The 1st Human - Randy Pratt of Vancouver, British Columbia - Businessman

It's 11:00 am on July 26th of this year. Randy, a businessman and my former-boss-turned-friend, arrives at my home wearing a red-and-white gingham Oxford shirt without a tie, and a wheat-coloured blazer over top. His dark blonde hair is freshly cropped and neatly slicked into place, and he is tanned and happy. Not quite the same exuberance as in the photo to the left, but something like it.

He accepts a glass of water, and with the whir of distant lawn mowers and weed whackers coming in through the open windows, we begin our interview.

Probably the Water

Randy was born in 1966 and grew up in "a small, dusty little town." He pauses here, then adds that he applies this description to two towns, "'cause we moved around a lot." He doesn't name the towns specifically, but says they were in Alberta and Idaho.

Now residing in the opposite of a dusty little town, Vancouver, British Columbia, where he's been for most of his life, Randy describes how his favourite thing about Vancouver is "probably the water." The list is long, he says, "but if I had to pick one, it's because it's by the ocean. We're by or on or in water a lot."

His eyes light up. Vancouver, he says, is "totally different in every way" to where he grew up. "There's nothing the same about it."

The Joy: In Awe of Our Rich, Complex World

Randy's most cherished memory is from just five years ago, when he visited Israel for the first time, a place he had been curious about since childhood. Israel was very different from how he'd imagined it, though. The landscape, both physical and cultural, was more varied and the people more secular than he'd expected. "It's funny how pictures in your head become so simple, and then when you get anyplace, whether it's physical or someplace else, and actually attempt to understand ... you realize how complicated the world is, and that's what makes it so rich."

I ask him how this experience impacted his life, and he says that it struck him in a very real way that the world is never black and white, "it's a million shades of grey. And you have to always seek to understand, and that journey and that questioning never ends."

Against All Odds

One thing I remember from first getting to know Randy, back in 2007, is his love of President Lincoln, so we talk a bit about that. "Growing up, being born in the States," he says, "I was always fascinated by American history. You know, the American education system did a good job of romanticizing and indoctrinating you. It's a militaristic nation. It was born of war, it had a civil war, it continues to be at war, with itself and others, all through its history, so when I was a young boy I kinda liked that stuff. You know," he adds thoughtfully, "there was always something about a president who was president during a civil war."

Lincoln is a larger than life figure, almost superhuman, both in his physical stature and in his abilities as a leader. He's also, Randy says, a bit like Garfield, "the poor, rural boy growing up to be president."

"So there's that sort of struggle against all odds" in both of the men's lives that strongly appeals to him. "I'm reading a book right now by Angela Duckworth, called Grit," he adds. "And it's about human psychology and behaviour, and tries to measure what she calls grit--probably better defined as persistence and passion meeting one another, and perseverance." So, he concludes, "that's the other thing I get" from Lincoln and Garfield.

Interestingly, this is one of the qualities about Randy that has positively impacted my own life.

The sound of the lawn mowers has gotten closer, so I close the door to the balcony near the table where we're sitting, and ask Randy if I can get him more water. "No, thank you."

Technology is Democratizing

We move into a discussion about technology and people's hang-ups and fears about always being on screens. Staring at a screen, especially during social events, can be isolationist and unhealthy, Randy believes, "but at the base root of that, it's about connectedness."

To illustrate this, he says, "I have family in Alberta, I have an uncle who passed away who I don't think ventured more than BC, Alberta, Washington state, Idaho, in his whole life. And my friend who's Croatian, John, he has family in his home village in Croatia that's 40 miles away from [the Adriatic Sea], 40 miles away, and never been to the sea. And that's today!"

"So people talk, they romanticize this notion that we're social and so everything about technology is somehow damaging. I believe the complete opposite. I think it's democratizing and exciting. ... All of a sudden at your fingertips is all of this information you could never have thought would have been accessible just 20 years ago."

The Sorrow: The Violence of Men

Near the end of our interview, Randy brings up a sense of embarrassment that he feels because so much "violence and dispossession and horror has been brought by white men."

"I had the opportunity or the blessing," he continues, "to sit through a couple of addiction events and, you know, there's this linkage between trauma and addiction, and I left both those meetings kinda running out of the room, so to speak, [from hearing] of the trauma inflicted by men."

Randy, Word for Word

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: "My hobbies are golf and reading, although I'm now more addicted to audiobooks than reading. My eyes just get tired, where my ears never get tired. I can listen all day."

Q: What is your favourite movie?

A: "It's kinda cliche, but I love The Godfather. Life and death and family power. But one I watched recently that I liked was The Lobster. It was very sort of a black comedy, and I like things like that that are a bit odd or a bit different."

Q: What is your most prized possession, and why?

A: "A painting a friend gave to me as a gift of thanks for helping him through a very difficult time in his life. Reminds me of him, our friendship, and it's a wonderful painting."

Q: What are little things in life that give you the most joy?

A: "I think small acts of kindness or courtesy or politeness. Food, good food. A good joke. I like black humour and physical comedy. And just family and friends. Just seeing them blossom or achieve what they set out to achieve, those sorts of things."

Q: If you were to do another profession, what would you attempt?

A: "Yeah, that's pretty easy. I would've been a journalist. When I first started university, I figured I was gonna be a lawyer, 'cause that's about the only thing I knew you went to university to do, or journalism. And I'd romanticized that as being, one of two things: either exposing the Man, right, like Watergate, or a war correspondent, like Dan Rather or Morley Safer in Vietnam, and uncovering the human story and writing about it. Yeah, that's what I woulda done. Or a basketball coach. There's a coach in me somewhere."

Q: Is there anything you fear about technological advancements, like some people are freaking out about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence?

A: "I don't fear any of that. I think that whole machine learning piece is fascinating. … I think people have serious problems with AI and machine learning, but only in the context that they don't understand where we are. Like privacy's dead. There is no privacy and people can't figure that out yet. And information is everywhere and it is massive and huge. So no, I don't fear it. I think it's an amazing time to be alive. I can't pick a more fascinating time than right now."

Q: What are your thoughts on Black Lives Matter, and specifically what they did in Toronto during the Pride Parade earlier this month?

A: "It's not a creative solution at all. They're not following the practice of all the examples we have in the modern world of non-violent, soulful, thoughtful messages to affect your cause. Underlying their movement is violence. ... BLM has no place in Canada."

Q: If you had one message for the world, what would it be?

A: "Just seek to understand. Understanding doesn't equal agreement. But seek to really understand. Too often I see a real lack of rigour or investigation. There are no conclusions. I try not to get too caught up in what my fellow humans are doing or not doing, from a judgment point of view. But seek to understand."

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: "In the same space, you know, just older. Family-wise, it's fun right now because [my three kids] are entering their university years, and that's a lot of fun to watch. And I try not to guide; I try and participate with it, but I try and let them find their own way. So I don't think there'll be any difference. I'll still be fully engaged in my professional life and my personal life and they'll be kinda weaved together."

Random Randy Facts

He's a huge Kevin Spacey fan and binge-watched the entire House of Cards series in a matter of days.

He loves everything about Italy and Italians: the food, the people, the Italian relaxed sense of time, the landscape, the culture, the art, the history, the climate, and so on.

Randy's current favourite websites:

Singularity University

Astronomy Picture of the Day

(image 1: Baby Randy; image 2: Randy loves golf)