Saturday, April 20, 2019

TED 2019 - Day 5

Canadian breakfast at its best--Tim Hortons
I started off my day, as I have most of the mornings that I’ve been here, with my favorite Canadian breakfast--a Tim Hortons' Canadian Maple donut with a cup of their coffee. At least this year I limited myself to one donut each morning. Progress?

Since it is the end of TED I'm going to take a slight diversion here and talk about the snacks at TED. Snacks have names like Vegetable Salad Rolls with Peanut Nuac Cham, Chickpea Falafels with Tomato Cumin Dip, Gluten Free Eggplant Parmesian Slider, and Rhubarb Syllabub Spiced Crumble. The ones I've eaten have generally tasted good, though I'm not convinced the fancy words make them healthier. Regardless, I'm sure to have put on a pound or two while being healthy! 

To make matters worse, they've decided that soda is not healthy. That is true, but I demand my right to destroy my body if I choose to! They do have cold containers of water, flavored water, kombucha, tea, coffee, and some liquds I was never able to quite figure out. There is Gatorade (because they are a sponsor, I assume) but no Diet Coke or Coke Zero to be found. Being here has been a real hardship!

Lots of healthy, if oddly described, snacks
To start the session titled Meaning, Eric Liu gave an infuriating talk. He felt that in order for the US, and the rest of the West, to preserve democracy, they need to implement what he called Civic Religion. He defined Civic Religion as a shared set of beliefs and practices. His Civic Religion uses the Constitution as its sacred text, meets weekly on Civic Saturday, sings songs together, and holds discussion groups to dive into and better understand American's foundational documents. He told of groups already successfully meeting. It sort of  sounded rosy, but what he described sounded like church without God and Jesus. 

The problem for me is that he is basically trying to rebuild American democracy not from a set of underlying beliefs like those of the Constitution's framers (largely Christian and Deist), but from a new made up religion. Rather than talking about the inalienable rights endowed by our Creator, those rights would be granted by the same documents. It would basically be a big circle--the morals that underpin the country's defining documents would be the documents themselves. I consider this idea one not worth spreading. 

America Ferrera told of her experiences trying to find work in Hollywood as a "chubby, Latina." She was constantly told that she was either not Latina enough (no accent) or that they liked her, but they didn't need someone like her. Her roles in Real Women Have Curves and Ugly Betty made her a success. She thought those roles would show that there was a demand for people like her, but Hollywood is still afraid or unable to create roles for someone not in the traditional categories. She has decided to stop trying to change herself and instead try to change Hollywood. I hope she is able to pull that off.

David Brooks is conservative journalist that I have often heard and enjoyed on NPR. I've heard him say that more than once he did not move away from conservatism, but rather it moved away from him. In  his talk, he described himself as "an average person with above average communication skills." He said that his true talent is going through what many others are going through and having the skills to tell about it. It was not the talk that I expected from Brooks, but there was a lot in it worth thinking about. 

He told about his 2013 divorce, loss of friends, and other changes in his life. His was lonely and his life was in a downward spiral. He came to understand that the emptiness of his new apartment was a reflection of his life. He was "in the valley." He felt that many others and the country have been in a similar valley over the last few years. 

The first real sun of the week for the last day of TED
He shared what he had learned as he crawled out of his valley. He now understands that you don't get true happiness from your career, your talents, or your successes. Instead we need to pursue joy. He defined happiness as the expansion of yourself and joy as the dissolving of your self. He now pursues joy in sharing the lives of others. He collects their stories such as one regarding a very large family with all sorts of children (theirs, adopted, and ones with no place to go). When he arrived and tried to shake one boy's hand, the response was, "We don't shake hands here, we hug." That is joy and a place he regularly visits when in town. 

Chris Anderson had a conversation earlier in the week with a young woman who had escaped from North Korea as a teenager. He felt her experiences were worth us all hearing in a TED talk. She was very nervous before she began speaking and closed her eyes for an uncomfortably long period of time. I was afraid this was going to be traumatic for her and a mistake for Chris. I was wrong and he was right. 

Yeonmi Park told her story including how her father went to prison for selling small things to make money to feed his family. She was always hungry and on the verge of starvation. She escaped at 13 with her older sister to China and eventually to the US. When people ask her why she took the risk, she responses that when your house is on fire, you jump out the window to at least have a chance of surviving. She related what it was like in North Korea. Her perspective was that of a teenager, so there are certainly things she did not know or understand, but what she shared was heart rending. She said the only word for love in North Korea is not for romantic love, but for love of the "Dear Leader." She was taught that he was an almighty god who could read her thoughts. She was afraid to think. 

She did not learn compassion. If someone was dying or dead by the side of the road, you just kept going. Only after she was away from North Korea for awhile did she realize that her Dear Leader was the only fat person in photos, that he was not starving like everyone else. 

She ended by warning that it had taken less than 70 years, only 3 generations, for North Korea to become what it is today. She said that freedom is fragile and we must preserve it. By the end, I had to wipe away a tear. Yes, that seems to happen to me at some point during most TED weeks. 

Freestyle Love Supreme improvs songs
to summarize the week
The closing summary of the week was by Freestyle Love Supreme, an improv band created by Anthony Veneziale who did the improv presentation yesterday. While one band member played the keyboard and another beatboxed, the other three summarized the week in song/rhyme from slides they had not seen that appeared over the stage. They were funny and a fitting end to the week of sessions. 

I'd encourage anyone who might read this to check regularly on as they will publish many of the talks I've described in the coming weeks and months. I've tried to point out ones I thought folks really need to see, but there are plenty of others well worth watching. Enjoy at your leisure, they are way better than most of the videos on the Internet! 

One other aside--TED did an incredible job with the set design. Each session had a different backdrop displayed on large projection screens behind the stage. These two pictures on the right show a couple of examples of the changes they made on the fly. Compare these to the one above from the closing musical summary and you can an idea of what they are able to do with very little time used for changing things up. 

It has been an exceptionally good TED  this year. There was a lot that I heard that I need to spend more time studying and thinking about. I plan to come back next year. 

At the end of each year I try to think about what changes I want to make personally and in Mark's and my company, Principled Technologies (PT). I did not come away with any changes I want to make to PT, though I still need to talk with Mark and see if he did. I did have some things for me personally. I need to do more to take care of myself, whether that is sleep, reading more, being more consistent in exercising (I did none this week), or spending more time studying the Bible and in prayer. 

Figuring out how to find time for those things is the challenge I now face. However, in the spirit of TED, that is an idea I know I need to figure out how to spread and implement. It's good to have challenges! 

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