‘Ideas worth spreading’ is the motto of the TED organisation, which started in the US in the 1980s and provides the format for many independently organised events worldwide. These TEDx events are self-organised by local groups, and one was run in Wellington on Sunday 18 June 2017. Details of this and other TEDxWellington events can be found on their website.
This was my first TEDx event. This wasn’t on my radar at all, but it was on my daughter’s must-do list and she booked us both in as soon as she knew the date. I am indeed indebted to her for her organisation; it was really an amazing event. It did achieve what the website says it would: “TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group.” My Storify of the tweets from the day can be found here.
I have been to many conferences, some of which are run along tired, traditional lines, where I have ended up bored (except for the breaks and talking over food). This event still had the format of speaker talking to the audience, yet it was different. Perhaps it was the careful selection of the speakers and the intense coaching so that the presentations were far superior to most talks I go to; or perhaps it was the emphasis on ‘interactions’ outside the main sessions – the speakers available for conversations (so no-one asking questions for the sake of being seen to ask questions), the quiet room and noisy room, conversation starters on our name tags, and structured ways to respond to the speakers’ ideas if you chose. Some of the main ideas that I will take away from #TEDxWelly will be about how to run such a stimulating an event.
This is because a lot of what I heard from the speakers were not new ideas (to me, at least). The value of this event to me was making the time, space and environment to think about, and discuss, the ideas. We have so little of this time in our lives, and I think this is often why our ideas often don’t come to fruition. Many of the speakers were talking about the development of their ideas over a number of years: it takes time. It also takes persistence, and sometimes a willingness to pick up and run with other people’s ideas.
This was perhaps symbolised through the paper planes. We wrote our ideas on a piece of paper, folded it into a plane, and then (when invited) threw them at the MC on stage. The symbolism for me was that where the planes didn’t make it all the way to the stage (i.e. the majority of them), then people picked them up and flew them forward. Eventually most planes landed on the stage, but it took the intervention of many people for this to happen.
The theme of this TEDxWelly event was about different perspectives. The speakers were telling their personal stories, and this personal perspective was one of the things that made these old ideas take shape in a new form. Many speakers were talking about their ‘a-ha’ moment (often figuratively, as such a ‘moment’ might be spread over a length of time) when they came up against a difficulty which made them realise they had to look for alternative ways of doing things – they had to change their perspective. I think this happens for many of us, yet the difference here was that these speakers had actually done something with their ideas. They were already flying their planes, or sometimes other people’s planes, and moving forward to create change.
Following this change of perspective, the speakers were then very keen to share their learning with others, for other people’s benefits. It was wonderful to hear this attitude as an antidote to the ubiquitous neoliberal self-interested homo economicus – this is living proof that we as a community have people that do actually care about one another.
Another thing that struck me was the place of young people in our community. I talk from the perspective of a middle aged person (such an all-encompassing phrase!) with young adult children. At this event, and a few other situations I have been in lately, I have heard a lot of comments about how well the young people are doing, what good ideas they have, that the future is in good hands if these are what young people are like. Almost as if my generation are surprised at this. Almost as if we expect young people to be problematic as a matter of course.
Yet, what have we being doing for most of our lives? As a parent, and as an educator, I have spent a lot of time and effort trying to guide, nurture and develop young people. If my children turn out to be critical thinkers, empathetic listeners, active initiators … this would not be by chance. It would be because of the efforts of many people who have helped to shape them, and the way that the children have responded and interacted with these people. I have no problem with congratulating young adults on their achievements, or giving the positive feedback that we all benefit from. My point is that I think we should start with the assumption that our young adults are great people, rather than the opposite; which I think is often the case.
Starting with the assumption that young people are competent and capable can change our (= older people) interactions with them. I attended the TEDxWelly event with my daughter and her friend, and to me, they were both people that I could talk over the ideas with. Their perspectives were as interesting to me as giving my own (even though I have been known to talk too much). Yet I observed some other older people’s interactions with them. It was as if the person my age saw a young person and instead of seeing someone with opinions and perspectives, they saw a person in need of their advice and wisdom. The ‘discussions’ quickly became lectures. The Māori word for learning is Akō, which implies that learning and teaching are interrelated and cannot be separated. Learning conversations are reciprocal conversations. Us older people need to value and respect younger peoples’ ideas, opinions and perspectives, rather than simply being surprised that they have them.