TEDxVancouver 2015: big ideas in a bigger venue

This year’s TEDxVancouver theme of identity fits well with almost any topic. When it comes down to it, almost everything shapes and has an effect on our identity. There were some speakers that dealt directly with this subject in a very personal way, and others spoke of subjects that affect our identity as humans on a larger scale and change how we view our species. What all the speakers had in common was a passion for their subject and the 3,200 audience members were thoroughly captivated by this exceptional line-up of speakers.  

One of the important aspects of TEDxVancouver is the atmosphere of the event venue overall, so I was a bit skeptical that Rogers Arena was going to be able to provide this same inviting, warm atmosphere that the Queen Elizabeth Theatre did last year, but I was pleasantly surprised. The main concourse was transformed into the Conversation Concourse with unique vendors, a fashion pop up shop, an urban record lounge, and a beautiful art exhibit. The only downside was how crowded this area became during the breaks between programs. It was nice to wander around and explore these unique displays, but it was sometimes hard to move at all.

The seating area itself felt quite intimate, with only a semicircle of seats used on one side of the arena and a small floor area of couches set up to feel like a rustic living room. The stage was dressed in unique wooden sculptures, and there were giant red balloons floating on either side. What must have taken hours to put together looked seamless.

Given the identity of Vancouver, the crowd was treated to a relaxing mini yoga session with deep breathing and meditation. We all breathed a collective sigh of relaxation and let our minds rest in between such stimulating ideas.

Dr. Lara Boyd, a faculty member at UBC, shared her research on neuroplasticity. It turns out that everything you do changes your brain, and it is never too late to adjust your behaviours and alter your brain. It was fascinating and hopeful to hear how flexible and resilient our brains are. Similarly, I enjoyed learning about Marina Adshade’s economic story of society’s belief that women aren’t interested in sex. She explained that once women became more dependent on men for financial stability, especially during the industrial revolution, they needed to represent themselves as faithful wives, so the trend became a disinterest in all things sexual to dispel any fears that they would be adulterous after marriage.

For all the environmentalist weed smokers in the crowd, Dan Sutton explained that cannabis grown indoors on the black market has an enormous carbon footprint and should be grown in greenhouses. With the shift to legal cannabis operations he is hopeful that production will be done outdoors or in greenhouses where the plants can see real sunlight rather than in warehouses with energy sucking lamps.

One of the most emotional talks of the day was Coyote’s story of always struggling to decide which bathroom to use. Either way, the fear of harassment is all too real. It was especially disheartening to hear of a four year old tomboy girl pee her pants when she was told to not use the boys bathroom by her preschool teacher, and was bullied out of the girls’ room by her classmates. As Coyote said, gender neutral bathrooms are a quick fix to give many people a safe place to relieve themselves while we work to change the attitudes that lead to harassment in the first place.

Another speaker who had the crowd on the verge of tears was Scott Williams who represented Canada in the Special Olympics. His passionate speech about those with intellectual disabilities having a place to finally feel accepted at the Special Olympics touched everyone’s heart.

A couple of the speakers were interviewed by the event’s host, Riaz Meghji. Mohamed Fahmy sat across from Meghji and talked about his experience in prison and his “exclusive” access to the terrorists he spent time with there. Speaking the day after the Paris attacks, his words about security, freedom, and the dangers of giving up civil rights such as with Bill C-51 were top of mind for everyone.   

Meghji also interviewed Kaitlyn Bristowe in a much lighter conversation about her experience on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. She explained that her goal was to build a personal brand through being on the shows, but she ultimately found love, and her fiance Shawn Booth was front row cheering her on.

The final speaker of the day was patriotic, inspiring, and simple. Canadian women’s soccer coach John Herdman told us the story of how he came from New Zealand to lead a team that had finished dead last in the World Cup to win a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics only nine months later. I can see why. His talk was motivational in a way that made sense and was simple enough to remember and repeat almost like a mantra. He explained that he made the players realize why they were playing soccer and start working as a team by never letting each other down.

He provided a thoughtful analysis of “Oh Canada” and explained that everything we need to be good Canadians and citizens is in there. He urged us to find our “true north,” our purpose, and to just “be good.” It may sound a bit too simple, but he elaborated, suggesting that if you can be good in all aspects of your life, not just at work or just on the field, then you will reach greatness. He also provided what was probably my favourite quote of the day: “be good and the universe will give you things.”