Carol Delmonico referred Ed to me. We met for the first time at his home and dove into good conversation right away. While he graciously made me a cup of coffee, his cats, Katniss and Norton, sized me up and quickly gave me the okay. A grandfather clock served as a metronome to our time together - you might hear it in the background if you pay close attention. My grandparents had one of those clocks and I think of my grandmother whenever I see one. She used to always yell, "Pick one!" when I would make frequent trips in and out of the house, the screen door smacking the frame with every back and forth. That was back in Maine. And it turns out that Ed also spent some time back there. I like meeting New England folks; they have a different way of talking and I realize how much I miss it every time I reencounter it. It's matter-of-fact, but not rude. Ed has that way and I really enjoyed chatting with him. Maybe you'll recognize it as you read or listen below.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
Tough question. I used to define myself a lot around my work. When people would say, Who are you and what do you do?, I would often give a work answer. Along the way, then I would also add in family. Now that I'm retired from paid work, I do define myself a little bit in terms of the volunteer work that I do, but I feel like I see myself now as a more whole person. I see myself as a connector, as a facilitator, as a leader, somewhat as a potential change agent - depending on the situation and people's openness to change. I've kind of adopted a tagline that I paraphrased from somebody else that I met a long time ago and I say my purpose now is to help your achieve yours. And I would like to be defined by that more than, probably, anything else.
What matters to you? Or what motivates you?
That would be a whole conversation in itself if those were the same, or not, on any given day. The planet matters to me. The human race matters to me. Other people matter to me a great deal. And I feel like I can help other people be more of what they want to be or do more of what they want to do. Now, especially, that I'm retired from paid work, I continue to look for opportunities where I can have an impact on people's lives. I have a hard time saying, Well, I'm gonna impact the entire population of the Earth - it's just too broad. So what I've chosen to do is very specific organizations and then, generally, very specific people. Somebody's lost on South Sister. They need help. Can I help them? If so, and I have the availability, then through Search and Rescue, I go help them. Or can I help the people who can help them? If so, then I'll take a little more of an indirect role on a particular mission. Are there some social issues that I can help with? I think so. I try to. But, for me, it's more meaningful and more effective if I can identify a person or a small group and try to make a difference there.
What concerns you? What gives you a heavy heart?
Well, short term, the current reactionary political and social climate concerns me a lot. The pendulum always swings a little bit, we always backslide a little bit, but I was deeply surprised at the amount of alienation that, apparently, a huge percentage of our population was feeling and probably still is feeling. I think I'm guilty of seeing the world through the eyes of the people on the two coasts. And even though I've lived in the Midwest for more years than anywhere else, I've lived in - in general - more progressive areas of the Midwest and I didn't see it. So, this extreme reaction and feeling of disenfranchisement and so many people feeling like victims and such a strong reaction to that has really surprised me. We tend to embody that in the form of one orange-haired man, but it's way beyond that; it's way deeper than that; it's way broader than that. I believe we'll come through this and probably for the better, but I've been disappointed in myself that I didn't see that coming. And I'm very concerned about what that really means for us as a society. Are we really that disenfranchised feeling? Are we really that contentious? Can there ever be a middle ground again? I think so. But it's gonna take a lot of work from a lot of people. Right now that concerns me a great deal.
The environment. Pollution. This planet. Population growth - all the things that that drives and connotes - that concerns me, too. I don't know if I can do much about that as an individual. But the social and political climate and the extremism that I'm seeing - yeah, maybe I can help with that one life at a time, one mind at a time.
What do we mean to each other person to person?
I think we have to have some common ground rules of behavior and decency and honesty and empathy or it doesn't work to be in a group together. Whether that group is a household or a neighborhood or a tribe or a country or state or a world, we have to have some common ground rules and operating standards and agreements on ethics and decency. And that's part of what I'm seeing is as being broken right now. So, we all depend on each other for our personal survival and for our species survival and it's not working too well right now. But that's what we mean to each other. I mean, it's survive, thrive - together or not.
