Fresh Ideas: Moving past our fears

You’re alone on a stage. Beyond the spotlight is an audience of thousands. You’re nervous, sweating and dry-mouthed and suddenly you question what you’re doing here. You’re not a professional speaker. Six months ago you were merely passionate about an idea. Today, though, you’re a TEDx talker.

On Jan. 23, sponsored by University of Nevada and held at the Pioneer Theater in Reno, 20 TEDx speakers stood on that stage. Two talks, one by Gino Borges and the other by Jen Gurecki, were, for me, most interesting because they shed light on one of our greatest challenges — in light of climate change and environmental decline, and thus the unsustainability of our economic systems, how do we individuals shift our values such that culture follows suit?

Both talks offered insight: We individuals mistakenly believe our well-being is connected to our economic wealth when in fact our well-being arises from connections to others, nature and self — often called social, environmental and human capital. But it took weeks for me to realize it was not these speakers’ ideas but what they did which might shift our values.

Borges’ firm, Open Path Investments, buys apartment complexes then creates “Urban Villages” by developing integrated social and environmental programs for their renters. Though these complexes are often sold providing investors with a competitive return, Open Path’s underlying philosophy is ultimately about affecting values: they believe tenants who’ve experienced higher levels of well-being in these Urban Villages continue to value and seek this in their lives.

Gurecki’s non-profit company, Zawadisha, offers micro-loans to impoverished African women. In her TEDx speech she began by stating, “I’m angry ... many of us live an extreme privilege while others suffer … More than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day.”

Gurecki stated the problem in western culture is we don’t understand poverty.

“The poor don’t need our pity, they need our partnership.” In her talk she mapped out her research, painting portraits of poor Kenyan women who surprisingly had a tremendous sense of well-being because of their abundant friendships, leadership positions and value of education. She said we had much to learn about well-being through studying the lives of the poor.

I interviewed Gurecki two weeks after the TEDx talks. She discussed how equally important the social, environmental and human “filters” are whether we are the World Bank implementing global economic policies or an individual making consumer, political or lifestyle choices. I agreed, though I left our interview struggling to understand what really keeps us from embracing these filters.

I asked Gurecki to email me more information. A statement within an article called “Applying Resilience Thinking” by the Stockholm Resilience Centre offered an insight: “Those benefitting from existing regimes of a system… fear new and surprising elements because openness might compromise their position.” Then I recalled reading something similar in the New York Times bestseller “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. Several of his studies demonstrated how our choices are inherently driven by fear of loss. He stated “losses loom larger then gains and people are inherently loss averse.” So if fear keeps us stuck in mistaken beliefs, what would it take to move past fear?

I recalled that TEDx day. How my heart raced when a speaker forgot a line. How I teared-up on the standing ovations. How the real inspiration from every TEDx speaker was about our mutual vulnerabilities and desire to connect. Then I realized the key first step: we get out of our comfort zones in whatever way we can.

Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy, works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville. Currently, she is working on her memoir “Enough.”


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