The seventh TEDxFargo event was held yesterday at the Fargo Civic Center with over 1,800 attendees and 25 speakers from all across the country. The event, which centered around a theme of acceleration, wove in urgent call to action as speakers spoke about topics in the realm of TED: Technology, Entertainment and Design.

Each of the talks addressed problems in the world today and how we can respond with solutions. Challenges like wealth disparity, loneliness, disease, discrimination, sexual abuse, disability, and debt were countered with encouragement for systematic change, connection, cure, empathy, justice, strength and radical love.

“During a time of change, unrest and uncertainty, the concept of an ‘idea’ may be our most powerful tool to give all people the chance to live, love and contribute to the greatest planet in the universe,” curator Greg Tehven wrote in the program.

While the talks varied from millennial retention to medical advances in solving a skin disease, a few themes emerged throughout the day.

Language is key

TEDxFargo Cheryl Heller

In sessions one and two, we were taught bout the importance of language; how the words we use directly impact the way we think.

“Shallow words make us shallow, and dumb,” said Cheryl Heller, founder of design lab CommonWise. “Deep words deepen us, and teach us empathy.”

Heller lamented the rise of “shallow writing” that she sees rampant on the internet, juxtaposing an example of a Tweet with a line of prose from Charles D’Ambrosio and asking the audience which had a more profound impact. She noted that over history, great leaders have recognized language as the root of change.

Words, she said, are the most powerful tool we have to create change. “Let’s use them wisely,” she said.

On a similar note, Kellam Barta, founder of NDSU Language Diversity Ambassadors, noted that how we say the things we say is not grounds for discrimination. And yes, he’s looking at you “BiZon” fans. On a greater level, he said, this mindset can impact our judgement of people form different regions, countries and backgrounds.

“We need to stop using language variation as a reason to discriminate,” he said.

Build healthy cities


There was also a theme around building healthy cities, both economically and culturally. The first speaker of the day, Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, illuminated the reality of wealth disparity between whites and non-white populations. With a four-step process, he outlined how this can change from the inside out within a city – steps like using real-time data to see if solutions are working, engaging the right people, and changing the way City Hall works.

But truly, change must happen inside out within a person, first. It’s called individual behavior change, he said. “It requires each of us to have humility…to get up today and go do something about it.”

Ian Abston talked about cities too, but from a cultural perspective. He calls himself a millennial expert, although he draws a line between the “Oregon trail millennials and the virtual reality millennials,” he said. He spoke about what millennials are looking for in a city; good public schools, walkability, pet friendly, and great for young families.

Take care of yourself


The audience also learned the value of a healthy mentality as well, with speakers like Kaitlin Hopkins, educator and award-winning actress, Lissa Rankin, author of Mind over Medicine, and Bec Heinrich, leadership consultant.

Hopkins prodded at the lack of mental health education, particularly in the entertainment industry where mental illness is prevalent. She asked the audience, “We check our blood pressure once a year, why not our mental health?”

Rankin, too, stated that mental and spiritual health is a key component to our overall well being. Loneliness is the biggest threat to our health, she said, and fostering connection and “leaning in to relationships” is the correct medicine. To demonstrate, she asked everyone in the room to rise and hold hands with their neighbor.

“This is medicine, people.” she said.

Heinrich addressed another threat to mental health, and that is a disease she calls “the disease of doing.” That is the push and pull many feel from the world to do, do, do. The antidote to this damaging pressure is one word: rest.

“Rest is deep internal renewal,” Heinrich said, noting that leaders who are constantly giving need an equally constant process of refueling. “We need to slow down in order to accelerate.”

What now?

TEDxFargoThese are only glimpses. Richard Wiese told stories from his travels and Julia Huffman called for a renewed reverence of nature and the wolf. The Minimalists questioned consumer America, asking the audience “what would your life look like with less?” And Fargo’s own Jack Wood shared how in the community garden he started to help bring food to impoverished families, it’s about “community, not charity.”

The event concluded with Jim Hodge, a world-renowned master of fundraising, calling for change in philanthropy.

“I believe a whole lot of shift has to happen for philanthropy to return to its purpose,” he said.

Philanthropy is about dreams not strategic plans, he said. It’s about compelling, not selling. It’s about abundance, not scarcity.

“When we abandon the model of scarcity, we stop scheming on how to get a benefactor and start dreaming,” he said.

The event, which was organized by Annie Wood and Lindsay Breuler, curated by Greg Tehven, and came to fruition with the help of over a hundred volunteers and sponsors, was hailed as another success by many attendees. Scott Holdman, co-creator of FundingLogic, claimed it was the “best one yet.”

But the true success of an event built around the mantra of “ideas worth spreading,”is in the aftermath. Now is when we see how the ideas presented on stage will be embodied in each of the hundreds upon hundreds of attendees, returning to their respective cities and countries.

The rallying cry for the event might be summarized best in the closing line from Peter Reike, the first paraplegic man to conquer Mt. Rainier. In his wheelchair he spoke from the red carpet stage about the strength it takes to hoist oneself up a mountain, about choosing to be the driver, not the cargo, when it comes to making change.

“Choose to be the power for change,” he said. “If we each do this, then, we can truly accelerate.”

See you next year.


Photos courtesy of Emerging Prairie.

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Marisa Jackels