Why Ask Why? A Question Worth Spreading. (Ted X Teen 2013)

I was so excited to have the opportunity to attend Ted X Teen on behalf of She’s The First this past weekend. I was immediately brought to a good mood to see all of the ambitious, open minded, and driven teenagers (many with their moms and dads) as the check in process began. I took advantage of this by giving out a few She’s The First cards and talking about the cause hoping to fire up some more campus chapters while all of this positive, young energy was in one place. I made my way to the authors and got their books signed, while also chatting with them about the organization and why I was there. They were all so friendly and interested. I’m especially excited to learn more about Andrew Jenks, who swore we had met before and had a mild obsession with my name.

I always love conferences like this because it’s an automatic re-up to my inspiration and motivation, which is needed when day-to-day life can start to push it down. Chelsea Clinton was hosting, and although I did not get to meet her, I still swear we are destined to be best friends. Hopefully someday she will realize this as well and I will become a family friend of the Clintons. Anyways! Chelsea kicked off the event with some amazing Teddy Roosevelt quotes and inspiration:

 

Chelsea Clinton shares Teddy Roosevelt quote.

 

Chelsea Clinton then shared a Clinton family saying:

“The worst thing that could happen is you get caught trying.”

She advised for those wanting to step forward and make a difference:

1. Start where you are. What is one thing you can dedicate your life to? What makes you mad? What doesn’t make sense? Society often creates unnecessary fine lines between humility vs. self defeat and arrogance vs. integrity.

2. Be brave enough to be second. Don’t be afraid to identify what works and build from it.

3. Because I can I should, and because I should I will.

Chelsea Clinton hosts Ted X Teen

Chelsea Clinton hosts Ted X Teen

Caine Monroy, a 10 year old who created a cardboard arcade, left us with these words that I loved, as they reminded me to stay true to my roots of my young self. Sometimes those times were simpler and it’s hard to see through the cloudiness of growing up.

“When you were 10, what did your imagination tell you to do?”

Caine Monroy bult a cardboard arcade.

Caine Monroy built a cardboard arcade.

Joseph Peter, who created the Book of Happiness, reminded us of the power to smile, find happiness, and remember the happiness of others. About reflecting on the good of the world, rather than the bad we see in the media. To use a smile to peer into the heart and soul of a person regardless of culture and language, and to build bridges with it. He found a different Africa than what you see in the media, which I also found while I was there. One of love, inspiration, and happiness. He began giving away his images for free, trying to do anything to spread this realization. Although he struggled at the beginning, he learned that, “disappointment causes us to come back with something better, different, truer to self.”

“How beautiful is our common humanity?”

Joseph Peter

Joseph Peter

The UN has even made March 20th the International Day of Happiness. There will be a week of celebration that everyone should take part in to reflect on what makes you happy and changing the world.

Myself in front of Joseph Peter's wall of happiness.

Myself in front of Joseph Peter’s wall of happiness.

Kuha’o Case was one of my favorite speakers of the day. A piano/organ prodigy from Hawaii, he is blind, and came with an important message for everyone.

“I see no limits, sight may be more limiting. Your eyes haven’t seen it being done, you don’t know it CAN be done. Don’t allow yourself to be blinded by sight. Don’t ask why, rather, dare to see no limits and ask, why not?”

This compared with a favorite Nelson Mandela quote of mine that he also shared.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Kuah'o Case

Kuah’o Case

Case also reminded us of our untapped potential. That our goals, dreams, and ambitions do not have to be within perceived boundaries.

Kelvin Doe, AKA DJ Focus, from Sierra Leone, would pick up scraps from a garbage fill on his way home from school every day. At night he would build things..beginning with radios and moving on to batteries, an audio mixer, and eventually having a full radio station. It made me think of all the high tech things we have in the world, and all of the “trash” people throw away. Do we really need to be constantly creating from new materials when we can use and be innovative with what we already have like Kelvin was? At the age of 15, Kelvin was able to come to the U.S. to be a visiting practitioner at MIT and even lecture at Harvard. He is pursuing engineering, and joked that his YouTube video has over 4 million views, nearly twice as many as President Obama’s acceptance speech. Though his story was one of inspiration and success, Chelsea Clinton reminded us of something I’ve heard and seen too many times.

“Talent, passion, and perseverance are everywhere, but opportunity, resources, and mentorship are not.”

Kelvin Doe AKA DJ Focus

Kelvin Doe AKA DJ Focus

Tania Luna shared her study of the psychology of surprise. How when you are younger you tend to be open to surprise, but as you get older you try to hide from it since it can make you feel out of control of a situation. We try not to look naive and vulnerable. However, this holds us back from learning and changing to something that may surprise us (a common factor to the existence of stereotypes or not accepting what might be outside of the norm.) She also mentioned how schools award students for knowing more so than asking to know, and so they often never actually find out. She encouraged us to step outside of our comfort zone, allow ourselves to be surprised, actively choose to be vulnerable and ask:

“I don’t know, but I wonder.”

Chelsea Clinton with her husband and Tania Luna

Chelsea Clinton with her husband and Tania Luna

Maria Toorpakai Wazir, from Pakistan, was fortunate to  have a father who saw women as equals. She dressed and was renamed as a boy to have equal opportunities. She grew up with anger toward these cultural norms still in existence, and eventually channeled her negative energy into weight lifting. Once her true gender was discovered, she was bullied by adults and even threatened by the Taliban. She spent 3 years training her room and e-mailing colleges. Finally, Jonathan Power of Canada replied and gave her the opportunity to become a globally successful Squash player.

“You will find a way, don’t give up, life is waiting for you at the end. Fly as an eagle, don’t be afraid of wind or rocky mountains, they challenge and shape you.”

Maria Toorpakai Wazir

Maria Toorpakai Wazir

As a huge fan of Nelson Mandela, I was extremely anxious to hear his grandson, Ndaba Mandela, speak. He shared how he learned to honor a legacy by learning from the past and building, but charting your own path. He is working to change the perception of Africa.

“Poverty, disease, and war exist, but many positive things happen and are ignored by the media. By shining a light on these, people can empower themselves and inspire their communities.”

The majority of African people live in rural areas, but to not have access to education or extra curricular activities. However, since that is where most of the people are, that is where the post potential is as well. The power of technology, and the Mandela Global Digital Platform, has started to allow people to share what they are doing for their communities.

Ndaba Mandela (granson of Nelson Mandela)

Ndaba Mandela (grandson of Nelson Mandela)

“The story begins with Nelson Mandela, but ends with others.”

He then recognized young people in the audience who have started amazing movements, and gave them the credit they deserved, he felt, as much or more than he does. He encouraged us to use Nelson Mandela Day to fund the best, sustainable way to give back.

Talia Storm shared her story of discovery thanks to Elton John and pushed us to #discoverurstorm.

“Be ready to seize your moment.”

Talia Storm

Talia Storm

Kris Bronner, founder of UnReal, created a candy without artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, less sugar, and more protein and fiber. Seeing a young person accomplish this made me think, why is our government fighting over how much we are allowed to consume and not spending more time and resources creating products like Kris’ instead? They could learn a few lessons from Chris, such as to think, why can’t it be different? Think big, but allow yourself to remain naive. It’s not enough to do what’s easy, you have to do what’s right.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

Kris Bronner of UnReal

Kris Bronner of UnReal

Amaryllis Fox had a life that was hard for me to imagine, taking a risk to move somewhere on a whim with no money and no plan. She found herself near the Thailand/Burma border working with refugees, many of whom were injured from land mines and military regimes. Her experience showed the benefits of acting by instinct and intuition.

“I couldn’t have found my life at the end of a pro and con list.”

