Dreams to Reality at TEDxExeter 2016

Each year I summarise the posts I write for TEDxExeter on the theme of the annual conference. In 2016 it was “Dreams to Reality”; in 2015 it was “Taking the Long View” ; in 2014 it was “Ideas Without Frontiers”; in 2013, “Living the Questions”; and way back in the mists of time in 2012 it was “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. Here belatedly are my 2016 posts.

  1. Living the dream
    An introduction to the series… Once upon a time, the Old English dream meant “joy, mirth, noisy merriment” or “music”.
  2. First a dream
    “All we need to begin with is a dream that we can do better than before. All we need to have is faith, and that dream will come true. All we need to do is act, and the time for action is now.”
  3. Dream succeeds dream
    In the UK, the dream of suffrage has been succeeded by the dream of full equality for women.
  4. “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”
    For Carl Jung, dreams were a window on the unconscious, enabling the dreamer to communicate with and come to know the unconscious, and tap into it as a source of creativity.
  5. Killing dreams
    Tread softly because you might be treading on others’ dreams… or your own.
  6. Dream world
    When you wish upon a star, you’re a few million lightyears late. That star is dead. Just like your dreams.
  7. “Einstein’s Dreams”
    In his dreams, Einstein imagines many possible worlds, set in the towns of his homeland, in the valleys of the Alps, on the banks of the River Aare
  8. Technicolor Dreamcoats
    What is your dream? Are you willing to let it upend your reality?
  9. Dreamtime
    Some individuals have forgotten the songlines. They have become alienated from the land and cannot bear too much reality.
  10. I have a dream
    Martin Luther King dreamed of a better world, and he had been to the mountaintop. And yet it wasn’t about the mountain, but about the view over the mountain to what lies ahead.
  11. Dream location
    How we can help shape the place we live, through local government and at the grass roots.
  12. Dream team
    Even in football, it is possible to have dreams of community, to play as a team instead of individual starlets.

TED and TEDx things that interest me

I’ve been the TEDxExeter Storyteller since the beginning, mainly blogging articles inspired by each year’s theme, and then live-blogging from the back of the theatre during the event itself. In 2016 I started a new series of things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle. These might be my responses to watching TED and TEDx talks, or interesting things that TED and TEDx talks could shed some light on…

  1. Five go to the voting booth
    Brexit and young people and how to get them to vote.
  2. Watching TED talks to know you’re not alone
    There are myriads of reasons why people watch TED and TEDx talks, and myriads of outcomes.
  3. Giving TED talks to know you’re not alone
    The benefits of collecting so many statistics on the number of times a talk is viewed and the related web pages are accessed

God’s eye view

I’ve been working on a set of 21 images of flood risk around the south coast of England, from Sussex to Bristol. That sounds so prosaic. What has emerged is a beautiful forest of sometimes fragile, sometimes twisted trees. I’ve called the series Green|Blue, and you can see more on my website. It channels my enjoyment of playing with data, my wonder at the beauty that can be found in unexpected places, and my concern for the environment and the way we see our place within it:

The view from above has become normalised. Google Maps and OS Maps, city centre plans and ‘you are here’ stickers on the boards at local nature reserves, give the impression of omniscience and omnipotence. The very notion of ‘flood risk’ calls both our knowledge and power into question in the face of uncertainty and the force of nature.

What seems to be the most solid and robust is in reality the most fragile and vulnerable. Changing the perspective, looking slant, confers a new understanding and humility.

Exe-productIf you are interested, I’m producing the images as archive quality prints and greetings cards. I was honoured that TEDxExeter thanked their speakers with gifts of prints and supporters with greetings cards, both of the Exe. I think they make great gifts… although I might not be impartial!

Here are also a few related links that I like:


Taking the Long View at TEDxExeter 2015

Each year I summarise the posts I write for TEDxExeter on the theme of the annual conference. In 2015 it was “Taking the Long View” ; in 2014 it was “Ideas Without Frontiers”; in 2013, “Living the Questions”; and way back in the mists of time in 2012 it was “Sustainability and Our Interconnected World”. Here are my 2015 posts.

  1. Magna Carta
    The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta was the inspiration behind the 2015 theme. Why we chose that and not the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music.
  2. The telescope
    Taking the literal view of the Long View, a smattering of quite interesting factoids about the origins of the telescope and its name; the transit of Venus and Cook’s voyages; and the Interplanetary Scintillation Array and other more modern telescopes.
  3. Climate change and knitting
    The Guardian’s campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground, a Lenten Carbon Fast; and how I take the long view in my knitting and arts practice.
  4. If you go down to the woods today…
    The short-termism of deforestation, and some hopeful examples of the long view of reafforestation.
  5. Up the Women
    From Clause 40 in Magna Carta to HIllary Clinton via the suffragists and suffragettes – the long struggle for women’s political rights, and a call to vote on 7 May [sigh].
  6. Further together
    There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Also a tribute to the wonderful TEDxExeter team.

Without Frontiers at TEDxExeter 2014

I’ve just started writing blog posts for TEDxExeter on the theme of the 2015 conference: “Taking the Long View”. This reminded me that I posted summaries here and here of the themed posts I wrote in 2013. I wrote a whole bunch of themed posts in 2012 too, and combined most of these into posts here and here. But until now, I have neglected to summarise 2014’s posts on the theme of “Ideas Without Frontiers”. So here they are.

  1. Money Without Frontiers
    Forex flows, international debt, tax avoidance, respiratory illness metaphors, and where there is a frontier that needs dismantling.
  2. People Without Frontiers
    More about pilgrims than immigrants, and how our planet is bounded whereas our imaginations aren’t.
  3. Nature Without Frontiers
    More about the reality of some physical frontiers, while pollutants do not respect national boundaries.
  4. Research Without Frontiers
    The value of focusing attention and how boundaries inspire creativity, as well as pushing the frontiers of knowledge and Interdisciplinary sparks.
  5. Information Without Frontiers
    Access to the World Wide Web, being overwhelmed, information security, and is Google making us stupid?

Living the Questions at TEDxExeter 2013

On 11 April, the day before TEDxExeter 2013, it was announced that Desmond Tutu was the latest winner of the Templeton Prize. The prize honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension. The citation includes the words:

His deep faith and commitment to prayer and worship provides the foundation for his message of love and forgiveness. He has created that message through extensive contemplation of such profound “Big Questions” as “Do we live in a moral universe?” and “What is humanity’s duty to reflect and live God’s purposes?”

There is a misconception that TED avoids or even forbids mention of religion, faith or God. That’s not the case. For example, Tom Honey spoke in 2005 on God and the Tsunami, and Billy Graham and Rick Warren have both spoken. (On the other side of the coin, so have Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Alain de Botton.)

The TEDx guidelines say that “Speakers must tell a story or argue for an idea. They may not use the TED stage to sell products, promote themselves or businesses. … TED is also not the right platform for talks with an inflammatory political or religious agenda, nor polarizing ‘us vs them’ language.” So that doesn’t appear to exclude sharing the Gospel, so long as it is done sensitively of course. In the context of “ideas worth spreading”, to rule that, say, a technological idea is worth spreading, whereas a faith-based idea is not, would be an erroneous value judgement. It is better to say that TED does not want to close down the questions.

There are several possible origins for the word ‘religion’.

One possibility, according to Cicero, is relegere ‘go through again, read again’. Another popular etymology connects it with religare ‘to bind fast’ (compare ‘rely’) or ‘bind together again’. Or there is religiens ‘careful’, the opposite of negligens. Its meaning has evolved over time. The sense of ‘a particular system of faith’ dates from about 1300, and the modern sense of ‘recognition of, obedience to, and worship of a higher, unseen power’ is from the 1530s.

Neither of these modern senses need imply certainty and rule out doubt. This is baggage that has been heaped up high by theists and atheists of a certain persuasion alike. In the spirit of Desmond Tutu, I want to go back to the etymological origins of ‘religion’, and ask a few questions. In the spirit of Living the Questions, I’m not expecting to answer them.

First, what is true freedom? It is not unfettered licence to indulge our every whim. Ask any good parent. Nor is it boundless choice, which only creates paralysis. Freedom to roam safely on Dartmoor requires proper equipment and clothing, and knowledge of the risks from weather and mire. Freedom requires some constraint. In terms of religion, it is not so much that we are ‘bound fast’ to God, but that God is ‘bound fast’ to us. That safety-net frees us to doubt, question and ‘read again’ and again and again.

‘Religion’ and ‘faith’ shouldn’t be used inter-changeably, but I’m going to quote Giles Fraser anyway: “what she [Margaret Thatcher] never appreciated was that faith is fundamentally bound up with doubt. Faith strains to imagine a world so much more expansive than the measure of our own minds and convictions. This is why faith is always a certain sort of loss, the failure to comprehend things in their totality.”

My second etymology-related question is: how can we be ‘bound together again’? My third, by way of answering my second, is: how best can we be ‘careful’ of the other?

A number of the talks at TEDxExeter 2013 were living these questions. Carrie Clarke’s talk about valuing people with dementia was a particular gem. It is difficult to face up to dementia because it means facing our own vulnerability. There is no cure, but we can still bring healing for people with dementia through strengthening their sense of belonging; shifting the focus from what they can’t do on to what they can do; and most importantly listening to them with an open heart – and hoping that when our time comes, someone will listen to us.

The talks from Jo Berry, Martha Wilkinson and Hazel Stuteley had complementary message. Hazel spoke of the power of listening to struggling communities, for what they say will bring them healing, as a way of connecting them with local agencies. Jo shared her dream that we can learn to see the humanity of everyone, and give dignity to all. Martha asked us to ponder: “What suffering are you walking past? And what are the gifts you would like to give to the world?”

Pulling the lens back to a wider angle, Kester Brewin spoke about turning the agenda away from purely private gain back towards public benefit; we need a new community of pirates committed to defending the commons. Alongside this, Stewart Wallis argued that we need to change and manage markets. Markets make a good servant, a poor master and a disastrous religion. Unfortunately, markets are currently our religions, but they are human creations, and humans can control them. So finally, Peter Owen-Jones believes passionately that the militarised industrialised complexes that we call countries, and religions that do not uphold the dignity of all life on this planet are not fit for purpose. What type of planet and society are we leaving our children?

When I blogged on questions before the event, I mostly avoided explicit mention of religion or faith. But now, on my own blog, I can append two quotations from Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, which say what I really wanted to say.

Appended to Who am I?, an excerpt from New Seeds of Contemplation:

There is an irreducible opposition between the deep, transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. We must remember that this superficial ‘I’ is not our real self. It is our ‘individuality’ and our ’empirical self’ but it is not truly the hidden and mysterious person in whom we subsist before the eyes of God. The ‘I’ that works in the world, thinks about itself, observes its own reactions and talks about itself is not the true ‘I’ that has been united to God in Christ. It is at best the vesture, the mask, the disguise of that mysterious and unknown ‘self’ whom most of us never discover until we die.

Appended to What do you want to be when you grow up?, which is really about our attitude to time, an excerpt from Thomas Merton, Monk: A Monastic Tribute:

One of the best things for me when I went to the hermitage was being attentive to the times of the day: when the birds began to sing, and the deer came out of the morning fog, and the sun came up … The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving. This is a real sickness. Today time is a commodity, and for each one of us time is mortgaged … We are threatened by a chain reaction: overwork – overstimulation – overcompensation – overkill. And yet … Christ has freed us. We must approach the whole idea of time in a new way. We are free to love. And you must get free from all imaginary claims. We live in the fullness of time. Every moment is God’s own good time, his kairos. The whole thing boils down to giving ourselves in prayer a chance to realize that we have what we seek. We don’t have to rush after it.”


Living more of the Questions

It’s been quiet over the last couple of months as I’ve been blogging as the TEDxExeter Storyteller. We’re in the run up to the 2013 event on the theme of “Living the Questions”, so I’ve been writing about a few questions that interest me. I recently posted links to the first five, and here are the others.

  1. Living the Questions: Fancy a pint?
    OK, actually about climate change: why Doha was so important, how it has been forgotten, and what you can do.
  2. Living the Questions: What if the Hokey Cokey really IS what it’s all about?
    You’ll just have to read it.
  3. Living the Questions: Where am I?
    Throw away your satnav, experiment with deliberate lostness and reconnect with where you are.
  4. Living the Questions: What do you want to be when you grow up?
    “The neurotic is a person who worries about something that did not happen in the past. He’s [sic] not like us normal people who worry about things that will not happen in the future.”
  5. Living the Questions: How’s it going?
    Stop trying to solve negative things, and work with positive things instead.
  6. Living the Questions: If you could ask a stranger any question, what would it be?
    Self-explanatory, really.

