I’ve been on record for a few years now, lighting up the sentiment that it’s time to re-focus the Olympic Games back to sports. Amateur sports. That’s what these events were originally supposed to be about. But the International Olympic Committee seems to have forgotten that and lost their way.
When you have people like IOC past president Juan Samaranch apparently insisting he be addressed as “Your Excellency”… when you watch cities spend tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of time just competing to possibly “get” the Games… when you have opening and closing ceremonies costing hundreds of millions of dollars… when those same ceremonies have virtually nothing to do with sports… and when you have countries like China literally painting their grass green (to hide their dead, brown, smog-infested lawns)… then I suggest to you we’ve come to the point where the tail’s wagging the dog.
Even in the just-staged opening ceremonies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (being held in 2021 due to the Covid delay), the intent was to tone down the festivities. But one scribe wrote, “It was an odd, sometimes awkward, and tonally dissonant four-hour presentation that tried to balance the weight of the ongoing pandemic with the joy and elation that usually accompanies the world's most prestigious athletic competition. There were fireworks, but no big audience to cheer for them.”
OK, and this is wrong?
“They had to start this thing somehow,” opined another writer. Sure, they did have to start it somehow. But what’s wrong with a muted, restrained opening? “Nowhere near as bombastic as ceremonies from London or Beijing, but still struggling to find the right tone, the Tokyo opener will be less remembered for its spectacle and more for the pandemic environment in which it aired.”
And that’s just fine by me.
(BTW, how interesting that “bombastic” is used to describe something that’s supposed to be fun.)
Another reporter asked, "What's the point of all the risk, all the testing and quarantining and masks, if this is the best emotion and spectacle we can muster?”
Oh, I see. So the “best we can muster” should include spending outlandish sums of legal tender just to attract the IOC? And then even more cash to entertain the masses with acts that have nothing to do with sports?
"There is no way around it,” wrote yet another commentator, “we are in the middle of a pandemic. These games are controversial, especially here, with many of the Japanese people worried about inviting in the world as the virus has spread. But Olympic officials have pressed on, out of tradition to honor the work and dedication of these athletes and yes, in aspiration that somehow sports still has the power to connect us and to heal us."
Yup, sports does have that power. Still.
So, how about if the Olympics were to focus on that, not on all the other ballyhoo.
Oh, and at the risk of being labelled Oscar the Grouch, let me remind you that I’ve staged business conferences for clients in far off locales with budgets north of a million bucks. Nope, I’m not against pageantry. Just against spending huge amounts of dough for song and dance when it should be directed to athletic endeavour. That’s all.
Let the Games begin!
I’ve been reading about Glen Jack and the unbelievably harsh treatment this poor man suffered at the hands of “men of God” who are nothing but low life trash! The experiences Glen and so many others had to undergo in Canada’s residential school system are incredible.
And you know, while there is no direct comparison, and I’m not trying to draw one, this does cause me to think about Rick Hansen and the cruel hand he was dealt as a 15-year-old. Both Glen's and Rick' stories make me realize how fortunate I have been in my life.
Rick, who you likely know better as the “Man in Motion”, was simply travelling in the back of a pickup truck following an afternoon of fishing when the vehicle was struck by another. Rick was thrown from the truck and sustained a spinal cord injury. Since that fateful day almost 50 years ago, Rick has been paralyzed from the waist down.
I had the honour to interview Rick for my new book, “Pushing The Boundaries!” and he told me about the awesome Man in Motion Tour he embarked on, a two-year wheelchair trip around the world. 25,000 miles through 34 countries.
“You know Peter,” Rick explained, “that accident walked me right into the most defining circumstance to really test whether the nature of pushing boundaries was going to be applied and whether it could be accentuated and sharpened, or whether it was just a fanciful youth activity. So that was where I really had to push the internal boundaries of my life because clearly I didn't have any view of what it was like to have a handicap or disability. Never knew anyone in my small rural community where I was raised. So I had a set of internal handicaps and biases about what having a disability was all about. And what a whole, empowered human being was about: I mean, I thought it was about being completely independent, about being completely physically intact and, as an athlete, defined by use of your legs... so I think I had to push my own boundaries. I realized I was trapped in my thinking and it caused a lot of pain and suffering. It wasn't until I discovered the source of that pain and started to re-examine things that made me re-establish a framework that was more enabling and helped me realize that I didn't need to be cured in order to be whole... and that I could keep being the adventurer... keep pushing those boundaries... keep being the athlete and the pioneer that I always wanted to be but just do it differently. That's when the world really shifted for me and I was able to keep stretching out."
