Proof that we need to change...

If, on your way to work tomorrow morning, you passed by an old man laying unconscious in the street, would you help him? Would you stop to see if he is okay? What if it were the middle of winter, the streets covered in snow, temperatures dipping below zero? Or what if you were in a hurry – if you were late for work. Would you stop then?

I would like to think that, for the majority of people, a situation like that would illicit an automatic reaction. That seeing someone, even a stranger, in need of assistance would ignite within you the natural desire to help a fellow human being. It would seem though, that the desire to help isn't as natural as an optimistic fellow like myself would like to believe.

I found this article a while back – so while it may not be recent news, I don't think it any less relevant. I know I speak often about the disconnection between people in the world today – about the lack of social awareness and the increasingly isolated nature of society. And if you've ever had any doubts about the things I have said or the opinions I have shared, maybe this is proof enough that something needs to change.

A retired gardener nearly died pf hypothermia when he collapsed in the street and passers-by ignored him for 5 hours. Great grandfather Brian Courtney was walking to his doctor's surgery when he fell unconscious to the pavement at about 8am. Hundreds of pedestrians and motorists breezed past the 77 year old and someone finally dialled 999 at 12:40pm. When paramedics arrived minutes later, his body temperature had fallen to 26C (78.8F) and he was nearly dead. Mr Courtney, who suffers from a Kidney condition, was taken to hospital and doctors were amazed he survived the ordeal in Central Salisbury, Wiltshire. 'I can't believe that nobody stopped to help him,' said his daughter Karen Paddington. 'It makes you question how caring people really are here.'.

You can all it the bystander effect, or Genovese syndrome, or whatever else you like - but I can't help but feel that giving it a name only serves to apply reason to what is an incredibly unreasonable display of social irresponsibility.

I could share my thoughts, but feel as if all I can say is that I am sincerely disappointed. Do you remember when your parents would be so utterly upset with you – your careless and irresponsible actions causing them so much anguish that they simply had no energy left to be angry. That is how reading this makes me feel. Disappointed.

If there was ever a time I could use some feedback, it is now. Share your thoughts on this. Share them with me, and everyone else you know. Tell us how this makes you feel. Tell us that you would have helped...

[Feel free to post your thoughts as comments – or if you'd rather keep them private you can email me at – I guess what I am chasing after are your opinions on how things go to be this way. Was it always like this, or are things getting worse?]

From friends, to strangers, to friends again...

I'm going to break from the usual today and tell you all a story about an old friend of mine. An old friend who, after spending most of our youthful years together, I fell out of touch with. A friend who spent the last 12 years as more of a stranger, than a friend at all...

Time and circumstance had pulled Leighton and I 12 years and 7,577 km's apart, it didn't take either of us all that long to realize that 12 years and 7,577 km's between friends isn't all that long after all.

I didn't actually realize it until his visit, but Leighton and I have known each other a lot longer than either of us had realized. In fact, we were surprised to learn just recently that even our fathers went to high school together. As youngsters – aged 3 or 4 I would say – we lived in the same housing complex. Though our recollection of one another going that far back is vague, you could say that it all began back then – living in Dunvegan Court – throwing rocks at wasps nest's with the older boys, riding our bikes in the rain, and running for our lives as the cries of Old Anna Mooney scared us down from the trees we knew we weren't supposed to climb.

I can remember, at age 11, staying up all night in Leighton's basement playing Sega and eating candy until we became so delirious with sleep deprivation that the only logical solution was to spend 3 hours jumping on his trampoline. What a proud moment it was for us – two young boys on a pursuit to prove to one another that sleep is unnecessary, and that candy and video games is sufficient substitute. Or the incredibly unhealthy, but equally comical infatuation with the Spice Girls we developed in grade 7. I still struggle to make sense of that one, even today – though Leighton and I are pretty sure it was Jarryd who got that started.

Even know, I struggle to grasp how Leighton and I could have ever lost touch – but we did. High school came around, and I suppose our interests began to change. The girls came around too – or well, I guess the girls were always there – we just began to feel... differently about them.

