Written by Maud W and Taryn E
We’re writing this up a day after the inaugural TEDxUEA conference, feeling motivated and inspired to think creatively, so we’ve decided rather ambitiously to shake-up our usual article writing routine and take a gambit on a new format. For those of you unfamiliar with the TEDx layout, they’re events which bring together a diverse plethora of speakers to give talks to a hall-full of guests, mixed in with some retro talks pre-recorded at other TEDx events from all over the world. Let’s dive right in.
What a mad afternoon; one hundred students, academics and members of the general public gathered in the immense Enterprise Centre, aptly fitting the theme ‘our energy’ considering its carbon neutral status. In my opinion, the setup of the conference hinged on corporate-esque, with organisers donned in formal suits and one of the largest sponsorships coming from a company called ‘Genius in 21 Days”. However, this assumption was soon proved entirely inaccurate.
Our first speaker was Janakinath Das, going by ‘JD’, a monk of ten years, dressed in flowing orange robes. He bounced onto the stage, all set to tell us about ‘the greatest gift’ he had ever received: his cancer diagnosis. Receiving a scan of a tumor alongside the news that he had got stage 3 colon cancer became the catalyst for deep personal growth, with the ultimate aim to ‘transcend’ his consciousness. JD took us through his cancer journey, describing the recovery from major surgery, the rounds and rounds of intense chemotherapy, the emotions he felt when it relapsed - and worse. Injecting this heaviness with humour, he showed us pictures of him all smiles, focusing on the positives of the situation: the change of outfit (from the monk robe to a hospital gown), and being legally high (on morphine).
After explaining his cancer journey, he referenced the ABC method of maintaining wellbeing and health: Association, Balanced Mind, and Contribution, which, when accompanied by deep meditation and similar techniques, helped him overcome arguably the most challenging part of his life yet. And I think the biggest take-away from his talk, for me, was how he twisted the awful circumstances within his life to help over people, through contributing, and he explained how he now runs retreats for those suffering for cancer - reiterating:
“SEE EVERY OPPORTUNITY AS AN ADVENTURE”
Second up was an academic working in public sector economics. Immediately, Sheheryar Banuri’s provocative title grabbed my attention and I sat up straight, waiting to hear his rationale behind the bold statement:
“WHY YOU SHOULDN’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT”.
Not as anarchist as the heading suggests, Banuri lays out a logical methodology using data to show the biases of the public sector, demonstrating how individuals will repeatedly make a ‘wrong decision’, in terms of data and logic, just because it adheres to their own private beliefs. I found the succinct manner of his speaking coupled perfectly with the fascinating examples he displayed to the audience - including research conducted by himself, Dercon and Gauri on the manipulation of statistics and making the ‘right’ choices.
He outlined the ‘government’ here as not specific to one country, and extending past politicians to school teachers, doctors and courts. He split the jobs into the public and private sectors - a distinction that I hadn’t really thought about before. His final message:
“MAKE THEM FEEL THAT WE’RE WATCHING.”
That’s based on the idea of accountability: people are much more likely to make right decisions if they make it with a peer than if they do it solo. For me, this was a command to stay engaged in politics, to “ask the embarrassing questions”, and to continue making noise about the things we’re passionate about (like the #youthstrike4climate movement, which we’ve both been part of).
Our next talk was by UEA Social Sciences faculty student Alexandros Efstratiou, the top performing in his year, posing a question to the audience:
“WHO REALLY CONTROLS YOUR LIFE?”
I thought his talk was really relatable: he began by introducing us to a phenomenon called the spotlight effect, which is the idea that we feel like we’re being noticed more than we actually are. This is something I think most people experience - I know that I definitely have - and it’s something I’m still trying to overcome. I think that when we feel that other people are watching, and judging, we change the way we behave and become less authentically ourselves. So, has our life been decided by us, or dictated by society? He exposed a resonating truth: we often want things that other people want for us.
When discussing change, we talk about what has been done, or what should be done. We ask what the government has done or should do. But there’s one question we rarely ask:
“WHAT AM I DOING ABOUT IT?”
I strongly believe that we shouldn’t be waiting for other people to create change: we have the potential and the ability to do it ourselves, so why don’t we? If everyone waits for someone else to effect change, that change is never going to happen. And through finding ways to solve the problems we care about and effect meaningful change, we can find our purpose, and we must be prepared to fail repeatedly. I struggle with failure. If I’m not good at something straight away, I often give up. But this is something I want to change - failure is all part of finding the road to success.
Our first pre-recorded TED Talk the organisers chose to show was Yuval Noah Harari’s talk on the Rise of Human, which I found fit really well into the deep themes explored by the speakers so far, you can listen here. It was followed by Chris Preston, who went into presenting the parallels between the children’s author, Dr Seuss (in particular, his book “The Lorax”) and successful management and systems thinking.
