Care more. Play more. Listen more. A perfect TEDx event.
More than a month ago, we attended TEDxPortland, and as is often the case in the aftermath of an avalanche of incredible ideas, we should be forgiven for still needing time to pick up the pieces.
After all, we’re not perfect. Which was the point—or not?
The theme of the day’s talks was “Perfect”, and from educators to restauranteurs, from war veterans to electricians, from ballet theater directors to, well, Macklemore, each presenter talked their way through a new way of attaining the unattainable: perfection.
Because it became clear—and as Plato could probably tell you were he still on hand—that the importance of being perfect is never about actually reaching that impossible standard:
Perfection is simply about being more, about seeking wholeness in all things—and finding enough in only finding fulfillment.
It’s about the journey and not the destination, right? Which may sound cliché, but just because you can’t grab a hold of perfection doesn’t mean it’s not worth reaching for.
Yet, for a moment, let’s return to that idea of “wholeness”: think of a circle, and almost automatically the word “perfect” jumps into frame. Because a circle is this perfectly balanced shape—every part in harmony with every other part, together creating something wonderfully whole. It’s no coincidence that when we talk about community, we talk in rounds.
Building community is the act of building towards wholeness: each member playing a vital part—sharing strengths and weaknesses—in order to find that perfect, self-sustaining balance.
For filmmakers, balance is inherent to storytelling. Any production requires that kind of sharing to build something more than the sum of its parts. And this is what we're building through the Story & Heart community: a place where all of our strengths, weaknesses, resources, and inspiration can harmonize to help all of us tell better stories.
So, while we culled something crucial from each speaker at TEDxPortland, there were 3 people we watched who seemed to most encapsulate the idea of perfection through wholeness.
Perfection, they showed us, is not a level reached, but a process: of always being more.
Care of some great minds at TEDxPortland, here are 3 ways to, every day, be more—and get a taste of some everyday perfection.
1. Care more.
Aaron Draplin is, like many Michigan transplants, a big dude: big of body, big of spirit, big of beard, and biggest of voice.
Here’s what Michigan or the Midwest or whatever told me: you’re going to hate your job, you won’t make a cent, and bigger is always better.
A renowned graphic artist, Draplin crafted a career completely his own design from gigs at Snowboarder magazine and well-respected Portland firm Cinco. His raison d'être, then, makes perfect sense:
Go play with this stuff, go look at it, no complaining on the job.
He may be most known for his iconic Field Notes products and branding, but recently began a practice he refers to as #FREEFRIDAYS, where he donates 4-5 hours of design and consultation every Friday to someone in need of his particular aesthetic...bigness.
After running bull-horns first through a blitzkrieg take on his life up ‘til now, Draplin shifted into listing, in very plain terms, what he loves. These include his wife, his family, his dog, and, of course, his work.
In many ways, Draplin seems just as mystified by the path his life has taken to get him to a point where he can legitimately say that he is a fulfilled, functional, creative human being. But then he makes a connection via retrospect, and reveals how he’s been paid for previous jobs, both, in the context of the following, that proverbially put him on the map:
One of ‘em, I got paid 25 grand; one of ‘em, I got paid a burrito.
Care, he claims, is the great equalizer that set him on the path to perfection. By putting as much care as he could into work for both big clients with money and big friendships without, he stumbled into fulfillment.
Caring is, after all, the first step toward building a thriving community. At Story & Heart, one must give as much as take. Is that too obvious? That naturally and plainly caring about the stories of others will make helping them tell those stories payment enough?
Care more: invest your talents and time in others, regardless of reward, and you will find that others will line up to support you in building the kind of life you love—and in turn help you tell the stories you love.
Where this nets out at:
I love what I get to do.
I support my family on this shit.
I paid my house off on 67th.
I donate loot to people who need help.
I did it working with my buddies (thank you Portland), and…
I don’t have to wear pants when I work.
Not sure if there’s anything better than that.
2. Play more.
Cody Goldberg believes wholeheartedly in the power of play. In fact, he doesn’t mince words:
Play is perfect. Play is quite literally how we learn.
He’s so convinced by the idea that play is a natural right, that play—like storytelling—is intrinsic to who we are as human beings, Goldberg founded Harper’s Playground in honor of his daughter, Harper, an 8-year-old with unique needs.
Harper’s Playground built Portland’s first all-inclusive playground, a space adaptable to the habits of play for children of all needs.
Play, in Goldberg’s experience, is one of the most simple functions of the human experience. And it’s with simplicity that he approaches perfection:
The very most valuable piece of advice I’ve ever received in my life was very simple, it said: Don’t think so much. Our thoughts have a way of betraying us: and those thoughts that emanate from our minds truly often force us to take our eyes off the ball. Only those ideas that come from our heart truly matter.
Play, by its very nature, cannot be overthought. It is both engagement with, reaction to, and understanding of every facet of life. And since it is a human right—which Goldberg emphasizes by alluding to the declaration of such by the United Nations—play is, like Draplin’s idea of care, a common ground.
