Collecting beautiful little things from the TED Community.

Many darks things in the news these last few weeks (perhaps months, at this point). While it was hard to block it out and re-center for a while, I found my peace in my communities. We cannot let the darkness win, so instead, let us celebrate the good we create together and the beautiful, little things. These are a few things from my community within TED that brought some light and healing into the week.

This week, I briefly caught up with a friend (and previous co-worker) who went to Baton Rouge a week ago to join the protests when we ran into each other in the Strand, unplanned. I was standing over a shelf of books, looking for Andrew Soloman’s newly published collection of essays, but also taking my quiet moment of solace in my favorite of sacred spaces (bookstores). She was taking a break from her office, trying to digest everything that she had seen and experienced, while trying to integrate back into New York. We bought sought that moment of peace over a table of books. I looked up to see her beaming, even through her complicated thoughts and reflections. While it took me a moment to process who I was seeing in front of me, her warmth made my face involuntarily break into an easy smile. That was a moment I needed and celebrate, even while so much else was brewing in the background. Andrew’s TED2014 talk offers some moments of his own healing:

This talk from Adam Savage at TED2016 is a series of beautiful little moments in a very creative community. It was amazing to watch coworkers post this talk this week alongside pictures of their children creating their own costumes, memories from their own adventures in make-believe worlds, and artists sharing stories from their own creative communities.

I went to see Finding Dory this week in a movie theatre with my partner. I forgot how magical Pixar’s movies are. There are characters we’re joking about a week later and scenes I described to my mother, hoping she would go see it too so we could talk about them. It reminds me of the talk from TEDTalks Live this past fall where lighting designer Danielle Feinberg talked about the effect of color and light in animated stories.

I appreciate them even more than I used to, because we work so closely to the amazing animators behind TED-Ed’s Lessons.

This team puts so much love into their work. It’s visible in their work and their willingness to teach others about their craft. They regularly volunteer to do workshops in the rest of our community (and get extremely positive feedback, because they are amazing teachers!) and one animator even teaches art classes regularly in a school in her community!

A friend asked me to send her a talk that gave me hope, and I was grateful to return to this talk by May El-Khalil. Peace is a marathon… we have to build our endurance because in the long run, love will win.

I was also deeply inspired by our community this week. The TED residents gave talks about the projects they are working on, and my friend Sheryl, who is a TEDx organizer and immigration attorney, talked about the value of immigration and immigrant stories in the US. It was the perfect antidote to the waves of far right backlash in politics right now.

Sheryl Winareck, TED Residents talks, July 2016
Sheryl Winareck, TED Residents talks, July 2016

I am grateful to be part of this community today and every day. The optimism is infectious and the common belief holding us together is a share love for ideas, experiments, creative growth, and hope for a better future. We see the good, here and now, but we also see what we could become and we celebrate it.

I want to end with an essay written by TED’s CEO, Chris Anderson on the value of ideas. It was the hope in the dark we needed, just after the Brexit vote… Ideas matter, more than ever.

Why ideas matter … now more than ever

A few surprising plot twists in daily economics

I love economics stories that surprise me. In the last few weeks, I’ve listed to a few stories that truly shocked me and I wanted to share them, in case you need a media list for the weekend.

Did you know that some professional hunters are also some of the most ardent conservationists? This RadioLab episode explores the story of poachers who pay for expensive contracts to hunt for rare or endangered animals around the world.

White Rhinos, US Fish and Wildlife Services, Taken Nakuru, Africa. Credit: Karl Stromayer/USFWS
White Rhinos, US Fish and Wildlife Services, Taken Nakuru, Africa. Credit: Karl Stromayer/USFWS

Turns out, the story is more complicated than “blood thirsty poachers.” This episode is well worth a listen to the complicated financial structure behind conservation parks.

Voluntourism draws a lot of critique from communities around the world, but I hadn’t realized how closely tied some orphanages in countries like Cambodia, Nepal, and Uganda are to the emotions (and markets!) that tourists bring to their travels. What happens when “cute children” become a tourist trap? (Good news: She’s working on fixing this bad dynamic)

We Need to End the Era of Orphanages | Tara Winkler

Breakfast is my favorite part of American cuisine… but it wasn’t always a “thing.” This writer explored the breakfast cereal marketing campaign that made Breakfast “the most important meal of the day.”

And how about a public bench designed to simultaneously interrupt informal economic activities (specifically, drug dealing), prevent theft, limit loitering, and defy graffiti? 99% Invisible covered a brief history of unpleasant design to show how some designers though about solving what they viewed as “social ills.”

Work by Public artist BiP, New Haven CT
Work by Public artist BiP, New Haven CT

Finally, a few thought-provoking pieces by R. Luke DuBois about how we organize numbers and think about people. If you haven’t seen his TED talk yet, I would recommend beginning here.

His maps of the United States are fascinating and worth exploring over a long, hot summer afternoon. You can see more of them on the TED Ideas Blog or on his website. He challenges the idea of “data viz” with his piece called “Take a Bullet for the City” and he does his part to make our communities a little warmer through his piece that connects people on the missed connections board on Craigslist.