Although I hadn’t read The Lorax, I’m familiar with Dr Seuss’s work - I love it! For those, like me, who hadn’t read the book, he explained briefly the premise: it is a tale of a complex, interconnected system, chronicling the plight of the environment. He referenced the enlightenment, a movement in the 17th century that was led by French philosophers and writers, the legacy of which tells us to base decisions on logical, rational argument.
“CHILDREN MUST BE TAUGHT TO THINK IN SYSTEMS, NOT SUBJECTS”
This shows how we shouldn’t divide up skills and knowledge, education, into separate bands such as ‘history’ or ‘physics’ or ‘maths’ - being taught to think about how all these facets of knowledge interact as a system instead of being exclusive could revolutionise mainstream education.
Next on stage was Felipe Orrego - he hit the floor with an ambitious titled talk:
“HOW CAN YOU REALISE YOUR DREAM?”
And it certainly did not disappoint. He circumnavigated the different parts of the journey to achieving a goal, mentioning his own goal - bringing effective learning techniques to revolutionise the education of millions in Chile - and how he’d publicly declared this, and chased his dream through training and recognising the different steps he’d need to take to achieve it. I definitely wish I went to the International Experience School, in Italy, so that I could be his student!
This talk focusing on education linked very well to the pre-recorded talk, selected by the organisers, which was played: Sir Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”.
What struck me with Ken’s talk was the idea that we ‘grow out’ of creativity, that all children are born artists. They don’t care about getting things wrong. They don’t care about failure. And if we never try new things or try to think differently, we will never create something new and original. Sometimes I’m scared to take risks, but this just made me realise how important it is that I learn to be brave and take more of them. Not everything I do has to be right; not everything I do has to be ‘good’.
It’s a hugely famous TED Talk, and was actually the first I’d ever watched, leading me into reading some of his print works. It had been a long time since I’d last watched it, but I still laughed as much as I did the first time. His points just make such a lot of sense, and I find it sad to think that this video was recorded over twelve years ago now and yet so little change has come so far.
Marie Brennan was up next, a lecturer at the Norwich University of the Arts, coming to talk to us about shopping: past, present and future. I’d noticed the under-representation of women in these talks (only two out of twelve speakers were women), so it was nice to listen to another female speaker.
She described how shopping has changed, how the function of shops used to be different - when she was younger, working in a shop was a real treasure. It was a place to hang out, to meet like-minded people, “a way to sub-culturally meet our peers” - I’d never thought of shops like this, and it was fascinating to see them from this perspective. Then came the rise of the shopping malls, with their characterless, identical layouts, reeking of commerciality, forcing independent stores out of business. Now, we’re seeing a shift away from the malls and onto the online marketplace, at the same time as people are beginning to reduce their consumption, thinking more consciously about the environment and ethics.
“CITIES ARE EGGS.”
She used the analogy of eggs and cities to explain how urban areas have developed throughout different periods of time, with a helpful diagram. In ancient times, large towns centred around a keep / castle, housed in by a city wall - thus, resembling a boiled egg. A few centuries later, and the seventeenth century still utilized urbanisation as expanding from a single point - Paris being a great example of this model, the ‘Fried Egg’. Finally we have modern urbanisation, where smaller ‘pockets’ of development leave social and retail hubs dotted throughout the city. Manchester is a great example of this “Scrambled Egg” model. I loved this creative viewpoint and interpretation of urban studies, as I felt it was a very accessible comparison.
Our final speaker was Mark Zeitoun, a man who lives and breathes (and drinks) water, being a water engineer with experience in conflict-torn zones. He was alight with passion as he told as about the hydrocycle, how our children learn about it and then forget, how nobody really appreciates where our water comes from and nobody really knows where it goes. The more the water supply is secure (as it is in the Western world), the more we take it for granted.
He described the water poverty of countries like Palestine, where water can be used as a tool for evil, snipers shooting women coming to the well to collect it, governments turning off taps to houses that can’t afford it. He believes that water is something everybody should have an equal right to, and that it our responsibility, as those with the resources and the privilege, to fight for those who don’t yet have that right. This attitude could be applied to any other situation - if we have the resources, we should do everything we can to help those who do not. And in this way, we’ll make the world a better place.
To summarize, the event itself was incredible, and a massive thanks to Bright Green Future for sponsoring us to attend the event through BGF+! We were a bit unsure of what to expect from the conference, but found it a phenomenal experience, with the chance to chat and listen to some really interesting speakers. If you ever get the chance to attend a TEDx Event, leap at it!
Bright Green Future is a FREE year-long environmental training programme for 14-17 year olds which aims to give you the tools, knowledge and skills to make change and empower you to do the things that really matter. Through Bright Green Future you can learn about the most effective ways to fight climate change, gain confidence and meet loads of like-minded young people.
BGF+ is on top of the core elements of the BGF programme, participants are invited to attend a variety of conferences, training events and workshops during or after their programme. This aspect of the programme helps you to explore your interests further and take part in opportunities you wouldn't necessarily know about through school.
Applications for our new 2019 cohort are OPEN NOW Click here to apply.