Guest Blog – Finding Hope Closer To Home

TEDxExeter was my first time at a TEDx event and it was everything that I had expected: inspirational people sharing stories and ideas to make you rethink your point of view. Lots of these stories were from around the world, a chance to hear first hand from people who are affected by the refugee crisis, radicalism and more. However, for me the talk that stood out was one that was a little closer to home – Toby and Jo Gorniak, a couple from Plymouth who, through Hip Hop dance, were changing the lives of young people.

The words of the poem that accompanied the performance really touched me because it used the real words of young people they’d worked with. They talked about feeling invisible, confused and the need to just to be loved.

I grew up with children just like those they talked about: some of my friends were children whose home lives were far from perfect. They were moved from home to home and were surrounded by alcohol, drugs, anger and self harm, with parents so stretched mentally and financially that there wasn’t much room left.

I was lucky, that despite a tough situation, my parents gave me hope and permission to dream. The message in my family was always: if you worked hard you could make it. But for some they were not so lucky. They accepted that this was how it was and I saw close friends’ lives take a more destructive journey.

So beyond the dancing and their background, seeing how Toby and Jo Gorniak had found a way of giving children a purpose and a chance for their voice to be heard, truly does fill me with hope.

TEDxExeter is all about being inspired, sharing new ideas and discussing how we can make a positive impact on our local communities. At Stephens Scown we like to keep our eyes, ears and minds open to new ideas and we have gained so much from our involvement in TEDxExeter. We are proud to be sponsors for the 3rd year.

Blog written by Kerry England, Marketing Executive, Stephens Scown

Ultimate HOPE

In the past few months, I’ve written several times about death in my two series of blogs on the TEDxExeter 2017 theme of HOPE, and on things that interest me which have a TED or TEDx angle: the death of Carrie Fisher highlighted her last (CGI-created) word in Rogue One; the death of Richard Adams caused me to reflect on the work of Susan Cain on introverted leadership, and how it appears in Watership Down; the death of Hans Rosling made me think about taking responsiblity for our own statistics; and in the last week or so, I’ve considered the response to the Westminster attack and quoted reflections after the death of John Berger.

It is probably one of the ways I am grieving my own father’s death last November. Also, I tend not to be squeamish about talking about death. Death makes me think about life, especially during Spring, and especially especially at Easter. Denial of death, and use of euphemisms like ‘passing’, are much more likely to make me squirm.

I agree with Benjamin Franklin: “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Although certainty can for a time be comfortable, it is a living death. For me, faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin, and faith and certainty are in opposition to each other. Paying attention to this world and to my life of prayer can only get me so far. How can I possibly know the mind of God? Uncertainty is fruitful, in the mulch of faith.

Ships are not built to stay in harbour, but to put out into the deep. Some may be freighted low in the water; others are short on ballast. Some congregate in flotillas and convoys; others are a lone sail on the horizon. Some are navigationally-challenged and wallow in circles; others find their Polestar and sail straight and true. But all risk storm and doldrum, even those which stay close to harbour tacking to and fro, or which don’t leave at all.

Hope pulls, love pushes, and faith supports. To those of us who will make landfall briefly together at TEDxExeter tomorrow, whether in the Northcott or via the livestream, what are your hopes? What are your hopes for the day, and for your life? What are you going to do about them? As Carol Ann Duffy wrote in Snow, “what will you do now with the gift of your left life?”

Our Speakers will have their own hopes, and tomorrow I hope to hear many of them. Today are the Speaker rehearsals, but this year I won’t be there. I am instead singing at a friend’s funeral. So I will leave you for now with these words from Benedictus by John O’Donohue, which her family has shared. Even in the darkest places and the fiercest storms, there is always hope.

May you be given some inkling
That there could be something else at work
And that what to you now seems
Dark, destructive and forlorn,
Might be a destiny that looks different
From inside the eternal script.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Imaging HOPE

Images are extraordinarily powerful. Those able to see, see before we learn to read, and orient our world by sight. One of the articles after art critic John Berger’s death in January applied his ‘language of images’ to Trump, polar bears and Kim Kardashian.

