Angela put me in touch with Paul. He tried to get out of the interview by immediately referring me to his wife, but I twisted his arm. I make a point to not do much research on folks before I meet with them as I prefer the genuine nature of meeting someone face to face. My only point of reference for Paul was an image that Angela sent to me as Paul (spoiler alert!) dressed as Santa Claus, so I was surprised when Paul answered the door as a much younger man than I imagined. We exchanged a few emails before meeting and even spoke on the phone and his kindness in every interaction really made me excited to meet him. We sat over coffee in his living room and chatted about many things before we got into the particulars of the interview and it was during that time that I understood his genuine, kind nature and the sincerity in his interest and care for others. We ended our time together with a hug. That’s how nearly every one of these interviews ends. And isn’t that remarkable? Strangers meet and talk for an hour or so and then embrace before parting ways. That exchange staying with both parties for as long as we let it - shaping the day and, hopefully, the more distant future.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
That's a great question. That's pretty poignant, right off the bat. Can I expand on that or do you want a quick answer? There was an allegory once of this woman who died and went to heaven and god asked her, Who are you? And she said, Well, I'm Mary Smith. And he said, No, I didn't ask you what your name was; I asked who you were. Well, I'm a wife and a mother of four children. No, I didn't ask you about your relationships or your family; I asked who you were. Well, you know, I've been a secretary for 37 years. I didn't ask you what you did; I asked you who you were. And that is the simplest and the most challenging question that I have pondered in my life. So, who am I? My background has been creative services branding for clients. And we would always say, You need to understand who you are so we need to come up with a simple statement: this is your purpose - reason for being - and then everything ladders up to that and that's why you make what you make and why you're building meaningful connections to consumers, blah blah blah. But to be able to do that for oneself - when we go through life and it's just this amalgamation of all these disparate things that somehow make up who we are... I don't really have a short answer for that. And I'm not sure a short answer captures it, in a way.
I was born the youngest in a family of nine. So I was born into a tribe - into a community. My wife, Mary, and I were talking last night and I've really come to some clarity on the way I came into this world left an indelible imprint on me and set the trajectory for my 56 years on this planet. I was born into a tribe and I learned through just the natural way the family operated and worked that I was not that important. I am one of many. The other thing that I think left an indelible imprint on me is I was due in July and I was born in August; I was a month overdue. So when I came out of my mother's womb, I was covered in my own shit. And I, of course, I don't remember that - I am not conscious of it - but I think that left an imprint of humility on me. I was born covered in my own shit; they had to clean me up. And I'm the youngest of nine. And it just oriented me - I didn't come into this world beautiful and perfect and into a perfect environment. I came into it very imperfectly and, if you're looking at it through a certain lens, it was ugly, you know? So I think that that really defined me early on.
I had been in the search for I'm gonna say maybe 15, 20 years for like, What is it that is my purpose in life? And I could tell you all the things that I cared about, all the things that I valued. But what is my purpose in life? And I attended this conference a year ago October - it was called Bonfire conference and it was for entrepreneurs and business leaders and visionaries. It was a great conference - a lot of great speakers, very benevolent people, inspiring. But at the end of the conference one of the organizers, Steve Barham, asked this question of the group and everybody was handed these pieces of cedar and a Sharpie marker and said, Write your purpose on this piece of cedar. And then it just kind of came to me in that moment and I'm super grateful for it. I have that piece of cedar sitting below my monitor as a constant reminder of what I'm all about because it really just spoke to me at that time and it has continued to resonate with me. And it was, Build meaningful relationships. That is what my sense of purpose is in the world. So, I'm a relationship person. I love people. I love getting to know people and building meaningful connections, not just superficial. Like when you go to an event - it's a party or a gathering or something like that - and the first thing people wonder is, What does he do? What do you do for a living? Isn't that a silly question? What you're asking is, What do you do to make money? And then you kind of size people up and decide who's the most important or who could you leverage to enhance your economic standing or viability or whatever it is. So, who am I? I would say I'm a person who has a passion for building meaningful relationships.
What motivates you? What is your purpose?
One of the things that I'm aware of is that I'm an introvert. I don't appear that way to most of the people that I know. If I told them I was an introvert, that would surprise them. So, where I get my energy is often - or what motivates me is often - times it's about recharging my batteries in being isolated or alone or in a comfortable environment or turning things down. But what gets me excited about living in this world is really relationships that matter, that mean something, where you have a real connection - authentic and vulnerable and real. It's not just with people - I have some great friends. I love my time with my wife. We just bought a teardrop trailer and we're trying to get an understanding of how we're going to use it and spend time in it. Last Sunday, we made some homemade margaritas and we played cribbage in it. And just the time together was so fun and we laughed. Relationships is what motivates me but then I have to isolate and recharge my batteries and go back out. But I get excited about relationships. People that are willing to be themselves and be authentic is what I get excited about - when you can talk about real things. And then that extends to the environment, as well. Having a real, authentic, and raw experience in the undeveloped natural versus manmade - relationships with water, mountains, animals - connecting.
