BEMIDJI -- "Being locked away in a blank room without a book, without a pen and paper, would probably be, for me, the highest level of torture that I could think of."
Scott Knudson thrives on growth and has an infectious enthusiasm for learning and expanding his understanding of the world around him. "It is the most amazing time, ever, to be alive," he says. "I feel really fascinated and privileged to wake up in the world I do, every day. The advancements of modern science provide us with so many opportunities."
As a legacy producer/director for Lakeland Public Television, Scott takes full advantage of the opportunities available to him to share people's talents and bring their skills to light. He films and produces "Common Ground," a weekly show highlighting northern and central Minnesota culture. "The fact that I can go out and meet amazing artists, historians, people with cultural stories to tell, and record it in high definition with amazing sound and beautiful color and then somehow relate that story to dozens," he laughs, "if not thousands, of viewers ... it's incredible."
Knudson grew up in Bemidji but left to attend Chicago's Columbia College, where he fell in love with the "hands-on" craft of filmmaking, describing it as "the synthesis of arts and science." After graduation, he started a small production company. "If I could put my finger on a timeline of United States history, it would be on the worst possible time to try to start a business," he said. "It was just after 9/11 and the economy had tanked." The company failed, and he ended up moving back to Bemidji to live with his parents. The only available work he could find was stocking shelves at a local liquor store. In his spare time, he volunteered at Lakeland Public Television. Soon after, he was hired to work on legacy productions.
While financial strain may have brought him back to Bemidji, the rich culture keeps him here.
"With the incredible diversity and the seemingly endless amount of talent in north-central Minnesota, I don't think my job in legacy productions is done yet," he said. "There's many, many more stories to be told and knowledge to be shared about the amazing things that are going on in our area."
Knudson aims to not only help audiences appreciate other people's talents and skills, but transform their own understanding of themselves and the world around them. His work on "Common Ground" has helped him recognize the incredible diversity of thoughts, ideas, perspectives and behaviors that are out there. What we often take for granted as "reality" differs from place to place, person to person.
"We all live in a fiction of gender roles, of economic roles ... the list goes on and on," he said. "Everything that we think is 'the way it is' isn't necessarily the way it is everywhere. We all participate in this narrative, and some of it is good and some of it is bad."
He thinks that learning about other's ways of thinking, being and doing opens each of us up to new insights and understandings. To him, this is what life is all about.
"To gain a new perspective, to gain a new bit of knowledge that one hasn't had before, is the greatest benefit that one can have in our society," he said. "When somebody opens themselves up to something new, they gain insight into something that's going on that they didn't necessarily understand before. And just having that new knowledge creates a new place to look at your prior understanding of the universe, and reality, and your own viewpoints and personal beliefs."
That "new place to look" often can open up possibilities and opportunities that we never knew existed, which can increase our quality of life and that of others.
"I often approach interviews with the feeling that if, some day five or 10 years from now, a kid comes home from school and they didn't have a good day, they're getting picked on, they're not liked or accepted or understood by their peers or their teachers, that they turn on a rerun and see an artist do something, or a historian talk about something that flips a biological or chemical switch inside their minds that makes the world more full of possibilities ... then it's a success."
Knudson believes we become stagnant by refusing to open our minds to things that are new and different. He has an extreme dislike for fundamentalism and thinks that "trying to hold on to things, simply because they are the way things used to be, is the greatest danger we face."
As he sees it, we're all in a constant state of evolution. The goal is to embrace this process and consciously seek out new opportunities for learning, growth and understanding.
"As people understand their environment, the universe, the way biology works, the way physics works, and also the way their neighbors work -- I think that opening to that diversity and growing from it won't make us more homogenous, or the same," Knudson said. "It won't dilute us. It will elevate us."
Knudson actively seeks out new understanding in his personal life and in his work. "He is a very creative person." says Lakeland CEO Bill Sanford. "He is always interested in coming up with new ways or new techniques to cover a subject, to shoot a video, to get people to open up and tell their story."
For Knudson, the process of learning and growing is about the journey, not a particular destination. "I don't want to say I'm 100 percent sure, but I'm 100 percent sure that there is no end goal, no pinnacle of development in all things. I think that technology and people's understanding of each other will only continue to grow and change."
And that evolution, for him, is what makes life exciting.
"I'm not a religious person," he said, "but I do believe in the great mystery of the universe and I believe the greatest and most apparent manifestation of the great mystery is that the more you learn, the more you know that you don't know. The more you understand, the more mystery there is."
Brooke's Tips for Applying Scott's Wisdom to Your Life:
• Get out of your own head. There are many different ways of thinking, being and doing. Yet it's easy to fall into the same habits or routines. Over time, we may even forget that we have other options and get stuck in situations, perspectives or reactions that no longer serve us. If you're feeling dissatisfied with some area of your life: 1, Recognize that the way things currently are, are now how they have to be, and 2, start exploring new possibilities: attend a workshop or class, read a book by a new author, travel, talk about your challenges with others and see what opportunities emerge.
• Focus your energy on growth, not perfection. "I really enjoy thinking about things and being wrong about things" says Knudson. Thinking about things in a different way or trying new things can lead new advancements and achievements; but even if they don't, the effort isn't wasted.
• Enjoy the journey. Approaching each day as if it is a to-do list can diminish our enjoyment and enthusiasm about life. There are things that need to be done, but we get caught up in the end goal, then we lose appreciation for the journey to get there. Plus, as Scott points out, the journey may never really be over -- there's always room for more learning and growth. Taking time throughout your day to to breathe, notice and take advantage of the opportunities available to you in each moment can make the journey a lot more exciting.