|Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be. --Shel Silverstein|
Ann Medlock: Sticking Her Neck Out for Our Common Humanity--by Awakin Call Editors, May 10, 2018
Ann Medlock is a writer and social activist who founded the Giraffe Heroes Project, a nonprofit organization that's given countless people around the globe the stories and inspiring examples of real heroes—people sticking their necks out for the common good—for more than three decades. In 1983, concerned that too few people were actively participating in their own democracy, she launched the organization as a call for a spotlight on and inspiration for more brave, active, citizens: Ann sought to get the stories of such people told on radio and television in order to inspire others into active participation in public life. The organization has since honored well over 1,300 "Giraffes," and has told their stories in every medium that becomes available. The Giraffe Heroes website also hosts extensive teaching materials to encourage all ages to participate. What follows is the edited version of an Awakin Call interview between Ameeta Martin and Ann Medlock. You can listen to their full conversation here.
Ameeta Martin: Ann, we're so thrilled to have you here so that we can have this discussion with you. I just want to start out from the beginning. You've had so many spiritual and political influences in your life. Can you tell us what some of your earliest influences were and how they led you to start this project midway through your career?
Ann Medlock: Let's start in the ‘70s when I was in my 40s and at rock bottom emotionally. There was one person in my life who seemed to have her stuff together. She was teaching yoga at the YMCA, and she introduced me to a Swar yogi, with whom I spent several years learning about changing people's personal conditions through the use of sound, meditation, and diet. I ended up in a space where nothing could harm me because I would just say, "Okay, I can deal with that." Now I realize that physical process took me to the wisdom of amor fati: whatever comes at you, love it, embrace it, and move from there.
Ameeta: Can you talk to us a little bit more about what amor fati is? I’m not sure all our listeners understand this concept.
Ann: It goes back thousands of years ago to Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and the Stoics, who figured out that resisting what comes at you is not the way to live your life. You’ll just spin your wheels and dig yourself a bigger hole. So what they came to was, "Whatever comes at you, embrace it," no matter how awful it is. Just say, "Okay. I see. Here's my move."
It came up when I asked Joseph Campbell, the great researcher of heroes and myths, what he personally believed after all his decades of research. He gave me a poem by Robinson Jeffers that expressed that feeling that no matter how awful it is, you love it, you embrace it, you work with it. (FYI: That poem is Natural Music.)
He also showed me a clipping about a policeman in Honolulu (where Campbell was living then) who was called to a potential suicide on a bridge. When he saw this man about to go over the edge, he grabbed him and almost went over himself, saying later, "The moment I saw him, I knew I couldn't live with myself if I didn't save him." And Campbell said, "That's who we are. That's what it means to be a human being, to know that we are one being, that we are all in this together. We must help each other through." So that was the other great thing, along with amor fati that I found that I can live by.
Ameeta: That's beautiful. Joseph Campbell wrote The Power of Myth, and he talked extensively about using mythological stories to better understand ourselves and how they apply throughout the ages.
Ann: He also wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Ameeta: That's right. And he was the inspiration for George Lucas when he started writing his original Star Wars saga.
Ann: Yes. He coached Lucas on the hero's journey.
Ameeta: Can you tell us a little bit more about your meeting with Joseph Campbell and how he inspired you to start the Giraffe project?
Ann: After he retired from teaching college classes, he would do "pop-up classes" where the word would go out, "Joe's teaching over on 79th today," and you'd just go and listen. He was a font of wisdom and knowledge about heroes in every culture on earth, how every culture has expressed their interest in and their definition of heroes. Another time, I saw that Campbell was doing a class called "Parsifal" at Esalen. Parsifal was the young man who found the Holy Grail when all the Knights of the Round Table couldn’t find it. It's a core myth of western culture. I stayed for two and a half days and listened to Joe talking about Parsifal in all his manifestations in every culture you can imagine.
