Increasingly popular since the late 2000s, TED talks cover a wide gamut of topics — political, scientific, and creative. The organization was founded in 1984, and the website — which features more than 1,500 openly licensed videos from TED conferences around the world — has become a place where creativity and curiosity merge, and where anyone can listen in on a world of ideas.
As co-founders of a nonprofit organization seeking to impact the governing process and our lives in community, we have taken on a rather large task. We seek to motivate people not only to make changes in how they interact with others in the midst of conflict, but also to come together to form a civility movement that will shape our culture into a more civil one.
It hasn’t been as easy as we thought it would be.
One issue that we have run into over and over is the entrenched belief that one person cannot make a difference. We at the Institute espouse that every voice counts — that voices raised together in chorus are the means by which change happens. But for many, it is difficult to see the connection between what I have to say, and what we have to say together.
History illustrates the value of speaking out. Time and again, from independence, to abolition and women’s suffrage, to civil rights for racial and sexual minorities, social change has happened not by top-down decree, but when people have gotten involved, and organized to make their voices heard. So why are people who otherwise believe in our cause so slow to join in? We believe that Canadian activist Dave Meslin has some valuable insights that help answer that question.
In Meslin’s TED talk, The Antidote to Apathy, he looks at some of the structural and cultural barriers to civic participation. He asserts that yes, people really do care about their communities and their world, but that the architecture of ideas and the architecture of physical spaces are designed to discourage participatory change. You might think that hearing about the enormity of the barriers to civic participation might discourage us. But far from it! Identifying a problem is often the first step to solving it. So here, in Dave Meslin’s words, is some of what you need to know:
Give it a listen and be encouraged. And then redefine your relationship to the barriers that Meslin points out. We can open up city hall, Meslin says. We can reform our electoral systems. We can democratize our public spaces. We can identify obstacles to more and better participation, and if we can work together collectively to dismantle those obstacles, then anything is possible.
There are a lot of people who care about civility. If you are reading this, you are probably one of them. Yes, we are trying to bring about significant change. Yes, there are challenges. But be encouraged! New Ideas generate more new ideas. Creativity sparks creativity. You are not alone, and together we can make a difference.