Berger was optimistic about the age of the mass-circulating reproduced image: “For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free. They surround us in the same way as a language surrounds us … If the new language of images were used differently, it would, through its use, confer a new kind of power. Within it we could begin to define our own experiences more precisely in areas where words are inadequate.”

He was a moral man who wanted a better world, and his art criticism is ultimately an eloquent argument for social justice and ethical behaviour. But the article goes on to note that “vacuous, deceitful, falsely seductive, grossly manipulative images have never bombarded our semi-conscious minds so shamelessly. … We have more images than compassion… In a world shaped, as ours is, by what Berger called ‘the language of images’, people don’t think too clearly.”

Should we be hopeful or despairing? Here is a triptych of further art-related articles presenting both sides.

“The drop in museum visitors reveals a nation without aspiration or hope”

“There is nothing more aspirational than visiting a museum or art gallery. It is an expression of hope and self-esteem.” writes Jonathan Jones. “Just as lying in bed all day binge-watching TV [let’s call this ‘Berger-negative’] and eating crisps is probably a mark of melancholy. Going out to an exhibition [ie ‘Berger-positive’] or taking your kids to the Natural History Museum is surely a symbol of belief in your family and the future.”

Jones diagnoses the causes of falling visitors numbers as not the shrinking of minds or the internet making young people turn away from art and knowledge. Rather, the causes are “the same economic pressures that have uprooted politics around the world”, which mean fewer school trips, and fewer adults making time to go to museums and galleries and take children with them on visits.

His prognosis is gloomy: “Britain is failing its young people, and losing the passion for self-improvement that our free public museums used to nurture. A nation that loses interest in museums has not just lost its head. It has lost hope.”

My prescription? Watch Camilla Hampshire’s talk “Home to a Million Thoughts” from TEDxExeter 2013, and go visit RAMM. And get stuck into some of the many goings on during Art Week Exeter over 13-21 May.

Art to inspire

Various famous people appeared in a Guardian piece at the dawn of 2017, reflecting on works of art that fill them with energy, optimism, hope and zest.

From the introduction, again by Jonathan Jones:

Aristotle, the first person to think seriously about art’s purpose, claimed that watching a tragedy was a “cleansing”, a catharsis that purified your soul. So seeing the stage covered in bodies at the end of Hamlet is the best emotional detox you can have.

This is what makes art so much more valuable than some inspirational video or self-help book. It does not feed us fake remedies for life’s ills. Instead, it speaks to our innermost selves in a way we recognise as true. What it tells us is that other people feel like we do, that we are not alone. “He was despised and rejected of men,” goes the line in Handel’s Messiah, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” It is one of the most inspiring of all musical uplifts – and it works by accepting and transcending pain, rather than denying it. All kinds of art can provide the inspiration we need, and it is a sustenance like no other.

Here is philosopher Alain de Botton on Chardin’s “Woman Taking Tea”:

Art can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavour to make the best of our circumstances: a job we do not always love, the imperfections of age, frustrated ambitions and our attempts to stay loyal to irritable but loved families. Art can do the opposite of glamourise the unattainable: it can show us anew the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it. It is advertising for the things we really need.

And here is curator Hans Ulrich Obrist on artist Etel Adnan:

She is a great inspiration to many. Although she is now in her early 90s, her art still has energy, optimism and intensity, and remains among the best work being created in the world today. It gives me courage. It reminds me of what Gerhard Richter once said: “Art is the highest form of hope.” When I asked her to write a Post-It for my Instagram project, Adnan wrote: “The world needs togetherness, not separation. Love, not suspicion. A common future, not isolation.” These words seem particularly urgent for 2017.