It was at this moment in our conversation that Rick made a unique admission to me that was stunning. Of course, being up front and able to make such a confession is a testament to his honesty and straightforward approach to life.
"Back then," he told me, "I had a real negative attitude and bias towards people with disabilities. I didn't know anyone with a serious handicap and I thought, if you have a disability, that must really suck and people should be pitied and just hope for a good life." He told me about a young man in his school who had polio and was walking on braces and crutches. "I remember going down the stairs and he was struggling up, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, the poor guy. Not much hope for that guy. And thank God it's not me!' But when it came my turn to be the guy in the wheelchair 6-8 months later, I said to myself, 'Poor guy' doesn't even cover it. I mean there I was, all of my hopes and dreams… shattered."
Rick was a major sports enthusiast and his dream was to be an athletic participant, whether as a player or a coach or a teacher. But I had to ask him, “Rick, at the time of the accident and recognizing the life you'd been left, did you have to overcome anger?"
There was no hesitation. "Absolutely! Anger towards the driver. Anger towards myself. Anger towards God. And that notion of forgiveness became, in many ways, the gauntlet to run down because the anger was just going to be a ball and chain that was going to hold me back. I had to find a way to reconcile that."
Rick's way to go forward was to take responsibility for his actions. And to forgive people who weren't intending to hurt him. He had to acknowledge it truly was an accident.
"Ultimately to take up the fundamental question was the next step," he told me. "Given that you can't change how you will now use your legs, can you change how you view your circumstances going forward? So I started to find little examples of how this could be a possibility and an opportunity and take baby steps ahead. Awkwardly. Feeling self-conscious, Vulnerable. Emotional. Raw. Taking those first steps into experiences that made me uncomfortable. And then getting to realize it wasn't so bad and that there was actually great beauty in those moments and endeavours, precious friendships, relationships, laughter, camaraderie, love... and then you ask yourself, well, what more is there?"
There certainly has been so much more. Far beyond the Man In Motion worldwide tour, Rick has been active in establishing the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) that, for over three decades, has raised awareness, changed attitudes and funded spinal cord injury research and care.
Did you know that roughly one in five Canadians identify as having a disability? That number is growing as our population ages. And so the RHF is working on breaking down one of the most fundamental barriers that people with disabilities still face: physical barriers in the places where we live, work, learn and play.
Rick’s story is amazing and the time I spent with him was special. There’s so much more that he and I covered in our conversation, and if you’d like to discover added facts about Rick Hansen, check out Chapter 9 of “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life”. I know you’ll be inspired to overcome your own angst about moving your life to the next level. More at pushingtheboundaries.life
I’ve been debating with friends about what age we might attain in the future. My stance has always been, “Well, my mom made it to age 100 and always claimed I had her genes, so I’m holding out for 110!”. (Mind you, that’s always said with hope, but also with an equal measure of tongue-in-cheek.) Meanwhile, some pals say they expect to be gone by 90, which I think is a little self-defeating.
All of this does remind me of Douglas Snair who I devoted a chapter to in my just released book “Pushing The Boundaries!”. Doug was 101 years of age when I met with him at his residence where he lived in Arnprior, Ontario. Sadly, this wonderful gentleman passed away a couple of months ago at age 104, but not first being described as “Canada’s luckiest man”. That descriptor, by the way, is why I profiled Doug for the book: not because of his age – while, indeed, making it beyond 100 is sure pushing some boundaries, no question – but because of the previous 101 years and what they held in store for the lively centenarian. Starting with the fact that Mr. Snair (“Please, call me Doug”) had survived the great Halifax Explosion and was probably the only living person in the 21st century to make that claim.
