While working for American Airlines, Jonathan realized he didn’t have enough time to fully enjoy each destination he traveled to. That’s when he decided to focus on people instead. Meeting and connecting with at least one person on his journeys blossomed into a philosophy.
Jonathan noticed that the more he listened and the more people he connected with that had different points of view and different values, the more he learned and the more he grew as a person.
He continued this practice until the Covid lockdown and then, instead of stopping, he decided to find people in his community to connect with. He began interviewing and active listening in earnest, driving twenty minutes to five hours in order to meet with people.
Jonathan took advantage of the division and polarization that people were feeling, attempting to fix as much as he could. This is his cause. Conversational Activism. He wants to face division head-on to right the wrong.
Jonathan realizes that the easy thing to do, when faced with someone who has a difference of opinion is to say: “They’re different from me. I disagree with them or they don’t see things how I see them. And that’s fine. Let’s just agree to disagree.” And he knows we’ve all heard that, but he thinks that’s wrong.
He thinks that’s the wrong approach. He started conversations as an activism because the only way that we can come together and the only way that we can fight this division that we have is by sitting down and actually having a conversation with those that we disagree with. Those that are different than us and talking, sitting down and talking to these people, not with the intent of arguing or debating, or even trying to change their minds or convince them otherwise. Not at all. The point of the conversation is to learn from them. Learn and listen with the intent to find something in common with them.
This is what he’s dedicated his life to. He’s not a journalist. He’s not a politician. He doesn’t work for any newspaper. None of this is his profession. He’s an aviation engineer, but that’s just the thing, that’s what qualifies him to do this. It’s that he doesn’t have an agenda. He considers himself a no-one. That’s what qualifies him to have these conversations, because if we really want to see change in unity, it’s not going to come from our leaders. It’s not going to come from the people on top. It’s going to come from you and me.
The people he listens to feel the way they do for a reason, and that’s valid. He listens to their journey. When was it that they made the decision about what they were going to stand for? When he finds that, he finds a reflection of himself.
Jonathan’s conversational activism began when a very close friend of his approached him one day before the election and said, “Hey, we’ve never talked about this but this is how I feel about what’s going on in the world today, revolving around the election and stuff.”
And Jonathan responded with, “okay, great!” And his friend was expecting him to react or something, because they were on opposite ends. But Jonathan told him that they were friends before he shared his opposing view, so why would anything be different after? It didn’t matter who each person voted for when they became friends, so why should it matter now?
On a smaller level, he compares the world’s division to that of a classroom, where you walk into the classroom and it’s divided. On one side, there is one group. And on the other side there is a different group. When you walk into the classroom, the environment is gravitating you to join one side. If we go to the left, we’ll be in that group. And we’ll have a support system because we have the people that are on that side, they’ll have our back and then we can attack the other side together. We can say whatever we want about the other side, because we don’t need to worry about them. We have our own support system. That’s the easy thing to do.
And that’s what Jonathan perceives the problem to be. Nowadays it’s so easy to say that HE believe this and they believe that. But he’s never been one to blame. He doesn’t point fingers at the media and claim it’s their fault, etc. Jonathan sees that a lot of the problems in the world are direct reflections of us. There’s not one person to blame, it’s all of us for jumping on one particular bandwagon.
The hardest thing to do is to actually sit there and listen to both sides, and try to comprehend, try to understand them. And it’s liberating. It’s liberating, and it’s true freedom to be able to decide for yourself, or just simply listen without the lens of “they are wrong and I am right”.
Really be who you want to be instead of representing just one side, which is polarizing.
So in his conversations the thing he looks for is the commonality. He tres to find something that they can both share. A passion, an interest…. whatever. Something that they can find in common. But if he can’t find that, he simply listens.
During most of the conversation, he is not talking at all. He’s just listening. They’re controlling the narrative. They’re the ones that are directing the conversation, and that’s fine. Usually it begins a little intense in the sense that they really want to throw their ideas on him, their opinions, and maybe they want to get a reaction out of him.
