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The TED Talks Still On My Mind

March 21, 2016

In February, ProSocial’s CEO, Meredith Blake, flew to Vancouver for the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, devoted to bringing together leading thinkers and doers for presentations on ideas worth spreading, which she has been attending since 2008. Here are her thoughts on some of the standout TED talks. As we sent out this newsletter, some of the talks were already available to view online, as indicated with hyperlinked talk titles when applicable, and others will gradually be rolled out. Check for updates at

Al Gore, “The case for optimism on climate change
It’s been a decade since I worked with Vice President Al Gore to create the social action campaign to accompany his 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which warned about the dangers of climate change. In this year’s TED talk, he framed the current challenge facing us as three questions about our behavior: Must we change? Can we change? And finally: Will we change? He expressed optimism, especially because of decreasing prices for alternative energy sources like solar and wind. For people to opt in to a movement, it helps to have a sense of hope.

Dan Gross
In his work as president of the Brady Campaign, raising awareness about the realities of gun violence and working to change them, Dan Gross brings not only his background as an advertising executive, but also personal experience on this issue: His brother survived being shot in the head during a 1997 shooting at the Empire State building. He explained how and why he’s working to halve the current rate of annual gun deaths by 2025 through various measures such as increasing background checks.

Gun violence is an issue on our minds here at ProSocial. For the theatrical release of the documentary The Armor of Light, featuring an evangelical minister and a mother of a shooting victim grappling with moral questions about gun use, we coordinated screenings around the country and worked with Public Conversation Project to create discussion guides for faith-based, academic, and general audiences. The Armor of Light will air on PBS on May 10.

Shonda Rimes, “My year of saying yes to everything
The creator of top TV shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and Private Practice delivered an on-my-feet-for-a-standing-O speech about her journey as a workaholic media titan. After many years spent fueled by the satisfying “hum” of work, she hit a stage of serious burnout, only to have her career saved by experimenting with the power of saying yes as much as possible—including every time her children asked her to play. She describes reconnecting to parenting and love and joy, and ultimately finding happiness again at work. This talk hit home for me as a working mother, but she makes the point that this is for every workaholic who has not made time for play, be it with your kids or through another activity that makes you stop for a second and enjoy life.

Lidia Yuknavitch
The competitive swimmer and writer talks about her favorite word, misfit, and why she identifies as one. It’s a message that resonates at ProSocial, where we consider ourselves lucky to support many projects that promote tolerance, diversity, and a noncomformist perspective, whether it’s a film project like Touched With Fire destigmatizing mental health issues, or a grassroots organization like Stand for the Silent working to prevent bullying.

Tim Urban, “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator
Tim Urban, who blogs and produces comical stick-figure illustrations about life’s absurdities and his own “psychological shortcomings” at Wait But Why, gave a self-deprecating presentation on procrastination. It’s relatable to everyone, funny, and insightful. Watch it for new understanding and humor.

Oldies but goodies
This list wouldn’t be complete without two of the most compelling TED speakers I’ve seen over the years: Jill Bolte Taylor and Bryan Stevenson.

Dr. Taylor, a brain scientist, suffered a stroke that expanded her consciousness of the present moment and made her more aware of everyone’s interconnectedness. This experience—what she calls “My stroke of insight”—led her to recognize that “we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world.”

Bryan Stevenson is a human rights lawyer working to reform the criminal justice system’s mass incarceration of African Americans and juvenile offenders. He’s a civil rights leader and a stirring orator, heads and tails above almost everyone I’ve ever heard speak in his ability to capture you and inspire support for a cause. His 2012 speech, “We need to talk about an injustice,” is incredible, funny, poignant—everything a talk should be to get you roused up. This year, he and architect Michael Murphy talked about a monument they are developing (to be erected in Montgomery, Alabama in 2016) to memorialize our country’s history of racial injustice.