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Dr. Payam Akhavan is the 2017 CBC Massey Lecturer.

CBC’s 2017 Massey Lecturer concerned with doing the right thing

Faculty of Law hosts distinguished visitor to start lecture series season

October 19, 2017 — 

Organizers of Robson Hall’s Distinguished Visitors (DV) Lecture Series were pleased to have hosted Dr. Payam Akhavan, the 2017 CBC Massey Lecturer, to kick off the year’s first DV lecture on Monday, October 16, 2017.

Akhavan began with great humility, explaining how CBC invited him to write the Massey Lectures for this year, which eventually became the book, In Search of a Better World published by House of Anansi Press and how he had to tailor his writing to be understood by all Canadian radio listeners from the age of 8 to 80. “I decided to write in an accessible way,” he said, quoting Michaelangelo saying, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

As he learned, “unless you can explain yourself clearly, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Over the years that he worked as a UN prosecutor and human rights scholar, he found that while many people say the right things, they don’t necessarily do the right things. Therefore he emphasised the need for a different kind of discourse on empathy, and read a passage from the first chapter of his Massey Lectures on “The Knowledge of Suffering.”

Akhavan’s personal experience growing up as a child of immigrant parents from Tehran greatly influenced why he ended up as a human rights lawyer. As a teenager growing up in Toronto struggling with decisions on what to wear to look cool, he soon became more interested in advocating for human rights on hearing of a contemporary of his, a teenaged girl named Mona, who was executed in the Iranian revolution for writing an essay in support of human rights. A couple of years later as a result of his advocacy work, he spent a month in Baker Lake, where he met a young Inuit mother his age who shared with him the story of how her sister had gone down south and never returned. From this experience, he learned that we must look in our own back yards to find the suffering of others, and that meaningful results can come about if the educated elites learn to speak the language of the people, and if people stop paying lip service to doing the right thing and actually do the right thing.

Akhavan concluded his remarks saying, “We educated cynics have to stop being cynical” and that despite having seen much to cause his own cynicism, the experience of doing the CBC Massey Lectures and touring across Canada has restored his faith in humanity.

The next Distinguished Visitor Lecture in the series will take place on Thursday, October 26 from 12:00 noon to 1:00pm in the Moot Courtroom at Robson Hall. Win Wahrer, Director of Client Services for Innocence Canada will speak on “A Quest for Justice: Reflections on Canada’s Wrongfully Convicted and their Families.”

Watch Dr. Payam Akhavan’s lecture in full on the Robson Hall Youtube Channel.

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