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?”