Drawing a way out of depression

Nick Willing, the son of artist Paula Rego, says “an artist is like an explorer who goes to worlds where no one has ever been and brings back a picture. And although we’ve never seen it before, we all recognise it.”

Rego has often suffered depression. In a particularly deep trough in 2007 it nearly killed her, according to Willing, before she “drew her way out of it”.

She created 12 large pastels of a woman – isolated, fearful, paralysed, constricted – then locked them away in a drawer. “She had put the depression into them,” says Willing, “and was afraid it could come out again.” …

Today, Rego can view the images more comfortably: “Now they’re pictures, it’s all right”. This is a theme that runs through her life and work: traumas are turned into art; difficult emotions are worked through in images…

Willing was surprised at how he reacted to the unveiling of the depression pastels. He was expecting to be shocked, to feel sorry for his mother. “But I didn’t. I didn’t see her at all. I saw depression, as I or anyone else suffers it. The art was already working.”

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

A fortnight of HOPEful responses

During 82 seconds on Wednesday 22 March, Briton Khalid Masood drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing and injuring more than 50 people; fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer in New Palace Yard; and was shot and killed by an armed police officer. Over the next fortnight, these were some of the responses. Governments please take note.

Friday 24 March

Sheikh Mohammad al Hilli, of the Shia Muslim Council; Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis; the Chief Imam of the Central London Mosque, Sheikh Ezzat Khalifa; and the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols attended a vigil outside Westminster Abbey. The faith leaders held a minute’s silence to remember the four victims, and spoke of their determination not to let violence triumph.

Archbishop Welby said: “We have all of us come together because it is a moment of sad reflection but also of determination for our nation together. We represent the three Abrahamic faith communities, equally committed to a peaceful future”

Sunday 26 March

Muslim women gathered on Westminster Bridge to condemn the attack and show solidarity with the victims. Dozens of participants from a range of backgrounds joined them at the event, organised by Women’s March on London. One of the women said: “Islam totally condemns violence of any sort. This is abhorrent to us.” Others spoke of the “overwhelming” emotion they felt standing on the bridge. A group of women, wearing blue as a symbol of hope, stood holding hands for five minutes on Westminster Bridge as Big Ben chimed 4pm.

The Observer published this comment on the response to the attack: “Terrorist outrages can serve as a brutal reminder of humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Yet it is so often the brave responses of ordinary citizens that we remember. In London last week, the reaction to the trail of death and brutality that Khalid Masood left in his wake proved the point: the sacrifice of PC Keith Palmer, who laid down his life keeping MPs and citizens safe; the actions of the MP Tobias Ellwood, who performed first aid; the medical staff of St Thomas’ hospital who ran on to Westminster Bridge to help the wounded; and the ordinary men and women who reacted with compassion and courage to the distress of the victims.

Wednesday 29 March

Hundreds of people gathered on Westminster bridge and outside the Houses of Parliament, and police officers  held a minute’s silence outside New Scotland Yard, to pay their respects to the four people who were killed.

The acting commissioner of the Metropolitan police said: “I would urge you, if you get time, to go on to the bridge, talk to Londoners, talk and get a feel for this great city and how it’s come together in responding to these events.” One woman reflected on living through the IRA bombing campaigns in the 1980s: “I think it’s so important to show that we all stand together.” 

Wednesday 5 April

That message was echoed in the Dean’s conclusion to a service of hope held in Westminster Abbey: “We stand together; just as in this service the world faiths are represented and will pray together – above all for the gift of hope.”

National dignitaries, police officers, paramedics, and relatives of those killed lit hundreds of candles together to “our shared humanity and our resolve to bring light and life to all.”

Faith representatives, including a Muslim commander in the Met and a Sikh constable, said prayers, which ended with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, quoting the prayer ascribed to St Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make us channels of your peace… Where there is hatred let us bring your love… Where there is despair in life, let us bring hope. Where there is darkness, only light.”

