Laura Grayson recommend Alli to participate here. They are colleagues at Ruffwear and that's where I ended up meeting Alli. We sat in one of the private meeting rooms and chatted while the rest of the office wound down for the day. Alli's dog, Riggins, sat in for our chat, but didn't have much to say. He's probably heard it all before…
I'm pretty much constantly trying to find ways to grow this project and make these questions more poignant and cut to the quick of the mess it seems like we're living in and I'm starting to feel as though I might be getting closer to making some substantial changes to this format. So, for this interview, I did dig a little deeper and I was so happy to find out that Alli was willing to talk about some of the hard stuff with me. Her big heart is obvious and it seems as though she wears it right alongside her skepticism that we'll be able to figure it all out. I tend to believe that the more we name our fears and doubts and the more we talk together about how to make the world better, the greater our chances of succeeding. So, I just wanted to say thanks to Alli for joining me in that process today.
AM: My name's Alli Miles. I've been living in Bend for just over ten years. I would describe myself as someone who is very driven and passionate. And I love connecting with people and bringing people together. But, at the same time, I'm an introvert, so that's kind of a weird mix. I enjoy and appreciate connections, but I wouldn't want to go to a social gathering or a networking event or something like that - that would make me cringe.
ACT: What concerns you regarding humanity and our interactions? What breaks your heart or makes you sad? What affects you personally? And then what motivates you to do something about it?
AM: The things that heartbreak me are what I perceive as senseless violence. No, it's not even I perceive it; it's senseless violence. The shootings, the war, the news of Sudan, the news of a woman being shot in the stomach five times and then charged with homicide of her lost baby. Those kinds of extreme acts of violence all over the world break my heart.
And the school shootings, in particular, just bring me to tears. I went to Virginia Tech. I wasn't there when that shooting happened, but I had graduated just before, so that one, in particular, hits close to home for me. For that event, I think about a place where I spent four years of my early 20s. I absolutely loved it. I loved the people. I loved the university, the culture, the community. And then to see such awful violence was just devastating and it was heart wrenching. Every time I hear about something like that in the news or I read about something like that, it just kind of all resurfaces and it just breaks my heart.
I would say I'm motivated when I believe I can make a difference and I can make an impact. If I don't think that my voice will be heard or my action will be felt, then I'm not as inclined. And sometimes I do it anyway. I'll make the phone call, send the letter - that sort of thing. But I look to our local community as a place to make a difference as opposed to trying to make an impact on a national or global scale where I feel like I probably just get lost.
ACT: Do you think there's progress being made on that particular issue of mass shootings? And how does that make you feel?
AM: I don't really think that progress is being made. I think it's great that young people are much more vocal about it than they've been in the past. And I'm inspired by that and that makes me feel hopeful. I don't really have any hope among our politicians and government. I'm hopeful that it's possible as young people come of age with voting and hopefully younger people coming into politics. And I don't know if that's even the answer, but it seems like that's where we have potential. That's where we pass laws, so it seems like the obvious route to change.
ACT: I'm not opposed to the law changing to make things like that harder to accomplish, but I think the easier way to resolve the issue is just to communicate to people in an effective way that what they're doing is unnecessary and unproductive. Why do you think people are resorting to things like this?
AM: Yeah, that's a really good point because it's so much more than just a gun law. It's easy for the conversation to go to that. What is wrong with our culture that this is even a thing? I trail run and sometimes I get pissed at mountain bikers that don't yield. They're supposed to yield to hikers and runners and they don't. Normally it's fine, but sometimes it's frustrating or annoying when I have to keep jumping off the trail. Instead of saying, Hey, mountain biker, just so you know, I have the right away... there's a thought in my head that's like, What if they shoot me? And that's just a random example, but that thought's in my head. That's a reflection of our culture that we're all living in. And you never know because stuff like that does happen and it's easy to brush it aside and say, Well, I'm sure that wouldn't happen to me, but then you hear about it happening. What is wrong with us?
I could go on and on and on with what I see as problems with our society that could all contribute to the state of anger and violence that we live in. I think that people are not present. They're rushing. They're busy. They're stressed out. They're overwhelmed. They're angry. They're spending too much time on computer screens. On and on and on. Who knows what else? Undiagnosed mental health issues caused by war, trauma that's just not dealt with. All of those things.
ACT: What do people mean to you? What does that individual mountain biker mean to you on the trail? Or your running friends or coworkers or people at the bank? What do we mean to each other?
