Monthly Archives: December 2012

Merit and acts of gentle words

By Mary Seeman

“Let He Who Merits The Palm Possess It”. I’ve been thinking about what the palm of victory is when applied to life. Say you define palm as your impact on the world and ask yourself the question: Had I not been born, would anyone have been worse off? When I think back, my parents would have had one less mouth to feed while escaping war-torn Europe. My brother would have been tickled to be an only child. My three best childhood friends, I think, would have been slightly different people had I not been around, so I think I had an impact on them. The boys I liked in High School didn’t know I existed anyway, so no difference there. My husband would have married someone else who, I hope, would have treated him well. He’s a good man and would have elicited good treatment no matter who the wife was. My children and grandchildren would not have existed, at least, not in the form I know them by. The students whom I encouraged over the years would presumably have been encouraged by someone else and would have been just as successful as they currently are. My patients? Every so often I meet one of them by accident on the street and they tell me they still remember my words and how those words dramatically impacted their lives. I ask them what those wonderfully wise words were and they say something like: “You told me to take a week off work.” “You told me to try harder.” I suspect that’s my impact, trite words.

But who’s to say what’s trite and what’s profound?

Mary Seeman, OC, MD, ScD, Professor Emerita at the University of Toronto, is the mother of Neil Seeman (UCC ’88) and one of the world’s leaders in women’s mental health, having practiced psychiatry for 50 years.

Merit without accolades

By Brian Conacher

I went to Upper Canada College in Toronto for high school. The school’s coat of arms bore the Latin phrase, “Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat” which translates to “Let him bear the palm who has deserved it”. This was a living motto for me during and since I went to UCC. The privilege of attending a private school like UCC does not mean it’s an automatic entitlement to success. In addition to a responsibility for improving the greater good of society as a result of the opportunities afforded through this school experience, success must be earned and deserved, thus ‘merited’.

The dictionary defines “merit” in several ways. But they all include a reward, honour, praise or gratitude as recognition for some worthy or deserving deed(s). But the deed must be achieved prior to the recognition of merit. Too often in today’s complex and troubled society, some people seek the merit before the deed. As the UCC motto says, “Let him bear the palm who has deserved it”. And I would say, only to those who truly deserve it. In the perfect world, to me, real merit if from action without accolades; what you do when no one is watching.

Brian K. Conacher (UCC ’61) was a Member of the 1967 Stanley CupToronto Maple Leafs and the 1964 OlympicCanadian hockey team.He later joined the Indianapolis Racers and Edmonton Oilers as general manager. He was the manager of Maple Leaf Gardens until 1998. Conacher also held the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

Merit and starting on third base

By Shaun Francis

Merit to me means no more than whether you have earned through effort or achievement your wealth, position or status. And while this might seem straightforward in definition it is more complex to apply in reality. For example, the ‘merit’ debate is being played out in the occupy movement with the question of whether income inequality means the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor. In other words, do the rich merit their wealth or not? Ironically many of these same people fail to ask themselves the more existential question – aren’t all North Americans and Europeans advantaged based on their citizenship versus those unlucky enough to be born into the developing world.

After all, a homeless man in Canada is a rich man in Kenya. So we often complain about social inequity within our own developed countries and whether certain people merit their advantages yet we fail to question our own luck at being born into some of the wealthiest societies the world has ever known. My point is that merit is relative and really we should always ask ourselves whether there is someone more deserving of my wealth or position if they had my head start. And no matter your wealth or position the answer may likely be yes.

Shaun Francis (UCC ’88) is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Medcan Health Management, Inc., Shaun received his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and he received a nomination from President Reagan to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland as a Canadian. While there he earned his Bachelor of Science with Honors and Merit and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Canadian Army. Shaun serves on the Board of Toronto Pearson Airport, the Fraser Institute, and the Advisory Board of the Canadian Foundation for Aids Research (CANFAR). He also serves as the Chair of the True Patriot Love Foundation, which he founded to benefit Canada’s military families. In 2009 Shaun was selected by a national panel and featured in the Globe and Mail as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, an award which recognizes a new generation of top achievers in business, the professions, academia and public service.