And as hard as it is, he doesn’t react because he’s there to listen. Jonathan doesn’t mince words. He’s the first to admit that it’s hard to just listen. Just listen and hold space for them and their views or even their anger. But he needs to stay true to that, to witnessing, otherwise it would compromise his mission. He’s not there to debate them, he’s there to listen. But he’s not there to compromise his own beliefs either.
The people he listens to feel the way they do for a reason, and that’s valid. That’s what he attempts to find. He listens to their journey, and listens to their life. What was it that led them to this point? What happened in their life for them to think the way that they do? Or when was it that they made the decision about who they’re going to be, and what they’re going to stand for? He tries to find that. And in doing so, he finds a reflection of himself because like you, like all of us, they’ve had to make that decision. At some point, we all had to make the decision as to what stance we want to have. What do we want to stand for? Or what don’t we want to stand for? Same idea. So he tries to find that. And when he does, he finds himself. At that moment, that’s where we can find the commonality.
When he finds that, he creates what he calls the “leaving the room effect”. In that moment he no longer sees them as someone different and they no longer see him as someone different, each person sees one another as the same. And that’s when the conversation is complete, no matter how long it takes.
So essentially when he leaves the room, he leaves that effect with them. They will still probably have different beliefs. Neither person changed their minds about anything, but they can look back and they can say, “you know what, Jonathan, he’s different, but I like him. He’s a good guy. He listened to me.” And that’s the moment where he creates change and impact. And essentially he can change the world with every conversation he has. If he focuses on that commonality and lets that be the narrative and nothing else.
Jonathan is dedicating his life to this because it’s going to take a lifetime of conversations to be able to do this. But, he’d rather create lasting impact and plant a seed then something that may be instantaneous. Instant results come from arguments and debate which can be an attack and the easy route. The hard thing is to have these conversations.
I’m (KA) going to assert my own “opinion” here as a fiction writer and past TV producer/writer. In fiction and storytelling we are trained to see things in black and white. There is always a hero who is fighting a villain. But what if we’ve taken that too far? What if we’ve looked for that in our personal lives too? That would mean that anyone who doesn’t believe what we believe is a villain. But in reality, life is not black and white and nothing is that simple.
Jonathan believes that division has always existed. But it’s become something that’s so much a part of our lives that it’s becoming harder and harder to avoid it. Harder not to indulge in it. He thinks that 2020 was not the result, but rather like the cherry on top.
But Jonathan firmly believes that there’s always hope. There’s always optimism. That’s why he’s doing what he’s doing. Because if all hope was lost, then there wouldn’t be a point.
And in healing our country, we have to treat it seriously. We have to treat it as an activism, because division is the second pandemic that we’re going through. It’s that big.
Find Jonathan here! Click on his linktree for all his info :)
Community - what does it mean?
On the road, off the road, traversing the world…
I think the first question about community is: What Does Community Mean to You? Because it means something different to each person. Some people define it as a group of like-minded people (ie: writers, artists, rock climbers, etc.). Others define it as a group of close friends. Some define it as family. I have asked myself this question a lot recently.
I watched a couple of vanlife documentaries (links below). Two claimed the only downside (in the opinions of the people being interviewed) to vanlife was a lack of community.
One of the guys defined community as—when people in your neighborhood know your name. Like the local coffeeshop owners, etc. And when you frequent these places you’re able to talk to the people who work there. I definitely have that where I currently live. I know the names of the owners of all my local shops and even became friends with one. I really like them all as people, but it doesn’t amount to much more than small talk.
When I went to Barcelona in 2019 and spent 10 days there, the coffee shop employees at the local cafe also knew my name and made small talk with me. This is not the definition of community for me. I make friends easily so wherever I travel, if I frequent a place several times, I know the proprietor or employees. This is not something that anchors me to a particular town. Small talk, to me, can be shallow.
But when I went to Italy several years ago and sat in a cafe all day to work I befriended the owner (I didn't know he was the owner until a year later due to the language barrier) and the day after we met he took me on a trip, on the back of is moped, to an island! We're still friends, years later and I've gone back to visit him and spend more time on his favorite island. This, I now define as community!
