I was talking with an associate recently who told me something I’ll confess I never tire of hearing: “Peter, you have amazing interviewing skills.” I suppose this goes back to honing such attributes in my on-air radio days. “You get people talking about things they wouldn’t normally discuss,” my friend continued, “and that’s a real art. But more than that: you then go onto report what you’ve learned not so much as an interview but as a discussion, and one that we’re allowed to sit in on, whether across the kitchen table, the desk, the dining table or wherever. It becomes very personal.”
Fact is, I do seem to be able to form a more personal relationship with the people I’m “interviewing” for a book. (Truth be told, I really don’t like that word “interviewing” because it suggests something, I guess, more pre-canned, more practiced. I don’t interview people. But I sure as hell enjoy having conversations with folks who reveal neat things to me.) Like Rick Hansen, the “Man in Motion” whose round-the-world tour in a wheelchair brought attention to people with disabilities. As Rick and I chatted, he made a stunning admission to me: "Before the accident that left me paralyzed, I had a real negative attitude towards people with disabilities. I thought they should be pitied."
My conversation with Marina Nemat yielded an equally startling revelation. She’d quite literally defied fate – certain execution as a 16-year-old Iranian dissident – at Evin prison in Tehran. Marina told me that after escaping to North America and composing her memoirs, the PTSD she still suffers from after more than 25 years is acutely debilitating. “There is a sense of panic, and anger, hatred, disgust. … You basically lose control of your body.” She told me she‘d never discussed this publicly before.
And in a no-holds-barred exploration of his life, I learned how George Cohon – a mastermind of McDonald’s Restaurants who defied the odds and took a grueling 14 years to break into the Russian market – dealt with anti-Semitism. Arriving home one afternoon, he overheard his neighbor state, “Look, the dirty Jew is back.” Cohon called his lawyer and told him to buy the property next door anonymously. “I don’t have the money,” he said, “but let’s just buy the house and be done with it. And them." He over-paid and they never caught on, but he was satisfied he would not have to hear that kind of slur again.
There's also this question I asked daredevil Nik Wallenda (I'd been wrestling with it, unsure if I should even ask.) “Nik, do you have a death wish?"
"This is my life, Peter," he replied. "I don't have a death wish at all. I guess I'd answer that question with a question: do you have a death wish because you got on a plane to get here? It's that simple to me."
My friend Tommy Sandler (son of Ruth Lowe about whom we've written a book, "Until I Smile At You": ruthlowestory.com) tells me I have “chutzpah” (that lovely Yiddish word meaning audacity). Where this comes from will be found in the fact that I have – and always have had – a great sense of curiosity. That, to me anyway, is a wonderful quality to be imbued with. And I suppose it derives from having been raised by pretty compliant parents who brought me and my sisters up on the crossroads of Main-Street & Normal. They never ventured outside the confines of how they were supposed to be: seems there was some kind of rulebook that authorized the canons of life, and woe betide the person who dodged it. And you know what: that just didn’t sit well with me. So my curiosity took over, and I became someone not willing to accept things just as presented, but to question, to seek, to want to understand.
May I share with you some accolades about my book “Pushing The Boundaries! How To Get More Out Of Life” (being considered by a potential publisher as you read this) that I think may just hammer home this point…
In his enviable writing and interviewing style, Peter is able to capture and document the qualities possessed by those who reach inspirational goals. Through a wide range of personalities and accomplishments, he challenges us to dig deep to evaluate how our approach to overcoming obstacles measures up- JRM, avid reader
I love Peter's casual writing style and the ensuing conversations that go back and forth between him and the interviewee. As a reader, it makes me feel like I’m sitting down with the two of them and am part of the conversation. I love that. It makes me feel included and with that statement, likely important. because I’ve been invited in. - SW, avid reader
. Peter Jennings is a master at attracting diverse, unique interviewees and "Pushing the Boundaries" is no exception. It will renew your faith in humanity. You will come away uplifted and inspired to live life to the fullest, take leaps of faith, make a difference in the world and push your own boundaries.
- Cindy Watson, author (Out of Darkness: the Jeff Healey Story)
. I love your positive attitude and your ironic tone which can always steal smiles."
- Ginevra Grasso, Editor, Europe Books
Knowing that we want more than just a shopping list of character sketches and achievements, Peter takes us to the living rooms, across the desks and into the faces of these over-achievers, who reveal their strengths (and a few weaknesses), their secrets, and their view of the world in language we can all appreciate and understand.
- Ted Barris, author (tedbarris.com)
Thanks to each of the folks who've reflected on my ability to break free of interviews and entertain depth of discussion. It may be a fading art (see ya, Studs Terkel). And here’s to continuing those real-life conversations, so important in this era of “fake news” we seem to embody!