Amaryllis Fox

Amaryllis Fox

Sophie Umazi, of Kenya, was nearly killed during the 2007 elections when her light skin made her seen as an “enemy tribe.” When the elections of 2013 began, she knew she had to do something to help avoid this from happening again to herself or others. She began the “I Am Kenyan” campaign, where the world shared photos of themselves saying “I am Kenyan” to show that we are all humanity and that the world stands together with an rea that needs it. We are all citizens of the world. On a smaller scale, she believes that her country must identify as Kenyan first, before politics, ethnicity, tribe, etc. I believe this is a powerful lesson that the U.S. should learn as well.

“I believe we are all human beings, not just citizens of our countries.”

This is an idea I have always ALWAYS lived by, and it gave me goosebumps hearing someone else bring it forward as well. The elections in Kenya, though some violence occurred, were overall peaceful and democratic. They even had 88% voter turn out, which is much higher than the U.S. has possibly ever head.

Sophie Umazi of "I am Kenyan"

Sophie Umazi of “I am Kenyan”

Finally, there was Dylan Vecchione. Through his experience in his project working to save reefs, he shared with us the importance of asking passionate questions. To prompt, research, encourage work, and find puzzles that must be solved. Letting questions lead to new thinking will inevitably lead to making new discoveries.

Dylan Vecchione

Dylan Vecchione

The entire day made for a wonderful Saturday. I even ran into Omekongo, who I had seen perform at the Stanford Stand conference I attended in 2011, and spend lunch chatting about my own thoughts and goals, while hearing input from someone I admired so highly. I’m reminded of all the people doing good in the world among all of the bad that is constantly shoved into our attention. But I think anyone can take the lessons that these young people have already learned, ask why whenever possible, and step confidently in the direction of your dreams. Happy International Happiness Week!

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Lessons Learned and Ideas Inspired by Kofi Annan’s Memoir

Kofi Photo

After recently finishing Interventions: A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, I found myself not being able to stop thinking about many of the points he made. After jotting down random notes, underlines, and bookmarking several pages, I wanted to put this all together somewhere that I could reference in the future. His ideals on peacekeeping made so much sense in a world that is often chaotic with unnecessary conflict. Without letting himself be influenced by major powers, including the United States, he stayed true to what he believed in even if it led to disagreements with the security council or permanent UN member states.

A Christmas gift from my fiance, he bought it for me because of my curiosity for the UN, passion for peace keeping and preventing mass atrocities, and recent experience in Ghana and admiration of their culture. It resonated with me how Annan’s ideals and values seemed to stem from the culture I experienced while I was volunteering in Ghana this past summer. It also coincided with my belief in the benefits of cross-cultural communication and understanding. Not only would it eliminate conflicts essentially based on cultural misunderstandings, as many of the wars in the world often resonate, but also nations could learn how to better themselves by taking in lessons and ideas from places different from themselves. I know the United States and other major western powers often spread their practices to other countries with intentions of bettering theirs, but there is a lot that these powerful nations can learn from others as well. I thought of this a lot once I returned from Ghana and reflected in a post on who really are the rich and lucky ones in the world, and how are those two areas defined. In Annan’s writing, I found another example that especially if the United States related it to congress and our partisan conflicts today, might help finally move the country forward.

“For Ghanians, the concept of the African palaver tree has always been a tangible part of our heritage, and a source of the relative peace and harmony among myriad tribes and religions. A place to meet and talk, to seek compromise and settle disputes, to bridge differences and foster unity–this was the meaning of the palaver tree.”

“If you have a problem and you can’t find a solution, you meet again tomorrow and you keep talking until you find a solution. You can disagree with behavior or a particular position, but you do not resort to calling an opponent worthless. This notion extends to the relationship between traditional chiefs and their tribes, where there is accountability in the case of abuse or arrogance, including providing for the removal of chiefs who have lost the trust and respect of their people.”

What if this was the way for Congress and the White House today in the United States? Annan also highlights similar lessons he learned from his father.

“He taught me that when others insisted that sides must be chosen, and that it had to be either/or, there was another way that was truer to the reality of a complex world. His own life had been defined by the coexistence of tribe and language, place and purpose–the mix of heritage and hope that could bring Africa a new beginning, with dignity at its core.”