When I lived in Sausalito for 7 years, before moving north-west, I had a small group of friends that would meet every single morning for coffee in a specific coffee shop. I knew that no matter the day, if I showed up, the same 4-7 people would be there and I fit right in. At the time I loved it and was sad to leave until I found out that they were gossiping about me behind my back. It was mostly men, just one woman and apparently they were talking about me inappropriately when I wasn’t there and spreading around some personal tidbits I had confided confidentially. This was the closest I’ve ever come to what I would define as “community” since my divorce 20 years ago, and blech! No thanks!
Back when I was married I had a pretty tight knit community and our house was the cool house, where everyone congregated and hung out and partied. But it wasn’t real. It was centered around using drugs. The “friends” came to our house because we had the good weed and I would cook dinner for all of them, and clean up after them. We also had all the video game systems and would sit around getting high and playing video games for hours. I’m clean and sober and divorced now so none of that happens anymore. I won’t lie though, I loved those nights. I really felt “part of” and I really felt close to those group of friends, who all abandoned me when I left my husband and quit smoking pot.
Since then I’ve developed some very strong friendships with people around the world and people from all walks of life. I don’t have a “community” in the typical sense of the word. I am not close to my family, and my friends don’t know each other. I have one close friend here, another there, etc. I talk to a few people daily but I hadn’t labeled that as my community—until now. These friends will stay my close friends no matter where I go in the world.
So it comes down to the definition. My past definition was a group of people who all know each other and include one another in events, gatherings, hangouts, dinners, etc. But now my definition has morphed.
Part of the reason I wanted to travel was to find a community of like-minded people. But now I realize that’s a myth (at least for me). A dream I can chase but never catch. I am part of several different “groups” that I identify with but I don’t feel like I “belong” to any of them. I feel like I’m on the fringe. Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous for example. When I attend the zoom meetings everyone knows one another and they talk and laugh together. I know many people in the program as I’ve been clean/sober for 12 years but I haven’t felt close to anyone in long time. I realize this is a me problem. And part of this problem, as I stated above, is that I like to go deep. I don’t care much for endless superficial conversations. I also look for commonalities beyond one specific thing such as being sober. Lastly, I have an issue with trust, another me problem, which manifests by me keeping people I don’t know well at a distance.
You know how “they” say: you find out who your true friends are when you’re the most in need. I’ve found that to be true over and over again in my life. Something recently happened to me and I desperately needed emotional support. Several people were there for me and after I recovered and told several more that I hadn’t labeled as close friends, they were there too. It’s interesting that some who I have always been there for and who I was counting on to be there for me, were not. This also helped shape and redefine my definition of community.
I totally get that not everyone can be available when their friends need them and that’s completely understandable. But unless they accept responsibility for their part and communicate, it’s just hurtful. I have a friend who I reached out to years ago in a time of need and she told me “I’m so sorry but I’m just not in the right place to be there for anyone right now. It’s not personal and I love you but I just can’t.” That’s communication. That’s genuine friendship. And, we’re still friends today.
So yes, I’ve redefined what community means for me. My community is growing, transforming and adapting. I think it always will. Currently it consists of people that truly care about me and are able to give, not just receive. Friends that span the globe. Some here in California, one in Ireland, another in Nevada, another in New Mexico and beyond. And these people will come with me on the road, not physically but they’ll be there. They will remain my confidantes, the people I call and turn to in times of need and visa versa. The ones who know I have their backs as much as they have mine. Communication, unconditional love, mutual respect and compassion. That’s how I now define community.
This year’s RTR (Rubber Tramp Rendezvous) and the Homes on Wheels Alliance offer some great classes (free) on YouTube
A couple of #vanlife documentaries I watched on YouTube:
The Reality of #vanlife: This one is super funny!
I Have a Problem with #vanlife: This isn’t a documentary, it's short and I found it helpful:
I haven’t watched this one yet but it looks good and focuses specifically on the #vanlife community. It’s “free” on Amazon Prime: The Meaning of Vanlife.
Here’s a list of eleven #vanlife documentaries, I haven’t watched them all so I can’t vouch for them all.
Hi, I'm Kimberly Anne! (aka K.A.)
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