Now, I'd be surprised if there's a student in Canada who hasn’t meandered through history class learning how the city of Halifax was virtually levelled back on December 6, 1917. The collision of a French ship, loaded with highly explosive munitions, coming into contact with another vessel, created a blinding white flash and resulted in 1,800 people being killed and another 9,000 injured. The entire north end of the city was destroyed, with windows 50 miles away being shattered and the sound registering hundreds of miles away. The event was recorded in detail through Hugh MacLennan’s great narrative “Barometer Rising”.
“I was only a year and a half old so I don't remember much,” Doug told me. My mother was standing with her back to the window bathing my sister who was only a month old. Suddenly the whole window blew in, glass everywhere. I got some of it on one side of my face, but mother got the whole thing in her back. She was in hospital quite a while getting over it. For years she had all this scar tissue in her back. But you know, I wasn't tall enough to get hit full on. If I'd been just a little bit taller, I probably wouldn't be here today. I do recall that with the window blown open, the temperature was well below freezing, it being December, and my sister caught pneumonia. But she survived. Later in life, when she was 16, she lost her eyesight... now whether that was anything to do with pneumonia, I don't know."
Doug explained that every window in the house was blown in, the roof came off and the damage was so significant the building had to be torn down and replaced. "There was actually a piece of the ship with jagged edges that landed right in our house," he explains. "Came through one of the walls. We had it for years but it disappeared over time. Too bad... We moved to my grandparents' house on St. Margaret's Bay, about 25 miles away, on the ocean. Then, in 1929, my dad built a new house and we stayed there until I joined the Navy in 1940."
"Where was your father at the time of the explosion?" I ask.
"Sitting in a dentist chair," laughs Doug. "Truth be told, if he didn't have that dentist appointment, he'd have been at work at the North Street railway dispatch, and every man there was killed. Whole area was just demolished. My dad would have been one of them. He was a lucky man."
"Apparently it runs in the family," I comment.
By the time Doug and I finished our chat, we'd reviewed several other death-defying events in his life that could have ended in tragedy, but from which he walked away unscathed. "Seems to me you've cheated death on a lot of occasions?"
"Not particularly, no," he replies, shaking his head. "Life's been good to me. Things happened, and I happened to be there. But this boundary business... no..."
"Well, OK then, but I would argue that not many people make it to age 100,” I protest. “You don’t think that’s pushing boundaries?"
"I certainly don't think of it that way," he comments. "Never give it a thought. Meanwhile, I worked for the government most of my career, but I don't suppose they're too happy with me now: at this age, I'm costing them pension money!" He laughs at the thought.
I met Doug’s daughter Carol when I chatted with him and said to her in a follow up email, “I so enjoyed chatting with your dad and particularly loved his nonchalance: ‘I’m not anything special. Pushing boundaries? Not me’. It was a joy to write the chapter and I do hope you feel I captured his youthful exuberance.”
You can learn plenty more about Dog Snair’s amazing life, and his many more scrapes with death, in Chapter 22 of “Pushing The Boundaries!” (pushingtheboundaries.life)
Wow! Here’s some surprising news.
A brand new Gallup Poll finds that 59.2% of Americans say they're thriving.
The poll also reveals that 73% of Americans say they experienced enjoyment for a lot of the previous day. That 59.2% mark is the highest rating Gallup has ever recorded on the measure, and 73% is the highest grade since the coronavirus pandemic began early last year.
I’ll say it again: wow!
Now, why do I find this surprising? Well, let’s start with the fact that I’m a Happiness Expert, so designated by the renowned Dr. Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, California. When she and I talked for my book “Why Being Happy Matters” (revised version coming out soon from my new publisher with expanded information and re-named “A Guide To Happiness”), she let me in on the Annual World Happiness Report, also compiled by Gallup. It measures and ranks the happiest countries in the world based on specific criteria. Know who the happiest country is this year? Finland. Yup, li’l old Finland. And get this: they are #1 for the third year in a row!
Now, the U.S. is… down at #14. And that’s why I’m surprised at these new data points because they sure don’t gel with the World Happiness Report.
But I may just have figured out what’s going on here. I think it’s all about community.
You see, one thing I learned in researching happiness and talking to several PhDs studying positive psychology, is that community – or the lack of it – has been signaled as a principal reason some countries just do not poll higher in happiness. As well as being why countries like Finland that thrive on community are happy.
