Mohammad Modarres sits down to talk human to me about how despite all things in the world, humans can continue to be passionate; his strong bond with his family's identity, and experiencing both perspectives of an Iranian and an American, seeing at an early age what it means to struggle, dispelling misconceptions between religions and cultures, socio-economic complexities, understanding poverty, and the overall appreciation of life.
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Our Conversation with Mohammad Modarres
Transcription by Scribie.com
0:00:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Alright. Let's get this shit started. [laughter]
0:00:04 Mohammad Modarres: What's going on, man?
0:00:05 Jeffrey Shiau: What's going on, Mo?
0:00:06 Mohammad Modarres: I'm good, I'm good. I am getting a lot of philosophical notes here, being a couple of feet away from a bunch of really great refrigerator magnets.
0:00:18 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. So our, for the listeners, our circumstance right now, within the last hour, we went from being closed out of our office, to then calling our dear friend Mariel, who I wasn't even sure was in town. [laughter] And she's actually sitting right next to us. And I was like, "Are you home?" "Yes." "Can we come and record?" "Of course." And that was it, and...
0:00:47 Mohammad Modarres: Getting it done, getting it done.
0:00:48 Jeffrey Shiau: Shout out to Mariel.
0:00:49 Mohammad Modarres: I get by with a little help from my friends.
0:00:54 Jeffrey Shiau: Awesome. So, yeah, it's actually a Saturday night, and...
0:01:01 Mohammad Modarres: Things are going down.
0:01:02 Jeffrey Shiau: After we do this episode, we're gonna go dance our asses off at Baobab.
0:01:08 Mohammad Modarres: That's right.
0:01:09 Jeffrey Shiau: And the question, as always, was always, "Is Baobab closing?"
0:01:13 Mohammad Modarres: That's right.
0:01:13 Jeffrey Shiau: We don't know.
0:01:16 Mohammad Modarres: It's basically a three-year-long discussion.
0:01:19 Jeffrey Shiau: Awesome. So, all listeners know this, we start with the exact same question every single episode.
0:01:26 Mohammad Modarres: Whoa, whoa! I don't know this.
0:01:28 Jeffrey Shiau: Well, it's okay, then you're one of our new listeners. For our new listeners, you're gonna hear this for the first time, right? And the first question we always start with is, what about humans strikes you the most?
0:01:45 Mohammad Modarres: Okay, alright. Let's see here. Wow. The first word that just came to my mind was passion. It's just so fascinating to, despite all the things that go on in this world, any day you could close up shop, but everybody keeps on going. We pursue our dreams and we try to make them into realities. And again, I'm gonna take some inspiration from one of the magnets up here, which I really like, which is, "Go forth, act decent, call your mother from time to time," which is like this... Do we have a name on that, no?
0:02:42 Jeffrey Shiau: It's [0:02:43] Simcha Fisher?
0:02:45 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah, there you go. Shout out to Fisher. [laughter] She knows what it's about. And it's just, yeah, seeing people, no matter what, just taking step by step, moving forward, and doing what it is that they wanna do, that they think will add value to this world. And that's the thing, is just... I don't know. Lately, in the past year, it's being exposed to so many people who... When I look at people from just 30,000 feet, realizing that we're all just part of one crazy family, we all have unique set of universal values. A lot of that may be attached to our faith, and may be attached to our family, how we grew up. But at the end of the day, it comes back to the same basic principles, and that's love, respect, and to be able to create a space with that foundation, then allows people to bring their true passions out. And that's wonderful. And people who, maybe because of unfortunate circumstances, may not have those foundations at first, and they discover them later on, they're sometimes even more passionate about what there is that they wanna fight for and work on.
0:04:12 Mohammad Modarres: So I'm always blown away when I get into discussions, and I hear someone who wants to build the next Hyperlooper, or change the educational curriculum, or whatever it may be, and then hearing the backstage work, and then the backstory behind it of just all the stuff that happened maybe earlier in their life, or someone who came in and mentored them the way that they needed to at that time. We're all just so, so, so freaking unique. And to just be around it and to... A lot of times, we don't have that perspective, we're not always positive, we're not always thankful of it, but when we are, when that's turned on, and we see the beauty in each person, that passion is just so beautiful. So, yeah, that's the first word that flies out here.
0:05:12 Jeffrey Shiau: You mentioned foundation, the word 'foundation.' Actually, I met your dad for the first time last night, one of the dopest humans ever.
0:05:24 Jeffrey Shiau: But since meeting you for the first time, we actually met you and a few other friends, were having dinner at my place. And I think the thing that striked me most about you, personally for me, was that you very much had this aura of empathy, and you're a very, very good listener. And ever since then, I've been just kinda seeing your actions and reactions, and how you receive and how you reflect out and reflect that back to someone. And, yeah, I'm actually very curious about this foundation of where you're from, where's your family from. I forget actually if you have siblings. Do you have really close cousins?
0:06:25 Mohammad Modarres: You want the 411? You want the breakdown?
0:06:26 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. Were you even born in the US?