A few beautiful & challenging ideas from TEDSummit

We started with: “ideas don’t know borders, they’re for the whole world” Important opening talk at by , offering the hope we need

Thought provoking questions from Lesley Hazelton: “The quality of soul is not a tradable commodity.” “Could soul be a matter of being brave enough to be vulnerable?

On public art: “We could have finished sooner, but I think it took us three weeks because of all those tea breaks” on his piece in Egypt. When the piece was finished, he explains the reaction of the owner of one of the homes he painted: “he was really proud to see his house painted — he said it was a project of peace”

“if we have a generation that doesn’t know how to build a fort, we have a generation” that doesn’t care about nature — We have an excuse to make more time to play outside, thanks to Emma Marris.

Without that “radical humanism” we lose “the unnecessary, the intimacy, ugly, and the incomplete.”

Marwa Al-Sabouni is an architect living in Homs, Syria. She teaches, runs a bookshop & works other jobs, against backdrop of war. She is thinking about architecture, communities and the future of her country. She has not given up.

Julia Bacha is documenting female role models in non-violent movements around the world. “If we do not celebrate the leadership of women in conflicts/movements, we fail to show the spectrum of role models” 

Anti-terror measures created by governments needs to be balanced by robust & independent press, it is a necessary check on power, argues Rebecca MacKinnon

Alexander Betts reminded us: Dangerous times if “lies have equal status as truth and evidence.” We need to rebuild research into debate. But this is also an opportunity to revamp our arguments and begin new conversations. If Fear comes from limited information, let’s health together.

Zeynep Tufecki reflects on Turkey, the airport bombing, and her upcoming visit: “We are going to build tolerant societies and I feel that our joy is part of our power.”

Ione Wells, after she was attacked remembered “there are infinitely more good people in the world than bad.”

And Pico Iyer, reminding us how comfortable and honest it can be to say “I dont know,” and learning as we go.

Photo header credit: TEDx Global Forum at TEDSummit2016, June 25, 2016, Banff, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Colombia’s Historic Ceasefire

The first time I saw this talk I bawled my eyes out. The frozen shell we sometimes learn to build around our hearts because it means surviving… melted. I was left with only love.

We grew up in Mexico during a period of violence so dark we’re still processing it. My research took me back into the archives and narratives of Colombia in the 1970s-2000s, when it was torn apart by guerillas, paramilitary groups, Narcos, and the government. Everyone in each setting, so hardline we thought we’d never find peace.

Last week (June 24th, 2016), Colombia signed a historic ceasefire. Peace is sometimes difficult to achieve. Negotiation is difficult. Listening and humility is difficult. But peace and cooperation and growth is beautiful and worth it.

Let us learn from them. Viva Colombia!

Finding my way to black market research

This was a talk that changed my life as a young adult. Misha Glenny is a journalist know for his work on criminal networks and organizations. I saw this talk and was hooked, shifting my research focus from immigration to black markets and organized crime. I purchased his book McMafia at TEDGlobal and devoured it.

I became fascinated with the different ways people organize and problem solve in the market, when they are either blocked from entering the traditional workforce, cannot build a business within the legal structure, or need to participate in black markets, rather than formal markets, for other reasons.

I gave a talk at the University session of TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio and Misha was in the audience. When I saw him later at the conference and he told me I had done a good job, it was like having a personal hero pat me on the back. (I gave a similar talk later that year at TEDxMunich)

I am constantly inspired by Misha’s research methods and writing style, and was so grateful to find his work at that point in my life. It helped me build my structure for study in University and beyond. That’s a powerful talk!

I love Informal Speaker Rehearsals

We’re in the thick of things leading up to TED2016. It means a lot of setting up and building a magical space, reviewing the last few primary sources for a fact check, and lots of informal speaker rehearsals.

I love the informal speaker rehearsals.

These are rehearsals we offer for speakers, sometimes with speaker coaches and sometimes with just me or another member of the team… and a few of the other speakers waiting for their turn to give it a go.

I love watching the friendships that develop here, between speakers and our team. I love that talks are interrupted to ask clarifying questions but also, hold on, can you tell me more about your research because that sounds amazing, questions. They start to give each other feedback, and hugs in the hallway before the each go up for their talks.

I love that TED creates a common language, even for just a few moments. It’s a beautiful moment when I can see bridges forming between disciplines and thinkers, and these incredible thinkers see each other prepare during an informal rehearsal… to end a rehearsal with “wow. that’s… so cool!”

It’s been a beautiful and busy week. I am learning so much, so fast. I am grateful and inspired.

