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Interview with David Smith
August 12, 2002


DS: David Smith
DP: Dave Potter

DS: How does this all begin, Dave?

DP: For you and I it's a pretty new connection and we've interrupted each of our days to make space for the conversation, so I thought we might begin just with a minute of silence, so we can kind of gather our thoughts and think about the relationship with the work on Centered on the Edge and your work with Haiti and how you and I might by happenstance be connecting with each other. Just kind of clear for a moment before we begin. And after we do that, then -- I'll have some questions. Some of which are written down and some of which I don’t know what they are yet.

DS: Okay.

DP: It'll just be a conversation. I suspect, I've got blocked out for myself about an hour and a half and we may need that much time or we might need a little bit less and I don't expect it to be more than that, but we'll just see how it works out. Okay?

DS: Sounds fine.

DP: Sound all right? So we'll just begin with a minute of silence and I'll break the silence in just a minute.

DS: Good.


DP: Okay. I'm sitting here at my office downstairs in my house, but I want to describe what I see in front of me, I've laid out just before I picked up the phone. I've got a picture of you and Pierre and Loulou and Marius.

DS: Oh, good!

DP: You sent Sheryl, remember you sent a package to Sheryl?

DS: Yeah.

Golden Falls, IcelandDP: Sheryl forwarded that to me. And right next to that is that beautiful photograph that you took and you made a card out of of two people peering over the edge, with the waterfall in the background.

DS: Yes.

DP: That's just a wonderful, wonderful photo.

DS: Thank you.

DP: We're just putting together a simple website for our own communication, our working group and we decided we want to have some portion of the site just for images. And, with your permission, I'd like to include that.

DS: Absolutely.

DP: And also, I've got a couple of things about the , Bahá’í Faith, which is pretty new to me. Of course, I knew the name before from many different contacts, but not really knowledgeable about what it is. But I was struck by a couple of things that I've gotten also on my desk from something you'd sent Sheryl. And in particular, the phrase that the Bahá’í Faith proclaims the necessity and inevitability of the unification of mankind. Which is I thought just a profound and wonderful thought. And, again, in the words of this pamphlet, that world peace is not only possible, but inevitable. And I just love that thought and that image. It's more than we can do it, it's that it's going to happen. So it's just a wonderful thought.

I've got a copy of Centered on the Edge sitting in front of me as well, with some of the principles on it. A copy of your story from your journaling from your trip in July. And so it's my own little shrine to your work here.

DS: Well, I have an array of papers. Centered on the Edge is here. I've got a folder with just a clutter of sticky notes from conversations with Sheryl and one with you and I've a couple of reference documents and some timelines of Haiti and -- not knowing exactly what's going to be important to talk about, I thought I'd better be able to lay my hands on some background material.

DP: Yeah.

DS: Or not. Just trying to be prepared. [laughs]

DP: Well, preparation's kind of a funny thing, isn't it?

DS: Well, it is, it is. You like to have some things together, but then you like to let go of them so you can go with the flow.

DP: Right. That's really an art form.

DS: Yes, it is.

DP: To be able to both be prepared and be open. I had a couple of questions to start us with. I know they'll be of general interest to the other people in Centered on the Edge. Of course, Sheryl's had conversations with you and, as I have. And the question I think would be of interest to everybody and to me in particular is how you found out -- how did you connect with Centered on the Edge? How did you get a hold of the book, if that's how it happened, or did somebody tell you about it or how did it happen?

DS: Sure. Well, I work in the Michigan Department of Education. And have a professional colleague there who is the consultant for personnel development. Her name is Sheryl Poole. And Sheryl's a delightful lady who has several connections with the Fetzer Institute. Has done work with Parker Palmer. And we were at Sheryl's house for dinner, with my wife, my wife Melanie and I. And we were talking about all the, just the wonderful world of ideas and development and she pulled out and gave us a copy of Centered on the Edge. And Melanie and I both looked through it and reviewed it and both were enchanted with the visual impact of the document. And the ideas contained in the document.

So I had called up north in Michigan, here where I live, to talk to Terri, is it? To order additional -- I was going to get a bunch of copies at the time. And started talking with Terri and talking about some of the things that I was doing that sort of fit and flowed with the ideas in Centered on the Edge. And she said, You know, you really ought to talk to Sheryl Erickson. So she got us in touch. That's how the contact happened.

DP: And do you remember what you said that you were struck by the visual images and the ideas? You remember anything in particular that really sparked in you when you looked at this. That made you think this was not just -- there was something special in what was being touched.

DS: Well, I do a lot of photography myself and so the images always catch my eye. I don't do quite the abstract images that are here, but I found them very attractive and so that always draws me in. And then the subtitle, Collective Intelligence and Spiritual Wisdom -- I really resonate with that. Because it just feels to me, it has felt for a long time that we're at the threshold of maturity as a human race, where we really begin to maximize the sense of working together. And those two ideas, collective intelligence and spiritual wisdom just played right into that. Of course, her enthusiasm helps build the bridge here, this is Sheryl Poole, my friend.

So once I got into the readings and the metaphors and the principles and just the way it was -- expressions, things that were very engaging for me. And then meeting, at least over the phone and talking to Sheryl Erickson and getting a chance to meet her and Chris, that just -- everything sort of took on a life of its own.

DP: Was there anything, when you were looking at the publication, was there anything that you -- you saw a lot of things that you resonated with and you recognized. Was there any part of it that challenged your thinking?

DS: Mmmmmmm. Gee, not that sticks in my mind at all. I was just kind of drawn in. Just drawn in and resonated very nicely with most everything. And it just sparked things. Oh, gosh, I could talk about this and oh, wow, what about that? And just brought my own experiences to it. There didn't seem to be anything out of my field of vision, I don't know how to say that exactly, but – [pause]

Are you there?

DP: Yeah.

DS: Okay.

DP: I was thinking about something. In our thinking about Centered on the Edge and about this work, we're looking at something that comes out of one of Ken Wilber's models, where you look at the individual and you look at the group and that's one axis. And then the other axis is looking at the interior and looking at the exterior. So the exterior of an individual would be someone who would be what you could see, hear or through your senses about that person. How they're speaking, what they're wearing, what they're saying. How they're looking, how they're moving. And, of course, the interior, you don't have direct access to that interior experience. And that's something that's, is not an unusual division for people to be able to think about the interior and exterior for individuals.