0:06:31 Mohammad Modarres: First of all, I was laughing a little bit when you mentioned my father, only because I have no idea what my father says about me when he meets my friends. And it was so great to have him last night, and I was bummed that my mother wasn't there. It was her birthday yesterday and I wish she was there to see it all but...
0:06:53 Jeffrey Shiau: Happy birthday, mom.
0:06:53 Mohammad Modarres: Just... Yeah, happy birthday, mom. It didn't work out. But, I mean, it's fitting that you maybe saw my dad and then this is what you're thinking about, because that foundation for us, excuse me, being an Iranian, being Iranian-American... Family has a major part in your social development and just...
0:07:24 Jeffrey Shiau: Why is that?
0:07:25 Mohammad Modarres: How you...
0:07:27 Jeffrey Shiau: Why being an Iranian?
0:07:28 Mohammad Modarres: It's a very family-oriented culture, as is a lot of [chuckle] Asian diaspora communities that come to this country, that come with $5, $10 in their pockets. And in my dad's case, literally he had $20 in his pocket. He actually borrowed money from my mother when they met, which was probably, I would say, the dopest pick-up line. [laughter] And, yeah, when you have to be creative with your resources, that's actually when I think you're the truest of entrepreneurs. It's one thing to have everything, have the assistance, have the resources to be able to build what you want. But those who really put the pieces together with all the little things around them and become truly innovative and creative in that process or just... My hats off to them.
0:08:35 Mohammad Modarres: And I think, now, when I look back on my dad's experience, my mom's experience coming to this country, and all... Iranians, they all have the same story, pretty much. It's, they left their homeland either right before the revolution or during the revolution in '79. And while the rest of the world saw this country that was falling apart and there was the hostage crisis. Immediately after that, the Iran-Iraq war, so much turmoil at once, you had people, the Iranian diaspora spreading to different parts of the world and...
0:09:15 Jeffrey Shiau: I'm sorry, you're saying diaspora, right?
0:09:17 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah. And starting from square one, and building not just their careers from scratch which, learning English and going to community colleges and then working full-time at an IHOP and doing all that stuff, but also building a family and building a community that they wanna be proud of. And now, a couple of generations later, I have the luxury to benefit from all that. So, to understand that story more and more as I grow older...
0:09:56 Jeffrey Shiau: When did you start consciously thinking about it? 'Cause for me, for example, I didn't really actively seek or try to understand my parents' story and appreciate it as much as I did until maybe halfway through college, so maybe when I was 19, 20.
0:10:19 Mohammad Modarres: I would say, for me, it was a little bit sooner only because we went back and forth. I was born in the States, Silver Springs, Maryland, top of the red line.
0:10:30 Jeffrey Shiau: Shout out to Maryland.
0:10:33 Mohammad Modarres: And we moved back to Iran, funny enough, because my parents believed that I would get a better education in Iran.
0:10:44 Jeffrey Shiau: When did you move back?
0:10:45 Mohammad Modarres: I was five, six, around there. Spent a little bit of primary school in Iran, and then came back for middle school and high school. But because of that back and forth, I was exposed to... And this is a story that's very common. It's like the children of immigrants who go back to their home country and see a developing context for the first time, see poverty for the first time, begin to understand what it means to struggle, what it means to make a paycheck and save, all these things.
0:11:25 Jeffrey Shiau: You were conscious about this as a kid?
0:11:27 Mohammad Modarres: Well, it's something that when you're first exposed to suburbia in Maryland and then you get to Isfahan, Iran, which has its own beauty and is a wonderful place and, quite frankly, has a much higher quality of life than in the US.
0:11:48 Jeffrey Shiau: What do you mean by that?
0:11:49 Mohammad Modarres: Well, there's... I like to think there's the standard of life and the quality of life. And so, by standards, I mean, we can measure having a vehicle and how big the house is. It's, I would say, a little bit more materialistic. While as quality, it's attached to your well-being, your family, your community, or if you wanna call it a network, etcetera. And so, maybe a place like these islands in Greece that have a very high life expectancy, for example... I'm blanking out on the names here, but they have a high quality of life because they have a very strong network. And they also have a great diet and they have a good healthcare system. While as in the states, probably because of how socio-economic statuses are, probably because of race relations... We can go into redlining and we could go into all these public health issues that have been created over time. You have a much lower quality of life but the standards are very high because it's a developed country. How we see economies at scale and how we value things is different than abroad.
0:13:10 Mohammad Modarres: But it's funny because in any situation, when you're looking across, the grass is greener, or when you're outside looking in, you want something that you don't have. So a lot of Iranian kids, even today and...
0:13:26 Jeffrey Shiau: Are you saying Iranian-American kids or...
0:13:29 Mohammad Modarres: No. In Iran today, a lot of kids there, they wanna come to the States. They wanna come to study in New York or Los Angeles or what have you. I know quite a bit of them who have that dream and that vision. Then when they come to the US, they have an opportunity to study and it's wonderful despite the fact that the, actually, the quality of education may be a little bit lower. But...
0:13:57 Jeffrey Shiau: Here?
0:13:57 Mohammad Modarres: Mm-hmm. Yeah, absolutely.
0:14:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Than in Iran?
