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Dare To Disrupt: What I Learned At TEDxBristol

Euella shares her experience at TEDx Bristol and explores why it’s important to be positive disruptors. 

Nothing in this world is more powerful than an idea…

‘Excuse me, is that seat taken?’

‘No, not at all – be my guest.’
I moved my stuff out of the way to let the man pass. He sat down beside me and we exchanged a polite smile. He was an older gentleman with a friendly face, and a cool demeanour – I got the impression that he’d been to one of these before. Which is more than what could be said of me. This was my first live TEDx event. The buzz of excitement engulfed the Colston Hall auditorium and consumed me. Although it was still early, people were chattering away to each other, networking and sharing personal stories of their expectations of the event. I scanned the hall; there were so many different types of people, all here for TED. There was a group of school pupils in the far corner – bubbling in their seats. I remember feeling a little envious that I didn’t have these opportunities when I was at school. For those who don’t know, ‘TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks’ – that’s what they say on the website but it’s much more than that. It’s idea sharing. It’s about using the power of ideas to change attitudes and lives. Nothing in this world is more powerful than an idea and just by being in such an innovative space, I felt empowered. I rubbed my clammy hands on my jeans, waiting for the event to kick off. I often watched TED talks online, but this was different, this was real life and real people in Bristol.

This was my first live TEDx event…

The theme for this year’s two day event was ‘Dare to Disrupt’ – with a particular focus on ‘Disruptive Bodies and Disruptive Minds’ on the first day. The speakers, all Bristol-locals, were recognised as positive disruptors in their communities- changing the ways in which we strive to exist in the world. Each of them had a message that permeated the walls of the Colston Hall, each one of them had made the ordinary, extraordinary and made the menial, remarkable. A fabulous pool of speakers who all brought something new to the space. There were scheduled breaks in-between talks for mental digestion, quiet areas for massages and yoga, VR workshops and mini seminars. In those two days, the popular music venue became a hub for innovation and creativity.

The day flew by and surprisingly, some of my favourite talks weren’t necessarily the most ‘intellectually stimulating’, jargon-filled or technologically focused. They were the ones that were emotionally evocative, where the speakers recounted their bravery in challenging norms in a world that loves labels and the status quo. As someone who has been through the higher education system, the model of people paying money to sit in a hall and listen to back-to-back lectures carried the risk of feeling like an unstimulating day at uni, but it was quite the contrary. It got me thinking about a conversation I had with Tess from Mind Doodle a few days before.

‘Euella if you could do a TEDxTalk, what would it be about?’

My favourite talks weren’t necessarily the most ‘intellectually stimulating’, jargon-filled or technologically focused. They were the ones that were emotionally evocative…

I was stumped. I didn’t have anything worth saying, nothing that could change people’s lives, attitudes or perceptions. I ran through some of my favourite talks of the day, musing quietly to myself on the bus home thinking about Tess’s question. First there was Mena.

Mena Fombo’s, ‘No You Can Not Touch My Hair’, explored the ways that the personal is indeed political and spoke to the ways that black women’s bodies are devalued. Mena owned the staged and occupied the heck out of the space – her black girl magic oozing into the auditorium. Her experiences echoed my own, her body a vessel in which a collective message could be shared. It was about more than just hair, it was about personhood.

Then there was Nura Aabe who sought to disrupt our attitudes towards autism and encouraged me to challenge my own assumptions and preconceptions. Her story was of bravery and love. She showed how her love for her son was stronger than her fear of being rejected by her community or feeling ostracised by medical professionals. It showed how adversity can inform growth.

And what about Joshua Lake Smith? A poet, musician and provocative storyteller, who explored the ways that structural change comes from within. Touching on his own complicity in systems of oppression and inequality, he urged us to consider our own responsibility in making change happen through disruptive hearts and practices. They were all so brilliant, but I bet there was a time when none of them thought they would have had the confidence or purpose to do a TEDx talk in front of a global audience, but they did and their stories touched me and so many others.

“We should all be striving to be positive disruptors because that’s how positive change happens”

We should all be striving to be positive disruptors because that’s how positive change happens. Seek out the opportunities where you can make small changes in your own lives to make big change happen. Don’t take anything for granted – challenge everything. Why do we do this? Why do we do it this way? Who benefits from doing/thinking about it in this way? Are there other ways of doing things? Look inward, look outward. Whether it be at school, or work or with your family and friends. Carve out your own existence. Don’t be dependent on anyone’s else’s definition to define you. Have a body and mind that cannot be boxed or labelled. Go beyond parties, identity politics and affiliations. Break, bend, mould – make your body as fluid as the water you drink. Have a disruptive mind that thinks as if there is no box. Challenge your own assumptions of gender, race, class, disability – whether that be through your appearance, your thinking or your actions. Be disruptive. To answer Tess’s question, I don’t know what I would do if I could do a TEDxtalk, but being in the presence of so many amazing speakers made me realise that the stories we have to tell are worth attention and are valuable. Dare to disrupt in your every-day, ordinary life and stories worth hearing will come from that. They always do.

What did you think of this year’s TEDxBristol? Or do you have a suggestion for how we can all be better disruptors? Let us know @rifemag

To stay up to date with whats going on in around Bristol for young people, check out the Rife Guide