Conversations with Solomon

Exploring Human Motivation

Sheldon Solomon has a way of challenging conventional wisdom.  One of the most respected social scientists in his field, he brings a unique perspective to audiences around the world, getting them to rethink fundamental assumptions about humanity.   Conversations with Solomon: Exploring Human Motivation is a series of six 30-minute documentaries featuring Dr. Solomon and a group of experts that look at a variety of topics affecting contemporary life including Mental Health, Economic Inequality, the Environment, Bigotry, and War.

Sheldon Solomon, Ph.D. is a professor of Social Psychology at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.  He is a foremost authority on, and co-creator of, Terror Management Theory (TMT) which is concerned with how humans deal with their own sense of mortality.  He is co-author of In The Wake of 9/11, The Psychology of Terror, and, most recently, The Worm at the Core (2015, Random House).  He is also author or co-author of numerous articles on research in the groundbreaking field of TMT.  He is known for his rare combination of intellect, quirkiness, and wit in a presentation style that informs, engages and entertains. 

The Contemporary Heroism Initiative (CHI) Foundation has produced a series of 30-minute documentaries entitled Conversations with Solomon: Exploring Human Motivation, featuring Dr. SolomonHe discusses the shape the world is in in interviews, conversations with colleagues, as well as in his classroom, and at public presentations.  He and his guests rely on current research and past writers whose arguments hold true today.   The series will look at a variety of topics affecting contemporary life, including:

  • Mental health in two parts
  • Economic inequality
  • Environment
  • Bigotry
  • War

Underlying and informing the discussions are the ideas of Pulitzer prize-winning, multi-disciplinary thinker Ernest Becker.  Becker pioneered a scientific understanding of human behavior which has subsequently been expanded by a group of experimental social scientists and cultural critics.  Their empirical studies – replicated one thousand times over the last three decades – have supported Becker’s insights into human motivation. Their studies have demonstrated that Becker’s theories have been validated across cultures, education levels, gender, age, and ethnicity.

Documentary Style

The documentary episodes are produced from the viewpoint of Dr. Solomon who discusses the question, “Why is the world in the mess that it’s in?”  He is featured in traditional talking-head interviews, in conversations with various experts, candidly in his classroom, and at public presentations.  Some of his students are also interviewed. Solomon and the other experts reference current research and a variety of past and present sources for insight and unique ideas.

Content

Each episode in the series relies on the science and the philosophy behind the theories of the guests – many of them experts in their own right – and features applications to one or more contemporary issues plaguing our society.  The conversations present uniquely original interpretations and possible alternatives to some of the nation’s most pressing problems.

These ideas may in fact be curative of some of the ills of mankind.  In the words of Ernest Becker: “…human violence itself may now be amenable to critical analysis, and, conceivably, to the sway of reason.” 

Guests include scholars and experts:

  • Jeff Greenberg, PhD
    University of Arizona
  • Merlyn Mowrey, PhD
    Central Michigan University
  • Henry Richards, PhD
    Forensic Psychologist
  • Kirby Farrell, PhD
    University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Tom Pyszczynski, PhD 
    University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • Jerry S. Piven, PhD
    Psychologist and Author
  • Vida James, LMSW
    New York Social Worker

Scenes of American life illuminate the conversations and commentary, and illustrate complex arguments.  

Topics

The topics of the episodes address existential threats to our society and way of life.  Dr. Solomon and his guests explore these most pressing issues from a social psychological perspective that involves a careful understanding of human motivation. Understanding why people do what they do, in addition to the other disciplines and points of view, can bring us to a fuller understanding of the problems facing humanity, and, in the end, to possible solutions.  The episodes ultimately provide benefits for viewers´ daily lives, making a social impact by helping audiences with life-changing decisions through better understanding of their own very human motivations.

Series Details

Episode One: Mental Health Part 1

  1. What is at the heart of the problem of individual mental health in America?
  2. How do society’s values affect mental health?
  3. What are the sources of the problems?
  4. What is the role of death anxiety in our society?

Episode Two: Mental Health Part 2

  1.  Do we suffer from flawed hero systems?
  2.  Why is it Important to know thyself?
  3.  What cultural changes are needed?
  4.  What are the Implications of these questions?
  5.  How do we nudge people towards different kinds of heroism?
  6.  Why must we come to terms with death?
  7.  Where is there hope?

