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Can We Spread Hope While Others Spread Fear? Numbers and a Few More Questions from TED

04/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Mariane Pearl Award-winning writer and managing editor of CHIME FOR CHANGE

Chris Anderson, TED's curator, opened this year's conference entitled "What the World Needs Now" with a bold and sad statement. He said his rage is that things are simply not changing, or changing so little. Enraging it is, considering we know what's wrong and, for the most part, we also know how to fix it.

The remainder of the conference was there to prove it. A string of brilliant experts in all matters summarized ideas and propositions in sessions that lasted 18 minutes each. On the Internet, I was told that millions of people in about 75 countries were listening to the talks. Everyone was Twittering, texting and Facebooking, in a feast of technology-driven communication. We all learned about poverty and how to help in a way that resources won't be wasted; we learned about the 27 million that are still enslaved today and that it would only take $10.8 billion to rescue them -- that's the equivalent of what Americans spend on chips and pretzels annually. And by the way, we also learned that young Americans are dying of obesity eating chips and pretzels among other delicacies. We learned that we have about 20 years before the climate change becomes an irreversible environmental disaster. We were told that we spend more than 3 billion hours weekly playing online games because they allow us to feel like optimistic and useful super heroes. Or that nuclear threat is as real as ever but it's just not making headline news for some obscure reason linked to the end of the Cold War. We learned that life is complex and that humans are reluctant to face complexity.

So where does that take us? Information is available and so are solutions. And where does that leave us? It strikes me, along with Chris Anderson, that with so much knowledge, we still don't know better. If the world is not changing could it be because people are not changing? Take greed: can we possibly implement any of those solutions if we don't learn how to master our greed?

I took part in a panel discussion presented by the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, a fund that provides finishing grants to feature-length documentaries which highlight critical issues of social significance from around the world. The topic of the discussion was, "Can we spread hope while others spread fear?" Spreading fear is efficient and cheap. Think about it. Are you afraid that a handful of bankers can shatter the world's economic balance as if it were a castle of cards? Are you afraid that a handful of terrorists can bring about the same, plus send us to war? Are you afraid that there are no shortcuts, no software that would make us better people? I study that hope vs. fear question seriously because I see a potential ripple effect that would allow us to turn around and bring about the changes the world truly needs now. Hope provides courage, encourages generosity and the strength to balance other destructive penchants like, say greed.

What would spreading hope do then? It is up to your own imagination.

Maybe it would build a world in which we would be less wired but also less lonely. Or it would foster individuals that could look at a terrorist in the eye and say: I am stronger than you because you have no hope and I do. Or it would cheer kids like this 12 year-old who told the audience at TED that she wanted to grow up to blow us away with her talent and imagination. Or maybe, it would simply allow us to see a future. And we would actually want to protect the world and be happier and see why it is in our best interest to help others feel the same. Fear breeds on ignorance so what the world needs now is what it has always needed and always will: education. Knowledge and wisdom that feeds the human spirit and helps us value life itself as the core of all values. We need hope, we need courage and we need each other. We don't need more greed. And I am just not sure about more technology.

One of the last speakers at TED, Sir Ken Robinson, the internationally acclaimed creativity expert stressed a crisis of human resources and that made me feel good, it gave me hope because as long as we agree to improve human character, there is hope. That a new Gandhi would appear, for instance. And he won't be killed, and by the virtue of one single truly humanistic person we would all gain more dignity. Once, a reporter who didn't see a metaphor for world peace and racial equality in the tiny South African ashram where he began his journey, remarked that Gandhi was quite ambitious. "Ambitious?' replied the big little man, "I certainly hope not."

What about, "Who does the world need now"?