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Point sources of HOPE

M5 globular cluster
M5 globular cluster From the Hubble Space Telescope website: “This sparkling jumble is Messier 5 [aka M5] — a globular cluster consisting of hundreds of thousands of stars bound together by their collective gravity. At 13 billion years old it is incredibly old, dating back to close to the beginning of the Universe. It is also one of the biggest clusters known.”

Hope can come from unlikely sources. Which makes me wonder… What would be the most unlikely and surprising source of all? Looking within, with a wry chuckle, I conclude that would probably be my own self! So here’s a challenge to myself: What if I were a source of increasing hope? What would that look like? How would I be? What would I do more of, or less of?

What if each one of us were a source of increasing hope to everyone around us? Each of us a point of hope, a point of light in the dark. We would become a field of stars shining in the night sky, sweeping across the heavens like the Milky Way.

Each point source of light is small, and twinkles as our energy ebbs and flows, as we try and fail and try again. The night is still dark. And yet… North of the equator we only need one star, the Pole Star, to know which direction we face. And we only need two stars, in the Plough, to find the Pole Star. And only seven stars to be sure that it is the Plough. And with the help of other constellations and planets we can find out where we are, what time it is, how fast we are going.

Each of us can help those around us navigate in the dark. We can look to other people for their help. It might take seven. It might only take one. We might be that one to others. And they might be near at hand, or far away in parts of the world that barely scratch our consciousness.

Sometimes there is a shooting star or aurora – an Anne Frank or a Jo Cox – that scorches across the heavens. It is extinguished all too quickly, but the trace remains bright in the memory. Sometimes, a moon or comet – a Mother Teresa or a Nelson Mandela – might rise and hold steady, and the whole world seems bright for a time.

Each of them is – each of us can be – a promise and a hope of a shining new sunrise.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Guest Blog: Kester Brewin on HOPE

Kester Brewin will be speaking at our forthcoming TEDxExeter event in April. He is an alumnus of TEDxExeter 2013, where he spoke brilliantly about “Mutiny!”.

 

A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with an aunt, who happens also to be one of the wisest people I know. We were chewing over some thing I’d raised, and she placed her wine glass on the table, and pondered for a moment and said, “you know, it gave me great solace when I was finally able to admit to myself that I don’t live in my first-choice world.” Things don’t always work out. Life is not always what we have wanted it to be. There are disappointments and wounds.

With TEDx looming I have been thinking a lot about our theme, hope, and wondering if it is simply this: that even though we do not live in our first-choice world, we hold on to the idea that our world can still be changed. We can still be changed. Our politics can still be changed. Our community, our nation, our climate. Hope is, by definition, about the future. It is a belief that the world that is yet to come is not yet decided, and can still yet be moulded.

To put it mathematically (a professional habit – apologies) hope is a vector: it has to have direction. When we hope, we look ahead along a particular line. The question that this prompts is what engine is driving that hope. What force is making that change we want to see in the world?

For many years my hope was located in my religious beliefs. In any given situation, my hope was that God would sort it out, and it took me a long time to realise that this was because I was afraid of taking action myself. By pushing hope into the ineffable, I was able to abdicate responsibility for the world that I lived in. If it was imperfect it wasn’t my fault; if it wasn’t made better it wasn’t God’s will. In any case, my final hope was in heaven, a cast-iron ‘first-choice’ world that I would topple into once I’d fallen into my grave. Job done.

Amusing as this religious hope might seem, it’s far more common than we might think. Putting your hope in a ‘big other’ – in some big system above us that we trust is in control and will sort everything out in the end – is how many people live out their politics. We don’t need to act in our communities, because the government will do it for us. Others have a similarly religious view of technology: their hope located in the divine intelligence of Google or Bill Gates to deal with disease and poverty and unemployment. Climate crisis? Haven’t we got an app for that?

