I tend to have at least two lunches a year with Geoff Green, for he’s one of the most informed people about everything in this town, from the political to the social, that I know. And he should be, as executive director of the Fund for Santa Barbara, a nonprofit foundation that supports and advises other organizations that seek to foster economic, environmental, and political change in Santa Barbara County.
When I asked him to answer the Proust Questionnaire, he had difficulty answering what is his most marked characteristic. I would say that it’s probably his passion for social-justice issues, but he’s also one of the most relaxed and grounded people I’ve ever meet — extremely witty, self-deprecating, and affable.
He’s also very busy, so it took him a while to answer the questionnaire below, but it was worth it.
What do you like most about your job?
I actually would go one step further and say that I love my job. I’ve been fortunate enough to find work that pays me to do exactly what I’d most like to be doing: supporting people to advocate and organize for greater democracy, fairness, access to critical resources, a healthy environment, and more. I get to work with some of the most creative, committed, and passionate people on the planet. This is the work that most community organizers must do in addition to the work that pays their rent, and I have the fortune of combining the two.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I’m not sure there is such a thing, but the key components for me would include meaningful and challenging work, a loving family, a vibrant community, and ample time in the wilderness.
What is your greatest fear?
I know this will sound dishonest, but I’m not really a fearful person. I just don’t much dwell on fears. But I suppose if pressed, I’d say that my biggest fears are doing work that falls short of what I know I’m capable of, and disappointing my friends and family.
I’m in a line of work where one has to see the larger context and the longer history. We often fail to meet incredibly lofty objectives in the short term, but progress and a sense of history is what’s important. As for friends and family, my love of my work often seems more like an obsession, and I tend to struggle with balance.
Who do you most admire and why?
I admire those who can practice kindness to others, even when it’s least deserved, those who can build a bridge between seemingly separate worlds and help people to see what connects them, and leaders who can challenge authority and convention on principle when it is contrary to their own self-interest.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Two things: music and food. I love music, and I love to cook. I know that I certainly could do with less, but I will splurge on concert tickets, CDs, and good food (and wine).
What is your current state of mind?
Tired and grateful. We welcomed a baby boy to our family just after the New Year.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I’m partial to irreverence and humor. I like people that can step back, take a look at a situation, and find the absurdity in it while at the same time remain committed to making it better. It’s easy to be judgmental and aloof, but much more difficult to simultaneously critique a situation and stay engaged.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
I dislike tribalism. Unfortunately, we humans are very tribal creatures. We tend to create “us” and “them” far too easily. We tend to gravitate to those who think like us.
Bill Bishop wrote about this phenomenon a few years ago in his book The Big Sort, analyzing how communities across the United States are sorting themselves into like-minded enclaves. We spend far too much time talking to those who reinforce our beliefs and perceptions rather than challenge them. I think this is the greatest threat to democratic civil society.
What do you most value in friends?
Of course I’d say loyalty and honesty, both of which are important. But lately it seems that just making an effort to keep in touch is a rarer quality. I value those friends who do so and challenge myself to do the same.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m not sure I can answer that. The optimist in me would say my optimism. But I think you’d have to survey my colleagues and friends to get a more grounded answer.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Absolutely”, “excellent”, “certainly”, and sooooooo many more. At least they are affirmative!
Which talent would you most like to have?
I tend to start projects and then leave them partly finished. In part that is due to my desire to always see the bigger picture and in part my fear of not making something “perfect.” I’d like the ability to focus and follow through even when I know the end result will not be perfect. Intellectually, I know that completion trumps perfection in many cases, but I tend to move on before I’m entirely done.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Well, I feel like I’m always finding new answers to that question and then trying to make those changes. Lately, I’d most like to be able not to be so concerned with what others think of me.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Answering these questions. Seriously. You know how long it took me.
Where would you most like to live?
Right here, right now. I’ve never really had a longing to be in another place and time. For me, at this point in my life, Santa Barbara, and the Central Coast region in general, is the right place. My other favorite place is the Sierra Nevada, specifically Yosemite.
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t know that I have a single most treasured possession, but I am quite a collector. I mean that in the nerdiest possible sense you can imagine: baseball cards, stamps, rocks, shells, you name it. I’m a saver. Someday I believe I’ll actually organize it all. Maybe then I’ll have an answer.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My wife, my brother, and, increasingly, my children.
What is your motto?
“To those whom much is given, much is expected.”