In her typically clear-eyed, wry, and hard-hitting style, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks of "The Danger of the Single Story."
TED Talks Thursdays
"Ideas worth spreading" is the motto of TED Talks, an ongoing series of brief but riveting videos from experts around the globe.
Given that the spread of worthy ideas is so much more to be desired than the viral spread we are currently facing, take some time off your worries to think about our situation in a different way.
All of these ideas are curated and brought to you by Uma Hiremath!
TED Talks Thursdays, October 22, 2020
In this week’s news, Anne Bakjian of Georgia reportedly spent two weeks in hospital battling COVID-19. She recovered, but has yet to recover from the $48,000 invoice that Medicaid did not cover. Physician, heal thyself!
The medical structure is out of kilter. In 19 minutes, well-known Boston surgeon Atul Gawande, brings a singular perspective on “How Do We Heal Medicine?”
The clinicians of today are equipped to deal with an extraordinary breadth of treatments, unknown in pre-penicillin times. 4,000 medical tests and surgeries as well as 6,000 prescription drugs have replaced the ubiquitous all-purpose aspirin. Yet, Dr. Gawande argues, there is “little sense that it consistently all comes together in a successful way” for the patient.
A more coherent system is suggested with the analogy of "pit crews" replacing traditional "cowboy" approaches to healthcare. Author of four best-selling books, including The Checklist Manifesto, his study on the importance of medical checklists also figures in this densely argued talk.
TED Talks Thursdays, October 15, 2020
When humans began practising physical hygiene a hundred years ago, life expectancy rose dramatically. In this 17-minute TEDx talk, psychologist Guy Winch urges us to follow through on "emotional hygiene" as well.
Loneliness, failure, helplessness, negative ruminations are common to all humans. Stepping back to consciously take one's emotional pulse is less common. A lopsided prioritization of physical over psychological health can be counterproductive.
With a canny mix of stories and science and exhortation, Dr. Winch cogently argues "Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid." As we spin around in a pandemic whirlpool, the need to both recognize and heal from non-diagnosed spinoff conditions seems fitting.
TED Talks Thursdays, October 8, 2020
While Siddhartha evolved into Buddha after years of solitary wandering and Jesus advanced while roaming through the wilderness of the Judaean desert, author Susan Cain wonders why introversion gets a bad rap in our modern century. Productivity, creativity and leadership are now frequently believed to be a direct function of gregariousness and extroversion. The 20th century, with its move away from intimate smaller communities to large anonymous urban settings, ushered in the culture of personality and personal salesmanship.
With a skillful mix of storytelling, history, and psychological insights, ideas on introversion, quietude, and solitude are given a persuasive vote of confidence in less than 20 minutes. We are wished "the courage to speak softly." Following the cacophony of the first presidential debate of 2020, this palliative argument on "The Power of Introverts" strikes a resonant chord.
TED Talks Thursdays, September 30, 2020
Lies. What does that word evoke in you? Something negative, to be avoided, to be feared, reprehensible; in short, a moral judgement.
In this intriguing 19-minute TED talk, author Pamela Meyer approaches lying more behaviorally, as an age-old and integral part of human interaction. The first half of the talk sets out how we are all liars. Even babies quickly learn to fake-cry to achieve their ends. Koko, the gorilla who learned sign language, pinned the blame for a sink ripped out of the wall on his tiny pet kitten. Lies are a complexly sanctioned part of communication.
Spotting them in a world that is increasingly "post-truth" is a trained responsibility. The second half, on "How To Spot A Liar" is probably what has attracted over 18 million viewers and catapulted this 2011 talk as one of the 15 most popular TED talks of all time. Liespotting is not easy, but it is possible. Oversharing via social media is not equivalent to honesty. However, being more explicit about our chosen moral codes is a definitive way to signal against a culture of lying and collaborating in a lie.
TED Talks Thursdays, September 24, 2020
As the pandemic inexorably moves toward claiming one million lives around the world, Michael Murphy's transformative ideas on "Architecture That's Built to Heal" and Amanda Sturgeon's stunning imagery highlighting the use of "Biophilic Design to Heal Body, Mind, and Soul" seem particularly soothing. Yes, we are sickening; but perhaps there are ways we can move forward to heal ourselves in concrete (or less "concrete"!) ways.
In less than 16 minutes, Murphy, who is founder and director of Boston's acclaimed MASS Design Group, presents his central theme of holistically connecting any architectural undertaking to the needs, desires and hopes of the local community. His tour of building projects from hospitals in Haiti and Malawi to the powerful memorial in Alabama that honors more than 4,000 lynchings, testify to his goal of creating community-centric structures.