Annan also brought up a point of spreading democracy. An area I always questioned, because different cultures have different needs, he claimed that African countries are actually not being “westernized” when accepting democracy. It is in fact an idea that used to exist for them before colonization though not called democracy at the time, but contained many of the same ideals. As an African, he also stood strongly on the fact that colonization could no longer be used as an excuse for Africa’s problems. They need to look forward rather than letting the past inhibit them forever. Many countries such as Rwanda and Ghana have proven to be successful and peaceful democracies in recent years. They can serve as a model for states around them with cultural similarities, but who are still stuck under the result of a long military coup that took over once they obtained their freedom again and allowed corruption and prejudice to run rampid.

Under Annan, The United Nations also made poverty alleviation a global fight. Prior to September 11th, Annan reflected on near success of having the permanent member states ready to commit their share to make this goal closer to a reality. However, after September 11th this was pushed to the side. A very ironic move considering that poverty and all of the aspects that come along with it (lack of education, hunger, disease, etc.) are often what push men into extremist terrorist cells. Fighting poverty would likely have a considerably better result on the fight against terrorism than going in and fighting in countries that are already facing instability. This new tension, fear, and instability only leads to the growing number of terrorist activity which is now showing up in recent reports from the use of drones, for example. Imagine constantly living in fear and anxiety as unmanned killing machines flew above you without ever knowing when they would unleash their weapons. I think that may be enough to drive any person into a panic.

He touched on the importance of empowering women to make a substantial difference in the world, a common theory arising today and the importance of contraception access to give women these equal opportunities and also in reducing HIV/AIDS infections that continue to make it impossible for state’s with lack of awareness and resources to rise above.

In the situation in the Middle East he stood for the change the Arab Spring was working to bring, and sympathized with the battles they faced to finally have a better future that must include focus on young people and women to fully succeed. He reflected on lessons in Bosnia and Kosovo (an area I need to learn more about), and the cruelties between Israel and Palestine. To this day Israel continues its disagreements with the United Nations, seeing them as siding against them. Annan showed it in a way that showed the instability rising up over history, but the extreme retaliations often coming from the Israeli government only deepened the instability. That, and their persistance to not recognize international law and Palestine as a state, giving Palestinians a chance at rights and growth rather than keeping them oppressed, again something that feeds into growing extremist groups. An example here being Hamas.

He touched on the struggle during Rwanda as the world turned its back was especially interesting, since after the tragedy in Somalia gave nations reluctance to put troops on the ground in a country again. This has consistently undermined the theory of “responsibility to protect” that holds true how our world today is more interconnected than ever. A threat to peace anywhere is a threat to stability everywhere. We are very much a part of a global society.

As you can see there is so much inside the pages of this book, I’m sure I could go on talking about it forever. It’s great to read a perspective of someone who is on the side of all the world’s peoples rather than biased by what nation he may belong to. This was especially apparent to me in the chapters regarding the U.S. invading Iraq despite disapproval from the security council. We are seeing the results of this mistake now as we leave the country still in turmoil.

Annan consistently kept hope alive throughout the horrific tragedies he was faced with. Important to do in order to inspire future peace makers and not turn anyone away from a situation that may seem impossible.

“A Swahili proverb holds that “You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail.” Turning the sail-from conflict prevention to economic development, peacekeeping, human rights, and climate change-is now more than ever in the hands of each and every one of us. The wind will follow its own unsettled course, but men and women in every society today have the ability to determine their destiny in ways unimaginable in past eras. Tyrants and bigots, warlords and criminals, the exploiters of human capital and destroyers of our natural resources, will always be with us, but their sails are not the only ones that can harness the wind.”

His main goal in working to provide more legitimacy to the United Nations was to show that sovereignty was not something that a state could hide behind any longer to deny its citizens their human rights. The United Nations was “for the peoples” along with for the states and governments must be held accountable for the behavior toward its citizens.