He had the most wonderful slide collection (and if anybody knows who's got Joe's slides, please tell me). The last slide he showed was a deck of cards laid out in four columns by suit. Then at the bottom of the four columns was a card that's not a part of any of the columns: the Joker. And what Joe said about that slide just made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. He said, "You see these suits? Everybody is in order. You start with the king, you go to the queen, you go to the jack, and then the ten, nine...And everybody's in the same suit. We're all spades here. We're all clubs here. And we all know what our job is. We know our position and what we're supposed to do. And then there's this guy down here who's not part of anything. He is dressed all in rags and is about to step off a cliff, and there's a dog nipping at his heels." Then he said, "What is this? This is the most dangerous person on earth because he's not listening. He's going to do what he's got to do. This is Parsifal. This is the Holy Fool. This is the being in every culture who steps forward and says, "This is not right. Someone must change this. I guess it's me." Everybody tells him he is too young, too old, too poor, too whatever. But he does it anyway.
When I was driving back to San Francisco on that gorgeous road up the coast, it just hit me. This is why I can't stop finding these people I’m calling "Giraffes." They are the Holy Fools for our time. They are the ones who say, "What this system is doing is not right for the people. I must make a move. I must make this change so that the well-being of the common good is served."
I later told him, back in New York, about the Giraffe Project, about all the people I was finding, and how I was getting their stories out, and I watched tears form in his eyes. It was a really great moment, and it has kept me going for 34 years.
Ameeta: That's amazing. So, Ann, why do you feel that you have to publicize these heroes? Why is it not enough for these heroes to do these small acts on their own?
Ann: Well, sometimes when we approach someone and say, "We’d like to give you this commendation and tell your story," some of them will say, "No, that's okay. I’m just doing this because I’m doing this. You don't need to do that." And what I say to them is, "It's not about you. I want other people to see what you did and think, “I could do that!” That's the purpose. It's not to make you famous, to glorify you, or to tell people how wonderful you are. It's to make other people see what you did and go do something themselves.” Then they let me tell their stories.
Ameeta: Is there a particular "Giraffe" story that really inspired you?
Ann: When we honor people who are older than I am, I think "If she kept going, I can keep going." But I think the most astonishing story for most people is two guys who are in California. One of them is an Ismaili Muslim immigrant from East Africa. When Idi Amin came to power and started persecuting people there, including a lot of Muslims, his family had come to the US for safety. Azim Khamisa is his name, and he became a very successful investment banker in California.
His son was working for college money delivering pizzas, and one day he was delivering pizza to an address, only to discover that it was a gang initiation. The task for the initiate was to get pizza for the gang without paying for it. When the kid said, "No, I’m not paying," Azim's son turned to go and take the pizza back to the truck, and the kid shot him and killed him.
Azim was absolutely devastated, but very quickly he realized, when the police were explaining what had happened, that it was a child who had killed his son. The kid was 14 years old and was going to prison. Azim said, "I realized two families were losing sons: mine and his." And he went and found the kid's family. The boy had been living with his grandfather, a man named Ples Felix, who was an official in the San Diego government. Ples was absolutely astonished when Azim came to him and said, "We've both lost our sons."
They teamed up together to go into schools to talk to kids about vengeance and rage and why they must forgive each other. The kids look at these two men and they say, “Wait a minute, your kid killed his kid, and you're here together?" And they say, "Yes! We're here together."
And Ples went alone to Azim's family and apologized to them for what his grandson had done. I mean, talk about brave.
As the story goes on, the 14-year-old was the first child sentenced as an adult for murder in California. The warden was so worried that he'd be killed in the general population that he put him in solitary confinement to protect him. Azim helped Ples to get him moved to a safer prison, but Azim found out there were no books or educational resources for this boy. So he brought all kinds of books to the prison and was tutoring this kid. He talked to him about restorative justice, about understanding what he’d done, really apologizing, and making amends. Azim said, “When he gets out of prison, I’m giving him a job." How is that for a story?
Ameeta: Yes, that definitely wins an award for sticking your neck out. One of the things that you talk about is having compassion with action...that it's the effect of adding the action to the compassion piece.
Ann: We talk about courageous compassion. You can have compassion all by yourself and be thinking loving thoughts and forgiving thoughts about other people. But we need to walk our compassion out into the world and do things with it.
