For his first media interview since departing office in January, former President Barack Obama spoke with Prince Harry who was guest hosting the BBC Radio 4 program.
Obama talked about the importance of remaining optimistic about the world, his life after the White House, and how leaders need to be careful of what they say online.
The interview was recorded in September in Toronto, Canada, around the time Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama attended the Invictus games, a sporting tournament for injured veterans and service members.
Obama has made a few appearances since departing the White House. He led a talk at the University of Chicago in April, then went overseas to deliver a May speech at the Global Food Summit in Italy. He stumped for Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s successful gubernatorial campaign in October, but hasn’t given a single media interview since leaving office.
Obama declined to view the world in pessimistic terms, opting instead to encourage people to change the country.
“If we take responsibility for being involved in our own fate, if we participate, if we engage, if we speak out, if we work in our communities, if we volunteer, then all the problems that we face are solvable despite all the terrible news that you see,” Obama told the BBC.
Obama added that this is probably the best time to be alive. “If you had to choose a moment in human history in which you’d want to be born you’d choose today because the fact is that the world is healthier, wealthier, better educated and more tolerant, more sophisticated and less violent.”
Neither Prince Harry nor Obama mentioned President Donald Trump’s name directly, but they did discuss social media and leadership.
“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases,” Obama said.
“The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanization of society and allows ways of finding common ground.”
To find that common ground and counter extreme opinions, Obama suggested people “get offline, meet in a pub, meet at a place of worship, meet in a neighbourhood and get to know each other.”
Obama says he has more time now that he is out of office, but his passions haven’t changed. “I still care about making sure that the United States and the world is a place where kids get a decent education,” Obama said. “Where people who are willing to work hard are able to find a job that pays a living wage. That we’re conserving the amazing resources of our planet so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of this place. Like we did.”
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