The Four Ted Talks That Made Me, Me.
If I was to describe myself in one word; it’d be seeker. I look for the voids within beliefs we have grown accustomed to. I search for answers to a question that was never asked.
Ted Talks are where I find people who think similarly, those with speeches that are truly life changing: Inspirational individuals that have the strength to either share their story to make us feel less alone or offer insight to inform us of strategies to improve our lives.
Here are the four Ted Talks that made me the enigma I am.
Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies | Kate Bowler
Usually, when a speaker endures a painful tragedy or debilitating illness, their speech is all about how much perspective they gained or how they have a newfound appreciation for life.
Not Kate. Honest Kate admits “Before stage 4 cancer was better.”
And before you list her off as a pessimist, I urge you to watch her Ted Talk as she will subtly destroy the very foundation that many of us place our neatly folded hopes and dreams: the prosperity gospel.
The prosperity gospel has nothing to do with religion and all to do with American culture. Do good and good will be brought upon you. Work hard and be rewarded. Act kindly and others will be kind. The good things in your life are there to cancel out the bad.
But what is there to cancel out cancer?
Kate was hit with the brutal truth that nothing she could do could cure her. No amount of pleasant positivity or quirky personality would stop cancer from spreading and increase her limited years.
“I had to accept that my life is filled with paper walls and so is everyone else’s.”
'“It’s for a reason though,“ her visitors at the hospital tell her.
Everything happens for a reason.
Her healthy friends were trying to offer her reassurance but she felt it was condescending.
Because this is what she hears, when someone says her cancer is for a specific reason.
“Your suffering is either a harsh punishment for something you have done in the past or serves a divine purpose you did not consent to.”
The prosperity gospel enforces this ideology. There’s an obstacle, a challenge, heartbreak, torment, assault, remorse, and just plain out pain to overcome to get to the good side to become better people whether that is to build character or disrupt a toxic way of life that will eventually lead us to the life we are supposed to have,
But what if it’s just bad?
We collectively have decided that chaos is too messy to embrace. And so comes the cliche, “Everything happens for a reason.”
You will feel attacked, hurt, and even angry at Kate for bursting the optimistic bubble we float around in.
I hope you do. I hope you are angry at Kate because I sure was. I believed for so long that all the challenges I have faced are part of a massive plan.
But after hearing Kate’s speech I have come to accept this instead:
We decide what events we see as madness or motive based on our upbringing, our attitude, and our outcome.
It’s all truly subjective.
Chaos and purpose circle around one another and we have no objective way to separate one from the other. And rather than frown at that statement, I think we should all be relieved.
We don’t have to find the positive light in every single situation. We are in control of what challenges we have faced that pushed us to be the best person and what challenges were just simply shitty.
Because maybe everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Maybe Kate just has cancer because she has it. That’s how she feels. It’s chaos in her eyes. Perhaps to another it provides them that newfound appreciation for life.
But we can’t discredit Kate’s feelings simply because it isn’t the happy go lucky ideology that we want her to feel.
She doesn’t find purpose in her cancer. You may not find purpose in all your travesties. I know I don’t feel any sort of purpose from my herniated disk that has hindered my health and I don’t have to. I can still be happy without giving justification for why my disk slipped.
But the things that do provide us that feeling of a divine…we should grab onto that lesson, that blessing, that obstacle and use it as our motivation to keep moving forward.
You can give that car crash, that break up, that injury, that cancer purpose or not. And I believe there is so much more power in allowing ourselves to choose what’s purposeful versus forcibly searching for the hidden meaning behind every obstacle we are faced with.
Kate’s speech is unconventional and yet incredibly relatable that claims even if you believe we are all part of a grand picture we can’t see, not all of our events are meaningful puzzle pieces. And we can decide what pieces are there to finish the puzzle and which are leftovers from a different box.
I Grew Up in Westboro Baptist Church. Here is Why I Left | Megan Phelps Roper
One of my biggest role models is a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. And before you point fingers at her for partaking in what is known as the most hated “church” in America, a “church” widely known for its vicious hate speeches, please allow her to share her story.
Megan Phelps-Roper describes how she was born into the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and was taught by her family that those who did not go to her church or questioned her belief system were bad people. Decades later, after civil conversations with people on Twitter, she recognized the Church wasn’t what she thought it was and left. It took her two decades to leave something many see as obviously wrong.
So why is she my inspiration?
She goes on to explain that when she was in the church, she believed she was helping people. She thought that by picketing funerals and shouting out of context Bible quotes, she was doing others a service and, ironically enough, spreading positvity.
"This is the only way to do good in a world that sits in Satan’s Lap"
She was only able to see the wrong doings of the church when patient individuals on Twitter took the time to show her.
