"Suffice it to say that a sense of reverence for the power of ideas permeated the atmosphere at TED and TEDActive."
(Jason Silva on the Huffington Post after attending TED Active)
Jody Williams is a hero of mine. Her hero status does not come from her awards. Nor is it the result of her wonderful TEDTalk. Some might think that her elevation, in my world, has come from the fact that she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. But that would be false.
Her hero status is not a result of her being a professor at the University of Houston. While, it was interesting that, in 2004, she was named one of Forbes magazine 100 most powerful women, her acquisition of power is not important when it comes to my judgement of Ms. Williams. What is most interesting about Jody Williams was that she had a big idea: to ban and clear all anti-personnel mines. It is the power of that idea that changed the world and that is why Jody Williams is a hero of mine. She had a big idea.To recognize the power of that idea, one should recognize how difficult it is to solve the problem. Statistics indicate that landmines are still scattered in some 78 countries. Those landmines remain there as an ongoing reminder of conflicts that have been over for years or even decades. According to an article by Nicolas E. Walsh and Wendy S. Walsh in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2003, landmines kill 15,000 to 20,000 people every year. Most of those that die are innocents. They are woman and the elderly who plant the fields. They are children who play in the fields. For, the land mines were placed decades earlier and most people don't now know where land mines were placed. Consequently, as theatres of war become the stages of peace, the threat from land mines rarely dies.
Just look at Tuoitre News. It is a Vietnamese based news organization that recently reported that the "Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan has suggested the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD)" needs to continue to help Vietnam to demine its countryside, so that "they can better integrate" different parts of society. (Vietnam hopes for more int'l demining support, http://tuoitrenews.vn, Updated : 03/27/2013). The reason why this effort is necessary is simple: Vietnam is still littered with weapons of war. Those weapons were intended to kill military personnel in the 1960's and 1970's. Yet they remain a threat more than four decades later. With all of this being said, Jody Williams wanted to make a difference. Ms. Williams wanted to ban landmines.
This might have been because Ms. Williams spent over a decade working on various conflict-related projects. She was in Nicaragua and El Salvador before demining efforts began. She would have likely seen how mines were used as a weapon of war. She likely saw the random carnage and the countless number of citizens that were scarred and maimed. This is probably what sparked Ms. Williams' energy. For, she led an unprecedented cooperative effort that moved UN bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Ms. Williams moved governments and a coalition of 1,300 NGOs in ninety countries. All of this work was accomplished by the organization she founded: the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
Ms. Williams was so convincing that the Canadian Government took her lead. The Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy became the strongest governmental voice behind the treaty. He did so because he believed in the advancement of the concept of human security. His leadership on this issue was so great that he had himself was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. His leadership was so strong that the Treaty was signed in Ottawa and eventually became known as the Ottawa Treaty.
This is the power of a strong idea. A strong idea can move governments and politicians. A strong idea can affect public policy. A strong idea can change the world and this is why Jody Williams is my hero. For, she had a big idea and she used it to change the world.
“Strega Nona” is one of my favourite stories. It talks about a boy who is impatient and materialistic. He works for an old lady who lives down the street. Her name is “Strega Nona”. One day, the little boy sees the old lady in the kitchen and she is making a pot of spaghetti. What is remarkable about this pot is its magical nature. The pot, itself, makes the warm pasta. As he is sneaking a peak, she starts the pot up with a magical phrase. Given that he loves pasta, he memorizes the words. With this quickly learned phrase, he turns on the pot, when “Strega Nona” visits a neighbouring village.
There is a problem though. The young man quickly finds out that the phrase which starts the process does not end it. The pot makes enough pasta to fill the kitchen and it does not stop. The pot fills the house full of pasta and it does not stop. The town is taken over by pasta. It is then that the old lady comes home. She fights the pasta to say the magical stop phrase. This is the story of “Strega Nona” and this is one of the stories that I love. I love it because it teaches me a lesson in a fun and innovative manner.
However, this is not the only reason why I love the story. For the story, first came alive to me because of a narrator. Her name was Ms. Rosemary Ferrando. While, she was not the only lady to read the story of “Strega Nona” to me, her narration made the story real. While this story is not from my ethnic or linguist tradition, Ms. Ferrando’s energy made it interesting. While the story of “Strega Nona” teaches us about knowledge, wisdom, patience, humility and honour, the abilities of one lady made me recall the story nearly twenty-five years later. That is the value of a storyteller.
Storytellers highlight and retell stories that we have forgotten. They tell us parables which we have overlooked. For, although parables are short succinct stories, they only live as long as they are told and retold. Even though stories - in prose or verse form - can teach us about other people’s hardship; they only live as long as they are in print or retold. Accordingly, stories are mortal. While, they last only as long as they are remembered, they can die.
Just think of the visual representation that comes with the famous fable, “the Tortoise and the Hare”. That simple story teaches all of us about perseverance, consistency and belief in one’s self. That story has been told by parents for years because parents can often identify with it and because children need to be taught the lessons of perseverance, consistency and belief. This same story, “the Tortoise and the Hare”, is so universal that we can reference it in society. It becomes a sort of short hand that reminds us all of the previously mentioned qualities and more.
