Sunday, October 31, 2010

We Day

Today I was watching a program on television called We Day, put together by the Free The Children organization. It captivated my interest in many ways, mostly from the curiosity of its intent, and from seeing a social setting of what has been used primarily by religious bodies as a way to garner inspiration and generate excitement among followers.

The televised program was a compilation of hi-lighted events that took place in stadiums in Toronto and Vancouver. Packed with extremely excited audiences, the hosts of E-Talk Daily, Ben Mulroney & Tanya Kim struggled to introduce the opening speakers over the shrieking audience. It wasn't exactly a concert or a seminar, but it was very close to the massive religious rallies I have attended as a youth, yet the message was a vague and varied support of positive outlooks of the world and each other.

The emphasis of the speakers for the most part was on the excitement of such things like 'making the world a better place' or 'believing in yourself' and 'looking to the future.' I suppose it was a general motivational rally aimed at younger people's altruistic aspirations, to which I applaud wholeheartedly, but there was something I felt that was lacking which I cannot place my finger on, so I will simply outline my perception of the event and offer the insight that came to my mind.

To begin the event, the two co-founders of Free The Children, Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger, came out to pump up the audience, talking about how they started Free The Children. The tone was a bit showboatish as the audience cheered at the lists of accomplishments they rattled off. They were quite charasmatic, and seemed intent on priding themselves for being 'shameless idealists', to which the audience gave much approval.

An opening video showed African people in poverty who were in need of things like better education and medical technology. There were shots of kids saying statements like 'we need your help', 'it's not a handout' and even 'it's not charity'. This confused me. Is it that obvious that much of our culture is developing a disdain for helping others? Also, while the needs of the global community are indeed important, to me it also seemed to be misplaced in terms of the immediate help much of our own regions are in need of in terms of poverty and community spirit.

One thing that irked me was that, judging from the selected hi-lights anyway, the people who were invited to speak were mostly American idealists like Al Gore, Martin Sheen and Jesse Jackson. As a patriotic Canadian, I am interested in seeing who we look to among ourselves for inspiration, and to see and hear an audience full of young Canadians idolizing non-Canadians in such a setting was a bit unsettling. On the other hand, as an international citizen I am also interested in hearing from whoever is in the spotlight. For me, however, I was hardly inspired by most of what was said, probably given that I have heard most of it before and found myself rolling my eyes at the redundancies that I was hearing. It was not all so trite, though, as most were there simply to offer support and be a part of the inspirational atmosphere.

Al Gore's appearance was first, and set the stage as to what would ensue from most of the speakers; that is, sharing a speech of general inspiration and offering encouraging words of hope and positivity. Most of the talks were quite short, and didn't delve into any specific sort of suggestive advice, but one of Gore's more memorable moments was when he at one point touted 'practical idealism and commitment to the future.'

Martin Sheen talked about activism, his family history and went on about his own history also, bringing up predictably noticeable events of his generation like Vietnam and JFK. He seemed quite out of touch as the audience began to lose interest, yet he continued on to read the statistics based on the world's population being condensed to 100 people. What eventually caught my attention was a bit of wisdom he shared when he said something to the effect of, "while none of us make the rules that govern the universe, we all make the rules the govern our own hearts."

Jesse Jackson started off talking about Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Like Sheen's introduction, the audience's attention seemed to wane, until he simply went off with a string of affirmations for the audience to repeat like: I am somebody; Respect me; Never neglect me; We are all precious in God's sight; Stop the bullying; Stop the violence; Save the children; Keep hope alive. That was pretty much the gist of what he had to offer, which I'm sure for many was an important experience, but for the most part it came across as a bit repetitive.

Rick Hansen, talked about difference makers like his high school teacher, Bob Redford, who encouraged him to chase his dreams. He encouraged others to find that same kind of inspiration from people in their own life, but like the rest of the speakers his train of thought lead to a string of empowering, non-specific, aphorisms like 'go for it' and 'make a difference.'

Not everyone was so invigorating. Philippe Cousteau, chief ocean correspondent for Animal Planet and Planet Green, came out to talk about the oil spill, and I was a little shocked when he brought up some point about "governments and corporations willing to destroy the environment at our expense." It made me wary at the tone of negativity such a statement could create when, while in actuality this may be regrettably true in some instances, creating a more knowledgeably accurate and useful portrait of the institutions that are involved in so much of our modern lives would probably have been a better angle to shoot for. The rest of his talked was riddled with so many of the cliches that one would expound to blindly encourage pretty much anyone.

When the speakers weren't talking, bands took over to hype the audience, sharing generalized heartfelt advice and stories of inspiration before playing one or two of their songs.

Personally, my favourite performance by far was from Barenaked Ladies who played Four Seconds. I had never heard it before, and it was a nice change of pace from the tone of overtly-enthusiastic ecstaticity of the crowd. Some of their shared words of inspiration included the words, "you are a community. Not a small community but a global community."

Internet sensation-of-the-week Greyson Chance performed as well. During his introduction, a comparison to Justin Bieber was mentioned, and not even two seconds after the utterance of his name the crowd went into an immediate fury of screaming and cheers, which was probably a little off-putting for the performer. He maintained his composure as he took to the stage and offered an air of friendly positivity that seemed well-polished for his age.

The two co-founders eventually came back out and went off about the importance of freedom, and brought to attentions the lives of people like Susan B Anthony, Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandella, among other visionaries who have shaped our conception of things like social justice. It is ideally a sobering and noble subject, but the tuckered-out crowd had little of eagerness left as noticed when encouraged to shout 'freedom' at the end of each sentence that the co-founders were shouting.

K'Naan ended the event playing Wavin Flag which I enjoyed. The chorus lyrics of the song are When I get older I will be stronger / They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag. It created a nicely settled atmosphere of contentment and empowerment and was one of the more calmly uplifting moments of which the rest of the event was lacking.

I am quite happy with most of what transpired, and would like to see more of similarly structured events happen outside of the religious circles they are usually used for. Much could be approved on, however, like finding speakers who can offer more than overheard advice and predictable words of inspiration. Then again, my impression is undoubtedly impaired by being privy to only what CTV decided to select for the on-air presentation. In the end, however, from what I saw I am myself inspired simply by seeing for what purposes the world is coming together to celebrate: positivity, a better future, and each other's desires to be a part of that.

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