I suppose we're not the only two friends to have lost touch, to have gone our separate ways, never to look back. The difference about Leighton and I though, is that I did look back. Twelve years since we last spoke, I sat in my bedroom in London wondering whatever happened to the friend who was once my Jacob Marley, guiding me as Ebeneezer Scrooge, through the depths of my guilt ridden subconscious in the annual Christmas musical at our elementary school. But rather than continue wondering, I started searching, finding my old friend back home in Burnaby, right where I left him. Funny thing was, Leighton wouldn't be staying in Burnaby for too much longer...

I sat at Heathrow, eagerly waiting for Leighton's flight to arrive. I was nervous. Meeting strangers had become easy for me – and though Leighton was very much a stranger to me now – something felt different. Lee Allen and Emma Gridley, some of the first on my quest to 100 – they didn't know anything about me – they had no grounds on which to pass judgement. But Leighton knew who I used to be, and whether he realized it or not, he would have an opinion on the person I had become.

I had been waiting nearly 45 minutes - his plane had landed now – the screen told me so, but there was no sign of him. Had I missed him? Did he look that different? As I pondered these things, an announcement caught my attention over the loud speakers - “Could Gregory Dion please report to the Airport Services desk”. Leighton was paging me! I must have missed him! I walked hurriedly to the desk that had beckoned me, but was disappointed to see only a middle aged woman standing in it's vicinity. If that was Leighton, we'd have a lot of catching up to do.

The good news – Leighton had not become a middle aged woman. The bad news – an immigration officer was on the phone, and needed to speak to me.

'Hello, this is Gregory Dion speaking'. I spoke with as much confidence as I could gather.

'Hi Greg. Listen, I've got someone named Leighton Wong here. He tells me you are here to pick him up?'

'That is correct' I tell him.

'Can you tell me how you know Mr. Wong?'

'We grew up together!' I said with excitement.

'And when was the last time you saw him?'

'... about 12 years ago...'

I wasn't feeling so confident anymore.

The immigration officer continued to ask questions, most of which I realized I could not answer. What were Leighton's intentions in the UK? What did he do for work back home? How long had he been planning his trip? Who would be finding his travels? Where would be be going after leaving the UK? How long did he plan to be travelling for?

I suppose it did all sound fairly suspicious. A Canadian guy, having recently quit his job, coming to the UK on a one way ticket to meet a friend he had not seen in 12 years. And all that I could really tell the officer with any true confidence is that the two of us used to really like the Spice Girls. I didn't imagine that would help Leighton clear immigration though, so I kept it to myself.

It took 4 hours or so for immigration officials to finally give Leighton entry clearance to the United Kingdom. He looked exhausted when we walked through those doors – exhausted and relieved – but, through all the relief and exhaustion, he looked exactly like I remembered.

Leighton and I spent the next week getting to know one another again. I showed him around the city I now called home, and took him with me to explore areas I had yet to discover. We spent the afternoons walking the busy streets of London, and the evenings with our feet up at the pub. We remembered old friends, told stories, and wondered what happened to everyone else we used to know. We drank pints, went for a curry on Brick Lane, rode bikes through Regents park, and wandered the banks of the Thames after dark.

It's amazing how easily time can turn a friend into a stranger. How, in the absence of communication, we can completely loose touch with someone we probably thought would be in our lives forever. And even though today's technologies have made it exponentially easier to get back in touch, it remains just as easy to never take the time. Funny thing is though, for all the of year we spent not speaking, it seems that a single afternoon was enough to put all of that in the past for Leighton and I. How instantly the two of us had reconnected. And the stories! The things we remembered! The moments that, as a 12 year old, passed by without notice. The seemingly insignificant happenings of our young lives that, when we look back on them today, had an immeasurable effect on the men we had become.

All these words though, they don't really do any justice to the week Leighton and I spent getting to know each other again. They don't capture the moments of laughter we shared looking back on the silly things that used to seem perfectly normal and acceptable to us. They don't really give you any idea how great it felt to say goodbye to another stranger in my life, and welcome an old friend back in.

[Look closely!]

Relationships & the Power to Change Your Life - Cup # 19 with Sam Murray!