AM: I think that it's so easy to be wrapped up in our own worlds and be oblivious to our surroundings, including the people that we interact with and impact. And it's really hard to know how we're impacting people in our daily interactions. When you don't know someone or you're just kind of in your own world - say I'm running down the trail and a mountain biker goes the other way - it's easy to not even look at them, not acknowledge them, and then who cares what happens to them or who they are? But I find that when you really acknowledge somebody - look at them in the eye, say hello, observe them - then you're just a little bit more connected and then they're another human and they're just like you.
I think of the grocery store as another place where everyone's kind of rushing a lot of times. You just want to get your stuff and go to the shortest line and get out of there. I've had some pretty incredible experiences in the grocery store. I can walk to the grocery store in my neighborhood and sometimes I walk down there in the morning and forget my wallet. One morning I was going through the checkout and I realized I didn't have my wallet and the woman in front of me offered to get my groceries. I was just blown away. I was so incredibly moved by the gesture. We can't all turn to the person behind us in line and pay for their groceries, but that impacted me in a really positive way.
Showing a little bit of kindness and just acknowledging somebody - giving them a smile, just taking a moment - when you do those kinds of things or when someone does those kinds of things to you, it brings you into that present moment and you're actually having an interaction and a connection with somebody. It's incredibly powerful and it's such a positive experience. Versus somebody that's annoying you when you're driving or whatever and it's easy to just think of them as this other being that is a total asshole. It's easy to dismiss people that way or dehumanize them when you're not having an actual interaction with them.
ACT: What does community mean to you? And what does it mean to be part of one with so much disparity, inequality, and disagreement?
AM: I think it starts with showing up. And that means, again, being present. Paying attention, listening to people, acknowledging them as fellow humans. When you're doing those things, you're already engaged to a degree. You can’t stick your head in the sand when you know somebody you care about is hurting. Or it's a lot harder to do. I think it means slowing down a little bit and taking the time to actually listen. That's something we don't do enough of.
As far as a broader community, caring, getting involved... it all ties together. If you're awake and you're present and you're paying attention to people and you're listening to what they have to say, it's impossible not to care. And if you do care, then it's impossible to not become involved and try to make things better. For most of us, that's in our nature. I feel a sense of community when people come together and they show each other that they care in whatever way. That could be just being there and acknowledging that we are all part of this humanity and that we are equal. We're all equal as humans and we come from different places and we don't have to agree on everything. We don't have to have the same perspective - it's not in our interest to have the same perspective - and that all of those things that make us different are a good thing. When we come together and acknowledge and accept the things that make us different without dehumanizing each other, that is community to me.
ACT: I've been running into a lot of this theme of taking care of yourself first. People stop listening to the news because they don't want to be bummed out. Or they worked really hard so now they're just enjoying it. Taking care of yourself is really important and you have to be on top of your health and find ways to have some mental peace, but it seems like people are chasing the total culmination of having achieved health and wellness and wealth and only then they will be capable of helping others. But I don't think that's an attainable goal because as we grow, we discover more issues and challenges or we get bigger or more expensive desires. Do you have any thoughts on why there's a general resorting to apathy in this chase for personal contentment?
AM: I've heard the same sentiment that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of somebody else. You have to love yourself before you can love somebody else. And I do also agree with that basic sentiment. I feel like that's separate than this chasing health, but I see what you're saying. I think that there can be this health and wellness as a status symbol or a social media thing, which is kind of the same. And that, to me, is more about vanity than actually true health. I could be totally wrong, but, to me, people that are seeking a holistic, healthy life - which means healthy mind, body, spirit - are probably less likely to be apathetic than people who are chasing health for an excuse for the $10,000 mountain bike or the $2,000 paddle board or the six pack abs on Instagram or whatever it is. And I can see the apathy there.
I've also heard a lot of people, including my family members, say they don't listen to the news anymore. I can understand that, but I disagree. I think that we have a responsibility to listen to the news and not just passively. I think we have a responsibility to be informed and to inform ourselves in a well-rounded way. I listen to NPR every morning and I trust NPR, but I don't rely on it solely as my news source because they're not going to catch everything or some things might still seem skewed.
We can't afford to be passive and apathetic and be angry at how things are. I think a lot of people are that way. And I don't know how to shake them out of it. It's totally fine to go to music festivals and drink beer and have a great time, but also recognizing that that's not making the world a better place and we all have our responsibility to do what we can. Because nobody can just change the world and make it better on their own. But we can all do a little bit. I really believe that. And we have to. And I don't know if I believe that that's actually possible or that it will happen, but I think that we all have to keep trying and encouraging each other, too.