In 14 minutes, award-winning architect Amanda Sturgeon provides lovely juxtapositioned examples of architecture that connect humans to nature. The images are supported by studies that corroborate what we always knew - having a window office is so much more pleasant than a cubicle! "Biophilic" translates to love of life and holding that principle as the central tenet of any building blueprint leads to the creation of spaces that can make people happier, healthier and more productive. In this talk, the images were worth more than the proverbial thousand words.
TED Talks Thursdays, September 17, 2020
Where is home? It could be that white picket-fenced cottage or that old timber-framed family house or that cosy apartment rental.
It could also be "where you become yourself."
In this age of global movement that has led to the snowballing of over 220 million diasporic humans, acclaimed writer Pico Iyer provides an elegiac 12-minute essay on the floating concept of home.
With the same fluidity that marks his written work, Iyer weaves his meditation on how "home has really less to do with a piece of soil than...with a piece of soul," linking it to the lure of travel and the wisdom of stillness. There is much poetry to be found in his prose; just as there is much personal philosophy to be found in political concepts of identity and nationhood.
TED Talks Thursdays, September 10, 2020
Be warned. This is not your typical TED Talk. In fact, there is very little talk. Instead, one's ears, eyes and senses are besieged by the sight and sounds of a single human throat able to produce a galaxy of musical impersonations.
In 12 minutes, Tom Thum beatboxes his way through the ages and through very different musical cultures. Aptly titled "The Orchestra in my Mouth," the range of vocal percussion mimicking musical instruments, sound effects and voices, could well be a symphony orchestra.
Entertaining? Oh yes. But it also releases a slow burn of hope and marvel in the ingenuity of humans to create in endlessly idiosyncratic ways that are timeless and universal.
TED Talks Thursdays, September 3, 2020
We are intimate with the face in the mirror. We assume we are the norm. And then the larger world muscles in to show us the many ways we are not.
Gender, color, ethnicity, baldness, religion, height, weight, age, politics, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! The range of indices used by humans to separate "us" from "them" is as dizzying and infinite as identity itself.
Maysoon Zayid's TED talk opens with her most obvious "otherness" - cerebral palsy. "I shake all the time," she says at the start of "I Got 99 Problems...Palsy is Just One," a 14-minute searing and endearing dive into the many identity challenges she has faced.
TED Talks Thursdays, August 27, 2020
This is one of those memorable fishy tales! It ostensibly tells the story of world famous chef, Dan Barber, and his quest for the perfect fish to add to his menus.
In truth, the fish-story is masterfully filleted to present a complex thesis of agricultural sustainability. It might need more than a single viewing to truly absorb every flavor that is produced.
In about 19 minutes of storytelling, 'How I Fell In Love With A Fish', chronicles a journey into Vita La Palma, Spain in 2010. There, Chef Barber finds a farmer who understands the importance of relationships so that fish, birds and wetlands network to produce a self-renewing oasis that is ecologically restorative and a promising template for future farming.
TED Talks Thursdays, August 20, 2020
Witnessing the goodness and ingenuity of people makes you see the world as a more hopeful place. In less than 10 minutes, Dr. Franz Freudenthal gave me that boost in his 2016 TED talk, "A New Way to Heal Hearts Without Surgery.".
As a pediatric cardiologist, he combined his medical skills with the indigenous Bolivian culture he witnessed growing up. Ancient loom weaving techniques were used to create occluders, self-expanding alloy devices that were able to successfully block holes in the hearts of infants without the need for invasive surgery!
A scene showing one of Bolivia's traditional craft knitters entering a sleek modern facility where she will presumably knit these life-saving devices is inspirational. The sincerity of Dr. Freudenthal's presentation is only matched by the success of his device that has reportedly cured over 50,000 children worldwide.
TED Talks Thursdays, August 13, 2020
Schadenfreude is one of those German portmanteau words that combines harm with joy. It is defined as the unique pleasure derived from another's misfortune. Cyberbullying personifies that twisted pleasure.
In this 22-minute TED talk on "The Price of Shame," Monica Lewinsky provides a fervent argument against cyber-bullying and the growing "culture of humiliation" as a function of "technologically amplified shaming" leading to "shame as an industry."
Given that 58% of American teens claim to have been bullied online, her call to recognize the cruelty of digital stockades and develop compassionate alternatives to schadenfreude could be leveraged into timely discussions.
