Why This Matters: Mark Peres’ “On Life and Meaning” podcast goes deep in reflection and conversation revealing core values and encouraging relationships that transcend the transactional.
By Michael J. Solender
Mark Peres is one of Charlotte’s most enthusiastic collectors.
But the Johnson & Wales University professor of leadership and business ethics keepsakes are not well-tended assemblages meticulously arranged in a display case. Nor do Peres’ cherished holdings find residence on an art wall in his home or anywhere they can be viewed in their entirety.
His collectables are people – fascinating people with stories to share and lessons to learn from. Peres is a relationship collector and first-rate Charlotte connector.
Don’t confuse him though with a quid-pro-quo networker with an overstuffed Rolodex – Peres’ goal in connecting is far reaching and extends to our entire community. He hopes that, by moving beyond transactional relationships, each of us can collectively make change that matters.
“I’m a person who risks intimate relationships,” Peres said. “All of us have a deep desire to be known. Someone must care enough to ask the questions. If I can model that, others may do the same.”
Peres’ latest connection project illustrates his knack for using exploration of others’ core values to inform and reflect upon his own. In the process, listeners to his “On Life and Meaning” podcast, launched late last summer and supported by ASC, have the opportunity to compare and contrast their own life philosophies with some of our community’s sharpest thinkers.
In these slickly produced programs, Peres invites listeners to be a fly-on-the-wall as he engages all manner of thoughtful and inspiring locals – think philanthropists, artists, business, spiritual and community leaders and those farther afield.
Guided by Optimism
“The podcast is informed by a philosophy,” Peres said. “It is a set of beliefs that is optimistic about the human quest. The optimism arises from a willingness to look squarely at the complexities of the human condition.”
Podcast guests have included playwright, novelist and 2018 ASC Creative Renewal Fellowship recipient Jeff Jackson; New Generation of African American Philanthropist founder Valaida Fullwood; executive leadership consultant Becky Winkler; NPR correspondent Michael Goldfarb; visual artist Phillip Larrimore; attorney and nonprofit leadership expert Dianne Chipps Bailey; Foundation For The Carolinas President Michael Marsicano; and ASC President Robert Bush.
“Mark is deeply interested in people becoming engaged and the most creative version of ourselves we can be,” said Matt Olin, host and cofounder of the Charlotte chapter of Creative Mornings and a recent podcast guest.
When asked how a podcast can facilitate connections and help Charlotteans get beyond transactional relationships, Olin didn’t hesitate.
“Mark’s interest is infectious on a very human level,” he said. “Podcast listeners see themselves reflected in these conversations and invariably they lead to empowering ideas and doing important things on a person-to-person level.”
The conversations are incredibly intentional, said communications consultant Candice Langston, another recent podcast guest.
“They acknowledge listeners not in the room by asking questions others are interested in,” she said. “Armed with this insight, it makes it easier for people to reach out to those they may not know personally and gain entry into conversation and collaboration that might not have existed otherwise.”
Community-based organizations and local institutions have taken notice in the podcast and Peres has gained additional sponsorship support from the UNC Charlotte College of Arts & Architecture, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Blumenthal Performing Arts.
“The podcast encourages thought leadership and engages in public conversation with those right here in our community,” said Blumenthal Performing Arts CEO Tom Gabbard. “Providing public discourse and energy in meaningful ways is something Blumenthal Performing Arts wants to be a part of and we see our support of Mark and the podcast as a smart way to do that.”
A die-hard lover of the urban landscape and all that cities offer, Peres – a former Miami resident – embraced Charlotte nearly two decades ago and set about identifying and connecting with those who shared his passion for collaborative place-making.
Shortly after his arrival, Peres founded “Charlotte Viewpoint,” an online magazine with a longform narrative bend on exploring arts, culture and civic life. The publication was a platform for opinion, perspective and observation offering a diverse array of area voices that developed an enthusiastic following.
Peres says the idea for “On Life and Meaning” grew from the notion of living one’s values and engaging with others in exploring how they pursue their dreams and aspirations.
“We are at our best when we are doing what matters most,” said Peres with the elegant simplicity of a college philosophy professor, which he is. “The challenge is in clarifying core values and clarifying what this means for each of us. For me that is engaging in reflection and conversation. What I study for a living informs what I do and how I try to live.”
An Art Installation
Inspiration for the podcast came from several different threads, including Peres’ leadership teaching and scholarship at JWU, his love for old talk shows featuring the likes of Mike Wallace and Dick Cavett, and a decade-long love affair with NPR’s Sunday morning talk show, “On Being,” hosted by Krista Tippett.
“Most importantly, I wanted to honor the relationships that have come into my life since coming to Charlotte,” said Peres, who hosted a gathering of podcast participants and friends at Spirit Square this spring.
There Peres spoke about his vision for the project.
“I don’t think of this as a podcast but rather I look at it as an art installation,” he said, noting his target for the project is 100 podcasts. “On Life and Meaning is meant to be a gallery of portraits of citizens making a difference in the world and a snapshot or time capsule to be savored both now and later.”
With nearly 40 episodes already produced, the lasting value of the podcast will be felt long after Peres completes his final recording.
“This is a treasure trove for our community,” said the Blumenthal’s Gabbard. “People are going to thank Mark in the years to come for creating this kind of archive of what made our community tick at this point in time.”