What does community mean to you? What does being a part of community mean to you?
Yeah, I think that's a good follow on question and it goes back to what I was saying before; we tend to artificially define our communities and also by the choices that we make - the people we choose to live around, the people we end up working with, the people we volunteer with, the people we communicate digitally with. You know, I think each of those are different examples of communities. And we tend to somewhat artificially define those and work within those communities. But, in general, communities are just a subset of what I was talking about before where it's a bunch of people that need to get along, need to be there for each other - that depend on each other, whether we realize it or not. Even digitally, someone who I've never met who's across the country or across the world, I'm depending on them in some ways to be responsive and to be empathetic and hopefully be positive most of the time. And, at least a teeny tiny part of me - or maybe a huge part of me - my happiness depends on my interactions with them. We never used to have digital communities. So, that's a big shift. Virtual communities - that's a big shift. I don't think we're very good at it yet, but I think we're doing okay. We can show lots of examples of how people are being oppressed or depressed through digital interactions, but you know, we're navigating that and figuring it out as we go. But that's so new that we're not that skilled at it yet.
Regarding the common ground rules, the common part and the rule part are both interesting because I wonder what system we would use or create to convey that and to agree on it. I wouldn't say I disagree with you, but I'm curious as to what you're proposing.
I'm happy to flesh that out a little bit. It might be easier if I had said common guidelines, but maybe it's somewhere in between guidelines and ground rules. To me, ground rules mean an operating set of assumptions and behaviors that we all pretty much embrace. Right? They're not laws on the books. So maybe they're not rules in that sense. And in terms of human behavior and interaction, I think you and I are operating under a set of guidelines this morning, right? You came to my house, you knocked on my door, I let you in - there's a whole bunch of assumptions there that we're both making. You assumed I wasn't gonna shoot you. And I assumed you weren't gonna attack me. And I think we both assumed that we'd have a civil interactive conversation. That's the type of thing that I mean. And when a person or a group doesn't embrace those guidelines and doesn't have that basis for their own behavior, all of the sudden it doesn't work very well. And I think we're going through a little of that right now.
At least the slave owners were operating under a fairly common set of guidelines and ground rules. You look back on that now and slavery is just so incredibly unacceptable, but back then, they were doing it but they behaved in reasonably predictable ways. And under their own assumptions of life and the value of life and the value of life for different races, they were following those guidelines and ground rules. Again, completely unacceptable. But workable. And we worked and we changed that system. If everybody was doing it differently and wasn't operating under a common set of guidelines, then I don't know what happens. That's chaos. That's the definition of chaos. A community or a society or a group or a planet can't function well under total chaos. So, that's what I mean by ground rules. And the word rule may not have exactly the right connotation. Do you like guidelines better?
What does social injustice mean to you? And what is your role in changing that?
So, I'm gonna choose to answer first a little bit differently and maybe talk briefly about social justice, is that okay? Because things that we hate and that we don't really get, like I hate social injustice and I don't really get it, it's really hard, at least for me, to define. I can define more easily what I like, what I understand, and then say that the other thing is the opposite of that. But I'll give it a shot after I define social justice. I think social justice goes to a lot of the things that we've been talking about. It's those positive things - it's progress, it's genuine interaction, empathetic interactions; it's thinking about the other folks, also. Maybe we're always gonna think about ourselves first, most of the time. Okay. I'll accept that. But let's then also think about the other people and the other groups and the other points of view and the other things. And, if we're operating under some common definition of common decency, then we can start to have conversations about what is social justice - what does that mean? To me, it's certainly not that everyone is equal. 'Cause we're not. I mean, are we all equal in income? No. Are we all equal in good looks? No. There's different definitions of those things, but are we all equal in age? No. We're not. We're not all equal. But does everyone have a reasonable and fair shot at doing well in those kinds of areas? That, to me, goes to the definition of social justice. It's not all of it, but it goes to that. When we start acting out of bias, being arbitrary, trying to put other people down, trying to do better or have more at someone else's expense, then that, to me, starts to get into social injustice. And I'm choosing not to try and give it a legal definition - a law definition - 'cause I think especially when you put the word social in front of justice or injustice, we go way beyond just a court case or a law on the books or something like that.
So, is there social injustice? Yeah. Has there always been? Yeah. But like I said before we got started here, I believe that over the long term - over chunks of 30 years - we've gotten better and we are less unjust than we've been and we need to continue on that trajectory. I also strongly believe that people don't mind change or changes, what people hate is being changed or somebody trying to change them. I mean, the weather changes every day, every hour, you know. Lots of things change and we deal with that. But it's when somebody tries to change me that I react negatively; I get upset about that. So, like I was saying before, if we see some social injustice, we should tune into that; we should decide if we can help make it better. But, we shouldn't try to change it faster than the people responsible for that injustice can internalize the change. 'Cause we'll fail. Yeah, I would like to stamp out misogyny today! Right now! I don't want a woman to get attacked verbally or physically ever again, but I can't do that. I can't make that happen. But maybe through some small steps, I can take some of those other older white guys and get 'em to see things a little bit differently. So, I think we often embrace a cause and we push a little bit too hard. And it doesn't help that cause as much as it could if we took a little bit more of a measured pace to it. A lot of people disagree with that. That goes to the definition of activism or radicalism. Radical change, fast change - I don't believe that that's effective.
*Ed and I have an interesting conversation about the idea of progress and racial discrimination and what we, as conscientious white males, are meant to do about it. It's best listened to and you can find it from 23:45 - 34:50.
Do you have a sense of purpose?
Oh yeah. Totally. Yeah, totally - that's easy. I mean, my purpose is to help you achieve yours and then I embody that with family, with friends, with Search and Rescue, with business mentoring and advising - yeah, those are my primary purposes right now and I'm fulfilled by those.
What do you want more of in your life?
Time. Time in the day, years in the life. Another easy one. 'Cause with that, I can do more.
Do you have anything else you'd like to put out there?
Yeah. Back on the social injustice thing. I hear people talk a lot about fighting social injustice. I think when we talk and think and act too much about fighting social injustice, we run the risk of alienating the very people we want to see modify their behavior. So, I tend not to think of it in terms of fighting social injustice, but encouraging social justice. I think there's a huge difference there in how its received by those folks that you and I pretty clearly think need some help. So, I bristle a little bit when people talk about fighting social injustice. I think it's a great conversation starter, though, to use that term. You might consider putting it back in, seeing how people react.
Do you want to ask me anything?
Alright, well, we did talk before you started recording and I'm still curious about what you're trying to accomplish through this project. It feels very worthwhile, but being an old business guy, I'm having trouble seeing what the measurable goals are and what action items there are that lead towards those outcomes.
When we talked about this earlier, you mentioned the "end goal" and I think I bristle at that like you bristle at "social injustice". I think your position on this is quite common and I'm obviously missing something. I need support for this project. I spend about 10 hours per interview - working on it, reaching out, getting the referrals, driving, talking, transcribing, processing it all for the internet in various forms that I put it up there. And I try to do all that in a way that even scratches at the surface of the feeling that exists when I'm here with you - looking at you; looking into your eyes; feeling what I feel; trying to share what you feel. And I'm doing all this because I experience mostly disconnect in the world. And that disconnect, I think, is at the core of all of these different injustices. There's something we're refusing to acknowledge in each other. So, I'm acknowledging it in you today. And you'll remember today and you'll be acknowledging it in me long after I leave your driveway. I don't think most people are as tenacious or maybe even as curious as to pursue that in this particular way, so I'm providing the experience for them. But I don't know how to get people to want to come to the site or listen to the podcast or offer me financial support. So, the goal's there; the process is really lovely; the how-to-fit-it-into-the-business-model-in-2018-America part is lost on me.