Friday’s TedX event at Georgetown brought together a range of speakers. Vox runs through a number of the notable ones here.
The Georgetown TED talks opened Friday with Ann Pendleton-Jullian, an architect, writer, and educator. Her presentation focused on setting up the scaffolding for a flexible society in response to its rapidly changing nature.
To explain this concept, she used the example of a spider making its web. It first begins by laying the framework for the web with strong, structural silk, and as it weaves the rest of the web, it replaces the strong silk with incredibly flexible silk. The average flexible web is so strong it can catch a bee flying at full speed, and some can even catch small birds without breaking. This metaphor represented what she though society needed to change.
She said that previously, support for development came mainly from “the meta-narrative,” the governments and large institutions, and the recent advancement in networking has helped to shift the focus to the “micro-narratives,” the people. She provided TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, “The Protester,” as an example of this phenomenon.
In order to respond to this shift and facilitate the change, she contends that society must begin to function more like an ecosystem, indivisible but developed dependents, rather than a clock, with separate parts functioning as a whole.
Bobby Ghosh, journalist and TIME Magazine’s World Editor, began his talk with a description of the power of a word: Jihad. He illustrated how the word, which previously referred to an internal struggle against vice and to live according to the moral codes in the Koran, to one that described extreme terrorist activities due to a minority of a minority within the religion.
The word is now associated with a “global war of terror” because of Osama Bin Laden and the Mujahideen. Ghosh said that Bin Laden’s crimes against Americans and Iraqi Muslims alike, while following his definition of “jihad,” also led to that definition’s and the movement’s ruin. As Muslims saw the crimes committed in the name of their religion, the group lost popularity except among a few extreme radicals.
Ghosh said that because of their unpopularity and Bin Laden’s death, jihadist groups are now contained to a local focus. “Jihad” is no longer a global war of terror. Ghosh said that if the U.S. continues to support other governments in rooting out local extremism, Bin Laden’s definition of jihad and the radical violence it causes can be expunged.
Tai Murray, a Western classical violinist, spoke about her and other classical musicians’ struggles to find a place and identity in modern society.
She began by retelling a conversation she had with a friend who suggested gimmicks, such as Lady Gaga’s meat dress, to attract attention. Her friend subtly suggested that the color of her skin was the “gimmick.” While she felt he had insulted her African-American heritage, she was also slightly amused because she didn’t think it should matter, as she could not choose her genetics and loved music as much as any other musician.
When she met a 12-year-old autistic boy who was “full of life” despite the fact that he could only communicate in sounds, not words, she realized that she didn’t need any of these gimmicks. He heard her play the violin and was so overcome with joy he started making his own noises.
“I realized he was speaking my language and I was speaking his,” she said. “We were not separated by our genes.”
She now carries that moment with her into practice, onto stage, and through her life. She said it helped her realize that she is a violinist, a strong African-American woman, and that she didn’t need any “gimmicks.” All she needed was her music.
Kendall Ciesmier (COL ’15), was the first of three student speakers at the TED talks. She spoke about the “power in powerlessness” and how that correlates to community service.
In the midst of two liver transplants at the age of 11, Kendall asked her family and friends to raise money for a town affected by the AIDS epidemic in Zambia after seeing a special about children there on Oprah. After raising $15,000, she decided to turn it into an official charity: Kids Caring 4 Kids. The charity has now provided 400 bikes, school supplies, medical care, indoor plumbing, and healthy meals as well as a dormitory and two orphan centers for a community in Zambia.
As a result, she has met former Hoya Bill Clinton, Oprah, Bono, and has been named Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year, among numerous other recognitions. But these recognitions are not her most esteemed accomplishments, she said. She then showed a picture of a young Zambian girl she helped through Kids Caring 4 Kids. Because of the pain she experienced with her rare liver disease, she was able to sympathize with this girl. Her reward was seeing the girl’s smile.
Her attempt to define herself by something other than her powerlessness, her illness, led her to empower herself by changing the lives of children like that girl in four African countries.
“Service can be your power,” she said as she ended her talk.
Photos by Larissa Ong