Organisational Change Manager, Anthropologist, Author
What is it to be human?
According to Dr Smith, human is 'a term that gets its content from the context in which it is uttered'.
In my view, that's an excellent way to say, 'choose your own adventure to explain it'. Or better frame it so it can be applied in a practical setting, and that is what anthropology in context intends to do.
Anthropology can be used to solve problems in many fields. Health and medicine, business, human rights, disaster research and environmental issues.
Rebecca Spyker is an Anthropologist and Change Consultant for large corporates that use organisational learning to shape their culture and future direction.
From the outset, a lot of communication, deep thinking, listening and observation is required to translate context on a large scale and affect positive change in humans.
Other traits needed of anthropologists are a healthy dose of self-awareness and dry humour, which I think comes in handy when you have to move corporate mountains, as Rebecca does.
Years back, we worked in the same organisation, agreeing that brand and culture initiatives are intrinsically entwined and affect each other.
When Rebecca told me she was about to launch a book she spent writing four years, I assumed it would have been about her career reflections.
But the subject of Rebecca's book is her late dog, Bu. I interviewed her in front of family, friends, and the reader community at the local book launch event for The Book of Bu- Tails of a Zen Dog.
I want to know what shaped her outlook on life.
'In my twenties, I lived in Japan for close to five years; it was an extraordinary experience. Initially, I worked with Xerox as a protocol consultant, translator, and interpreter. After that, I used to work between Xerox UK, Xerox Japan and Xerox USA. So you would think that the experience of being in Xerox was one culture, one company, but in fact, there were three incredibly diverse cultures.
'So I had this side juxtapose life in Japan for quite some time. I worked six days a week, 14 hours a day. Then I'd go and visit the temples. I would get some refreshment of the soul there. But that's the place I truly learned to meditate. I had tried since I was 15 years old, unsuccessfully.
'I studied with Zen Buddhists and got into Shinto Shamanism; the temples were actually quite close to each other.
'I learned chanting spells, love spells, how to protect automobiles, how to use a flail and a whisk, and how to move time. So apparently, I can do that. But I'm still not convinced it was a big chunk of time', she smiles.
‘I’ve described myself as a haphazard Buddhist; I really mean haphazard Buddhist. This is because I seemly have to learn Buddhism again and again.
'In the temples, you just had to be in Zen Buddhism. You have to simply sit still. Sit solid. Sit with body pain; you can sit with your thoughts. And you just keep noticing. So it was about awareness first, then mindfulness, then unnoticed noticing. This brought me an incredible amount of peace.
‘But I would still maintain I’m a haphazard Buddhist; I get angry.’
Rebecca has a vibrant personality despite some severe recent health challenges. Often, her positive energy seems mixed with sadness for Bu, her dog.
'Some would ask, have you gotten over your dog seven and a half years later? No, I haven't, especially if you'd challenge me to read the goodbye chapter.'
As a first-time published writer, Rebecca thought the writing process was terrifying, exhilarating and a trip back in time. It all had started with collecting the stories of people who remembered Bu's funny antics.
'Do you recall when he ate that toxic sand buffet, and he was so sick, and how you brought him back to life? Yes. Somehow, the stories came; I wrote down little notes, then a storyboard for every funny or dark episode.
‘I realised then that this little 26-kilogram brindle thing had taught me more wisdom than any single Zen or Shinto teacher in twenty years.
'When I lived in Hawaii, Huna shamanism practice would have taught me as much as this little dog did. And so 33 book chapters just kind of evolved.'
Rebecca summarises Bu's teachings related to Zen practice at the end of each chapter, except for one passage entirely written from Bu's perspective.
Since Bu, Rebecca has continued to foster other dogs and currently takes care of another three. I want to know what has made Bu so special to Rebecca from the beginning.
'Yeah, um, I think it's' such a good question. I have three enormous dogs right now, but not the connection to them as I did to Bu. I found Bu in the dog refuge hanging from the wires, bleeding, and he was screaming in agony and anger.
‘And when I took that on, and I didn’t know it at the moment, I became this soulmate to him.
'The love was instantly so profound, more than any other connection I've had with any other human or dog since then. And then, of course, he was probably the worst I've ever had for about two to three years until he became the best dog to the end of his life. So I think it was the very terrifying nature of the connection at the start and then the profound end.'
The book's final chapter alludes to a forthcoming series about 'More tails of more Zen Dogs'. Rebecca has already contracted a second publication with Austin Macauley Publishers.
'So I sent my American friend Todd a couple of chapters to read. He rescued no less than nine dogs. Somehow dogs keep appearing on his Oklahoma property.
'Todd felt inspired to write a story about a dog called Gromit. I helped him add Zen wisdom and included the chapter at the end of the Book of Bu.
'For book two, I will be reaching out to other people with extraordinary rescue stories from around the world. I'm hoping to collect around 50 new stories embued with Zen wisdom. In addition, I'm planning the third book connected to mental health for young adults.'
There is no other way for me then to describe Rebecca’s energy as moving and, with it, the urge to be part of a movement that defines and redefines our lives with dogs.
So what's next on this expedition to connect ancient wisdom with Bu's life lessons and Rebecca's yoga and meditation experience?
She announces 'BuZen'. 'Imagine going on a retreat with your dog. BuZen will be that.'
Then, asked for tips about rescuing dogs, she paused.
'Choose wisely. Make sure the dog's temperament matches yours. You need a budget for unforeseen vet surprises. I mean, I know at least 10 people who are dealing with very challenging rescue dogs and hats off to anybody who's assisting with that. So I always say choose wisely. But also, don't be afraid to take the dog out of the refuge.'
This year the Pope commented, 'dogs and cats that take the place of children… is a denial of fatherhood and motherhood and diminishes us, takes away our humanity."
It’s easy for me to disagree with the Pope, but let’s give another perspective. When we put our human procreation needs above anything else on the planet, how is humanity not even more diminished?
I'm now sure 'humanity' gets its content from the context it is uttered in. When humanity is our drive to nurture and protect, it cannot be one over the other. What makes humanity whole is overcoming obstacles with inclusiveness.
And Rebecca inspired me to think it's way overdue to give humanities' context to 'dog' a wholly different meaning as well.
The Common Ground:
The context defines humanity. It can be used to forge and explain shared values, or it can be abused to establish and manipulate value rules
Cultural perspectives and professional backgrounds can come together from a grassroots perspective to shape new insights, society change and watershed moments
Like brand building, holistic societal change strategies include more than just one aspect of community
Life lessons can wear fur.