Now, let’s consider that if there is any upside to the Covid 19 pandemic at all, it’s that it’s brought us closer together. The essence of community has enjoyed a real upswing.
Families have hunkered down. Friends have devoted time to checking up on each other. Relatives have expressed concern.
In his book “Bowling Alone”, Dr. Robert Putnam of the JFK School at Harvard University, writes, “We used to be joiners, now we’re not. We don’t embrace bowling leagues the way we used to. Church attendance is off. Book clubs, investment clubs and other gatherings of people into ‘communities’ have lost their allure as we replace pleasant pastimes with helter-skelter lives aimed at achieving things, not enjoying things. The simple act of joining and being regularly involved in organized groups has a very significant, positive impact on individual health, well-being, and happiness.”
So that’s it: with a newfound commitment to community to ride out the pandemic. Americans are rediscovering joy. And that’s lead people to “thrive” and experience more enjoyment than before.
Let’s see if we can’t sustain this.
BTW, if you wish more information about my book on happiness, just visit aguidetohappiness.life
I’m pleased that my newest book has just been published by Castle Carrington. I’m convinced “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life” will actually change lives. How? By introducing readers to 32 people from around the world – many of them well known – who take risks with their pursuits by thinking outside the box, coloring outside the lines, feeling restrictive rules are made for others. They are propelled to go where the faint of heart simply never venture. And when you read about how they do what they do, I think you’ll become motivated to be more like them. In fact, as Jack Canfield, noted co-author of the “Chicken Soup For the Soul” series says in the Foreword to “Pushing The Boundaries!”, “Are you ready to take chances to achieve your goals? Or is fear standing in your way? The fact is, fear is the single biggest thing that holds us back. Unless you can step past that fear, you’ll just end up playing it safe and avoid trying new things. And that means it’s unlikely you’ll ever fulfill the dream most of us have of living a more rewarding life.”
Now, let me take a minute to introduce you to one of the individuals who will inspire you.
George Cohon is a legend in business communities and philanthropic worlds. His incredible stick-to-itiveness against a wall of corporate naysayers led him to establish his company – McDonald’s – in Russia. Impressive? Sure thing. But when you realize George worked at this for 14 years before he got success, well then you understand how he is a charter member of the pushing the boundaries club.
Yet, as much as George’s story is astonishing, it’s the man himself that fascinates me. Let me share two personal stores that will help you see why he’s so impressive.
Story #1: Let’s dash back to 1967. George Cohon had left the security of a Chicago law firm to move lock, stock, and young family to Canada as the new licensee of McDonald’s Restaurants for the eastern segment of the country. Though McDonald’s was virtually unknown north of the 49th parallel (hell, it was just starting to catch on State-side!), George had a great belief in himself, his product and the men running McDonald’s in the US. He accepted the challenge and began promptly opening restaurants in his adoptive country.
In a matter of years, George had bought himself a nice home in Toronto’s stylish Forest Hill district. And while he was traveling often—now opening up new venues for McDonald’s across the country—he always insisted on being home for weekends with his family.
So, we proceed to a Friday afternoon where he pulls his car into the driveway, pumped about a good week’s work, and even more exhilarated to be home. As he steps out, he hears his neighbour “whispering” to her husband, “Looks like the dirty Jew is back.” George stops. Until this point, he had no idea his next-door cohorts were anti-Semitic.
Walking inside, George sets down his bags, says hi to his wife and walks to the phone. He calls his lawyer. “I want you to buy the property next door for me,” he says.
“I want you to buy the property next door,” he repeats. “I know it’s not for sale. Just make them an offer. I don’t have the money but let’s just buy the house and be done with it. Let’s just figure out how not to live next door to them.”
Let the record show that George persisted and ended up owning the property. “It was actually a good deal,” he told me. “Ended up being worth an awful lot more than I paid for it.”
OK, a good deal... but… who does this?
George Cohon, that’s who.
Story #2: Let’s fast forward to where George has enjoyed some success so he’s about to buy a new car, a Jaguar. The salesman gives him a price, they negotiate a bit, and it’s a done deal.