Deserving of praise

By Lincoln Caylor

Merit is a quality that we seek to achieve and have acknowledged. But what is it? To be meritorious is to be deserving of praise. It has been defined as the opinion one man entertains of another. Demerit on the other hand, most of us, seek to avoid. It being a path to infamy. The famous, in a classic and worthy context, are those with merit, or, more accurately, they deserve their fame. That is, that which made them famous has merit and is deserving of praise.

Hard work and skill focused on a specific goal, with the end result achieved, can be merit but it is not that simple. Effort alone does not achieve merit. Hard work, being successful at one’s tasks, or being self made on their own is not merit. If merit were simply about getting to a goal, or working hard to achieve it, merit could apply to many things not deserving of praise.

We do not describe a hard-working bank robber who diligently planned his scheme, executed it flawlessly, escaped to live out his life from his spoils a man of merit. He did it himself, worked hard, achieved his goal and lived happily ever after. Still he is without merit.

There must be goodness for there to be merit. Merit is not simple hard work and achievement, but includes how the work is carried out and what is achieved. These are crucial characteristics of merit.

Palman qui meruit ferat (let him bear the palm that deserves it) is not simply, for instance, the winner of the battle bears the palm. Without merit he cannot bear the palm. Deserving of praise is essential to merit. To bear the palm one must have striven valiantly with great effort with honour for a greater good, and therefore, deserve praise. Horatio Nelson in defeating Napoleon was viewed to have merit. These Latin words were inscribed on his funeral carriage and shield.  It is Upper Canada College’s motto. We would not provide this honour or apply the motto to a bully successfully bloodying another victim’s nose to extract his lunch money. Such a person does not deserve the palm, although, arguably he may have won the fight. Importantly, merit may belong to those unsuccessful in the fight.

Merit is not demonstrated through calculated and simply measured steps no matter how much effort is put forth and to whatever end. It is core to one’s character – you exude it by living your life each day deserving of praise.

Lincoln Caylor (UCC ’89) is a Partner at Bennett Jones, where he practises commercial litigation. He is chairman of the board of trustees of the Barrow Foundation, which provides scholarships to boys attending Upper Canada College, and was a member of the UCC Task Force on Boarding and is member of the ad hoc committees on Long Range Planning-Boarding and Governance Review.

Lincoln is a member of the board of directors of Youth Employment Services. YES leads the Canadian youth sector with innovative programs that empower disadvantaged and vulnerable youth to become self-sufficient contributing members of society. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Macdonald Laurier Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Ottawa.

In pursuit of merit: powered by investing in education

By Azam Dawood

Is meritocracy real? Does it actually exist? It’s certainly hard to see in our everyday lives. In fact, we tend to see more examples that question our faith in the idea of meritocracy than we do those that enforce it. Whether it is real or not is not the relevant question. Meritocracy represents an ideal that we, as a Canadian society, must continue to strive for. Meritocracy wields tremendous power in its ability to motivate us and drive us. It is an unwavering belief in meritocracy that underpins our pursuit of success and progress.

Some say, and statistics suggest, that the income gap continues to widen – that the bridge between the have’s and have not’s continues to grow. Socio-economic mobility is at an all-time low, at a level more consistent with our days as an aristocracy than today’s modern society. Is yesterday’s class structure still alive? Are we putting up more barriers so that the bridge to success fraught with more obstacles than ever before?

Today, information is more readily and equally available to everyone than at any other time in our history. There are no longer any secrets to success. Everyone can access the base information required to foster success and mobility. What differentiates us from each other are effort and education. These are the pillars that generate opportunity and they operate in concert with each other to help us cross the bridge.

