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Meeting the Elephant

by Carlos Salum

January 10,2011

Many years later, as he wondered about what gave him joy in life, Carlos Salum remembered the cold morning when his parents took him to meet the elephant.
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I must have been four years old. Living in an apartment in the megalopolis of Buenos Aires, I was seldom exposed to nature. Standing before the first pachyderm I ever saw, I intuited the enormity and mystery of a world I had yet to discover. It’s my first memory of being in absolute awe. My father must have sensed my rapture and snapped the moment. I was inquisitive and imaginative, so I’m certain my family endured a barrage of questions. My fantasies were grandiose and messianic; therefore, I was often frustrated. Yet I tenaciously engaged in activities that would bring me back to the absorption and fascination I felt that day. Reading, writing, drawing and playing tennis were my chosen gates to nirvana (I didn’t have a TV until I was thirteen). I experienced the sublime through Bach, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Alejo Carpentier, Harold Pinter, Alberto Giacometti, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Joseph Campbell, Philip Glass, Twyla Tharp, and other masters. Their courageous commitment to being fully alive rather than to “making a living” influenced me deeply.

Although I studied to be a physician, my wanderlust obliterated any prospect of living in a society ransacked for decades by fascist dictatorships. Instead, I chose to pursue breakthrough experiences, letting awe be my main compass. While some might consider my idealism a serious character flaw, it has actually given me amazing opportunities to prove my value beyond expectations. Helping world-class athletes reach their full potential led to working with international executives seeking not just higher achievements, but also a sense of wholeness, social worth, and legacy. Writing and producing a theater play about the most defining event in my life led to producing uniquely creative international events in spectacular venues. Wanting to be a positive influence in the company of extraordinary people has now led to the launch of conferences promoting the power of stories, ideas, and relationships. What I do is essentially theater, as I offer a stage for forward-thinking people to share their purpose and shine a light on issues that can potentially transform everyone participating in the experience. Jazz pianist Bill Evans passionately strived to communicate something extraordinary, something beautiful and special that, if people could feel it was real and important, would want to change their lives to blossom in it. Like him, I want poignant stories of breakthrough achievement to make people’s hearts sing. Making the intangible real matters to me, because positive emotions provoke positive ideas and actions.

From September through December 2010, I organized a series of four interactive conversations at Hodges Taylor Gallery entitled “Re:NEW” in which 30 of Charlotte’s business and cultural leaders made presentations to an audience of talented professionals. Through dialogue, we explored the answers to key questions such as: What are the best ways for leaders to present information and to help people navigate through it towards a positive vision? What thinking skills can artists and leaders teach each other? What do passionate performers in sports, art, and business do exceptionally well? In what ways do leaders design and apply breakthrough thinking?

“Re:NEW” revealed an interest in our intellectual community to redefine our relationships by sharing our viewpoints, our goals, and opportunities for collaboration. Unlike conventional networking meetings in which “everybody is selling and no one is buying,” we were in awe of the life stories, the uniqueness, and the authenticity of everyone in the room. Provocative questions gave way to disclosure, and we felt empowered to reveal our true aspirations. Friendships have developed and collaborations among the participants are flourishing, which gives me both great satisfaction and a renewed sense of mission.

As I prepare to launch new conferences and seminars in 2011, my design process involves “meeting the elephant” and asking myself: What takes my breath away? What’s awesome in everyone I meet? Whose breath do I take away? In how many ways? If I know what gives me joy, I might better understand what makes people’s hearts sing.

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