John Kugel, the 397th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, told me something that I already vaguely understood but had never been able to articulate.

When we meet someone, John explained, we’re quick to put that person in a box – and if we believe that box is not useful to us, we lose interest in the person. That would be fine if our character assessments were sound; but they’re often flawed, because people have more depth and are living richer lives than we’re able to see at that moment.

Well said.

Back in 2016, John was encountering this phenomenon a lot, because he was doing a lot of networking to promote a new business, Gone Bush Adventures. John became so frustrated by the human tendency to form snap judgements that he co-founded a wonderfully unusual networking group, Networking in Nature. Once a month, attendees meet in the Royal Botanic Gardens, listen to a guest speaker and get to know each other while strolling through the gardens.

John and his brother, who’d been working corporate jobs, had been spending their weekends in the bush, and had been amazed to discover just how much they would unwind and how sharp their thinking would become while immersed in nature. Friends who’d tag along would have the same experience. This revelation led to Gone Bush Adventures.

These days, John works as a philanthropy relationships manager for Taronga Conservation Society Australia, where his love of networking and nature come together. John helps raise funds that support wildlife, habitats and communities in Australia and overseas.

While John works in Sydney, he lives outside the city. In his spare time, he and other members of the local community are campaigning to stop a group of rogue landowners from clearing native land in violation of the law. John regularly takes morning runs through the bush and is pained to see this illegal development taking place, so he’s doing what he can to prevent any more damage. John is not opposed to development, but he wants it to be done methodically and in accordance with the law.

Moments before I met John, he’d been listening to a speech by Jane Goodall at Taronga Zoo, and she’d said something that resonated with him – that we’re all capable of doing something, however small, to make the world a better place. John, in a variety of ways, is doing just that.