By Shawn Bonnough
“Pisco sour, mate?”
“Uhhh, OK!” I reply.
“Muh name’s Pete,” an always smiling Ozzie says to me as he hands me a drink.
I think to myself: I wish everyone was this friendly, confident, welcoming and genuine. Wouldn’t we all be a lot happier?
Like everyone does, I immediately fell in love with a guy named Pete.
Not because he was powerful, wealthy or because he was in a position to benefit me professionally, but because he was genuine, sincere, authentic and keenly interested in me as a person.
If you know Pete, then you know, that with enthusiasm, Pete always employs kindness, thoughtfulness, compassion and empathy, and will always see the slightly broken and bruised individual first who is sometimes scared, lonely, off balance and insecure.
Pete Dunn has the rare ability to dispel fear and doubt almost immediately and replace them with confidence and connection because of his limitless charm and charisma.
An Ozzie and a Canadian walk into a bar in Santiago, Chile….
After several dramatic blows to the business, and after recently losing my father, and struggling personally and emotionally, I was in financial free fall, and I was looking to slow my descent by latching onto a branch of hope, a new direction, any direction.
Sorely needing a shot of confidence and looking for new opportunities, my beautiful partner Barbara and I took a risk and headed to the Indigenous World Forum in Santiago, Chile. Not knowing what to expect, we walked into a conference of Indigenous world leaders and quickly realized we were in way over our heads.
I thought I just needed to grab a branch in this free fall, but I soon learned that I needed something else.
Through a blur of insecurity, fear and doubt, a great big bright smile emerged from the group. A hand was extended from a stranger who felt like an old friend, providing with abundant reassurance that everything was going to be OK.
The warmth of an old friend you haven’t met … yet
If optimism and enthusiasm were the hallmarks of youth, then Pete was easily the youngest guy in the room. From the first smile Pete always felt like the old friend you could always pick up the conversation wherever you left off, even though we had just met.
I watched Pete engage everyone with that same comfortable enthusiasm and a warm bright smile, making them each feel like they were the only person in the room and the only person that mattered at that point in time.
With ease, confidence and vigour I watched Pete work his way around the room engaging each individual, not to tell them about Pete, but rather to genuinely learn about them as a person, and every one of those people were happy to oblige and gush about themselves.
I watched how each person fell in love with Pete, and I said to myself: I want to be in a band with him. The trouble was that neither of us were musical. So we decided to do what we knew how to do. We were teachers, trainers, motivators and kindred economic developers. We loved to build the human spirit, and we loved to build community-based economies, so instantly Pete and I were connected.
Pete has a passion for helping people. We shared an understanding that some groups of marginalized people, sometimes, just needed a warm smile, a helping hand and a little bit of confidence in order to change the trajectory of their future, to change their life and, often literally, to actually save a life; working in communities with projects that actually lowered tragically high suicide rates.
“My beautiful bride and I are going to see you in Canada, mate!”
And suddenly there they were. Pete and Colleen arrived in Kelowna. I can’t remember when I was so excited and full of hope not only to connect with two wonderful people, but to build something great together. So, pulling out all the stops, I doubled down on our current economic development project and invited other heavyweights from across the country to come to our location to meet the legendary Pete Dunn.
As always, Pete did not disappoint. He made everyone in the room feel listened to, feel important, and with his own gentle and enthusiastic way he seemed to gently lead the meetings while giving hope and inspiration that our collective time was well spent as we drove toward a beautiful future, together—a future that might help the planet, the people and the prosperity of everyone involved.
The Special Ones
You can always spot those happy, golden people. We call them the special ones.
These special individuals have a twinkle in their eye because they live in the moment. These inspirational golden people do not dwell on past mistakes, but they learn from them. They do not worry about the future that they can’t predict; rather they deliberately walk in the direction if they want to go. Never a victim. Never a martyr.
Pete is one of those rare individuals who draws folks into his circle of influence not by force or persuasion, but rather because they want to bask in the warmth of that present moment, with a happy, golden person who makes you feel like everything is going to be OK.
The reality did not match the brochure
When originally extending the invitation to Canada with open arms I said: Yes, please come to Canada, Pete. Barbara and I have a beautiful bed and breakfast that we just opened, and you and Colleen will have an entire three-bedroom suite all to yourself. We just renovated it, and it is in a really beautiful country setting overlooking the creek. Pete said, “That sounds wonderful!”
Awaiting their arrival, I became a little nervous when the main guest suite was booked for rental from another party. My anxiousness compounded when the second guest suite available also booked for rental by a different third party. But that was OK, because I had a backup plan for the backup plan.
I had hoped that Pete and Colleen would not complain about the last tiny guest room that was still available for their visit. It would be saved just for them. Although it was not a palace, it was a single, non-renovated room with a tiny bathroom, but it would do.