Effort and the desire to succeed have been components of this journey since the beginning of civilization. We look across to the other side of the bridge and our ambition grows. As long as we can see a path to the other side, we recognize that an opportunity exists and our desire is fueled.

Education is the vehicle that drives us across the bridge. It gives us our sense of direction and provides us with the tools needed to make it to the other side. Our education system has suffered numerous indignities over the past twenty years – from disappearing funding to labour issues to declining expectations and standards. The vehicle is damaged. It is in need of maintenance and in need of improvement to today’s standards.

Our education system, as a foundational pillar in the pursuit of success, needs help.  If we are to continue in our pursuit of progress and in the ideal of meritocracy, we must invest in educating ourselves.  Education will move us forward and will allow society to continue to leverage our greatest asset – the power of ourselves.  It certainly merits our attention and best efforts.

Azam Dawood (UCC ’89), a UCC Dad, is CEO of Flying Colours International and Vice President of Dafina Advisory Services.

On “meriting admission” and Latin’s merit

By Adam de Pencier

If everybody’s somebody then nobody’s anybody.” – The Gondoliers

When I applied as a boy to UCC justice was served and I was rightly turned away, twice in fact: first in grade 7 where I sat in a room full of hundreds of boys my age who were sitting the exam for the last entry year at the Prep. Several of these lads were well known to me, playing local hockey, skiing up north, and a few from summer camp. Cast in its widest context, few people in the gymnasium merited attending UCC, but we’ll get to that later. One of my fond recollections was a kindly master who came over to ask me what I was writing about on the compulsory essay/story. This was my (relatively) strong suit, and given that I was woefully inadequate in math, I knew that I’d have to “punch above my weight”, as the expression goes, in this part of the test, to have any kind of shot of making it. I explained my composition in more or less adequate 11 year-old terms and to this day have wondered whether the gentleman in question was doing so out of kindness, pity, or just plain making the rounds.

“Meriting” admission, like “punching above your weight”, has an archaic ring to it, somewhat like the Irish expression, “Has he taken leave of his senses”? Words that have fallen into disuse—Cathay, ameliorate, deracinated, clarion, trident (to borrow from Orwell’s still splendid 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language) require some advance planning if they’re to forward our thinking.

Merit, from the Latin meritum, to deserve, ultimately derives its meaning from the Greek meros, which means “part” or “lot”. Looked at in that way, most of the boys in that 1970 Prep gym were meritorious indeed: rolled out of Fortune’s shaker, they had landed double sixes. Born, mostly in Canada (mostly) rich and (almost exclusively) white, they were 99.9 percent of the way there. Just a few equations, a few properly strung together sentences and they would enter the gates to Upper Canada College, the Ne Plus Ultra of Canadian schools (am indebted to Toronto writer Douglas Bell for the turn of phrase).

My second occasion of trying for Upper Canada College truly embodies leave-taking of one’s senses, for by then it was Grade 11 and I was far gone in scholarly ineptitude. Yet there I was sitting in the Principal’s Office of the day, Mr. Richard Sadleir, a giant of a man with bushy eyebrows, dressed in an immaculate three piece suit, with a keen eye for detail. As with my go round at grade 7, I got exactly what I deserved. A former English teacher (armed as all UCC Principals to that time were with an Oxbridge degree) Sadleir naturally gravitated to asking me what we were reading at school.

“Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.”

“Are you enjoying the play?”


“Can you tell me why?”

“Not really. It’s hard to explain.”


I knew this is was not really cutting it, not even close, but having tracked down this unpromising trail I just didn’t know how to get myself turned around.

The Principal came to my rescue.

“Well, I suppose the fact that Caesar is killed relatively quickly in the play, and that we seem to know it’s only a matter of time before Brutus and his cabal (not really sure he chose that word but it sort of seems that way) would take over make the subsequent plot a foregone conclusion.”

I meekly demurred.

