From Brexit to Trump: we need informed debate now more than ever

Mandy Reynolds, the curator of TEDxTruro argues we need the TED and TEDx movements now more than ever.

There was a moment at TEDxTruro in October when I walked out of the auditorium behind some people who were chatting non-stop about their experience of mental health after watching our speaker Emma Wright share her story of depression. I’d worked with Emma as she developed her talk and her big idea was to encourage more people to talk about mental ill health. After meeting her over six months earlier, here we were on the day of the event and already her big idea was making an impact.

That was just one moment out of many when I stood back and watched our speakers’ stories move, inspire, excite and motivate the audience. With the talks now live on YouTube their stories will reach thousands more people around the world.

Step outside social media bubbles

TED began in the USA in 1984 and is devoted to ideas worth spreading. It has become a viral video phenomenon and global community, with millions of people around the world watching and sharing TED talks online. TEDx events are inspired by TED, but are independent and self-organised.

I firmly believe that we need these stories and brave storytellers now more than ever. From Brexit to Trump, it seems like our societies are becoming ever more polarised, with more and more people living in a social media bubble and having their own views continually reflected back at them. We desperately need to step outside those bubbles and hear other voices.

Like many others, I first found TED online and enjoyed dipping into the talks when I could. The 18 minutes or less format fits in with my busy life and short attention span! I’d enjoyed attending TEDxExeter, and been involved as a sponsor through my work at law firm Stephens Scown, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I wanted to get more involved.

Seize the day

The tipping point was my husband having a heart attack. Thankfully he has made a full recovery, but the shock got us both thinking and really motivated us to ‘seize the day’. The TEDx events I had been to and videos I had watched inspired me to make a difference and a change for the better – for myself, family and community. Along with my husband we decided to bring TEDx to Cornwall, so we set up a team of enthusiasts who volunteered their time and talents.

We put on our first TEDxTruro event in 2016, with the theme ‘Time & Tide’ – a definite nod to our new approach to life following my husband’s recovery. The speakers we attracted to the event were outstanding including Victoria Milligan, whose story of the dreadful speedboat accident in Padstow which took the lives of her husband and one of her daughters and left her permanently disabled, moves and inspires anyone who hears it.

Beyond barriers

When it came to our theme for 2017 we chose ‘Beyond Barriers’, which allowed us to explore a range of topcis from inclusion, with Joanna Grace and Chloe Salfield making the case for inclusion based on gain not pity to neurodiversity, with award winning engineer Shawn Brown, who is also dyslexic, arguing for a greater emphasis on different ways of learning in education.

The great thing about TEDx talks is how eclectic they can be. We had Fred McVittie from Cornish Edible Insects encouraging us to savour the experience of disgust eating insects may inspire alongside RoboThespian, the humanoid robot created by the incredible team at Engineered Arts in Penryn debunking many of the misconceptions around robots and artificial intelligence.

A talk which surprised many people was by Will Coleman, the creator of the Cornish cultural phenomenon, the Man Engine. I think most people expected a talk about the development of the project. What they didn’t expect was Will’s raw honesty about what the project cost him personally – both financially and in terms of his mental health.

A highlight for many people was our young speakers, whose ideas had merit in our programme, regardless of their age. We showed a video created by 12-year-old Max Caddis about his experience of living with dyslexia, which left us all in awe of his creativity and talent.

Fifteen year old Bimini Love won our young speaker competition and gave a talk on her project Street Cramps, which she set up in early 2017 to tackle period poverty by providing free sanitary and hygiene products to homeless women in Cornwall. She epitomises the power that one person has to change the lives of many.

We are lucky in the South West that we have fantastic TEDx events in Exeter, Totnes, Truro, Bristol and at Plymouth University. Going to a TEDx event gives you a chance to set a day aside to be challenged and inspired. If you are unable to get to an event, talking 15 minutes out of your day to open your mind with a TED or TEDx talk will always be time well spent.

Mandy Reynolds is the curator of TEDxTruro. Talks from TEDxTruro 2017 are now live on YouTube.