can be daunting. I was having this conversation with my boyfriend and it’s this idea of, “What can we do?” It feels overwhelming when you think about the fractures of the world and that type of thing. You break it down into little bite-sized pieces and you say, “This person is doing this.” You could buy a piece of artwork and that’s not overwhelming. That’s not daunting, they’re lovely pieces and there’s such a great story behind them.
Supporting a local charity or donating your time. The thing that I keep wanting to tell. I want to interview people that are in their early phases, often in developing their businesses because it’s revealed that each of us can be the change that we want to see. It starts to make it feel less alien unless you’re staring at Mount Everest because that’s the biggest challenge I run into when I’m tackling a big problem. It looks so big and you have to break it down. I think it’s exactly what you were saying.
I think you bring us that and all those little pieces of your past have equated to this, it seems like. Isn’t that funny how when we get to a certain perch in our life and we look back on all the times that we’re so uncertain that we weren’t sure if we were making the right choices? I don’t know if this happened to you but this happened to me. Then I have this moment of enlightenment and it’s like the angels singing. It’s like, “That’s why that happened so that I could do this.” I don’t know if I believe that idea.
It feels like serendipity. It seems like it’s supposed to happen because in a way because it is maybe. I’ve had many of those moments in the past. I’ve also had moments where everything felt hard. I have two young boys, 3 and 6. At the time when COVID first hit, I was almost completing my first year of graduate school. I was committed to it and I suddenly looked at this and said, “This could cripple me. What am I going to do? Am I going to suddenly stop working on my contract work and pull out grad school and be here with my kids all the time because the daycare is shutting, this, that and the next thing?”
A lot of women had to make that choice. I was able to tap a friend on the shoulder and get her to move in with me short-term, which ended up being over years to help support our household and make everything work while we adjusted to kids at home and Zoom class lifestyle that was hard. There were days in that where we had more bickering than any of us wanted and sick of seeing one another’s face. I thought of a break.
I hear you. I don’t have kids but I have a domestic partner and it is challenging.
When the kids finally were able to go back to school, they were so much happier because they got to spend time with other kids. I say school for my three-year-old is a preschool but it’s good for them to have other kids to play with. They’re never going to be the same as that for them. You’ll never be able to do that. I’m thankful that at this phase, I’m coming out of grad school and I’m almost done.
I’m proud of doing it. You mentioned, “This is what led me here.” I’ve had those moments that are opposite of that, which is like doubt.
I was thinking the same thing.
I’m proud that I’ll be finishing this before my 45th birthday but at the same time, I’m double the age of many of the students in these classes. I get to bring with me a different perspective and the history that I’ve been able to glean from a professional perspective to the scholastic work, which is all great.
It also means that I understand the experience I’m having in this graduate program is much different than the one they’re having. That’s part of trying to remain aware of what you experience versus the experience of others around you. I think keeping that perspective is helpful and helps to reduce one’s own prejudices.
That’s quite an interesting path. I’m excited to see where you go with it. Also, the other thing that you do that I read about is that you also do brand development so you’re talking about contracts. You do CSR planning sessions. What is CSR?
It’s Corporate Social Responsibility.
I think that, especially, in this climate of the pandemic, we’ve all had to pivot. This means we’ve all had to be creative about our resources, looking at them, seeing the context they’re in and making use of them basically is what it is. You’ve done that. I’ve done that with the podcast as well with what I’m doing because I had the opportunity to do it and I saw it. You did that and you capitalized on it. It could go so many different ways. Do you like doing the show?
I love it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be spending as much time on it. I’ve been working to build a bank so that I can take this last term of school without stressing about it too much because this one’s going to be quite hefty and I don’t want to lose momentum. I’m not monetizing it and that’s a big difference too. A lot of people, if you’re in these podcasting rooms are saying, “How are you making money at it?” At least now, that’s not my plan. I do look at it as my effort to put more good out into the world. It’s stoking these passions in me that I don’t necessarily get a chance to exercise in my everyday otherwise. That’s healthy from a brain perspective. I think about something else. My father-in-law is going to be 90.
You interviewed him. Is that the sight guy?
Corneal dystrophy. He has a foundation for that. He is one of the most vibrant, smart and quick-witted individuals I’ve ever met at almost 90. I met him many years ago as I was dating my husband. I have not seen a mental decline remotely in him. I think that is largely due to the fact that he’s constantly seeking, working and reading. He hasn’t given up.
He’s not doing the traditional, what you would consider the retired lifestyle of a 90-year-old. He’s still the Executive Director of this company helping people to solve their sight challenges. He’s motivated by that and he’s connected to it and working at it constantly. Perhaps this will become the thing that long-term keeps my brain quick-witted and strong.
Is there anything else that you want my audience to know about or something that you remembered that you wanted to share?
I like to invite people to connect with me. If you have thoughts about a particular social impact causes or sustainability issues you’d like to see featured on Care More Be Better. You can always reach out to me directly. I’m at CareMoreBeBetter.com. If you’re curious about Neanderthal history, I’m always ready, willing and able to have a conversation about it because I am so intrigued by the idea that like a fish swimming in a stream, we had another species sitting alongside us for 30,000 years and we don’t have that equivalent anymore. I’m always and forever curious about what that would have been like.
I enjoyed talking to you, Corrina. Thank you for giving us your time, knowledge and sharing this fascinating history. I never thought about Neanderthals being on the show.
It’s been my pleasure. I enjoy reading your show. I’m honored to be featured on it. It’s so lovely.
Thank you. Yours is a subscription. It’s in the queue. I enjoy listening to yours as well. You have some great content and I love your interviews. I love the way that you approach your guests. I urge my readers to read to Care More Be Better.
Thank you so much.
- Armchair Historians
- The Clan of the Cave Bear
- Love Without Borders