Then there was the matter of my report card. I had it in a manila envelope at my side, tilted up at the foot of the chair; it didn’t quite carry the gravity of a confidential document but there was something unseemly about it. I somehow almost consciously left it there hoping the matter would somehow never come up, which would be a bit like holding your passport unopened before a frontier official and just somehow hoping you wouldn’t have to surrender it.

“Did you bring your report card?”


Another pause: can’t we just leave it at that, I somehow thought? Such is the incredulity we are subject to when confronted with, as George Orwell so perfectly put it, “the discomfiture of facing unpleasant facts”.

“May I see it?”

The fact that he had explicitly asked for it just shows how badly I messed the job up. I can’t remember what I said, but there was actually a kind of apologia launched whereby I attempted to justify my poor performance. I wince to think of the sort of chicanery I put forward and no doubt Mr. Sadleir was incredulous.

I politely concluded the interview and thanked the Principal. I unconsciously wanted to apologize for wasting his time, and as with the master in the Prep, I remember his kindness and patience with me. It took me just about a year to put it together that what I should have done is go into his office with a sort of calculated chutzpah. I should have said something like, “Mr. Sadleir, I really do not have the sort of record that would merit (yes, I think the word would have been fine) acceptance at your school. But I’ve wanted to come here ever since I was a wee lad, incorrigible then as I am now, but given the chance will really give it my best shot…”

Would that have carried the day? Probably not, but it would have been at least a respectable showing. I thought it was all over and little did I know that several years later I’d get another shot at UCC. When it did arrive, I was ready.

Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat was adopted as the motto of Upper Canada College circa 1833. Howard writes:

In 1790 an English clergyman named John Jortin wrote a Latin poem called “Ad Ventos-ante A.D. MDCXXVII” (To the Winds-Before 1727). The poem evidently referred to a British fleet dispatched to keep an eye on Britain’s enemies who favoured the Old Pretender, the heir of James II. The last line, “Palmam qui meruit, ferat” (Whoever Hath deserved it let him bear off the palm SIC) probably means “May the best man (Stuart or Hanoverian win”. Later the motto was attached to the arms of Lord Nelson. (p. 338, Howard, Upper Canada College, 1829-1979: Colborne’s Legacy)

Members of the College may not know that Shawnigan Lake School in B.C. shares the motto. The motto itself is nuanced, because there is a stress on “Let he who merits it”; the verb Meruit is thus in the jussive subjunctive which always carries conditions, always carries doubt, with it. Grammarians sometimes call the jussive the hortatory (from the Lat. Verb hortor which is to urge). The most famous of these grammatical constructions is “Fiat Lux” from the Latin Vulgate. Like much of the Bible there is a kind of circularity or absurdity. I mean, why would God have to ask anybody for anything? Who would have the temerity to say no? And it doesn’t have a rhetorical ring to it either, like asking Adam where in the hell (pardon the pun) he was in the garden, or whether he had tasted of the forbidden fruit.

But back to Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat

The ambiguity of the motto is part of its appeal: it raises questions rather than answers. Fundamentally, the best person may be awarded the palm, but then again he might not.

So the motto depends implicitly on justice: who should take the prize, and on what grounds? The laurel wreath in the school crest is entirely Greco-Roman. As recently as the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens, laurel wreaths were awarded to winners of athletic events. In sports, the criteria for merit are prescribed by the rules of the contest. If you run faster than the other guy, jump higher, or lift more, (Pierre de Coubertin’s “citius, altius, fortius) you win. In those terms, not to award the prize to the meritorous is downright heinous. Hence the sports world howled when the Irish were denied a place in the World Cup because of an official’s flagrant disregard for a hand foul. In cricket the sense of fair play was brought into doubt in 1989 when in the last over of a match in a Test between Australia and New Zealand an Australian bowler feebly rolled the ball down the pitch rather than give the New Zealand batsman a real crack at hitting it. Not cricket indeed.

