No one talks about nuclear disarmament any more, but they were talking about it over dinner at the Cartier Place Hotel the other night. Not only that, but they were laughing their heads off.
This was because of Murray Thomson, one of those unsung heroes in our community. This night he wasn’t, because he is turning 90. More than a 100 people came out to celebrate and in addition to talk of nuclear disarmament, there was live country music and the pleasing spectacle of the guest of honor squeaking out These Foolish Things on a violin.
It was not a solemn occasion, yet it took place in front of a crowd that is often solemn to a fault. No wonder: the many problems of the world can anger you and make you sad.
Thomson, however, is of a generation that took the issues, not themselves, seriously. They worked hard, but they laughed and had fun.
There is no space here for a complete resumé. Thomson did work in Southeast Asia for CUSO. He was involved in Project Ploughshares. He was one of the founders of Peace Fund Canada and the Group of 78. To all of them he brought a boundless energy, an optimistic spirit and a readiness to talk baseball. He holds the Pearson Peace Medal and the Order of Canada.
At our table there was a discussion about whether there is, in upcoming generations, a group of people who can carry on the same work with the same spirit. Because in addition to the willingness to work hard for little in the way financial reward and public recognition, you need patience, optimism, faith in your fellow humans and a sense of humor to do that kind of work.
Making the world a better place has been fun for people like Murray Thomson, but for too many others it has been an exercise in negativity, born mostly out of hatred for those in power. That has led to a lot of rock-throwing, no small amount of teargas and very little positive change.
Yet there is a sense that today’s younger generation might contain some who have the necessary qualities, who might be ready to take on issues of world poverty and poverty at home without being financially rewarded for it, who might be willing to be the only people in their city talking about nuclear disarmament, who could become happy warriors for change.
They study these issues in university. Their ease with the Internet puts them in touch with others of like mind. They can organize in a hurry. They have an impulse to help others.
True, there is a tendency right now for some people to think they are taking effective action just because they set up a Facebook page. But they can learn to go where they can do the most good.
One of Murray Thomson’s sustaining beliefs, one that all people must have if they choose his line of work, is the notion that ordinary people have power and that they can use it effectively. To this effect he told his favourite joke, which is about a rich and powerful man who goes into a restaurant. The waiter brings a roll and one pat of butter. The man asks for two pats of butter. The waiter politely refuses citing restaurant policy.
The angry customer says: “Do you know who I am?”
The waiter says no.
The customer says: “I’m a United States senator, chairman of the defence committee, holder of three university degrees and a former NFL football player.”
The waiter says: “Do you know who I am?”
The customer says no.
The waiter says: “I’m the guy with the butter.”
The message is clear: they may think they have the power, but we have the butter. Unsaid is another message: to fight the power it helps to be able to laugh.