From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: Surround Yourself with Positive People

September 14, 2018


Dedicated to the amazing people in my life. You know who you are. Without you, this would not be possible.

The people who you surround yourself with – whom you allow into your life – have a tremendous impact on your well-being. I learned this lesson many, many years ago and since then, have refused to incorporate negativity or nay-sayers into my sphere of life. In an age of negativity, when harsh rhetoric blasts us from the media and from political leaders of all stripes, what we need in our society and in our community is a continued dose and reminder of compassion and goodwill.

That’s why we created the "Human Kindness Project" at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. It's an effort to re-orient our thinking about our work and what we do each day in the community.  Our model has always been to establish goodwill and friendships across the country.  When we visit a school each day with the Tour for Humanity our objective is to inspire and empower students and teachers alike to be positive role models; to emulate our civilization's heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Simon Wiesenthal and many, many others.

If we want to have change – away from negativity – we must begin with ourselves.  We must be the change we want to see in others.  Easier said than done. After all, we are all humans and we all make mistakes – trust me! But there is so much good potential we can unleash if we become more sensitive, caring, less critical and compassionate. If we build a society based on these ideals, nothing can stop us and our social ills will improve.  Our children will have better political leaders, celebrities and public figures to look up to.

When we came up with the idea of "Freedom Day" (taking place this Tuesday, September 18th at noon at Dundas Square), we wanted to project the decent values we can all aspire to have.  Through the words of Holocaust survivors; leaders of First Nations communities; doctors and social rights activists – what we are trying to say is – that there is a better way.  There are super positive people in many communities – change makers – who aspire and work hard to make our communities the best they possibly can be.

We see this human potential each year at Speaker's Idol – where students have an opportunity to speak about their dreams and aspirations.  We give them a voice in their schools and communities and help radiate their insightful views to the world at large.  As we say around the office, if you are ever losing hope in humanity, there are amazing young Canadians who are defying the odds and changing the landscape.

All change makers that I have met always surround themselves with positive people.  People whom they can count on when the going gets tough. People who push and motivate them to continue on. And people who have a larger than life perspective – who encourage you to take risks for the greater good. One element shines in all positive people with whom I have met – they are kind and compassionate. They see through challenges with great wisdom.

This is why we must promote kindness and change the narrative in society.  We no longer have the Elie Wiesel's in our midst to guide us through dark days. But we can recall their values and try to emulate their wisdom and courage.  One celebrated Canadian who sacrificed everything to bring about attention to cancer was Terry Fox. He ran across the country – and as a teen at the time – he made me dream about what was possible despite the odds (his foundation's annual run is this weekend).

We can all aspire to make the world a better place. But it begins with surrounding yourself with people who bring sunshine into your life. My advice: turn tail and run from anything else.

Shabbat Shalom,


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