Monday, October 24, 2005

Stephen Lewis, A Talking Head?

With the Massey Lectures in full swing, the media is all abuzz with articles on and interviews with Mr. Stephen Lewis. His omnipresent loquacious verbosity is difficult to miss, as he continues to lecture and shame us on the plight of the AIDs victims in Africa. Like a hard nudge to the ribs, Lewis forces us to take notice. But, are his tactics effective? Has he made any headway in his fight to bring the AIDs pandemic to the forefront and start to take it down the road of eradication?

Like many Canadians, I was first "introduced" to Mr. Lewis while listening to the weekly debate and discussion with Dalton Camp and Eric Keirans on Morningside with Peter Gzowski. Of all the "threesomes" that Gzowski moderated on his show, Keirans, Camp and Lewis were by far the most revered and interesting. It was a "must listen to" no matter where I was at the time. The issues of the day were bandied about while the three jousted and and cajoled, for the most part in a respectful way. Three politically astute raconteurs with different personas, passionate about the newsy topics, strategies, and the analysis of it, sharing the airwaves, making their points. Camp used humour and wit. Keirans was a slower perambulator but always managed to get his point across. Lewis, the young idealistic buck, used demogogic language and emotion to swing into action.
Stephen Lewis is the last one left of the threesome, well foursome really. He continues to carry on in his chosen role as part of the Canadian conscientiousness. He holds 20 honourary degrees from Canadian universities and has been appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada. He speaks knowledgeably on subjects as diverse as international relations, economic and social development and management excellence. His recent work in Africa is merely an extension of a life-long dedication to social causes and improving the human condition. Mr. Lewis is never ashamed to be both passionate and emotional when he is speaking about his cause. He has a strong following, but he also has the tendancy to turn people off.

As much as I initially think, "oh there he goes again," when I hear him being interviewed or giving a speech, I am always drawn to what he has to say. He has the same resonance as a magnetic Preacher. What impresses me is his drive and compassion. What impresses me is that he has such a strong foundation of convictions and he isn't afraid to express them. What impresses me is that he has followed up his verbal diatribes by spending countless days in the frontline learning, absorbing, and exhaustingly advocating for a large group of people who have no voice; the children and the women. He does grab my attention.
I may not be on the same page as Stephen Lewis politically, but I do recognize an individual who is giving his energy and his soul to a cause that seems hopeless and overwhelming. Some may think he is an irritating broken record, taking on a task that is insurmountable. But, we all should admire his fortitude, focus and just plain guts to throw his voice out into the wilderness of needy causes. Stephen Lewis is quoted in the Globe and Mail article as saying that he's tired. But, I still believe that he manages to wake up every morning motivated with hope and conviction. He may be dog tired, but he can still rev it up.

Is he effective? It's difficult to gauge. There are many antecdotes that describe the crowds of followers wherever he goes. No doubt the Massey Hall Lectures will be a packed to the rafters with people who want to learn from him and hear what he has to say. In the long run, Lewis may not be the one who succeeds in turning the crisis around. But, he is definately the one who has motivated many others to take it on and carry it from here. I wish him well.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead.

No comments: