June 9 Public Salon recap
By Shira Bick
June 9 was a night filled with ideas. Many of them were inspiring, some were sobering, but all were enlightening. When Sam Sullivan took the stage to introduce the nine speakers who would be sharing their thoughts that night, he explained the intention for his chosen forum: “The salon brings together thinkers and doers from different parts of society to think and talk.” Well, talk they did, for seven minutes each, about ideas that had inspired them, projects they had worked on and things they believed could change the lives of others. Although speaker Patrick Condon later joked that being fascinating to roughly 400 audience members for seven minutes at a time was kind of like “speed dating from hell,” none of the speakers had any difficulty at all keeping the audience enthralled.
First up was journalist Douglas Todd, who claimed that British Columbians have no sense of shared values and live in “a cultural fog.” People in this province live individual lives and disregard any sort of collective past. He had the audience in stitches, poking fun at the way British Columbians rally around exercising outdoors the way some cultures rally around their church or temple but ended on a serious note, saying that “if we don’t know who we are or where we come from, we won’t know where we’re going.”
UBC Professor of Landscape Architecture Patrick Condon also chose to look towards the future. Citing his 13 year old son as his inspiration, he spoke practically about how this region is one of the most sustainable ones in North America but that in order to remain so, people need to continue to drive less and invest in a more comprehensive tram or streetcar system. “How we spend our transportation money in the next 10-15 years is crucial,” he said. “If by 2050, we can’t cut our consumption of everything by 80%, my son will take the hit.”
Entrepreneur John Fluevog talked easily about how one individual has a greater influence on community than he or she can imagine and that individuals need to take more responsibility for their role in shaping community. He reminisced about how his father, an entrepreneur, formed community by employing high school students from the local community and then cited his own business as an example of the way social media allows so many other people to engage with business both locally and internationally: “People want to be part of the brand and part of the community.”
Community would remain a common theme of the night but first Rena Sharon, Professor of Collaborative Piano Studies at UBC, spoke of the ways songs touch everyone’s lives before enthralling the audience with a musical piece inspired by the sense of infinity that being out in nature can inspire. She was accompanied by up and coming soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen and dancer Hailey Nochele. When the number finished, it was met with thundering applause, Ms. Sharon clearly having made her point about the power of music.
Major Harjit Sajjan
Where is Canada on the scale of diversity? Major Harjit Sajjan argued that, despite Canada’s history of racial intolerance, diversity in Canada was on a steady incline and would only continue to get better. He also claimed that this was particularly true of the Canadian Armed Forces, where diversity has helped
to solidify relationships and alliances during many overseas operations. “The Canadian Armed Forces are on the way to truly reflecting the nation they serve,” he said. “Challenges remain but we continually strive to move past them.”
Arran Stephens, President and co-founder of Nature Path Foods, summed up many of the ideas raised throughout the night when he explained how his father’s advice to “always leave the soil better than when you found it” had influenced his business policy: “Business is not to make money but to provide a service for the community.” He shared his own commitment to prevent the use of pesticides during farming before closing with an inspiring quote from poet and mystic Rumi: “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
It was fitting that Mark Jaccard, a Professor of Sustainable Energy at SFU, took the stage right after Stephens to offer his own ideas on accountability. Jaccard’s were the most sobering words of the night, which had been up until then filled mostly with hopeful words and laughter: “Humans lack the cognitive ability to stop climate change before it as affected us too greatly.” The air was heavy as Jaccard explained that people had fooled themselves into believing they could somehow offset greenhouse gas emissions, rather than implementing laws that would stress zero emissions and finding sustainable ways to recapture carbon and put it back into the ground.
SFU President Michael Stevenson also issued a warning, albeit a cultural one, saying that bilingual education in Canada was not proportional to professional and economic demand: “We are not making enough progress educating citizens in bilingual policy and multilingual economy.” He warned that this educational oversight overlooked the importance of language and communication in today’s global community: “We cannot afford the presumption that everyone will speak English.”
Finally, social innovator Al Etmanski ended the evening by reminding everyone that the best solutions to social problems were ones that considered the hearts and spirits of those they were helping. He noted the success of programs that create social networks for the disabled and how these had attracted others who are worried about an epidemic of loneliness in society to take a critical look at social programs and policies. “We build houses, not homes, we offer rehabilitation without outlets for creativity and joy,” he warned. “We ignore the soul at our peril. I leave you tonight with a call for a different type of global warming.”
Throughout the night, guests were invited to text their thoughts and comments in to be shared at the end and on the website. Over 40 texts were sent, responding to the different speakers with words of thanks and encouragement and questions about how to move forward with certain ideas. It was clear that these inspirational speakers had sparked a lot of thought among the audience. Guests left the theatre discussing points that the night had brought forward and small clusters of people remained in the lobby afterwards, deep in conversation, until the ushers had to ask everyone to leave so they could turn off the lights.
Shira is a student at the UBC School of Journalism. She has written for many publications including BC Business, Vancouver magazine, and TheThunderbird.ca
SEPTEMBER UPDATE: We are pleased to hear that Shira was a part of a team of ten UBC Journalism students that won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for the documentary Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, which aired on the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE/World in 2009. This is the first Emmy win by a Canadian journalism school.