What do we mean to each other?
My perspective would be we're on a journey. Metaphorically, it's like the pioneers crossing - migrating into Oregon or something; we're all moving into this new, this ever-changing dynamic world out there. We were talking about technology and how that's changing the way we interact with the world. It's on a screen. But What do we mean to each other? suggests meaning and meaningfulness. We're partners on a journey. So, if we help each other, then there's meaning. If we're in it for ourselves, then we're not really connecting with others. But our meaningfulness to others or others to ourselves is diminished the more superficial we get. The more real we get, the more we're able to help each other. We understand that we are on a common journey together. Even though sometimes we think we're independent and moving off and blazing our own trail.
What does community mean to you?
Community, to me, is something that enables us to do something far greater than what we can do as individuals - isolated. For me, when you're in community and working with others, your life is enhanced significantly because you're learning from the perspectives of others and you're being challenged. There's accountability with community that helps us elevate. And we curate our own communities - and some choose to curate communities that reinforce their set of beliefs and I believe it's far more advantageous to curate communities that challenge you. So, I am part of dozens of communities. My family is a community. And isn't it beautiful when you love each other unconditionally, which is impossible really - we have a hard time getting rid of all conditions - but to have a persistent love and interest and care for each other that surpasses challenges or limitations that we all have - our own failings. And then I have a group of men that I've gotten together with for 25 years almost now. It ranges from 12 to 20. And we do things together and we're willing to be honest and open and vulnerable with each other - real. That's a community. What does it mean to me? Well, it's being able to be real and have people care about you, help you, but also challenge you. And you can create things together that's amazing. And then there's the community of Bend and there might be a faith community. But if we're superficial about the way we engage with community... it's a pretty shallow game. It doesn't really mean much.
What are your thoughts on social injustice.
I think our culture is filled with prejudices. And we all develop prejudices. And when I think of social injustice I think of people who come into this world with a disadvantage of some sort that hampers their ability to have access to all the things that some of us who are privileged have access to. Social injustice is an interesting term. Social justice is a passion of mine and I think that I am concerned about perceived injustices. And I think we get caught up in arguments about What is justice? What's injustice? and we're blinded to some degree. Gender injustice, racial injustice, economic injustice. My prayer and my hope is that we all treat each other not as the same - we embrace and celebrate diversity, whatever that is. When we got off of our high horse and we understand that there's a thousand paths to the top of the mountain - not just one right way - that there's all, many different ways in which we can approach life and be good people and care about community and the environment and those things. That we all just treat each other with an equal level of respect and not fall prey to prejudices. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say I don't have my prejudices. I have issues with people who are passionate supporters of Trump. Then I judge them. We tend to generalize and classify people. It concerns me, largely because technology and social media is just amplifying and strengthening sort of the disparity of thought and reinforcing belief systems that are bad, negative, and tear down communities.
Where does greed come in?
There are beautiful things that happen in really hard and bad times. I would say the community of Bend benefitted significantly from the Great Recession. In 2004 or 2005, the scale and the velocity and the intensity around real estate development and what was happening in our community, where we saw this shift and change over to greed and grabbing at money... people were just kinda getting drunk on fumes of money. It had a really negative impact - economic, the vibrancy of the economy here was unprecedented, yet our community was becoming less and less meaningful and rich and was more oriented towards the shallow pursuit of wealth. And when the recession hit, it was really hard on Bend. Deschutes County was the second hardest hit area in the country outside of Detroit. And there were real estate developers that decided to take their own lives. You know, a lot of stress. A lot of stress happens around money. Commitment and losing everything and I guess our identities are so strongly tied to that.
But there was a maturation process that happened. Those that were purely interested in wealth and money, they evaporated or they left or they migrated away, and the town had to come together. I felt like before that, Bend was kind of like a teenager that hadn't fallen and gotten hurt yet or hadn't had a bad thing happen. And it's through those challenging times that there's kind of a solidification. I think what happens in those times is if you're gonna make it, you're gonna band together and we feel a sense of solidarity. What we're really getting out of that is a stronger sense of connection to others, right? We're helping each other. And then when we're economically fine and everything's cool, we get distracted or attracted and drawn over to this illusion of what we think we should be, which is to accumulate and amass and look better and buy a nicer house and have all these luxuries or things that are nice that, really, they don't add any value, but we believe they do add more value to your life. You know, being involved in a start-up, it's really hard. We have to work hard together. We're not making any money and we're living simply. There's a romanticism around that because we have to work together. If I look back on my 32-year marriage with my wife, we reflect romantically on Remember when I only made a thousand dollars a month and rent was 425 dollars and our first-born was... and we're expecting and I was unemployed and we weren't making any money and we had to figure out how to do it. It was this romantic vision because we... you take all this materialism and strip it away and what you have is really what's a more pure form of what life is all about and it's just really about people making meaningful connections and actually helping each other out. That brings about more prosperity, which is a more of a holistic sense of... I'm not just talking about financial, but emotional and mental and spiritual prosperity.