Ameeta: I’m a big believer in the action piece as well. One of the other things that we talked about that really excited me is this Evidence Project that you're doing now. Can you talk a little bit about what the Evidence Project is?
Ann: I've been doing this very quietly, and now this is its public debut. I worked with a television producer in New York for a while who said, “Question everything,” and I have a sign on the wall that says “Question Authority.” I’ve been questioning authority for as long as I can remember. One of the things that I’ve started looking at is that we humans are so creative, imaginative, and smart. We think up wonderful stories to explain the unexplainable. I was looking at all the religions in the world and thinking that these stories are fabulous creations of humans. Was there a time we didn't have any creation story? Is there evidence of order apart from our wonderful stories?
One of the things I have found and have been so delighted with is mathematics. The word phi is Greek for 1.618, which is the golden mean. That 1.618 is in your DNA, in galaxies, in trees, and in beauty. Whenever you see something a human has made that is absolutely gorgeous, you can probably find that equation in that thing because we are attuned to seeing and creating that beauty. The cover of a book I did just a few years ago is a gorgeous photograph of a cut nautilus shell, which is a perfect expression of that mathematical formula. So for me that was powerful proof that there is order. I’m not sure what the nature of that order is, but it is sacred. It's everywhere, and we didn't put it there.
I wrote something a long time ago called “Clergy,” in which I said that my clergy are artists. When artists are creating beauty, they are part of this order of the universe. I wrote about a singer who is astonishingly good at transporting her audience; about a painter whose paintings go right into the marrow of your bones; and about Christopher Alexander, a British architect who wrote a book that many people may know called A Pattern Language, in which he goes for the soul of architecture. It's not what your ego and your technology can help you make. It's tuning in to real beauty and creating beauty. It's tapping into this benevolent force field. The Force is with us when we are creating well.
Ameeta: You worked with Christopher Alexander on your house for quite a while. Can you tell us more about him?
Ann: He's a beautiful writer, he's got maybe ten books, and when people resonate to what he's saying about the "soul manifesting in what we build," they become devoted to his work. He taught at Cal Berkeley for 25 years, and there were young people who came from all over the world to major in Christopher Alexander because they had read his work. He's a renegade; in his own way, he’s a Holy Fool because he wouldn't listen to the conventional wisdom of what architecture is, what we are able to build, what we should build. He just kept saying, "No. That's not the way to go. Look over here. This is where the real soul of building beauty is."
Some architects here in the Northwest asked me if I would get him to give their annual awards for architecture, and I said, "No, you do not want him on the podium looking at the winners because you will not like what he says. Just get him to talk, and then give the awards afterwards, and do not give him the microphone again because he will tell you that you have built crap." So they did that. I was sitting with Chris when they were showing the winners, and I was trying so hard not to laugh because he was just having a fit over how horrible they were, how much ego was involved and really brutal technology too. Last month I was at Berkeley and saw a building at the gate, and I thought, "Chris must have had to pass that building every day. It is the ugliest thing I have ever seen. It looks like a bunker in a war." And it was an art museum. And I thought, "That must have broken his heart every time he passed it."
Ameeta: So how did you manage to have him design your home?
Ann: Oh, that was so funny. I read A Pattern Language, and then I wrote him a letter. I said, "This says I should now be able to build a house your way, but I don't think I can. What do I do now?" I called him after that, and he said, "Oh, I'll build it for you." I said, "What?" He said, "Yeah, sure. Let's get together." We started having meetings. Years later, he said, "You know the saddest thing about working as much as I do is, I have to say “no” to people when they want me to build a private house, because I’m just too busy." I said, "What do you mean you say “no”? You said “yes” immediately when I called you." And he said, "We were having a meeting of my staff, and we said, 'You know, everything we've built has been in California. We really need to do something in another climate,' and the phone rang."
Ameeta: And you're now writing a book about that, right?
Ann: You know, it's starting as a website because I realize I’m running out of time, actuarially, it takes so long to get a book published. So I’m first putting chunks of it online so people can have it as soon as I finish sections.
