Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some Learnings from TEDWomen

How to begin collecting thoughts from TEDWomen?

I walk away with the overwhelming, overpowering impression of women who all want to do more, know they can do more, are committed to doing more. This was apparent in the presenters and attendees alike. Whether celebrity or soccer mom, accomplished business woman or artist, world leader or blogger, the people at TEDWomen were ALL hellbent about the possibility of more, the requirement of more, the relentless need for more. Some of us have to figure out what that more is, some have launched.

For my own purposes, I am trying to break my memories into a few of the most overarching concepts which emerged. I am not sure what I will do with them, but I know I must do something. Now.

The Other

Elizabeth Lesser introduced the concept of "otherizing" as a dominant negative force in our world, blue and red, feminist and tea party, Muslim and Christian, men and women, . She spoke of a simple concept for trying to bridge and overcome this force. "take the other to lunch" literally. As she described going to lunch with an outspoken female Tea Party activist, she suggested creating ground rules so that you could have the opportunity to ask the questions of someone from the other side, questions you have always wanted to ask. Ground rules: 1. don't try to persuade, defend or interrupt. 2. Be curious, conversational.

The concept of getting to know "the other" permeated the conference, whether accidentally or on purpose.

One of the most moving moments of the conference for me, and the greatest example I can possibly imagine of getting to know the other was a presentation made by two mothers: Phyllis Rodriguez, mother of a victim of the 9/11 attacks on the world Trade Center and Aicha El-Wafi, mother of Zacarias Masaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker. These women spoke of reconciliation and compassion, forgiveness and activism. Imagine the sight of them, holding hands, shedding tears, both mothers having lost sons, both women refusing to cave to hatred of "the other", both committed to ending terrorism and social injustice.

But then there was the amazing Caroline Casey who has dedicated the past 10 years of her relatively short life changing how global society views people with disabilities. Why is Caroline amazing? Is it the fact that she is legally blind and did not even know it until she was 17? Or the fact that she refuses to let it limit what she sees and does in the world? She talks of looking at people with disabilities not as "others", but simply as people with a defective part who perhaps have so much more to offer, a different perspective, not to be avoided but to be included.

And then there was Mona Eltahawy - busting through stereotypes that Muslim women are "only about headscarves and hymens". How many Muslim women do I know? And have I asked them anything about their lives and beliefs? What about you?

I am interested in watching how much I will now not only try to recognize "others" in my life, but attempt to know them. I don't have to like them all, nor them me, but ignorance is no way to bridge differences, difference which I am frequently too happy to rant about.

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