Inspired

Speaker Ambassador welcome + program kick-off at TED2022: A New Era. April 10-14, 2021, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Last week it was my privilege to serve as a Speaker’s Ambassador for TED2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Speakers Ambassadors are former TED speakers who are assigned a new speaker(s) with whom they will work. They are there to help folks prepare to present their talks and navigate the TED experience, before, during, and after the event. It is an honor to work with these incredible speakers. You are in awe of who they are and what they have accomplished.

Not only do you get to work with speakers, you also enjoy the camaraderie that exists within the team of Speaker’s Ambassadors. It is an eclectic group of fascinating, accomplished folks, each of whom has given their own TED Talk. We are all under the direction of Susan, Jordan, and Nehemiah, TED employees who keep us motivated with their ever-present energy.

One of the things I love about attending a TED event is the amazing cross pollination you experience. I spend a fair amount of time with other pastoral counselors, pastors, and psychotherapists. But rarely do I get to spend time with people from worlds far removed from my own. Last week I was with rocket designers, government leaders, particle physicists, actors, circus performers, museum curators, inventors, surgeons, and people from all manner of other professions. I even talked with the woman whose groundbreaking work on mRNA vaccines might well have saved my life.

Almost without exception these people were brilliant, yet humble and self-effacing. It reinforces the notion that those who truly change the world have equal parts confidence and humility. Interestingly, very few identified as religious. One who did was a Tibetan monk who was funny, engaging, and delightful. His talk was one of my favorites. If memory serves me correctly, he was the only speaker whose talk specifically touched on spirituality.

One fellow-speaker said I should look for another speaker at the event who had once worked as pastor. Turns out she was referring to my son, Jonathan. You don’t see many religious professionals at a TED conference. Which is interesting because I found a lot of those attending to be inherently spiritual. James Hollis describes the soul as the investment by nature in the individual and the spirit as the energy for the journey. These people were full of soul and spirit. They just don’t identify as religious. Given the kind of damage formal religion has done in the world, I can’t say I blame them.

Which brings me back to the cross-pollination at TED. Mingling with those unlike you invites introspection, examination, and innovation. It encourages approaching problems in new ways. During the week I had a major insight into a message I have taken in over the past few months, a message that is not only untrue, but damaging to my soul. When you force your brain out of its usual neural ruts, it creates new insights and even the occasional aha moment. Those moments are inherently soul affirming and spiritually significant.

Whenever I write about my experiences with TED, I know someone will think I am bragging. I hesitate to mention specific conversations, both out of respect for the privacy of the people involved, as well as any notion that I deserve to be in such conversations. These are all gifts, of which I do not feel deserving, but am not about to reject. That would be biting off my nose to spite my face. I consider it all a privilege. Anytime you can interact with people who help you think in new ways, it’s not just good for you, it’s good for the universe. This is how new solutions emerge, as creativity is prompted to move beyond conventional wisdom.

I am unashamedly a fan of TED. I am unashamedly a fan of TEDxMileHigh, the wonderful TED event in Denver that also has an outsize influence in making the world a better place. Recently I have been working with the speakers for their upcoming event. It has been a joy. I have always been curious beyond my own disciplines, a predisposition for which I am grateful. The good fortune I have experienced over the past four years to have my creativity fine-tuned via TED experiences is a blessing for which I am very grateful.

In so many ways my life has been magical and blessed. I never want to take a minute of that wonder for granted.

And so it goes.