Following is the full transcript of artist and poet Cleo Wade’s Talk: Want to Change the World? Start by Being Brave Enough to Care at TED conference.
My best friend recently had a baby. And when I met him, I was in awe of witnessing this tiny, beautiful being enter into our lives.
I also had this realization that he wasn’t just entering our lives, he was entering the world – this crazy world that, especially now, feels so incredibly challenging. I spend a lot of time in my work talking to people about who we are, who we must be and what our healing looks like.
So the first time I held him, I had my pep talk ready. You know, I wanted him to know that the way we find our strength is through our challenges. I wanted him to know that we can all do something big when we start small. I wanted him to know that each of us is more resilient than we could ever imagine. So here I am holding little Thelonious. I look down at him, and it hits me: he’s a baby. He’s not going to understand a single word I say to him. So instead, I thought it would probably be a better idea if I went home and wrote.
So, this is for grownups, but it’s also for Thelonious, when he’s old enough to read it: The world will say to you, “Be a better person.” Do not be afraid to say, “Yes.” Start by being a better listener. Start by being better at walking down the street. See people. Say, “Hello.” Ask how they are doing and listen to what they say. Start by being a better friend, a better parent, a better child to your parents; a better sibling, a better lover, a better partner. Start by being a better neighbor. Meet someone you do not know, and get to know them.
The world will say to you, “What are you going to do?” Do not be afraid to say, “I know I can’t do everything, but I can do something.” Walk into more rooms saying, “I’m here to help” Become intimate with generosity. Give what you can give, and do what you can do. Give dollars, give cents, give your time, give your love, give your heart, give your spirit.
The world will say to you, “We need peace.” Find your peace within, hold it sacred, bring it with you everywhere you go. Peace cannot be shared or created with others if we cannot first generate it within. The world will say to you, “They are the enemy.” Love enough to know that just because someone disagrees with you, it does not make them your enemy.
You may not win an argument, you may not change a mind, but if you choose to, you can always achieve the triumph of radical empathy – an understanding of the heart. The world will say to you, “We need justice.” Investigate. Find truth beyond the stories you are told. Find truth beyond the way things seem. Ask, “Why?” Ask, “Is this fair?” Ask, “How did we get here?” Do this with compassion. Do this with forgiveness. Learn to forgive others. Start by truly learning how to forgive yourself. We are all more than our mistakes. We are all more than who we were yesterday. We are all deserving of our dignity.
See yourself in others. Recognize that your justice is my justice, and mine is yours. There can be no liberation for one of us if the other is not free. The world will say to you, “I am violent.” Respond by saying, “I am not. Not with my words and not with my actions.” The world will say to you, “We need to heal the planet.” Start by saying, “No, thank you. I don’t need a plastic bag.” Recycle, reuse. Start by picking up one piece of trash on your block.
The world will say to you, “There are too many problems.” Do not be afraid to be a part of the solutions. Start by discussing the issues. We cannot overcome what we ignore. The more we talk about things, the more we see that the issues are connected because we are connected.
The world will say to you, “We need to end racism.” Start by healing it in your own family. The world will say to you, “How do we speak to bias and bigotry?” Start by having the first conversation at your own kitchen table. The world will say to you, “There is so much hate.” Devote yourself to love. Love yourself so much that you can love others without barriers and without judgment.
When the world asks us big questions that require big answers, we have two options. One: to feel so overwhelmed or unqualified, we do nothing. Two: to start with one small act and qualify ourselves. I am the director of national security, and so are you. Maybe no one appointed us and there were no senate confirmations, but we can secure a nation. When you help just one person to be more secure, a nation is more secure. With just one outstretched hand that says, “Are you OK? I am here for you,” we can transform insecurity into security.