TEDx Colombo, exploring how I and You lead into We

On October 28th, Nelum Pokuna was alive and buzzing with a very large crowd doing all sorts of weird things. You would find some people pasting godzilla stickers, while other people were listening to random headphones hung up in the air. Some people were hanging post its on red threads and others were busy drawing on chalkboards like school kids. This jumble of activities, was TEDxColombo. 

I, You, We

That was the theme for this year. Quite simply put, this is collaboration. Like the co organizer, Koshal Krishnakumar put it, “The progress to collaboration starts with an individual, possibly a leader.” And that, they thought, was an idea worth spreading this year. And I have to say, I quite agree. 

In the current society, collaboration has become more and more essential everyday. It’s necessary in school, in college, in your workplace, at home, or in general social events. 

As more and more workspaces are becoming more and more interactive, ways to connect, and ways to connect successfully are worth more than we think. However, those ways may not always be the ways you expect. This was what the speakers of TEDxColombo had to tell us.

Education = Useless. English = Posh. Tamil = LTTE

These phrases, and more, were what our first speaker, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, grew up with. And as a child, he recounts how he believed most of it. That is, until he became a blogger, started to write, and was exposed to a small of diverse community of other bloggers. Yudhanjaya detailed how he kept writing, kept arguing, kept sorting through conflicting information until eventually, his biases were stripped away, and he started learning. And that, he said, is key. In order for you to learn, your biases have to be stripped away. In order to do that, you need to connect with people not like you. Humans have a natural tendency to sort themselves out into like minded groups, he pointed out. But that makes us self censor ideas that go against the group ideals, he said. And thus, in order to truly express yourself, you have to connect with dissimilar people. Start connecting outside, fight similarity. 

Art is not a noun, it is a verb.

Chinthaka Thenuwara and Poornima Jayasinghe were on stage next, painting a beautiful story about their home and workspace, the Collective of Contemporary Artists (CoCA) art gallery. Art is interactive and playful, said Poornima. Through interactive artwork, we connect with people. People who see the art in the same way we do, or in different ways to us. Thus, art is not a verb. Art is a noun.“I have been gifted with the gift of Dyslexia” Chinthaka follows up. For various reasons, the fact that he thinks of it as a gift rather than a curse was inspiring. Dyslexia, Chinthaka continues, meant that he thought through images. In his mind, every word had a image. Art is not a noun, but a verb. In keeping with their ideal, they built their own space, CoCA art gallery, “a living sculpture, a living work of art” through which they connect with other artists. For them, art is not a noun at all. 

Human rights shouldn’t be used as a shield to fight something

Ashan Perera’s impassioned words revebrated through the audience. Ashan told us, how his first social group was with his neighbors, who didn’t go to school, and thus would learn from Ashan’s books. He told us how, as a grown up, he connects with people all around the country, and sometimes the world, by working in charities. Why? Because Ashan is one of the few people who knows the purpose of life. To help others. Ashan stated that, in his experience, he has seen many ventures to reach out to communities, to get involved. But they are so rarely sustainable and so rarely have impactful results. It’s time to change the way we try to change the world, he said. Are we really making an impact on a life by a gift of stationary and cloth? What we need is to build capacities, he followed. And for that, we need education. We need to connect to them.

If more people realized that in life we should help each other, said Ashan, we would have a much more united and peaceful society. One that didn’t use human rights as a shield and not as a set of moral values. He stated with conviction that everyone has the desire to help, we only need to transform that into action. It begins with you. 

We need architecture that builds people’s lives

Milinda Pathiraja, the 4th speaker of TEDxColombo, explained that Sri Lanka is a place of extremes. We have beautiful landscapes, but also commercialization. We have a rich history, but it is interrupted with conflict. We have ended a 30 year old war, but our problems remain. His question is, can architecture help by building capacities, new cultures of production, people's lives?

He explains how a project he was working on, a library, had to be done via army soldiers who had, of course, no experience in building. And since time was precious, training was done by building the building itself. He explained how, at the end of the project, he had connected with people. Two communities of them. Those who built it, and those who use it. Architecture can indeed, connect to people, and build their lives. 

We are not born to hate, we learn to hate

Kulani Abendroth-Dias told us of a boy, Johann, who refused to hunt animals because he didn’t want to hurt them. She then told us how, a few years later, he was actively participating in the Nazi regime. How did sweet Johann go to Jew killing Johann, you wonder? Well the answer, she says, is influence. 

Humans are social creatures. We tend to align ourselves with a group to maximize our chances of survival. And we, as a group, tend to morally disengage ourselves from a certain immoral situation in order to live with ourselves. She gave several examples;

“The military does not harm anybody. It is always self defense”

“We need to fight violence with violence, else we won’t be safe”

“Everyone else did it”

“My boss told me to do it”

We are all the product of group norms, she continued. But what if these norms could be influenced for the better? She stated that storytelling in particular is more effective at changing norms because humans tend to be open to stories more than fact. We learn to hate, she said. In the same way we can learn to empathize, to connect. We can learn to build our community together. 

The power of innocence

Eduardo Pena, the last speaker of the day, was there to tell us about world building and storytelling. He should know, he does it for a living, as a film maker. Imagination is not just a word itself, Eduardo started. It’s i-magic-nation, which is fitting, he says. He went on to point out that when we are young, we only cared about the now, not the future. It made things much simpler. When we were young, we had the power of innocence. In order to be creative, to make stories, to connect people through those stories, Eduardo said, you have to understand the magic of creation. Then you have to put in logical elements to those fantastic creations. "To inspire people through your work, you need to channel that energy. Become a child again, when you can capture the essence of things." Eduardo sais capturing one story in an image, it’s all in the little details. 

And that was how I, in the audience that day, connected with You, reading this magazine today. Who knows, someday We might be doing something big together. 

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