But it is really not about sports that the motto attaches itself, despite the deliberate messaging of the wreath. Rather the motto is implicitly about power: who controls it and who in turn is controlled by it. As such, Palmam qui meruit, ferat is downright troubling. Every contemporary democratic urge wants to dole out dessert equally, or at least on some grounds that ignore the accidents of circumstance that those of us in the Prep gym were facing many years ago.

But this is impossible; you can’t escape valuations of taste, of preference, or truth if you deal in merit.

I arrived at UCC in 1990 as the teacher of Classics and spent nine happy years. In the first instance I was standing in for the inimitable T.P. O’D Bredin, who would almost certainly have something to say about this subject. My grade 12 Latin class (this was just pre IB) was meritorious indeed. In fact they were downright beyond peer. I was opening up door to room 106, a place chock full of character due to my predecessor when the first student I ever met was sitting on the floor reading a book.

The text in question was the Critique of Pure Reason.

“What are you reading?” I asked ingenuously to help me seize up the situation.


“Wow. That’s a difficult book. Do you understand it?”

“Kant? Nobody does.”

That was the prelude to a year reading the classics with the senior Latinists of Upper Canada College. And read them we did: Virgil, Horace, Catullus and Cicero. It was hard work for them, and for me. That class and my subsequent experiences in the classroom at UCC were the archetype of a great classroom environment, as far as I was concerned. I never quite managed the Olympian heights of that grade 12 class again, but I had plenty of other good ones: Ancient History, English, and then when the IB came in Greek, no walk on the beach as the students and me worked our way through an entire book of Thucydides.

My point in all this is that UCC has always had more than its fair share of merit where teaching and learning is concerned. And there were extra-curricular ventures that were downright professional in their execution and approach (anyone who has seen a production of current Little Theatre magus Dale Churchward knows what I mean). Some of them like hockey, and WAC (World Affairs Conference) high profile and others like digital media and community service, largely behind the scenes.

When I saw merit in the school, it was an exercise in induction: a great actor here, a math phenom there, an act of magnanimity there. The motto sat somewhat removed in the background largely lurking in obscurity and when discussed, mostly misunderstood.

So the meriTALKracy project is about starting a conversation. There is no escaping argument here, and it will take the courage of one’s convictions to honestly put forward propositions about what we mean by merit. Could it be, to borrow a variation of an American Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who famously said in 1964, “I cannot clearly define pornography but I know what it is when I see it”. Sitting as a faculty member in Laidlaw Hall over hundreds if not more assemblies, the boys were remarkably focused when one of their peers was presenting something, well, meritorious. The common denominator was integrity: the student whose speech was painfully honest, the musical performance that exposed someone to failure, the story from an outsider who beat incredible odds.

These and other moments celebrated merit.

What do you think? What is merit to you? How and when does it happen?

Let us know, as they say in the Jussive subjunctive.


Dear reader, I am happy to say that there is a “happily ever after” for my family where UCC is concerned. My two sons both managed to get in! Yesterday I asked the younger of the two, in grade 6, the question posed to me by Principal Sadleir so many years ago.

“What are you reading in English?”

“Shakespeare. Julius Caesar. Dad, did you like the play?”

“No, but you will, and here’s why…”

Adam de Pencier was former head of classics (1991-99) and also taught English, history, and ToK. He is currently Head of School at Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, ON. Adam has two sons at Upper Canada College, Hannibal in Y1, and Finbar in Y2, who is enjoying the study of Latin.

Merit: don’t cheat yourself

By Myles Druckman

It used to be so simple. We work hard and we are rewarded based on our “merit”. Today, the world seems to be so much more dynamic and moving at light speed – and merit seems to have gotten lost in all the noise.  While merit is typically seen as a personal trait, in today’s world, work is done more and more in teams, with shared resources and also shared “credit” for the good work that is accomplished. It is often hard to identify those doing a “good” job, from those who are just “riding along”. For many it feels as though it is hard to get ahead by just showing one’s merit – it seems like it is not enough. With social media it is often the one with the most “friends” or the most “hits” who gets the most credit and merit. Everyone is fighting to stand out amongst the crowd and show their unique value – the world sometimes feels like a global reality TV show.

