Just back from attending TEDxRainier for the second time. This year, the theme was "Transformations: Self, Communities, Worlds." Like last year, it was an excellent event, and if you get a chance to go, don't hesitate.
With 29 presentations, it's an intellectual buffet, a feast for both your heart and mind. It's hard to walk away unmoved after hearing John Sharify tell a story of homeless drug addicts climbing Mt. Rainier while showing that to be an easier task than climbing out of being down and out. Or to hear Leslie Morgan Steiner relate how she became a battered wife after a completely healthy upbringing and a Harvard education. Or to listen to how Rick Williams dealt with police unjustly murdering his brother: by carving a totem pole telling the story of his family, and gathering a huge amount of support from the community.
Among such a rich intellectual feast, there's one thread I'd like to draw across a handful of presentations. And that's a thread of NOW, being in the present, being mindful, having open dialog with people you might disagree with.
That starts with Cynthia Lair's talk on how to cut an onion. A professor at Bastyr, one quarter, tired of all of the chattering and noise that went on while her class cooked polenta, she decided to ask them to spend 30 minutes in silence while stirring. A later quarter, she asked them to observe their thoughts while doing this, to let those thoughts go, and listen to the food. She found that it was a very unexpected, effective form of meditation. And she left me wanting to go cook, something my wife wishes I would do more.
Lesley Hazelton, later in the afternoon, described the reactions she got after posting a picture of her wearing an Islamic head scarf, needed to enter a mosque as she was researching a book she has written about Muhammad. As an agnostic jew, wearing a scarf meant nothing to her, but to many in her audience it caused an instant, visceral reaction, concerns that she was converting to Islam. And she asks the question, why does that make you uncomfortable? Religious garments and these symbols are much more about the mind of the observer, than the person wearing them.
Terry Brooks described using his world of elves and epic fantasy as a stage for modern conundrums. Instead of global warming, his world was experiencing a deterioration of magic. If you knew you might be able to stop that, how would you spend your life?
Andrew McMasters and Andre Golard (who I've known for several years) teamed up to combine improv techniques with neuroscience, and struck the defining note of the day: "Yes, and..." It's an improv technique to get people to listen to each other, a game where you have to acknowledge what the person speaking before you has said, and build upon that, whatever it is. You're not allowed to use the words "but" or "not" -- you have to take what is given and build upon that.
Jonah Sachs, co-founder of Free Range Media, then told the underlying story behind the past two generations of marketing messages: Consumers are in pain, and need brands to fight off the dragons and take away the pain. While today, we're getting back to an oral tradition of heroes who find mentors to help them slay the dragons and bring the treasures back to pass on to the next generation. And the marketers trying to promote brands using the "Our product will solve your pain!" message can be mocked.
After such a bitter and divisive election, I couldn't help but think that might be the key to reconciliation: Yes, and... Yes, I know you are concerned about the amount of debt we are getting into as a country, and I am concerned that we are polluting the planet and leaving a mess for our children. Why don't we make an investment in their future and solve some of these problems? Yes and... I'm going to take your argument to a ridiculous extreme to the point that it's funny, so we can release some tension and get back to solving some real problems. Yes, and, I'm going to recognize that some of my concerns are simply fears, and also ridiculous.
Yes, and, the last speaker, Roger Ressmeyer, had the most hopeful message of all: We can solve these great problems we face. Ressmeyer is putting together a film interviewing some of our greatest scientists and spiritual leaders, called "Visions of Tomorrow."
What would you do if you knew you could change the world? What are you doing right now? What would happen if you responded to every statement you disagree, with "Yes, and..."?