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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The Battle of Helping Others While Remaining Sane Yourself

I have always been someone who feels extremely sensitive to what others are feeling and going through. That is one trait that caused me to dive so far into human rights topics. For me, it stays with me all the time that people are suffering, being treated unequally, or going through some type of injustice that is just hard to make sense out of. It seems that many people involved in international affairs and politics in general are lead primarily by wanting to get to the top, that power, or just pure intelligence that sometimes lacks feeling. The more I care the more I want to learn, but the more I learn the more I care. The problem I have, is I can’t just learn and disconnect myself. Maybe I’ll read a book on child trafficking and become informed and filled with motivation and ideas for ways to solve it. I put down the book and then maybe I have plans to get drinks with friends and enjoy a night out. The problem is I can’t. I have no on and off switch. The topic stays on my mind as my brain constantly runs in circles thinking and rethinking of ways to possibly solve the problem, help these people, and just not getting past the fact that it’s happening right now. Right this second, as I enjoy my honey jack and coke (drink of choice, when I can afford it) and listen to conversations at the bar that seem pretty unnecessary to even spend energy on, right during every sip someone is suffering, feeling pain, and hurt.

It might be good that I feel this connection to people I don’t know, but I’ve also found it can be extremely inhibiting. It’s hard to find a focused problem to solve, which causes me to spread myself to thin and not effectively help anyone. I just don’t see any problem as more important than any other, but I know to make an impact I have to find a place to start. I also recently read a post on Tiny Buddha (one of my go to inspiration blogs) that hit right on after a weekend of no productivity because of overactive brain work.

It was a Friday evening in the midst of a four day weekend. I was excited for the long weekend to finally have a chance to process my thoughts from Ghana. My recent trip made the sensitivity to other people much more intense than those I read about, which is already very strong. Now that I had seen some characteristics of a developing country first hand, they were constantly on my mind. I recently wrote about the happiness and positivity that the country of Ghana contained. That is all very true. But it didn’t take away the extreme poverty, hunger, illness/death, and lack of running water or even electricity that remained. Knowing that Ghana is one of the stronger democracies in the developing world, it also put into perspective those countries that are even further behind on those issues along with more violent situations that Ghana sees less of. It made me remember what Nick Kristof said when I heard him speak in the spring. “Everyone in this room has won the lottery of life.” The majority of the world is suffering and lacking these luxuries we take for granted. The MAJORITY, meaning MOST of this world. People in first world countries like the United States who are even middle or in some cases low income citizens, they have still won the lottery of life compared to MOST of the people in this world.

So on this particular Friday night, as I wanted so badly to be productive in figuring out my life, I found myself stuck. My brain was moving so fast that it in fact was accomplishing nothing because all of my energy was burned out on negativity. Sadness for those I couldn’t reach. Anger to those in the U.S. and other countries who just didn’t realize how lucky they were and still have ridiculous luxuries while others don’t have the basic necessities to live.  I felt frustrated as I came back to the height of the upcoming election and seeing energy being wasted on attacking, conspiracy theories, and just stupid games rather than helping others which these people in power actually have the capability to do. I also felt uneasy with myself. The day I got back from Ghana I found out I had to move and switch apartments. This meant buying furniture and stressing out over the cost of beds. It seemed silly to me since entire countries just sleep wherever they land. These little things that we need, they don’t have at all, so what’s the point of having them? Why can some people live comfortable, when others suffer? Shouldn’t there be a way to just even it out? And how do some people just simply not care? I had a hard time going about my regular life, knowing that I had so much and feeling guilty, like if I were comfortable I should give to someone else so that the comfort can even out. It might sound crazy to some, but how can some things that don’t involve helping others matter so much with the insane things that are going on in this world? It just does not make sense, and I don’t see any excuse for people not to help or ESPECIALLY for corporations to use the extra energy and money to do the right things to make things better rather than worse.

This rant that just turned into a gigantic paragraph is literally what is going on in my head 24/7, all the time, always, never ending. I know they say that you can’t help others unless you help yourself. I never really liked that. I know I’m not perfect, but I know I am more fortunate so I should be able to help people who are far less fortunate than my current status. One thing that did make sense to me, however, is the fact that I still need to make myself happy. Because without positivity in my mind, the negativity takes over and causes me to accomplish nothing. Where as if I remain positive, I have more energy to learn and act and spread that attitude onto others. So that’s what I’m working on now. How can I make a large impact, but be in a mind set that is actually productive. Right now I’m finding interest in Corporate Social Responsbility (CSR) but we will see. This world would be so much easier to tackle if people would just do the right thing and put it some effort if and when they can. And the journey of trying to help people and create a better world continues. I know my feelings toward it, and I imagine I’m not alone, so I felt it was important to finally get some of these into writing. Not only for my own sanity, but for others to relate to as well.