In Just Two Generations: A Blog In Two Parts

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


Part One: I don't know enough about my family history, but I do know that my grandmother Florence Smith was brought across the border from the US by her parents around the turn of the last century. They were penniless and were seeking land that the government was giving away in Saskatchewan; all you had to do was go there, clear off all the trees and rocks, build a homestead and it was yours to farm. When she was still in her twenties and with three kids, her husband suddenly died, so she came to Toronto to find work. There is a story - it may even be true - that she went to her local MPP's office around 1931 and said she was coming back with her kids every day until he found her a job.

My wife Megan's roots are Irish. Her aunts - her mother's older sisters - stayed at the local orphanage on a couple of occasions when the family didn't have enough to feed them. When things got a little better, her grandparents took them back. Eventually, they made their way to the New World (London, Ontario), and set their kids up for a better life, which they embraced. And that's how Megan got here.

I got thinking about this when we were out having a great evening over steaks and cabernet with friends recently, and our friend related how her grandmother had to give up her mom for adoption (along with her brother), though apparently she went on to have a bunch more children. I don't know the details, of course, but it was hardly an auspicious start for her mother. Yet there we all were, having this grand time.

We spent a few minutes marveling at all this, and our unbelievably fortunate journey to that restaurant. I realize, of course, that there still remains today great 'need' out there, but how many of us, leading these pretty materially comfortable lives, only have to look back a very short distance in our family tree to find either real poverty or significant peril of it. One generation? Maybe two? How amazing is that? What can you even say?

Part Two: I read a really interesting article about Mr. 'How To Win Friends And Influence People' Dale Carnegie. The author had a provocative suggestion. He claimed that Dale Carnegie pioneered the entire 'self help' book industry, literally spawning thousands of books. Except this: where Carnegie's very helpful advice was to look outward and take a sincere interest in others as a path to success and happiness, the 'self help industry' that he fathered has now perverted that entirely. Now it's all about looking inward, taking what you need for your happiness: It's not about others, it's all about you and the happiness you are entitled to.

OK, I'm not even sure that this blog's two parts have anything to do with one another. I almost didn't include Part Two because Part One certainly stands entirely on its own. I just thought that perspective on Carnegie was really interesting.

There is this great line, though, that I picked up that I picked up from the Kennedy clan somehow (they picked it up from someone else, I'm sure), that I have repeated to my kids, but am doing a very poor job living up to myself: 'From those to whom much is given, much is expected'.

Have a great day.