I don't know how we steer our culture away from the vanity and the status symbols. It seems like that's something we've always had in one form or another. And there are voices out there that say that stuff is meaningless, that stuff doesn't equal a happy or a healthy life, and maybe by sharing those stories and spreading those ideas is one way. But there's always going to be those people that drive Hummers and roll coal and put bumper stickers on there car that say, I Hate Priuses. I don't know how we counter that other than just trying to keep countering it...
ACT: What if it was possible to change the world for the better or at least make some substantial changes en masse? What would it take for you to buy in or believe it or have that hope?
AM: I think it would have to be a grassroots movement. I don't think it's something that's gonna come down from a celebrity or a politician. Maybe a grassroots, counter culture... that type of thing exists, but it's in little pockets. If that could become a broader movement... I don't know. Maybe something like that. I think I would become hopeful when I saw something like that, like a broader mass movement of people saying, We're not satisfied with how things are and we want it to be different and here's what we're doing. Or just doing it. And I don't know how that would come about.
ACT: Do you feel a sense of purpose?
AM: I do. Not all the time. Sometimes I feel lost. But I feel a sense of who I am and what gets me excited and fired up and I feel drawn to that and driven by it. And I think that I find a sense of purpose in pursuing that even though it's not always a specific thing. I don't know if my work at Ruffwear is my life's purpose, but something in creativity and the written word - I find a purpose there.
ACT: It sounds to me like you live your life according to some set of values or you feel a responsibility towards being good or affecting positive change. Where does that come from for you and why does it get ignored or disregarded by some of the people that, when we're being judgmental, don't appear to share that?
AM: I do have a desire to be good and to be good to our planet and to the people on it. And there's always an opportunity, of course, to do better. But I do really try to be a good person and be a nice person and have a positive impact on the people around me. And I think that that comes from my parents.
My mom was a school teacher. She's retired now. And she's incredibly generous, just giving of her time and her energy. Always helping. She's one of those people that just gives and gives and gives. Much more so than me, but I admire that and am inspired by that. She's very sweet and she's sensitive and she's kind. And all of that's very genuine. It's not for any other purpose than just because that's how she is. And then my dad - he sees the good in people. And I'm inspired by that. And he doesn't judge people. And I've learned a lot from watching him.
I think that those things get lost when we're stressed out or dealing with our own problems in life and we're looking for somewhere/someone else to put them on. We want to blame other people, compare ourselves to other people, They have it so easy. Blah, blah, blah. We ended up passing judgment on people. And I think that all of those sentiments have a lot more to do with what's going on for us in our own internal lives than they do with that other person. Because if you think about a time when you're feeling on top of the world in whatever way that may be - getting back from a run and getting caught in a thunder storm and having all the smells and the colors and just feeling this joy - then you're not going to judge other people. You're not going to look at someone and think bad things about them. You're way more likely to assume the best about other people.
So, I think that we get caught up in our own stuff. Everybody's dealing with something. Everybody has issues. But when we get really attached to those things, whether it's our own vanity or self-image or mental health issues or financial issues or work stress or whatever it is, then we're much more susceptible to treating other people badly. Or taking it out on them or projecting our stuff onto them.
ACT: What gives you hope for a better future?
AM: I'm gonna sound old, but the young people. Anyone that I meet that I see is a good person, is trying, which really, when you think about it, is probably most people. We all have pretty big networks of friends and family and we would probably say that most of our friends and family are good people that are genuinely trying. That gives me hope. Especially when friends and family who are good people are not sticking their head in the sand and are making the effort to educate the people around them, have hard conversations with the people around them, ask questions, get vulnerable, go deep. Those kinds of things give me hope. Anytime I can have a conversation with someone and get really deep - that definitely gives me hope. And the young people, too. Always the young people.
ACT: Do you have anything to say in closing?
AM: I think that it's so easy to get caught up in all of the negative things and all of the heartbreaking things and it's important to not ever be content with those things happening and not really ever let up not being okay with those things, but at the same time, hope is essential. Having hope is absolutely essential. Otherwise, we're just gonna all succumb to the bad stuff. That doesn't sound very hopeful. It's more than hope, too, but I think as long as there's hope for something better and a willingness to go out on a limb and take a risk to make things better, then that's all we can do.