And it's not unusual to think about the exterior of a group, because you can see how a group is moving together or not, you can see individuals that are making up the group, you can see it sort of with soft eyes, as it were, but there are physical things you can see and hear and sense.

But the harder one for us and what seems to be kind of at the heart of what we're doing is the interior space of the group. So what is that? And how do we access that and how does that relate to what we do? And that's kind of an open question, because you don't have tools, really, no off-the-shelf tools for doing that. And yet there's something about the interior of a group that is important to what the group is and what the group's to do. And has kind of a, has a meaning and an essence of its own. So I was curious what thoughts you had about that relative to your thinking or Haiti or anything.

DS: Hmm. Well, you know, coming out of this Bahá’í experience -- I've been a Bahá’í for 31 years or something like that. And there's a notion of the maturation of the human race. Where you, if you look at the life cycle of an individual and the planetary collective, if you will, you can see the stages of infancy and childhood and adolescence and adulthood. And you can imagine that a planet itself has gone through these same kinds of stages and we're poised at the threshold of maturity.

And this maturity, the implications of this maturity are moving away from that adolescent stage, where you tend to perceive yourself as the center of the universe.

DP: Uh-huh, yeah.

DS: And you begin to see your role more clearly in a larger process. And you're just a small part of a much larger pattern and you learn to assume responsibility and serve others with the capacities that you're given.

And the Bahá’í communities that I've been in, they're often very diverse. Racially and culturally and language and all those kinds of things. But there is an interior in the group -- to use the terms that you're using -- that's reflective of a divine principle, if you will. If we're all convinced that we're at the threshold of maturity and that our work is about expressing the oneness that's inherent at the stage of maturity, then we have to deal with our own prejudices, we have to learn the art of consultation. That's a term often used in Bahá’í context, there's no--

DP: The art of consultation?

DS: Uh-huh. Where groups discuss together issues or concerns or just what they want to do. And you kind of contribute your viewpoint and once you voice your opinion, you let go of it. And opinions clash, we should go left, we should go right, whatever it is. But personalities should not clash. Because you let go of it.

So there's, when you see these as divine principles -- I mean, religion has a great power to transform human beings. And you can see it historically. But it doesn't maintain the same level of power through the whole cycle. Again, you've got this notion of a cycle.

So in the beginning, the early days of religious dispensation, there's a lot of energy. People find joy in sacrifice and serving each other and great prosperity comes out of that kind of sacrifice and energy and service. And then, from the prosperity, you can get sort of a complacency or you can get a pride and look at how much I've been able to accumulate. Then structures can get kind of ossified and the spirit can ebb out of the very institutions that created the prosperity. So then, in Bahá’í context, god would send a new messenger when things don’t work so well anymore. And things get revitalized and the process starts all over again.

So we can see that we are at that stage. Bahá’u’lláh is the messenger for the Bahá’í Faith. The stage of maturity and brings certain principles, so that belief, that recognition and belief cause a certain dynamic, as we try to learn together to put the principles back into practice and find that sense of spirituality and working together.

So this whole Haiti project I guess emerges from those principles. And Pierre and I -- Pierre Balthazar and I have been friends for 12, 15 years. And we've talked for a long time about, gee, couldn’t we go to Haiti and be of some service? I mean, it's the poorest country in the hemisphere and we don't have a lot, but we've got more than they do and we can be of assistance.

DP: There seems to be something very important about Pierre being from Haiti.

DS: Yes.

DP: That it wasn't -- had he not been from Haiti, it would have taken on perhaps a different color, because you're from then wholly from the outside coming in.

DS: That's correct.

DP: You can’t just go into the poorest country and just go and try to be of service. You sent me a very provocative set of articles about how that's not worked in the past. And with all good intentions, how working from the outside is not productive.

And I was also intrigued by something you said in our last conversation about the relationship with the people that you're working with and that you're in a spirit of service for, that if it is only one direction or perceived as one direction, it's not going to be fruitful.

DS: Yes. Yes. I think that is, that's very critical.

And the nature of the flow here, if Pierre had been from Argentina, the project probably would be in Argentina. It was the basis of the friendship and wanting to make a difference and him being able to open the doors there. And connecting with his brother, that's another -- his name is Liné but his nickname is Loulou. And Loulou plays a pivotal role in all of this process as well. Because he's there on the ground in Haiti. And he has a real talent for being a quick learner and taking the ideas and conversations that we have had over the last few years and seminars that we've gone to and being able to translate those into the culture there and be close enough to the people and visit periodically and keep it moving forward on the ground there.

This I don't think could be done successfully with us in Michigan and just going down once a year.

DP: Even though Pierre had that connection.

DS: Even with Pierre's connection. Because the relationship I think is critical. That we often talk about the isolation, the impact of isolation on the village there. And they're so far removed from Port-au-Prince. And Haiti is isolated from the rest of the world.

DP: So they're doubly removed.

DS: That's correct. And so Loulou can see both worlds and has a strong humanitarian urge. And, again, there's this mystical, magical partnership I guess is the word I always keep coming back to.

DP: Now, what is it that makes it mystical and magical, do you think?

DS: How quickly we sort of all felt on the same page. There's very little sense of a contest about -- oh, no, I think we should do this. No, no, I think we should do that. There's a -- there's a harmony in our being together that's energizing.

There's another word that I wrote down in some notes, in my preparation here. The word 'readiness'. We have a sense of being in the right place at the right time. It's like, when it's spring, everything seems to respond to that energy of the sun. And so it's like we've just arrived at springtime and the energy is there and we're going with the flow in a very positive way.

DP: When you say springtime, I imagine the springtime as simultaneously individually for each of you and if the time is right for you personally and individually--

DS: Yes, yes.

DP: It's also the time is right for Haiti. How do you say that? Is it Pincho?

DS: Pichon.

DP: Pichon and for -- and that connection of the timing is also right in a global sense.

DS: Yes, yes. At all levels.

DP: And some of the power in it seems to be that that is the case. The context is all important here. And there's both interior and exterior, individual and collective all at once.

DS: Yes, yes, yes. It's a great feeling.

DP: Yeah. The right place at the right time with the right people and the right cause.

DS: Yeah, yeah. But that spring metaphor is really apt somehow, because when that sun crosses the equator and it has more potency here in the Northern hemisphere, it's like everything responds.

