TEDxBrighton was outstanding. In fact it’s not going too far to say that it was life changing, for me. There was no BIG WOW moment but as more than 48 hours have passed since I left the event, I know that I will do some things differently from now on. And there are some things that I will talk to people about that I would not have spoken about before.
Part of the slow burn realisation of quite how brilliant the day was is due undoubtedly to the fact that the strongest emotion I felt when leaving the Sallis Benney Theatre was relief. A room full of two hundred and fifty strangers (with the exception of a handful of lovely people that I’ve met less than a handful of times) fills me with deep deep dread. But TED is all about Ideas Worth Spreading and for this reason I feel it’s my “duty” somehow to share some of what I learnt.
The people who shared their stories on the day were all doing so under the “Reasons to be Cheerful” banner. The sub title for the day was “an optimistic look forward”. I’m glad about the sub title because the majority of the speakers had too much to say, were too impassioned (thankfully) by what they were talking about to fit into the “having a happy disposition; in good spirits” (as defined by my battered Collins) category.
If you retrospectively named the day – you might have called it Human Resilience, or Hope. Human resilience gives you cause for hope, which is a reason to be cheerful. Something like that.
This isn’t an exhaustive write up and I haven’t covered everyone. It seems a bit mean not to, but it’s a reflection of the time I have and what really stuck in my head rather than a reflection of anything else. The videos go on line soon and I didn’t take a single note on the day.
My appreciation of the day is split into 3 sub sections. Hope, nudity and technology.
Professor Angie Hart spoke about resilience and her talk gave me hope for the strength of the human spirit. Angie’s stories were based on her own family - having “accidentally” (her words) adopted three children with special needs - and her professional experiences as a family and child psychotherapist. She spoke about research that has uncovered the human ability to develop “resilient moves” which is certainly “something to be optimistic about”.
Sally Kettle, was the most natural story teller of the day. Elegant and touching her message was about the importance of inspiring people, with a very human sub plot about the frailty of human relationships, particularly the mother and daughter one. Despite difficult challenges (rowing across the Atlantic), everyone lived happily ever after and their lives were changed for the good. About hope, she said “hope isn’t an action plan” which was one of those phrases from that day that stuck in many heads.
On the subject of happiness – there was Mappiness – an iPhone application that maps how we feel. I’d read about it previously but I’ve not bought – although I might now. Promoting the app certainly wasn’t the point though. “Mapping happiness across time and space” is the point. Very heart warmingly it seems we are happier when we are outside and following sporty or natural pursuits. And even more interestingly, it seems that the respondents become happier over time. It left me thinking that this means that when we become consciously aware of what makes us happy, we elect to do those things more often. Which makes us more happy……
Dr David Bramwell did something that I really really want to do with my family – but never will. He went in search of Utopia and during the course of a year visited various communities. The Findhorn Foundation, one of the places he visited, is somewhere I’ve been. At the time it stuck in my memory not as a spiritual haven though but as the sole reason for the survival of the local post office. Staying with friends a couple of years ago who live next to the foundation, I learnt that without the regular numbers from The Foundation receiving unemployment benefit from the local post office, the PO would have closed down years ago. It helps the locals love the Foundation. In the queue for the ladies at the coffee break I met someone who had been to the anarchist commune of Christiania. I think we were equally surprised to randomly meet someone else who had been to one of the exposed places.
David’s story was charming and human and gave you the “start somewhere no matter how small” nugget. He explains how he learnt the lesson of “picking up the gum wrapper” faced with leaving a commune in West Coast America that he really didn’t want to leave. Watch his video because he has some great ideas for implementing what he learned in Brighton. Of all the communes he studies I liked the Italians best. They had some completely bonkers myth (involving aliens, naturally) that framed their existence but crucially, they explained it was their myth. I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Christianity if we embraced it in these terms.
SPOILER WARNING: So David’s ideas involve introducing the communal hot tub ritual, prevalent in many of the communities that he visited, to Brighton sea front. Naked council meetings were just one of the visions he painted, all in beautifully landscaped pools close to the sea. Never say never.
We had real nudity too in the form of a life model. Jake Spicer explained how we are comfortable with our ability to draw as children but most of us become increasingly uncomfortable as we become adults. I know this is true for many things; we instinctively understand something that we grow away from in adulthood. Jake’s talk affected me most immediately and personally because he brought on a life model and having told us all we can draw, we all did. Actually I have no idea whether we all did. But I did. And I didn’t question that I could and I am so proud of the drawing that I have kept it. Jake said that when people say they cannot draw, what they really mean is that they cannot see. I like that distinction; I think it’s powerful.
Laying things bare in business was passionately put across by Will McInnes. His talk might more obviously come under Hope because he spoke about the 4 “subversive and even ridiculous” elements of NixonMcInnes, the business that he co-founded on democractic principles. These are Happiness, Openness, Participation and Energy. He covered each ingredient in detail, down to how they measure the happiness levels of everyone who works in the company – how many places do that? But the reason I’m putting it in the nudity slot is because it does seem to be all about laying things bare. Those time wasting questions that niggle about who does what and who earns what – set it out for everyone to see and then get on with the much more exciting and rewarding business of doing your job. Will gave some interesting background as to why he thinks this is the best and most sustainable way to run a business too.
TECHNOLOGY IS EMPOWERING, once we learn how to use it.
Dr Judith Good spoke about how technology can be used to bring about deep and lasting learning changes. The thing that sticks in my mind the most is the software that lets children write their own video games. If we believed the Daily Mail and Panorama, children with some behavioural challenges would build games based solely on death and destruction. Watch the video in a few weeks and you’ll see that their aspirations are far more romantic, full of valour and traditional values (like kissing their mum goodbye before dashing off to the battle field).
Our relationship with technology, described by Sarah Angliss, was more mechanical. Watch her video because the audio track is so important but in a weakly summarised nutshell, she traces the clog dance of the Lancashire cotton mill workers to the oppressive deafening machinery. Deprived of any other outlet for self expression, unable to move their arms and unable to speak, the mill workers moved their feet in time to the machines, spawning a dance. A similar thing occurred in the car making factories in Detroit, the home of techno. She presented a harmonious partnership between man and machine, where the machine is a crucial part of our creativity.
Antony Mayfield also spoke about our relationship with technology and described how we are just beginning to understand how to use the web. The challenges of information overload and distraction are ones that many of us face. But I loved hearing about it in the context of what Sarah Angliss came on later to say (if it had been my running order I’d have put her on first – that’s not a gripe – but it would have helped with the poetry of the day for me). As well as offering some antidotes to staying focussed in the potentially mind fogging cloud of connections that the web offers, presenting 3 super skills, he also made you see how magic these connections are, how immense and important it is – and that we don’t really know quite what it will deliver yet. It’s probably thanks to Antony’s talk that I am writing this on a Sunday evening when I should be asleep.
The day, in summary, seemed to get across how hugely resourceful we humans are and painted our innate potential and need to do good, be up-beat and innitiate positive change, despite adverse conditions.
The biggest personal change in mindset came about after a conversation I had with the one random stranger I was brave enough to talk to during the afternoon tea break. But that’s a whole other conversation, for another day.
My final few words are in grateful praise of Tom Bailey who made it all happen.