If all the social interests are essentially competing against one another, what is the thing that will bring us together?
Well, it worries me because fear's a powerful thing. I think fear drives all that stuff, right? We're afraid of illegal immigrants. We're afraid of LGBTQ community. We're afraid of all these things - they somehow pose a threat in our minds. And it's fear that drives prejudice. We don't understand it, so we're afraid of it. Or there's a moral fear of some sort. But spiritual leaders, church leaders, political leaders have been leveraging fear since the very beginning to, really, ultimately corral an audience behind them for power. The ultimate thing is to - what I aspire to do is to not judge and to respect and love every human as if they were already at the highest form of humanity. And to not be afraid. I have to challenge myself to do that.
I was on the MAX in Portland about a month ago. I had to take it to go to a business meeting at Portland State. And I didn't know where to get off. I had to change MAX trains. I needed to give the people I was meeting with an ETA. I didn't know how long it would take to get to Portland State and I walked up and down the train car and I thought, Who am I gonna ask? Who am I gonna sit next to and ask? There's a pretty diverse collection of folks on the train, which is great, and I saw this man. He was Latino and tattoos all over his body and all over his face, his neck. He had words tattooed on his forehead and I didn't know what they meant. I would look at that person and say, Wow, you got a... that's a threatening figure right there. I don't know what's driving the desire to have your face all tattooed like that... I falsely equate that with anger, violence, you know, a disturbed state of being, whatever. These associations are preloaded and you associate with that person. And there were lots of other open seats and I thought, I'm gonna challenge myself to sit next to that person and ask that person. I want to stretch my understanding. I've never sat and had a conversation with somebody whose face was tattooed with sayings and words and images that look threatening. And so I sat down next to him. I'm a vulnerable white guy. I'm not the image of strength (laughs). I've only been in one fight - I was in 5th grade. I'm not a fighter. I don't know how to do that stuff. So I, in a very vulnerable state, sat next to him and I asked him when I could get off or what's the ETA to get to Portland State. And he opened his mouth and started speaking to me and it was a very kind voice. He wasn't assertive. He wasn't any of these things that I imagined he might be. And then he checked in with me half way there - he had expressed concern that he gave me the right information. He wanted to make sure that I was okay. You know, the antithesis of what you would expect. But to break down those prejudices and just treat somebody like a human being with respect and care and concern, that requires being able to deal with whatever these fears are that you're preloaded with and that you project onto populations without even knowing them or who they are or who they really are. There's a lot of competing causes and concerns and it seems like we want to isolate... but I think if we championed equal respect, then that's a blanket - equal respect for everybody, that's a blanket cause. I just wish that we would all, with regard to all those issues, we would just treat each other with respect as a fellow human being on this journey. We do need each other. Maybe we don't think we need each other, but I think - I believe - the community is greater if we all invited each other to be a part of each other's lives. We would all learn and I think enjoy life a lot more. If we get over those fears.
What do you want more of in your life?
Quality time. Time well spent. Engaging with other people. Like this interview - I mean, this is during the workday and I'm like, I should be working. There's other things I need to be doing with that time. I feel a sense of obligation that somehow I'm obligated to others to a company... whatever it is. And I said, No, I'm going to carve that time out as time well spent in rich and meaningful conversation. So, its more of this. I got together with a guy that I've know for twenty-some-odd years last night and we we're talking about real stuff. You know, real stuff. Talking about masculinity and femininity and, you know, the pitfalls that men fall into in trying to create this bravado image. I love that. I could go on for a long time. Because that's adding real quality to life.
You got anything else you want to put out there?
Well, maybe. I think we would all have a stronger community if we cared more about each other. Maybe not just respected each other but cared for each other. Want to help each other. In a way that's constructive. You know, not just enabling or reinforcing negative patterns or behaviors, but really caring for each other. In ways that don't just exclusively benefit you as the person. You know, we can be very manipulative with our social work and concern and care for others. What's your real motivation? It should be out of genuine interest in other people. Not about building up your own image equity as a good person or whatever it is.