It’s been two weeks since I returned from New Orleans where I attended TEDWomen 2017, and aside from the hustle and bustle of life impeding a blog post, I had a lot to process. From Wednesday to Friday, attendees were immersed in talks about identity and race, criminalization of entire communities, forgiveness, reproductive justice, misogyny, assault…
We’ve all watched TED talks, from technical to inspirational to heartbreaking. Eighteen minutes here, 15 minutes there. Try three days straight of pure thinking and feeling It’s a lot. And you leave not knowing what to with all this new information.
TEDWomen is emotionally-charged, dealing with themes of universal importance. There were fewer technical talks than I imagined at a TED conference. A lot more trying not to ugly-cry that I anticipated. And I know many of us left feeling the imperative to create change and improve our communities for our children, but where do we start?
TEDWomen brings together a global community of people interested in exploring how change begins, with innovative thinkers who catalyze ideas toward action. Not only are the speakers amazing, but the audience is full of executives, activists, thought leaders, and doers. I loathe small talk, but at the conference, it was easy and interesting to have enjoyable conversations with complete strangers.
The biggest difference between TEDWomen and most other conferences I’ve attended is the rapport between attendees. People aren’t attached to their cell phones, no one is taking notes on a laptop during talks, and attention is mostly undivided. In a hyper-digitized world, it takes some readjustment to “how we did things before” but the result is amazing. TED helps you be mindful and focus – something I’ve tried to hold onto in the last two weeks.
TEDWomen 2017 was themed Bridges, with sessions grouped into Build, Design, Connect, Suspend, Burn, and Rebuild. No surprise to me that my favorite block was Burn. Maybe it’s my character or maybe it’s characteristic of this snapshot in time. Regardless, throughout the conference, a number of themes emerged.
- Education is critical for a society to evolve: we need to make learning fun, early on, and instill both hard and soft skills that will contribute to our collective growth. Our educational initiatives should be to making science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fun for all kids, and teaching non-violence, helping kids with alternatives to aggression.
- We are at a societal tipping point: the era of the heterosexual white male is over. Women are demanding fairness, there’s less tolerance for ignorance and bullying, and we are all still working for racial equality but coming up short.
- Sexism doesn’t discriminate: it’s color-blind and doesn’t care about age. More than anything, sexual harassment, and aggressive behavior represent a power struggle, and an attempt at or assertion of dominance.
- We need to excuse gender roles: the demarcated line drawn between masculine and feminine values is a social construct and is ultimately harmful to all of us. Women shouldn’t be labeled aggressive for asserting ourselves, and men shouldn’t be judged for knowing how to cook or crying when they’re sad.
- Your background shapes outlook: where you’re born, how you grew up, your cultural or religious values, and the language you speak all come as learned behaviors delivered to us by others. They shape how we think and often how we act.
- Forgiveness and tolerance come from understanding: learned behaviors may shape who you are, but you can move past those barriers or learn new behaviors, forgive or tolerate those who are different, and perhaps find common ground.
- Technology has polarized us: in the information age when Google has all the answers and resources are a swipe away, we’ve chosen to support our own views by only listening to those like us, creating a big divide in ideologies. We’ve forgotten how to listen to those who are different from us.
- We need to re-learn how to feel: in Zimbabwe, the literal translation for depression is “thinking too much.” It was suggested that rather than working to dull, numb, medicate, or ignore our feelings, we should sit with them, process them, work toward a solution, and move forward.
- People of privilege should speak out: those of us who have a platform or who are not facing the cultural and social challenges others face have an obligation to speak out and create bridges to understanding and pull others across. Get it, Bridges?
Pura Vida Sometimes preferred TEDWomen 2017 talks:
All the talks of various topics and unique styles of delivery each resonated with attendees differently. For me, by the end of the conference, I became very aware of the TED-speak with its inspirational tonal upturns and deliberate cadence – I wanted more real talk but it effectively drove the message home with other attendees. Also, during some talks, my mind would wander, but I’d see others in the audience nodding enthusiastically, while after other talks I’d jump up to join the ovation, while others stayed seated and clapped courteously. So below, I’m noting some of my favorite talks, but there are other cups of tea out there. I’ll hyperlink as the talks become available.
Luvvie Ajayi – Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Eve Abrams – criminalization in African American communities
Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya – making STEM education like play
Wendy Suzuki – exercise and brain function
Deborah Willis and Hank Thomas – A mother and son united by love and art
Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix – What comes after tragedy? Forgiveness
Lera Boroditsky – language and cultural perception
Dixon Chibanda – friendship bench and health advocacy
Gretchen Carlson – How we can end sexual harassment at work
Mwende FreeQuency Katwiwa – Black life at the intersection of life and death
Justin Baldoni – Why I’m done trying to be “man enough”
Sally Kohn – bullying / origins of hate
Susan David – The gift and power of emotional courage
Inspirational talks aside, the TED staff did an exceptional job organizing the conference, especially given that this was the first time it was held in New Orleans – the meals, registration, conference agenda, and the experience in its entirety were so expertly executed. Also, though we didn’t get much time to get out and explore the city, TED infused the meeting with local flavor, from the speakers, to the culinary experiences, to the musicians that colored the evening events. For more information, visit the TEDBlog, check out the TEDWomen webpage, or browse TED talks online.