After 19 best-selling books, thousands of speaking engagements, and three bouts with cancer, Australia’s top non-fiction author is still going strong.
According to body language expert Allan Pease, I have a “very Western/American type of attitude”, based on the way I talk. Hardly surprising, as my main pop cultural references come from the Hollywood mill. Indeed, like many of my fellow Gen X-ers and those born after us, my body language is being increasingly homogenised to the American pop culture standard.
Pease explains: “Body language is a reflection of emotion; it shows how you are feeling. Because all cultures have the same emotions – love, hate, anger – they have the same body expressions, the same gestures; the basics are the same. What used to be significantly different in the past was that every culture would have its own particular gestures that would have evolved within the culture. And in most cultures now, that has disappeared.”
The reason, he says, is due to the pervasive influence of Hollywood.
“People under the age of 20, roughly, have identical movements, gestures, behaviours in every culture. You know why? They’re all playing (adventure video game) Minecraft. They’re all watching American television, they’re all downloading made-in-America movies, and they are emulating those characters; they’re copying the same gestures. I think, within the next 30 years, there will be no cultural differences of any type.”
The two cultures that will hang on the longest to their unique body language differences, he thinks, will be the Arabs and the Japanese, due to the more insular nature of their societies. “The upside is, when members of this generation here," he adds, pointing to his six-year-old daughter, Bella, "interact with other cultures, they’ll all have a clearer understanding of what the other person means; they’ll be using the same code.”
The Big C
While the 63-year-old Australian is primarily famous for his best-selling non-fiction books on communication and body language – most of them written with his life and business partner, Barbara – and for his entertaining motivational talks, Pease is also known for his openness about his battles with cancer.
The first came in 1996 when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer – something Pease attributes to being in Chernobyl for two weeks in 1986, giving talks at the time of the nuclear power plant disaster.
It didn’t help that his business was then in crisis, as it was discovered that his accountant had been siphoning money and accumulating debts up to A$1.48mil (RM4.41mil). Pease was also diagnosed with depression. Fortunately, the cancer, financial crisis and the depression were all beaten off.
Then, five years later, Pease noted that he was frequently getting up at night to pee. His doctor said it was just age – he was 47 – but as his nocturnal lavatory visits became every other hour over the months, Pease knew it had more to do than just getting old. Two prostrate-specific antigen (PSA) tests and a biopsy later, it was confirmed: Pease had prostate cancer – and an aggressive form at that.
His second cancer attack had nothing to do with the thyroid problem as he suspected. But the non-drinking, non-smoking, gym-going vegetarian was told that his prognosis was not good. His doctor said that 97% of patients with his similar condition were not expected to live for more than three years.
In typical Pease manner, he asked his doctor: “Well, okay, I’ll have the 3% (who survive to live a normal lifespan); give me that group.” Pease's doctor then tried to explain that 3% was just a statistical average, and that “you don’t choose your group”.
Pease response? “Why not? Ninety-seven guys die and 3% live. Clearly, the three out of 100 were doing something the 97% didn’t do – eating something, thinking something – something they must be doing for them to be the 3%.”
He adds: “I discovered, at that point, the medical profession really didn’t understand that concept. Statistically, the guy was right – only 3% survive to live to be old, but they hadn’t kind of supposed that you could decide to be that 3%, because that didn’t make scientific sense.”
This conviction led Pease on a three-year quest and through 19 medical specialists to find the people who had beaten the odds, and what they'd done to get there.
He shares: “I’d heard about this woman; she had bone cancer in her entire body and she was given six months to live. She was 27 years old, she had three kids, and she had survived. I went to see her – she lives on a farm; she’s a farmer’s wife. She was 54 when I saw her. I asked her, what did you do? She said, 'I just decided I couldn’t die. I have all these kids, no one to look after them, and I just decided to live.' She didn’t do anything; she just decided to live.”
Pease adds that decision seems to be common across the many unexpected long-term cancer survivors he's come across, and one that he has embraced himself. But he notes that it’s not just about deciding, then not doing anything about it.