Or think of a similarly important story called “The Little Engine that Could”. As a child, it was read to me. With that story came notions of self-confidence, hard work and reliance. I remember my father reading that story to me when I was young. It gave me confidence when I feel off my bike or failed in some task that I could not preform.
Yet, I was surprised that this remarkable story had an even more noteworthy history. In my adult years, I found out that same story – “the Little Engine that Could” – was told to children who suffered from mild cases of Polio. For before the development of the Polio Vaccine in the 1950’s, children with mild symptoms were taught to “over-exercise” their muscles in other to regain full use of them. For me, the simple phrase, “I think I can, I think I can”, developed new meaning. Myths, Fables, parables and stories provide us with principles, lessons or normative values: Values which we often use in our lives. Therefore, stories are both important and necessary. However, what is equally as important is someone who can tell that story of being human. For both – the story telling and the story itself – are important parts of the human condition. Therefore, the acts of narration and remembrance should be a part of TEDxCalgary.
As a father today, I am learning how stories can both entertain and educate. As I read children’s books - preparing for the day that I will read them to my daughter – I see that the embellishment and improvisation provide more than just comic relief. They provide knowledge, wisdom, values and underlying themes. All of this comes to me because I have been thinking about my own story. A Story I will tell my daughter and a story I will briefly run through now.
My story starts on a snowy day in December. It is hard to believe that more than three decades have passed since my parents fought the bitter cold to get me inside. Yet, they did. My parents fought to ensure that I would have an identity and a history. They fought to remind me that my roots are in Barbados and Jamaica. They fought to remind me about odd words, like Obeah, and odd characters, like Anansi. Yet, today, my joy comes from those same places. It comes from eating a fruit which is fried. It is called Ackee. When served with salted cod, which has been fried with onions, Ackee becomes a heavenly treat. For this combination becomes Jamaica’s national dish: Ackee and Salt Fish.
My story continues will a mix of characters more common to Canada. Mr. Mugs, “Strega Nona”, Moses, and Zeus form a tapestry that is rich and unyielding. As each experience layered on the next, I can say that making Pizza with my mom on Saturday night was just as important as listening my dad’s deafening chops as he prepared some meat – goat or chicken or beef – for Sunday Dinner. The rich smells of curry or bully beef or even some “mix-up, mix-up” permeates my mouth and nose to this day. This story, my story, has given me the strength to experience Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, Halifax and Vancouver. This story of which I speak is now centered around three cities: Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa. While, this story has deep roots in the Caribbean, it now has shallow ones in the British Isles and North Africa. All of this is me. This allows me to have the wisdom to speak to the TEDxCalgary community. But more importantly, all of this – my mind, my body, my soul and my energy – allows me to keep track of the knowledge which I will pass down to my daughter. With any hope, she will pass it onto her descendants and a process of knowledge accumulation will begin. I ask you to join me on this voyage of collecting wisdoms for those generations of Calgarians who have yet to be born. Let us learn from each other and understand that we are all story tellers.
I just happen to be the storyteller for TEDxCalgary.
Software and pluralism, the trajectory of modern energy industries, and dynamic theatre on the run.
These are just a few of the things that our first batch of speakers — Hussein Charania, Peter Tertzakian, and Melanie Jones — will give us insights on as part of TEDxCalgary's first main event of 2013, Energy: Full Spectrum on May 11, 2013.
"We always have fun developing the theme for a TEDxCalgary event, and playing with the various ideas that flow from it" says event curator and licence holder Rahim Sajan. "Energy: Full Spectrum gives us the ability to cross many frontiers and disciplines when we think about how energy surrounds us in all its various forms... creatively in terms of how we can use it as a basis for theatre, literally in terms of how we think about the future scope of our energy use and production, and structurally in terms of how we can harness human ideas to make changes in our society."
Ever wanted to share that burning idea with other participants, other than in one-on-one conversation during breaks? Well, here's your chance to have the participants to yourself for a few minutes!
Participant Talks 180, which signifies that you get both 180 seconds (3 minutes) to make your talk, and a chance to change our perspectives (doing a 180!) on a particular idea related to our event theme.You may have seen them as "Talks from the audience" on TED.com, but we're trying a similar thing here in Calgary for our upcoming TEDxCity 2.0 event on October 13th. We call them
Here's a little bit more about how it works:
1. You need to already be a registered participant for the event (you can buy your ticket here)
2. You submit your suggested talk topic to our Participant Talks 180 list (see link at bottom of page). Please remember that your talk must remain focused on one of the event themes.
3. Depending on the number of submissions, we draw names from a hat, lottery style, at least 72 hours in advance of the event. The number of names drawn will depend on available programming time, but we'll feature a minimum of 5 talks and a maximum of 10 during the day.
4. We give you advance notice that you've been selected, so that you have a bit of time to prepare. There are no slides/visuals... it's just you sharing your idea with other participants!
5. We record your talk just as we do with other speakers, and we will include it on our TEDxCalgary YouTube channel as part of our events talks. As with all speakers, you'll be required to sign our TEDx-mandated speaker release form.
6. Other participants will be asked to rate your talk (no panel of judges, we promise... just a short poll form that they leave behind). If you give one of our top participant talks, we'll discuss bringing you back for a future event to do a longer presentation.
Ready for your 3 minutes of fame? Click to sign up...