While you may be studying for finals, there are many of you trying to procrastinate and look for a good distraction: this article is full of videos to distract you. Alternatively, during the school break, once you have completed all your finals, you’ll have a lot of well-deserved relaxation time to recover from the quarter and return to the new year well-rested and ready for the quarter ahead. For many of you, Netflix (or whatever video streaming site you use) will be your closest friend during the break. If, however, you find time during or after your Friends/Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings marathon, consider watching a few of these videos! If you’re an avid TED talk follower like me, you will probably feel the urge to watch them all in one sitting - feel free to do so! These are some of my favorite TED talks that have fundamentally changed the way I view the world and myself. If they don’t inspire you, at the very least, you will learn a lot from these bright, earnest, and courageous minds.
Thandie Newton – On embracing yourself
As someone who has struggled to overcome strong feelings of anxiety in the past, I really related to Thandie’s reflection on her identity and development of her sense of “self”. She describes how the “self” gets in the way of deeply connecting with others, because the “self” is formed from external beliefs about how one should be, rather than the deeper, true “essence”. Growing up, my sense of “self” was primarily developed by the stereotypes I knew about Asians; as an Asian-American, I identify strongly with my American roots and didn’t like the negative connotations of Asians as foreign and different “others” (much like Thandie describes). Even “harmless” jokes about my supernatural mathematical abilities (math was actually always my worst grade in high school, and English was my favorite subject) and assumptions that I would have a career in a “nerdy” field were frustrating, because I felt they were all pushing me to develop a sense of self that was dominated by the stereotypes of what I “should” be. This is something that I continually struggle with, but over the years I have learned that in situations like these, it is important to suspend my self and recognize that this is something we have all done, as a part of the system we have been cultured into. It is not a time to make harsh judgments, but instead have a learning or teaching experience. The biggest takeaway from Thandie’s talk is her emphasis on the essence, and living from who you are deep down, rather than what you have been taught to project.
Bill and Melinda Gates – On their philanthropic foundation
This is my third time watching this TED Talk and I still enjoy it so much. Bill and Melinda Gates, my all-time favorite celebrity couple, are interviewed to discuss their foundations and have pledged to donate their entire fortune to their foundation, which aims to provide quality education and health care to people all over the world. Past projects/investments have provided vaccinations and contraceptives to those in poverty, textbooks available online (legally!) for free, as well as scholarships for college students in need. They have also worked with Warren Buffet to start the “Giving Pledge,” which, at the time of the interview, had commitments from more than 120 of the nation’s top 1 percent to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. I admire so much of what this couple does and am inspired by them to give back when I have a steady income.
Monica Lewinsky – On public shaming
I’m sure many of you remember the scandal regarding Monica Lewinsky and the POTUS of the time, Bill Clinton. After more than a decade of trying to live a private life away from the media, she has come forward to share her personal experience with online harassment and explain how cyberbullying and harassment has become an epidemic. Monica reminds the audience and viewers that we all deserve compassion – something that seems to be desperately lacking in today’s online society – and that we need to take responsibility when it comes to freedom of speech, rather than simply flaunting our right to it. Monica explains the little ways that people can help, such as posting a positive comment amid all of the negative ones. Yes, people all make mistakes, but that is absolutely no reason to shame someone into killing themselves. It is horrifying what people will say about someone they know almost nothing about. Rather than shaming someone for a poor choice, we need to have empathy for the pain or suffering they may be going through. As Brene Brown eloquently put in one of her TED talks, “shame cannot survive empathy.” (She also has a great video about empathy.) We need to consider others with empathy rather than harsh judgment.
Dan Gilbert – On synthesizing happiness
Dan explains the importance of creating happiness for yourself, and that the amount of happiness that is actually determined by your choices and within your control is much smaller than you may think: 15-20%. The rest of your happiness is due to biological and situational factors. The funny thing is that people do not always make decisions that will make them happy, and Dan helps unpack why that is the case. He describes “synthetic” happiness, and how it is just as good as natural happiness, but is often perceived as inferior. This TED talk is really interesting and it may help you decide how to approach your future choices to maximize your own happiness.
Brian Miller – On (magically) connecting to others
You’ll have to pump up the volume for this one, because it’s hard to hear him at first, but this is a great talk about how to “magically” connect with other people. Brian explains that his experiences with magic/as a magician have not been successful due to his ability to perform tricks, but rather his success comes from his focus on feeling connected with the audience. One of the points I felt was extremely important was his suggestion to listen to understand, rather than listening to reply. I find myself doing this too often, and it is a good reminder that taking a moment to actually listen to understand will lead to connection.
Josh Kaufman – On learning a new skill
Josh loves learning new things, a feeling that I relate to (hence me watching countless TED talks). He deconstructs the idea of having to spend large amounts of time to learn how to get good at something, and breaks down how to learn a new skill:
1) Deconstruct the skill.
2) Learn enough to self-correct.
3) Remove practice barriers.
4) Practice at least 20 hours.
According to Josh, with only 20 hours of practice, one can become reasonably good at something they had no prior experience in. So in less than a full day, (which equates to about 45 minutes a day for a month) someone can have a good handle on a new language, a new instrument, or whatever interests them. It is definitely worth a view because you will also get to see Josh perform a short medley of pop songs on his ukulele! If you’re interested in viewing the TED talk of the guy he mentions (Jake Shimabukuro), follow this link.
Bryan Stevenson – On just mercy and the state of our country
My favorite TED talk of all time. Bryan is an incredible speaker, and the work he does has changed lives forever. This talk was given more than three years ago, but it feels more relevant than ever. It still astounds me that we have not been able to commit to the truth and reconciliation that he is talking about; we still do not educate children about the realities of our country’s history and we, as a nation, have not apologized to the people we have abused and continue to abuse. With that being said, my favorite quote of his is this: “We’re more than the worst things that we’ve done.” Forgiveness is so powerful, but it does not mean not holding people accountable – it means giving someone a second chance to give back to the people they have victimized and to reintegrate into society. By sending people to prison for petty crimes and drug charges, we are condemning them for a lifetime and providing them no opportunities to recover and contribute to society. Our criminal justice system needs serious re-working, which will start when we are able to face our past and confront the truth. It is only then that we can move forward.
These are just a few example of the many brilliant TED talks out there. They each consider a different important issue, and I would love to hear some of your favorites as well – feel free to share below!