Earlier this fall I shared a post Does Smart Still Matter? That was the script I had built for a TEDx Talk answering the question “What is Smart?” It was slightly different from the previous TEDx talks I had given as I was limited to five minutes and given the topic. There were four of us speaking at the TEDx WestVancouverED event who were given the same task. Here is my final video:
And here are links to the others who each “smartly” took on the same challenge:
But, I want to share the story of how my talk came to be. My love of writing is something I always shared with my Dad. He was a high school English teacher for more than 30 years with almost all of those at Killarney Secondary in Vancouver. I did share a little bit about my Dad in an earlier post this year – Teacher. For my entire life he had been my editor-in-chief. He would always work with me through my high school and university essays. When I took a part-time assignment at the Richmond News, as a weekly columnist, my editor-in-chief came with me. He would regularly challenge me to take a clear stance, to not be vague and encouraged rich, concrete language. He was a lover of language and we would often debate the use of individual words in an 800-word column.
It became clear this past spring that my Dad’s latest health challenge, a battle with cancer, was not going to be one he would win, and about the same time that Craig Cantlie asked if I would tackle the “What is Smart?” question at the September TEDx WestVancouverED event.
So, like I had done hundreds of times before, I took the question to my Dad. I actually wasn’t sure if I should. He was having many ups and downs health wise and having more trouble concentrating. He didn’t seem to be that interested when I first prodded him with the question. So I left it. When I returned the next day, my Mom said my Dad had been up much of the night working on my question. So, it was out off to the back porch to sit with my Dad. I had a piece of paper and a pencil to scribble notes. Everytime I saw him, I would have that paper and pencil, waiting for those moments when the conversation would turn to ‘smart’.
This time became one of our final great conversations. My Dad was becoming weaker. But, whenever he had the energy, we would come back to talking about ‘smart’. Pretty much every good line in my presentation was my Dad’s. He said, “Smart is a deceptive idea if you are trying to advance a conversation” and “It gets in the way of advancing conversations.”
He was struggling with his voice and had trouble concentrating for long periods of time, but ‘smart’ was an ongoing dialogue. “It is greasy” he said, “it is a really slippery word.” At the kitchen table I remember he said, “It is a swear word – like McDonald’s.” Growing up in our house we had a series of less conventional words that were off-limits including many of the large corporate, fast-food restaurant chains.
Our final discussion of the word focussed on how we often just throw around words because we like how they sound, without any common idea what they mean — like love, patriotism and smart.
It was quite a final project for us. I have never had to deal with someone so close to me dying. When I started talking to my Dad in June about ‘smart’ I liked the idea it was for an event in September, it gave us something to look forward to together — not too far in advance that it didn’t seem real, but something we could plan for.
My Dad died on August 3rd, but it was pretty special that we did have this final project. My September 27th ‘smart’ talk was not one of my best. I was upset that I didn’t do a better job of delivering the words my Dad had so carefully helped to sculpt with me. It was, however, very special to have that moment speaking and to be able to go back and watch the talk — the final essay of all the hundreds we had worked on together.