I had never been out this way on the Central line – in fact, I had never really spent much time in East London at all. A rather interesting realization to have as the train made it way onwards to South Woodford, where I would meet Sam Murray for the 19th cup of tea on my journey to 100.

Twitter had brought Sam to me, or well, me to Sam – if I am being precise about it. I had seen some tweets flying around about tea and conversation and thought I might add my thoughts on the matter – I am becoming a bit of an expert on the subject you know...

Initially, Sam seemed to have misinterpreted my interjection, and fired back with something fairly negative in nature. I was taken back slightly – after all, my intentions with all of this are genuinely positive. I remained hopeful that I might explain myself to Sam, to let him know about my project with the hope that he might give me another chance to throw some thoughts and ideas around. Thankfully, he came around - and after taking a look at the website, seemed interested to meet, apologetic even, of his initial reaction to my comments.

Sam was waiting nervously at South Woodford for my arrival. He had admitted his tendency to keep to himself, to work within his comfort zone. Being as social as having a cup of tea with a complete stranger requires doesn't come easy. I know all to well the roller coaster of emotions that we ride as a result. The worry that you won't get along. That you might not have anything interesting to talk about. That the other person my misinterpret your intentions! There seems to be an endless list of possible reasons why this could go wrong, why meeting a stranger for tea might be a bad idea. For Sam, meeting me was definitely a step out of the ordinary, and while all of this is becoming more and more ordinary for me, I was happy I could provide him with the opportunity.

Sam was an interesting fella. Works as a bookmaker – though, not the shady, illegal type. Enjoys music and a good night out. Seems he has been on his own a while, and that can be a tough thing to take on at a young age. I'd say he's done well though – he seems happy. More important than that though, he seems convinced of his ability to achieve something more in life. I'm not sure how he'll feel about me saying this when he reads it. I'm not even sure he'd agree. But I'm sure I caught a glimpse of it. He'd probably describe himself as a bit of a cynic, in fact. But there is a positivity about the guy that didn't come from his words themselves – more from the way he said them. His easy going nature was comforting. He seemed completely willing to accept the things that are, but understanding of the fact that each of us has the power to change the things that will be – if we should wish to do so.

Sam is in the process of starting up an Internet gaming company. It's still early in the game for Sam, but as he shared his thoughts with me, I couldn't help but feel convinced that he is on the right track. Starting small is the key. You may be nowhere near where you'd like to end up, but any step is a step in the right direction – a step closer to being wherever it is that you want to be. He will build a client base, develop the game further, enabling him to offer more to his users. As the gamers invest more into him, he will be able to invest more back into the company – helping him to improve the gaming experience continuously. This relationship between him and the game's users is an incredibly powerful one – Sam knows this. What's funny though is that it certainly doesn't apply simply to Sam's business plan. It applies to life – every aspect of it. It applies to the 18 others I have met for tea thus far, and it will apply to the 81 people I have yet to meet. It applies to my friends back home in Canada, to my parents, to your parents, to their parents...

And it applies to you too...

Relationships are one of the single most important aspects of our lives. Heck, they might even be the most important. Consider your own life. Consider the relationships in it. You build and maintain them in every area of your daily life. At work, at school, at home – with friends, with colleagues, with girls and with boys. With bosses, and with clients. With family, and with yourself. And with strangers too.

My conversation with Sam got me thinking quite a bit about relationships and how the relationships in our lives help us shape our future. We are defined, in part, by the relationships we keep - by our willingness to invest ourselves in one another. Through these investments, we acquire the power to create change for ourselves and those around us. Think about it for a moment. Think about your job. By building and maintaining positive relationships at work, you move yourself into a position to do and earn more. Think about romantic relationships. We nurture those with the hope that they will one day lead us to starting a family. And I don't think I need to highlight the returns that come from investing in your close friends and family!

So whats to say then that investing some time and energy in a complete stranger cannot lead to a worthwhile return? I believe the correct answer to that questions is nothing... nothing at all.

Tuesday 2-for-1!

Hey strangers!