But maybe we are all missing the point. Merit is a personal trait. It is what an individual does to accomplish a task or meet a goal.  For that, there is only one person who can truly determine the quality and quantity of work that has been done – and that is you. The world will continue to rush by with many screaming “look at me”. To be successful in any endeavor, we must learn to judge ourselves honestly and critically. That also means judging others in the same consistent way too.  At the end of the day, we only cheat ourselves by pretending to be more effective, successful or important than we really are.  It is easy to become cynical and fall into the ether of manufactured success and notoriety. Merit can only be earned – it cannot be bought, sold, traded or manufactured. If only we all could live and evolve based on our own merits, the world will be a more effective, transparent and ultimately happier place. And that truly should merit our attention.

Myles Druckman (UCC ’82), MD is Vice President, Medical Services for International SOS, where he directs the Medical Consulting and Corporate Medical Staffing Services in the Americas. In this role, Dr. Druckman leads the development of customized corporate health solutions for multinational organizations that support the health of their personnel wherever they may live or work globally.

Previously, Dr. Druckman held the position of Vice President, Medical Assistance for International SOS in the Americas region. For 5 years he oversaw day-to-day medical assistance activities including the coordination of medical evacuations, while he was also responsible for the management of a number of global health projects. Prior to this role, Dr. Druckman was Regional Medical Director for International SOS in North Asia. Prior to joining International SOS, Dr. Druckman spent 5 years in Moscow, where he founded the first Western medical facilities in the former Soviet Union, in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev.

Dr. Druckman holds a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University and a Medical Degree from McMaster University Medical School. Dr. Druckman is also a Board member of WaterAid, a leading NGO concerned with delivering water and sanitation to the most needy regions of the world.

On merit and other gift words

By Jim Hayhurst Jr.

I recently heard the story of a young man’s visit with the legendary Robert Frost. The student presented his writing and eagerly awaited the old man’s approval. After some time, Frost looked at him and asked, “What do you do, son?” The young man replied proudly, “Well, sir, I am a poet.” Frost sighed and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “No, son, not yet,” he said gently. “The term ‘poet’ is a gift word; and you cannot give it to yourself.”

Since hearing this story,I have begun to reflect on the various other gift words that I may have given myself over the years. I was a “mentor” to young entrepreneurs, a “coach” for my kids’ soccer teams and a “leader” in an organization. The presumed authority of these titles was often meager at best – and most certainly premature. Just because I signed up for a school’s mentorship program didn’t make me a mentor. The fact that I was the only parent with soccer experience didn’t mean I couldcoach. And simply having direct reportsin my first job didn’t make me a leader.

Each of these words needed to be first used as a verb by the receiver (“He mentors me, coaches us, leads our team.”) before being used as a nounby the provider (“I am his mentor, their coach, a leader.”). There had to be value in my role, not merely activity. I needed to embody the spirit in my practice, not simply print the title on my jacket, resume or business card.

In other words, I needed to earn something that only another person could give me in order to merit the description.

As a word, merit is probably the purest of the gift words. There are few circumstances in which it can be self-imposed. Merit is awarded, conferred, recognized, judged, or bestowed by someone else. It’s not often you will hear someone claim that they merit something; more likely, they think they deserve it. And there is a big difference.

These days, our Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts are defined by the circles we put them in, the permissions we afford them and the algorithms that determine how often we show up on each other’s status pages. Our digital world makes adding dots easier and connecting them more fun. But really understanding them… that’s a bit more complicated. By outsourcing the definition of our relationships – with people, brands, news, or ideas – we may be losing the opportunity to define their merit on our own terms. By ceding to impersonal code, we may be abdicating the responsibility of taking the time to understand the true value of individuals and of the communities we construct with them. Indeed, we may begin to lose perspective on who and what merit our attention.