0:14:00 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah. For example, Sharif University in Iran is, I don't see it any less than Stanford. In math and science, Iran is very high in the game, maybe not necessarily in, I don't know, English literature [chuckle] or, I don't know, certain social sciences.
0:14:27 Jeffrey Shiau: Is it something that's actually just from all the younger age school? Is the school system a K through 12 when you're in...
0:14:35 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah, for sure. It's not that much different, but math and science is very... It's on steroids there.
0:14:42 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah. It's kinda like the Chinese countries.
0:14:46 Mohammad Modarres: For sure, for sure. You look at just the Asian diaspora, how they value and consider what math and science does for their community as far as employment opportunities, etcetera, and that's partly because of a safety net. When you live in an environment that may have a less stable political situation, you want to make sure that your kids practice going to professions that, no matter what the economic situation is, then they'll be able to succeed in the long run, which is why the joke amongst Iranian parents is, "You wanna make sure your kids turn into doctors, lawyers, engineers," that whole story. And that goes across the board to India, to, I'm assuming, to China, to Russia, etcetera.
0:15:41 Mohammad Modarres: And you'll notice it's probably because of the developing context that they're in, but also because of the political climate that they're in. And it's a job that can transfer from place to place. But the world is changing pretty quickly here, and these jobs may be challenged by other professions in the future. That's something that my parents may not necessarily see for, maybe, their grandchildren. And I bring that up as a new uncle. [chuckle] We have a new addition in the family. To think about the world that she's living in in 20, 30 years, I think it's gonna demand new skills and...
0:16:29 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you have a brother or sister?
0:16:31 Mohammad Modarres: I have an older sister. She...
0:16:34 Jeffrey Shiau: How much older?
0:16:36 Mohammad Modarres: Four and a half, almost five years. Just enough so that when I would go to middle school, she was in high school. When I was in high school, she was in college, so I missed her along the way.
0:16:45 Jeffrey Shiau: Did she whoop your ass growing up? My sister did when I was younger. [laughter]
0:16:50 Mohammad Modarres: When I think back on my childhood, I remember watching Batman over and over with her or...
0:17:05 Jeffrey Shiau: The animated series?
0:17:07 Mohammad Modarres: What's that?
0:17:07 Jeffrey Shiau: The original animated series?
0:17:08 Mohammad Modarres: The original animated series along with the X-Men animated series. We argued from time to time but it's funny how when I look back on childhood, I don't necessarily see... Let's just say it this way. I see a lot more of the good before I even think of the bad. And I'm wondering, what does that say about memory, or just maybe, of course, my childhood? But, yeah, it's... To go back to your question and to go back to last night, you meeting my father there, it's funny we start off with him and with my sister and my mother because that's, at the end of the day, within our community, it's so crucial to have them in our lives. You can't really detach yourself from family in Iranian culture, and not that you'd ever want to, despite the fact that we're all crazy. [chuckle]
0:18:16 Mohammad Modarres: But it's, yeah... Because of the fact that you have people with such different demographics, such different interests, as a result you begin to realize very quickly, I think at a young age, for sure, especially if you have the opportunity to go back to Iran, it's that, the world doesn't revolve around your interests and there are things going on constantly around you, and so you can either take the option to continue to play handball on the street or begin to realize what's going across on the other block there, with the other kids. And that shop opening up, and who owns it, and who's their kids, and can you play with them, and so on and so forth, until you start thinking completely differently about the community around you. And to a certain extent, like in some societies, it's a matter of, I don't wanna say survival. Maybe that's too much of a hard word, but it's important.
0:19:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Why did you first think of survival? What are you talking about when you mentioned that?
0:19:31 Mohammad Modarres: Oh, no, I mean in regards to just... When we think about what community means to all of us, I think lot of times, especially when I look at entrepreneurship groups and I think about what these networks mean to so many entrepreneurs, a lot of people depending on what your needs are, you might think of these networks as helpful tools to raise you capital or to introduce you to new opportunities, etcetera. But in other parts of the world, your community is what will raise you. If your mom has to go to work from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, you have to become very good friends with your neighbors 'cause they're gonna be taking you in, they're gonna be feeding you that late lunch, that early dinner until your mom comes through. And so as a result, because of those responsibilities and because of those exchanges, you have a much higher community. You begin to really get to know these people lot better. And at the end of day, those exchanges become a different currency almost.
0:20:52 Mohammad Modarres: It's a different value. 'Cause it's not just, "Oh, let me call up this guy 'cause he knows this person who can give me a buck for my startup," but rather it's, "I need that person to be there because it's about me being safe as opposed to being on the streets," or what have you. But I don't wanna go too far off-topic to that. Maybe the reason why I think about these things a lot is just because of, after I studied Public Health in college and it was with the intention of... Well, first, I think Public Health really gave me a holistic approach. When we talk about connecting the dots to connect from sociology to anthropology to natural sciences to healthcare infrastructures, etcetera, but I wanted to use those tools to look at health systems. And so, I wasn't... I still am interested in all of that because at the end of day, that's... You can't do anything without your health. And so much of that, so much of your health revolves not just on what you eat and what you think but also the people around you, and how you can create systems for the most vulnerable based on the people around them. So a good example is, for example, Housing First model for the homeless communities.
