Leslie, who has become a very dear friend through this process, recommended Tina to participate here. We talked a lot about the project before we began recording and then picked that conversation back up about halfway through this interview. In a rare turn of events, we end up trading places as Tina starts to put me through a fairly intense line of questioning. I enjoyed our entire experience together and hope my presentation of it offers you a good representation of how it was in the moment. I'm happy to introduce Tina to you here and I hope this conversation will serve as an example and encouragement for you to go engage in one of your own.
ACT: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
TB: Well, the obvious things that I am - I'm a mother and a daughter and a sister and a friend and a girlfriend and a co-worker and all those things. But I think I'm a seeker of connection and understanding.
ACT: Are you finding understanding?
TB: Sometimes. And, you know, my interests are broad, so sometimes finding understanding is easy. But I really like to understand people more than anything else - and that can be a moving target. But that's okay, too.
ACT: We'll take the questions out of order because that's a good segue. What do you we mean to each other, individual to individual? Why do you have this desire to understand people?
TB: We need each other. And I think that we're living in a very difficult time because we need each other and there's a huge polarity. And I think... well, I can really only speak for myself and the people close to me, but I think we all are missing the ease of being in relationship to people. Whether they're family or strangers, it's harder to talk to people now. Feels a little risky. But I think we need each other. And for me, personally, I find it to be very challenging to give up on people. And this has been a hard time for that, as well, because there are some people that I just can't be in relationship with anymore.
ACT: That could probably be your answer to this question, too, but I'm sure you'll have more to say. What concerns you? It's really easy for people to say these bigger... hunger, racism, sex-trafficking - but what impacts your experience? What gives you a hard time? What breaks your heart?
TB: Loneliness. For myself and for a lot of people in the world. I work in the medical field and it's an everyday conversation - the higher numbers of suicide. We come and go from our garages in our cars. We are distracted with our devices or somebody else's device or a TV or a phone and we just don't interact the way we used to. And I think there are a lot of people suffering with loneliness. And that's a hard one to fix. But if you don't give up on people, then, I mean, I think that's a little bit of what I'm doing every day in the work that I do - is trying to connect with people. And not only because in the jobs that I do I am in service to others, essentially, but because I have suffered through a lot of loneliness myself and I think I recognize it. But we live in an interesting culture right now. And I'm circling back to that earlier question where we're almost, I think, sizing one another up. Or at least I feel that way sometimes, like, Who are you and is it safe to say these things to you? - these things that I'm thinking.
ACT: What does community mean to you? What does it look like to you without this loneliness? And then, what is there to do about not just the smaller differences of opinion, but on the grander scale, these things that actually really do matter? These huge differences that do cause all the polarity - what are we to do with it?
TB: I think it requires courage. And that might seem like kind of an overly simplistic answer, but I think that these times do call for courage. I think it's a better policy to reach out to people versus out of fear and concern, walk away - walk away again. I think it's okay to ask people if they're okay. I think staying in the conversation and not giving up is really relevant. And, again, we're distracted.
As an example, I remember I used to love to travel and be in airports because I would always meet someone interesting. And that just doesn't happen anymore - at all. Everybody is on a laptop or they're wearing earbuds or they're on their phone if they're solo. And I'm guilty of that as well. But, you know, I have tried to develop some mindful practices and be aware of if I'm being present or not.
And I think we're tired, too. I think we're tired just from the last two/three years of the assault in politics. Whether you're thrilled at what's happening in the leadership of our country or not, it's been an exhausting time in history. Sometimes you just need a break from all the thinking and worrying. So, I try to carve out time for that. But it's easy to feel like you are by yourself, worried about the future of the world.
And so, in a broader sense of community, I think that when people can come together to try to find solutions for the things we're worried about that it's a great start.
ACT: In the interview that I did yesterday, Carlos was talking about when people say, "I don't mean to be rude..." and he's like, "Don't. Then don't be rude. But you can still have compassion." You can still care. You can have that difference of opinion, but you can still care about somebody else.
