Interviews conducted by John Barber, Rachel Brady, Tavia Grant, Sarah Hampson, Darcy Keith, Wency Leung, Mark MacKinnon, Kirk Makin, Stephanie Nolen, Sean Silcoff and Brad Wheeler.
- Ai Weiwei on freedom
- Jann Arden on pets
- Shawn Atleo on hope
- Sherry Cooper on winning
- Paul Tough on failure
- Anne-Marie Slaughter on balance
- Carol Todd on empathy
- Andrew Pyper on stories
- Richard Wagner on justice
- Ingrid Betancourt on reconciliation
- Deepa Mehta on magic
- Hunter Harrison on national pride
- Rosie MacLennan on gold
- Josh Cassidy on moving on
- David Rosenberg on contrarianism
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait at his studio in Beijing, China on May. 22, 2012. Adam Dean
Ai Weiwei on freedom
Contemporary artist Ai WeiWei has been an outspoken critic of human rights in China. In 2011, he was held for a number of months for alleged “economic crimes” and is still not able to leave the country.
What is my definition of freedom? It has a lot of levels. When we talk about freedom, it can be really dependent on where you are.
For me, I think the most important freedom is to think freely. I think that is essential for a human being and also that’s a very basic right that everybody should have. It doesn’t matter what country or what kind of political system you live in.
In China, we are far behind. We don’t have the very basic right to vote, we have no way to express ourselves through media. We cannot really participate in any kind of political discussions or show our opinions to influence any social-political decision-making. We have no right to get information freely through the most important Internet technologies. Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook – all those are forbidden in China.
That means we don’t have very essential conditions for individuals or citizens to be free. It also means we’re not in a contemporary stage. We’re seen not as citizens. China doesn’t really have a civil society.
Am I hopeful? We’ve been hopeful for decades, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I really feel sorry to say that.
Jann Arden in Toronto on Feb. 9, 2012. Tim Fraser
Jann Arden on pets
Singer-songwriter Jann Arden has won eight Juno Awards for her work.
Animals have always been part of my life. I grew up with pets. We had geese and rabbits and a magpie. Now we have a cat and three dogs. Two are big outdoor farm dogs, and I have my little five-pound Midi. She’s a Maltese/Yorkshire-terrier cross. I’ve had her for four years, and she’s changed my life. I’ve been on the road for 25 years, and, honestly, before I got the dog it was getting really tedious. I wasn’t sure about taking her on the road, but she insists on travelling with me. She gets me up and out of the hotel. She engages me all day long.
It’s the unconditional part of being loved. How many times have you walked down a street, and seen a homeless person sitting with their dog. They’re not chained to anything. They’re sitting loyally by their companion. They don’t care where they are. They don’t yearn for a big house and a warm bed. They’re there with their companion, and, damn it, they’re going to see it through. It always makes me bawl. It always makes me put $10 in a hat.
Because that’s a profound statement – that’s a lesson. With a lot of homeless people, their families have abandoned them years ago, perhaps because of mental issues or drug or alcohol abuse. So, the families finally give up. But the pets? They are there to the end.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo in Ottawa on June 21, 2012. Sean Kilpatrick
Shawn Atleo on hope
Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
Hope, for first nations in this country, is found in our traditions and teachings, our cultures and languages and the growing strength and success among our nations. It’s the spark I see in the eyes of our young people, and in the wisdom shared by our elders, which together offers balance for a future propelled by youthful energy and grounded in our rights and responsibilities as Indigenous peoples.
Hope is also fulfilling our responsibilities to live and work together. It’s a confidence that no matter the seeming immensity of the challenge, that we can and will choose the transformation to a relationship away from anger, poverty and despair, toward kindness, caring, mutual respect and mutual prosperity. Hope is found in the understanding that we are all one, we are all connected.
Hope is celebrating an incredible resilience of our peoples, reflecting an undeniable spirit that has not only survived but is now rejuvenated. Now is our time as indigenous peoples to stand tall and proud on our rights, and our achievements, and to take this forward on our path toward self-determination as we all become fully engaged and mobilized in driving our own economies and educating our kids.
Hope is not a vague abstract feeling – or something to cling to – rather it forms the solid foundation upon which we stand firm and act. It is our strength and our confidence that will drive real results for our peoples.
Sherry Cooper, executive vice-president and chief economist, BMO Financial Group. Della Rollins
Sherry Cooper on winning
Sherry Cooper, the Bank of Montreal’s chief economist, announced her retirement this month after more than three decades in the field.
Everyone has rough patches in their career. It’s been people-related for me: I’d run into rotten bosses or superiors who have had a lot of control over my work and my progression.
But I’m pretty determined. I have always wanted to do something that made a difference and that was meaningful to me. I wanted to do my best – but I wanted to be the best too. Once you’re that way, you kinda never stop being that way.
That means I don’t try things that I’m not good at. Like skiing, it’s too embarrassing, I just couldn’t handle it when I got stuck in a mogul, my skis sticking out like a toothpick in an olive. I had to quit.
It’s just that whatever the game is, you want to win it.