0:22:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Housing... I'm sorry?
0:22:26 Mohammad Modarres: Housing First, meaning that before you give 'em all these different types of resources, you wanna make sure that somebody has a roof over their head. 'Cause if they have a roof over their head and that roof over their head is, day in and day out, a place where they can go and they can put their things and they begin to feel at peace and at home and safe in that space, then other things naturally follow. So, they begin to eat better, they begin to sleep better, and over time, they can take on other things to become more productive members of society.
0:23:04 Mohammad Modarres: And to add to that is, if you're going to do a Housing First model, you wanna make sure those neighbors around that person can also be helpful and can also be resourceful to their growth and to their needs. Which is why you go to AA meetings and you're all in this together, right? And that's the mentality for any situation for us to be successful, is we can't just build a $10 billion company by ourselves. That's a lesson you learn when you do group projects in middle school. You're gonna have to work with the person across from you, whether you like him or not. And so you gotta meet in the middle and realize what your commonalities are, put aside your differences and tackle whatever issues that you wanna tackle. And so, it's been really fascinating actually seeing that from an interfaith perspective, which is what I've been...
0:24:05 Mohammad Modarres: I think just naturally, it really just came up about a year and a half ago because of a certain somebody tweeting very misogynistic, very racist, very hurtful things during the presidential election, and that causing a rise in anti-Semitism, that causing a rise in Islamophobia across the country. And I wanted to just have an interfaith Shabbat dinner, which has happened many times before, but I was faced with a challenge. The fact that I wanted to have both halal and kosher food available to my friends for, of course, different denominations, but I wanted to be available to them, the most Orthodox of those groups, so that everybody can be able to enjoy the meal. And I realized the challenges that exists within halal and kosher and that's kind of the next step that I've been going into, which is how to create interfaith meet and how to combine these two processes that have existed for quite some time, but have been seen as separate. And to me, as somebody who has existed in an interfaith extended household, it just doesn't make sense to me.
0:25:32 Jeffrey Shiau: What do you mean... What's extended household?
0:25:33 Mohammad Modarres: Well, in the sense that we... I was raised as Shia Muslim being a Iranian-American, but I have a cousin who's Buddhist, I have a cousin who's...
0:25:43 Jeffrey Shiau: Is Shia a...
0:25:47 Mohammad Modarres: Shia is a minority of the Islamic faith. Most Muslims are Sunni, and most Muslims in Iran are Shia. And most Muslims, for example, in Saudi Arabia are Sunni. You do have what's called a Shia belt that goes from a little bit of Afghanistan into Iran, all the way to close to Jordan, Syria, etcetera, 'cause there is a Shia population in Iraq as well. But for the most part, most Muslims around the world are Sunni. And for a long time, even under the umbrella of Islam, it's for some reason, we seem to highlight the differences that we have as soon as Sunnis and Shias as opposed to the similarities which are... 99% of the faith is identical and you have, really, 1% that's different, and even that becomes highlighted and magnified for political and geo-political reasons. And when you take a step back and you look at it, just a lot of the interfaith work that's done, that's really where you have start, is you have to first respect and acknowledge that all of these faiths are nearly identical, and if they're different, really, the differences are political or financial. It really has nothing to do with the faith, the religion itself.
0:27:20 Mohammad Modarres: And that's why today, it's a struggle to hold on to these practices that have been institutionalized, and if they're institutionalized, different agendas are put in place, which is difficult because you have so many people who have had... My father, for example, my mother, for example, they've grown with their faith as their backbone, and I see them struggling with the identities of Islam today because there are, for example, these insane terrorist groups and they're by no means a reflection of what it means to really truly practice Islam. But when you have these institutions saying, "We are an Islamic body, we are an 'Islamic State,'" it's heartbreaking 'cause you think to yourself, "Wait, I'm Muslim and they're saying they're Muslim, but I don't believe in the things they believe." How did this crack develop? And how can we fix it? So, it's quite a dilemma.
0:28:39 Jeffrey Shiau: Actually, an observation on that, 'cause when we see some sort of behavior or thing in the news and that is publicly represented or communicated by some extreme group, and they also claim that they're a representative of Islam, and then the type of response it receives from the rest of the world. But then we see some groups like the KKK and the Westboro Baptist Church, right? Actually, I might be completely inaccurate on the K... I don't know if they have a basis of religion but, at least, the Westboro Baptist Church, right?
0:29:23 Mohammad Modarres: Mm-hmm.
0:29:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Just the narrative of hate, right?
0:29:29 Mohammad Modarres: Sure.
0:29:29 Jeffrey Shiau: But then, people dismiss that as, "Oh, those are just a bunch of clowns." Why do you think that the faith of Islam, that's the right way to phrase that, the faith of Islam is almost always given, I guess, that response of fear, and almost... There's institutionalized extremism from radical groups that don't really... That disclaimer religion that that's not actually practised the way that they say they practice. But then I would also say, on the other side of table, it's created an institutionalized fear of that.
