Numb shame and you numb joy.
This was just one of the topics explored in a program entitled “Emotion” at a TEDx Redondo Beach Salon/Social at the last Wednesday night.
Nearly 100 people from the Beach Cities and elsewhere watched a series of videos aimed at providing new insights into enhancing the life experience.
In what is called a TEDTalk, various professionals—including a designer, photographer, two musicians, a stand-up comic and a research professor—presented their views on everything from the benefits of friendships to the hazards of seclusion.
Each video was followed by an audience discussion about the TEDTalks that are offered through TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), “a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading,” according to the website.
Along with a raft of volunteers, Janet Johnson, president of Friends of Redondo Beach Arts and a member of the Redondo Beach Round Table, organized the TEDx Salon. Johnson opened the program by explaining how TED, which began as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, has become a worldwide phenomenon.
The way it works is that the world’s leading thinkers and doers (people such as Al Gore, Sir Richard Branson, Isabel Allende, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown) are invited to speak in their area of expertise for 18 minutes at annual TED conferences, including one in Long Beach, she said.
This year’s Long Beach “conference (cost) $7,500 and it was more than sold out,” the organizer said. “People come from all over the world to go to that."
Most of the TEDTalks are filmed at that conference, as well at ones in Palm Springs and Edinburgh U.K., she said, "and those are the ones that are circulated around the world for TEDx Salons.”
Johnson, the TEDx Redondo Beach licensee, conceded that obtaining approval for the local salon called for “jumping through a lot of hoops.”
Judging by audience reaction to the videos, it was clearly appreciated. Said one attendee at the conclusion of the program: “To go from tears to laughter is a wonderful experience.”
Following a happy hour, the all-volunteer program curated by Redondo residents Mark and Bibi Goldstein began with a TEDTalk by Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian-born, New York designer who presented “7 Rules for Making More Happiness.” (Most of the videos can be seen on the TED website.)
Sagmeister told how the death of his mother last January came in the midst of a documentary he was making about his own happiness. The objective of the documentary, the designer said, was to see if “I could train my mind, like I train my body to end up with an overall improved feeling of well being.”
With his mother's death, however, his heart went out of the documentary.
After a year of work, Sagmeister said he had little to show, other than various whimsical takes on the title, “The Happy Film.” But he did manage to research the concept of happiness, uncovering some interesting statistics, which he illustrated with slides.
Studies show that “men and women show very little difference in terms of happiness,” he said. Likewise, it doesn’t matter where you live or how attractive or unattractive you are or how much money you make.
“If you make only $50,000 a year in the U.S.,” he said, “a salary increase will have only a tiny, tiny influence on your overall well being. Black people are just as happy as white people. If you are old or young, it really doesn’t make a difference.”
Two things do matter, he said, friendships and marriage. “If you have meaningful friendships … that does make a lot of difference.” Married people, he added, are happier than single people.
Stressing the importance of the subconscious in terms of happiness, he compared the conscious mind to a tiny rider atop a huge elephant, the subconscious. “The rider thinks he can tell the elephant what to do, but the elephant really has his own ideas.”
Making a concerted effort to figure out what makes you happy can orient the subconscious in positive ways, he said.
An inveterate list-maker, Sagmeister came up with seven things that made him happy as a designer, including thinking of ideas without pressure, traveling to new places, getting feedback from the public and working on projects that matter.
He also suggested keeping a diary, which he has done all his life. “Keeping a diary supports personal development,” the designer said.
Following the talk, curator Mark Goldstein asked the audience members for their impressions.
One man was struck that “meaningful relationships” were so vital in Sagmeister’s presentation. “I’ve been a big believer in that for many, many years for a variety of reasons.” Reaching out to others is crucial, he said, “especially for those of us over 50, a time of life when you start thinking about what’s really important.”
Another woman said, “It doesn’t matter what our circumstances are, it’s our thought, what we think we can do (that matters). We can perceive our own happiness or unhappiness.”
Someone else commented on social media, how “Facebook gives us a sense of community, but we’re really alone,” she said. The benefits of personal interactions with friends and meeting new people can’t be overestimated.
Additional TEDTalks included Louis Schwartzburg of Blacklight Films, who rhapsodized about the wonders of time-lapse photography, and how filming flowers as they open and bloom “is a dance I never get tired of.”
To emphasize the importance of living in the present, Schwartzburg filmed a child who preferred to excite her imagination by adventuring outdoors rather than watch TV; and an elderly man who spoke eloquently about awareness. “The only gift we have is today,” he said.
Caroline Phillips played the hurdy-gurdy (an instrument some in the audience had neither seen nor heard before); Kal King strummed the guitar in a way that made it both string instrument and guitar; and Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American stand-up comic gave people a lot to think about regarding stereotypes and a lot to laugh about.
“Being Iranian American presents its own set of problems,” he said. “As you know, those two countries aren’t getting along these days, so we’ve got a lot of inner conflict. Part of me likes me; part of me hates me. Part of me thinks I should have a nuclear program; part of me thinks I can’t be trusted with one.”
Brene Brown’s talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” seemed to have considerable impact. A research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, Brown said she once rejected the idea of being described as a “storyteller.”
Yet, most of her work has been collecting stories and trying to form conclusions about things like vulnerability, fear and shame, she said.
Initially influenced by a professor who told her, “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist,” Brown said that those involved in social work believe “life’s messy; love it. I’m more of a believer in ‘Life’s messy; clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box.’”
She decided to study personal connection because that “gives purpose and meaning to our lives,” she said. “The ability to feel connected neurobiologically (is) how we’re wired and why we’re here.”
Interviews surprised her, however. “When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak; when you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you about … being excluded.” Asked about connection, people talked about disconnection.
About six weeks into the study, she “ran into this thing that absolutely unraveled connection.” Pulling out of the research, she wanted to determine what it was.
“It turned out to be shame,” Brown said. “Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me, that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? It’s universal. We all have it.”
It’s that feeling not being beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough, she said. Underpinning that shame is “the idea that in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”
Instead of spending a year on the subject as she had planned, Brown spent six years trying “to totally deconstruct shame.” She said to herself: “I’m going to understand how vulnerability works and I’m going to outsmart it.”
Long pause. “As you know, it’s not going to turn out well.” (This brought a burst of laughter from both the recorded and live audiences.)
A therapist helped put Brown back on track to finding “one of the most important things I’ve ever learned,” she said.
It entailed dividing her research (hundreds of interviews) into two groups.
Instead of centering on those people who were always wondering if they were good enough, she concentrated on those who “really had a sense of worthiness [and] a strong sense of love and belonging,” she said.
She wanted to know what these people had in common.
It turned out to be "courage," she said. “They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they talk about it being excruciating. Just necessary.”
After a sort of breakdown (Brown did not cater to vulnerability, didn’t even “hang-out” with people like that, she said), she eventually won her life back by bowing to it.
Trying to numb vulnerability by having “a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin,” is the wrong approach, she said. “You can’t numb [bad] feelings without numbing the other emotions.”
Allow vulnerability, she said, and you allow “joy, gratitude, happiness.”
The next TEDx Redondo Beach event will feature live speakers talking about the publishing world, ebooks and the fate of libraries. "Books in Transition" will be held at the Library at 6 p.m. on Sept. 20. (Reservations may be made on the website.)