Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The People in Your Neighborhood

How many of you are old enough to remember the song “Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood” that was on Sesame Street years go?

And how many of you remember a movie from 2001 named K-PAX, in which Kevin Spacey plays the role of Prot, a patient at a mental hospital who claims to be from a distant planet by the name of K-PAX?  When the movie ends, the viewer is not sure if Prot is crazy or an actual extraterrestrial.

Both of these ideas coalesced in an unusual way as I rode a bus into downtown Calgary at 6:45 this morning when a man not dissimilar to Kevin Spacey sat down beside me.

After a few minutes and as a commuter deposited her fare into the fare box, this man looked at her, looked at me and said, quite matter-of-factly, “I am surprised that you still use money”.

In the wee hours of a commute into the city, I wasn’t sure how to respond so I took the most logical choice possible and one typical of a commuter. 

I didn’t say anything.

My choice of playing it safe was met with a question: “Why do you think that is?”

Realizing that being the quiet commuter minding my own business wasn’t going to work, I replied, “Why do I think what is?”.  Ooops .. did that sound too snappy?

“Why are you still using money?”

Not knowing if the guy was pulling my leg, looking to start a fight with a businessman representing “the system” or was experiencing a personal malfunction in some way, I responded with a comment along the lines of “What else would we use?”

What ensued in the next 30 minutes or so was an unusual conversation, freely and easily shifting subjects between money and poverty, faith and faithlessness, abundance and scarcity and love and war.

He was disarmingly easy to engage, informed, logical and insightful and I found the conversation to be intriguing and stimulating.  He had a gaze that was a little unusual – there was a fire burning inside his mind that was compelling to engage with and his eyes were the type that bore right through you.

Of all the subjects we covered, there were two things that stood out in our conversation.

At one point in the conversation, I noticed he used the “royal we” and the “royal you”, seeming to differentiate between two societies, his and mine.  There was a suggestion that “we” had figured it out while “you” would figure it out soon enough but not until “you” were forced to.  But, as he pointed out at one point, “we’re always around to help if you need it”.

Before I could ask what he meant by that, he signalled the bus driver that he wanted to get off at the next stop.  As he stood up, he looked at me and thanked me for the conversation.  He then said “You’ll find Calgary very interesting compared to New York”, wished me a good day and exited the bus.

As he left, I thought, “What made him make the connection between me and my many years in New York?”.  I don’t have a New York accent.  I didn’t mention it once in our interaction nor do I use my cellphone on the bus where someone could glean my background by overhearing a conversation or reading something over my shoulder.

“Weird”, I thought and shrugged it off.

I didn’t give it much thought until returning home on the bus this evening and he came to mind.

As I replayed our conversation in my mind, it seemed that he was suggesting that he was from a superior race to mine but at some point we would have an opportunity to catch up or learn something from them.

Uh huh.

The chances are much better that I had entertained a delusional or lonely person, perhaps with a prescription that needed to be refilled or a hunger for companionship.

I mean, if we were to be contacted by “someone” from “somewhere else”, wouldn’t it be with fireworks, brass bands and gift exchanges on the White House lawn (assuming they came in peace)?

Isn’t that the way galactic diplomacy is done?

Then I thought about something else.

Whether or not he was who he was implying to be is not important.

What is important is that in that brief 30 minutes, he challenged my way of thinking and my perception of things that we don’t put enough attention into in the course of our busy day-to-day existence.

Which reminds me that the simple and the mundane all around us can provide triggers to higher levels of thinking, thinking that can produce solutions to many of our societal challenges if we allow our minds to go where they need to go.

Or if we allow our minds to be guided as mine was today.

So was I sharing a seat with Prot who beamed back to K-PAX after leaving the bus or was I sharing time with a sad, lonely person trying to fit into our world?

Does it really matter or is it more important to consider the gift of the exchange itself, an exchange that I found enjoyable, thought-provoking and stimulating?

I think it is better to accept the gift that is offered instead of wondering about the motive of the bearer of that gift.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,



  1. Harry, first of all I want to commend you. You could have went several other directions with this encounter. For instance, you could have concentrated on the man himself (such as whether or not he is "crazy", an "alien" or something altogether different). Instead you chose a different, more productive, approach... to learn from him no matter who or what he is. Also, at no point did you treat this him or the situation with anything but respect. You were one uniquely ready to handle and learn from such an extraordinary situation.

    No matter what the man was, at the point when you were talking to him, he was a sociologist. He was examining a culture from the outside. People like this can help us examine preconceptions that we hold that we don't even know about.

    I'm sure you a familiar with the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This man, for one reason or another, seems to have appeared at a time when you are examining a lot of things about what our next step is. You call this step The Great Correction. If I believed in coincidences, I could say this was definitely one.

    My questions are as follows:
    What particular topics were discussed?
    Did you have any particular "Aha!" moments during your encounter?
    Did your encounter solidify or augment any ideas that you were working on?
    Now that you've had time to digest things, has this lead to any additional insights?
    Do you have any clue how to contact this person?

    Thanks again for this great post.

  2. Hi Nathan,

    Thank you for your kind words - I apologize for my delay in responding.

    I never thought of the idea of him being the sociologist until you pointed it out - I like your insight. You are right - he was examining our society - regardless of how or what we might perceive of him.

    So ... on to your questions ...

    1. Particular topics:

    He wanted my opinion on why money was a motivator and why the notion of doing the right thing based on an alignment with personal purpose wasn't satisfaction enough. My counter was that while this was a noble concept, it wouldn't pay my bills or anyone else's. He felt this was a shortsighted outlook that is contributing to the rationalization for greed.