George grabs his pen to sign on the dotted line when the sales guy asks if he’d like a cold drink. “Sure,” George says, “a Coke would be great.”
“No, actually, it’s not.”
He’s told they only have a Pepsi machine. George stops, pauses, then states, “You know, you’ll have to get rid of that Pepsi vendor or there’s no deal on the car.”
The salesman is shocked, unsure what to do or say.
The dealership owner comes over and asks, “George, what’s going on? I’ll run across the street and buy a Coke for you.”
“Not good enough,” George says. “Aside from the fact that Coke is the better drink, McDonald’s has a great relationship with Coca-Cola and my son works for Coke. I just won’t enjoy getting in my new car every day being reminded of Pepsi. Let’s forget the deal.” He stands and gets ready to leave.
“What can we do to make this better?” asks the car guy.
“Well, you can get rid of the Pepsi machine,” George says simply.
“I guess... but how would we get a replacement?”
“No problem,” George replies. He reaches for the phone and promptly calls Coca-Cola Canada, speaks jovially to the President for a minute or so, hangs up and says, “At 10 am tomorrow, the President of Coca-Cola Canada will personally deliver a new machine to you.”
And so, Pepsi is toast and, in its place, a sparkling new Coke dispenser.
George buys the car.
Same question: Who does this?
George Cohon, that’s who.
Talk to Rick Hansen about George Cohon. The “Man In Motion” – who I interviewed in “Pushing The Boundaries!” as well, and who traversed the globe in a wheelchair to bring awareness to people with disabilities – shares my enthusiasm for the man. "He's such an amazing person," says Rick. "I can't say enough about what George has done for Canada. His passion and how he just stands up and takes the lead on things he really cares about is amazing."
When I talked with George for the book, I caught up with him in January 2017, at his beautiful home in Palm Beach, Florida, where he and his wife Susan spend their winters before returning to Toronto. I was pumped because I knew George would give me gems to help along my understanding of how to take risks and push boundaries. I wasn’t disappointed. Yet, I’ll confess to being surprised when George told me how enthused he was for the subject matter I was writing about. So much so that he rolled up his sleeves and created marvellous introductions for me to interview people.
And so much so that George is one of the people I dedicate “Pushing The Boundaries!” to.
I’ve said before that I have extraordinary luck in meeting fascinating people. Here’s another example.
My friend Tommy Sandler, son of the late Ruth Lowe whom I wrote about in “Until I Smile At You” (untilismileatyou.com), introduced me to Camille Dan. He said we had much in common. And indeed we do, starting with both of us being charter members of that club no one wants to join: the one where you have experienced the death of one of your children.
My son Jamie died very suddenly and without warning on Christmas Eve, 2016. He was just 34.
Camille endured the tragic death of her son Aaron on September 22, 2019. Aaron was 31.
But here’s the thing that is quite incredible about what Camille has experienced (other than, of course, deep, interminable grief). Just days after the loss of Aaron, Camille began to hear him speak to her from “beyond the veil”. In fact, he told her, in detail, about his transition to the afterlife and his experience on the other side.
Now, I have had no experience with paranormal occurrences nor the occult, or anything like that. Yet, I am, by nature, very open to any and all ideas. So I totally accept that what Camille describes has occurred and continues to happen.
As she and I pursued this, Camille told me she did not consider herself to be a writer nor did she have any burning desire to become an author. Yet, she did have the presence of mind to keep a journal of Aaron's transcendent messages. So, after taking a writing course, she elected to take this information and apply it to the page. The result: “Aaron’s Energy”, is the inspiring story of Camille's unexpected journey through traumatic grief, her discovery of proof of the afterlife and the spirit connection, her understanding of possibilities and the infinite nature of existence.
Let me tell you, if you’ve wondered about life beyond death, or even if you are grieving loss without intertest in “connecting” with loved ones, this book will bring you great comfort from knowing that our loved ones never leave us. You will evolve into a different feeling about “energy”.
Read “Aaron’s Energy”. Perhaps because of the loss of my own son, this book resonated so deeply with me. To the point where I sent a copy to my daughter-in-law Alexie – Jamie’s widow – because I know it will have great meaning to her too.
Thank you, Camille, for having the courage to share your story with the world. And thank you for your friendship. You’ve made a difference.