TED Talks Thursdays, August 6, 2020
"If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled" says the Tao. In this light but thoughtful 13-minute TED talk, Joseph Gordon-Levitt meditates on how big business has structured social media so that we are addicted to looking to others for fulfillment. The bittersweet charms of "being liked" or getting a thumbs up emoji on social media are here to stay; usage has rocketed from just about 5% in 2005 to 72% in the most recent 2019 Pew survey.
Gordon-Levitt should know; this 39-year old actor, filmmaker and founder of an online community has been getting our attention since he began his acting career at the age of 4. In his musings on social media as an addiction for more and more attention, he gently slips in the idea that paying attention could lead to a more creative life than getting attention.
TED Talks Thursdays, July 30, 2020
Over two years ago, Harvard psychologist and author, Susan David, delivered a popular TED talk on "the gift and power of emotional courage." Her book, Emotional Agility, went on to be a bestseller.
In these ongoing COVID times, when the Jekyll of staying positive is in continuous battle with the Hyde of rising sickness and death, her talk is timely!
The goal of avoiding the "tyranny of positivity" and having constant "secret silent correspondence" with oneself to accept that "discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life" is unabashedly motivational. For me though, the unexpected attraction was in the lyrical ways she merged personal storytelling with professional analyses.
TED Talks Thursdays, July 23, 2020
One of the pleasures of TED talks is their ability to tickle your brain into investing in unexpected recesses of the larger world around you. You might, for example, have zero interest in the subject of city flags. Or that there exists a tongue-rolling word like vexillology, the study of flags. And yet....!
And yet within the space of 18 minutes, radio producer Roman Mars charmingly tempts you into perhaps checking out Easton's flag and then moving farther into the principles of effective design and their subterranean value in our everyday lives.
Be prepared for some gentle seduction in "Why city flags may be the worst designed thing you never noticed"!
TED Talks Thursdays, July 16, 2020
"The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete."
Using personal anecdotes to illustrate larger truths, this 18-minute talk is a bracingly restorative reminder to consciously look for the many stories that make each of us human.
TED Talks Thursdays, July 9, 2020
With most of the world trying to work in not-quite-normal situations, Shawn Achor's popular 12-minute pep talk on '"The Happy Secret to Better Work" might just hit the spot.
He prods one to revisit the chicken-or-egg question on whether productivity sparks happiness or the other way around. And he is rapid-fire funny!
TED Talks Thursdays, July 2, 2020
This 17 minute talk is not for the faint of heart and great for those who trust in unvarnished truths! When 22-year old aspiring war correspondent Suleika Jaouad graduated from Princeton to take on the world, her life path changed abruptly with a crippling diagnosis of leukemia.
In this tightly constructed rumination on "what almost dying taught me about living," Suleika unsparingly excavates the truth of finding ways to move forward in that "in-between place." As she reminds us, health is not binary and all of us will travel back and forth between the porous walls of being sick and well. Ouch.
TED Talks Thursdays, June 25, 2020
Cave drawings testify to art as one of the earliest forms of communication and the recording of human history. With the evolution of language scripts, most of us have forgotten our innate fluency in "the language of pictures."
In less than 13 minutes, artist, author and animator Christoph Neumann reminds us of our skill in making "radical leaps with images". For those who have enjoyed Christoph's New Yorker magazine covers, his mastery in unearthing our shared experiences with whimsy, wit and empathic minimalism are in full display!
TED Talks Thursdays, June 18, 2020
In 2008, I was forever hooked on TED Talks after listening to this old-but-gold classic. Watch neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor study her own brain as it suffers a massive stroke and shuts her body functions one by one.
In just 18 minutes, "My Stroke of Insight" provides that rare example of intellect and experience merging in perfect articulation.
TED Talks Thursdays, June 11, 2020
Call me biased; but when you hear books being called a "magic portal," the lure to share is quite irresistible!
In this 6-minute love letter to the art of reading, Dr. Lisa Bu charmingly describes "How Books Can Open Your Mind."
Her novel approach to comparative reading makes one want to discover "books in pairs" that uniquely connect past and present, East and West, highbrow and lowbrow.
TED Talks Thursdays, June 4, 2020
O tempora, o mores! 8 minutes and 46 seconds is the time it took for the killing of George Floyd. It has been followed by long days of anger, fear, frustration and desperation around the country.
In a prescient 12 minute TED talk given over a year ago, Phillip Atiba Goff provides a cogent argument for defining racism as behaviors rather than feelings. Behaviors can be measured; maybe controlled? Therein lies the appeal of this widely circulated talk.
