Monday, June 28, 2010

Connecting Dotz: Seeing and Feeling Our Interconnectedness

© 2010 by Joyce Mason

I was visiting my favorite spiritual bookstore in downtown Sacramento, Sunlight of the Spirit, when I encountered the startling image in this post. It depicts the Osani Circle Game.

Efé children of the Ituri Forest in Zaire (Republic of Congo, Central Africa) sit in a circle, feet touching, all connected. They each in turn name a round object. It is soon obvious how much the circle of life is depicted in round things—sun, moon, the circle of family. Players name round objects and then, as they run out of circular things, they name figuratively round concepts: the changing of the seasons, a full pregnancy, the harvest cycle. The elimination continues until, finally, only one child remains. Tradition has it that this winner will live a long and prosperous life.

I fell instantly in love with this story on the back of the card and this evocative image, which I plan to frame. One day, I was doing my own version of the Osani Circle Game—touching people on Twitter with uplifting quotes and links. The card was staring at me from my computer desk. To share it, I had to find where information about it might be posted online. That’s when I discovered its source, ConnectingDotz. Recently, I read a quote about Twitter (paraphrased) stating it’s the best social networking platform we never knew we needed till we had it. Soon Susan Fassberg, owner of this incredible card and gift company, sent me a message to thank me for my post about it. I knew instantly that I wanted to interview her on Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights.

This long introduction is for the express purpose of reconfirming how synchronicity works … and how we now have the tools to make our own version of a circle game our heartwarming game of life.

Joyce: Susan, tell me the purpose of Connecting Dotz and how you came to create it.

Susan: Connecting Dotz is the name of my business because life is a process of connecting dots: seeing connections and relationships, which allow us to have a greater and deeper understanding of our world. Just like that silly game of connecting dots on paper, when the dots are connected, we see a Bigger Picture, right? For decades my working tagline has been “linking people with ideas with people with ideas…” and I’ve understood my vocation as one of making connections that are useful to the greater good. Sometimes my work has been film research, sometimes book PR (“50 Simple Things You can do to Save the Earth”), sometimes online publishing, as when I helped launch

When I first saw the Osani image back in 1984, it simply drew me in. I was instantly reminded of all the connections to nature and community that our modern western life, in its driven nature, so often ignores. So I followed my impulse to track down the photographer. Jean-Pierre and I become friends, and only 25 years later did I ask him for the rights to Osani. I felt it was an image that should be shared with the world, and though I’d never launched a card line before and had no relevant experience (my prior product launch was an environmental gift basket in 1990), I simply made up my mind that it was a doable idea, started small, and kept at it.

For three years I was a one-card card company, and pursued consulting on the side. The growth of Connecting Dotz has been organic; my products are gifted to honor many different kinds of transitions and appreciations in life: weddings, birthdays, graduations and memorials.

Joyce: We share a passion for diverse cultures and their gifts we can glean and borrow from in our own day and context. I am a big fan of cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien, whose work has influenced me. Who were your influences and how did you come to be what my mother called herself, a “culture maven?”

Susan: It’s funny, isn’t it, how some people are just wired this way. Ever since elementary school I’ve had serious wanderlust, and loved learning languages. My mother shared this interest, and encouraged me to pursue my passion. I was certain I’d end up in the Peace Corps, and live overseas. But my path was not that straightforward, by any means. In addition to studying German, French and Spanish, I studied psychology; I was particularly drawn to the teachings of Carl Jung and aspects of the psyche, which go beyond borders. There’s also a scholar in Santa Fe, Edward T. Hall, who caught my attention. He must be quite senior now; he wrote a fantastic series of books about how cultures experience time and spatial relationships differently, how important non-verbal communication is, and how architecture affects us. I saw how much cultural constructs inform our perception and, of course, I noticed how we express what we pay attention to through our use of language.

Joyce: Since I have encountered the same issue myself, I was touched to read that you launched Connecting Dotz after being told many times that your ideas didn’t fit easily into known sales categories. Tell us about that—and what advice do you have for other “one of a kinds?”

Susan: Well, my path has certainly been the proverbial “less traveled” road (laughing). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “we don’t do that”, or “you want to what?” or even “We can’t sell your products, they’re not like all the others” (and, even better, “Wow; we can’t wait to sell your products, they’re not like all the others”). Conventional notions (and sales categories) can be challenging.

I’m developing a new sales category: "connectedness," because  we all crave close connection and want to express it, but not necessarily through a conventional message.

To others who share this quirky path I would say, “Don’t give up the ship!” and above all, have a sense of humor. There are a lot of bumps on this road… Also, it certainly helps to have friends who are part of your “tribe” who share your values. Even if they are not like you, they can appreciate you, and you’ll need that appreciation to keep you going. Another bit of advice, though I’ve not been great at taking my own medicine, is to recognize how much you can do alone, and where you need help. If you don’t start with investment funds, then barter, trade, bootstrap and bake sale your way into having resources you need to move forward. A helpful resource is to create a one-page business plan. The book, The One Page Business Plan by Jim Horan shows how.

Joyce: Until I visited your website, I didn’t know about your “In A Word” card collection. As a word lover and someone who feels she has a mission to heal with words, again, I fell completely in love with another of your products. How did these cards evolve?

Susan: After living overseas I realized that when I had a particular feeling, I almost always sought to express it in a particular language that would capture the nuance I was after. English just isn’t enough… I began to ask people if there were words that their grandmother always used, or words that stuck through family traditions, and invariably, everywhere I went I was gifted a linguistic treasure… one word at a time. Also, back in 1985, I first read Howard Rheingold’s There's a Word for It and knew that I would someday create a product using foreign words.

It took another 20 years however until I felt the world had become international enough (and sadly, shared common challenges like species and culture loss) that the notion of endangered words and the preciousness of cultural wisdom might engage people as a product line.

Joyce: As I looked at one luscious “In a Word” after another, it was hard for me to pick a favorite, although I have recently found myself using Grok a lot again, years after reading Stranger in a Strange Land. Do you have a favorite—a few faves—or are they all like your children and you love them all in different ways?

Susan: Yaa khit mahk (“less thinking, more happiness” in Thai) is one of my favorites. So is Ubuntu ("the kindness and compassion which come from understanding each of us is part of a greater whole")… it’s soooo wonderful—and Confianza (“I believe in you with all my heart”) but yes, I love them all!  (See Card Picker.)

Joyce: I know we can buy your cards online at Connecting Dotz Tell us, how do we find out where to buy them locally or how to encourage our favorite store to carry them?

Susan: Thank you for asking! On my site, there’s a list of shops that carry the cards. But I’m only one woman, and I’d be very grateful for leads to more retail sites. Any shop owner can easily receive a wholesale sell sheet and samples, and I’d be delighted to offer a free set of cards to anyone who helps me break into a new area. I, like so many indie businesses, depend on the kindness of strangers. I should also mention that I sell the Osani posters at discounted prices to teachers, and am happy to use my merchandise to help others fundraise for aligned causes.

Joyce: In closing, your business is a living example of spirited living and the spirit that joins us all, the stuff of this blog. Thinking which “In A Word” describes how I found you, it would be Yuen (yoo-EN, said quickly) from the Mandarin Chinese:

A connection that is meant to be, the idea that certain people are meant to find each other...

Thank you for visiting Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights. I know my readers will be as touched by your work as I am!


Susan Fassberg
has been active in marketing, business development and public relations for over 25 years. Currently she holds the position of Director of Strategic Partnerships/Marketing at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. (The GGSC studies the psychology, sociology and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills for a thriving, resilient and compassionate society., her green greeting card company, celebrates linguistic diversity, endangered languages, and indigenous wisdom. Susan serves on the Board of Rockwood Leadership Institute and Terralingua , because volunteer work is good for the soul.

Photo Credit: © 2004 J-P.Hallet, licensed to S. Fassberg. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission. Visit ConnectingDotz cards and prints; all Osani purchases help support The Pygmy Fund.

Related Post: To read about how the Osani Circle Game image represents a visual zodiac, read A New Zodiac: The Osani Circle Game on The Radical Virgo.

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