DP: Everything responds.

DS: Everything responds. And it's a timing thing, I think.

DP: And that individual action is important.

DS: Indeed it is. Indeed it is.

DP: 'Everything responds.' That term, that phrase is, seems so in tune with what I'm just beginning to learn about the Bahá’í Faith.

DS: Which phrase?

DP: Everything responds. You know, there's a -- to use the term that came up twice in my reading -- inevitability about it. You know, it’s springtime. Things are going to flower, they're going to grow, they're going to come through cracks in the sidewalk.

DS: That's right.

DP: And not because somebody said you got to do this. It's the time.

DS: It is the time.

DP: You know, we're growing up, we're no longer just in the middle of our adolescent era as a culture and as a planet, but moving to something greater.

DS: Yes, yes.

DP: And there's something very reassuring about that. It makes it seem a little less scary.

DS: Yes. Now, I don't always, the literature that you might have, there's another interesting principle -- and that's not the right term -- perspective from Bahá’í writings. That we live in an age of transition, going from adolescence to maturity, if you will. And in that process, there are two distinct processes that occur. One is integrative and the other is disintegrative. So you have a lot of things that you could be pessimistic about. When you read the news and watch TV and where things just seem to be falling apart. One perspective is that where institutions have grown rigid and have stopped, what? Learning? Adapting to changing circumstances? They no longer meet the needs. And so they no longer have that energy to draw us together as willing partners.

Now, on the other thing, you've got things like Centered on the Edge and the Pichon project and hundreds of things, small scale. Like those little shoots that come popping out of the Earth and you don't know which ones are a blade of grass and which ones are a Sequoia. But you see that there's growth everywhere and some of these things are going to be very impressive over time.

DP: Yeah. There's that wonderful story that Carolyn Myss tells about, she was speaking in Russia and having just a pretty terrible set of circumstances. Travel wasn't working well and the arrangements weren't made and everything was just extraordinarily difficult and things were going wrong every step of the way and as positive as she is, she'd gotten just totally discouraged and kind of vented to somebody who was on the train next to her, who happened to be an assistant to the Dalai Lama. She didn't know that. Or she probably wouldn't have complained so loudly.

And the fellow sitting next to her said, well, we believe that when something really incredibly beautiful is about to be born, in order to allow space for it to be born, there are tremendous and difficult distractions that are created. The purpose of them is to create a distraction so what is so beautiful can be born without your undue attention on it.

DS: Interesting. Yes, indeed.

DP: And that speaks, that again brings me, it ties in with the concept of it is happening, it's going to happen and we can be in service of it. But if we're too intent on the doing of it, we can get in the way of the process. If there isn't that component of letting go.

DS: Yes, yes, yes, I agree. I agree.

DP: I wanted you to ask you to think back in your experience -- probably in Haiti, but it could be somewhere else -- about a time, a specific time, a moment at which you felt yourself just totally aligned and alive and a feeling of touching on what we're talking about as the interiority of the group or this set of something that's at the heart of all of us together, humanity as an organism. If you were to think about a time where you were just totally in tune and alive and in service and effortless, what experience comes to mind?

DS: Well, the first is a very funny experience that I had. When I began to tell people I was going to go to Haiti, Pierre and I were going to go down there, we were going to go out into the remote areas to visit a village, I got a lot of good advice from family and friends and neighbors: Don’t go there. It's too dangerous. There's crime there, there's poverty there, there's disease there. You know, it's hurricane season. People were afraid for me. And it really had an effect, I was really a nervous wreck the last week--

DP: This was in '99?

DS: 1999. And when we -- I said, I'm going anyway. It was like a mantra. I'm going anyway, I'm going anyway.

DP: What, with all this energy saying, well, listen, rethink this now, you're being impulsive here, what is it that moved you to go?

DS: Well, if you believe that humanity is one family, you've got to act that way. And I knew Pierre. I had met his brother. These were just wonderful human beings. And the need was very clear. And so I -- and I had made a commitment. And it was just important to follow through.

But it was nerve-wracking to follow through. Now, when we landed in Port-au-Prince, three planes had come in at the same time. The airport was hot and it was packed. You could not see the luggage carousel, let alone to see if your luggage was actually on the carousel. I mean, there had to be four hundred, five hundred people crowded around. And they were all speaking language that I didn't understand. And so it was very unfamiliar, it was very hot. Pierre bumped into his brother-in-law, who came in on one of the other planes. He introduced me to his brother-in-law, France. And we're talking just a little bit and I'm just still feeling very anxious.

DP: Probably thinking at that moment that maybe your friends were right?

DS: Well, it seemed pretty uncomfortable. And it was what I took with me in my own head.

And then France started talking to somebody. We were all kind of jostling and crowded in with each other. And he starts speaking to somebody, in French, who's obviously not Haitian. And then they started speaking English so I could be part of the conversation and they, we complained about the heat and the crowd and all this stuff. France asked this guy where are you from? The man says I'm originally from Egypt. And I said, How does somebody from Egypt wind up in Haiti? And the man said, well, I came here 25 years ago for the Bahá’í faith. And I greeted him -- I mean, my jaw dropped, first of all. In this mass of humanity, we have a conversation with -- Actually, I have this guy's name and telephone number in his place in Jacmel, Haiti, in my shirt pocket. And all of a sudden, just like a wave came over me -- I think this is going to be all right. There was just that certainty about it. Meeting Moro there, under those circumstances, totally unexpectedly, I said, no, there are forces happening here far beyond my comprehension. This is going to be just fine.

And we wound up later in the week at Moro’s house for a nice lunch and just being -- when we got out to Pichon that first time, we had -- call it a town hall meeting under a leaky, U.S.A.I.D. tent. We had maybe 35 people. And we, Pierre and I, we asked -- we told them why were there. They had a sense of that, because Loulou had made the arrangements and they knew to come for the meeting. And we just asked them what is it they would like for their village that we could help them with?

And we had delightful conversations for a couple of hours, as they described their needs. They need everything, Dave. They don't have health care, they don't have good roads, they don't have good water readily accessible. No electricity. On and on and on. But their choice was education for the children. That's what we need.

So that first conversation there in the village, with 35 people, there was an easy flow of communication. I mean, Pierre had to translate everything for me, back and forth. But there was a very easy flow of communication and a great deal of respect. It was just like an instant understanding. I mean, this is -- it's springtime and we're all sprouting together, you just felt that.