We’re all connected.
Again: simple. But play, perhaps more than any other activity, teaches us this. And since play is indelible to the vitality of every human life, through play we understand:
A community that values all of its members equally is a treasure, and it’s something that we should strive towards.
If this all sounds like a mathematically transitive property, Goldberg’s on board with your impression.
If A = B and B = C, then A = C...I think.
Well, I say that play equals happiness, and happiness equals the truth, and we all know that the truth is love. So what the world needs more of is more people making more play.
We can probably fit community in there. If community equals play—or sharing together in the messy lifelong journey of learning—then eventually community equals love.
Play more: think less—instead immerse yourself in actively loving, and you will find that people won't think twice before joining you.
Play fosters empathy and it creates a sense of belonging.
We couldn't have said it any better.
Filmmakers know this, that empathy and belonging are two words that might as well be synonymous with powerful storytelling—bringing people together through the shared human imperative to understand what it is, exactly, that brings us together in the first place.
3. Listen more.
Zalika Gardner, the co-founder and Director of Learning for the KairosPDX Early Learning Center, is a major proponent of teaching children through seeing them eye to eye.
Well, not literally getting on one knee to get to eye-level, but something a bit more metaphorical. A simpler idea:
A simple idea that for me has revolutionized the way I work with children, revolutionized my stance in the world. A simple idea…is listening.
After over two decades teaching and consulting for school districts and children’s museums, Gardner is, in addition to her position with KairosPDX, currently a school improvement specialist for Portland Public Schools. Overall, this experience has been that of “equity”: teaching through true listening.
For Gardner, listening is a necessity—or, at least, being heard is.
We all need someone to listen.
Seems easy enough, except Gardner quickly makes the distinction between listening because one has functioning ear drums and the ability to physically process changes in pressure, and truly listening:
Listening is even harder...listening requires that I quiet my own experience to make room for someone else’s. So simple...so powerful.
When was the last time that you can recall really being listened to? When someone held space for your experiences?
So, listening in this way is still a matter of physicality, yet it’s so much more focused. It is, in other words, the physical act of empathy that Goldberg claims play fosters so readily. And so in many ways listening is work: it demands energy, muscle. It can be tiring—because it is a denial of certainties that we’ve practically been programmed to accept.
Certainty is the enemy of listening.
Gardner then lists the 3 certainties that get in the way of true listening: assumption, arrogance, and fear, which she describes:
My experience has already defined yours, so I’m no longer listening…
My experience has already declared yours irrelevant, so I am no longer listening…
Discomfort, guilt, I may feel judged...your experience may challenge mine. There is too much risk in listening.
Through allowing these certainties to dictate our listening habits, we silently communicate:
Each one of the moments, each one I am making a decision, I am either listening or I’m communicating something else: I am communicating you are not worthy of my time, of my interest of my engagement, you are not worthy, and in fact: you do not matter.
And when one abandons certainty? Listening is the closest one can get to showing another human being that they matter.
Humility: arguably the most important aspect of any person’s place in society.
Humility isn't just about being humble—humility is living one’s life as if many, many other lives matter. Because they do.
Empathy? Try love. Love as action. And like Cody Goldberg declared: love as truth.
Again, it takes work:
Can you believe with me that it’s worth a little work? A little work to listen differently. A little work to replace assumption with curiosity? I genuinely wonder who you are. To replace arrogance with humility: who you are matters. To replace our fear with courage: listening to you requires vulnerability in me, and I choose it. Can we in this room believe that it’s worth a little work?
So much more than a way to level with children, to truly teach them by listening and in turn teaching yourself, listening is at the core of collaboration. It is the essence of working together. We are inspired when we inspire others because we are hanging by the ties that bind us together, whether we like it or not. Without empathy, collaboration, community, we fall apart.
This is why Dom recently wrote a guest post on Stillmotion's Blog about how paramount collaboration and team-building are on set:
For a member of any team, listening is at the core of collaboration—it is that idea of ownership in practice: not only assuring each person that they are an invaluable team member, but showing them that.
Listen more: devote your life to an ideal that is actually attainable—an ideal which says that every single one of us has a voice worth hearing. That every single one of us has an amazing story to tell.
By caring more, we understand that work and play aren’t so different. By playing more, we work toward a world where everyone gets exactly what they need. And by listening more, we not only understand what it is that everyone needs, but that what everyone needs is just as vital to our survival as our own.
Caring, playing, listening: as filmmakers, these define how we work together, and as storytellers, these show us how we can tell better stories—if only we set our sights on a little bit more.
By striving to be more, we are actually doing so. And that’s as perfect together as we can get.
It’s like 8th grade algebra. We think.
Check out more talks and recaps on YouTube, here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsT0YIqwnpJCM-mx7-gSA4Q
Plus, a big shout-out to everyone who worked and volunteered to make TEDxPortland such a phenomenal event.
We’d love to hear about any similarly enlightening events you’ve found, be they through TED or other organizations. Tell us about them in the comments below—help inspire others through what inspires you.