Teri Orr: Worth spreading
March 20, 2015
They are threads… different textures and colors…both natural and fantastically manmade. At first, they are just loose threads…
At the TED conference it is easy to view each of the talks — more than 20 a day –as blocks of colors. Scientific discoveries and cutting-edge technology and provocative conversations about design and performance. The narratives are fast-paced and well thought-out and come with stunning demonstrations and graphics and film clips.
Let me share some knots that got laid flat this week.
Day One, in rapid order we hear from the former prime minister of Australia, the man who apologized to the Aboriginal Peoples for more than a century of mistreatment… The band Moon Hooch… The editor of Foreign Policy magazine and the CEO of Carbon3D. The talk from the 3D guy has a demonstration of a red ball growing during the length of his 15 minute talk. He tosses it out into the audience. The possibilities for quickly manufacturing our own things is immediately apparent.
His talk goes viral the next day after being posted on Wired.
"The most unreliable part of the car… is the driver," says Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving cars at Google. And after looking at all the industry has done to make the car safer since inception — from design to mechanics — you realize the only safety feature not yet reengineered… is us.
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The next afternoon the talks are artful storytelling… all build to the announcement of the annual TED prize — which goes to the compelling, thoughtful and doggedly determined, David Isay and his bold project of more than a dozen years, StoryCorps on NPR. We hear powerful tales, including his own with his gay father, and then he unveils The app we can all download to capture stories globally. It promises to be a project that has us searching the world over for someone in our lives we want to say "thank you" to, or "I’m sorry." The implications of capturing stories, on a handheld accessible device — the mobile phone — and immediately downloading into an international collective, is a bold and brave idea.
There are other threads from this section — the Indian man, American born author and New York Times columnist, Anand Giridharadas who tells a heart-wrenching then warming tale, of hatred and redemption and forgiveness from his book, "The True American." It turns out the American Dream is alive and well, just not in America — in India. And he challenges us to re-engage the generation of disengaged, outraged, white Americans who have turned to anger and violence as "solutions." To be great, he offers, America should be seen again, as a "Republic of Chances."
Then the multilayered story of Martine, who started life as Martin and whose love stayed with him as he transgendered. S/he invented Satellite Radio… Sirius XM. When their daughter developed a rare lung disease they set out to find a cure and she founded United Technologies which funds research for "orphan diseases." They have become great philanthropists.
Later, when Dame "Steve" Shirley speaks, who has also become a serious philanthropist from her work in creating the first female software group — in the ’60s in England, she laughs about her age and her gifts. "I never need to worry about getting lost, because several charities would come and find me."
By the time we reach the section late in the week about justice and injustice we are ready to hear about violence against the poor on the planet — women and children. And when human rights activist Gary Haugen says he is motivated by the thought of a tribunal of our grandchildren who will ask us, "Where were you?" when they learn of the atrocities we ignored, we hear him. He reminds us the word "compassion" comes from two Latin words and it means "to suffer with."
As Monica Lewinsky takes the stage we are both eager to hear her story and skeptical of her possible message. But what we hear is a tale that resonates today of cyber bullying and we realize "Patient Zero" in this story was Monica. We eagerly jumped on the gossip train and clicked those stories which sold more ads. Her national and immediate "slut shaming" was a blood sport. A sport, her mother tried to defeat by sitting bedside while Monica slept each night for months. Her story, if you remove the location and title of the player, was of a young intern (she was just 21) who fell in love with her boss. It was just that her boss was the president of the United States. She urged us to not be bystanders but "upstanders" and to offer help and support online to those in need. To make our deeds be about intention instead of attention. The graduate of the London School of Economics, received the most spontaneous and sustained standing ovation of the conference.
And I think I know why.
It was all the threads of the week coming together to weave this story. We wanted to say "I’m sorry" and "thank you" at the same time. We wanted to show her the compassion we neglected when we almost shamed her… to death. We wanted to be those upstanders who will have answers for our grandchildren. We want to say… at least we did this.
The lessons from this year’s TED are a flag woven of threads in bold, simple blocks of color. All year long I will fly it and watch it get tangled and then righted again. It is something to hang on my porch and in my heart when I return this Sunday in the Park….
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.