I feel a little weird posting about this, but….well, I feel incredibly honoured to have been given the opportunity to give a few TEDx talks. The third one has just been released online, and after watching it, I wanted to share some insights that I’ve gotten from going through the experience.
I remember once, I downloaded the entire discography of Bob Marley, and I thought, maaaaaaan, is this ever going to be a good weekend. I’ve got a couple HUNDRED songs to listen to, most of which I have never heard! And by Bob Marley! One of the greatest of the greats!
So I settled in for a headphones-marathon and you know, no offence to Bob who has my deepest respect, but a lot of them were….kinda mediocre! Dare I even say, boring? Now of course, lots of music is boring on the first listen, etc.etc., and I fully appreciate that there is genius in that music that my relatively untrained ears did not pick out. But still…. For about 5 minutes after my uber-Marley-binge, I felt a bit disappointed.
And then, I felt inspired like mad, liberated even! Because HERE is one of the greatest of the greats, after spending many, many thousands of hours, years and years and years immersed in music, collaborating with other great musicians, pouring his heart and soul into his work. And here’s the culmination of that life’s work. A few dozen unbelievably brilliant songs and….lots of others that kind of blend together after a while. I was so happy to discover this. Then I realized I knew this all along. I mean, practically every album released by an artist has a couple of great songs and then….you know…all the rest of them. And these are THE BEST musicians out there! These are the pros!
What a great thing to discover. To me, it meant, give yourself a break. Don’t worry about being perfect; just do stuff, with your whole heart, enjoy the process, and then let it go.
What does this have to do with my TEDx talks? Well, the little secret about them (which now isn’t a secret….d’oh!) is that they are all, basically, about the same thing. They probably don’t sound like it on the surface, but the deep ideas driving each of them were almost exactly the same. I guess I don’t have a lot of new ideas after all…hahaha…. The main differences between them are the scale I was focusing on, and the style of delivery.
The first talk is large-scale and intellectual. I was trying to weave together a big, theoretical understanding, a “systems view” of global issues across multiple levels of scale. I had scribbled dozens and dozens of pages of notes and research that I had gathered and synthesized into that talk, and I wanted to get across a ‘big idea’ that would help people see how the personal and everyday connects to the global and abstract; I wanted to bring large scale problems like climate change and biodiversity collapse down to the psychological level of how we think and feel about the world in which we live.
The second talk is personal/community-scale and emotional. I was trying to do exactly the same thing, but this time placing the emphasis on the listener’s own beliefs and actions in their interpersonal world. I still wanted to appeal to rationality and provide enough intellectual material that people would be able to reason through what I was saying and, I hoped, see the logic of it; but I also wanted to appeal to emotions, so I emphasized stories and images and actions, instead of theories and abstractions.
The third talk is (for lack of a better term) phenomenological-scale and experiential. I was trying to take people, right there, in that moment, on a journey, to engage minds and connect with hearts, directly, from me to you, unimpeded by theory and intellectualization. Rather than aiming for a rational appeal that could be communicated discursively, I wanted to engage people in a form of honest, authentic dialogue that transcended mere spoken language but could be conveyed through music, symbolism, story and nonverbal behaviour. So I tossed theory completely out the window and went straight for the heart through poetry, song, story, and drumming.
And it worked. At least, in that moment, it worked. We did strike a dialogue. The audience was unbelievably responsive, in a way I don’t think I have ever before experienced. The tension in the room, you could cut with the proverbial knife. It was uncomfortable, powerful. We shared a little cocoon of uncertainty and bated breath, and I knew, for sure, that the audience was THERE with me.
This journey from academia to, basically, performance art, has been a fascinating one for me. I have learned an incredible amount, and to be honest, I’m pleased with the outcome. I didn’t know how the third talk, in particular, would come across. And I still don’t know how others will interpret/evaluate it, but to me, it comes across exactly the way I had hoped.
All of the talks are about the incredibly vulnerable experience it is to be a living being, especially now, as we watch our Collective Life Support System breaking down. They are about the cross-scale linkages between the intimacy of our inner worlds, and the challenges presented by the “outer world” to not only our well-being, but our very survival as a species.
In short, they are about connecting fear and self-doubt, to courage and love, to community and suffering and the hope of collective action, to climate change and ecological collapse and societal breakdown.
They are trying to communicate how the crises we are undeniably, terrifyingly, facing, are the best opportunity we have ever had (and probably ever will) to EVOLVE human civilization, to open our collective hearts and finally learn to transcend our tribalistic affiliations and prejudices. If we are ever going to fulfill the hopes of the great philanthropists and philosophers and poets and dreamers and lovers of life, if we are ever going to actualize the dream of Martin Luther King and the Imagine of John Lennon and the great visions of all of the elevated humans who have shone their light into the darkness, now is the time.
I believe that we are living in a mere bubble of civilizational progress, which has been made possible only by a rapacious pillaging of materials and living beings from the world, but which is about to pop as our planet becomes increasingly depleted and civilization becomes increasingly unstable.
When the bubble pops, we will face Chaos, on the largest scale. You only have to look at the US, Canada, Western Europe, etc., to see how quickly even a relatively TINY shift in immigration pressures, creates mass conflict, suffering, hate, and violence, and then extrapolate from that to get a sense of how vulnerable we are. So much of the biosphere is at, or past, tipping points, and the scientists who study these things, know that we are staring into the next Holocaust. Only this one will be global.
Climate change is not just carbon dioxide and methane and ocean currents and dissolving starfish and dying orcas and skinny polar bears. It’s also hate, and state violence, and gangs, and child sex slaves, and rapes, and racism and totalitarianism and police states and nuclear bombs and biological weapons. And it’s also community, and love, and honesty, and forgiveness, and vulnerability, and courage.
So, I hope you enjoy the third “talk.” I have to admit, for maybe the first time in my career, I can say I’m completely happy with it.