Paul Tough, author of the new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Gordon M. Grant
Paul Tough on failure
Paul Tough, a Canadian writer now based in New York, is the author of two books on radical education reform, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character and Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.
There’s something deep in our DNA that makes us want to protect our children. And parents are also increasingly anxious that their kids might, you know, get a B-minus or not get into the right college – their sense of worth has become wrapped up in how well their children do.
But when children are able to fail in a non-catastrophic way they learn that it’s not the end of the world, and that it’s a stepping stone to success. They get the message that hard work can pay off, that they can persevere through difficulties.
Parents need to pull back a little bit, to not be so invested in every aspect of their kids’ lives and to let some failure into the frame. I don’t think we need to go out and invent adversity for our kids; what we need to do more than anything is to give them the message that failing is okay, that it’s part of the process of getting to what we want to accomplish in life.
Anne-Marie Slaughter on balance
Anne-Marie Slaughter stepped down as director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department to spend more time with her teenaged sons. A piece she wrote about her decision, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, became one of Atlantic magazine’s most popular covers of all time.
What balance is not is that mantra about having it all … just not at the same time. That implies a sequence, that there’s a chunk of your life that’s family, and then a chunk that’s career. I see it as much more braided. You have to get the degree. You have to start the work. And then you have to be able to stay in the game while you’re having children in some way – working part-time, full-time, or not at all.
We need to make changes (paid leave, flex time and high-quality, affordable daycare would make a huge difference). But most fundamentally, when we ask the question “Is that a good place to work?” it should mean, “Is every possible effort made to make it possible for people who are both caregivers and breadwinners to balance the two?” That has to become the norm for men and women.
Ultimately, though, my article didn’t just resonate with women or men, it resonated with workers. Workers who feel like their lives are radically out of balance. People are burned out and honestly feeling that somehow work has swallowed everything else. It’s faster faster, faster, more, more, more, harder, harder, harder. And at some point, this notion of balance is back to realizing, “Wait a moment. There’s much more to life than that.”
Amanda Todd's mother Carol Todd, left, is comforted by singer Elise Estrada as they watch her music video for the song "Wonder Woman" dedicated to Amanda after the Snowflake Walk to End Bullying in Port Coquitlam, B.C., on SunDec. 9, 2012. DARRYL DYCK
Carol Todd on empathy
Carol Todd’s daughter, Amanda, died by suicide in their Port Coquitlam, B.C., home. The 15-year-old left behind a video about what led to her despair: relentless bullying.
If people thought more about what they said and what they did, it would make a difference. Text messaging and e-mail are particularly dangerous; we’re missing that face-to-face component where we have to see people’s emotions.
If you’re a strong, strong person, even hurtful comments bounce off you. But many people internalize their hurt and there’s a snowball effect – things build up and they can’t deal with them.
I know in the school system, we try to develop kindness programs – to build compassion and empathy. I think it’s just like any other kind of education: the earlier you introduce it, the more it becomes ingrained.
None of this takes a lot of effort. You can walk down the street and just smile at someone. Look at their eyes and smile. If they don’t smile back, you can keep going, right? But if they do smile, you’ve just made someone happy. It’s just little, little things that can make a big difference.
Author Andrew Pyper in Toronto, Ont. Jan. 4, 2011. Kevin Van Paassen
Andrew Pyper on stories
Toronto writer Andrew Pyper is the author of a number of novels, including the upcoming literary horror Demonology. He is also a frequent book reviewer and essayist.
We are living in the Age of the Pitch. Impatience, restlessness, the side effects of excessive cultural choice – we don’t have time for stories to warm up, for things to start getting interesting on page 146. We are fish willingly in search of the most seductive hook.
This is in part because of the rise of Twitter, the constraints of the 140-character idea, an enforced distillation of expression. But it’s also the result of high-concept claiming a higher priority (for now, at least) over style, the “pitch” of a given narrative over the texture of the line-by-line, the narrative macro over the micro.
Stories are still stories, of course. The Age of the Pitch has not required a dumbing-down in how we perform our beginnings, middles and ends.
In fact, I think it’s an especially exciting time to be a storyteller: the entertaining and the serious have not only come out of the closet, they’ve been permitted to get legally married. The literary is enjoying more frequent one-night stands with other genres, not to mention the uncountable formal innovations initiated by social media. And wit! If we can thank Twitter for nothing else, we can say it has made us funnier.
Justice Richard Wagner takes part in his welcoming ceremony at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Dec. 3, 2012. Sean Kilpatrick
Richard Wagner on justice
The 55-year-old Quebec judge Richard Wagner became the newest member of the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this month.
Justice is a balancing act. Justice is a moral value. Justice is something we are all looking for. But justice is very difficult to achieve if the members of society do not co-operate. I urge the citizens of this country to be aware that the line is very thin between anarchy and the rule of law. We are lucky here in Canada, but we should not treat that lightly. It could go away easily.
In 2001, when I was bâtonnier of the Montreal bar, we went to New York and met 20 people from across the world – from places like Tokyo, Beijing and Paris. After three days, three or four of them came up to me and said: “You are so lucky in Canada.” I was very proud. When we look at what is happening in Egypt and Iran and some other countries, you see how important it is to make sure we keep our judiciary independent.