TED Talks Thursdays, May 28, 2020
In these pandemic times where our routines and beliefs have been dramatically upended, we are more attuned to see threat and opportunity in all aspects of life. It seems timely, then, to hear Dr. Ruairi Robertson's 2015 talk on gut biomes as an opportunity to boost personal immunity.
"Food for Thought: How your Belly Controls your Brain" is an engaging account of how our "incidental war on gut bacteria has encouraged global diseases" and how we should be "restoring the relationship between microbes and man." Fascinating!
TED Talks Thursdays, May 21, 2020
Sir Ken Robinson's 2006 viral talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity" has been viewed over 60 million times, more than any other in TED talk history!
He returns in 2010 for yet another thoughtful deliberation, "Bring On the Learning Revolution," delivered in his inimitable and endearingly witty style.
You may or may not agree with him; but you cannot help fall headlong into his charm and depth of thinking on life as an organic process unsuited to linear learning.
TED Talks Thursdays, May 14, 2020
You are stuck in the house. You have a smart phone. You make a movie in the course of one night that is watched by over 10 million people! Welcome to the next generation.
TED Talks Thursdays, May 7, 2020
"We live in a vulnerable world," said Professor Brené Brown back in the BC era (before corona).
It seems timely, then, to once again view this intimate, wise and droll 20-minute talk on "The Power of Vulnerability" from someone who does not believe that "cussing and praying are mutually exclusive."
TED Talks Thursdays, April 30, 2020
Poetry matters. Or does it? You be the judge.
With infectious vitality and heartwarming sincerity, spoken-word poet Sarah Kay recites two of her poems in a 2011 TED talk that has since gone viral.
It seems only fitting to conclude National Poetry Month during a pandemic, with this 18 minute presentation by a poet who believes that "people find poetry when they need to."
TED Talks Thursdays, April 23, 2020
Us. How did we become us? How do people see us? How do all those thoughts churning in our heads and those emotions surging in our bodies get communicated to people?
Speech and body language, say this week's TED speakers.
In less than 10 minutes, author and expert Julian Treasure lists the seven deadly sins of speaking and provides tools to "Speak so that people want to listen."
At 21 minutes, in a much-debated talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy provides a different set of tools on how "Your body language may shape who you are."
Most seductive of all, their talks suggest that each one of us has the ability to communicate more effectively. Now that's an idea worth checking out!
TED Talks Thursdays, April 16, 2020
Procrastination is one of those internal human dramas that create emotional whirlpools ranging from anxiety and self-flagellation to creative bursts of sudden productivity. We have all procrastinated at some point in our lives or, worse, had to deal with congenital procrastinators.
In less than 14 irreverent and insightful minutes, popular blogger Tim Urban introduces us to the Instant Gratification Monkey who helps us understand "what goes on in the head of a procrastinator".
You could watch it now. Or maybe later?
TED Talks Thursdays, April 9, 2020
Happiness. Philosophers from Aristotle to the Dalai Lama have tried to define it. Million dollar industries have sprung up to deliver it. Poems, songs and fables have been devoted to it. The mountain kingdom of Bhutan has codified an entire index of Gross Domestic Happiness to measure it.
As with the concepts of "Fear" and "Hope" that we saw in the last two TED choices, "Happiness" is another central tenet of the human condition.We know it when we feel it. We want to know it better. We continue on an unending quest to figure it.
Here to help us is Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert. In this 21 minute video from 2004, Gilbert argues "The Surprising Science of Happiness" in a presentation that is equal parts scientific, funny and thought-provoking.
TED Talks Thursdays, April 2, 2020
It was Maya Angelou who said "Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay." We gave space to "Fear" at last Thursday's TED presentation. This week we shall invite "Hope" to stay.
In this 15 minute video from 2018, check out MIT Professor Hugh Herr. He lost both his legs in a mountain climbing accident in 1982 but strongly held on to the hope that "a human can never be broken."
As you can see, far from being broken, Professor Herr extends human potential to unimaginable limits!
TED Talks Thursdays, March 26, 2020
In the first 8 1/2 minute video from 2015, Bill Gates proposes the need to establish a global health system that can simulate "germ games" instead of "war games," while cautioning that "time is not on our side." Truer words were never spoken!
In the second 11 1/2 minute video from 2012, author Karen Thompson Walker argues how fear, (yes, the stuff we are all feeling right now!) can be seen as "unintentional storytelling" and a way to make decisions.
Both videos can be viewed within 30 minutes and make for hours of thoughtful discussions - so go ahead and give it a try.
See you next Thursday with a new set of mind-revving ideas worth spreading.