On Sunday, Nov. 4, the Diana Wortham Theater opened its doors to the exploration of ideas — TEDxAsheville. Xpress staffer Jordan Foltz attended. Here, he shares his personal observations. (In this photo, presenter Katie Spotz — who rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean — speaks at the event. Photo by Matthew Abrams.)
A 15-year-old kid — Liam Kelly Black, curly blonde hair and baby-faced — stands on stage and takes a few deep breaths. “This ought to be cute,” I am thinking. “Way to go, little guy.”
He stands back and bows his head, as I wait for some endearing rendition of what went wrong at the high-school dance. And then, stepping forward, he puts his hand on his heart and looks up; suddenly his eyes pierce us with conviction as he launches into the first line, “Patriotic lullabies that seep into the mind, just building walls of lies, obscuring the view of our nationʼs downfalls …”
Vocal chords cracking with emotion, he slams us line after line with inequality, world hunger, Wall Street corruption, the lies we tell ourselves so we can look away. In and out, from a commanding voice of authority to a pleading one nearly broken by sobs, this kid has become a limitless embodiment of todayʼs youth — a fiery Cupid fiercely carrying the arrow of societyʼs liberation, and schooling the lot of us on any preconceptions we may have had about youthful ignorance.
Two more poems and Black had given me the most endearing slap in the face I can remember, and a penetrating kickoff to TEDxAsheville 2012.
Iʼll admit it: At Sundayʼs TEDx event, I shed some tears. Still, for each lump that rose in my throat, there was also an instance where I burst out laughing, one where I wanted to kick something, or hold hands with the people sitting to either side of me.
TEDx is about spreading ideas, and the modus operandi is inspiration — and to be inspired is not a drab experience. It isnʼt gray, subdued, or self-conscious. It is visceral. It is allowing oneself to be involved, affected, engaged, challenged— childlike and poised to experience the world as though for the first time.
(Playback Theater performers at TEDxAsheville 2012; photo by Matthew Abrams)
This yearʼs summit was dubbed “The Edge,” because, according to current TEDxAsheville license-holder Brett McCall, “We wanted to bring the audience to the edge of their seats. We wanted to make them uncomfortable, to put them in an uncomfortable place, because itʼs from uncomfortable places that we start to see things newly, and then start to grow.”
Congratulations, Brett: You succeeded.
I was uncomfortable when Anne Reeder Heck recounted her battering and rape from 14 years ago. I wanted to punch a door, smash a bottle — anything but to sit and acquiescently tolerate that it had happened and there was nothing I could do about it.
But as Heck continued her talk, she showed how she had alchemically transformed this experience into the defining point in developing her life as a healing practitioner and interfaith minister.
I was uncomfortable when laboratory geneticist Dr. Hutton Kearney expounded upon her efforts to create comprehensive genome-wide surveys, which I could only surmise as being the ultimate eugenic ticket to a soulless race of proto-humanoid automatons. Still, Kearneyʼs passion to vanquish all genetic health complications managed to shine through.
The audience shifted in their seats when the Reverend Brian Combs walked onto stage and called all of us out on our fear of the poor, our concerted efforts to distance ourselves from them and alleviate our guilt through charity. In one fell swoop, Combs exposed an elephant that we all carry on our backs through Ashevilleʼs streets, and left us no choice but to be honest about a pervasive misanthropic philanthropy that we all promulgate — uncomfortable. He bellowed, “Demonʼs do not hide in the brothels and the jails; they like to hide in the church, and the demon that has to be exorcised is named ʻcharity.ʼ”
Donʼt expect to have your everyday resignation and cynicism reinforced at a TEDx talk. Instead, check them at the door and be prepared to have your heart strings pulled and your complacency challenged as speakers share their experiences, ideas, projects and arts — which canʼt help but make it clear that there is no excuse for any of us not to be living up to our own greatness.
Created in 1984 for “Ideas Worth Spreading” and to bring together people from three worlds — Technology, Entertainment and Design —TED began to license independent, local events in 2009. These TEDx summits have gone near-viral. In its debut year, 279 events were hosted around the world. By the end of this year, there will have been 2,230 events worldwide.
TEDx is like a curated public square: a space for idea exchange, which has been extricated from many modern societies. The demand for these events points to a surge in the demand for new ideas and inspiration.
It is a phenomenon that came at just the right time, staking a claim for human ingenuity and the desire to share with each other. Though the airwaves and television networks are dominated by the mainstream media tirelessly broadcasting calamity, it is our rejection of this usual plague of cynical despair, and our hunger for truth, expression and new ideas that has led to TEDxʼs prevalence. The enthusiasm found at these events points to a new era of human expression and a rising new guard of information bearers, whose credibility doesnʼt lie in a pile of degrees, the sum of money that they make, or the reverence and untouchability that they evoke, but only in the degree to which they inspire.
By the end of the evening, though I drove home alone, I was reacquainted with a vast community of world citizens who, I knew, were working to bring about a world that lives up to its highest potential. I was thus reconnected with a passion for all the ideas and projects that I had put on the back burner. Who would have thought that in todayʼs world, one of the most exceptional things would be to spread ideas from a place of inspiration and possibility?
I have to wonder: If a six-hour afternoon can revamp so drastically my enthusiasm for what is happening around me and all of the things that I can contribute, what would the world be like if the headlines in the papers and the talk points on network news were proclaiming creative human endeavors, attuning us to out endless possibilities?