0:30:20 Mohammad Modarres: Sure. I mean, you're gonna be scared of something you don't fully understand. We do that all the time. And in this situation, it's really fascinating because as Americans, especially those who are not Muslim and who may not necessarily completely understand the Islamic faith, it's fairly easy to take in what's projected by the media outlets and highlighted as this branch of this faith. When in reality, even the idea of the words 'Islamic terrorism,' it's kinda crazy because we don't attach that to other faiths, and the reason for that is because it doesn't make sense. As a Muslim, it doesn't make sense that... And within Muslim communities, people say this all time, "If you kill one person, it's like you're killing the whole human race." And so, if you're killing one person, you're not a Muslim, or if you're committing acts of violence, or... Forget just acts of... Hate speech, you are therefore harming the rest of the Muslim community.
0:32:01 Mohammad Modarres: And so as a result, when you have these groups, these groups exist, all of 'em, and I'm not just talking about "the Islamic States" of the world, but all hate groups exist in the most vulnerable communities. So if you look at... You mentioned the KKK, you mentioned the Westboro Baptist Church. I don't have research in front of me, but I'm going to take a wild guess that people's relationship with poverty and with frustration of the current economics that they may be in, and maybe even to a greater extent, just how their social development, economic development of those communities are, is attached to how they want to perceive their faith. Meaning that, let's say I am a 14, 15-year-old kid and I live in a very poor part of, name a middle Eastern country, or let's forget about the Middle East 'cause that's always highlighted. You wanna go to Salvador, you wanna go to Africa, you wanna go to any part of Asia. And you are dirt poor and you can barely, as a result of your financial situation, you can't hang out with your friends, you have to go and work. And that also undermines the education that you wanna pursue, because you know that if you go to school, you can get a higher socio-economic status and you can be valued better in your community and you can gain confidence, and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
0:33:51 Mohammad Modarres: So as a result, you quickly wanna fix this. Where do you go to? And you could try and figure out different situations, maybe get a different job, maybe have a better relationship with your mom or dad to do certain things that you want, or you could end up with a group of men who, not only were also in your same financial status, but who are also probably sexually frustrated and also had demeaning moments with their community and they wanna be valued. Everyone in this world wants to be valued. And so, you all kinda join together and fall under this umbrella. Maybe it's led by a person, maybe it's led by a group. And it doesn't take much time, it doesn't take much resources for you to go into a very dark road. But because you have camaraderie, despite the fact that it's for bad things, you, for once in your life, now are being valued, and you have a group of friends, and you might even be paid a little bit. And that's how these things... It doesn't take much.
0:35:07 Mohammad Modarres: And it's like when you're growing up and, let's say, you're growing up in the States and you can't even imagine that lifestyle, which a lot of... What was that film? I think it was Syriana. A really good clip, a really good scene of the guys who ended up wanting to become suicide bombers, and it projected that lifestyle, how they were frustrated with their life. They were underpaid workers, I believe it was in Dubai, and they ended up going down a very dark and violent road. And when you watch that scene, you begin to realize that even these two kids, they're not much different than the kids that you hang out with. It's just a matter of how you're treated within your community. And then it goes back to, if you're lucky enough that you have that neighbor who will feed you the early dinner, as your mom's going to work, and you have a good community around you that will help you out when you need to. And that's the survival that I'm talking about. You are less likely to end up in these bad situations.
0:36:30 Mohammad Modarres: And let's take a step back from terrorism, that's really extreme. [chuckle] But let's even just talk about kids just getting in trouble around here. You end up in a gang. You may not have... You just, whatever, with a couple of friends maybe doing drugs and the next thing you know, a couple of years pass by and you're addicted now. Those things are... It's very difficult to control because your parents can't control every person that you meet and the friends that you make. But it goes back to... You become the, what is it? What's that saying? The five closest people you hang out, right? I think, community, when we begin to think about it in that sense, it becomes much more than just, "Let me send out, I don't know, a bunch of Facebook invites to my buddies to come to my event," which I definitely did. [laughter] And thank you all for showing up, [laughter] including Jeff who ended up being such a badass volunteer, stayed until the very end of the night cleaning up and making sure that the attendees were taken care of. I appreciate that, man. [chuckle]
0:37:50 Jeffrey Shiau: I ate a lot of food, a lot of free food.
0:37:54 Mohammad Modarres: We served up ghormeh sabzi. We served some Moroccan fish. I think it was a good menu.
0:38:00 Jeffrey Shiau: That fish and the... What was it? It was spinach, right? That's spinach stew?
0:38:06 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah. Ghormeh sabzi is the staple of the Persian diet. It's made up of a lot of herbs. It is...
0:38:18 Jeffrey Shiau: It blew my head open. [chuckle]
0:38:23 Mohammad Modarres: I wish there were more. I keep telling this to my mother 'cause I think she's a great cook but that's, of course, very biased of me. I tell her, I think we really need to democratize Persian food because to make Persian food is just so expensive. But I think there's a couple of ways that we're gonna work on and I want it to be the mother/son project for the next year or two, see what we can do at our farmer's markets and all that stuff. I'm hoping that's gonna be in the works.
0:39:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Before we kind of reflected on the awesomeness of last night, you were actually talking about something that made me think. I have a friend that mentioned to me, I think this was many, many years ago, Gino actually. Gino, if you're listening to this, I wanna interview you some time as well. I asked him about... 'Cause I think he does a lot of work with the youth, and then he also has experience with working with, I believe, youth gangs.