Ameeta: Well, one of the quotes of yours that I love is, "Now actuarially, time is getting short, so I’m gathering up as many breadcrumbs as I can find of that late-begun work and leaving them here in the vast forest that is the internet in hopes that they may be of value on your path to a long and creative life." So what kind of breadcrumbs have you spread across the internet for all of us to find?
Ann: Well you read my homepage. If you click your way through there, you find a lot of my public radio commentaries. I’m gradually putting up poems. I’m pulling things out of my book and will be putting them there. There are op eds. I hate Kleenex thinking. We use this once, we throw it away. I think everything should be recycled and re-purposed and everything of value should stay with us. So, I’m trying to find everything that I’ve done that might have value to people, and I'll put it all on AnnMedlock.com.
What I’m writing about right now is the Alhambra. I did two bucket-list things last year. I went to San Miguel de Allende and to the Alhambra. I’ve wanted to see the Alhambra ever since I worked for the Aga Khan because I was writing for him about architecture in the Islamic world. It's a passion of his, and I was writing speeches for him that he gave all over the world about not turning the Muslim world into steel and glass with all the oil money that's coming into that world. Everything looks like Dallas, and he's horrified. He wants the traditions of Islamic architecture respected. So I started reading about Islamic architecture and seeing these photographs of the Alhambra. I finally got there last month. I was so excited. I had a young Spanish guide, Jose, who was waving his arms at one of the walls and saying, "You see? It's all here. The stars, the rivers, the trees. It's all one and it's all God."
Ameeta: That's amazing. So, Ann, in order to cultivate your outer work, do you feel that you have to cultivate your inner self as well?
Ann: I started doing transcendental meditation (TM) in 1972, and I only do it once a day. But I think it keeps me going. It's like taking a vitamin pill.
Amit: Ann, I heard you speak to this idea of questioning authority and admiring the renegades. Where did your renegade spirit come from? Was it born or shaped by anything specific in your personal experiences growing up?
Ann: I don't know where my renegade spirit came from. It must be in the programming somewhere. I remember challenging my third-grade teacher. She said there were no pandas at a particular zoo, but I had seen one there. So I brought a clipping with a picture of the panda and put it on the bulletin board in the classroom. She was very annoyed with me.
Ameeta: Does this relate to your curiosity as well? One of the things we talked about is how you feel that so many people have lost curiosity now.
Ann: There is a fundamentalist mindset that is manifesting all over the world, and the fundamental mind says, "There are no questions. There are only answers, and they are in the book" (whatever book they believe in and are referring to). So, anybody who has questions is a mystery to them. Why would you question? It's right there in the book. I’ve never been one of those people.
Ameeta: So how do you make people more curious then?
Ann: I guess it's up to parents. If you value that in the world, you have to teach your kid because it probably won't happen in school. I got called to my son’s junior high school, and his teacher said, "You have to tell him not to wear that button." And I said, "Which button?" He had a jacket that was covered with buttons - it was a thing for kids his age. The teacher said, "The one that says ‘question authority.’” And I said, "I gave it to him." That was the end of that conversation.
Comments and Questions from Listeners
Gayathri: Before someone can stick a neck out, do you feel that they first have to spend doing the inner work and becoming more centered in order for their outer work to be more effective?
Ann: I was at a peace group meeting once, and the speakers kept talking about doing the inner work before you move. But there was this marvelous guy from New Jersey, who was called The Green Rabbi, who said, "The missiles are going in all over Europe. You cannot wait until you are perfect." I went and found him afterwards, and said, " I’m with you." If we wait until we're perfect, the world will move on in directions you don't want it to. So we had a pact that we would keep telling people, "Do the inner work, but get your butt out the street too." Sorry, that's not the spiritual answer, but it's very practical.
Ameeta: No, that’s great. We want to hear your answer. Any other specific nuggets of wisdom that you’ve extracted in your 80-plus years that you would really love to pass on to all of us?
Ann: Well, Amor fati is the main thing. It's like improv theater, which makes me so delighted. The basic rule of improv is you never reject your co-player's moves. Whatever the other people do on stage, you say "yes” and move from there. It really does make all the difference. And a respect for art and all its forms, when it is true art it is sacred. It is evidence of order. That’s not a lot of 80 some years, but there I am.
