By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
A record 500 people attended the daylong event at Rackspace’s headquarters. They listened to 18-minute talks on the overarching theme “Minds Wide Open.” The 19 speakers elicited a whole range of emotions from the audience including laughter and tears.
In addition to the talks, Julia Langenberg, an aerialist, performed an awe-inspiring dance routine in which she climbed, dangled and twirled on fabric hung from the rafters.
Myric Polhemus, director of human resources at H-E-B Grocery Company, encouraged leaders to embrace malcontents in their organizations to lead to greater innovation and creativity.
Nick Longo, co-founder of Geekdom, a collaborative co-working space in downtown San Antonio, promoted the benefits of entrepreneurship.
“We are all makers of something,” Longo said.
This is for the fourth year for the local TEDx event, which is an offshoot of the exclusive invite-only TED conference held every year in Monterrey. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It is known as a place where people discuss big ideas. Susan Price with Firecat Studio organized the local event along with a group of volunteers.
Rackspace’s Chairman Graham Weston began by welcoming the crowd to Rackspace and acknowledging Jason Thomas, a hero and a former Marine sergeant who helped rescue people during 9-11.
Weston also introduced Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who spearheaded the effort to create BiblioTech, a bookless library filled with digital editions, on the city’s Southside.
Wolff announced the county would be installing a branch of the BiblioTech in the lobby of Rackspace, giving its employees access to all of its 10,000 digital volumes.
The juxtaposition of the first speaker, Anastasia McKenna, known as Miss Anastasia, a professional storyteller at the Twig Bookshop in San Antonio, following the BiblioTech presentation, was perplexing.
McKenna performed excerpts from the children’s classic book “The Gingerbread Man.”
“Joy is the sharing of books,” she said.
Then she pleaded with the audience to read books to their children and to minimize their time in front of screens.
“I want to see more books and less screens in the world,” she said.
People can touch the soul of a child with a book, she said.
“Stories can make a child believe anything is possible,” she said.
Tearfully, McKenna recounted the recent death of her niece and told the audience that no one knows how much time they have on this earth. Don’t plop a child down in front of a screen, when you could take that opportunity to engage them with a book, she said.
In an inspirational talk, Eric Fletcher, an author, speaker and marketing executive, told people not to let benchmarks and measurements lead to limits in their lives.
“Vision is not defined by what the eye can see but by possibility,” Fletcher said.
Although his mother received the diagnosis that her son was legally blind at a young age, she didn’t accept it. She enrolled Fletcher in little league and had him participate in the same activities as his peers. That showed Fletcher a disability didn’t make him less of a human being and he shouldn’t allow benchmarks to define the boundaries of his life.
He encouraged everyone to look beyond the labels, boundaries and limits others might place on them and to create a life they want.
Jason Fischer, a psychotherapist, also told the audience that the most destructive word in the world is “need.”
In a rather controversial statement, he said there are no needs. Most people would argue that humans need food, shelter, clothing, love and some money. But Fischer doesn’t agree.
“We don’t need anything at all,” Fischer said, “Nothing is a prerequisite for happiness.”
The word “need” creates a negative emotional response in our psyches, he said. Just using the word can lead to unhappiness, he said.
“You never need to say the word need,” Fischer said. “Whatever you want is perfect. You can live your life accordingly to what you want.”
Except if you’re in prison.
Ryan Cox, an attorney, said one in 30 people are under court supervision or in jail in the U.S. with 2.3 million currently incarcerated.
“We are the largest jailer in the world,” Cox said.
And the problem is getting worse. Sixty percent of the people who leave U.S. prisons return to them within five years, Cox said.
“Our prisons are dehumanizing,” and that leads to recidivism, he said.
Cox said the U.S. should treat its prisoners better. He pointed to Norway’s prison system as one that the U.S. should emulate. They treat their prisoners with dignity and house them in cells that look more like dorm rooms.
“In the U.S. we already spend $40,000 per prisoner annually – we should get a better return on our investment,” Cox said.
Liza Long, who penned the essay “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” in a blog post following the attacks on Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead, gave a heart-wrenching talk on helping children with mental illness.
Long’s teenage son, who she calls Michael, not his real name, has struggled with mental illness since the age of 8 and has been arrested and jailed as a result of his violent outbursts.
“When you’re the mother of a child of mental illness you’re not supposed to talk about it,” Long said.
One in five children in the United States has a serious and debilitating mental disorder today, Long said.
This year, 4,600 young people, between the ages of 10 and 24, will die of suicide, ten times the 437 deaths from cancer, Long said.
Yet the largest treatment centers for mental illness in the U.S. are in the Cook County Jail in Illinois, Riker’s Island Prison and Los Angeles County Jail, Long said.
The reason Long, a single mother of four who lives is Boise, Idaho, wrote the essay and continues to speak out about mental illness is that she wants to change the world and put an end to the stigma about mental illness.
Long received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Dave Sims of Rackspace made this video recapping TEDxSanAntonio.
Full disclosure: Geekdom was a sponsor of Silicon Hills News.