0:39:36 Mohammad Modarres: Props to Gino, man. That's crazy. Okay.
0:39:39 Jeffrey Shiau: But just the term 'gangs' and the concept of gangs, and then the way you're describing it how... What is this group of extremists, but just human beings, individual human beings who are finding acceptance, whether it was through some common activity, not just acceptance but validation of some sort. But it just happened to be within a circumstance, again, heavily influenced by income, by access to the very bottom of our Maslow's hierarchy. Those things are harder to establish. The type of people that you end up surrounding yourself with to help you validate and support and create that structure and foundation, it also has to kind of... It runs parallel with that.
0:40:38 Jeffrey Shiau: So when we use terms like 'terrorist group' or 'gang,' so then he says to me, he goes, "Jeff, who are your friends?" And I say, "These are my friends." "Why do you hang out with them?" I was like, "This is why." He's like, "Where did you guys grow up?" And I started explaining, "This is where we grew up." "So what do you call your group of friends?" I was like, "Just friends?" So then he's explaining and he's painting the scenario, and he's like, "But this group of kids that I just painted a scenario of, they're called a gang by the media." But they're doing the exact same behavior, but in their case, one of them just had to use a gun, right?
0:41:21 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah. That's really powerful. Yeah. Props to Gino, man. Let's break that down with any example, CrossFit [chuckle] or, I don't know, yoga. I don't know. You could just go on and on about really any community. And so, then, it's about resources and assistance and what that community offers. I'd put money on it. If you were to go and get a group of people here, a CrossFit gym here and say, "Go learn the language and learn the culture and do everything right and go and build a CrossFit gym in Afghanistan," I promise you, you'll have group of really good kids deciding that they wanna do CrossFit instead of joining this other crazy group. To maybe give credit to another film, I'm realizing maybe I watch a lot more films than I listen to podcasts, is Crash. There was a really... I friggin' love that movie. At the end of the movie...
0:42:38 Jeffrey Shiau: Well, you love Crash?
0:42:41 Mohammad Modarres: It's a great movie, yeah.
0:42:42 Jeffrey Shiau: That's interesting. This is just a side note, because I have a lot of my Muslim friends, they really did not like Crash.
0:42:50 Mohammad Modarres: Sure, 'cause there was certain... For people who haven't seen this film, maybe you should see it [chuckle] and press pause, and then go see the movie. But, well, let me first say what I like about it. At the end of the movie, the men in Mexico who are fighting this drug war, all the drugs that's going across the border and that is depicted by a couple of different stories, one being, I think it was a mayor's son or a mayor's daughter, what have you, or the other cops across the border. What I like about the ending is that it shows these two Mexican cops who ultimately decide... Got to pay for the lights on the baseball field, because one of them had this philosophy that if you get this baseball field lit up at night, you'll help these kids stay off the streets. Get them to keep playing baseball until the end of the night, until their parents come, until the rest of the community follows. And you'll be able to stop this interest of getting involved in these gangs, and instead, stay on the baseball team and understand what drugs does, for example, to your athletic ability or provide all the benefits that sports or the arts, or all these things that we all know.
0:44:37 Mohammad Modarres: It provides camaraderie, it provides leadership, it provides discipline, and respect, and all that good stuff. And it's something as simple as putting lights on a baseball field to completely change the dynamic of this war. So you can spend hundreds of millions, billions of dollars, building that wall and working on different types of treatment programs as opposed to preventive programs. But really, let's build more baseball fields and put more lights on those baseball fields, understanding that it fits to that community. Maybe in Afghanistan, maybe in Iran, it's a soccer field; maybe in India, it's a cricket pitch, whatever it is. And targeting these issues from a complete different way, and that way being not fear, not saying, "Let's build that wall, but rather let's see this population as a community in itself," like what Gino talked about with the... They're not a gang, they're a group of friends, and if you give them a level of mentorship and resources and assistance, you can tackle the issues that they have in a completely new way.
0:46:05 Mohammad Modarres: Because at the end of the day, no kid wants to shoot a gun and end up in prison. They'd much rather be living outside of that system and have a productive and happy life. But you have to help them see that. And some of us may not be able to see that at eight, some of us may not be able to see that at 16. And as a result, it takes time and...
0:46:32 Jeffrey Shiau: So when you're saying "See that," you mean some of these kids don't consciously understand and see that?
0:46:39 Mohammad Modarres: Well, think about how many times... When I was, gosh, seven, eight years old, one of my older cousins, he had a motorcycle. I liked motorcycles, and therefore everything he did was cool to me. And some of the things he did was great, and some of the things he did wasn't so great. But all of those things mashed into, "I wanna be him because of his cool bike." 'Cause I'm a kid and I can't tell the difference at that point. And so that's where that saying comes, "It takes a community to raise not just somebody, but raise a productive member of society." And when we, as whole communities, as towns, as counties, as states, as countries, begin to see raising another person's child like our own, because it helps our social dynamics, because it helps our environment, because it helps our finances, I think... Again, I don't have the P value on all this stuff. But it will help us not just create a better community, but also create a better self.
