In 1984, Richard Saul Wurman saw a convergence of technology, entertainment and design and decided to work with Harry Marks and host the first TED conference. That year, technical marvels included a demo of the compact disc, digital books and 3-D graphics. It was, perhaps, a bit too avant-garde and the event lost money. This time, the idea stuck and TED continues to host an annual conference.
TED — and its popular little brother, TEDx — are best known as a series of short, powerful talks (less than 18 minutes each) that contain an “idea worth spreading.” Can you name a favorite TED talk? Some of the most shared and watched talks have millions of views, but there are also excellent talks with only a few hundred.
In the top 25 most popular TED talks of all time, we find Brené Brown’s “Power of Vulnerability.” Her talk, presented at a TEDx event in Houston in 2010, has been viewed over 35 million times. Brown began studying human connection and began to see a pattern of shame and “excruciating vulnerability.” As she started sharing her findings, and speaking about shame, resilience, courage and authenticity, she found that her message resonated in ways she could not have imagined.
Speaking of her findings on “whole-hearted living,” she said that “those folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect … They had connection and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.”
She is the best-selling author of “Daring Greatly,” “Rising Strong” and “The Gifts of Imperfection.”
Another well-known TED talk is the one given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on “The danger of a single story.” Chimamanda shares her experience learning that if we hear only a single story — about another person or about another country — we risk making critical mistakes in judgement and understanding.
When she was growing up in Nigeria, she wrote story books about children who had blond hair, played in the snow and ate apples. When she came to the United States for school, her first roommate assumed she did not speak English, did not own shoes and did not know how to use a stove.
“The consequence of the single story,” she says, “is that it robs people of dignity.”
She wisely cautions about assuming that our single version of someone else’s story is the accurate one. It almost certainly is not.
One of the most powerful TED talks I have ever seen is the one Monica Lewinsky gave on “The price of shame.” Lewsinsky shared her experience about being “Patient Zero” in public shaming. It’s a blood sport that needs to stop. Twenty years later, she is still publicly bullied, shamed, mocked and attacked. One commenter after her TED talk even blamed her for 9/11. It was incredibly brave of her to speak so openly and vulnerably of her experience.
She also said this: “We talk a lot about our right to freedom of speech, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of speech.” She asked her audience to be “upstanders,” standing up and speaking out for those who our victims of our culture of shame.
This weekend, I will have the opportunity to speak at a TEDx event in at Thanksgiving Point. If I can be authentic and vulnerable, it’s a bit intimidating. It’s also exciting to share my journey of crossing the ocean — and the street — to serve and be served by my fellow sojourners on this globe. It might be a total flop, but I comfort myself by saying at least I’m getting in the arena, and if I fail, I will fail daring greatly.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to the Salt Lake Tribune.