Ameeta: Amor means love and fati means fate, so Amor Fati is “love of fate.” We're not supposed to just bear what is necessary but to love it and embrace it.
Ann: Embrace it and make your move. Don’t let it solidify you in hatred or resistance - make your move.
Ameeta: Before we start opening things to our Q&A session, I just wanted to ask you if there’s anything else that you wanted to tell us about your Giraffe Heroes project.
Ann: Just that there’s a lot there. It’s a legacy project. There’s over a thousand stories at giraffe.org. There’s free material for little kids.
We have two characters who are twin juvenile giraffes called Stanley and Beatrice Tall, as in Stan Tall and Bea Tall. And they tell stories for little kids online free. There are classroom materials from kindergarten through 12th grade free. At giraffe.org. It’s our gift to the world. Please take it, use it, move forward.Ameeta: And so this is what you want your legacy to be?
Ann: Yeah. But my private legacy will be in my books and my own website. I have a schizo life. You know I have this public service side of me, and I have the private artist. And one eats the other. I say the giraffe ate my life, but every once in awhile, I get time to do my own private work, and I’m leaving that too. Some more bread crumbs.
Albert Row: I’m curious as to whether you would be willing to speak to your experience of Christopher Alexander's manner of relating to others. I’ve enjoyed his writings and yet have heard that he has a rather large ego similar to the ones he criticizes. Regarding the architecture, he's reacting to, it's not so much about Alexander as it is about us and the way we relate to a common story of humanity.
Ann: Yeah, Chris has the persona of feeling beleaguered. He’s been so isolated, like when he was on the faculty at Berkeley. He has this assumption that no one understands him and that the world is against him. So, he has a prickly personality. I found it amusing, but it’s not easy to deal with. He’s alienated a great many people, and there's a long family story there. His parents were intellectuals who made it out of the Vienna right before Hitler. He was raised an only child and was a genius, so you can imagine how cherished he was and perhaps how spoiled.
I did the artistic work with him, while my husband did the negotiating. My husband said, "He's more difficult than Kissinger!" But the work and the man are separate. As it happens with so many artists, if you knew the artist you might not like his work so much, but let his work stand alone. It is magnificent. And when he moves into creation mode he does disappear. I wrote a poem about him that said he was listening to God.
Gayathri: I read you are part of the Hedgebrook Writers Retreat for women. I found that so fascinating because this is the first time I’ve heard of a writers’ retreat that was exclusively for women, so I was wondering if you could tell us a little about that.
Ann: Yes, Hedgebrook is spectacular. It is one of the finest things ever created by a philanthropist. On Whidbey Island (between Seattle and Vancouver, BC), where I live, a woman named Nancy Nordhoff created this retreat.
There are six little cottages, each perfectly set up for an individual writer, and it's all free. People submit their work to a jury, and then the writers are picked and given time in a cottage. Eighty percent of our writers are women of color, which is so spectacular. They are coming in from all over the world.
They're writing magnificent stuff. I am so proud of their work. I’ve had a cottage twice, and it is the best place to write that anybody could possibly imagine because they totally take care of you and honor your work. They’re particularly attuned to the fact that women are not used to being treated this way.Alicia: I’m in the Skagit Valley, which is close to Whidbey Island, on the other side of the water. I have experienced the flow of order that you're talking about. I wonder if the reason kindness heals is that there's something about kindness that must be in that mathematical equation. Do you think that's possible?
Ann: Yeah, it's like Jose said in the Alhambra, “It’s all one thing and it's all God." So, if you plug into it you are plugging into The Force, you are taking part in the order of things, and I think the order is sacred.
Alicia: One of the things that I’ve observed personally from people who have become more fundamental is that in being able to question authority there has to be something inside you, an inner structure that is strong enough. I see that people who become fundamental are not able to hold themselves up and need something to lean on. I don't know if you perceive that or not but I was thinking that the Giraffe Project would at least allow the possibility for people to see something else, so thank you for that.
