Last night I had the enormous privilege of being able to attend David Suzuki’s “The Legacy Lecture.” The lecture which took place at the Chan Centre out at the University of British Columbia was premised on a simple idea: If I had one last lecture to give, what would I say?
I confess I’ve never seen David Suzuki speak in person – and he is compelling. Yes, he is a skilled orator – especially when he relaxes, jokes with us and is self-deprecating – but that isn’t what really struck me while watching him speak, alone, on stage.
What struck me was how David Suzuki has always managed to have an appeal to me and my friends – that he has spoken to and engaged us right from when we were little, to today, when we are (mostly) adults. This is no small feat. Having grown up at the tail end of Gen X (or front end of Gen Y – depends who you ask) I would say that if one thing defines this cohort it is a constant (sometimes important and sometimes vicious) sense of ironic detachment from almost everything. As a teenager my media exposure to stories and people “who were me” were found in films like Reality Bites, Pump up the Volume, Singles, Office Space, Swingers, or Fight Club, where the characters lived in worlds that are far from ideal, or worse unraveling, and in which the leads had limited (if any) control. More importantly, these characters all struggled to believe in anything and to genuinely become part of something. Detachment: that is our thing. There is a reason Seinfeld was so iconic.
Boomers, of course, have a cliched lament that we don’t protest, and sing protest songs. But, (and this will be odd to hear for those who know me) it wasn’t through politics that I became aware of this difference, instead, our collective detachment came home to me while listening to my Dad’s favourite (and now mine too) Ramsey Lewis albums where often the crowd can be heared enthusiastically clapping and singing alone. For most Gen Xers this would require a sense of presence and a willingness to submit to an immediate sense of community, or a moment, that is simply – and for reasons that are not totally clear to me – uncomfortable.
But this is what, I think, David Suzuki has been able to do his entire career. In a quiet and intense way, he enabled Gen Xers to watch his show without the need to be ironically detached. His message – the environment – his mode of inquire – science – and his humble but unrelenting approach appealed to boomers yes, but more importantly, and rarer among CBC type presenters, it appealed to the rest of us. Rare among his generation was an ability to connect, even with those who sometimes shunned being connected with.
Sitting in that theater and watching him speak, that talent came crashing home. With David, I still listen critically (we don’t lose that facility) but, I don’t feel the need to be ironically detached. I enjoy being part of the community he creates and want to enjoy the moment and even feel emotionally connected.
It’s a brave thing to give a legacy lecture. To lay out everything you believe you have been, are and will be, and then share that publicly. But alone, and somewhat naked up there on stage, I got a real insight into why I – and I believe so many of my friends – love David Suzuki. That even if they sometimes call him Dr. Doom & Gloom he still reaches out to us, makes us think, and wants us to feel part of something bigger, greater and more beautiful than we knew. And for those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s that is a gift that cannot be underestimated.