It's a snowy Friday night, and instead of having dinner with friends or spending time with their families, Dr. Amy Paris and Dr. Raymond Reyes are between tapings of their show, On Being Human. The studio is dark, but in the center of the room, the spotlights form a ring of light not unlike a campfire, where Paris and Reyes sit with their guests, community leaders Bob Bartlett and Stephy Nobles-Beans. While Paris answers questions from the reporter and photographer who have just invaded the studio, Reyes jokes with the production staff and talks with Bartlett and Nobles-Beans. The mood is informal and relaxed, yet the room is filled with a quietly revolutionary energy. Everyone is having fun, but there's also the sense that here, perceptions are about to be changed and ideas explored. This "arena of the mind" is on a short break, but the show's guiding principles -- respect, diversity, understanding and, yes, humanity -- are as palpable as the various electrical cords snaking across the floor.
On Being Human shows on AT & amp;T Broadband's Channel 14 (also commonly known as the "NASA Channel") Monday nights at 8 pm. While the show is a little less than a year old, guests have included everyone from new Mayor John Powers to two G.U. students protesting the School of the Americas in Georgia. The structure, while deceptively simple, nevertheless holds its potential for creating that great rarity of the postmodern age -- public discourse.
"It doesn't matter where you work or how much education you've had, bringing up issues and being able to reflect on them, being able to discuss them should be for everybody," says Reyes, assistant director for Gonzaga University's Institute for Action Against Hate. "That's what our purpose is. How do you create public space for serious discourse, to talk about matters of import? This is one of the ways we can do that."
Reyes, a professor and an academic, and Paris, a clinical psychologist, bring their different professional approaches to bear on infusing the show with its interdisciplinary approach. Similarly, as a Native American man and a white woman, their different individual backgrounds give the show yet another dimension. With such diversity even between the two co-hosts, topics explored on the show are sure to be intriguing and ever changing. Before Reyes joined the show last year, Paris had done episodes about everything from Lewis and Clark students involved in a community service program to a show about Sue Hille, former director of SCAN (Spokane Caring and Networking for families), and her husband Reverend Hille, both of whom are very active in community service.
"We try not to shy away from difficult topics, we try to get into what I call heart topics," says Paris, who works as a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spokane. "In their case, it was important to get to know them as human beings and learn how they got into community service and what it means to live a life devoted to making a community better."
More recently, one of their guests was Jim Sheehan, who in addition to being a public defender for many years, also founded the Center for Justice, a nonprofit legal firm.
"The only other nonprofit legal firm in town is the Gonzaga Clinic," Paris explains. "So his firm handles civil cases and environmental cases, but the day he was on the show, we spent a lot of time discussing the death penalty."
The show got its start when Paris was on the board of SCAN while it was still under the umbrella of Mental Health of Spokane. Also on the board of SCAN at that time was Steve Pitters, who hosted a cable access show called Spokane Cares. Pitters asked Paris to be a guest on the show during child abuse prevention month, and the producer of that program invited Paris to host her own show.
"I had a vision for a show on what it means to be human," says Paris. "I did it myself for six months and had a variety of guests, including Eva Lassman, who is a Holocaust survivor, who came on to the show for the Anne Frank exhibit."
For that same show, Paris, who had done some adjunct teaching at G.U., invited two colleagues, Raymond Reyes and George Critchlow, to talk about the Institute for Action Against Hate.
"Raymond brought up the idea of teaming up, and we've been doing the show together for about six months," says Paris.
"What attracted me to Amy and to this program was the title, On Being Human," Reyes recalls. "What does it mean to be human? It's something we should be asking ourselves all the time. In my own case, I thought of what it means to be a human through the perspective of being Native American, and I realized their whole contribution was resiliency. And I thought, what a great opportunity, to be raising the questions of what it is to be human with the greater community."
While the structure of each On Being Human episode appears largely conversational, there's a lot more going on underneath the surface.
"Our show isn't pure interviewing or pure journalism, although those are certainly elements that play a big part," says Paris. "We're content experts. I'm a clinician, he's a professor, and we approach each show from that perspective. Being a psychologist, I have interviewing skills, so it's a natural venue for me, and Raymond is a natural teacher. But it's really easy sometimes to sit back and listen to our guests and each other."
Putting the community in community cable access, the show is taped by a volunteer crew from Spokane or the surrounding county. AT & amp;T offers classes in program production, and as long as the show doesn't contain objectionable material or isn't being used as an advertising venue, anybody with a great idea for a community access show can pitch and develop their idea.
"It really is a team effort," says Paris. "There's a staff person from AT & amp;T on hand while we're taping, and they're always really positive and helpful."
Of the volunteers, Paris has high praise to offer as well. "You begin to develop a relationship with the individuals that come back and help you do the show week after week. Some of the people might work on two or three shows in addition to ours, and they have a great working relationship with each other."
If Paris and Reyes have their way, the public is learning as much from their show as they are about the process of making it from week to week.
"What we want to show is us being present with people who are 'somebodies' -- the movers and shakers in the various sectors, the newsmakers," says Reyes. "And then, what about the silent heroes, in whom the extraordinary dimension of who they are is based in their humanity? That's the other part of the continuum."
The episode Reyes and Paris taped with John Powers, entitled "The Politics of Meaning" airs again on Monday, Jan. 29, and offers a rare chance for the citizens of Spokane to sit down with their mayor and learn about the ideas that shaped his philosophies of both leadership and being a human citizen.
"It's what I call 'edutainment'," says Reyes. "It's entertaining, we hope, but there's more to it than that. For me, one of the most vital things about the program is having a community know itself. This show can be a form of community storytelling."
When asked if she sees a greater need for a program of this nature, Paris's answer is cautious, but hopeful.
"There's always been fear and pain in human existence, but what's changing is that we're in a renaissance of knowledge about psychology and healing," she says. "Now we are understanding what are the emotional and psychological effects of our actions, we're understanding healthy parenting in a new way. For the population at large, I think there's more of a need for this kind of understanding because of the problem of human aggression, and because of the residual effects of fear based on belief systems. But I also believe the theory put forth in The Hundredth Monkey that consciousness expands geometrically, and that every bit of understanding builds on itself."
For a lot of viewers, On Being Human is a televised bit of fresh air. Instead of the double entendre one-liners, visually spectacular violence and pessimistic plot lines of much mainstream network TV, here are people talking, thinking and sometimes disagreeing, but intelligently, and verbally.
"Our society is really identified by its lack of reflection," says Reyes. "As individuals we don't remember how to reflect, and as a society, we're seldom encouraged to. The question we hope people will ask themselves is, can I sit at the feet of my own life and learn what it is our lives are trying to tell us?"
& & & lt;i & On Being Human: The Politics of Meaning with guest John Powers airs on Monday, Jan. 29, at 8 pm on AT & amp;T Cable Channel 14.. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &