Learning To Care: TEDxUF

I spent April Fool’s Day learning from nine people with different propelling stories to tell. Nine 20-minute speeches focusing on social, racial and scientific ideas filled the minds of hundreds at the TEDxUF event. Not only were the speeches engaging and interesting on their own, but they also resonated as “close-to-home,” since all of the speakers live in our community and have ties to the University of Florida.

At first, I was going to make this article a reaction piece on the event, but the more I thought and wrote, I realized that there is something bigger to say. The theme of this year’s TEDxUF event was transparency – transparency in understanding ourselves and our world. The speakers explained their ways of attaining transparency (whether personal or professional), while encouraging others to do the same.

Some topics, I knew almost too personally. Diana Moreno spoke strong and moving words of identity as an American immigrant. When she migrated to America she, for the first time, realized the influence of the pigment of her skin. Her story touched on the fact that a society notorious for (sometimes) shunning what is different and unknown can be unwelcomingly scary to a young and optimistic migrant.

I, along with millions of others, was that 8-year-old immigrant at one point of my life. I was the girl in elementary school trying to find my way in a new country and school, in a new culture and language, and with a whole lot of fear for the future. Moreno almost spoke the literal words in my 8-year-old self’s brain (a lot more eloquently, though). More profoundly, on that stage she gave voice to all of the immigrants fearful for their futures, while encouraging us to encourage them.

Along with Diana’s talk, LB Hannahs also gave a powerful speech on authenticity. The talk explained the importance of finding what makes us feel authentic and understood in this world. Hannahs explained what it means to fall outside of socially accepted gender spectrums and the rocky path to authenticity that comes with that.

I listened to a human being describe their heightened problem of not knowing whether their child should call them mom or dad. I realize, now, that my eyes were opened a little wider after Hannahs’ speech, even though I’ve never been closed-minded about gender identification. This person, in their own way, is trying to figure it all out just like we do every day, and just how my 8-year-old immigrant self did. It just so happens that their route to authenticity is made even more complicated by the norms of society.

How do these two remarkable talks relate to one another? Well, they both ignite empathy. If we don’t hold empathy toward the people struggling to find identity in a new society or authenticity and sense of self, then we are failing as individuals. And, if we’re not encouraging communication about the topics that make us a little uncomfortable, we won’t unite as a society.

The TEDxUF event, and these two talks in particular, gave me a sense of hope. It showed light within humanity. It showed that there is hunger for coexistence and unity. It showed that transparency within our society is attainable if we open our ears and our hearts.

Image from: TEDxUF (Twitter)