TB: Right. Are you familiar with the term trauma-informed care? So, I've been thinking a lot about that. The concept can be distilled down to in communication or in relationship with another person, instead of asking yourself What's wrong with that person?, you flip it just enough and you say to yourself, What happened to that person? It's an interesting approach to ground you in compassion. Even if you're on Highway 97, commuting between Bend and Redmond and someone's on your bumper. It seems not only appropriate, but it makes me feel like a better person when I can flip it and see that that's a human being back there. That's a human being standing out there. That's a human being sitting right next to me. And I just feel better when I can remember to focus on that aspect - What happened to that person? And how would it feel to be treated like that? You know, that's groundbreaking.
ACT: Do you have a method for using that without having the superiority that could easily come along with it?
TB: Oh! I thought you were gonna ask me if I remembered to do it (laughs)! That depends on a lot of things. Yeah, you know, that's a really good question because I have struggled with that a little bit. Does it make me more superior to look at someone and ask myself, What happened to them? And I think there's a little tinge of that. But on the other hand, I'm a broken person, too. And I have a lot of examples of being treated in a way that made me feel like I wasn't assessed as being a human. And I certainly wasn't being seen.
ACT: I guess the superiority aspect of that is a lot softer than "What's wrong with them?" anyways (laughs).
TB: Yeah. Right. What's wrong with you?!
ACT: This is a combo question - there's a few different things I want to get out. Do you feel a sense of purpose? Those three words have this meaning to so many people. But I can rephrase it as a compulsion to live with intention or a responsibility to affect positive change. Does any of that resonate with you?
TB: I often experience both of those feelings. I occasionally feel like I'm living with purpose. And I know when I'm in that zone, for lack of a better term, I wish that my days felt more purpose-driven. And a responsibility for that, absolutely. Here's another cliché - you're either part of the solution or part of the problem. But I do... here we are talking about community and purpose and I recently have thought that I'd like to be more involved in the community. I'm not sure where I'd fit that in. But I would like to have a project where I'm shoulder to shoulder with like-minded people and we're saving something (laughs), for example. And there are a lot of things I feel strongly about. And I like to think that I'm not alone in complaining that my life is super busy. And making ends meet is an everyday project for me. And getting myself overextended is another one. So, in fact, I just had a conversation with someone earlier this week on this idea of wanting to be involved in something community-related. And I think it is important and hopefully something will come along for me, but right now I struggle a little with feeling like what I do matters.
ACT: This is a rabbit hole. I like those. So, when you said "standing shoulder to shoulder solving some problem" the thing that just popped into my head was the whales - you're working for Greenpeace, for example. So, that needs to become a priority. Or, for some, it's waste disposal or plastics and litter and this sort of thing. Or domestic abuse. Or racism. Sex-trafficking. There's a lot of things we could pick, right?
And then, to use another one of your words, you find these people who have this "like-minded" concern. So you can have the like-minded concerns or the like-minded joys, right, for your fitness and health and biking and yoga - whatever it may be - shooting at the range. And this question very rarely goes this far, which I'm always a little frustrated about, so I'm just gonna push it there today. A sense of purpose, a compulsion to be a certain way, or a responsibility to affect positive change - in my mind those things all have to do... there's, of course, an existential component, which we don't need to go down, but there is a selfishness behind all of these actions that I think most or many people would view as the wrong actions. "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem." The problem is often that one person thinks they're better than the other. But we don't really have an anti-selfishness movement. We have a "protect the whales" and a "garbage" and a "litter" and a "domestic violence" and a "sex-trafficking", but underneath it all is this same thing. And I think as long as we keep working on all of these things - I think it's a biblical* interpretation of it - but the branches... as long as we keep working on the branches, the root is still growing.
And I just don't know what to do about it. In some way A Community Thread is an attempt for me to work at it way down at the base, but the disconnect that comes from just two people that actually do give a damn. One of them gives a damn about one thing and one of them gives a damn about another and they're still disconnected.
