A Recount of TEDxTauranga 2017 (7 October) “Perspective”

1 – The Beginning

Hello, my name is Claire Piper and I’ll be your tour guide for this trip through TEDxTauranga 2017.
This is a long article, so I’m going to sum things up right away by telling you two things:

I’m the sort of person who is way too busy to go to things like this. The sort of person who uses the word busy a lot. I default to wearing cynicism like a protective cloak, and can isolate myself in a place I never really chose as my hometown. I’m one of those people who works hard at self-improvement. I don’t need more new ideas and to meet more people – I spend most of my days trying to deal with the ideas and people I already have and know. I’m a real barrel of fluffy ducks. Let’s hang out some time!

TEDxTauranga 2017 taught me that giants walk among us. A random person walking down Devonport Road can teach me about the sort of strength, compassion, and insight that I could spend my life searching for the world over. My people are right here. My fears and weaknesses are welcome. My busyness, stresses, and eye-rolling are only symptoms of forgetfulness. I forget that I am connected to you, and that there is always a way through. If I don’t practice connecting to this town and its people, I can forget that I am powerful beyond measure to do something right now, with what I already have. I have nothing to prove and nothing to achieve outside of providing a home for your story through my simple presence and receptivity.

Connection must be practiced to stay alive. TEDxTauranga reminded me that I’m at home.

2 – The Live Agenda

Speaker 1 – Mike Seawright

Mike is used to being asked what it’s like to work in a warzone. Through ReliefAid, he and his team face unthinkable risks to channel humanitarian aid to families in the middle of warzones.

He can’t describe what it’s like to know that you provided the warring parties with GPS coordinates of your hospital and feel their shells rain down on you anyway.

He certainly can’t describe what it’s like to dedicate your life to protecting Miriam, an 11 year old resident of Aleppo City in Syria who needed a warm jacket to survive a freezing winter without shelter. To describe what it’s like to get Miriam the jacket, and find her body a year later as the siege of Aleppo descended away.

The only thing Mike can do is ask his people, the people of Tauranga, if they can imagine what they’d do to protect their children if war was raging on the street outside. As he describes the panic of a parent protecting their child during war, a Tauranga newborn stirs in the row behind me.

We know what love for our family is and what we would do to help them if they need us. These people who suffer on the front lines of war, are just like us, and they need us to help them.

Speaker 2 – Claire Baker

There’s something about being in a hall of 800 people all lifting their bits in unison. You know, the bits, those nether regions you instinctively contract as freezing cold water creeps above your knees. You’re doing it right now, I know you are.

These bits are the pelvic floor and Claire told us that 1 in 8 of us have problems with it. It’s common to pee a little bit when you’re playing netball, it’s common to poo a little bit as you race to get from your car to the bathroom at the end of a workday; it’s even common to feel like parts of your uterus might drop out if you squat too quickly. It’s common, and Claire needs us to know it’s not normal.

Dr Arnold Kegal “discovered” how integral pelvic floor muscles were to overall health and wellbeing in the 1940s, and precious little pelvic floor research has reached the mainstream since.

Any body with a body can experience pelvic floor pain and disfunction, and it’s our squeamishness and shame that compels many of us to accept it as our new normal. It’s common, Claire reminds us, not normal, and it’s time to ask for help.

Speaker 3 – Lynn Berresford

Lynn was told early on in life that she was “gifted”. Mensa says that a gifted person has an IQ of more than 130. Those who claim to have an IQ of more than 200 are definitely making things up. There is a spectrum of neurology, and people all along the spectrum have unique attributes to contribute to society

Gifted people can display heightened levels of creativity and the ability to receive and process multiple complex concepts at a time. And this can be a burden. For the people who Lynn has helped through her psychology practice, this often manifests as perfectionism and an attraction to extremes. People who are gifted can struggle to articulate the agony that their own unmet expectations create.

I can’t have been the only one in the audience suddenly compelled to tell their friends and family that I am a pain in the butt because I am gifted. Lynn was quick to remind us, however, that gifted is not the same as talented. So I’m just a pain the butt.

Speaker 4 – Mayank Thammalla

I’ll tell you something I’m not proud of – my heart sinks when I hear someone say “climate change refugees” and I want to check Twitter instead. This is one of my coping mechanisms for the panic and helplessness I feel when considering the grim consequences of our collective brutal treatment of our planet. Please don’t make me feel worse about it.

Ok, said Mayank. How about I see your panic, and raise you a solution. How about I, Mayank, take my opportunity to study a Masters of Architecture in New Zealand and come up with an idea. An idea that can save the Maldives and its culture from being destroyed by rising sea waters by 2100.

