Brains are buzzing all around Houston. That’s true on a daily basis in our dynamic city. However, it’s even more apparent for those who attended TEDxHouston on Saturday.
If you are a fan of TED.com and “ideas worth spreading,” imagine a similar event with a local focus. The theme of the day, for me, was “Expand your perspective.” I’ve never been more proud to call myself a Houstonian, as I learned about the international impact of thought-leaders who live and work here, and who spoke on Saturday.
If you want a full overview of the program, type “TEDxHouston” into your Google Alerts, and see the explosion of responses to the day’s content. Among the best —
There’s nothing like a new idea to shake things up, perturb your patterns, and send you into “fight or flight” response. In any moment, we can remember that there is a gap between “stimulus” and “response.” The day began with a wonderful experiment to find what people do: in the face of unusual stimuli, is your response to shut down, divert, surrender, engage — or something else?
Enter Aimee Woodall of The BlackSheep Agency, a renegade PR firm that specializes in attracting attention. Aimee apparently keeps a database of crazy people who will appear when asked, and I learned that I am in it. I received an email earlier in the week, asking if I would volunteer to be part of some top-secret shenanigans before TEDxHouston. I was intrigued, because everything I’ve seen that BlackSheep has orchestrated is done with great good humor, respect for its audience, and with her corporate slogan, “Shear Creativity.” She had me at BlackSheep. After all, I was already volunteering for the event as a stuffer of tote bags, assembler of lanyards, and finder of answers. Be there before 8 a.m.? Why not?
The event-before-the-event was part performance art, part reality improv, and part staged protest. Our team of crazies was assigned individual roles in the drama. The setting — the courtyard next to the Moores School of Music and walkway to the Wortham Theater at the University of Houston. In other words, we were directly in the path from the parking lot to the event venue.
We were instructed not to tell a soul about our mission. The element of surprise was critical.
The premise: there has been a General Apathy Syndrome (G.A.S.) leak. We were recruited part of a team of war-style “medics” fighting an epidemic General Apathy Syndrome (GAS) Leak. The symbol for the vaccine/antidote is the Delta sign (the Greek letter, “Delta,” which is a triangle) which is the universal symbol for “change.” As attendees arrived, they noticed flyers, signs, and chalk markings all around campus with the “Delta” symbol.
I was part of a vocal and frenetic picket line. (Thank you, Nancy Wozny, for reintroducing the SAT word “frenetic” to my everyday vocabulary!) Our signs carried messages against apathy. A few agents, clad in camouflage, approached people, asking if they have received the antidote for G.A.S., and passed out flyers with the General Apathy Syndrome Manifesto. Each passer-by received a bright yellow sticker with the Delta symbol to show they had received the antidote for apathy. They were then urged to proceed directly to TEDxHouston. (See photos by searching for “TEDxHouston” on Flickr.)
The responses of those arriving for the conference were fascinating. Some people immediately “got it” and joined in the drama. “Yes, please, get me the antidote!” Smiles of recognition, eager nodding, surrendering to the mayhem. Others were irritated, annoyed, even angered, for deeply individual reasons. Some quickly relaxed when they realized we were protesting apathy, and not TEDxHouston! Other people remained “ruffled.” You could see some people purposely trying to avoid us and any confrontation by slinking alongside one of the other buildings. But we spotted them and sent medics after them. They must have been terrified.
All was made clear after everyone was in the auditorium. People’s patterns had been perturbed — gently, humorously, supportively — and they were wide open for the talks which were to come. Our emcee Chris Johnson from NPR affiliate KUHF also prodded and perturbed us: “Listen as though the plane is going down.” There is no apathy in an emergency! Apathy is a pattern. Engagement requests and requires risk, uncertainty, vulnerability — and offers the possibility of new, fresh, useful, revitalizing, super-charging PURPOSE for life. There is absolutely no excuse for boredom (see previous posts on this blog!). Ears, minds — and hearts — wide open, the day began!
Virtually everyone on the program was a highlight. I fell in love with Brene Brown and David Eagleman all over again (they are “alumni” of Houston’s The UP Experience, another life-changing and mind-expanding TED-like event in our city); was transfixed and inspired by the Two Star Symphony and Dominic Walsh: and had my socks blown off and my heart and mind opened by Cristal Montano Baylor of the Hashoo Foundation; Dr. Rebecca RIchards-Kortum and Dr. Maria Oden of Rice University; and Dan Phillips of the Phoenix Commotion. I learned a lot about inspiration, and intention, and action. These people had me practically leaping out of my seat, eager to know more and learn how to help them. And I know I’m not the only one who was brought to tears — the deep emotional response of connection — by nearly every presentation. The general consensus? WOW.
Am I an objective reporter? Hell, no! The partners at CulturePilot are on my “favorite people” and “most inspiring” lists in Houston, and I am so proud of them for pulling this off. Plus, I’m a sucker for a cool T-shirt. In all seriousness, they assembled a team of rock stars — speakers, stage managers, video producers, nuts-and-bolts volunteers, steering committee, and people who just wanted to see them succeed. Everything they do, they do with love. What a concept. They created a buzz, a community, a movement. Connections. They made people care. No small feat.
What did I learn? Lots. As my Feldenkrais mentor, Paul Rubin, notes: “We only have words for things we already know about.” Despite this lengthy post, so much of TEDxHouston left me speechless, in the realm of being and feeling, of deep curiosity and hopefulness for our world — in that wonderful, dynamic space of not knowing, of David Eagleman’s tongue-in-cheek yet dead-serious “Possibilian”alternative to the rigidity and dogmatism we find in today’s culture. TEDxHouston succeeded in every possible metric — and most of all, I believe each person left with a head full of ideas, of possibilities, for how we each might make a difference.