0:48:03 Mohammad Modarres: And that's where you drop the word 'empathy.' That's, I think, where I think empathy fits best because it takes quite a bit of discipline and love, unconditional love, to be living on a second floor apartment and looking outside and seeing a kid play on the street, and looking out for him the same way his mother, father, guardian would. Because you know that the loss of that child to a 'gang' or... Really, that's not the right word we wanna use right? 'Cause Gino told us that, and I agree with that. But let's say an environment that isn't going to be good for him or her in the long run. That benefits all of us. That's the definition of community that I love the most. And I think, again, it goes past the, "Let me ask my friend for an intro to someone."
0:49:10 Jeffrey Shiau: So, community is love.
0:49:15 Mohammad Modarres: Unconditional love yes, yes. Sure. Drop those two words in there, yeah. Totally, man. That's what it's all about. You can't be on your own. Unfortunately, as we go into a more globalized society and we realize that we really are borderless and we really are raceless, classless, and as we have these new technologies just bombarding us with this information, it can bombard us with a lot of bad information too, but now we have access. We can choose. We just have to be careful to know that there is really a difference between moving and moving forward, right? A lot of people are in motion and they think, because they're in motion, that they're moving in the right direction. But we gotta be careful of that, and we gotta be careful of making sure that we understand the difference between being connected and being united, and...
0:50:25 Jeffrey Shiau: What is the difference?
0:50:27 Mohammad Modarres: You could... Let's put it in a social network context here. You're connected to all your 2,000-something Facebook friends, but to be united on a certain agenda, a certain message, to move that needle forward, whatever it may be, that's a completely different ball game. Of that 2,000, then maybe it will drop to five or six. [chuckle] And that's fantastic. That's great, in fact, if you have five or six people who will really help you out in those moments of need, just like your neighbor who ended up feeding you that early dinner. Props to you, man, you're gonna go far. [chuckle]
0:51:17 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah, I think when we see community like that, we begin to respect each other in a whole different level, a lot of amazing things happen. And I've been lucky enough, to go back to family, to have that because of how my family sets things up with people around them. There's this certain moral and ethical code that we grew up by. And when I think about how I was raised, we never really had conversations of money. I never went into college thinking, "I need to make this much coming out," or any of that stuff. It's good and bad, right? Because my personal financing, I learned that maybe the hard way. [chuckle] But as a result of how I was raised, money didn't fog up my vision.
0:52:16 Jeffrey Shiau: Give it a second. Let's wait for this biker [chuckle] to pass by.
0:52:21 Mohammad Modarres: It's a nice bike, by the way. [chuckle] But, yeah, because of that, we had room to talk and to communicate about other things that I would say go back to the quality of...
0:52:38 Jeffrey Shiau: Say that again.
0:52:38 Mohammad Modarres: Of life.
0:52:39 Jeffrey Shiau: Back to...
0:52:39 Mohammad Modarres: Back to the quality of life, and to go back to the standard and quality. Because we can measure our finances to give us a better standard of life, again, those cars and those big homes, etcetera, but it's not necessarily something that can help you get a better quality of life. That may be your family and your relationships, and your health and well-being. I'm happy for that. I'm really, truly grateful that they gave me that perspective. And looking back, of course, it's, again, when I look back on my childhood, I really don't have any... It was so wonderful, despite the fact that we moved so much between the states and Iran, and even inside the US, Maryland, New Jersey, Baltimore, Portland, etcetera. It's all bunched up together as a good time. [chuckle] So what can I... I can't ask for more.
0:53:51 Jeffrey Shiau: It is one thing that you've never expressed to your parents before in terms of... 'Cause I definitely feel a lot of gratitude from you now.
0:54:00 Mohammad Modarres: Thank you.
0:54:01 Jeffrey Shiau: If you wanna say anything just off the top of your mind.
0:54:05 Mohammad Modarres: To my parents?
0:54:06 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah.
0:54:06 Mohammad Modarres: Oh, man. Lately, I've been giving them a bit of stress because I'm doing a lot of things that would be considered unknowns. It's one thing to go from college to med school, and then become a doctor, and have the guidance to go from point A to point B to point C, and ultimately have a stable job and not have to worry about your finances and all that type of stuff. And that's what every mother and father, what every guardian would want for their children, is to make sure that those things aren't shaking, so that they can live happy lives, or at least that's how it's attached. So, right now, it's... I think I've put them in a great level of stress for the past couple of years because I've been... I came to the Bay Area to work on a NASA Spin-off project, and that went out of business quickly after. But in that process, I realized that, all right, it's either I'm gonna sink with this ship or get a little creative, and then starting my first venture in the biotech space.
0:55:38 Mohammad Modarres: And to this day, there are a lot of funny questions about it because... What does it mean to be a co-founder of a biotech company? Why don't you just go to med school? [chuckle] It's to do something that is a little bit outside of paths that are very understood, causes a little bit of stress, and when they're stressed, then I'm stressed, and then it keeps going back and forth. So I wanna tell them, first of all, shout out to you guys for being such great parents. But really, that it's... Let me play this game and let me keep putting the pieces together, because not only is it fun for me, not only do I really, really enjoy it and enjoy this more than really anything else, but that, at the end of... I'm gonna go to one of these magnets again. Where is it? Yeah, it's that one. The quote is, "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." And I couldn't agree more. That is, I don't know who that's by, but...
