Courage Stands Tall at TEDxWellingtonWomen

Courage Stands Tall at TEDxWellingtonWomen

The theme for TEDxWellingtonWomen this year was Rhythm: Finding your Groove, and while each speaker certainly was in the groove, a de facto theme for the event might as well have been courage.

Underpinning each talk, a unique brand of courage shone through from each speaker who took the stage.

One of 250 simultaneous women-focused TEDx events, TEDxWellingtonWomen was timed to co-incide with the three-day TEDWomen conference, held in Monterey, CA this year. TEDWomen is about celebrating the power of women and girls to be creators and change-makers in a world where men's voices are still typically louder.

The first Wellington woman to speak structured her entire talk about the notion of courage. Working as a human rights lawyer with the UN in Afghanistan in 2006, Marianne Elliott described how the morning after her compound was hit by missile fire, she undertook what she described as a one of the most courageous acts of her life – she called her boss to tell him that she wasn’t coping well and that she needed help. Her book “Zen Under Fire” describes what it takes to bravely navigate both a highly dangerous physical situation, and the treacherous terrain of the human heart.

It’s terrifying to ask for help, because we have to pull back the curtain and show people just how messy our lives are
— Marianne Elliott

Before her talk, Marianne reached out to ask friends what had been the most courageous thing they had done. There was no mention of jumping out of planes or running into burning houses to save children. Rather, people told her of intimate moments – holding family members hands as they succumbed to cancer, apologising when they were wrong, or finding the strength to fall in love again after having a heart broken. It is in these small personal acts that we all find our true courage.

Courage is choosing the road that is uncertain, untested
— Marianne Elliott

Louisa Wall was just seventeen when she joined the Silver Ferns, to represent New Zealand in women’s netball. Four years later she left to play national-level women’s rugby with the Black Ferns. In 2012, as a first term Member of Parliament, she spearheaded a rare political achievement – obtaining cross-party support in the campaign for marriage equality in New Zealand. In a talk centred around leadership, Louisa described how recognising that you have the power to do something is a motivator, and encouraged the audience not to be afraid to catch the ball when the time came.  

WE are the leaders. YOU are the leader. Don’t be afraid to catch the ball
— MP Louisa Wall

Louisa Wall celebrates her proudest moment in Parliament, while the public gallery sings the Māori love song Pokarekare ana, at the passing of the Marriage Equality Act in 2013. 

Doubt has killed more ideas than failure ever will - don’t slay the dragon, ride the dragon
— Stu Robertson

Stu Robertson’s act of courage was selling most of his worldly possessions, investing in some decent camera gear, and telling his parents he was off to travel the world to take photographs of strangers. As the only male speaker at the event, showcasing that support for women and women’s issues can come from a range of voices, Stu founded Peace In 10,000 Hands, a project with an aim to take 10,000 photographs of people holding a white rose. After arriving in New York city, the very first person he asked to photograph gave him a firm... No. Not put off, he persisted and explained how over the past few years, hundreds of doors have opened to him, and thousands of people have joined the project. As Stu explains:

Art moves effortlessly across borders
— Stu Robertson
Tajchin, a Kurdish father of eight. (Photo: Stu Robertson © Copyright Peace In 10,000 Hands)

Tajchin, a Kurdish father of eight. (Photo: Stu Robertson © Copyright Peace In 10,000 Hands)

In the late 70’s, Pip Desmond, an idealistic young university graduate helped set up the Aroha Trust in Wellington – a community organisation that worked closely with women in gangs. A privileged doctor’s daughter who immersed herself into their world of violence, drugs and abuse, many years later she decided to write a book about the women she had worked with.

We have a grave duty of care to those that we subject to public scrutiny
— Pip Desmond

In an extraordinary step of courage, Pip described the moment when she faced up to a room full of women whose personal stories she had written about without prior permission, and was asked to read to them from the book. What transpired afterwards was wild all night party and zero talk of the book at all, until the next morning…. After which permission was given for Pip to publish “Trust: A True Story of Women in Gangs

Pip Desmond, Author of Truth: A True Story of Women and Gangs. (Photo: Anna Guenther)

Pip Desmond, Author of Truth: A True Story of Women and Gangs. (Photo: Anna Guenther)

There are so many things that are beyond science - there are things we shouldn’t apply skepticism to
— Elizabeth Connor

Elizabeth Connor was the final speaker to take the stage. A science communicator, Elizabeth questioned why we as a society are so closed-minded about the frontier that gets labelled as ‘pseudoscience’. If we can’t talk about ideas that may be challenged, how can we make discoveries beyond the science that we know? Many of the greatest inventors and break-through scientists throughout history were initially ridiculed for their ideas, which seemed outlandish at the time. Describing the role of the scientist as a Rebel Explorer, Elizabeth challenged us to keep an open mind to what we don’t already know.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious, it is the source of all art and science
— Albert Einstein
Elizabeth Connor taught her family to meditate. (Photo: Anna Guenther)

Elizabeth Connor taught her family to meditate. (Photo: Anna Guenther)

As with all TEDx events, the programme was enriched with some incredible performances. The New Zealand School of Dance gave us a tightly put together routine that seemed to defy gravity at times. After lunch, Duck Duck Bruce received a standing ovation for their hilarious feminist parody musical medley, that cleverly called out the casual sexism, homophobia and widespread double standards of pop music today. The day finished with an energising performance from Taikoza, a Wellington-based Japanese drumming group. 

An otherwise outstanding event, the only minor grumble I had was the gender makeup of the audience. It was a small audience by TED standards – about 140 people. Of those 140, I counted two male faces in the audience. We could, and should, have more men participating in such events, considering the purpose of providing a forum for voices that sometimes get overlooked. While the videos will be made available online and no doubt be seen by people across the gender spectrum, it would be a strong show of solidarity to have a greater live audience balance, to hear the stories of inspiring women doing amazing things in our communities. Go on, be brave!

Wellington Taiko drumming group Taikoza

Wellington Taiko drumming group Taikoza

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