Give me a hammer and all I’ll see around me are nails!
The golden hammer expression certainly matches my current state and the way my passions combine in this post.
On one hand, I’m an avid TED consumer, having spent (without exaggeration) thousands of hours watching and re-watching some of my favorite talks. On the other hand, over the past years, I’ve been quietly and surely walking towards a project that’s starting to take form: a book about awareness. In many ways, my curiosity towards intergenerational, intercultural and public speaking topics have at the source this same project.
The main premise of the book is that human growth is the product of a circular loop of identity and empathy. In other words, one deeply depends on the other. One is the beginning and end of the other, the yin and the yang. Growth happens in spiral, as the result of each incremental turn.
Since the concept of interdependency of identity and empathy is unusual, I’ve decided to make 2 lists of my all-time favorite TED talks to illustrate it. Today’s post is about identity. The next one will be about empathy and diversity.
If after watching those videos, dear reader, you find yourself with the same difficulty I had to tease out where identity ends and empathy begins (or vice-versa), then I’ll consider my mission accomplished. Enjoy the selection!
- Thandie Newton: Embracing myself, embracing otherness
One of the most intricate and, at the same time, profoundly beautiful talks, Thandie Newton’s paradoxical tale of self-discovery and change gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. It’s the story that best conveys the profound connection between identity and empathy (and portraits awareness is a circular process of holding pieces of our identity and losing them in presence of the other, of the whole). A talk full of yin, of oneness, to be watched over and over again.
- Jill Bolte Taylor: A stroke of insight
The 4th most watched TED talk to date is a personal journey into our perception of reality. By showing live a human brain and describing her experiences during a stroke, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, embedded in her viewers an experience of how the brain works that is difficult to forget. Though the knowledge of the subtle differences between the brain hemispheres existed long before her talk, her talk has certainly helped catapult this knowledge into public domain.
It is, however, in the fine and touching mix between science and spirituality, between our experiences as individuals and as part of the whole, that we can see the most important aspect of her message: when we embrace the paradoxical nature of our brains, we’re one step closer to embracing the paradoxical nature of our individual and empathic nature.
- Pico Iyer: Where is home?
Expats, “Third Culture Kids”, global nomads, many are the words used to describe those who have developed an identity based on multiculturalism and movement. In one of the most personally engaging TED talks I’ve seen, Pico Iyer describes the lives of this ever-growing group: the freedom they experience in movement and their diffuse sense of belonging. He describes also the phenomenon by which multicultural individuals are drawn towards each other, despite belonging to very distinctive cultural backgrounds.
For global nomads, the build-up of our identity is as much a function of the movement that propels us to experience different realities as of the stillness that allows us to build our homes inside ourselves.
- Sarah Kay: How many lives can you live
Sarah Kay’s talk explores the construction of our artistic identity. She reminds us to accept the choices that invariably limit our possibilities in all the lives we could’ve lived. She reminds us to abandon our need for perfection and surrender to time, in order to let our true essence emerge. And finally, she reminds us the process of making sense of our reality, moment after moment, through artistic expression is how our deepest identity teases itself out and shines.
- Lemn Sissay: A child of the state
A child of the state, Lemn Sissay shares with us his life struggle in search of his identity. A reminder of the importance of family and friends as a mirror to our own identity and a harrowing testimony of a utilitarian government that neglects to provide its children the building blocks of a meaningful existence.
- Meg Jay: Why 30 is not the new 20
Mistakenly took for an intergenerational talk (a subject that raises all sorts of emotions), Meg Jay’s talk was one of the most controversial of TED 2013. I believe that this phenomenon is in part due to a romanticized view of what life in the 20s should be like: a period of thoughtless exploration.
From my perspective of someone in his 30s (and proud of his 20s, mistakes included), Meg Jay’s talk is an inspiring invitation to building identity capital in a life stage that largely defines the number of options we’ll have later in life. She reframes the 20s as a period of conscious exploration. Under this new perspective, the 20s then become a period that invites us to work on the direction we wish to give to our lives, the person we want to be, even when the destination remains unclear.
- Shane Koyczan: To this day
Speaking from both sides of the bully-bullied camp, poet Shane Koyczan denounces the lasting impacts of bullying on a person’s identity. He tells the story of the underdog, the story of all of us, who, in a moment or another in our childhoods, had to make a conscious decision to reject other people’s projections on us. This is a poem that raises awareness to the identity massacres happening daily in our schools and, at the same time, provides hope for those who discover their beauty and passion.
- Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability
Perhaps one of the most important social studies from the last decade is Brené Brown’s research on the power of vulnerability. By freeing us from the hold of shame and our scarcity culture (of “I’m not enough”), her work provides a roadmap to embracing identity and connecting with others. Moreover, the way she defines shame, as the fear of disconnection, also explains the empathy crisis we’re living in today. When we’re afraid of disconnection, we put on an armor to protect ourselves, thus stopping ourselves from seeing or being seen.
- Anne-Marie Slaughter: Can we all “have it all”?
Decades after the feminist revolution, Anne-Marie invites us to venture into the last identity undiscussable: the millennia-aged confusion between gender identity and gender role. How the archetypical paternal role (“the breadwinner”) and the maternal role (“the caregiver”) are accepted by society when played respectively by women and men? What impact for modern families does this amalgam in identity and role create? How can we, especially in patriarchal societies, re-socialize men to embrace their caregiving roles, without feeling threatened in their manhood?