2016 - Present
I have known Stephen as both a friend and colleague over the last five years.
I want to begin this testimony by acknowledging the hurt that has been felt by the individuals in The Seeds of Solidarity Collective (SSC) as a result of both Stephen and the culture surrounding him. I include myself as someone who has been at the centre of this growing community, and the website published by Seeds of Solidarity has given myself and many others much to reflect on, particularly the ways in which this community needs to grow and have better systems in place to create greater safety and inclusion.
I wish to offer my experience of Stephen to give a greater depth of understanding and perspective. From my perspective the whoisstephenreid website paints a misleading characterisation of Stephen which is monumentally damaging, and the way in which it has been done is leading to greater division, pain and suffering for everyone involved.
From reading the website my understanding is that SSC are seeking healing and prevention of further harm. This is my desire also. I recognise that even the concept of this website (thisisstephenreid) is problematic and may cause further division, however it also feels important to offer greater perspective and balance to this incredibly sensitive conversation.
I was not present for any of the one to one interactions spoken about in the testimonies from the accusers. I have been present in Stephen’s life around some of their occurrences. It is to this that I shall speak.
I first met Stephen at what is considered the second of the Find The Others (FTO) gatherings at New Year 2016.
Though I was not close to Stephen during my first year of knowing him I was struck by his extreme generosity and warmth towards new people. As I got to know him I also observed a differentness to him, and in particular the way he related to others. I have for a long time now accepted that Stephen is different to most people, which accounts for much of his genius, and also sometimes an oddness in social interactions.
As many of the accounts describe I have witnessed Stephen become excited about something or someone, and then almost as quickly lose interest. I’ve noticed that Stephen’s capacity to understand the emotional experience of other people is unlike a typical person. On more than one occasion I have had to explicitly explain to him why someone was hurt or upset by his behaviour, and in particular, how his sudden lack of interest can be experienced as feeling ‘dropped’, which is really painful.
I empathise with the experience of many in the testimonies around feeling confused by his response in a moment of frustration or conflict, and I too have experienced feeling dissatisfied or somewhat bemused by his reaction to my hurt, which has oftentimes felt inappropriate or lacking in empathy. I believe this is due to the neurodivergent nature of Stephen’s mind, and frustrating as it can be, I don’t believe that he is a manipulative sociopath laid out in SSC’s website.
I would consider myself to be someone probably closer to Stephen than most at this current point in time, bar his partner. I think that in part, this has come from my consistent invitation for him to be more open and vulnerable with me. This is certainly not easy for Stephen, and I have seen him slowly open more to me over the years, though probably only seen him cry 2 or 3 times.
In both our friendship and our professional relationship I have experienced Stephen to be a genuine, loving, caring and supportive presence in my life, and the lives of many around me. It is through his encouragement and consistent belief in me that I have followed my calling to hold spaces for women’s empowerment, which is now my full time occupation.
Because of the closeness of our connection I have often found myself in the position of giving Stephen challenging feedback, surrounding personal issues with friends as well as colleagues. I have at times been the go-between, which I now see has not always been in service.
Though change has been slow, sometimes exasperatingly so, I have and continue to see lasting change in Stephen’s behaviour, particularly in relation to power and status, in both our friendship circles and a professional context.
I think that in the beginning of the FTO days Stephen was not fully aware of the celebrity-like status that he held, and I can see that a lot of damage has been done as a result of this lack of awareness.
The parties that we co-created together were definitely pushing at the boundaries of the way we chose to live, and were intentionally experimental. I know that many, including myself, had extraordinary experiences of unity and liberation, and our lives have been significantly changed for the better.
It is with deep regret that we didn’t fully understand at the time the potential for trauma and suffering that was likely given the unstructured nature of the events that involved psychedelic substances, and exploring intimacy. I find it challenging and upsetting that many of the testimonies are not about Stephen specifically but relate to a culture which was co-created by those attending the events. It does not feel fair for him to be targeted in a way that actually includes far more people. I think that many of the critiques made by SSC are fair and valid and as a community we have and continue to attempt to address these critiques. It’s also fair to say that we haven’t done the best job.
That said, there were many safeguards put in place that I have not experienced at the majority of festivals or places where people go to get their minds blown. These include things such as: a welfare space and sober ‘well fairies’ who are there to support people having challenging psychedelic experiences, workshops on consent, check ins, buddy systems and collecting feedback post-event.
The website speaks in detail about how Stephen has not been held accountable and has abused his position of power. While this may certainly have been true in the past, the SSC may not be aware of Stephen’s more recent journey, and the ways in which he has been held accountable. I will try to speak to this in relation to The Psychedelic Society.
It’s true to say that I myself have at times witnessed Stephen wielding his power within the organisation in a way that hasn’t felt good or fair to the rest of the team. I say this with the acknowledgement that I’ve also been guilty of this.
I have consistently called him out when I felt he stepped out of line. And I have experienced that he has taken this feedback on board and made concerted efforts to grow.
I also know that in the earlier days before we were a workers' coop and functioning as a teal organisation, others have not felt so confident to confront Stephen (which must be common within all workplaces of hierarchy). Since then many structures have been put in place, including workshops and mediation from external facilitators, as well as our own regular internal processes of feedback, designed to address power imbalances and conflict between team members.
We began as a group of friends, passionate about inner work, but relatively clueless about business, and over the course of the last 3 years, have put in structures that support a healthy work environment that I now feel very proud of.
We have many agreements and processes in place to make our work environment fair, and to prevent any one of us from abusing our position of power within the collective. If an agreement is broken we believe in a restorative approach to justice, seeking mediation and understanding rather than punishment.
Working in a non-hierarchical way is still an emerging field, and hierarchy is always present in some way, even if informal. Discussions around power and conflict aren’t easy. It’s something we’ve learnt together, and are able to do through a culture of trust, responsibility, accountability, courage and honesty, that has taken several years to establish.
I think it’s worth noting that Stephen has been the driving force in transforming The Psychedelic Society into a workers coop, through researching decentralised ways of organising (Teal Organisations), consistently encouraging team members to take more power and agency, bringing in a number of independent facilitators to assist us in transitioning to a decentralised organisation, and researching and registering as a formal coop.
The truth is, it takes time to unlearn how to be the boss and give over power to the collective. It doesn’t happen overnight. This work continues, and I see that he is dedicated to it.
There is still so much to learn, and my deepest hope is that some resolution may be found between everyone involved.
— Gaia Harvey Jackson