With the winter semester still in its infancy, my friend and I were on the lookout for fun things to do on campus. Consequently, we bought tickets to the TEDx event hosted by the University of Michigan. TED is an organization that invites individuals from across the world to give talks about “ideas worth spreading.” A TEDx event is organized completely by an independent body, like the University of Michigan, but is still affiliated with the now world-renowned brand. Both my friend and I had grown up at schools where our teachers would often use TED Talks as educational material, so it didn’t take too much to convince us to buy tickets when we found out that the University was going to have its own TEDx. The night we bought the tickets, we also made a pact — one day, both of us would give a TED Talk of our own.
After buying the tickets, I began looking into the details of the event. This year’s theme was ‘shatterproof’, which I thought was pretty cool. I knew what the word meant, but sometimes I like looking up words I know to see how they’re officially defined. I typed ‘shatterproof’ into the search bar and Google defined it as: “constructed of material that resists shattering.” I didn’t find that particularly useful — my teachers had always told me that a word, in any shape or form, should never be used in its own definition.
Fast forward to the day of the event, the event organizers provided the audience with their own definition of ‘shatterproof’ right before the first speaker was introduced. They referred to it as “the ability to withstand adversity and not fall apart.” I liked that definition more. To me, it captured the core essence of the word — being able to fight against the odds and come out stronger.
Four speakers — a professor of environmental science, a producer, an engineer turned filmmaker and a senior in the field of social sciences — came and went. As the crowd dispersed for a brief intermission before the next four speakers, I found myself still digesting what each speaker had said. Although I enjoyed listening to all of them, there was one thing I just didn’t get: for the most part, these talks didn’t really seem to revolve around the idea of being shatterproof. However, they did have one message in common, and it was one that I rather liked. They focused on the idea that everybody, be it an individual or a community, has a story to share and that story deserves to be heard.
For some of these speakers, like Thomas Laub, stories are a way of taking a lesson or a message and converting it into something that can be shared. He believes that stories have the ability to hold a mirror up to society and portray some harsh truths, while also providing an escape when times get tough. Razi Jafri implored the audience to be mindful and to seek authentic artists and storytellers, because each community deserves to be seen with truth, nuance and respect. Finally, LSA senior Becca Wong made it clear that you are in control of your story and that you are a lot more than the stereotypes and labels society tries to put on you.
Having started her speech by comparing herself to a phoenix, she ended with the phrase, “You can never put the flame out,” suggesting that no matter how hard others might try, her story and her journey will live on. And that’s when it hit me.
The amazing thing about TED Talks is that they give people a chance to share their stories — stories of how they overcame adversity and fulfilled all their dreams. The story of how they moved halfway across the world to pursue a career in dance, in the case of Dr. Fangfei Miao, or how they went from losing a leg to cancer at the age of 13 to becoming a paralympic gold medalist in the case of Sam Grewe. I have always been a huge advocate of the idea that stories are one of the best, if not the best, ways to document one’s journey through life. With stories, we can show the lessons we’ve learned, the values we live by, the journey we have been on and the people we’ve met. With stories we can decide how we are remembered, because, as novelist Salley Vickers once said, “Stories are all we humans have to make us immortal.”
By the time all eight speakers had given their talks, this idea had been ingrained in me: it is our stories that are shatterproof. If we are able to share real, authentic stories with the world, there’s nothing anybody can do to tear them down. There is no better way to express our emotions — love, friendship, kindness — than with stories. There is no better way to share our experiences than with stories. As my friend and I walked out of the auditorium that day, we repeated the promise we had made earlier with renewed vigor. We both will give a TED Talk one day. And if we don’t, we are certain that, one way or another, our story will still be told.
Rushabh Shah is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.