Ann: It gives fundamental thinkers strength to know that there is an external source of instruction and direction. It's very comforting, and I could certainly understand how tempting it is.
Ann: Did you see the story online recently about the whale trying to protect the researcher from a shark?
Ann: There is so much reaction to that saying, "Oh, the whale wasn't being compassionate and protective. That's ridiculous; you’re anthropomorphizing an animal." Well, that is such hubris! Human hubris. Why shouldn't the whale have concern for her? We're all one thing, and we're all in this together.
The elephants in Africa who knew that their best human friend had died walked miles to pay respects to him. That's not anthropomorphism. We are so arrogant to think we are the only ones who could experience compassion.
Alicia: But I think that belief is part of our fundamental structure for safety from something we're afraid of.
Ann: “Animals don't have souls, so they can't have these things.”
Alicia: Right. Have you read the book Grayson? It's by a woman who swam every day. She found a baby whale in the ocean that was separated from his mother, and she stayed with that whale and was able to get people in fishing boats to go help. Finally, the mother was able to reunite with the baby whale, and she came up and looked at the author in the eye to thank her. The story confirms what you're saying, and I think you would love it.
Ann: Thank you.Amit: You started the Giraffe Project back in the early ‘80s, and through the decades you have come across so many different heroes. There's so much diversity across that time. What have you seen that's been consistent in these heroes, and what's changed or evolved? And how has that impacted you as you've been exposed to the changing times and changing heroes?
Ann: Clearly, the issues change. In the ‘80s, there were a lot of stories about people responding to the AIDS epidemic. Currently, there are a lot of stories coming in about people working against sex trafficking, so the issues seem to change through the times. There are a lot of people now resisting the political trend in the US of this hate based, xenophobic stuff that we're all witnessing. The consistent thing is this sense in the people of, "This just dropped in my lap. Okay. I'll take it on." Some of them have religious training, and some don't, but all have a sense of personal responsibility, of not thinking somebody else will take care of that or thinking it can't be fixed.
And about how it affects me...Can you imagine spending 35 years working with material like this? I am so blessed. Very often, when I’ve given stories to journalists, they've had that reaction too, like, "I have to deal with so much ugliness that comes across my desk. This puts a smile on my face. It makes me happy to do my job." And I don't want to ever get into feeling like I’m pushing mindless “good news.”
There's a lot of difficult stuff going on in the world. There's a lot of things that are not good at all, but there's always somebody making a move. We can find the people who are moving and look at what they're doing. It's just changing our focus over to what can be done. That's what's important to me, and it keeps me going. The giraffe ate my life. He also feeds my life.
Amit: Blessed is certainly the word that comes to mind. Ameeta and I were just talking before the call and saying how we have so many different guests that come, with different backgrounds, experiences, and insights. There's so much to learn from them. And we're very thankful to you today for sharing a lot of your insights and experiences as well.Some of your heroes are young people, even kids. They haven't necessarily learned about responsibility yet, so is there something that's unique about some of these kids?
Ann: I think it's their natural compassion coming out. One of the things you find when you work in character education is that there a lot of people in the field who really believe that humans come in as little savages, and we have to spend all our time civilizing them.
There's another school of thought that says we come in altruistic, compassionate, and honorable, and it's bad circumstances in life that turn some people into negative forces in the world. But our natural state is not that, so it's a huge difference of approach to who kids are. Our materials assume that kids are compassionate and altruistic. One of my personal images on that is a hospital nursery: When one newborn begins to cry, others will cry, and I hear them saying, "Somebody's in trouble here. Come help." There's a natural alliance in those infants. But if you believe that we're born awful and have to be trained to be decent members of society, you're going to see it quite differently.
Most of the kids we’ve honored have very supportive families. I don't know if all the parents have fostered this in the kids. But I think some of the kids have astonished their parents. One mom said her five-year-old child watched something on television about a disaster and said he wanted to help. He said he was going to raise money, and he made toys or cookies. I can't remember what he was doing, but he raised a lot of money and sent it to an aid-relief society, and his mom was just astonished. She didn't think it was possible, but he did it. So I’m not sure what the answer is.