Books & Talks That Made Me Think: 2015

I’ve always loved books, but this year I’ve had the added pleasure of working on some of the talks coming through TED. Here are a few of the moments that I’ve been pushed the most in the last year:

Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science’s First Family: I just finished reading this profile of Marie Curie and her incredibly family. I had not fully appreciated the context of the scientific discoveries that Marie, Pierre, Irene and Frederic made during their research lives… especially with a backdrop like the Great Depression and two World Wars. It is incredible how much of their research is still relevant today and how much bullshit Marie Curie and Irene had to endure due to gender rules in France, barring women from important roles in the science community during this time period. I was inspired by the entire Curie family’s defense of pure research and commitment to continuing with their work, through sickness and war and financial trouble.

Monica Lewinsky talked about the Price of Shame at TED2015: This was one of the first talks I supported with research when I first joined TED. While most of my notes did not end up in the final copy, it kicked off a journey into research on clickbait economies (I jokingly refer to this research as studying “how internet trolls make money”) that I still think about now. She is phenomenally brave and reminds our larger communities that this is the time for kindness. I remember this responsibility when I decide what to consume on the internet.

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century: I am still in process of reading this book, but it is so thoughtful and thought-provoking that when I finish each chapter, I have to take a pause to write pages of notes for continued research to dig into later. I’ve long wondered how Capitalism needs to change to adapt to new historical periods and contexts… how it would need to adapt to work outside the “West” (Hernando de Soto has some interesting thoughts about this). Piketty raises some very important questions about the nature of wealth and income, and how those who start with an advantage end with a serious advantage. This all feels particularly important after Larry Lessig’s campaign on Campaign Finance Reform…

Which also leads to Larry Lessig’s talk about Campaign Finance and American Democracy at TEDxMidAtlantic. Nothing is more chilling than sitting in a room and having someone brilliant on the stage present a case of corruption happening right around you… that you’ve grown so accustomed to accepting that you cannot see another way around it. It’s a moment of feeling helpless and restless and broken… but Lessig also makes you ready to rally for change. It was the first time since writing my thesis about corruption in Colombia’s government (and how cartels invest in political campaigns) that I felt ready to jump back into the mix. Let’s see some campaign finance reform, because the Citizens United case CANNOT be the end of American Democracy as we know it.

I saw Spotlight this week with my family, and after the initial deep despair it causes, knowing how long these child abuse cases were buried by the church in the city that I grew up in (among so many other cities) and how deeply this has damaged the lives of so many people (the movie cities 249 abusive priests and 1000+ victims that came forward after the article in the Boston Globe exposing the cover up of abusive priests in Boston in 2002 was published), I went home and subscribed to the Boston Globe, NPR, New York Times, and other papers tackling investigative reporting. It turns out, this phenomenon is not unique to the Catholic Church, but it happens in a handful of other communities, where “speaking against other members” is met with violence and silence. Without a steady support based, they cannot continue this type of research. I am proud to support investigative reporting, we need much more of it and the journalism industry as we know it is in real trouble financially. We cannot lose this quest for the truth as we are pushed further and further towards consumable media in the form of clickbait.

Palak Shah’s talk at the Personal Democracy Forum was about protecting contract laborers and adapting labor structures to meet new demands on the work force this year. It was stirring and offers us a clear opportunities to protect workers in this new age of the Sharing Economy. I know I thought a lot about conditions she described while deciding how and when to use apps like Handy and AirBnb, among others. My roommate and I went so far as to only use Handy to meet workers that we could hire later (except we paid the worker directly instead of waiting for the worker to take only the small percentage offered to them by Handy). I send this to everyone I know who wants to talk about the Labor Question.

The Art of Communication was a book I stumbled across while taking a weekend to wander alone through Soho and collect myself. I had a really tough summer trying to navigate a break up and make sense of my grandfather’s fight with cancer/how my family was reacting to it. I needed to be alone and re-center myself… and when I found this book, I learned to find more space in my heart for compassion towards myself and the people around me. The writing is gentle and kind… perfect when you need the verbal equivalent of a hug.

Esther Perel’s Rethinking Infidelity… a talk for anyone who has ever loved at TED2015 was another moment that helped me find more compassion in my heart… towards myself. She talks about the issues we run into in modern marriage and pressure on relationships, but when I listen to it I also heard about the permission many of us refuse to grant ourselves to accept that we will change and want different things and should explore who we are. It was a moment where I fully committed to writing “my own rules.” It has also made me a better, more communicative and direct partner because I know what I need to protect in myself and where I want to, and need to grow. This was a real gift.

Patti’s Smith’s The M Train is a journey through time and travel with one of my favorite writers. She inspired some of the structure in the guidebook I built for my boyfriend this christmas. I loved exploring her experiences through her writing, and see what it meant to her to spend time alone. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be truly comfortable and alone. This, for me, linked back to the conversations I was having about defining my own rule book. I have always admired how unapologetically herself she is.

Finally, I learned a lot from the 27 writers who wrote for the Eccentric Guide to New York that I built this fall. It was fun to see how friends had carved out their own spaces in the city and catch glimpses of them finding themselves. I loved seeing the city through other people’s eyes. Sometimes I forget how magical it is to live here, and I had the opportunity to put this together for someone who was just exploring the city for his first year here offered me a new way to explore my environment.