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I need to warn you that this blog-post follows a circuitous train of thought. But I trust you can follow to see how it comes full circle.

I started my day reflecting on Friday’s fabulous TEDx event in beautiful downtown Stouffville. The event was a success by all the standard measures. The feedback was unanimously enthusiastic. The speakers were excellent. The music was superb. The venue, set and décor were beautiful. The registration and organization details were flawless. The lights, sound, food, coffee, bookstore, after-party, media coverage… We had it all. As a co-curator I could not have been prouder of our volunteer organizing team. But in its aftermath I’ve been haunted by one question. What are we going to do about what we heard? How is this going to be more than talk?

My anxiety over this question was made worse by a flash reminder that came up on my calendar this morning. Long ago, I had written a memo in my electronic calendar under today’s date. I wanted to remember that today is the 50th anniversary of an important speech made by Martin Luther King Jr. on the occasion of the Great March on Detroit. Fifty years ago today he made this stunning statement: “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” So I spent some time this morning thinking about what causes I would die for.

I would die for my husband or our children. I firmly believe that and I have told them so when I try to express how much I love them. Beyond that I considered the weakness of my commitment to other important causes. I don’t think it’s because our world lacks causes for which it would be worth dying. I think it’s either because I am preoccupied or I’ve lost perspective. This got me thinking about how many of us are guilty of losing perspective.

To get some idea what preoccupies our society, I went to the websites of our local newspapers to see which issues are making headlines today. I checked the Globe website and BBC news and discovered a few headlines about important issues and many about more trivial matters. Then I was stopped in my search when I opened up the Toronto Star website and saw this article as their top story: Homeless in the GTA: Finding affordable housing especially tough for women”.

The reason I stopped my search there was because this story took me right back to one of the TEDx speeches from Friday. One of our amazing speakers, Dr. Gary Bloch, had opened his talk with a vivid description of a homeless woman who has been sleeping in a park bench in his neighbourhood. We were all moved by the story. We were stunned with the reminder that a single person on welfare in Ontario is expected to live on only $600 per month.

When I read the article in this morning’s Toronto Star and I was smacked in the face with the thought of this pregnant woman and her adorable 15-month-old son unable to find an apartment in Durham Region for less than $800 per month. It was an exact example of one of the issues we discussed Friday at TEDxStouffville when we were “Shining Light on Changing Communities”. Poverty and homelessness are not just theoretical issues for middle-class Canadians to discuss at comfortable venues in the suburbs. They are some of the serious realities of Canada’s changing communities. Their victims live and die based on whether these realities can be changed. I’m left with this puzzle. How does a discussion among community stakeholders move from talk to action? My feeble step for today will be to post some of these questions online. Perhaps it will help trigger a community response.

Is homelessness a cause you would die for? How about poverty? How do we move from knowledge to commitment to action? Who will offer shelter to Lisa Roberts? What about all the other women in our region in similar circumstances? I hope you will post some comments and suggestions below. Please join me in thinking about how TEDx can be more than talk.

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Discussion - 4 Comments
  1. Gary Bloch

    Jun 23, 2013  at 9:08 PM

    Wow … powerful question, Jane. I am not sure I would die to end homelessness and poverty, but would I challenge the comfortable, privileged position I’ve achieved through my professional designation? Would I challenge my co-professionals to move beyond our comfortable zones of practice, perhaps into areas that are messier, fraught with politics and controversy, but hold huge potential to truly improve health? Would I take this risk knowing I may be ostracized, denigrated, or marginalized in my professional life? I hope so!


  2. Alia Dh

    Jun 23, 2013  at 9:08 PM

    TED talks, regardless of their location or theme, have one thing in common: passionate people speaking to other passionate people. The energy is undeniable and the buzz of ideas at the post-parties, in the halls, and undoubtedly in the parking lot are always the highlight of the event. Recently attending a similarly passionate conference (Creating Spaces Symposium), there was lengthy conversation at the end about…”what now?” Where do our ideas and energy go, especially as we disperse across the country. We pondered how to “walk the talk.”

    At the end of the discussion there was no real answer, but I choose to adopt the perspective that it isn’t enough to just choose something that we will die for, we need to have others remind us, re-fuel us and reinvigorate our commitment to the causes that can sometimes be placed at the wayside as life gets busy.

    For that reason, whenever I listen to a TED Talk, I think about one call to action (and I especially appreciate talks that suggest one or two). What did I learn and what is one thing I am going to do differently from this talk. Keeping it small and keeping it in line with things I am already passionate about helps a lot, as does sharing the small act I am going to do with other passionate people. I believe if we make a conscious effort to do one thing based on one person’s passionate idea…maybe that’s one step closer to turning a talk into a walk.

    Alia Dharamsi


  3. Steve Authier

    Jun 24, 2013  at 9:08 PM

    How does a discussion among community stakeholders move from talk to action? That’s a great question! It’s the million dollar question. My experience is that moving community stakeholders to action is not so simply about inspiring them with talks, but leading them by our actions. The inspirational talk is good – it serves its purpose, but it’s the passionate life lived out that really moves people to action. It’s not MLK Jr’s talks that really moved people into action, or Ghandi’s words of wisdom. It was their actions to push against the status quo, to die for what they believed in. A TED talk environment has, at a minimum, people who are primed to be motivated. The key is to not only provide motivational stuff, but to also provide great stories of people who did take action, maybe not always someone dying for a cause, but at least taking great personal risks. We’re much more motivated to action by the man or woman who lived it, than by the one who can say all the right things about it.

    TEDxStouffville shared some of those action stories with us, that is what is going to move us from talk to action. Thanks for shining the light on those stories.


  4. John Ryerson

    Jun 29, 2013  at 9:08 PM

    Hi I just read The Art of the Possible (a handbook for political activism) by Amanda Sussman that I am using with an advocacy group in Toronto to move our strategy forward. Take a look
    Your passion on issues is always catching


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