While things have been quiet on the blog front - I assure you that my journey to 100 cups has been at the forefront of my mind! The last month has been quite a run around, but I have now emerged with some new cups of tea to tell you about, and some upcoming plans that, frankly, are pretty darn exciting!

I'll throw two stories at you today - my final Australian meeting with Alexander Downs from earlier this year, and my first UK cup of 2011 with Matt Whitby. I hope you enjoy them!

In addition to cups 17 & 18, I also want to take a moment to announce that from today forward, Tuesdays and Fridays will be of particular importance for you and I! My intention is to share my thoughts with you two times a week as they relate to my journey to 100 cups, and all the subsequent ideas that might come to me as a result. The further I venture into all of this, the more I feel it taking hold of me. It's changing me, one cup - one stranger at a time. Bit by bit, this is all making me a better person. I want to share those changes with you, and hope that you might find some inspiration for yourselves amongst all of this.

So make yourself a cup of tea and sample what Tuesday has to offer! Coming this Friday - the story of my cup of tea with Sam Murray in South Woodford, as well as a pretty cool announcement about a cup of tea I will be having early next week upon my return to London!
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Cup # 17 - Alexander Downs - Brisbane, Australia

It's almost fitting that I should finally get around to telling you all about my cup of tea with Alexander Downs on board this Malaysia Airlines flight back to the very city in which we met - Brisbane, Australia. My last visit was a bit of a whirlwind - and if you read any of the previous stories, you'd already know about my meetings with Jeremy Staples and Warren & Amanda Greaves, as well as the cup of tea on 4ZZZ radio.
I was halfway through my chat on 4ZZZ radio with Quentin Ellison when the studio phone rang...

'It's for you' said Quentin, as he reached across the desk passing me the handset.

I was caught slightly off guard, if I am honest. The excitement of sitting in a radio studio talking about my journey to 100 cups was enough, I thought - and now, to know that someone was actually listening - the game had just changed completely! I mean, I know people listen to the radio - I was confident that people would hear me and the story that I hope the share with the world - but most people, they don't really listen. They enjoy the background noise - the often comical DJ banter - and then they turn off the radio and get back to real life. To know that someone was really listening, so inspired that they would pick up the phone and call the radio station to speak with me - that really meant something.
Alex and I planned to meet at the Three Monkeys cafe. While he was the first to get in touch with me in the interest of meeting for a cuppa - he would be the last person I met during my time in Brisbane. I sat out front of the cafe with Lou, awaiting his arrival, unsure (as I always am) of what to expect.
An awkward looking fellow approached from behind me - Lou saw him coming.

'I think that's him!' she whispered with excitement.

It's funny how you can spot them. They walk carefully - a mixture of fear and excitement in their eyes. If you happened to see them arriving, they usually pause at the entrance - take a look around, glance at their phone to see if they have missed a text from me, look back in the direction from which they came - probably thinking 'if I turn and walk away now, I can pretend like this never happened'. But they don't walk away. They pull themselves together, and walk inside - hoping, just the way that I do, that the conversation will not be awkward, and that they might just take something valuable away from it. I froze a little as I watched Alex - for the first time, I had watched someone go through what I go through each and every time - the second thoughts, the doubts, the worry - and when you overcome all of that, you're already better off than you were before, aren't you? How awkward could a cup of tea be anyway?

As I pondered this, though - Lou kindly drew my attention to the fact that I had just let the guy walk inside without acknowledging him. Feeling like a bit of an ass now, I followed him inside. Through the long corridor lined with tables and chairs he walked. I didn't want to run up behind him or call out, so I just followed - not close enough that I could tap him on the shoulder, and far enough away that calling out would draw far too much attention to two men meeting for a cup of tea and some ordinary conversation. I hurried my pace, trying to catch him before the awkwardness of the situation I had created could escalate further - but as Alex entered the garden at the back of the cafe, it became all too evident that I was too late. Sitting at the first table in the garden was a lone gentleman on a laptop. Brown hair, collard shirt, dark jeans - the very description I had given Alexander so that he could spot me. I knew what was about to happen, and I think you do too...

As I stood and watched - Alexander approached this man, making the fair assumption that it was me.

