TEDx JH paints palette of potent ideas

By on October 1, 2014
Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, who fled Rwanda during the 1994  genocide, received a standing ovation at TEDx JH 2013.

Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, who fled Rwanda during the 1994 
genocide, received a standing ovation at TEDx JH 2013.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The first TED talk, held in 1984, didn’t fare well. Designed to be a one-time conference exploring technology, entertainment and design – hence “TED” – and featuring a demo on the compact disc and the Ebook, the event lost money.

But six years later organizers Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks made a second attempt. This time, attendance was robust and it created impetus for an annual invite-only TED event in Monterey, Calif.

Now open to the public, tickets for the 2014 TED Global conference, held this month in Rio de Janeiro, and the TED 2015 Conference in Vancouver, are priced at $4,000 to $6,000.

The extortionate price tag may explain why some critics have deemed TED an elitist gathering. But that gripe is offset by the nonprofit’s work to propagate the messages of its presenters. Scads of TED talks can be viewed on YouTube. Some of the most shared TED talks of all time include: how schools stifle creativity; how our body language shapes who we are; the surprising science of happiness; 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm; and society’s obsession with physical appearance.

In 2012, video views for the 18-minutes-or-less lectures reached one billion.

While attending a TED conference is beyond most people’s economic peripheries, local TEDx gatherings, such as the one in Jackson Hole on Monday, present an accessible convergence of ideas. Audiences do not have to drain their pocketbooks in the process; tickets range from $10 to $20.

“Each talk is presented with a goal of instigating thought and dialogue,” explained Lisa Samford, a member of the TEDx organizing committee. “Presenters are never paid. They are doing this specifically because they want to share what they are thinking. The ideas presented aren’t fabulous conclusions as much as they are remarkable beginnings.”

Samford said speakers featured at TEDx Jackson Hole events traverse both ends of the spectrum. Some are established masters in their field and others are straddling the forefront of new subject matter.

Primatologist Katherine Amato studies how gut microbes affect both humans and primates. She will discuss how this can shape human evolution.

“I think [the TED format] encourages us to find common interests and values across disciplines and cultures,” Amato said. “It also forces us to think about where we might be ignoring these commonalities or where we could do a better job of striving to reach shared goals. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that we’re all connected by something, even when it isn’t obvious, even when it’s just an idea, and even if that idea might be wrong.”

The founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin is working to conquer world blindless. Since developing eyecare in Nepal – where cataracts were the cause of 85 percent of blindness – cataract surgeries there have increased from 15,000 in 1994 to almost 300,000 in 2013. An avid climber, Tabin also will discuss his 1983 first ascent of the Kangshung (East) Face of Everest. “Our route was a level of technical difficulty that has never been repeated in the 31 years since our climb,” said Tabin, who will draw parallels between a daunting climb with no native support and the task of reversing blindness around the world.

Michael Lessac, based part-time in Jackson Hole, is an award-winning director and co-founder of Global Arts Corps, a nonprofit uniting people through the dramatics in areas of global conflict.

“We work with actors who come from all sides of violent divides,” Lessac explained. “Often the actors themselves could have been staring down the barrel of a gun at each other at some time in their past. As these productions cross borders with actors who have actually experienced what they are acting, audiences and artists find mirrors in each other. As a result they can engage in dialogue that is not accusatory or political but comes from seeing themselves through ‘the other’s’ eyes.”

When used for conflict transformation, Lessac believes the actor’s craft of investigation, of creating story, of reconciling conflicting emotions and ideas can effect real change.

Born and raised in Jackson Hole, Carly Mitchell often felt like an outsider as a genderqueer in the valley. Mitchell, an industrial designer, illustrator and arborist, will explore and dismantle some of the myths associated with gender during TEDx Jackson Hole.

“I didn’t feel safe coming out of the closet in high school, because it was hard enough just stepping outside my female-assigned gender role,” Mitchell said. “To clarify the difference, sexuality is who a person goes to bed with, gender identity is who a person goes to bed as. Despite some efforts I made not to express a more masculine appearance I couldn’t hide it well enough and was harassed and rejected by both sides of the gender spectrum.”

What’s inspiring about TEDx JH speakers is not just their ideas, but that their words have helped to spark meaningful partnerships and an ongoing exchange of ideas on a local and global latitude, Samford noted.

National Geographic conservationist Laly Lichtenfeld spoke at the inaugural TEDx JH in 2011. This past year, 15 Jackson Hole students partnered with Interconnections 21 and met Lichtenfeld in Tanzania where they built a library.

After speaking at TEDx JH in 2013, Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga garnered a lengthy standing ovation. The TED global community also embraced Rugirangoga’s talk.  He is now building the Center of the Secret of Peace in Rwanda.

“In some small way, if we can help connect this amazing community to making a difference globally, we are thrilled,” Samford said, noting that TEDx JH talks have been viewed online more than 150,000 times.

“We specifically chose every speaker because we sincerely believe that what they have to say will resonate with the Jackson community – or at least part of our complicated community – on a meaningful level,” Samford said.

Tedx Jackson Hole ‘Imagine,’ 6 to 8:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 6 at Center for the Arts. $10 to $20. Tickets and info on all the presenters at www. tedxjacksonhole.org.

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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