I should add that proceeds from the sale of “Aaron’s Energy” (https://www.aaronsenergy.com/) are going to mental health and addiction research and care institutes, as well as bereavement support service organizations internationally.
In this week that features not only National Indigenous Peoples Day, but the horrific discovery of at least 750 unmarked graves found on the grounds of a former Residential School in Saskatchewan, I’m thinking about Tunchai Redvers. She’s the extraordinary young lady who’s initiated the “We Matter” campaign, gathering positive messages from people across the country in support of Indigenous youth facing drug use and suicide.
I met Tunchai while interviewing her for my just-released book “Pushing The Boundaries!”. It was the headline associated with her that grabbed me first:
"Tunchai Redvers, one of the co-founders of We Matter,
reached out for help after ingesting pills at 15."
Turns out Tunchai, after almost becoming a statistic herself, felt compelled to do something about the broken lives she saw around her while growing up in a northern aboriginal community. Watching inflated rates of alcohol and drug addiction, along with accompanying suicide attempts, she began to see the importance of breaking the silence while reaching out for help. "The suicide rates with our young have always been high," she told me. "But Peter, it was becoming outrageous, like 100 suicide attempts in an eight-month period in Attawapiskat First Nation, home to about 2,000 people. It’s really overwhelming and tiring to keep hearing about young people taking their lives.”
Having endured bullying and abuse herself, Tunchai struggled with defining her own identity. “I didn’t really know what it meant to be Indigenous,” she told me, “because there were no role models in the media, and there was no one to look up to. I kind of broke at that point. I was 15. I saw no future and decided to take a toxic amount of pills before phoning my mom. I was at rock bottom and this was my cry for help."
Fortunately, the cry was heard.
"As someone who has struggled with bullying, abuse, identity questions, intergenerational trauma, suicidal thoughts, high functioning anxiety, and all the issues that come out of these,” she told me, “it took a lot for me to be able to feel comfortable in my own skin and begin to open up about who I was and what I’ve experienced. I’ve come up against real darkness. But I think what pulled me out of that was the need to find myself in order to help others."
Tunchai ("Flower" in the Chipewyan language) took control. She got into competitive sports, drama and dance. She moved to Yellowknife, a larger town, and broadened her social conscience, raising money for Haiti and even volunteering at an orphanage in Bolivia at age 16. Her volunteerism took her to India and then to a time of interning at two First Nations communities with an organization that empowers youth through sport. "That internship sparked a real passion for working with aboriginal youth," she says. "In fact, it changed my career path from working overseas in international development studies to Indigenous child welfare here."
"You'd been pushing the boundaries for some time then," I commented.
"I suppose so," Tunchai smiled. "If you mean challenging political, social, cultural, and societal norms, then yup, that's me. Pushing the boundaries means not being afraid to stand up for, speak out against, and to fight for what I believe to be right… When we step outside of our comfort zone and talk about these things, then this is when we, as individuals, and as a nation, can begin to recognize, learn, heal, and move forward in healthier ways."
Clearly, this caring attitude runs in the family. As Tunchai was experiencing her
awakening, her brother Kelvin was starting a video production company in Hay River. He shared Tunchai's calling to do something about the human destruction in aboriginal communities of the north.
"I remember the two of us saying, 'What if we could create a national campaign designed to share the message to Indigenous youth who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and other hardships: no matter how hopeless or lonely things feel, there is always a way forward!'" Tunchai says.
Outrageous idea? Sure, if you’re dedicated to the status quo. But for Tunchai and Kelvin Redvers, this kind of pushing the boundaries just seemed natural.
Tunchai stops to consider her thoughts, then adds, "You know, I have had to push a lot of my own boundaries in order to get to a place where I could try to change the systems around me as a young Indigenous woman in the social services and non-profit field. But in doing so, I have accomplished more than I could ever have imagined!"
And, isn’t that what pushing the boundaries is all about!!
