It’s rare that I head out for the evening for the express purpose to be inspired and challenged in my thinking, but that’s what happened last week at Stuart Knight‘s Top Ten Event, and amazingly, that’s exactly what I got. Here ten people – including Jane Fonda, Mary Walsh, Steven Page, and Bassem Youssef – each spoke for ten minutes to share something of themselves as well as insights gained from their unique paths. We were in a theatre with hundreds of other people, yet there was an intimacy at this event. I think it stemmed from some shared understanding that this group knows that what we think about, and how we think about it, matters.
Sometimes I feel like I am on a perpetual hunt for anything real, and it turns out I’m not the only one. Stuart explains in his opening message:
We live in a curated world where people can easily manipulate their online profile into making others believe they are only sleeping two hours a night, while spending the rest of their time eating decadent meals, travelling to exotic destinations, bouncing between A-list parties, reading two books a day and LOL’ing non stop!
It’s this veneer that recently made me demote Facebook to the third screen of my phone and a maximum of 20 min weekly of my attention, which is now freed up for the higher thinking to be had at events like Top Ten. The evening was like lining up a series of my favourite thought-provoking podcasts, except better because the speakers were more varied than I would know how to pick for myself, and especially because they were in person.
The speakers offered a wonderful blend of intellectually and emotional stimulation, spanning a vast span of experience:
- Mubin Shaikh, Radicalized Jihadist turned CSIS Infiltrator
- Tracy Schmitt, Decorated Athlete, Humanitarian and 4-way Amputee
- Annie Lalla, Love Coach for Celebrity Entrepreneurs
- Jesse Wente, Broadcaster, Pop Culture Philosopher
- Charles Officer – Emmy Award Winning Filmmaker
- Jesse Brown, Digital Media Expert, Disruptive Journalist
The crew was so articulate that I took notes. I didn’t care how much geek was involved, because I captured some of the many gems in the evening. Outlining the incredible odds she overcame to become a renowned athlete, Tracy Schmitt repeated: “What you focus on grows.” Annie Lalla encouraged us to know that when there is conflict in romantic relationships, the couple isn’t fighting each other, but are allies fighting a misunderstanding. Jesse Wente compared 150 years of Canada and the 15,000 years of indigenous presence on native lands, challenging us to be part of the conversation of how Canada will transform in the future: “Your ancestors felt like they could change their lives. Why don’t you?”
The night had so much range. There was uproar: Mary Walsh had us laughing out of our seats (she called Trump a talking yam!). And there was quiet – Charles Officer asked us to keep our eyes closed while he spoke, to help us remember the truth of St. Exupery’s The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”
I don’t know whether it was planned or not, but the evening came full circle around the most basic of our commonalities: our dependence on Earth. Jesse Brown began the night by questioning society’s current glorification of “disruptors”, as he has been identified himself. But he called out our era as “a moment of terrible men”, and observed that these men share traits of disruption, which are dangerous when employed against consensus, for example, of the scientific community around climate change.
Jane Fonda closed the show as its star celebrity. It’s no secret I’m a fan of hers, in part for being such a fabulous role model for the potentiality of age. She turns 80 next month and reveals that aging is only scary from the outside: “Once you’re in it, it’s a no brainer. It’s not scary at all. I’ve never been better”. But the thrust of her talk was nothing less than an impassioned plea for the environment – to become involved, and to wield money like the weapon that it is, sharing it with environmental causes (assuming that the audience was “kind of cushy”), and strategically withholding it (for example, from banks supporting the pipelines).
The after-party was a networker’s dream. Nathalie and I talked and talked afterwards, until she startled me by saying it was well after midnight. And then we settled back and talked some more, because who would want an evening like that to end?