How often do you arrive at a destination but you can't remember how you got there? An appointment in the calendar is just another place you need to be, you'll think about the reason you are going when you get there. That's how I felt about TEDx this week. I arrived needing coffee, thinking about emails that hadn't been answered, and work calls that hadn't been returned. With a slight sense of resentment for my stolen day, I took my place in the audience at TEDx at the Opera House.
What did TEDx even stand for? The convergence of Technology, Entertainment and Design? Sure, but for what real purpose? I read the welcome note by Founder Remo Giuffre: "Every year we challenge ourselves and push harder at the edges for both our event and its relationship to our community. Are we an event that generates content? Or are we a source of content, in a continual engagement with a community that just happens to organize a very big event?"
In my isolated bubble of the previous days worries I thought this was a question that TEDx should have the answer to. Shouldn't they state a clear vision upfront? After all, you have to apply to be in the audience and then pay for the privilege. Shouldn't the outcome be self-evident? But in the true spirit of creative thinking, does there need to be an outcome? Does there need to be conformity and ideal constructs or does that fly in the face of the very purpose of TEDx? I didn't know. Just more coffee please.
After three presentations I was entertained and learnt new things. Great. Is that enough or am I being greedy in wanting that niggling question of an articulated purpose for the event answered? I watched Kirin Callinan shake a loose screw out of his guitar for 10 minutes. It was frustrating, I was frustrated with myself for being frustrated, which of course is the whole purpose of the exercise to slam you into the current moment and find curiosity in the unusual.
Tara Winkler exposed the growing problem with worldwide orphanages. Growth of orphanage institutions is being fuelled by well intentioned Westerners search for meaning in life, who hand over wads of cash in order to seek a sense of fulfillment in volunteering to help these orphans. She pointed out that these children have families, they are not orphans in the true sense of the word. Her organization Cambodian Children Trust is working on a new model of family preservation and its importance in stopping the psychological and physical abuse that is happening to these children as a result of the global spread Westerners need to give back.
Slowly my bubble of preoccupation began to melt. Dr Jordan Nguyen spoke about Virtual Reality and its potential to transform notions of community and empathy in society. The clever and engaging Elise Payzan-LeNestour dissected the risk and gamble people are willing to continually take for financial reward and questioned the role financial institutions should play in helping us tie our own hand behind our backs to protect us from the inherently human condition of greed.
All very poignant, but where does this lead? Does it need an end point and, if so, what is it?
The floor fell away as the answer was laid out before me in complete eloquence when Peta Murchison took the stage. Peta's daughter is dying of Batten Disease -- a rare degenerative genetic disease. From a young age affected kids lose their ability to walk, see and talk. There is no cure. Yet the stage illuminated with Peta's beauty, a beauty that came from sheer courage and bravery as she spoke about the hand that had been dealt to her family. In something that is so fundamentally sad and hopeless as watching you child degenerate, she described how she found hope. She described the joy her child provides in her community and the gift of support that the community has given to her though her tireless campaigning for awareness through Bounce for Batten. She shared her story with an eloquence I have simply never witnessed. There it was the moment she said, "Just when you think there is no hope, you find hope in the hopeless."
There was my answer, TEDx is about providing hope for the human condition. The human condition that can be so crippling for so many. Tara's hope was that that Cambodian orphans might return to their families, Jordan's hope was that VR will make us more empathetic and human, Elise's hope was that banks and financial institutions will help people manage risk.
As my worry bubble melted into insignificance I began to see all the talks in the light of hope. Professor Ken Hillman's hope is that the elderly don't enter the conveyer belt of the medical system, ending their dying days in his Intensive Care Unit. Natalie Jeremijenko's hope is that we might develop mutualism, systems where nature and humans can live in harmony in urban worlds.
I was feeling somewhat hopeless before I came to TEDx and now I have hope that we clever humans will find a way out of the pointless worry bubble we have created.