0:57:07 Jeffrey Shiau: By unknown.
0:57:08 Mohammad Modarres: I may have to memorize that for every conversation that I have with my parents. Because, yeah, the level of self-discovery and just pure enjoyment doing all of this, whether that's the last one in the biotech space, which is still going on by the way, and we're happy about it, or now recently with how to tackle interfaith issues by merging different products and programs. That has just been really exciting.
0:57:43 Jeffrey Shiau: That's awesome. Well, we're definitely coming up to the hour right now and...
0:57:50 Mohammad Modarres: That went by quick, right?
0:57:51 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah, and we actually...
0:57:56 Jeffrey Shiau: I guess maybe I should interview everybody when we're tired as hell. [chuckle]
0:58:00 Mohammad Modarres: Yeah, yeah. Definitely.
0:58:02 Jeffrey Shiau: It lowers inhibitions, right?
0:58:03 Mohammad Modarres: [chuckle] I'm exhausted, by the way. I appreciate it. Yeah, thank you. Thanks, Jeff. I am not looking good right now.
0:58:15 Jeffrey Shiau: You look awesome, man. Your hair is always perfectly coiffed.
0:58:19 Mohammad Modarres: [chuckle] We had pretty much an all-nighter last night. By the time we left... The event was from 7:00 to 10:00. Shabbat Salaam. Thank you all for coming. We thought we were gonna have 30 people there and we ended up selling 50, and then another 15-20 showed up at the door. Fortunately, we had still some food for everybody, thanks to Drew, thanks to Marcelle, and thanks to Kat, to everyone who helped out in the kitchen. And debuting Interfaith Meat for the first time ever, so we're psyched about that. We hope it was fun for everybody. And it's just now, Jeff's gotta deal with me with three-and-a-half hours of sleep. [chuckle] Hopefully, we didn't blabber too long here.
0:59:11 Jeffrey Shiau: No, no this is not blabber. This is your soul, man. So we end every episode, again, with also the same question.
0:59:25 Mohammad Modarres: Oh, shoot. Okay.
0:59:26 Jeffrey Shiau: And that's...
0:59:28 Mohammad Modarres: Geez. So much pressure, geez.
0:59:31 Jeffrey Shiau: Ultimately, what's the point of all of this?
0:59:37 Mohammad Modarres: Oh, come on. Do you even ask that? No, no, that's not fair. It's a mix, it's all... I mean, a lot of... I'm curious what your responses have been, if it's those one-worded answers of happiness or its purpose or what have you. But, dude, life is life, man. For me, it's, ever since... Maybe I should say a little bit about this part of my life right now. About two years ago, when I fixed up... I bought a '79 VW Bus and I started fixing it up because I knew nothing about cars. And it bothered me, because here I am driving a car everyday getting from point A to point B and yet I don't know how it functions, I don't know how it works. And by learning this new subject, I was learning a lot about myself, how frustrated I get, the things that I want, what I envision for this vehicle, of course, like the stereotypical Instagram photos that you wanna take. But it was a very unique process because it put me back to first grade, where everything is just... It's so new.
1:01:16 Mohammad Modarres: And so, when you ask this question, what's the point? A lot of times, you have to just constantly bring yourself in these new situations so you have these moments to learn about yourself and, of course, learn about other people around you. You're gonna get a lot of different reactions. You're gonna get a lot of people who are gonna say, "Don't do this, don't do that," and you're gonna learn the characters of other people who are gonna say, "Yo, do it. What have you got to lose?" And then you can begin to really decide for what type of attitude you want in life, how you want to act, and how you wanna build yourself. Not just for... A lot of times, we attach it to social status, but in reality, it's whatever it is that interests you and do that. And when you do do that, you end up finding a lot of people that you love to hang out with, and you begin to build that community that we talked about, that community that has your back.
1:02:23 Mohammad Modarres: And I think anybody who gets there, begins to get closer and closer to whatever that nirvana is. Each person has a different type, envisions a different one, and it's a life journey. Well, what's the point? Well, at the end of your life, how you measure that success, I think I would much rather measure it by the people who are around me at my death bed than the funds in my account, and that's taken from... Supposedly, I heard this from friends. I don't have the direct source. But that was the difference of response between Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. And it was fascinating that Warren Buffett said that about, "As long as I have... " I think it was, "Four or five people around my death bed who really appreciate my love and my time, I think I've done this game called life service." And he didn't once mention the word money.
1:03:29 Mohammad Modarres: And so, I think as you get old... I mean, I'll speak for myself, as I get older and I'm experiencing new things, and I have the privilege of experiencing these new things, I'm very much aware of that. It comes with being able to move forward and have my eyes and my heart completely open to the things that come forward, because you never know. Life moves in the most interesting ways, and as long as you can mentally be prepared for that move and its unexpected adjustments that you have to make, then I think you'll be able to answer that question by the end of your life. [chuckle]