The best intentions
Only days before the arrival of our Australian guests, my anxiousness reached a fevered pitch when my mother, who was bound to a wheelchair, arrived on our doorstep to occupy that one small remaining guest room.
My father had recently passed away, and my mother arrived, needing both the emotional support a ground-level suite—Pete and Colleen’s suite—for her wheelchair mobility. So she moved into the last available “indoor” guest room on our property.
With a chuckle in my voice, arriving home from the airport, I introduced Pete and Colleen to their accommodations on the back of our property—a somewhat dusty and a bit leaky, and a bit moldy, and far from palatial travel trailer in the backyard. This small, recreational camper was situated only 50 metres from an active bear den that had a stubborn mother bear and two cubs in it.
“Welcome to Canada, Pete and Colleen,” I said with a grin.
To my surprise they were thrilled. Pete pulled out the lawn chairs and made it look like he was relaxing in a fancy resort. Every time I visited them in the back of the property, it looked like they were relaxing on a stunning Caribbean vacation even though they were just stuck in a tiny trailer in the woods. I would periodically find Colleen basking in the sun and reading a good book. They always have this resilient ability to make the best of every situation while also making everybody feel a lot less anxious, because they lived in that present moment so thoroughly.
30-second moment of change
Rather than focusing on what was missing, Pete and Colleen always focused on what we had. We had each other, we had nature, we had my mother and another mother (with two cubs). All on a beautiful five-acre, fully wooded property with a beautiful creek, walking trails, a house full of guests, and my wonderful mother needed my understanding, patience and connection right now!
To my delight they immediately bonded with my mother, nicknaming her “Smiley.” Even through her pain, she always found a chuckle and a smile. Living 60 years with a man who took care of her every need, she was terrified of life. Mom needed a hand to hold and a reason to smile through her tears. Pete knew exactly how to help people find their smile. He had been doing it for a lifetime. Pete knew that my mother needed some emotional support, and he took time out of his day not as an obligation, but as a delight to find time to make her smile.
In my shame, my deepest thoughts were dark and bitter after losing my father, and I didn’t know how to deal with my mother’s emotional pain in addition to my own.
But every time I looked up there was Pete, smiling and supporting both of us with a big hug and a kind word.
Pete never knew the deep positive impact he was making. Pete was there as a wonderful warm coat of emotional support.
With Pete’s bright light shining on my mother during such a dark time it allowed me to see the situation differently, and in my 30-second moment of change I realized that maybe I, too, could connect with my mother. Maybe I, too, could laugh with her like Pete did. Maybe I, too, could connect with her like Pete did. Maybe I could see past a lifetime of family baggage and stop seeing my “mother” but rather see a delightful woman, a friend who was in need of some emotional support. Maybe I could see differently. Just like Pete did. The gift of sight. Thanks Pete.
I realized suddenly Pete had been doing this his whole life. Walking to a grocery store and meeting a stranger, Pete would shine his warm light by raising the conversation and asking better questions in a sincere way and really “listening” to the answer. When I asked Pete why he tries so hard to engage everyone in his vicinity, he replied without hesitation.
“Eight billion potential friends, mate,” he said. “I don’t have enough time to meet them all.”
Colleen called last week and said Pete was just diagnosed with a terminal Illness, known as bulbar-onset ALS, a form of motor neuron disease. There is no medical cause and no cure. First believed to be a stroke, he was formally diagnosed in September last year, and due to his rapidly declining health he entered palliative care.
Not Pete. You have the wrong guy, my mind said. Pete can walk into a business meeting and with his charm and his smile be the warm, empathetic problem-solving light. Pete can walk into any family gathering or any group without any obvious effort at all and be that light that people crowd around.
It settled in that Pete isn’t perfect. But I also know for a fact that Pete is always “perfectly imperfect.” Maybe if I let go of my frustration for COVID-19 isolation, maybe if I can let go of my resentment for my lack of connection with friends and family, maybe during this spiritual famine I can let go of the idea that it is up to other people to make me happy and make me feel loved. Because honestly, that’s how I am feeling. I have been running my victim and martyr patterns relentlessly lately. And I know for certain that if we all shine a little brighter with a lot less judgment, like Pete does, the world would be a lot better place and we would be a lot happier in the process.
Ever since their visit, I have tried to remember to be a little more like Pete—to practise more empathy, to try and be a little more patient, to be a lot more enthusiastic, to worry less, and try and solve more problems for more people. I would be a lot better off to be a little more like Pete. Maybe if I “do unto my neighbour” we would all have the warm light of happy, golden people around us because we are all someone’s neighbour.
Maybe I can be like Pete did. Maybe I can be a little bit gentler on myself and others. Maybe I can stop feeling sorry for myself in my isolation, and I can get busy meeting those eight billion potential friends.
Maybe, like Pete Dunn, I can also be perfectly imperfect.
This column was submitted as part of BWB Wednesdays.
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