Food for thought

9 powerful, mind-altering moments from TEDxSMU: ReThink

TEDxSMU: ReThink
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Charley Johnson of Pay It Forward at TEDxSMU
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Courtney Ferrell at TEDxSMU: ReThink
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Trigg Watson Burrage and Courtney Ferrell TEDxSMU: ReThink
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Christian Genco at TEDxSMU: ReThink
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Brett Giroir at TEDxSMU: ReThink
Photo courtesy of TEDxSMU
Helen Fisher at TEDxSMU: ReThink
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Jeremy Gregg at TEDxSMU: ReThink
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Louis Schwartzberg at TEDxSMU: ReThink
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Klaudia Oliver at TEDxSMU: ReThink
Photo courtesy of TEDxSMU

On Saturday, Dallas once again transformed into a cerebral headquarters, a think tank, the launching pad for impactful ideas. It was the day many of us crave all year: TEDxSMU conference day.

Oh sure, we got little teasers ahead of time, like in the spring at the Belmont and in the fall at Union Station. But nothing is quite like cramming a bunch of brainy, open-minded, deep-thinkers from all generations into the Dallas City Performance Hall to listen to “talks.”

If you’re not one of the lucky ones to have snagged a ticket, never fear. Here are the most memorable moments from TEDxSMU: ReThink. 

Speaker Charley Johnson had everything he ever thought he wanted a year ago. And after a moment of realization that having everything really didn’t mean that much after all, he left it.

He's now president of the Pay It Forward Foundation and hasn’t looked back since. Here's the why:

“One of the things we absolutely do not need is another self-help book. What we do need, in my personal opinion, is a movement that allows all 7 billion people to be a part of it. That does not have a religious affiliation, political affiliation, country affiliation, does not have a color of skin affiliation. Positively neutral, no side effects, that no matter who you are on the face of this planet, that you can be a part of.”

If the crowd was losing its energy at some point during the day, speaker Courtney Ferrell snapped everyone right back into the upright position. She livened up the stage and shared the many ways you can find energy and why it's important to inject it into your life:

”We cannot take life so seriously, and we do. … There’s so much energy in the unknown, and we fight this tooth and nail because we have our to-do lists. We wake up in the morning, and we get our to-do lists ,and we have a plan for what’s going to happen. And the day is going to go like we said, and it’ll be a great day if it all goes according to plan. … When we spend all our time doing what’s expected, it sucks us of energy. There is no energy in to-do lists! We have to be lead by the idea of ideas.”

During her presentation, Courtney Ferrell invited audience member (and former speaker) Trigg Watson to participate. And not only did he receive an energetic roar and “pat on the back” from the crowd for making a personal toast to himself, he also scored a top quote for the day:

“I’d like to make a toast to myself. If I have an idea and I put it into the world and it doesn’t work. I’m going to keep trying until it does work. And if it doesn’t work, I’m going to find a new idea and try that and keep going until I die!”

Now let’s talk Christian Genco, a current SMU engineering student who passionately believes the world needs to learn to program. After hearing him speak, however, I think he should explore the field of sales instead. Because, heck, he may have even convinced me:

“You’re probably thinking to yourself, 'Why should I learn to program?' Which is a good question. But that’s probably what the people in the 1400s thought about reading. And now that you know how to read, don’t you think it’s convenient that you don’t have to rely on someone else to do all your reading for you? It’s really handy that you’re able to have this mental process, this mental tool to extend what you were otherwise currently capable of. And computers are really good tools for extending what you’re capable of.”

Brett Giroir, Texas A&M vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, spoke about biological advancements. He shared with us a biology kit for kids 10 and above that currently costs about $80. The kit allows children to do 10 DNA experiments. After holding that up to show the crowd, he told us: 

“It’s clear where this is going in the future. Our generation made simple circuits and radios. The next generation will cure cancer. They will solve Alzheimer’s. But they will also have the ability to create new organisms, perhaps even new forms of life, in your garage.”

Thanks to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, we learned there may possibly be hope for all of us in the affairs of the heart — there’s just one little tiny piece of the brain that we need in order to do it. She shared with us her work with in which she’s discovered this area of the brain, which explains why couples stay together (think beer goggles, only in the scientific sense):

"We looked in the brains of those who were happily still with their partners. We found activity in a tiny little factory near the middle of the prefrontal cortex in a region linked with overevaluating your partner and suspending negative judgment, which we now call ‘positive illusions.’ It’s the ability to overlook the fact that he’s gotten old, fat, stupid, the whole thing, and remember what that guy was like and focus on the positive. And you remain happy.”  

Although every speaker was memorable, Jeremy Gregg, chief development officer of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program threw out one of the most, shall we say, hard-hitting facts. Their program is massively successful. Don't believe me? Check the quote:

“100 percent of our guys, literally every single one has come out of prison since May 2010 and found a job within 90 days of leaving prison. But wait! There’s more! You’re more likely to have a job coming out of our prison than an out of the average Ivy League university. … Every man who graduates saves you and saves me $50,000 to $100,000 in reduced costs from incarceration.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then speaker Louie Schwartzberg would make this article too long. The Blacklight Films founder shared clips from his movie Gratitude, which is the most popular TEDx presentation of all time with about 2 million hits on YouTube. From his movie:

“You think this is just another day in your life. But it’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you, today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. … If you respond as if it’s the first day of your life and the last day, you will have spent it wisely.”

And last but not least there’s Klaudia Oliver, organizer of TEDxBlackRockCity. (Seriously. Click that. You’ll be fascinated.) She made me want to attend Burning Man even more. Her thoughts on death were spirit-lifting: 

“I’m asking you to rethink death and look at it for a new opportunity. Think of it: If we can celebrate death, we have a better chance to celebrate our lives."