DP: Yeah. Now, when it was clear that they were choosing to educate their children over other things that might have been done first and it was maybe a little surprising, given our, from the outside, was it surprising to them? I mean, were there individuals in the group that said, oh, I wouldn't have thought of that, but now that you mention it, that does make sense? Or was it just everyone immediately says our children first?

DS: There seemed to be a very easy consensus about that. There didn't seem to be any sense of contest, competing ideas. People talked about the needs, which are extensive. But it seemed to be a smooth conclusion, education for the children, if you can help us with that, that would be the best.

DP: And that really is a perspective of the whole, isn't it?

DS: Yes.

DP: In relationship, about the importance of relationship. Because they're not thinking about immediate things at all.

DS: Right.

DP: I mean, not as a first concern, the first concern is what has the most long-term leverage and importance. Which is a very wise choice to make for a group who's living in difficult circumstances.

DS: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. There is -- it was clear to me from some experiences that I'd had in the few days before we got to the village how much a part of the culture is this sense of watching out for each other. People always give you eye contact. Now, big city, that's a different stress. I'm talking, get out of the city a little bit and people's readiness to look you in the eye, readiness to smile and greet. We had two flat tires at one time and were disabled on the road. No AAA.

DP: With one spare or any spare?

DS: One spare, two flat tires. No AAA to call. Every vehicle that went by stopped to inquire.

DP: Every vehicle.

DS: Every vehicle. You all right? Do you need some help? We had somebody traveling with us who was a mechanic and he took the two tires and hitched a ride with a truck and got to the village and Pierre and Loulou and I sat under a tree in the shade and just talked for a couple of hours until our colleague came back with the tires and put them on the truck and away we went.

DP: So now we're touching on what it is that we, as the Western culture, the American culture, has to learn from the Haitian culture.

DS: Precisely. Precisely. And I mentioned that as I -- in interaction with the people there, that town hall meeting. I said, you know, I come from a place of great material advantage. And you need those material advantages here. But you have a wealth of community life that I think we have lost. And I told them stories about where I work. I can walk down the hallway in this big bureaucracy and people won't necessarily look you in the eye. Familiar faces, but they're just, they're preoccupied or they're just kind uncomfortable or whatever it is. And they couldn't quite believe that.

So I really meant what I said. We need to learn from you as much as you need to learn from us. So when I, when we go to Orlando to the Social and Economic Development Conference, it's about, presentations about community building. Because there's an up-building in a material sense of the community in Pichon. But here in Michigan, there's an up-building of service amongst the friends and family and neighbors who are making contributions, financial and sometimes technical. So we're kind of drawing together as a community.

And then there's international connection. Every time we go, we take another person or two people down there. And so here's Pichon, who's been host to, what? Five different people from the United States and I don't think they see a lot of traffic there that way. And we will take more. And everybody who goes there comes back transformed with enthusiasm.

DP: And even those that aren't making the physical trip to Haiti are participating in the glow from the trips, through your stories, through the work they're now doing together.

DS: Yes.

DP: Because now they're engaged in something worthwhile and very meaningful.

DS: Yes, indeed.

DP: So I'm hearing there's a sense of community that developed, is developing even among people who haven't made that trip.

DS: That's right. That's exactly right.

DP: And somehow they're getting it, by working together and through the stories. And in what other ways, how do you see that happening?

DS: Well, because of my photography interest, I use the images well to tell the story. And I have slides and have given slide shows, a couple of churches and community gatherings and neighborhood gatherings here. And I also take my traveling portfolio, a notebook full of a couple of dozen photographs of Haiti that are with me all the time. And if I'm sitting at the airport waiting for a plane and somebody's sitting next to me idle, we have something to talk about.

DP: Now, how do you break the ice with somebody sitting next to you? You just coyly open up this portfolio of photographs and see if it catches their attention or how do you start that conversation?

DS: I usually start it by saying, Are you interested in photography? And because I have in that same portfolio pictures of faces of people of diverse background. Asian, Middle Eastern, African, African-American. Just lot -- young hand old. Sort of family of man kind of thing. And they're nice, close-up, kind of casual portraits of people. And you just flip through there and you get a sense of, holy cow, we really are all the same, aren't we? There's a warmth, there's a character that we share.

And I don't think I've had anybody say, no, I'm not interested in photography. I mean, I don't intrude. But if someone seems to be just sort of, you know, at rest and not much to do, it's a nice conversation starter and I've had some great conversations with people.

DP: Do you have any of these -- I'm thinking now about sharing this with the rest of our group and we can do this through the web page -- are these images in digital form, any of them?

DS: Well, I just bought a scanner.

DP: Oh, you did, yeah?

DS: I did. And so now I can take some of the best, representative shots. And I don't know how to use the scanner yet, I haven't got it hooked up yet, but I can get some technical assistance to do that. And maybe within the next couple of weeks, I will be able to load some of those images into digital format and be able to send them off.

DP: Great, we'd love to be able to -- I'd love to see them and I know I'd want to share them.

DP: Assuming that's okay with you.

DS: I'd be delighted.

DP: Another possibility, if you have, I don't know if you have duplicates of those photos, because I've got a scanner here as well. And if you did and you could just physically send them, that could work as well.

DS: Because of my lack of technical expertise, it would probably be faster for me to have copies made of a handful of shots, send them off to you.

DP: Let's do that, because I just recently got my scanner as well, just a couple of days ago. And I'm learning that how you sample it and how you work with the image is pretty critical in terms of what -- for instance, if you go from a scanned image and you want to have a representation on the Web that's 400 pixels wide, which is just a couple of inches wide, then you do the conversion from the original scan, which will be megabytes in size. And once you make that decision to go to a certain size and you decide later you want to go to a different size, you lose a lot of resolution moving after the conversion's made. And you don't want to be sending me several gigabytes of scanned images.

[more colloquy]

DS: Well, see, I took pictures the first trip down there -- well, every trip. I take pictures of my life. Here's my family. Here's my house with snow in the yard. Here's the downtown area and the buildings in my town and just so that I could share with them my life experience. And then I ask permission to take pictures of them to bring back here. And it’s very comfortable and people are agreeable.

DP: Now, in another setting, if you just appeared, somebody just appeared with a camera and started clicking pictures, would that be uncomfortable for them or insulting or--?

