At TEDx – Paola Tamma

I love talking. Don’t get me wrong – I’m more of a listener than a talker. I mean talking with somebody. In a meaningful way. Think about those conversations which really stick in your memory, be it with friends, family, or random people you never met again. While you were having them, you felt that together you were both creating something powerful. Afterwards, you felt uplifted by the power of people: their uniqueness, their powers of communication.Well, I think what makes TED Talks  so great and universally appreciated is their ability to create exactly that feeling of having an empowering and stirring conversation. Students at the University of Edinburgh where able to reproduce this great magic. It started with two students, Olga Blohman and Justina Adomaviciute, who, inspired by TED Global 2012, proposed to hold a TEDx (where x stands for independently organised TED event) in the University of Edinburgh with EUSA. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers and co-curator Johanna Holtan, TEDx Edinburgh  took place in Teviot  on Friday 22nd, and was broadcast on campus.

TED Talks consist of “ideas worth spreading” condensed in 10/15 minute presentations. TEDx University of Edinburgh put up an interesting team of speakers. I quite appreciated the mixture between professors and students, which gave the opportunity to appreciate lecturers in a different environment and to listen to students’ innovative thoughts. “Global challenges and grounded solutions” was the unifying theme behind the talks. 

Dr. Michael Shaver made us think about plastics differently. His cutitng-edge research on green materials (biodegradable and from renewable sources) is his grounded solution to the problem of waste disposal. 

Jessica Boucher, a PhD student in Environmental Change and Sustainability, described the way ‘bad’ companies in oil and mining, for example, can change the way they impact biodiversity. These companies need to devise strategies so they to avoid, reduce and/or  offset biodiversity loss. In her own words, it’s not a perfect solution, but one that moves us forward.

Musician Dee Isaacs shared with us her unique experience with communities and children (in Georgia with refugees, but also in Scotland, as last year’s “the City Sings”, involving children from deprived households). She made us sing, and laugh, and create a small community within the Debating hall, which proved to us the power of her work. 

Then Prof. Lesley McAra, head of the Law School, told us that the criminal justice system should be disregarded in its current form, for it is disproportionate, ineffective, and unethical. She put forward evidence form her research that changed the way I conceptualise youth crime: I now see them as scapegoats of a system which recycles individuals in these two alternating roles, offenders and victims, without solving anything, but actually increasing their proclivity to crime. She argues for a social justice system, which would dispel this self-feeding correlation between crime and more crime.

Then was the turn of Dr Andrew Murray, a running physician. Literally. His biggest enemy is a couch, and he is trying to spread the message that it should be everyone’s, for inactivity steals up to 4 years of our lives.

The other student talk was given by Frances Barclay, who “took up sitting down”; she chose to change the way she perceives homelessness by initiating conversations on the pavement. She volunteers for the Grassmarket Community Project, where conversations between volunteers and homeless people are initiated on a football pitch, in a kitchen, in a craft workshop.

Finally, Professor Neil Thin got us to think about happiness, how it was a tricky concept to measure, but one worth cultivating. His work with the UN and Bhutan Centres of Studies aims to promote Gross National Happiness as a policy objective – and as an individual’s goal too.

Enlightening talks. Yet the most amazing thing that happened to me this afternoon was not in that hall, but downstairs at the reception, when I started a conversation with my German friend Thomas. We never really talked before. But tonight we did: from feminists criminalising LEGO gendered ads, to tan-showers, to Italian elections and our faith in human nature. I got that priceless feeling, and so many neurones going. It’s worth talking. 

So here is a little piece of advice: in your next spare 10 minutes look up http://www.ted.com/tedx and watch the talks held at Edinburgh today, or just pick one at random. Talk about it – who knows where it might lead you?

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