*It is not biblical, but rather a quote by Henry David Thoreau from Walden, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
TB: Well, I just had this lightbulb turn on over my head while you were describing that to me and I think that there's also this fear of being adversarial because you're in support of something that someone is not. I was pretty active in a local political campaign recently - in support of someone here locally and even that felt weird. Even putting a sign in my front yard. And I hope that's not... I'll have to think more about this, but I hope that I'm not doing that. I hope I'm not avoiding becoming involved in something that matters to me because I don't have the energy to be an adversary. But I will be thinking about that.
ACT: Great. Do you want to ask me anything?
TB: Ummm. Yeah, I do. I want to ask you about this project, obviously - do you ever have interviews that you're unhappy with.
ACT: Yeah. I don't know if it's my nature or my nurture, I don't know if it's the rut that I fall into or if it's a path that I'm trying to blaze - it's hard to know where these feelings come from and if they're bad or good or survivalist. It's so difficult to know. But, yeah, I do. I have interviews with people where.... it goes so many different ways. It can be so lovely. A huge percentage of them end in a hug and this thought that we'll be connected again in the future and we really meant something to each other today, which means that we mean something to each other on a permanent level. That's most often the way it feels. It doesn't always go like that. I've been doing this long enough to know that sometimes... I don't know what that is then. I don't know if that's just a high - a momentary high - or a well-intentioned, but very difficult thing to follow up on.
And then sometimes... I don't know... I get in my car and I'm just not really sure what was meant to have happened and if I could have asked different questions or if someone is being idealistic with me or if someone's being genuine or is one of those things better than the other? Some of it, too, is just like "What do I do with it?" It's a responsibility. And if I come here and we have this interview and I do a thing and it sits on the internet and four people listen to it, is that enough? And is that because of something I did wrong? Or should I celebrate the four people? I don't know. There's a lot to consider in all of it. And I do that a lot. I consider that a lot.
TB: So what keeps you feeling engaged in this project then? I mean, you do quite a few of these interviews. How many do you do a month, roughly?
ACT: Roughly four. It turns out to be roughly one a week.
TB: So, then what makes you keep that feeling of inspiration? What's underneath that for you - the drive?
ACT: Obsession, I guess. A compulsion, maybe an obsessive compulsion (laughs) or...
TB: Over doing what you said you were gonna do and continuing to roll these out?
ACT: (Sighs) We really switched places here, huh? I use this word extremely rarely, a belief that it's important. Belief being the word I use rarely. And a word I use even less frequently, a hope that it has potential. And then, the only thing standing in the way is time and persistence. But I don't... real talk... I don't have any reason to think that stuff. There's not a lot of allies in this. There's not a team of support. So then, it's like against all odds - doing this and doing this and doing this and doing this because I "hope" that this will be the interview or I "hope" that that will be the interview. So, yeah, it's just kind of an unknown. It's habit, too. It gives me a place. I feel a place - a sense of purpose - from this. And then the bare bones truth of the matter is it feels good to come into a stranger's home and sit and talk with them. And link them up to some equipment and produce some thing out of it.
TB: Yeah. That makes sense to me. I believe that everything we do is about relationships. And I think we are starving for deeper relationships. So, I think, perhaps this is your way to seek that out.
ACT: I have to believe - or assume - that we are better than we look (laughs) out in the world. We do so many ridiculous, foolish, and selfish things. And that really annoys the shit out of me. And I'm sure I have my list. But there's also so much good in us. I really do think you could take the two most different people in the world with the most different personalities and different habits and different proclamations and they would find... you can choose to highlight your differences. It's definitely the easier road. It's well-paved. There's an EZ Pass for that and you zip right through it. But it's also very boring. There's very little scenery along the way. And it's an effort - it takes effort - sometimes to find the things that you have in common and to connect with people and to maintain somebody's humanity.
TB: So, is that what you're hoping when I listen to someone else's interview that you've done? That I will have a connection to that person? That I will recognize common ground? Similar thinking?
ACT: Yeah. Not only that - I hope that you'll have a connection with that person in particular and I also hope that you will then assume that you can have that connection with whoever is outside your door, whoever is at the grocery store, or the library, or your fitness class.
TB: I love that.
ACT: Maybe you should start a podcast - you're good at this (laughs).
TB: Maybe I should (laughs).
ACT: Would you like to say anything in closing?