DS: Yes, people can get very sensitive about that. Because they can feel like it's an intrusive process. And very often, it is intrusive.

DP: It's funny, isn't it? You think a camera is something, it takes a picture of things as they are and yet it doesn't, in theory, is not intrusive, but it's one of the most intrusive devices any of us have.

DS: Yes.

DP: You just picture somebody at a landmark taking a picture of two friends of theirs in front of the landmark. All traffic stops. So people don't go through the picture. And it's just a photograph. But it's very intrusive. Almost more than anything else I can imagine, short of putting a Mack truck in the middle of the walkway.

DS: It's a funny phenomenon.

DP: And yet if it's done with respect, you can capture something that's not expressible in words.

DS: Oh, indeed.

DP: And your gesture to them of pictures of your family and of snow and of the insight that you give them into our culture, which is a new concept for them, maybe some of them, I'm sure not all of them, that we could have a culture that's so blessed materially, but so impoverished in other ways. So that we don't even know our neighbors and don't have the connections that they have.

DS: That's right. I try to leave a metaphor there, as part of that conversation, that the material things, it's like honey. The honey is very sweet. You want the material things. But the bees can sting you to death. And I don't know whether people can really appreciate that, but I felt the need to say it, just as a caution.

DP: Say a little more about that. It's like honey, but the bees -- what are the bees?

DS: Well, the materialism that we're so steeped in. It's like we have so much here that we have the illusion that we don't need each other. I can buy whatever I need. I can buy it. And it's an illusion, because you can buy and buy and buy stuff and never really feel satisfied. And I just -- we don't know our neighbors the way we might have 50 years ago. I think there are some communities where it's still close-knit, small town. But those are fewer and farther between, I'm afraid.

DP: It's pretty rare. Where we live, we're at -- Moscow's a small town, it's 20,000 people, relative to -- you're in Lansing?

DS: Yes. East Lansing. Michigan State University is here.

DP: And yet, and there is some of that feel. You can't go anyplace in town without running into people that you know. But we live on, where we live out of town, about five miles out of town, we're on five acre pieces. And so the time we see our neighbors is in town. Never where we are. Except occasionally, we'll be walking the dog, we might see somebody. But we see our neighbors more often in town than we do in our own neighborhood, which is kind of ironic.

DS: Yes, it is.

DP: And so I'm intrigued by the bees. When you first said 'bees', I thought, oh, they're people. But I had a sense it was something different than that. And the bees are this blindness that we think we don't need somebody else, because we've got these material advantages. We don't have to go to the neighbor to borrow something, because we can buy it.

DS: That's right. And there's sort of a reticence to get involved. And if I stop to help somebody, they could attack me or they could rob me or there could be a problem or they could ask more from me than I'm prepared to give, because I have to be at a meeting, you know. The pace of life here militates against the kind of thoughtful openness to other people and relationships with people.

DP: At the root is, in part, it's a distrust.

DS: That's an element of it.

DP: Or not safe. And that's probably a better characterization, it's just not safe to interact with people you don't know well. You know, don't talk to strangers. Don't take rides from strangers.

DS: Don't pick up hitchhikers.

DP: Don't pick up hitchhikers. I can think of another side of that as well. I work now, it's a fairly new job for me and it's really been a wonderful experience, I'm working at the local hospice as a volunteer coordinator. And that is such, David, it's such joyous work, because here, in some cases, at long last, a family discovers how much they care about each other.

DS: Yes.

DP: And it's free. It's given so freely. It's not oh, god -- one family that we're working with, the daughter and her husband moved from Alaska down here just to be with mom and mother-in-law. And there isn't even a hint in their voices that maybe there were some big sacrifices they made, which obviously there had to have been. This is what we needed to do, we need to be here.

And the person that's on hospice, the mom, is seeing people so willingly give of themselves. And yet, with all that, in this family it was a little easier for that to all happen, it wasn't unusual in this family for people to act that way with each other, even before she was struck with a disease that was going to give her only a few months to live, but one of the chief concerns for a new hospice patient is that they don't want to ask. They don't want to impose. They don't want to be a burden on their family. That it's just not -- they want to allow them, the family to have the independence they think is so important.

And yet the thing the family, and one of the things we have to educate the new hospice patients about, is the thing that the family wants the most is to be asked. Not in every case. Sometimes things are just so, there isn't a bandwidth to do what they'd otherwise want. But in most cases, they want to be able to help.

DS: Yes. And we have to negotiate permission to help and to be helped. It's an interesting dynamic.

My wife has been through breast cancer on two occasions. And the first time, I mean, we sort of perceived ourselves as the helpers in our neighborhood, in our community. And to have to be the helpee was disorienting for a little while. But, you know, you don't learn all of life's lessons from a position of strength. You can learn some very subtle, refined, vital lessons from a position of frailty. And you learn to reach out past yourself to your family, friends, neighbors. Or even to the transcendent. You know, some of those illusions begin to strip away.

DP: I love what you said, that you don’t learn all of life's lessons from a position of strength, because that relates so directly to our honey, that puts us in danger.

DS: Mm-hmmm.

DP: And if we were to take the same individuals that grew up in Haiti and have them be born in our culture, they wouldn't have just what they have in Haiti. And they have learned lessons from a position of frailty and of what we would consider to be extreme disadvantage. And had those things not been the case, you'd wonder if -- how difficult it would be to learn those lessons.

DS: Yes, yes. That's right. So they have something to share with the rest of the world, if the world will listen. And being able to tell their story is really a joy.

DP: Are they great storytellers?

DS: Yeah, I think they are. But the story of their life and the dimensions of their life, they're utterly invisible to people here in the Midwest. It's a joy to be able to tell that story in words and pictures. And all we know is the things, the headlines that we read in the paper. About this disaster and that tyrant and this corruption and --

DP: Well, you know, that's such a critical message and important message for us. That is what we see.

DS: Yes, it is.

DP: In Centered on the Edge, we made a clear choice at one point, which I thought about many times since, to not put pictures of people in the book. And the thinking was that we were so bombarded with images of malnourished infants in developing countries. Or the other side, even to the point where now, now we don't see the malnourished infants as much as we see those that hint at the possibility of health and well-being in those societies, where you see the bright eyes and the wonderful, beautiful children of various colors. And the thought was, well, we don't want, it's exploitative to do this. So let's not have pictures of people, we'll need to have abstract and natural images.