There’s lots more to learn about Tunchai Redvers, and how she and Kelvin established “We Matter”. Her story is covered in “Pushing The Boundaries”, along with profiles of 31 other remarkable people. It’s all available at pushingtheboundaries.life
OK… I’m going to hazard a guess you'll be surprised to discover there's a group called Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI). Am I right? Well, let me tell you, not only does this lofty body exist, but the enthusiastic membership has a fancy logo and even boasts an annual convention... you know, so folks who enjoy ingesting long, sharp, cold, metal bayonets into their inner sanctums can convocate and pay homage to veteran sword swallowers.
But here's the thing: with the SSAI, we're talking about an organization that promotes the annual World Sword Swallower's Day (who knew?). The association boasts members from the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, and more.
Mind you, it's not all fun 'n games: the SSAI blog reports that Matty "The Blade" Henshaw – an Australian renowned for holding the world record of swallowing 3,782 swords in one year – died at age 50. It was an apparent suicide.
Now, why am I going on about sword swallowers? Well, my newest book has just been published: “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life” and, while I profile many well-known people from around the world, chances are you don’t know Johnny Strange. He’s a sword swallower.
"Strange by name, strange by nature" Johnny tells me as he sits between performances in the living room of his mate's flat in London, England. He and I are chatting about the art of sword swallowing, where I learn that it originated over 4,000 years ago in India. In fact, Dan Meyer, President of Sword Swallower's Association International and himself an experienced enthusiast says, "It requires the practitioner to use mind-over-matter techniques to repress natural reflexes in order to insert solid steel blades from 15 to 25 inches down the esophagus and into the stomach.”
There are currently less than a few dozen full-time professional sword swallowers actively performing around the world."
Hmmmm... wonder why so few participants?
But back to that World Sword Swallower's Day. To initiate this grand phenomenon, 22 brave and daring devotees recently gulped down nearly 138 feet of solid steel at several Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium locations worldwide. Apparently, all that steel went down the hatch without a scratch. The swallowers, four of them ladies, ingested 84 swords in total!
As rare as these practitioners are, leave it to me to connect mano-a-mano with a charter SSAI member: Johnny Strange. Yet, as I soon discover, sword swallowing is just one facet of this man's astounding array of routines.
"I get referred to as a dare devil stuntman a lot," Johnny tells me. "But my preferred job title is simply 'entertainer'. I choose to entertain in different ways – from telling jokes, demonstrating the unique things my body is capable of, sword swallowing, circus skills and bizarre sideshow stunts.”
“Telling jokes?” I ask. “Johnny, it seems to me this is pretty serious stuff to be joking about...”
“I like to keep the audience on the edge of their seats,” he explains with great enthusiasm, “keeping people on a roller coaster of emotions. I could literally die halfway through the show – and then, just as you're about to swallow the sword, you make a joke. People laugh nervously but then you take it back up to the danger level again. You're playing with those emotions."
My goal in the profile I write about him (one of 32 in the book) is to discover what makes Johnny Strange tick. How can he erase fear and take risks with ease?
"I am constantly trying to push boundaries and training to do things that other people can’t do," he explains.
"Why?" I ask.
"Because it makes me feel like I’m always moving forward and trying to better myself. I love being able to show people something they’ve never seen before, things they never thought existed."
This desire to excel has resulted in our man shattering numerous Guinness World Records and earning his nickname: “The man with ears of steel”.
"Ah yes," he says. "My abnormally strong, stretched ears proved tough enough to set the official Guinness World Record for ‘The heaviest weight lifted by pierced ears’."
"And that weight was...?"
"I managed to lift a 32-pound cast iron load attached to carabineers hooked through just the piercings in my ear lobes," he tells me. He’s saying this like it’s just a walk in the park. But I'm grimacing in discomfort.
And he's not done. "Next, just to take it up a notch, I pulled an aircraft for over 20 feet using nothing more than my ears."
Yeah, sure, why wouldn't a fella?
Johnny's explaining this, by the way, as though we're talking about lifting a thimble of rice or pulling a balloon through a crowd. Nothing extraordinary, ya know!
"You just push yourself a little bit more at a time," he says. "You just keep adding a little bit more weight. And hopefully you stop before you push yourself just that little bit too far. I'm still working on finding out where that boundary is. Until you reach it, you just don't know..."