I also blogged a few questions that were really pointers elsewhere. Here they are too, for the sake of completeness:


Living the Questions

It’s been quiet over the last couple of months as I’ve been blogging as the TEDxExeter Storyteller. We’re in the run up to the 2013 event on the theme of “Living the Questions”, so I’ve been writing about a few questions that interest me. Here are the first five.

  1. Living the Questions: Who am I?
    Trying not to define myself by my job or any roles, the labels the world would like to slap on me, or any of my mind, emotions or body in isolation from the rest.
  2. Living the Questions: Why is the sky blue?
    Moving from Rayleigh scattering to why children keep asking why, and why many adults stop.
  3. Living the Questions: What are we missing?
    Quite possibly one of the world’s best musicians on the street corner, or a myriad other things.
  4. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
    Allowing Paul Gauguin to ask the questions, and invite contemplation of the meaning of life.
  5. Living the Questions: Who ate all the pie?
    Inequality – estimated, actual, and ideal – and what we can do about it.

The Power of We: Congo Calling

Yesterday was Blog Action Day, and I’m late again! But I’m using the opportunity to highlight the Congo Calling campaign. Mobile phones are powerful tools for communication and bringing people together, but they leave a bloody trail. I lifted the following from the Congo Calling website, where there is more information on the issues and how to take action. 14-20 October is also Congo Week.

Congo Calling

We demand fairtrade food and fairtrade clothes. It is time to demand fairtrade phones.

What has this to do with the Congo? Well, every mobile phone contains the mineral Coltan, which is mined in the Congo. This natural wealth could bring many benefits to the ordinary people of the Congo, but instead it is funding armed conflict and horrific abuses.

Congo Calling’s vision is for a peaceful and just Congo, where people can live in stable and prosperous communities, where children are not enlisted, where women are not raped as an instrument of war, and where miners work for fair wages in human conditions.

Mobile phones are currently part of the problem, but could be part of the solution. Our first aims, therefore, are:

  • the UK government leads enforcement of pre-existing UN regulations on illicit mineral trade;
  • mineral supply chains are vigorously regulated by sympathetic governments; 
  • those who exploit the natural wealth and the people of the Congo for their own gain face sanctions, whether large corporations or corrupt individuals;
  • manufacturers make conflict-free phones that include minerals from the Congo;
  • purchasers and users of mobile phones are aware of the situation in the Congo;
  • the ethical consumer choice is transparent and appealing.

Congo Calling was launched off the back of Bandi Mbubi’s thought-provoking talk given at TEDxExeter on the 20th April 2012 – to a standing ovation. There was so much enthusiasm and interest in working towards fairtrade phones and clean mineral campaigns, and a very real human momentum has built up in response to Bandi’s talk.

A seed was sown, an idea worth spreading. Please use your mobile phone and be part of the solution.


Games people play (continued)

My last post was cut off, just as I was saying something rude about Hollywood! Either I was censored, or I wittered on for too long. Here’s what I can remember of the rest.

“So whereas films kept us in touch with naivety and hope, and were an antidote to cynicism, video games keep us in touch with engagement and ownership and are an antidote to exclusion and silence.”
Hmmm… I’m going to interpret “silence” here as not having a voice and being disempowered as a result, rather than the silence that we desperately need and is desperately lacking in today’s western world.

Andy’s argument here follows on from the previous quote. I confess I have little idea what he is talking about, regarding both films and games. If Hollywood is not cynical in the way it feeds unrealistic pap to the masses, then I’m a 9ft-tall blue alien.

Regarding the inclusivity of gaming, one of the comments on Andy’s TEDxExeter talk was:  “Now I want to engage with ‘Flower’ (but I’ll need a PS3 first…)”. Now a Playstation 3 console costs about £230 on Amazon, and then there’s the cost of the games. There’s a substantial barrier right there, especially when compared with the availability of free reading in the library or a film for £7. There are plenty of online games, of course, but I’m not sure that it would be allowed to play them on library computers – shhh! So I want to know what you mean by antidote, Andy, and how it would work. Thanks!

I think there was one more quote and response, but I’m afraid it’s gone for ever now. So instead, I want to add a bit of explanation of why I stopped playing games. Well, that’s easy – I had no time at university, and computers were at a premium. But why didn’t I start again when I got a job, and PCs etc were becoming more readily available? Because I saw one of my colleagues playing what I think was Doom in his lunchbreak, and thought it utterly repulsive. And because I was making my way through Eliot, Hardy, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy etc etc. So there we are.