How about those decommissioned oil rigs littering the Indian Ocean be repurposed and adapted to allow the 130,000 strong population of the Maldives’ capital, Male, to recreate their social, religious, and economic life on these floating islands? Could these floating islands allow traditional coconut timber structures be rediscovered, retain the urban design of Male neighbourhoods, and revitalise the Maldivian island-hopping trade routes?

Why the hell not? More unlikely things have happened. There is still time.

Entertainment 1 – Plum Jam

These musicians from the Tauranga Boys High Class of ’16 delivered the smoothest sounds I’ve heard in a while. A four (usually five) piece ensemble, this jazz/funk outfit had drums, bass, bap-bap-booping vocals, and some freakishly skilful keyboard playing.

They’re off to study music, they’re available for hire, and they’re headed for great things.

Speaker 5 – Sarah Thomson

Sarah learned something at law school that took me many years to figure out – we can do the thing that we wish someone else would do.

In 2015, with a team of lawyers and scientists, Sarah, a University of Waikato student, applied for a judicial review of the way in which the New Zealand government set their emission targets in compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement. Just as Mr Fitzgerald held Prime Minister Muldoon to account for his shoddy decision-making as an elected official in the 1980s, Sarah feels the citizens of New Zealand deserve transparency around their acts, or omissions, in contributing to the global fight against climate change.

I’m a constitutional law nerd (like I said, I’m a real hoot) and the tool of judicial review, a way that allows the court to determine whether a government’s decision is lawful and reasonable, really gets me going. By doing what she wished someone else would do, Sarah has reminded the government, and each of us, that no one person or one country is big enough to be in charge of managing climate change. It takes each of us to act, together.

Speaker 6 – Nick Harvey

Nick points out that asking the right question is more important, and more efficient, than trying to get at the right answer. So let him cut to the chase.

There are three questions that are most important to leaders in businesses, families, and communities; what is the most important thing for a leader to do? Why aren’t I reaching my full potential? And how do I inspire at motivate others?

The answers? The most important thing for a leader to do is to be aware of and bring light to the “unspoken” conversations that dominate a team. Leaders won’t reach their full potential if they will not hold a mirror to their own fears and failings, and question them until those fears and failings lose their power. And the most effective way to inspire and motivate others is through centeredness and calmness; people will trust and follow those whose internal waters run deep.

Nick made us draw a bunch of triangles on a bit of paper, twice, and now we know why we need a leadership coach. You had to be there.

Speaker 7 – Aisha Te Kani

I have two problems at this point. One is that my meager writing talents cannot adequately describe what happened in the Trinity Church as Aisha spoke. The other is that by the end of this talk my tears had gathered in a pool under my spacebar key on my laptop and I think I need to get it checked out.
Aisha was born with club feet and her heart outside of her body. Aisha’s medical history is one of extended hospitalisations, torturous treatments, and unwelcome surprises as the biological implications of her miracle heart made themselves known.

The medical challenges resulting from her heart and club feet inflicted far less pain than the way she was treated by her community. The sneering. The prodding. The wild assumptions. The exclusions. When do our failings of human kindness amount to cruelty? How do we allow beautiful quirks of anatomy to turn into a compulsion to deny the humanity of a person? How have my own failures to be kind contributed to the despair felt by people like Aisha?

Aisha has felt the mud of life – the toxic, sticky, black mud– try to keep her stuck. And she has taken that mud and walked forward with it. Galvanized by her faith, the love of her parents and her brother Joshua, she has walked forward.

The roof of the Trinity Church hall lifted a little as she walked off the stage.

Entertainment 2 – Freddy Matariki Carr

Have you ever seen someone combine rhythmic hoop gymnastics with modern dance? Ok but how about with two hoops? Yeah, but with hoops that glow in the dark? Thought so.

Freddy Matariki Carr is a flow artist and dancer that travels the world drawing inspiration from foreign lands and layering them with a uniquely New Zealand performance. Graceful, soothing, and beautiful.

Speaker 8 – Shelly Davies

Shelly, if you’re still reading this, help me.

Help me write like a reader. Help me be more respectful of this TEDxTauranga audience suffering through this recap by removing the waffly words that make my sentences long and refining my over-zealous use of punctuation that obscures my message. I don’t really know how to use semi colons, but use them I will.

Shelly is waging a war against the formal business voice in writing. She told us that there is a voice in our head that, as our fingers touch the key pads, tells us to mimic authors of articles in academic journals. Which is fine, if we have the skill to always write as authors of articles in academic journals. And we don’t, guys, we don’t.

