'Impossible things happen', says Hadfield - St. Catharines Standard

By Grant LaFleche, The Standard

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What do you do next?

It’s a simple enough question, but according to former Cold War fighter pilot, astronaut, author and musician Chris Hadfield, it is the only one that matters.

“What should we all do next? That’s the only really valid question.

“What you did in the past is done. What we’re doing right now, okay, it has an effect, but what are we going to do next?,” said Hadfield in an exclusive one-on-one interview with Postmedia Wednesday morning. “That’s the question everybody needs to ask themselves, and how is that going to take you in the direction that you really actually want to go?”

In an increasingly complex world, the answer to that question is as important to the individual as it is to society, said Hadfield who was in Niagara Wednesday to speak to the annual Grape Growers of Ontario celebrity luncheon in St. Catharines.

During his luncheon speech, Hadfield, 58, talked about his career as an astronaut and how, as a child, he found an answer to “what next?” in the pages of pulp science fiction adventures of Buck Rodgers, comic books and Star Trek.

“Comic book stories permit you to engage yourself in something that doesn’t exist yet,” said Hadfield, who told the audience that “impossible things happen.”

What was considered fiction in the past — like humans orbiting the planet in a space station — becomes normal because someone, somewhere, dedicated themselves to a vision.

“Don’t surround yourself with people who are negative or are critical of your dreams,” said Hadfield, who credited his wife Helene for keeping him on track to be an astronaut after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 made him consider quitting.

In his interview with the Standard, Hadfield talked about how Canada needs to answer “what next?” to confront the nation’s most pressing issues from climate change to Canada’s relations with its First Nations — a theme he has been carrying across the country on his Canada 150 tour.

“I think the fact that we now are a country that has both the morality and the capacity to try and ignore, as best we can, some of those artificial fears and divisions in order to be as welcoming and still manage to maintain the set of values that makes Canada successful,” said the first Canadian to walk in space. “It’s a difficult tightrope to walk but I think we do it better than any other place on Earth, and so I think that’s an important thing to continue, and the problems are not going to get easier ... it requires a lot of leadership.”

Hadfield, speaking about Canada’s relationship with its First Nations, said the problems are often rooted in fear and a racism which, from a scientific point of view, makes no rational sense.

“Humanity is nothing but subsets of humanity, right? There is no majority. We’re all just subsets and, for whatever reason, some subsets are accepted, and some are not,” he said. “There is no such thing as race, and that’s an important thing to realize. That’s a fearful, arbitrary and uninformed cultural norm and it’s not backed up by the reality of our own genetics. So to build your belief system and your hatreds around something that is fundamentality arbitrary and false is obviously going to lead to some bad decision making.”

Hadfield said understanding that humanity is a single species doesn’t answer the critical question but can be a place to start when dealing with the complicated and difficult issues surrounding Canada and its indigenous communities.

“The real question is, “What do you do next?’” he said. “I think trying to treat every single person as if they are your relative is not a bad way to start. It’s really hard to hate someone when you’ve spent time with them. It’s really easy to hate somebody you’ve never met.”

Hadfield’s 150 tour is not just about acknowledging Canada’s missteps, he said, but is his way of celebrating the nation’s birthday and things it does better than any other country.

His experience in space and working overseas for much of his life gives him a perspective on how special Canada is, a country he considers to be the “most vibrant, successful liberal democracy in the world.”

“Having spent 26 years outside of Canada gave me a chance to come back and almost see Canada like a new immigrant,” he said, pointing out that Canada welcomes two new people to the country every minute. “People arrive here thinking this is where they have a chance.”

Finding an answer to ‘what next?’ can be as simple as helping someone in need, Hadfield said.

“What I want is for people to feel a personal sense of responsibility. If everybody in the country looked and said, “Okay, I have no means, but how can I help one other Canadian? And I can choose whatever category I want, a homeless person, a new Canadian, a student, someone from some particular arbitrary subset,” he said. “How do you want to do it? And just be a good Canadian. Be a good citizen, and I think that would go as far as anything else that we choose to do as whatever, a couple of thousand people in the auditorium for the night. Just sort of reset your own base.”

For more information about Chris Hadfield’s Canada 150 tour and his other projects visit www.chrishadfield.ca and watch the St. Catharines Standard website for more on our interview with him.