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A Universal Message For A Better World

Ai Weiwei and Payam Akhavan both passed through Toronto recently; Weiwei promoting his new documentary, Human Flow, and Akhavan presenting his final human rights Massey Lecture for the CBC. Weiwei and Akhavan didn’t come here just to promote their tools of communication, but to impart an urgent message for the world. The message: connect with fellow humans – listen, respect, talk, share. 

Children running in Human Flow doc. Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. - Get Woke
Children running in Human Flow doc. Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Is consciousness raising making a comeback? To delve deeper into a connected state of being, you are invited to stream the 2017 Massey Lectures and reflect upon Payam Akhavan’s call to action for humanity. And grow your heart bigger by seeing Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow, playing exclusively at the TIFF Bell Lightbox until the end of the month.

Payam Akhavan – In Search Of A Better World, CBC Massey Lectures

2017 Massey Lectures also published in book form by House of Anansi.
2017 Massey Lectures also published in book form by House of Anansi.

The 2017 Massey Lectures have probably never been more pertinent considering the gross disparity between rich and poor, and the culture of greed and self-indulgence society perpetuates. If you haven’t discovered Payam Akhavan yet, then you should. Akhavan is a former yet renowned UN prosecutor at The Hague, a Member of the International Court of Arbitration, and a professor of International Law at McGill University. Akhavan was invited to deliver the CBC lecture series, In Search of a Better World: A Human Rights Odyssey; a powerful survey of some of the major human rights struggles of our times.

In explaining why we need to all come together for a better world, Akhavan scrutinizes consumerism, along with our lack of imagination, humility and meaningful engagement. He calls YOLO dark tourism – a mindset that embodies the crisis of our times. He passionately urges his audience to think about the world of tomorrow; to be awakened by the dire reality of human suffering around the world.

Payam Akhavan speaking in Toronto. In Search Of A Better World, 2017 CBC Massey Lectures.
Payam Akhavan speaking in Toronto. In Search Of A Better World, 2017 CBC Massey Lectures.

Payam Akhavan’s core message is surprisingly simple – as humans we all suffer the same. The one thing we all have in common is our shared humanity. We must rediscover compassion and connectivity with our fellow humans. Akhavan feels strongly that the foundation for social change is in the day-to-day conversations we share – our emotional connections, feelings we share. And he tells us how it’s done: listen to people with respect. To Akhavan this is of utmost importance and urgency.

Tune in! Skip your regular OMFG podcast, and devote the next few days to listen to all of Payam Akhavan’s Massey Lectures. You will feel better for it!

Listen to the 2017 Massey Lectures on CBC Radio’s IDEAS program. The lecture series is in five parts and can be streamed online, starting here:

Lecture number five, The Spirit Of Human Rights, took place in Toronto at Koerner Hall.


Ai Weiwei – Human Flow, Documentary

Scene from Human Flow doc, refugees walking near Idomeni Camp, Greece.
Scene from Human Flow doc, refugees walking near Idomeni Camp, Greece.

The new documentary Human Flow is another survey of crisis; a document of human suffering that maps the current global refugee and migrant catastrophe. The seed of how to communicate this human tragedy was planted in Ai Weiwei while in Berlin witnessing the hostility towards displaced people. Ai Weiwei is an artist – he doesn’t go in for being labelled an activist or advocate. As an outspoken and provocative Chinese artist, Weiwei is no stranger to exile and persecution. It was this connection that inspired him to spend many arduous months filming the plight of people in refugee camps, detention centres and at border crossings. He covered immense ground walking in the footsteps of the displaced; 23 countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico and Turkey.

Human Flow is challenging to watch; a tour of human suffering. Millions and millions of displaced people just walking, and walking, and walking. Ai Weiwei wants the world to know that these refugees and migrants have human dignity; they are not beggars, they are proud people looking for some sunshine of humanity in their struggle to thrive. In the doc, Princess Dana Firas of Jordan and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador says, “immunity to suffering is very dangerous.” If you have already listened to some of the Massey Lectures mentioned above, then you will have already heard this sentiment.

What is the crisis? Weiwei breaks it down. With inequality you will have migration. Clearly, humans are going to move from unstable areas. Border movement is increasing and accelerating. What is the solution? Humans must, now more than ever, live with each other. “We must share,” says Ai Weiwei.

Like Payam Akhavan, Ai Weiwei asks us to think about the kind of world we live in – he also wants a better world. Like Akhavan, Weiwei believes people need to get on a connected level with each other – offer your hand, connect, listen, respect.

Human Flow is an Elevation Pictures release and runs 140 minutes. Screening exclusively at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. 

Join The Consciousness Raising Conversation – Get Woke!

Are you in need of a some consciousness raising? Start tuning in; focus your attention on a human rights cause or social issue. Really get behind it and find out how to connect with other people who are involved or activated.

Ai Weiwei says dialogue is more important than anything else.

Payam Akhavan challenges us to ask who we are versus who we pretend to be. He challenges us to find inner meaning instead of an immersive tech experience. Get woke up!  Because in search of a better world, we need meaningful human engagement and empathy.

Both Ai Weiwei and Payam Akhavan have started the conversation – made it crystal clear that human suffering and despair can be alleviated by empathy and respect. Now it is your turn to pass it on.


The CBC Massey Lectures is a partnership between CBC, House of Anansi Press and Massey College in the University of Toronto. Named in honour of Vincent Massey, former governor general of Canada, since their creation in 1961 by the CBC, the Massey Lectures have established their place as a Canadian institution. The lectures provide a forum on radio where contemporary Canadian thinkers can explore crucial issues of our time. Former lecturers include Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Atwood and Stephen Lewis.

Learn more about the CBC lecture series here:

The lectures are also published in book form by House of Anansi.

Did you miss Human Flow in theatre? Watch Ai Weiwei in conversation at #TIFF2017 here:

TIFF Bell Lightbox calendar

Koerner Hall upcoming events:




About Sonja Andic 63 Articles
Covers lifestyle, art, culture, entertainment, music, travel and city events for Toronto Guardian. A strategic communicator, popularity creator and social connector with a diverse portfolio of accomplishments.