Amit: It reminds me when we had an internship program with ServiceSpace two summers ago, and we had a young high schooler, about 15 years old. He lives out in Pepper Pike, Ohio. He was 12 or 13 when his grandfather, with whom he was very close, passed away, and it reminded him that there are a lot of elderly out there who don't get kindness and affection from their families. So he wanted to find a way to work in that direction. He started an organization called Love Letters for the Elderly in which people write letters of love and send them to various assisted-living homes around the US.
Albert: I don't believe I’ve heard you share about how you came to the specific name "Giraffe Project," and I am curious whether it was also NVC related?
Ann: Oh no. Marshall Rosenberg saw a campaign of ours in New Jersey when he started that program, so we've been doing this a lot longer than Marshall. And I love what he's doing.
We’ve always used “giraffe” because it gets attention. Everybody loves giraffes. If we put up this engaging image that makes people smile, we get their attention, and then we hit them with the serious stuff. It doesn't work in every culture because we can't say “stick your neck out” in every language. In Russia, the translation of “stick your neck out” means to commit suicide. We just started Giraffe Heroes Europe. Giraffe Heroes Argentina came online just a few weeks ago. So we have to deal with the local culture and adjust the language. “Standing Tall” works in most places.
Amit: Do you guys have anything that brings these heroes together, where they get a chance to meet and collaborate and learn from or support one another?
Ann: That’s always been beyond our resources. It’s terribly expensive to bring people together in one physical space. We now have, in waiting, a Facebook private group. In the next month, we’ll be inviting every live Giraffe in the world to come into that group for sharing experiences, resources, and ideas.
Amit: I’m curious if you know why journalists don't report this type of stuff more? I know that that bad news sells, but if they balance some of that out, the good stuff will have an influence on the mindset and attitudes of people.
Ann: Yeah, that's that where I started. I was looking at all the media in the ‘80s and thinking that it is poison. All we're seeing is this awful thing happened, and that awful thing happened, and isn't this terrible, and at the end of it, here's a poodle riding on a motorcycle. Yay. That doesn't help. So, we’ve been feeding those stories out as much as we can. If you flew Alaska Airlines last month, you might have seen six pages of Giraffe Heroes in their magazine. They did a lovely job. But I am thrilled to have our own means of dissemination rather than depending on the producers as gatekeepers because they have the wrong mindset.
Amit: Behind every organization are heroes within the organization. Obviously, you had this wonderful vision, and this would be a great opportunity for you to talk about the people who have been a key part of Giraffe Heroes to build it to what it is today.
Ann: We've had loyal backers, and one of the interesting phenomena of being as old as I am is that they're starting to die off. The ranks are thinning, so we are now looking at, OK, we have 20,000 people who read the stories on Facebook. How would they support this? If each person who read stories all year on Facebook put in five bucks we'd be doing fine. We'll see if it works. If it doesn't, all we have to do is keep the web fees paid and that stuff will always be there for people, no matter what happens to the live project itself.
Amit: Are there any other ways we as the ServiceSpace community can support you in the work that you're doing?
Ann: Direct people to giraffe.org. Get them using this stuff. It's so congruent with what y'all are doing.
Amit: Absolutely. I took some time to actually go through the database, and it was great because I could find local heroes here in the DC area. How nice would it be to write a letter to one of those heroes here saying, "Hey, I really appreciate the work that you're doing." Or maybe grab a cup of coffee with them. I feel like that's something all of us could do.
Ann: And most of them are doing work in the world that could use more hands. If you find a Giraffe who's nearby, ask them if you can help, show up at their office or their hospital or wherever they're working.Ameeta: I want to thank you again for all your insights. It’s been very thought-provoking, and I can't wait to go and explore the Giraffe Heroes project online and your personal website as well at Ann Medlock.com. I’m really looking forward to you putting up some work about the Evidence Project online as well, and give people the evidence of order and spark curiosity in kids both about mathematics and physics and everything that supports this evidence of order.
The full-length version of this interview is available at Awakin.org. Awakin Calls are weekly conference calls that anyone from around the world can dial into at no charge. Each call features a unique theme and an inspiring guest speaker.
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