In 1947, on an otherwise ordinary morning, around the time of America’s Independence Day, aliens landed on a farm just outside Roswell, New Mexico. Farmer Mac Brazel was the one to find the evidence: metallic sticks held together with tape, chunks of plastic, and foil reflectors. Ill-equipped to deal with extraterrestrial debris, the farmer called the sheriff who, in turn, called officials at the nearby Army Air Force base where all the specimens would ultimately be examined.

Then, in 1982, Joshua Haynes landed in the same town, where he would spend his earliest years surrounded by the alien industry that had mushroomed around “the incident.” He would grow up around some people in the town who made fun of and commercialized the idea of aliens landing — the Roswell Arby’s restaurant, for example, has pictures of aliens holding up signs saying: “We ❤️Arbys.” But he was also exposed to those who took it more seriously. Just ten blocks from where Joshua spent the first 12 years of his life was The UFO Museum, a place that proclaims on its website that it is “dedicated to the collection and preservation of materials that are related to the 1947 Roswell Incident and other unexplained phenomena related to UFO research.”

Joshua however, like a lot of Roswell residents, is relatively agnostic about whether aliens really landed there or not. Impassive as a sphinx, he simply says, “I don’t have an opinion,” when asked what he believes to be true. To him, the question misses the point. What matters is that the incident attracts thousands of tourists every year, skeptics, scientists and wackos alike, who boost the economy. “Even if it didn’t happen, the conspiracy put Roswell on the map.”

The Truth by Any Other Name

This pragmatic, almost technocratic, view of truth would come to play a central role in Joshua’s early identity formation. He moved around often, forcing him to re-articulate who he was in each new location. So, as with the telling of a beloved story, each recounting turned out to be slightly different from the last, but equally “true.”

His mother also embodied the Roswellian approach to the truth when the 13-year-old Joshua told her he was gay. She neither embraced the idea nor did she persecute him. “We didn’t talk about it again until I was in college,” he says. “She didn’t, at her core, have any objections.” He attributes her remarkable openness (especially for someone living in a town of 50,000) to the fact that diversity was a big part of their everyday lives. “A lot of her [his mother’s] friends weren’t just white Christians. Many of them were Latino or black. She also worked with people who had traumatic brain injuries, so she wasn’t afraid of embracing the ‘other.’”

His adolescent years brought more moving around, more schools to get used to and friends to make. “One of my core survival skills was learning to adapt — learning to make something new out of the new.” As a result, he proudly identifies as a unicorn. Something unique, yes, but also something a little mythical and … elusive.

Despite Joshua’s nomadic upbringing, he was active in whatever community he landed in. During high school he played in the band and joined the math club, even competing in statewide calculator competitions. Numbers were a great passion of his, as were languages. Before going to Boston University to study International Finance, he received a Congress Bundestag Scholarship to become an exchange student in Germany, where he quickly learned the language. A semester abroad in Ecuador would add Spanish to the language tally. The 35 countries he eventually worked in would extend the list of languages to include Arabic, French, Mandarin and Swedish. He currently is learning Persian, in case there was any suspicion that he might be losing his touch.

A Pragmatic Savior

Joshua’s life after his graduating from college was marked by a vast array of jobs that were all charged both by the empathy he gained through his upbringing, and a desire to “help people”, as he puts it. He wanted to “be with different types of people and facilitate exchange with and among different cultures.” This desire took him to Morocco where he worked with the Peace Corps for two years. Other countries like Kenya, Haiti, and Myanmar made it onto his travel itinerary for similar reasons.

He was always looking for practical ways of engaging with society. After working on data analytics and software development for large corporations in the UK, US, and Europe, he received a Master’s Degree from The Fletcher School at Tufts University, where he focused on building technology for people living in “developing countries”.

His time at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) yielded a moment that he is particularly proud of. He had orchestrated a civil society innovation program that garnered so much respect that it was mentioned by President Obama during a 2014 address at the Clinton Global Initiative.

But it was also during this time that his idealism was trimmed a little. “You’re not going to save anyone,” he told himself. He had experienced time and time again that the intended recipients of his Samaritan spirit were just as capable as he was — if not more — to improve their economic and social situations. Poverty and oppression are not binary conscripts, solved by opposing interventions. “In this complex system, you can still make a difference, it just requires a different approach.”

Where There’s Smoke …

In 2002, the day after America’s Independence Day, Joshua went on a date with a Harvard librarian. As amber light from the stained glass windows in Boston’s Club Cafe illuminated part of his date’s face, Joshua was concentrating elsewhere. He had started making eyes with another man in the room. In fact, when the librarian went to get drinks at the bar, Joshua took the opportunity to lure the other man over with a cigarette. The mystery suitor took a cigarette out too and they began adding smoke to the fire already between them. Throughout the night Joshua would repeatedly send the librarian to the bar so that he could steal another moment with this intriguing man who, by the end of the night, would surreptitiously put his card in Joshua’s pocket with a request for a call.

Needless to say, the librarian was never to return. Instead, Joshua met the other man, named Scott, two days later. Scott, whom he later married, reflects on that second meeting with a buoyant idealism straight out of a 90’s Hollywood romantic comedy. “I just knew that was it!”

Joshua and Scott have since spent the last 16 years together. They quit smoking and adopted two garrulous children who have accompanied them on their travels, including on a secondment to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in Stockholm. Then, after several years of working in the public sector, Joshua felt a desire to move back into the private sector, a decision that led to Berlin.

In his role at DK&A as Director of Opportunities, he gets most excited about combining all the various parts of his experience into a cohesive whole. He describes his philosophy as wanting to bring “together common elements of human experience while recognizing that amazing things can happen when you put uncommon things together.”

“Unicorns For Gun Control”

It’s a sunny morning in Berlin. A crowd of protestors is marching towards Brandenburg Gate. They are there to stand in solidarity with the latest victims of gun violence in Parkland, Florida. Among the motley bunch of chanting expat Americans and sympathizers, there is a tiny horn sticking out of the crowd. It is Joshua’s daughter, five-year-old Wren, sitting atop Scott’s shoulders. She’s wearing a unicorn onesie, complete with horned hoodie. She is holding up a sign that says “Unicorns For Gun Control,” a sign that the family created together.

The protest goes the way that most protests go. People make speeches and then they hand over documents to the American embassy, documents that may be read by important people. But maybe not. Probably not, if we’re honest. Joshua knows the point of these kinds of protests is more to show support. Or, to put it another way, the fact of it says more than its direct consequences. “Truth doesn’t live on a two-dimensional plane — solutions tend to cover up symptoms of the problem. We need a more complicated approach. Truth is three-dimensional,” he says.

The scene manifested Joshua’s evolving view on how to affect and benefit the world. As a teenager, it began white hot with idealism. Yet now, having been cast through the prism of life, bureaucracy, and economic reality, it has not been dimmed. It has refracted into a diversity of colors. Some of them the hue of fatherhood, others tinged by corporate pragmatism, others still tinted by hope. A hope to change at least a few people’s lives.

Is that activism? Maybe the answer doesn’t matter.

The speeches end at Brandenburg Gate and the crowd disperses like a flash mob. Wren comes down from her father’s shoulders and she points her horn toward an ice-cream store.