But I am an optimist (a word which I gift to myself every so often). I believe we are adapting to the cacophony of digital inputs, the shrinking of our ‘Google Mapped’ world and the perceived (if not entirely calculable) homogenization of the human experience. I believe we can still see the exceptional all around us – the great mentors, coaches and leaders – if we only take the time to unwrap those gift words and guard their delivery to those who merit our appreciation.

Jim Hayhurst Jr. (UCC ’87) is an executive, board member and advisor with more than 20 years of international experience in cleantech, emerging markets and social entrepreneurship. From 2005 to 2012, Jim was a member of the executive team at Triton Logging, a Canadian company that reclaims forests flooded by hydro dams. Jim helped expand the company’s operations on four continents; raise more than $30M in angel, venture and private equity capital; and achieve global media recognition including in Forbes, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, NBC, and the Discovery Channel.

‘Merit’ as a verb

By Jim Hayhurst Sr.

“Merit is the summation of a selfless act of doing something good, just because it should be done.”


No one who seeks it should receive it.

No one who receives it will think it is worthwhile, because they just responded innately.

Perhaps “merit” should only be a Verb, not a Noun.

It reflects an Attitude of True Community Awareness and an innate response to an opportunity to contribute.

Jim Hayhurst Sr. (UCC ’59) is an internationally recognized inspirational speaker who has helped thousands to unlock their career and life potential. For more than fifteen years, Jim owned and ran one of Canada’s largest advertising agencies, which he sold to Saatchi & Saatchi in 1985. Since then, his career centre and corporate consulting group have helped thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations around the world define and achieve success.

Jim’s first book, The Right Mountain: Lessons from Everest on the Real Meaning of Success, was the product of his 1988 Mount Everest climb. The book is now available in seven languages and was a bestseller around the world. Jim is incredibly passionate about helping people find fulfillment and success in their lives. In 1992, he co-founded Trails Youth Initiatives, a program for youth-at-risk, now a fully-accredited four-year program and school located north of Toronto from which over 2,000 youth have graduated.


By Eric Meerkamper

I have always believed that individual initiative, effort, perseverance, and risk-taking should be encouraged and rewarded, and that these characteristics strongly correlate with success and achievement on most measures. We revel in rags-to-riches stories, overcoming the odds, and the “self-made” person.

However, I also believe that to truly understand, appreciate and celebrate what has been achieved, what is genuinely a product of our extraordinary efforts and unique contributions, it is essential to begin with humility and recognize that much of what we have “merited” is often not only due to our own efforts.

Our achiever-fuelled society generally doesn’t like to recognize this, and some might think it mocks the core beliefs and values upon which society is built: witness the ferocious negative reaction to President Obama’s recent “You didn’t build that” campaign comments on July 13, 2012 in Roanoke, Virginia.

Regardless of where we started, I believe we have to properly set the sticks if we are going to measure what we have, in fact, achieved and merited.

I had the privilege of being the Chair of the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, which produces the excellent Who’s Hungry report. One thing that struck me the most from this and other poverty research, is that while there are many reasons why people might come to need the support of a food bank or other social services, a primary differentiator between those who temporarily stumble and get back up quickly vs. those who get caught in the poverty cycle, is the strength of their social “safety net”, and the resources of those around them, which to a large extent are a function of one’s circumstance, and not something necessarily built, or earned.

Recognizing what we have been given, and what others have not, doesn’t undermine achievement. Recognizing the contributions of those before us and around us that have allowed us to achieve that much more, only deepens our understanding of what merit is.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.Sir Isaac Newton

Eric Meerkamper (UCC ’87) is President of the RIWI Corporation and Chair of the Centre for Social Innovation. He can be reached at