Now although it sounds completely ludicrous to us that someone believed actions like praying for funerals to happen and yelling homophobic slurs would somehow be helpful, it is important to remind ourselves that people are shaped by their upbringing. She was taught that this church was spreading the words of Christ,
And so she spewed hatred and contempt with the best of intentions.
It’s human nature to see an individual with a controversial ideology and assume this person knows what they are doing or saying is wrong or offensive. But it takes real character to look past the action and focus on the intention behind it. When we assume good or neutral intent from those with differing viewpoints, we see the world in a brighter light, one with understanding and compassion. Some are fortunate enough to have been raised in a home where wrongdoings look blatantly wrong and some aren’t as fortunate. Based on their environment and their culture it may take people longer to catch on and learn that their actions aren’t as wonderful as they were led to believe just like Megan.
I have decided to try and see the good in all people and even if they have done something I find completely immoral, I assume good intent before bad. Thanks to this change in perspective, I feel at peace with some things in my life that I thought I could never cope with. Megan’s speech has provided me comfort, reassurance, and forgiveness to those who have done me wrong in the past. Her speech is incredibly eloquent and she is by far the best speaker I have heard. I highly recommend you listen to her Ted Talk as she will make you reconsider how you view others and open your heart and mind to the deepest form of compassion that exists.
How to Fix a Broken Heart | Guy Winch
In high school I remember on syllabus week teachers would remind students to leave their personal issues at home before coming into class. “Please do not come in here crying about your ex.” The class laughed after the teacher’s remark but we were just kids. I don’t think we realized just how painful heartbreak can be.
I believe most of my audience now does. And whether you are dealing with heartbreak currently or have struggled with it in the past this speech by psychologist Guy Winch could be a fantastic resource to subside the very real pain of a broken heart.
I watched this Ted Talk months ago when my wound was still fresh. I was struggling to pay attention to the speech because I would constantly replay the memories of him I missed in my head. Concentration became an impossible feat because every minute I listened to “How to Fix a Broken Heart” was a reminder that my heart was truly shattered and he wasn’t by my side any longer to pick up the pieces and glue it back together.
it wasn’t until 6:43—over halfway through the speech— that I listened…
"We allow our mind to cycle through one greatest hit after another like we are being held captive by our own passive-aggressive Spotify playlist."
The audience laughed while I cried…and laughed. It was funny but it was also painfully accurate. I couldn’t focus on a Ted Talk because the Spotify playlist I created was on full blast, blocking out any resource that would have possibly helped lower the volume.
I decided to start the video from the beginning, turn down the volume on my passive aggressive playlist, and listen to his advice.
It’s really good advice.
He starts by validating your pain by sharing the story of a ferociously strong woman named Kathy who battled cancer twice and endured four years of chemotherapy only to be distraught after a breakup. Guy suggests that the same instincts we rely on to get us through the toughest of times — such as the instincts that Kathy relied on during her recovery— , should not be acted out when the situation is a broken heart.
According to Guy, studies show that it’s important to gain a clear understanding of why the relationship ended in order to move on. But even when we are given an explanation, our mind tricks us into thinking there is a missing key that unlocks the REAL reason why they hurt us.
And so we are forced to chase this “answer” by over analyzing all the moments that occurred before the breakup instead of accepting the answer we are given.
I, unfortunately, can attest to this. He gave me an answer, a very well thought out and reasonable explanation, but my mind simply rejected it.
“Heartbreak causes such dramatic emotional pain that our mind tells us the reason must be equally as dramatic.”
Guy also explains when undergoing heartbreak our brains react similarly to that of an addict withdrawing from drugs.
So, you are not weak if you’re struggling to get over your ex, if you’re stalking them on social media, rereading their texts, replaying the playlist.
You are simply listening to your cocaine infused instincts.
Your mind is utilizing the memories of them as a cheap knock off to the real stuff, because it’s all you can acquire right now. You can’t shoot up new adventures or dates, so you have to reuse the old stash that’s hidden in the back of your hippocampus.
But in order to recover, we have to stop using. We have to stop searching for answers when none could satisfy us, stop asking ourselves what we could have done to prevent this, and stop looking for possible reasons they could come back.
"Hope can be incredibly destructive when your heart is broken."
I could barely hear a word coming out of the speaker’s mouth the first time I watched his Ted Talk. But now, I can watch the full video, listen intently, and turn off my playlist where it’s ~almost~ on mute.
How else could I write a piece on it?
This Ted Talk is one of the main reasons I went from moving on instead of running back. It offers advice that will help you recover with your current heartbreak but also prep you for the next one.
Atheism 2.0 | Alain de Botton
Before Christians run away from the title, allow me to provide some backstory.
I’m a Christian and I disagree with Alain on some fundamentals. In the very beginning he states,
“Of course God doesn’t exist.”
I obviously disagree with him, but I still want to hear what he has to say.