The maxim attributed to Gandhi – “be the change you want to see in the world” – is really about the adjusting the vectors of your hope. Once we see that the ‘big other’ largely has other ideas about what the world should look like, we have to redirect our hope away from the vertical – God, the political class, ‘high’ technology’ – and to the horizontal. Still confident that our world can be transformed, we get off our knees and backsides and commit to working with others to do something about it.

Audacity of HOPE

Sometimes it’s easy to lose hope. Barack Obama repeatedly used messages of hope in his presidential campaigns and during his time in office. Then, one month after Trump’s election, Michelle Obama gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey in which she said “Now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like…”

But she followed that up with “You know, hope is necessary… What else do you have if you don’t have hope?” And in her final speech as first lady, she urged young Americans to believe in the power of hope: “Lead by example with hope. Never fear.”

Because sometimes hope can come from unlikely sources. Even a Republican House of Representatives with a majority of 44, which defeated the American Health Care Act and preserved Barack Obama’s healthcare reform for a while longer.

Clare Bryden, TEDxExeter Storyteller

Street Factory Biography

Street Factory_TEDxExeter_BW
Street Factory

Toby & Jo Gorniak are the Co-founders of Street Factory CIC in Plymouth. Street Factory share a belief in all young people, their capabilities and the possibilities for their growth and development, working hard in helping them develop not just as individuals, but also as a group, constantly reinforcing the belief that they have a duty and responsibility to the community around them. They teach through the 10 elements of Hip Hop, through genuine love and deep rooted trust that every young person can ‘find their genius’.  

Toby G is a hip hop artist, professional dancer, choreographer, educator and speaker. He has won numerous national awards for his work including an O2 Award, business awards, BBC & ITV community awards, police engagement  Health Lottery Community Award and an Honorary fellowship degree for his “Outstanding , Innovative approach to Community work”.  

Jo Gorniak is a professional actress, and performer, performing locally & nationally, with a Drama in the Community HND & Degree in Performing Arts. She has worked in New York, on projects using drama & hip hop to transform lives and at Los Angeles Film School.  

At TEDxExeter Jo and Toby are performing with three Street Factory dancers who have devised an original piece of Hip Hop Theatre on ‘Hope’.  

Dancers:

Perry Johnson: “Dancing for me is the borderline between day-dreaming and reality and I get to control the outcome “

Max Revell: “I dance not for the enjoyment of others but for the happiness of myself”

Emmanuel Atangana Maze: “Your passion makes your life and dance is passion”

James Craig Biography

James Craig James Craig is a second year student at Exeter College studying Maths, Chemistry and History.

Having originally aspired to be a Doctor, a work experience placement at a Solicitor’s firm set him on a different path. Being interested in law and politics now for several years, he has applied to study Law at university after completion of his A-levels. He’s previously been Chair of his schools council, tutor rep and is currently the Diversity Officer of Exeter College’s Student Representative Committee.

James believes in the power of communication and is thrilled to have been given the opportunity to talk at TEDx.

Rob Wilson Biography

Rob  WilsonRob has been involved with Toast Ale since its inception in early 2016, initially as an advisor and more recently as full time Chief Toaster. Toast Ale believe that if want to change the world, you have to throw a better party than those destroying it. Prior to Toast, Rob led an organization called Ashoka in the UK, supporting a global network of social entrepreneurs to scale system changing ideas and enterprises.

Rob is an award winning serial social entrepreneur himself having founded a number of ventures over the years. He founded READ International in 2004; a Tanzanian student-volunteer-led development organisation which to date has provided over 1.5 million books to school children and created 100 school libraries. He co-founded Generation Change in 2012, a partnership of the UK’s leading youth social action organisations, helping 600,000 young people a year take positive action in their local communities. He also recently co-founded the youth-led campaign Undivided; a non-partisan campaign set up to get the best possible Brexit deal for young people. In 2011 he co-authored a book with his wife Nikki about social entrepreneurs in Africa called On the Up.

Rob lives just outside London in Kent with his wife Nikki and their two very cheeky little boys Thomas and Matthew.