Johnny is nothing if not philosophical about this. "Peter, you only get one shot at life, and you have to make the most of it,” he tells me. “Try to pack in as much as you can... It's OK to wander outside your comfort zone, not necessarily to do dangerous things like I do, but whatever you want to do to challenge yourself. You can do it!"
"Johnny, let me ask you: do you ever experience fear when doing your feats?"
He stops to consider. Then: "No... nope... don't think so..."
Clearly, this is new territory for him.
Interesting that in another profile in “Pushing The Boundaries”, Nik Wallenda – the man who walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope – told me the same thing: "Fear isn't a concept I even understand.” He confessed. “Fear isn't a feeling I've ever encountered."
Some of Johnny Strange's Guinness World Records include the most apples held in the mouth and chain sawed in half (please! I don't want to even think of that!), the most apples chain sawed out of someone else’s mouth (enough!), the most animal traps released on the body (ouch!), the fastest time to break 16 concrete blocks on the body and the most melons chopped in half on a person’s stomach with a samurai sword while they lay on a bed of nails.
But we're not done. Not nearly done.
Mind you, that’s enough for now. You can read more about Johnny Strange as well as 31 other individuals whose amazing lives I profile in “Pushing The Boundaries!”, available at pushingtheboundaries.life, through orders at your local bookstore or from Amazon, Indigo/Chapters, Barnes & Noble, etc. As Jack Canfield, co-author of the "Chicken Soup For The Soul®" series says in my book’s Foreword, "Having the conviction to reach beyond your fears and take chances means you’re ready to achieve lasting success."
While readying my newest book, “Pushing The Boundaries” for publication this week (just learned it’s “live” now: https://www.amazon.ca/Pushing-Boundaries-How-More-Life/dp/1990096263/ref=sr_1_1 dchild=1&keywords=Pushing+the+boundaries+how+to+get+more+out+of+life&qid=1623014875&s=books&sr=1-1) I couldn’t help thinking about a book I read some time ago – “Bowling Alone” by Dr. Robert Putnam of the JFK School at Harvard University. He posits, “We used to be joiners, now we’re not. We don’t embrace bowling leagues the way we used to. Church attendance is off. Book clubs, investment clubs and other gatherings of people into ‘communities’ have lost their allure as we replace pleasant pastimes with helter-skelter lives aimed at achieving things, not enjoying things. The simple act of joining and being regularly involved in organized groups has a very significant, positive impact on individual health, well-being and happiness.”
Even Mark Zuckerberg agrees. The Facebook founder says we need to build a global community. “The sociopolitical upheavals of our time—from rampant drug addiction to murderous totalitarian regimes—result to a large extent from the disintegration of human communities... For decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else…” Zuckerberg says Facebook intends to roll out tools to make it easier to build communities: “If we can do this, it will not only turn around the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.”
Stay with me because this next thought is connected: did you know that Finland is the happiest country in the world? For the 3rd straight year! (In case you’re wondering, the USA is 14th, Canada’s 15th and the UK is 18th.)
OK then, what’s the link?
It’s pretty simple really. The PhD students studying positive psychology whom I interviewed for my book “A Guide to Happiness” (aguidetohappiness.life) explained to me that countries like Finland have a strong sense of community. People there do things together. They support each other, have fun with each other, plan together, build futures together. They have real friends, not the fake kind so many people seem to value on social media. And because of this, the folks in Finland are happy.
Maybe it’s time that we here in North America began looking at what matters in our “real” lives, not our online lives.
Anyone ready to go bowling?
As I read more about Artificial Intelligence, I’m learning that biologists are deciphering the human body and brain while computer scientists are giving us huge data processing power. Merging these two is sure to produce algorithms that can understand our feelings better than we can. And the natural consequence of that is that authority will shift from humans to computers. Now, to me anyway, that’s scary.
But as we move towards this brave new future, aren’t we using the wrong term here? I mean, consider…
Artificial means fake, false, bogus, unreal
Intelligence means brilliance, perception, agility, understanding
Since Intelligence carries with it a human connection, (“We humans are more intelligent than animals”, etc.), aren’t we better to stay away from this human link in naming the ability of computers to harness data in order to make decisions?
I suggest Computer Brain may be a preferable term. CB rather than AI.
Hi there. I've written 8 books so far and am working on others. Feel free to comment