Freed French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt answers questions at the UN Headquarters in New York Sept. 9, 2008. CHIP EAST
Ingrid Betancourt on reconciliation
A former presidential candidate in Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt was held hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for six years in the jungle.
Reconciliation is a decision that you take in your heart. If there is not this kind of approach, there is always the impression that the other side is having a better deal than you – unless you understand that you are the generation that has to stop the fight.
And stopping the fight is accepting not to fight back. When you’ve been hurt, when the enemy has inflicted a defeat on you, you have to understand there is something bigger than your pain and thirst for revenge, which is the future of your children and grandchildren, and that someone has to stop this vendetta relationship.
It has to be a consensus decision and when this happens then it also becomes an emotional reality. But it takes a lot of courage.
Filmmaker Deepa Mehta is photographed at the Trump International Hotel in Toronto Oct 26, 2012. Moe Doiron
Deepa Mehta on magic
Deepa Mehta is an Indo-Canadian director whose films include the “elements” trilogy (Fire, Earth, Water) and the recent adaptation of Midnight’s Children.
There was a wonderful Indian magician that I saw when I was very small called Gogia Pasha. He didn’t look like a magician: Everything was exaggerated in those days, and magicians were Bollywood personified, with huge mustaches, big beards. Gogia Pasha looked like a dad, a very simple man. But whenever he did something, like cut people into pieces, he was so sincere. There was something about him that made everything he did have weight and honesty.
Filmmaking more than anything is like magic – it’s based on illusion. We sit in the dark and we all agree to suspend our reality and accept that what we’re seeing is real, when of course it isn’t, is it? To do it, you have ingredients – design, cinematography, actors, music, you have a story, and you put them all together and you project it – and magic has to be one of those ingredients, it’s the most important one. It comes from the magician – the filmmaker has to be the magician.
But the magician can sometimes blow it – that’s the thing. However much you believe in the magic or the magician believes in what she’s about to create, the illusion just comes across as illusion and not as reality.
The first time I made magic was a moment when we were shooting Water. It’s where the little girl gives her ladoo, a sugary sweet, to the older woman and she watches her eat it. It was the expression on the little girl’s face of – in a way she really regretted giving it, because she wanted it so much. There was the greed of the child as well as the acceptance that maybe it was the right thing to do.
I think perhaps all of us have it in some form or another. I would like to believe anyone could do it if they could access it – everyone has that potential, but maybe they’re not desirous of accessing it, and maybe they’re not even aware of it. But maybe it’s there in all of us.
Hunter Harrison, former CEO of Canadian National Railroad is seen here at First Canadian Place in Toronto. Tim Fraser
Hunter Harrison on national pride
A Memphis-born railway executive, Hunter Harrison became chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. this year after a shareholder battle ousted management.
Canada has reached a place in the world where it is much stronger than it gives itself credit for. It has much more influence on the world economy and much more influence than its neighbour to the south.
What I usually say among friends is that Canada has an inferiority complex. But you oughta get over it. We are not like we used to be.
Gold medalist Rosie MacLennan shows her medal as she arrives to a crowd of supporters at Toronto's Pearson Airport Aug. 13, 2012. Moe Doiron
Rosie MacLennan on gold
Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan, a 24-year-old from King City, Ont., took home Canada’s only gold medal at last summer’s Olympic Games in London.
Hearing the anthem play… I have never been so proud in my life of being Canadian. But has it changed my life? All the fundamentals are the same – my family, my friends, my support system. I’m still training, and I’m going to school now.
And it’s hard to say how my performance will impact our sport. People may push for higher jumping, more tricks and more difficulty, so now it’s on me to stay ahead of that.
The moment itself is still so surreal to me.
Canadian Paralympic athlete Josh Cassidy trains in his racing wheelchair in the Oakville area on June 20, 2012 getting ready for competition. Deborah Baic
Josh Cassidy on moving on
Canadian Josh Cassidy won the 2012 Boston Marathon wheelchair race in record time – then missed a win at the London Paralympic Games.
The big events are what the public sees. It’s how I’m defined. But who I am is different, and how I define myself is the way I work day in and day out – it’s what I do before and in-between those big events.
Getting over the losses is the same as moving ahead after a victory. You have to let go of the past and move on to the next thing. The biggest thing is that day-to-day drive.
David Rosenberg. Peter Power
David Rosenberg on contrarianism
David Rosenberg is the chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc. and the former chief North American economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. He was one of a handful of economists to predict the slowdown in North America’s economic recovery.
The human condition is to be positive, optimistic and bullish. But if you’re not going to differentiate yourself, my attitude has always been, “Why bother?” Especially when you go back and see how often the consensus has been wrong.
Still, you shouldn’t go against the herd for the sake of going against the herd. There is a reason why the consensus is what it is – a plurality of forecasters believe in a certain outcome. So you want to be humble and modest and understand where the other side is coming from. Only the most arrogant foot will ever rule anyting out.
Then you have to have courage and conviction. Because if you are going against the herd, there is an extra onus to prove your case. If you do, that’s where a lot of profitable opportunities lie.