And you've just really given me a perspective that will be helpful, I think, in this. Because I missed, the truth is, I missed the pictures of people. And yet I didn't know how to counter that perspective, that these are exploitative images. That when they're there, they're there for purposes of manipulation.

DS: And they've been used that way, they certainly have.

DP: So this opens up a whole new realm for us. And maybe some of the pictures that you'll send will -- because it sounds like all or most of your pictures are with and of people.

DS: Yes, they are. And I can find the ones that will tug at people's heartstrings, but what I really look for is the dignity, the common humanity that we all share.

DP: I love that.

DS: And, yeah, that really works for me. It's such a paradox, though. Here's another story about what the media, the gift and the shortcoming of media coverage.

My wife was in Haifa, Israel this spring for five weeks. And while she was there, there was a suicide bombing in Haifa. I had a call from a family member who told me to go look at CNN, there was a bombing, you better find out what's going on with Melanie. So I went, I saw the footage, I saw the tangled wreckage and everything, people running around. And I called her. And she was at work, she was working in the Bahá’í International Headquarters, on the side of Mt. Carmel. And she says, Why are you calling me? We just talked yesterday. I said, Melanie, do you know what's going on? She said, No. What's going on? And I told her the story and she said, Oh. I thought there were more sirens than usual.

So you have this paradox. Because I could see, in vivid detail what was going on in her neighborhood and she didn't see it. But, I only saw one slice of that reality, magnified a thousand times. And for other people around me, they always ask, aren't you worried about Melanie being there? And I say, no, not really. Nope. Because there's so much richness there. And it's a paradox. It's a paradox. You've got to learn to use these things the right way.

DP: Wow.

DS: But the media has such power to tell a good story.

DP: Yeah. And we so rarely hear the good story.

DS: I'm afraid that's true. And the commercialization of things. It almost is evocative of the decline of Rome in a way. You know, where you throw people to the lions for entertainment. For stimulation. And so there's this kind of, almost a coarseness or a crassness about a lot of what's on television. And the films, that's evocative of that for me. And, you know, it's part of that disintegrative process, perhaps. And the trick for me, as an old 60s person who wanted to tear it all down and protest and all that stuff? No, it's wiser just to find the integrative places where you can work. Things will disintegrate quite nicely by themselves. Without your help.

And that's why I admire this, the collective work of Centered on the Edge. This is such a nice, integrative piece. An exploration. A seeking together to understand. I'm -- it's terrific.

DP: What I have an image of, all these, in my hospice work, I get to see all these pockets that nobody see, you know. Of families coming together. And people say, well, how can you do that, it must be very hard. And, for me, it's a position of privilege to be able to see these pockets of wholeness and of love. And of commitment without obligation. And it's invisible. It's pretty much invisible. I see my hospice, some of the family members from hospice in the grocery store and for crazy Western ideas of confidentiality, we're not supposed to say, Oh, hi, how's your Mom and hope she's doing better, because that's confidential. And so that part of the relationship, unless you have an agreement that that's okay, it doesn't come out. And so it's so bizarre to know, to look at somebody that you know in another context and you see them in the grocery store and you have, nobody else would have any idea. Not even a clue. As to the richness and the warmth and the healing that's going on in that household. But we've just totally put it out of our sight. We're learning to do it better, I mean, hospice is a fairly new movement. But we used to, in every context, just put death out of our awareness.

DS: Oh, yes.

DP: And here's the integrative and the disintegrative together again. Because you don't experience that level of integration without the disintegration.

DS: Paradox again, isn't it? It is.

DP: Yeah. And we're so successful, our honey has kept us from being able to have to experience the disintegrative side, so we don't get the real fruits of that.

DS: Uh-huh. In a sense, I mean, the word that keeps coming back into my head is authentic. So you have a crisis and that brings you to an authentic interaction with people that you care about. But it's almost too intimate. More than we can handle in a public way, so when you're in a grocery store, there has to be this mask. And we don't have permission in the culture to express that authenticity of caring and concern.

And that's what I felt in Haiti. I feel so quickly like I'm a member of the community and a member of the family there. And, in casual conversations, I will hear people just sort of nod and smile and they'll say, Ah, he's Haitian. That touches me so much to be received that way.

DP: And the only white face in the crowd and they're saying he's Haitian.

DS: Yes. Exactly right. Exactly right.

DP: That's got to feel wonderful.

DS: They know how to invite you in in a very hospitable way.

DP: There's a quote on the back of Centered on the Edge, over a seascape and it says The sea accepts all rivers.

DS: Yes, yes.

DP: And then it seemed to tie in so well with that scene you described in Haiti, when they say he's one of us. And here you are, a completely different culture and a completely different color. Totally different background and upbringing. And yet totally accepted.

DS: Yes, yes. There's something, again, mystical, magical about the power of love. It just -- and people can resonate to that. Well, no, you have to have the permission of the culture. That culture gives you permission to resonate in a very warm, welcoming way. Here, you can take a long time to get the kind of expression.

But here we have other strengths. So we're at this very exciting age of lending. I mean, think about the churning of the human race. Whether it's a positive movement of immigrants with abilities seeking a new opportunity. Or whether it's a negative movement of refugees being cast out of their own country as paupers, the world is just being mixed around and around and around. And our old ways of thinking, old institutions that were narrow in scope -- the new circumstances just don't fit the model. And so it's no wonder that our schools are stressed and our government institutions are stressed and not knowing quite how to accommodate.

But it's a fact of life in pretty much around the world, I guess. Not a whole lot of immigration to Haiti, I'll grant you that. But in many other places. And this all seems part of that grand design as well.

DP: What, if you were to send a message to those of us who are involved in this work, to help us move along in this work and guide us in our work, what message would you send?

DS: Wow. I would send an invitation to come to Haiti. But my sense is that this is probably a group of people -- now, I've got a very small sample here. I don't really know the kinds of folks. But judging by the name and having met just a couple of people -- Chris, coming from Indian background -- I suspect there's already an appreciation for diversity and different cultures. And an eye that is ready to behold the unity of things as opposed to differences, which can separate us. And with that feeling, all I would say to people is keep up the good work. This is really, really important. And I admire the work so far and just keep it up.

