How to Move a Mountain
Sunday, March 1, 2015
Anyone who knows me well knows I love TED Talks. I show TED Talks to my students at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. When I'm in a long line at the pharmacy I open up the TED app on my phone to see what new talks have been posted online. And last year when I had the opportunity to attend TEDxBirmingham 2014 I was as giddy as a kid on Christmas Day. I literally skipped from the car to the front door of the Alys Stephens Center where the event was held. It would be my first time attending a live TED event. The theme was "Rediscover the Magic "and that I did. I left inspired with a new love for my city, a renewed determination to make it better, and an even greater passion for TED.
Things were different this year. TEDxBirmingham 2015 was just as fantastic, perhaps even better. But this year I felt the giddy girl of last year's event being asked to grow up. She was being asked to move a mountain.
"Move Mountains" -- that was this year's theme and it was quite apropos. The topics broached this year were as heavy as looming rust-stained rock of iron ore that we in Birmingham call Red Mountain. Human trafficking, our country's broken health care system, and environmental degradation are just a few of the issues this year's 12 speakers forced us to face.
When Sunny Slaughter's 7-year-old daughter was raped years ago by her own husband, Slaughter was filled with a rage that no one would have blamed her for acting on. But she used that fire to fuel the work she does today working as an activist working to end human trafficking. Slaughter hit us with the statistics of the the number of girls sold not just in other countries, but also in America and even Alabama.
In closing, she said, "I'm not trying to shock you. I'm trying to scare the hell out of you."
But how are we to move a mountain when the sight of it shakes us to our core?
The speakers covered that, too.
"Fear is great soil for growth," Tracey Abbott said during her talk. "The purpose of life is not to be comfortable but to grow."And despite her fear, Abbott recently quit her corporate job to found Culture Relay, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering high school girls through cross-cultural exchanges.
So feel the fear and face that mountain anyway. And here's how you can move it:
Shift the way you see that mountain. Be willing to look at everything in a new way. You make think that our country's obsession with sports will lead to its demise. But Andy Billings, professor of sports media at the University of Alabama, is using sports to delve into issues of race, gender, and more. Yes, it's true that very few Olympic swimmers are black, but why is that? Are black people just not good at swimming or could it be that blacks once had little to no access to public swimming pools and thus black parents were hesitant to encourage their children to learn to swim knowing they couldn't help them do so? And what kind of important conversations about gender can we have simply by looking at how women are portrayed on the covers of Sports Illustrated magazine?
Be willing to be radical. When Venkata Macha was only a sophomore in high school he asked a radical question: "Why isn't there a urine test to help detect cancer?" Then he did something even more outrageous -- he emailed renowned researchers all over the country asking them the same question. The result: he spent the summer before his junior year working in a lab of a Harvard University professor doing research to develop a bioelectronic chip for immediate, non-evasive cancer detection. "Radical approaches could have extraordinary results," Vekata said.
Your radical idea may be to tunnel through your mountain. If so, just dig and keep digging. While chipping your way through you will be discouraged. But so many speakers urged attendees to see failure only as a detour, not a dead end.
Or maybe you'll decide that moving the mountain isn't the best way to get to the other side.
"Sometimes it's more efficient to climb the mountain than to move it," civil rights activist and advertising executive Shelley Stewart said during his talk.
Strap on your boots and let's do this.
Kent Stewart is climbing mountains literally. He is on a quest to hike the Seven Summits -- the highest peaks on each of the world's continents. He only has one, Mount Everest, left to summit.
"What's your Everest?" he asked the crowd.
To become the first woman to qualify for the finals of American Ninja Warrior Kacy Catanzaro didn't have to climb an actual mountain, but she did have to scale a 14-foot warped wall and she had to ignore all the voices that said she couldn't do it.
Remember that moving this mountain isn't all about you. Kent Stewart can't climb Mt. Everest without a team of people supporting him. You need a team to climb your mountain, too.
And ask yourself why you want to get to the other side of your mountain in the first place. Shelley Stewart urged us to be mindful of our reasons, relationships, and reputation.
"What's the reason you really want to overcome this obstacle?" he asked. "If your motive is right your goal is more likely to be accomplished. Relationships are important, he said, because "you can't effect change by yourself."
And you shouldn't do it simply for yourself.
You have the power to change someone's life simply by clearing the mountain in your path -- whether you climb it, tunnel through it, or blast it to bits, you will change the life of another person.