TB: You know there is something. I'm gonna go out there on a limb right now. There's something that I think about a lot. And sitting here with you, a total stranger up until an hour ago, and to be having such a forthright, honest conversation with a man is a rare experience for me. I have a son. I have wonderful men in my life. I was raised by one. And I think this is an especially hard time - I imagine it's a very hard time - to be a man in this world right now. And I'm wondering what your thoughts are about that.
ACT: (Laughs) Lots of room to get in trouble here.
TB: I have asked a few men this question and there's usually an awkward silence.
ACT: I struggle with the assumptions about me because of my outward appearance. And that's not to say someone else doesn't experience that in different ways, right. It's not like "Who could possibly understand that?" So many people have that to say. And it's interesting that there's been a turn that now I am a person that can say something like that. I sit in different spaces. And sometimes I am the... in one particular space in my life - another project I'm working on - I am the lone white male in the room. And it has an impact on the way I present myself and how often I speak up and whether or not the room thinks I have much to offer. You know, 'cause my time has passed and our time is due and we've had power for too long and this sort of thing.
I'm interested in a few things. I'm really puzzled with racism; that's something that really bothers me and it's something I have a really difficult time understanding at all. I'm also not the right person for dealing with it. That bothers me. I don't know.
TB: Do you feel concern about.... or do you feel confidence - let's just flip it a little bit again - do you feel confidence about how to operate in the world as a man now that has been consistent for you and static? Or have you felt a certain pressure to reconsider how you behave as a man?
ACT: I don't think that I have many overt behaviors... I don't feel like I'm sitting in Joe Biden's seat, for example at the moment - where I've been this kind of touchy-feely, strangely was-that-inappropriate type of person. I don't think that I need to reprogram based on being made aware of a bunch of bad habits.
And I don't know how much of it has to do with being a man, but a lot of this has to do with being a person that's creating A Community Thread. I have a temper, which I come by very honestly. And it's something that I wish to put aside or wrestle down or beat or obliterate - however you want to... But it's the same thing that is my fire. You can't get rid of something like that because it's also my passion. So, the person that's on my ass in traffic really annoys me. Sometimes it's easy to think, "What's about to happen to them?" if I slam on my brakes instead of, "What has happened to them?" So, there's lots of things to practice on in that.
I try to listen. I have a deeply patient, caring, and loving partner who allows - and I don't even know if she knows she does it - but she allows me to realize my own bullshit. I've never had someone do that for me.
TB: Would you be able to give me an example?
ACT: Yeah. This is just a basic example. If we're in the car together and I get cut off, she allows my 20 seconds of ranting and sits there quietly while I hear all the things I'm saying and compare them to the actions that I am doing while I am driving. And she doesn't give me shit about it, but knows... I thinks she knows... that I do all sorts of dumb, silly things. And that has a lot more effect on me than if someone's in the other seat yelling at me, right, griping at me, and telling me how foolish I am. So, I try to listen. And I have a lot to say about everything. I'm an extremely opinionated person. I celebrate privately my intellectual prowess, right, so I have a lot of thoughts on a lot of things and I'm the expert in all ways (laughs).
TB: Well, it's also interesting that you put yourself in a position to be a listener - for a person with strong opinions.
ACT: So, you know, how much of this is about being a man and how much of it is about me? I also don't know that. And then how much of this that I'm not aware of is that privilege because I've not known something different?
TB: Right. It's not just being a man; it's like you already pointed out - you're a white male.
ACT: Yeah. I don't know. I think it's good stuff to think about. I also think it's good stuff to think about in every context for everyone because put gender or race or cultural stuff behind or beside you and just consider you and the person you're with - you and the people you're with - how can we all get better? How can we all move forward? How can we better communicate? Better understand? It's never gonna be, "All agree." That also sounds very boring, right, but consider other perspectives. Or even just that pause.
TB: Well, they refer to that as... well, it's holy. If you can find a way to pause, that's a holy moment right there. For all the reasons you just cited. And when we think about crossing paths with someone who has a different belief system, creating that space to witness who they are without judgment. That is powerful.
ACT: Is that the stopping point?