And just like how I, a Christian, am willing to appreciate an atheist’s speech, Alain is willing to appreciate what faith provides many of us with, a sense of belonging, a respect for our world, and a positive community.
I love what he is proposing.
"We have secularized badly..and a thorough study of religion can give us insights into areas of life that are not going too well.”
Alain believes there are many positive aspects in religion that the secular world has not been able to replicate. His first example is morality. For those of us faith based, we would likely find our moral teachings within our holy texts, but atheists do not follow this. Instead they look towards culture. Alain argues that modern culture has not emphasized the importance of teaching morality. He mentions that educational institutions teach lectures; they throw out information and expect us to know how to apply that data seamlessly in our lives. The “religious” form of a lecture is a sermon.
What’s the difference?
“A sermon wants to change your life and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information.”
Alain believes sermons are more impactful than lectures, that even though we are adults we need help and we need guidance. A lecture’s purpose is to inform. A sermon’s purpose is to inspire. And one is significantly more powerful than the other. Can you guess which one?
He also believes religions cleverly connect the brain and the body. For example, baptism is a symbolic ritual in the Christian faith where an individual is immersed in water to represent the purification of their heart and the acceptance of the Lord in their lives. Alain explains that Jews prioritize forgiveness, and every Friday Orthodox Jews take a bath in the Mikveh and connect their philosophical idea with a physical action. Alain addresses the importance and power behind connecting the soul with an act and how this idea has been lost in the secular world.
“We may disagree with what religions are trying to teach us but we can admire the institutional way they are doing it.”
What I love most about this speech is that it was not divisive which is quite remarkable for a subject so touchy like religion. It cherry picks religion as a whole, appreciating and even trying to incorporate religious strategies in a secular way. Alain’s speech is a rarity that offers a perspective that will not sit well with extremists on either side. I think it’s important to recognize if your theology or lack of theology is truly accepting, if you are truly accepting. And I believe you can test yourself by listening to this secular sermon and cherish the pieces you love without damning the pieces you don’t.
And a bonus :)
The Power of Vulnerability | Brené Brown
The title sounds like pseudo science but don’t be fooled. Brené Brown is a brilliant researcher who was on the brink of dissecting disconnection and what makes us feel shame and fear. What she discovered is that these negative emotions are linked to intense vulnerability. She hates vulnerability, was truly excited to overcome it and “win” in her research.
“Here’s my chance to beat back vulnerability with a measuring stick.”
Her one year research turned to six. And she discovered that the difference between those she interviewed who feel worthy and those who feel worthless are the following:
Courage to be imperfect
Compassion to be kind to themselves and then others
Connection as a result of authenticity
Completely embrace vulnerability
Those who felt worthy were the ones who dive headfirst, who jump into careers that are challenging, who say I love you first, who share their stories, who write poetry with intimate details of their past.
“Vulnerability may be the core of shame and unworthiness but I have also discovered it's the birthplace of joy of creativity of love.”
I think a lot of people struggle with vulnerability because we live in a world that feeds off the vulnerable. If we are too nice, we are taken advantage of. If we ask someone out, we pray they don’t reject us. If we say I love you first, we are left to see if the other person reciprocates.
Brené suggests, based on her research, in order to effectively cope with negative results such as shame and fear that come from being vulnerable we do the following:
We make absolutes
We numb vulnerability. But we can’t selectively numb. When we numb shame, we numb satisfaction. When we numb panic, we numb passion. When we numb grief, we numb gratitude. By numbing the negative emotions, we are also numbing the positive.
Brené also mentions religion has gone from questioning and challenging to competing and demanding. We want people to see the way we see because uncertainty is a tough thing for many of us to accept.
She addresses the very real issue of perfection. We want to ensure that our lives fit neatly in a box. We want to be able to predict and prepare for all of what life throws at us when we should be adopting this mindset instead.
"You're imperfect. You're wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging."
Lastly, we pretend our actions do not affect others so we can be callous without guilt. I believe our generation truly struggles with this in particular. We ghost instead of confront. We lie instead of admit. We blame instead of fix. We push the responsibility away from ourselves so that we aren’t forced to be vulnerable.
And that is not the best version of ourselves.
Brene’s speech is a long one that will make you laugh —she has a few great jokes in there— but also will make you question what in your life is stopping you from being authentic. What actions are you pursuing or not pursuing that spark joy? More often than not, these are hurdles that seem impossible. Maybe you are too scared to say I love you first or apply for that job across the country.
But allowing yourself the opportunity of rejection is the only way of allowing yourself success.
Ted Talks are more than just speeches to me. These are secular seminars there to inform but also to inspire. I have these five to thank for helping me become who I am. Someone tries to embrace purpose and chaos, who prioritizes intent over actions, who doesn’t listen to her instincts when it comes to heartbreak, and is as vulnerable as possible in her writing because that’s what makes her feel alive.