DP: Good, thank you. One of the things, I think I mentioned it in our first conversation, that we're beginning to move in other ways, other than simply collecting stories from interviews like yours and mine now on the telephone. Or even face-to-face, one-on-one interviews, but expand the field somewhat to an area -- we're calling Eyewitness accounts, Eyewitness reports. Which doesn’t really quite speak to what it is, but it's not just a conversation, not just an interview. It's not an intervention, because I hate that term 'intervention', because it makes an assumption that somebody knows what's best for somebody else.

But it's a call to participation in a special way. A call to participate in a way that informs those of us who are doing the participating, to a degree where the essence of what we've learned and gathered can be taken forward. And so it's like eyewitness in the sense of we were there. Not just a conversation, but we were there and we can say this is what we learned and what we found there. And as much as possible convey that.

And how we do that, we don't know yet. I mean, one is conversations like this. Another is a conversation not just with the two of us, but I could imagine, I'm looking at a picture of you and Loulou and Pierre and Marius, a conversation not just with the five of us, but with more people in the Haitian community. Because there's more, there's so much more depth that can be gained beyond a few simple conversations. And it's more than a conversation, it's more -- like the photographer taking a picture, that's an act that changes the locale in which the photograph is being taken, so we need to do that very respectfully. And a recognition that whatever we do affects the system that we're in, either positively or negatively.

DS: It does, indeed.

DP: And so, with that thought in mind, that we're wanting to create these eyewitness accounts that are more than just simple conversation, but more direct participation, in a respectful way, we hope, any thoughts about that that would help guide us?

DS: Well, a couple of things just from my experience here. And I think maybe we've touched on them earlier, but one is we're bringing to this conference in December in Orlando, Marius and one of the teachers to participate in a panel discussion (it'll have to be translated; Pierre's going to be there) to share the perspective of people who are in a sense developers in their own communities. But they're also partners in this grander scheme that's good both for Pichon and for Lansing. And to be, have people there, you come there or whatever, to just be participants, that would be a way to see and touch and feel some of the experiences.

Another thought is we have a professional videographer who's clearly interested, she has her own small business. And she's interested in helping to tell this story on video, professional quality. Broadcast quality. Because she thinks it's an interesting story. And can go to a wider audience and awaken similar kinds of things or maybe there's a model of some principles here that we're beginning to make explicit for ourselves.

So helping us to find resources so that Roxanne can afford to go and make this video for us, that might be another piece of it.

You know, I'm pleased that you're interested in putting some of my photos on a website that will tell part of the story, too. Because however I can share the story, with whomever I can share the story, I think we're developing - and it's probably not unique to us - but we are part of the unfolding of some new approaches to development that uplift the community, it's not just money going in and charity that disrupts the culture. But it's this sense of respectful partnership and purity of motive in service where people learn together.

And I can't remember, I've got a handout that I've used in a couple of Bahá’í meetings where I've presented all of this stuff. Did I send you something called Service to Humanity? There are three or four quotes from Bahá’í writings and then--

DP: Oh, I think so. It was something in electronic form, you mean?

DS: Yes.

DP: Yes.

DS: And it talks about organic growth and capacity building and learning and those kinds of things. Those just really resonate. We learned a lot of this stuff through just -- it's not quite trial and error, but thoughtful discussion and adapting as we learned new principals and got these principles into practice. I think they're thoughtful approaches. And it's not because it's Bahá’í, but because it's probably the right approach that needs to be tested, in a sort of a scientific way.

So I want to get that kind of information out to people. And you have the Forbes article? Is that the one that, the interview with the World Bank executive?

DP: Yeah.

DS: That sort of looks at the billions, $30 billion dollars--

DP: In fact, I'm looking at a piece of that article here and the headline says A Trillion Here, a Trillion There.

DS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

DP: And Venezuelan, Bolivian and Argentina and Zambia and how not to do it.

DS: Yes. So it suggests that money is important, but money is not the answer. And that relationships are important. And how we can -- what's the way to say it? Demystify this -- or give people permission or encouragement to go and -- it's easy to find somebody from another culture. They live in our neighborhoods now. They do to, they're working on advanced degrees in our universities. And you can make friends with these people and you can show them hospitality here. And then they'll go home and you can go home with them and learn about their culture. And just replicates this model.

DP: We see that happen sort of informally, even professionally through -- my wife teaches at the university here and the university's got a number of foreign students. And when it comes time for a faculty member to take a sabbatical, often he'll go visit a former student.

DS: Wonderful.

DP: And that's sort of a completing of the circle. But it's the circle that keeps going, it's not just that’s the end after you've reciprocated in that way. There's a page I'm looking at in Centered on the Edge. It's called Field of Intentions. And there are a series of four questions that we asked a number of people and I'm really interested in the fourth question.

DS: What page would that be on?

DP: It's on page 64.

DS: 64, okay.

DP: When you get to it, you see those four bulleted questions?

DS: Yes, right at the top.

DP: What's the nature of your work? What's brought you to the work? What is your approach or practices you use? And I just realized, I want to ask you about the third one just briefly, but what I want to make sure we get to before we end is, if there were a central organizing question that's underpinning your work, what would that be? And since I've asked that, we can come back to that, rather than -- So, what would the question be for you?

DS: What would be the question?

DP: Instead of looking for, we're not asking for an answer, because questions are so much more provocative and fruitful sometimes than answers. So what would your question be relating to your work?

DS: Ahhh.

DP: There's a whole list of, a pageful of questions there that we heard from other people.

DS: I gotcha.

DP: What’s yours…

DS: For me, I think it would be how does this work move us closer to realizing the oneness of human kind?

DP: I'm writing. How does this work move us closer to realizing the oneness of human kind?

DS: Yes.

DP: Wow. That's a great question.

DS: Because it's not really, I mean, there's sort of this dangerous thing about development being something that developed people do to underdeveloped people. And that's flawed. It's how do we find our essential oneness and learn from each other?

And that releases such great positive, constructive energy.

DP: And that's, embedded in that is what your, is the term respect which you'd mentioned before. That's a respectful relationship. And a recognition that there's, you're opening a flow in both directions.

DS: Indeed.

DP: So I do want to ask you about the third question. In your work, however you want to define that, not necessarily just Haiti, what is your approach and practices? What are personal practices you use or group practices that you use that are important in your work?

