Death, Story, Tolerance, and Conversations are Critical To Developing Healthy Communities

TEDTalks are fantastic things, you have no doubt consumed online at some point. But how many of you have had the opportunity to attend one in person? I was really fortunate to cover TEDxSeattle for PSFK in Seattle recently. The future perspectives shared by my fellow Seattleites were insightful and shared a great commonality –– that we should challenge our beliefs in order to build more powerful, connected communities.

As executive director and curator of TEDxSeattle, Elizabeth Coppinger shared, “ the most powerful way to show the strength and importance of great ideas is to make good things with our local community.” The day was designed to emphasize how one thing is often greater than another. Out of sixteen amazing talks presented that day, these were the key takeaways that resonated with me the deepest.

You can also read my conversations with journalist Celeste Headlee and architect Scott Wyatt as well. Click on the points above to jump right to each talk.


Ranae Holland: Let’s Be Curious Instead of Critical

According to Ranae Holland, curiosity is at the core of science and as people today (scientific or not),  it is important  to challenge ourselves in regards to the unknown. In doing so, we need to be skeptical, but not cynical. As we live and move through our society, it is important for us to take a gracious approach to start conversations, as the questions presented in those conversations may not have answers. In her work, she finds that it is important to ask questions, but she cannot assume anything from the answers. Instead she relies on curiosity to understand others’ perspectives and answers to her questions. She shared:

It’s curiosity that propels me to ask, “What happened to this person?” After each investigation,  there’s a definite connection with witnesses. There are a lot of people that believe in the supernatural. They want you to believe it too. Everyone has their own version of a story they tell and they will fight passionately for their belief. I look for Bigfoot, in a world where we are surrounded by such different views and opinions, no wonder Bigfoot stays hidden.

Ranae challenges communities to leverage the power of curiosity as it can drive us to gracefully debate. But, as she has seen firsthand, that grace quickly turns to something much more dangerous as people will go to great lengths to show others they are wrong while holding steadfast to their beliefs that they are right.   

In a world of differing opinions and viewpoints, have we become so polarized that we can’t have conversations anymore? When we are presented with the unknown, our first reaction is to jump to a conclusion. Will you be skeptical or are you willing to approach something with curiosity.

Eliahchi Kimaro: Real Stories Can End Suffering, So Tell Them

In her talk, Eliachi Kimaro shared her belief that everyone on earth has a story. Society often puts a stereotypical lens on those stories instead of factually conveying on an individual level. If you are not the one to construct your story, you are allowing someone else to define your narrative and that can be disastrous. Have you experienced what it is like to have someone else’s imposed narrative placed upon you? What effects does that have?  In today’s world, you should do two things: You have to speak your own truth and tell your own story. Remember, every time a story is shared, we expand the world.

Oren Etzioni: Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Evil

In his talk, Oren Etzioni of the Allen Institute shared that new technologies have always been met with opposition. Is AI an existential threat to the human race? This isn’t Hollywood. AI technology has a long way to go and it is important to remember science fiction isn’t real science. AI cannot do anything it wasn’t specifically created for. With humans, we have free will and make choices, that goes hand in hand with autonomy. For machines, they can be intelligent, but they are not autonomous. Our children are more autonomous than AI systems.

Thinking of AI weapon systems that operate without humans are the things of nightmares. But that nightmare needs autonomy and we do not build autonomous weapons. Thinking of losing employment to machines also causes concern. Machines don’t function without humans, as  machines take over human jobs, new ones will come. We can’t declare a moratorium on AI, as technical change is hard to stop and if we slow down, other nations would overtake us.

It is the absence of AI technologies that may be killing people. AI has an enormous benefit for common good. AI can help scientists find what is needed in their work. It can help doctors align treatments, information and prevent overwork. Even in cars,  AI safety systems protect our lives. Humans still determine where the car goes and are in control of  manual functions, but AI technology helps us to avoid accidents. It’s time to advocate for AI for the common good, tackle problems we as humans can’t tackle alone.


Elizabeth Arnold: Journalism Is Storytelling That Sheds Light On Real Issues

According to Elizabeth Arnold, people are becoming numb because they have stopped listening. As journalists, the best thing we can do is humanize the stories we are telling, and the issues we are shedding light on. It’s our journalistic duty.

Lesley Hazleton: Don’t Be Afraid Of Dying

Lesley Hazelton believes that most people are terrified of death. She asks the question,  “What’s wrong with dying?” In her opinion, what we have taken for granted is often things we have not taken the time to think through. Life is significant, so is death. Consciously or not, we realize that without an end, life would become infinitum. It would suck the meaning out of life. Immortality is a curse.  We should live, love and die. We need endings. The most basic ending is built into us. It’s a defining part of being human.

Start Your Own Conversation

Hopefully the insights shared from the speakers above have some impact on your thoughts on how to address tough questions. May they challenge you to start a new conversation about your own beliefs. Remember, as people, we are happier and healthier when we are connected. Want to take part in TEDxSeattle 2017? You can get involved today. See you there!