    In regards to faith, we discussed the possibility that we have mistakenly or intentionally distorted our representation of the divine and in truth (according to him), the divine is actually far beyond our ability to define or understand. He was adamant against the construct of the man made Church, as he felt that it promoted the false notions that have been built up around the divine. He also made some observations about the artificial separation between the divine and science and that both state the same thing from different perspectives and that we would see it if we lowered our biases towards one or the other. The concept of "the devil" and "hell" was fascinating to him. As he pointed out "why would an all loving God, made of perfection (according to our definition) create such an abomination". I have no answer for this.

    He was fairly disgusted with the level of poverty in the world, pointing out that we don't have a food shortage but rather a sharing shortage. I can't disagree with this.

    His observations about love were intriguing ... that in fact the concept of love and the concept of the divine are actually connected in a way. He thought that the concept of exclusive love, especially between a committed pair (either same sex or opposite) was an archaic one based on old principles built more around the control of people and is in violation of the natural wiring of human beings. He said that at some point, "we" would learn that it is natural to love many in different ways, to serve different needs but that this wouldn't happen until "we" had significantly matured. He also mentioned something that I have thought about - that the concept of love is transient and purpose-filled - that when people fall out of love (creating the grief of divorce / separation / etc) we are fighting a natural process. The relationship has served its purpose and we should acknowledge this instead of fighting it.

    We had some discussions around abundance and scarcity, which, to be honest, sounded like I was listening to someone teach the Secret (which I am NOT a fan of). However, the difference between what we know as The Secret, or positive thinking, etc. was correct in principle but we had the execution all wrong. When I politely asked for a correction to the execution, I was informed that this was a learned behavior, not a taught behavior. Who do we learn from??????

    ... to be continued

  3. ... continued

    We talked about war and I made an observation that it was a natural human tendency for a variety of reasons. After all, we learn this in many different offerings in our educational institutions. He said that acceptance of this condones and encourages this belief and that such behavior is not found in "advanced people".

    Those were the primary points and much of the rest of the conversation was around proving his points. He felt that we just didn't get it but in our arrogance, believed that we have it all figured out. It is our arrogance, he claimed, that would be our downfall. I pressed to understand what "downfall" implied but he was elusive on the definition of it.

    As for AHA moments, I can't say I had any in the definition of AHA moments. What was disturbing about his comments is that fundamentally, they seemed right and irrefutable. What is disturbing about such a conclusion is that if that is the case, then why aren't we doing it? Of course, nothing is as simple as that but he sure made it seem simple. It does come down to choice - choices that we don't make. However, do we not make them for good reason, because they are too complicated, because we are too selfish or because we are too lazy? I don't have the answer although I could tell by the way this guy talked that he was disappointed that we weren't living up to our potential. In a way, I felt like I was being politely lectured.

    As for solidifying my own personal beliefs, some of his comments resonated with a personal belief of mine, especially in the areas of poverty, hunger and such (which is MORE than within our reach to solve). Stuff like his observations on war and such seemed too simplistic to me but then again, maybe my thinking is part of the problem as he pointed out. His thoughts on religion resonated with me to some extent along the lines of people who use religion as a hammer. I also believe that the divine is far larger and much more complex than we can hope to understand - those who claim to understand the divine are elevating themselves to the same level and I don't buy that. As I said earlier, his observations are irrefutable. Does that make them right? Not at all. I could say that because I pull out my guitar and play 2 songs a year, I am keeping elephants out of my neighborhood. The fact that there are no elephants in my neighborhood doesn't mean my assertion is correct.

    I have made a point of watching for this guy and have not seen him since. There was an elderly lady watching us chat and I have noticed on a couple of mornings that she is looking at me like she wants to ask me a question about our interaction. I was thinking this morning when I noticed her looking at me that I wanted to ask her about him, what she thought of our conversation, etc. but it might look a little kooky and so I have said nothing.

    To be continued .....

  4. ... continued

    As for contacting the guy, I haven't the sweet foggiest. That's why I watch for him. Many people reading this blog believe that he actually was a "visitor", contacting me in a waking state. Many tell me that they believe it was an angel or guardian angel, letting me know that "people" are observing me. My blog is read by many people of all walks of life, educated and not, and surprisingly VERY few suggested it was a guy who was crazy. As a strategy guy, I need more evidence. People who know me know that I am painfully pragmatic about stuff like this ... show me proof or don't bother me. I have some personal experience with the "visitor" phenomenon, but as people who know me will tell you, I am a pain in the butt when acknowledging something that everyone else tells me is obvious.

    Thanks for your questions, Nathan. There is more I can write but my response is already getting lengthy. I would like to talk to this guy again. Will I? I guess it depends on a lot of things, most of which are beyond my control.

    I will say that if I see him again, my pragmatic side will demand more answers – I was caught off guard the last time but I’ll be ready the next time. :-)

    Maybe that condemns me to never see him again. Maybe he contacts people only once and moves on.

    Time will tell.

    Take care and create a great day!


  5. Another note ....

    Some years ago, I agreed to a hypnotherapy session to root out some memories from years gone by. After the session, which apparently was terrifying to people who witnessed it but which I have no memory of, I was violently ill for several days after. For reasons I found intriguing, when I awoke the morning after I wrote my response to Nathan's questions, I felt exactly the same way as I did after the hypnotherapy session. Interesting coincidence.