Plain English is no less professional, legally binding, or credible than traditional formal business writing. In fact because it uses fewer words, quickly informs the reader of the message, and provides them comfort that they understand the message, it may be more professional, credible, and legally persuasive than formal business writing.

Help me, Shelly, I still have three speaker recaps to go!

Speaker 9 – Chris Batershill

As I’ve told you, I’m the sort of person who gets jazzed about judicial reviews. Chris Batershill therefore had a steep road ahead of him to encourage me to think about sea sponges in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Chris must be a hill sprinter, because let me tell you what I learned about sea sponges. They’re pretty much as the same as they were 800 million years ago. Sponges are a billion dollar industry. They are wickedly efficient water-filtering machines. Cool. So far, so sciencey.

What is very cool, though, is that sea sponges evolved not by growing legs but by cherry-picking the best chemical properties of the bugs and organisms floating around them in the water. This means they are now tiny chemical weapons living in the ocean, using their ridiculously powerful arsenal to sense and neutralise cells that may impede their ability to grow and survive.

What becomes verrrry cool is when you think of people like Chris hanging around Dunedin sewers, harvesting the special sea sponges who love Dunedin (only Dunedin) sewers, and using those natural chemical weapons to sense and neutralise cancer cells in humans.

Fine, I’m into sea sponges now.

Speaker 10 – Mel Lee

Mel, like me, was a baby of the 80s. This means we can track the milestones in our lives so far by what mobile phones we had at each stage. I started with an Alcatel (orange), Mel started with a Nokia (blue), and we were both entirely unable to imagine the sophistication of the iPhone 6 we hold in our hands in 2017.

If the sophistication of computer chips continue to double every eighteen months, can we even fathom our technological lives in twenty or thirty years? Mel says that by 2049, $1000 will buy us a computer that has the intellectual power of all human brains combined. There is no reason to believe this won’t happen.

Indeed, the speed of artificial intelligence development is as exponential as those computer chips. Mel is looking forward to a future in which her fridge pours her wine and she has conversations without moving her mouth. I remain perturbed by the complex ethical issues about to face the human race as machines become smarter than us and believe that those developing these technologies must have reference to the social sciences.

If the machines stick to just pouring wine, though, it’s going to be cool.

Speaker 11 –  Debra Lampshire

Debra is a mental health specialist who helps people who hear voices that others don’t. And that’s all that I’m able to clearly describe to you about her talk.

What’s going to be harder is to describe the bravery and generosity Debra gifted us by sharing her experience of living with voices others can’t hear. As her voice shook and heart broke, Debra stepped us through her relationship with people she can’t see but who impact her every living moment.
These people are obsessed with her. They promise her safety, comfort, and redemption while telling her she’s unattractive, unlovable, and alone. They are her protectors when the stress and pain of life become unbearable, but that protection turns as quickly into isolation from all that is lovely in life.
Debra’s reality isn’t visible to us, so can leave her exposed to being labelled as “crazy”. When will we accept that others have realities that are different to ours? Why are the spaces between our respective realities so quickly filled with fear instead of curiosity?

The final heartbreak was Debra thanking us for listening to her. Debra, thank you.

Entertainment 3 – Toka Tu

Haka fusion combines the immense power of Māori kapahaka with the buoyancy of hip hop. Toka Tu will lead the New Zealand pop culture renaissance if New Zealand pop culture knows what’s good for it.

We need a modern interpretation of a unique Aotearoa music and dance culture, and Toka Tu’s athleticism, story-telling, and wild poi work are the best example I’ve seen. What a joyous note to walk out on.

3 – The Supporting Acts

The TED Talks

Were chosen by Year 13s at Otumoetai College were shown between sessions on the big screen and are well worth a review:

eL Seed gave us ‘Street art with a message of hope and peace’
Camille A. Brown showed us ‘A visual history of social dance in 25 moves’
Damon Davis reminded us that ‘Courage is courageous’

The Food

Indonesian beef curry or rich lentils and pumpkin, the catering team looked like an orchestra playing in perfect unison as they delivered nourishment into our bellies. Brownies, slices, and fresh bananas kept the energy levels high, and the reusable plates thanks to the Plate Exchange made sure those waste bins sat empty.

The People

The TEDxTauranga volunteer team contributed over 6,000 collective hours to putting this community event on. The impact this year’s session had on me reaffirmed my gratitude for the service of these people. What an asset for a town like ours.

Thank you.
– Claire Piper


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