Storyteller/Cross-Cultural Explorer/TV Host
Photograph by Dan Wills
Photograph by Jen Delcastillo
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
As early as I can remember I had dreams of being an actor. After attending a performance college in New York City, working on a few independent films, and eventually booking a role on the HBO show The Sopranos, I finally realized that path was not for me. I wanted to merge my passion for entertainment and international exploration. At 20 years old I traveled to Tanzania with a video camera on a cultural exchange program through Stony Brook University, filmed my first documentary, and I haven't looked back since.
How did you get started in your field of work?
My first trip to East Africa in 2007 shifted my perspective from a completely 20-something-year-old self-centered universe, to one that at least began to think about other human beings. I met Pete O'Neal, a former Black Panther from Kansas City, who opened a nonprofit community center in Tanzania 40 years ago. He encouraged me to "step outside of myself." Two days after returning to New York my father was diagnosed with cancer. Two years later, he passed away. It was only upon seeing death face-to-face that I fully began to live my passion.
With my father as my spark plug for inspiration, I began my journey to "bridge the gap." I've had the tremendous good fortune to travel to over 30 countries, filming my TV series Bridge the Gap, and speaking everywhere from Fortune 500 companies to the United Nations General Assembly. How I began was by making a decision, committing to my ultimate purpose, and not looking back no matter how many hurdles I encountered.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to storytelling?
By pure dumb luck, I was born with all of the physical resources that a human needs to live a comfortable life. Most of humanity lives on less than $10 each day in far more difficult circumstances. From Haiti to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, I have met countless individuals living in incredibly difficult external conditions who are often more content and inspired internally than people I know in far more "better off" conditions. The common thread many of these individuals share is their concern for others, sometimes even above their own welfare. Through these experiences I am reminded that happiness is a state of mind, not a state of the external world. Perhaps by walking in other people's shoes and gaining a glimpse into their experience, we can tap into a deeper wisdom that will inspire each of us to live more conscious lives and reach our full potential.
What's a normal day like for you?
My "normal day" varies greatly depending on which country I wake up in. When I'm not traveling for events or expeditions, my life is fairly habitual. Mornings include meditating and working out, two of the most constant elements of my life. I commit a solid portion of each day with my company—creating concepts, editing video, or fund-raising for the next adventure. If the weather allows it, a surf session in Queens, followed by a motorcycle ride to Manhattan for an almost daily meditation class. I'll likely read some Anthony de Mello or Marcus Aurelius before powering down for the night.
Do you have a hero?
It's easy for me to point to a mentor like Dr. Jane Goodall, for her immeasurable compassion for living beings and our planet, or to comedian Don Rickles, who reminds us not to take ourselves so seriously, or to TV host Anthony Bourdain for his authenticity, but in truth my personal hero is someone much closer to me—my father. I find that those who impact us the most are usually those closest to us. To someone outside of my community, my father would have appeared quite normal, although he was anything but that for me. A lawyer by trade, Stephen Bashinelli worked a lifetime to support his family. He volunteered with the Boy Scouts in his spare time, always looked out for the underdog, and constantly showed genuine concern for others, whether he knew them or not. In the countless times I was judgmental or disrespectful toward others as a dumb kid, not once did he let it slide. However, it was far less about what my father did and far more about who he was. He was not infallible, but the quality that always rose to the surface was his effort to live an honest life and place other people's happinesses above his own. When we open ourselves up to our potential to do the same, the shift that occurs in our heart is undeniable, and that effect can last a lifetime.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
"Favorite" is a word I steer clear from because it invokes a "greater and less than" perception for each experience, when in fact they are simply different. The most memorable experience I can bring to mind at this moment occurred on the Mongolian steppe. Possibly the most essential test of manhood in nomadic culture is being able to master the art of horseback riding. I arrived in Mongolia having never been on a horse in my life—ever! My guide, an experienced herdsman, warned me not to try to ride. I could, he said, be seriously injured. On my final day in the countryside I was given my chance—my only chance—at this dangerous feat. We'd just taken part in a traditional haircutting ceremony and the men of the family invited me to ride alongside them in celebration. They mounted their stallions and shouted "Choo!" By some miracle my horse jumped into full gallop, at nearly 40 miles per hour, alongside my new comrades, and for that brief moment time stood still, and I felt an unspeakable connection between man, animal, and Earth.
By far the most challenging experience I've had "on the job" was sitting inside a suicide prevention workshop on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It was my first expedition and I was only 23 years old. A group of teenagers, some of whom had actually attempted suicide previously, gathered together to help promote suicide awareness and the importance of cultural identity. The skit included a 14-year-old girl holding a plastic gun to her head, and another young boy helping to dissuade her from going through with the act. In this moment my heart opened up and I had a special glimpse into the terrifying epidemic. When I began to cry, the young girl gently took my hand, embraced me, and brought me to the center of the prayer circle. The spiritual leader, whom I had met only hours ago, referred to me as "our brother from the East." It was in this moment I realized that hope could be found anywhere; all we have to do is "look beyond ourselves."
What are your other passions?
Self-awareness is the most essential facet of my life. I firmly believe that we see the world not as it is, but as we are. Bruce Lee says, "All knowledge ultimately means self-knowledge." To that end, I dedicate a major portion of my time toward understanding the mind through meditation classes. I have a deep love for the music of Woodstock and stand-up comedy. Surfing revitalizes my spirit, riding my motorcycle is incredibly freeing, and I always look for an excuse to ignore the noise.
In Their Words
Through these experiences I am reminded that happiness is a state of mind, not a state of the external world.