'You must be Greg!' Alex said excitedly.

'Pardon me?' said the well dressed man.

'Greg?' Alex said, with much less confidence than the first attempt.


And then a long pause, as the two men stared at each other...

The man who made the mistake of dressing like me was clearly confused. Alex was confused, and probably a little embarrassed. And I was just standing there, watching. Alex turned away from the man who was dressed much the same as I was, looking desperately for another match. Knowing that I could not let him walk into that again, as casually as I could, I tapped him on the shoulder.

'You must be Alex!'

Indeed, he was. I knew this already. He looked relieved, happy to see me even - and I felt fairly confident that he did not realize I had just watched his slightly awkward attempt to greet the man he incorrectly assumed to be me.

To his credit, our conversation contained almost none of the awkwardness that I had just witnessed. We spoke of academics - our interest in learning, and not just the kind of learning that takes place in a classroom, but the learning that take place each and every day - in regular, ordinary, everyday life. Alex is studying social work, and wants to focus his career on empowering communities to create positive change for themselves. The idea that if you can convince people that they have the means, they will band together, and manage their own affairs, creating a bottom up model for community development. This model for community development, in a way, has a lot to do with having tea with strangers. The idea that ordinary people with seemingly no influence on society or culture, can get together for a conversation, share their ideas and stories, and by doing so, form a collective of people who want to create something positive. I want to create a world where people want to connect with one another - I want that to be acceptable again. Now I had Alex on my side.

After several cups of tea, and a lot of banter about the social state of the world and our shared belief that great change can come out of a seemingly insignificant occurrence - Alex suggested we head across the street to the pub for a beer. I am not much of a drinker - but it seemed like a good idea - and I felt like, at the very least, I owed the man a pint for the minor embarrassment I had already caused him. We hopped across the road to the pub and I bought the man a beer - I was more relaxed now of course, and Alex and I continued our conversation. He was a good bloke, and he had a lot of great ideas. I could see in him something similar to that which I believe to be inside of me - a desire to create something good for others. The desire to share the things he knows, with hope that he might inspire some good in the world. I don't know if he realized it then - but Alex had already inspired me, even before we met for a cup of tea. It was something he wrote to me during our initial exchange - something quite profound - and something that I think is best shared with all of you just as Alex wrote it.

"I hope to bring people closer to recognizing that living a fulfilling enjoyable life does not stem from segmented moments of bliss, but rather comes from developing a sustained momentum of continual awareness about the rareness of our existence."

If nothing else, I hope that in meeting strangers for tea, I might be able to convince people of these words, just as Alex has phrased them. To reveal to the world the beauty that can be found in the incredibly ordinary happenings of an incredibly ordinary day. The recognition of our unique ability as human beings to communicate with one another. To be open to hearing what people have to say, and to appreciate that everyone has the ability to create meaning in your life. Alex had taught me a lot already, and introduced me to some new great thinkers who's work I was keen to learn more about. And I guess, Alex reminded me that being awkward is okay too. It's not easy to meet a stranger for a cup of tea, and it certainly cannot be easy to approach the wrong stranger only to be shot down in a flurry of momentary confusion. But, the confusion and embarrassment passes, and if you are lucky - you come out of the whole thing with a new friend and a slightly new perspective.

I snapped our photo, as I do, and Alex and I parted ways. Meeting Lou just around the corner - I told her of the slightly embarrassing start, but more importantly, I told her about all the great things that Alex and I had shared with each other. After a short stroll around Brisbane's West End- we began to head back towards the car as I continued to reflect on the conversation I had just had. Waiting for our signal to cross the street, I noticed Lou looking intently at something on the other side of the road.

'Isn't that him there?'

Alex stood opposite us, waiting, just as we were, to cross the intersection. The signal turned, and we began to walk towards one another. I looked forward, my hand poised to launch into a wave, or perhaps a handshake if the upcoming exchange should call for it. This was no longer a meeting of strangers. It was a reunion of two friends. Lou was ready too, interested to meet the gentleman I had just spent the last couple hours getting to know. As the moment approached, Lou and I both looked to him - Lou's hand was ready as well - as we both know the exchange in the middle of the road would have to be a brief one.