Episode Three: Inequality

  1.  What is at the heart of the problem of inequality?
  2.  What are the psychological underpinnings of economic inequality?
  3.  How do our society’s values affect inequality?
  4.  What are some possible solutions to inequality?

Episode Four: The Environment

  1.  What is the threat of climate change?
  2.  How does death denial factor into our understanding of the social response to climate change?
  3.  What are the long-term implications of global climate change?
  4.  What is the role of religion in our relationship to the environment?
  5.  What ideologies are at play in environmental issues?
  6.  What actions can we realistically take or help influence?

Episode Five: Bigotry

  1.  What is racism?
  2.  What is the role of society in bigotry?
  3.  What are the psychological underpinnings of bigotry?
  4.  What is the broader notion of Othering?
  5.  What are possible solutions to bigotry?
  6.  Where is there hope?

Episode Six: War

  1.  What is at the heart of the problem of war?
  2.  What are the psychological underpinnings of war?
  3.  How do conflicting worldviews affect war?
  4.  What is the significance of The Bigger Thing?
  5.  What is the role of righteousness?
  6.  What are some possible solutions to war?
  7.  Where is there hope

Intended Audience

The potential audience for Conversations with Solomon includes educated viewers of serious documentaries, people who read non-fiction and who are concerned about contemporary American life, and those who are dissatisfied with the way the world is at present, who want a change for the better, and who are not afraid of out-of-the-box, sometimes radical thinking.  They can be any age, ethnicity, or orientation. Most viewers will have an interest in social psychology, psychology, economics, ecology, race relations, and the wars in the Middle East.  Readers of non-fiction such as The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, and other non-fiction writers including Friedrich Nietzsche, Adam Smith, CG Jung, Charles Darwin, Erich Fromm, Otto Rank, Martin Heidegger, Soren Kierkegaard, John Locke, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, and William James will find viewing Conversations with Solomon a rewarding experience.

Distribution

The series is intended for distribution on video on demand (VOD) platforms such as Amazon, Fandango, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, Microsoft, Netflix, Sony PSN, Stream, Vimeo OnDemand, Vubiquity, Vudu, VHX, and Wauki (UK).  Depending on contract obligations, the series may be distributed on more than one VOD platform.

In the interim, the first episodes are being submitted to festivals as Short Documentaries.  Episodes 1 & 2 have already won outstanding achievement awards for documentary and television series at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival.

Creative Personnel

Stephen James, producer-director, is an award-winning media producer with thirty years’ experience producing for local PBS in New Jersey and Connecticut, writing documentaries for the United Nations, and producing literally hundreds of videos and online media for corporate communications, training, and marketing.  He has devoted a significant amount of time and energy researching and expanding on the ideas of Ernest Becker, beginning with his initial reading of The Denial of Death in 1977.  Since then he has written the award-winning book American Stew: Hope in a Toxic Culture that applies Becker’s ideas, Terror Management Theory, and the thoughts of experts like Dr. Solomon to contemporary issues.

Corey D. Kaup, technical director and videographer, is president of Kaup Communications.  He is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist with 35 years’ experience, as well as an expert in designing and solving problems for complex media technology systems.  He is the former Director of Biomedical Communications for New Rochelle Hospital Medical Center where he provided biomedical photography and media support for all medical, public relations and administrative departments.

Dominick Gataletto, editor, has 25 years’ experience as a creative video-editing story teller using Adobe Creative Cloud: Premiere editor, After Effects compositor, Blender 3D experience as well as music creation.  He holds a master’s degree from Iona College and is a graduate of New York Institute of Technology.

Hope

We know the world is in sad shape, and we know people are hungry for new ideas, as well as new explanations for the sources of the world’s problems.  We don’t have any magic beans to fix the world, but we have some thoughts on why there can be room for hope, unreasonable as it sometimes seems.

As Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  Sheldon Solomon personifies the public intellectual who embodies the answer to the question of how to live, knowing that life is finite.

Projected Status

The project is in the late post production stage.  The first three episodes have been completed. Work remaining includes completion of Episodes 4, 5, and 6.  This will take approximately four to five months.

Release will be in April 2019.

© 2017 Contemporary Heroism Initative