World Domination . . . Again

WDS 2015

WDS 2015

One week ago was the closing party of World Domination Summit 2015. It marked the second year that I have served as an Ambassador, or volunteer, for this extraordinary event.

This year, the inspiration I drew from the gathering was not so much from the presentations or the events, but from the experience of working with the other Ambassadors. It seemed like a much more cohesive group this year, although our ranks had grown to accommodate the increased attendance.

It will be interesting to see how that dynamic changes next year. The founder of WDS, Chris Guillebeau, announced at the end of WDS 2015 the team’s decision to stop growing WDS and instead to shrink back next year, lowering the number of participants and switching things around so there are more smaller gatherings than large lectures. This year there were more than 100 Ambassadors. That number will shrink for WDS 2016, along with the number of attendees.

If you take a look at my musings after WDS 2014, you’ll see that last year I was most struck by how the organizers of this many faceted conference empowered the volunteers to do whatever was reasonable in order to enhance the attendees’ experiences. Repeated many times during the weekend were the words: “We empower you!” I think most Ambassadors took that to heart this year and really went the extra mile. At any rate, to judge from all the thank yous I received from attendees, our willingness to help was well received.


Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see all the presentations, so my observations are not comprehensive. My feeling, however, was that a number of speakers strayed from what I had gathered was the general theme of WDS, and that is, “You can find a way to realize your dreams.”

In fact, rather than inspiring pep talks designed to charge everyone up, some of the presentations were absolute downers. Sitting in the Schnitzer auditorium, I heard on several occasions people sniffling away tears, or gasping in shock.

Once I recovered from being yanked out of my comfort zone, I realized that to me those highly emotional presentations stuck with me longer than the “rah-rah you can do it!” talks. The first speaker to jerk my chain was Vani Hari. Her work as the Food Babe seems pretty innocuous at first glance: learning the ingredients of food and urging food companies to reveal that information.

But to judge from the comments on her web site, which she shared on the large screen with no censorship, this kind of work draws the ire of the pond scum of society. I actually had to turn away because the hatred and violence in those comments were so overpowering. Then I felt anger at the speaker, thinking she had overdone this part of her presentation.

Later I read a summary of her talk from another attendee who took Hari to task for not revealing that her work has been criticized for its lack of a scientific basis. To me, his words were equal to the anger I had felt at the speaker. I couldn’t handle what she was saying, so I wanted to attack her, as the other attendee did.

My conclusion was that it was necessary to share all those ugly misogynistic words of hatred and the commenters’ desires to kill and rape. I thought of a male friend who had recently informed me that sexual inequality had been resolved and now the pendulum was swinging the other way, with men being belittled and attacked. I wished that he could have attended Vani Hari’s talk.

Just as I had never realized the extent of misogynistic hatred and violence, I had never possessed any personal understanding of deep suffering and loss. Sure, I’ve had setbacks and challenges in my life, like most people, but when speaker Jeremy Cowart shared his photos of people living in the aftermath of the earthquake on Haiti, and people who had found peace and reconciliation after the massacres in Rwanda, I had another awakening. In Haiti Cowart asked his photo subjects to hold up a sign telling their greatest desire. They were simple, elementary, but beautiful. Having been raised in such a materialistic society, would we ever be able to reduce it all down to one simple desire that would make all the difference in our lives?

In Rwanda he photographed pairs of people who had been involved in killing each other’s loved ones. They held signs telling what their relationship was now, after reconciliation. That was when the tears were really flowing.

Again, I was staring at a large screen that was showing me unpleasant situations, human experiences that I had never encountered and hoped never to see. In a sense, these poignant photos were just as striking as the repulsive words Vani Hari found on her web site.

So once WDS 2015 wrapped up, I was left with an important lesson, one that can be summed up nicely in the words of Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

But this notion of opening ourselves up to more than what is dreamt of in our philosophy does not apply to shocking things alone. I think it can be applied to creativity, that is, we need to be exposed to different ways of seeing the world, no matter how uncomfortable, just because our own personal scope is narrow. I found out just how narrow my scope was when squirming uncomfortably through these two presentations at WDS 2015.

Just a few days ago, I saw an example of how creative people seek exposure to other ways and other views. I was visiting Steven Smith Teamaker, Portland’s esteemed tea company, where my friend Tony Tellin has succeeded the late Steve Smith as teamaker. Tony was telling me how important it was to collaborate with all sorts of creative people, just to keep his edge. He said it wasn’t necessary that these collaborators be in the culinary or beverage fields. To illustrate that point, he told me that sometimes a design team from Nike will spend part of a day at the tea company, just to be exposed to a different way of seeing things. The experience refreshes their eyes, in a sense, and ultimately improves their work.

A different way of seeing things and an appreciation of how important that perspective can be was the most important thing I gained from this year’s World Domination Summit. Although I tried to avert my eyes, this message did break through the heavy defenses of my comfort zone, and for that I am grateful.

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