Would it kill you to smile?

Read what you want – and pay what you will.

For the past three years the Omnium-Gatherum blog has opened your Saturday morning Inbox with news of driven people, eye-popping places, and new ideas that may have escaped your gaze.

These blog posts have been free for you to receive and read. But some readers have said: “How can I pay?” So if you’d like to make a non-tax-deductible contribution to support these blog posts, please pay what you will.

If you don’t want to pay anything, that’s fine too. We’re not going to withhold our affections, and you’ll keep getting your blog post on Saturday no matter what. But if you think what you read here is worth your time, then please share in what you think it’s worth.

Many thanks, and here’s to curiosity and the freedom to pursue its joys down any lane.

I’ll pay:

$20, $50, $100, $999,999.99 or Pay What I Can

Now, for this week’s Omnium-Gatherum…


You know how those models look back at you from the pages of luxe publications: pouty, pale, thin and rich? Not a good look these days.

I’ve always wondered why, among all the categories of ‘stuff’ for sale in the world that luxury goods is the only one where the people enjoying the products are not enjoying the products. Everywhere else, from beer to travel, cars to lottery tickets, the connection between smiling people promising you’ll be smiling too, is swift and sure.

You’d think a $10,000 watch, a Louis Vuitton suitcase or a Dior suit would make you happy. Or happier, at least. But no.

This disconnection isn’t new. Heroin chic was a thing in the 90s. But it’s not as if Hermes pouts at every customer touchpoint. I walk by their store on Bloor Street in Toronto and their sales people look as chirpy and happy-faced as they are in Tim Hortons. Happier, actually.

Sales is all about engaging the customer, and life is all about engagement too. Indeed, all human interaction starts with a smile. Just ask a mother and her newborn. It’s a universal truth across every culture, every age, every epoch of human history. Except luxury fashion models.

I thought of this anomaly when 500 of us gathered at The Rotman School this week to hear The New York Times columnistDavid Brooks, talk about the opposite of pouty detachment. Brooks is a ‘conservative’ columnist at the Times which is “like being chief Rabbi at Mecca.”

He was discussing his new book, How to Know A Person. It’s about the art of seeing others deeply and being deeply seen. For him, this is the only way to fight the huge rise in sadness and meanness everywhere, because when people feel unseen, they lash out. He asks the question of our age and our nation: “How do you prevent yourself from becoming embittered, hate-filled, calloused over, suspicious and desensitized?”

His answer is, we need to learn to be kind. He views social skills not just as lubricants but as vital to rewiring our own sense of hope and belonging, and society’s as well. He believes deeply that social skills can be taught.

For example, depression is spreading almost as quickly as COVID did. We all know someone who’s depressed. But few of us know how to talk with someone who’s depressed. How not to is to say: “Just snap out of it,” or “You don’t look depressed,” or “You’ve been happy before. You’ll be happy again.” Much better is to acknowledge your friend’s sad state. “That sucks,” is a good phrase to start with. Tell them you want more for them. Offer to help in any way. Text them to say they’re loved and also say ‘no reply necessary.’ Just knowing you’re there can help.

For Brooks, North Americans aren’t talking to each other more deeply because we’ve forgotten how. In a world where many of our most accomplished citizens spend 12 hours a day not having real experiences, where no one’s interacting, they’re just performing, it’s no surprise that 70% of us feel left out. And since the most important decision you will ever make is not where you’ll go to university, or what job you’ll take, but who you’ll marry, we shouldn’t just be learning about ‘neuroscience’, but about ‘the neuroscience of love.’

It’s easy to think the problems of three little people, let alone 3 million Torontonians, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But pulling the blanket over our heads won’t work either.

So this Christmas, if you’re looking to recapture a kinder, gentler world, at least within your own world, maybe take a pass on that pouty $2,800 sweater and spend $28 on a how-to book instead.

Because the skill developed in the constant practice of kindness is a learned skill, like playing the piano, not the reflection of a general attitude to life, like singing in the shower.


1. It’s not a rom-com. It’s romcommerce. This holiday season Walmart is producing a 23-episode holiday rom-com series, Add to Heart with 330 Walmart products embedded in the plot and on the screen. You can buy them with one quick click. Now that’s shoppable content.

Speaking of the neuroscience of love, you can now use genetic testing to improve your relationship.

2. Ivy Bush League. In one respect at least, Harvard is the worst university in America: in encouraging freedom of speech.

Now for some other links, to each other. At Yale, nearly everyone gets an “A”. Twenty percent of Americans under 30 believe the Holocaust is a myth. In a world awash in Middle East analysis, here’s one of the most sophisticated and nuanced analyses ever.

3. What is Period Poverty? A place or situation where women, and especially poor young women, can’t access products to help them deal with their menstrual periods. Toronto’s Public Inc. tied that into Christmas. Speaking of women under duress, what about #metoo unless you are a Jew?

4. Are you a dog person? This book’s for you, and this calendar too. Speaking of homeland security, its staffers’ families have their own magazine with articles like “The balancing act of a Secret Service mom.”

Are you a bear person? You may have what it takes to be a Grizzly Bear Conflict Manager. It pays $79,363 to $103,176 a year.

5. This concert’s sold out. And has been for months, for good reason; Angela Hewitt is the world’s foremost interpreter of Bach. She performs at Koerner Hall in the afternoon of Sunday, January 14th. But we have a few prime seats which include a reception with Angela afterwards where she’ll tell us about her upcoming Trasimeno Festival next summer in Italy.

6. Why women in even the highest jobs are paid less. Claudia Goldin’s Nobel Prize lecture tells how women have flooded the workplace at every level except one: the top.

Speaking of young women, social media for them isn’t a bad thing; it’s a tragic thing.

As for older women, an 84-year-old Canadian writer got an honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland last week. Here’s what she had to say about that.

7. General excellence. Ranking every General in the history of warfare, from the Ottoman Empire to Israel’s Six-Day War in 1967. The winner? Napoleon, of course. Which is not to say Ridley Scott’s movie’s a winner, although this movie site sure is. It maps where the big films were shot.

8. Apple’s holiday ad. In a world of Christmas weepers, this takes the cake. If you want to indulge, here’s 10 more. More tears? Read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Oh, and mister, maybe time to throw away that sweater.

9. Christmas Past is…Bob Hope and Christmas pudding, Britain’s Imperial Dessert. And drinking a lot, of course, though even that’s disappearing, and not just over the holidays. On the other hand, Christmas Present is Bill Maher.

10. Why do we stand during Handel’s Messiah? This from the great arts and culture site, Also, when even the Metropolitan Opera can’t access their biggest donors, it could be curtains. The Met’s chief Peter Gelb explains why “the audience for opera theatre has gotten even older and our donors are fewer.” (Start at 00:36).

11. This officer was a gentleman. I met Charles Officer just once, at a dinner party, and was struck by his all-embracing welcome of people, places and especially ideas. Officer died tragically at 48 this month. The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz summed up his role in our culture and lives marvellously.

Share this post

Leave a Comment


Subscribe to my Free Weekly Omnium-Gatherum Blog:

  • Every Saturday the Omnium-Gatherum blog is delivered straight to your InBox
  • Full archive
  • Posting comments and joining the community
  • First to hear about other Ramsay events and activities

Get posts directly to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign Up for Updates!

Get news from Ramsay Inc. in your inbox.

Email Lists
Email Lists(Required)