Being Alien: An Essay in Progress

Today, while doing my morning exercises, I clicked through Netflix and ended up watching “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon.” It’s a fascinating documentary about an anthropologist’s first interaction with one of the isolated tribes of the region. But my interest wasn’t only intellectual. I was curious about how the tribe Daniel and I had once met might have fared. (To read a bit about our experience in the Amazon, please go to a lighthearted piece I did for Lawrence Schoen’s Eating Authors.)

According to “First Contact,” an Amazon region of about 30,000 square miles (spread across the border between Brazil and Peru) is home to the majority of “uncontacted” people in the planet. Uncontacted means that we have no records of any interaction between them and the outside modern world. However, many (if not most) have been watching us for a long time. Read More

Tell Me Your Story

According to rumor, Mr. Rogers carried this quote from the author Mary Lou Kownacki in his wallet: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love, once you’ve heard their story.” Whether or not he did, it’s a lovely thought that reflects an important pillar of my life’s work.

We all judge strangers based on our initial impression of them. Their physical appearance. Their smile or frown or vacant stare. What they are wearing. How they carry themselves or the sound of their voice. It’s a natural instinctive reaction to new stimuli that I suppose helped our ancestors when we were hunter/gatherers, when new encounters could lead to life or death decisions.

Though we have evolved since then, modern life is so busy and complex, that it’s often easier (and less time-consuming) to fall back on those outdated survival instincts. However, cutting ourselves off from the potential such encounters can offer makes our world smaller and diminishes our opportunities (social, cultural and economic). It turns the grand adventure our lives can be into a mere existence in which we rigidly remain who and what we are, never learning, never growing and having far less fun.

What’s more, you never know who you might meet.

That’s one of the reasons I often shake things up in my workshops and lectures, sometimes asking people to sit next to someone they’ve never met. Then, to introduce themselves, and tell the other person one fact a stranger might never guess just by looking at them. Learning another person’s story is a beginning; where it might lead is anyone’s guess.

So, tell me your story. What would surprised me, or fascinate me, or give me a clue about your inner self that I don’t yet know about you?