Our TEDx speakers are absolutely amazing, but at the recent TEDWomen conference in New Orleans, Louisiana I witnessed some of the best TED speakers in the nation. I’m talking national and international speakers, like Gretchen Carslon, Judith Hill, Sally Kohn, Christy Turlington Burns and Isabel Wilkerson, just to name a few.
After working closely with TEDxUniversityofNevada throughout the last five plus years, I jumped at the opportunity to attend an official TED conference. Naively, I set off with the goals of bringing back new ideas to our TEDx event – networking and maybe even scouting a few prospective TEDx speakers. I had no idea what I was in for.
Seeing ‘the pros’ put on a TED event is not something you passively do, it’s something you absorb. With TEDWomen, I was stepping into a new community for the first time. The TED event offered camaraderie, culture, dialogue and expression. This year’s overarching TED theme, “Bridges,” touched each of the speakers’ topics, and the vibrant infusion of New Orleans culture all provided an unassuming way for people – mostly women – to meet, gather, listen, present and discuss ideas worth spreading. Each session built on the next with expertly curated sub-themes that tied back to the event’s larger themes.
Keep in mind that this is a three-day event with six sessions total: speaker meet and greets after each session, Facebook Live viewing opportunities, networking dinners, exhibits, an artisan market and more. If you’re unprepared, this event can leave you winded. I often felt winded, trying to catch my own breath (and a cup of coffee) wherever possible.
Believe me, the speaker descriptions in the lineup don’t do the experience justice. After witnessing the first day, filled with an eclectic and diverse array of speakers and performers, I couldn’t sleep. At night I laid in my bed tossing and turning – processing each-and-every short, 18-minute TED talk.
Several talks left an indelible impression on me. One of which was 14-year- old Anushka Naiknaware. At the age of 13 she became the youngest winner of the Google Science Fair, with her invention of a bandage to help patient wound care.
Or the talk by Minda Dentler, who, as an infant in India, contracted polio leaving her paralyzed and without both legs. Dentler went on to compete and finished one of the most grueling races there is, the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
I also mulled over the “duets”– talks with two speakers at once. Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix left me searching my soul. If someone were to shoot and kill my child, could I forgive him or her? And then befriend and work with his or her parent?
There was a talk by the writers of the first textbook on racism, recent high school graduates Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi. They left me wondering when and how I first learned about racism. When was it first covered in my education? Fifth grade, maybe? High school? College? Or, did I learn about it outside of school? Was it implied?
The two are currently taking a gap year, traveling to all 50 states, gathering stories relating to racism. They haven’t visited Nevada yet. I began thinking about ways to get them to the University of Nevada, Reno, where I work. Given current events and dialogue, third party speakers like this might help.
I also found other speakers, like John Gale – a right-winged conservative and Joan Blades – a self-proclaimed progressive, compelling. Both travel the country together hosting Living Room Conversations where they gather people with different viewpoints and bring them together in homes (living rooms) just to listen and engage in a dialogue. How might we bring everyone to the table in a TEDx like fashion?
Ironically, after dozens of talks and performance the thing that continues to give me goose bumps isn’t something that can be written or performed – it’s a sound; a heartbeat. Clemantine Wamariya left an indelible impression on me. Her story of childhood in Rwanda and accounts of genocide, a word she fervently hates, left me reeling. In conclusion, and without words, she was able to capture a message so strong and so powerful, leaving me speechless. Leaving me listening.
I eventually began contemplating and searching for a solution to the ongoing, vitriolic, hateful and negative dialogue that has overtaken our social media feeds and our communities. When did it become okay to talk like this? Then, it dawned on me (more like smacked me in the face with a two-by-four) there is NO single solution.
There is nothing we can say that will ease the wounds of those who are hurting; no Google Science Prize exists to help us invent a bandage to fix the wounds that are wide open and just won’t heal. Furthermore, these wounds aren’t unique to us – they aren’t unique to our communities or even our country – they’re universal.
I’m still processing a lot of what I experienced at TEDWomen. I’m also still processing what’s currently taking place in this country and beyond. What troubles me most in this time of discomfort is the way our society has taken to communicating like there aren’t people on the other side of the keyboard or the screen.
The power of words emerged as an underlying theme in a few of the TED talks and performances at the conference. A word’s meaning, significance and power is vast and far-reaching.
– Nicole Shearer is a TEDxUniversityofNevada team member and Communications Officer at the University of Nevada, Reno.