'Hey Alex!' we both said it in unison - looking eagerly to him for a reply.

But Alex, head locked straight ahead, kept on walking - no smile, no nod... nothing at all. Our enthusiastic hello had been missed! Ignored! Maybe we should have been louder? More assertive? Now, though, it was too late...

As Lou and I walked onwards, confused and embarrassed - she lent close and whispered the words she knew we were both thinking at that very moment...

"Well... that was a bit awkward, wasn't it?"

[ I can't help but feel the need the need to throw this photo up as well. This was the first one we took - but we felt it looked a little too 'cuddly'. In hindsight - it might be more fitting that way! ]
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Cup # 18 - Matt Whitby - London, UK

Join Me.

Matt Whitby read the words again. It all seemed easy enough. Just send in your name and passport photo. Simple. But who was Matt joining? And what did joining even involve? Matt had no idea. But, if you want the truth of it, that didn't bother him too much...

For those of you familiar with the work of Danny Wallace, you'd know Matt as 'Joinee Whitby'. Yes, the 'Joinee Whitby'. The man who, in a way, would become the nemesis in a wonderful story about a collective of people dedicated to making old men happy - or, well, to making strangers in general happy through random acts of kindness. As nemesis, I don't mean to say that Matt Whitby was in any way opposed to making strangers (old men included) happy - in fact, Matt became so dedicated to the cause that Danny Wallace feared he was trying to usurp his power as the leader of the collective.

For Matt, that willingness to Join Danny Wallace all those years ago lead to many things. Perhaps most importantly, it lead him to join a movement of wonderful people, doing wonderful things for complete strangers. It lead to him having a roll in what would be come a best selling book in the United Kingdom. It even lead to an invite to attend the red carpet premiere of the film 'Yes Man' in Leicester Square. And as Matt stood just across the red carpet from Danny Wallace and Hollywood star Jim Carrey - he probably felt pretty good about saying yes to something that, at one time, seemed so strange.
I suppose Matt must have felt the same when a strange Canadian guy asked him if he was keen to meet for a cup of tea. Why not? No questions. No hesitation. Just a willingness to step back out on the ledge - to be part of something different.
I liked that about him. I suppose too, that the willingness to say yes is something that everyone who has joined me for tea so far has shared. We are a different bunch, aren't we?

Much like my cup of tea with Mark J. Winter, it was through Danny Wallace himself that I came into contact with Matt Whitby. Taking notice of a tweet sent by Matt in regards to an upcoming road trip from Los Angeles to New York - I felt the need to interject. Not necessarily with my quest to 100 cups in mind however - I suppose I figured that since I have done that drive before, I might be have been able to offer Matt some suggestions on what stops are worth making. The same willingness that lead to Matt getting tangled up in a strange and wonderful adventure took hold of me that day. I saw an opportunity to reach out to someone, to offer my thoughts in the hope that it may be of some use.

It was nearing 12:00 on Tuesday as I approached Chancery Lane Station. I would be meeting Matt Whitby for tea in just a few minutes. After a quick phone call, and an awkward wave from the opposite side of the road, Matt and I settled in at Cafe Nero, ready to let the conversation take us wherever it wished. Of course, I gave Matt my thoughts on his upcoming road trip and offered to do my best to get in touch with some friends who might lend him a couch or some floor space for a night or two along the way. It's funny how, when you take the time to talk to someone, you realize just how much you have to offer them. Whether preforming random acts of kindness for strangers, or offering them the possibility of a floor to sleep on in a foreign country - we all have the ability to affect each other lives. And it all begins with that willingness to say yes.

It seems to me that Matt lives each day of his life with that willingness in mind. Often times, it becomes easier to create our reality - to say no to opportunities in an effort to remain in control. But, I can't help but feel that it's those moments where we let go of control, that true growth happens. It's those experiences that you never thought you'd have that truly mould the person you are, and the person you will become. I know this to be true. I think Matt Whitby knows this to be true. And maybe, just maybe, by joining me for a cup of tea, 98 other people might come to believe in this notion as well.