DS: Well, everything that I do is really coming from the foundation of Bahá’í principles and practices. So it's this recognition of our oneness. It's a high value for service to others. It's a consultative process. Not, 'I got all the answers', but 'we have all the answers'. It's those, the processes of development capture it fairly well. It's about learning. About humility. And the prayerful attitude really helped to foster that. The prayerfulness, the consciousness of sort of our transcendent reality make it easier to let go of things that I'm attached to. Let go of fears. Be open to the possibilities.

DP: Tell me a little bit about that, when you say 'prayerful attitude', what images and what practices come to mind for you?

DS: Well, regular, there are some Bahá’í prayers that I say every day. And when I go into, like the town hall meeting or the meeting, when we visited here in June, I tried to take a moment to reflect, get in tune with some transcendent energy, if you will. Be in touch with god - the words get clumsy sometimes, because it's all past connotations. But just that feeling of being part of a much larger process and asking to be guided. To say, to do the right thing.

DP: I have a sense that's something that you do with some regularity when you're there. The asking to be guided.

DS: Yes. Try to do that here, too. Just ask to be guided. And some days I'm more artful at that than others. [laughs] That's my goal.

DP: And one of the paradoxes that some of the times when it seems you're most un-artful are some of the -- is most artful.

DS: I know. [laughs]

DP: Because that's where the fruit is. The fruit is in the tough spot sometimes.

DS: Yeah, that's right. That's right.

DP: And when it's easy, you're not learning.

DS: Mm-hmm.

DP: Well, we're just about exactly at our hour and a half and that's where I promised you we would be closing near there. And it feels like a good place to be closing here. Any last thoughts?

DS: Well, that I hope to stay connected here and I'm interested in sort of the collective learning, too. So I don't know if there are any gatherings like at Fetzer Institute or something. That might be an interesting thing to do. If you had the wherewithal and I don't know what the resources are, but to have an open conference kind of thing, where people could sign up. Melanie has had some extraordinary experiences in different arenas and we think about this stuff and talk about it all the time. Just, you know, collective wisdom and collective intelligence, spiritual wisdom. And there are the folks, it might just be fun to have an open meeting somehow.

DP: Yeah, all of us, inviting all of us that have a connection to this work. That'd be really interesting. We're just now in the stages of trying to figure out what it is that we are going to be doing and ought to be doing. And so the form hasn't quite emerged yet in all respects, but I'm really intrigued by this idea. Without having to define it too narrowly.

DS: Yes, yes.

DP: For all those who have been involved and touched by Centered on the Edge or the work that has touched by Centered on the Edge, where it touches on an open invitation to gather. I like that concept.

DS: Well, the change process -- you know, so much of it I think it networking like-minded people. You know, finding each other, being attracted to each other, sharing ideas, pondering the same imponderable questions. Pichon, Pichon wasn't a random selection, either. Loulou identified a village that he knew personally where people were just kind of -- they were open, they were honest, they were ready. And we connected and things just blossomed there. And there are lots of other stories to tell about that, some of them a little narrative and just others where [unintelligible].

DP: It's a fertile ground. You say that, I think of a picture, we're talking about spring growth. That there's -- and this not being a random choice that you chose Pichon to visit and work with. Knowing that it's springtime, if you're going to select a place to be in springtime, you select a fertile area.

DS: Yes, that's right, that's right. Where the soil has been tilled a little bit.

DP: And where there's great potential. With the right fertilizer in both directions. We provide some fertilizer in terms of know-how, perhaps, but in monetary resources and they provide fertilizer for us to bring back into our own backyards.

DS: In terms of insight and wisdom and a modeling of a behavior that--

DS: -- I don't know if you've traveled internationally very much in other cultures, but, gee, you learn so much about your own when you --

DP: That is where you learn.

DS: Oh, you do.

DP: Because when you're in it, it's just fish in the water.

DS: That's exactly right, don't notice it.

DP: Yeah.

DP: But step outside and oh, my gosh, these are quite different ways to handle the routine things of life. Amazing.

DP: Well, David, this has been wonderful talking.

DS: I've enjoyed it very much, Dave.

DP: And I am thinking about going to the Florida conference. I'll talk to Sheryl about that a little bit. We wanted to know that what the, to know that the next step that we might take is in line with what we see emerging in our work. And it seems to me that it is. And I guess a little bit closer to what we're calling an Eyewitness Account.

DS: You would find a lot of kindred souls with a lot of different stories to tell across dozens of different countries and cultures. And, in fact, the website now mentions our project. And I got a copy of their brochure that's printed and it lists the Balthazars and Marius as facilitators.

DP: I saw that your project was mentioned on the website when I took a peek at it. So don't be surprised if we send somebody, which I hope -- it would be me if somebody goes. And I'm wanting to go. And I'd love to meet you in person and meet Marius and the other teacher from Pichon, too.

And I'm assuming we have -- Sheryl asked me this -- if you go, will there be time for you to just be with them and not just sitting in chairs at the conference together? And I said I'm certain that would be the case.

DS: The conference itself is designed for sharing. It's not a lecture kind of format. And I'm sure there'll be informal time as well.

[colloquy re: timing/scheduling]

DP: This has been great. I look forward to more conversations, however we do it. And do send me your, if you can manage to do it, send me copies of your photos and I'll get them scanned and put them up for others to see of our group and, of course, I'll let you see that as well.

And I'm imagining also the quotes that you sent me with that document, that gives in essence some of the Bahá’í philosophy, those belong somewhere around the pictures as well. I'm not sure what form exactly this would take. I promised Sheryl that we would keep it simple, but I've got all these imaginations of what it could be. This was just going to be a place to just put documents up and a few photos. And I've got, I'm just starting to build something a little bit more than that, which is kind of fun.

DS: Keeping life simple is probably one of the most complicated things we have to do right now.


DP: That is so true. That is so true. Yes. They say it's hard work in writing, it's easy to write a long piece, it's not easy to write a short piece.

DS: Yes, exactly.

DP: Because it takes much more time to write a short piece. Because you take out the unnecessary parts.

DS: Yes.

DP: Well, David, I'll let you get back to your evening, what's left of it for you. You don't have much of it left, it's 20 to 10 there.

DS: Right, but I've enjoyed this very much.

DP: Me, too.

DS: And look forward to further communications and I'll get some pictures off in the next few days for you.

DP: That's great.

DS: Okay?

DP: Okay, thank you, David.

DS: Thanks, Dave. Bye, now.

[End of call]

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