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Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creative Courage and the Art of Living in a State of Uninterrupted Marvel

“Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”

Big Magic: Elizabeth Gilbert on Creative Courage and the Art of Living in a State of Uninterrupted Marvel

“When you’re an artist,” Amanda Palmer wrote in her magnificent manifesto for the creative life, “nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.” The craftsmanship of that wand, which is perhaps the most terrifying and thrilling task of the creative person in any domain of endeavor, is what Elizabeth Gilbert explores in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (public library) — a lucid and luminous inquiry into the relationship between human beings and the mysteries of the creative experience, as defined by Gilbert’s beautifully broad notion of “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” It’s an expansive definition that cracks open the possibilities within any human life, whether you’re a particle physicist or a postal worker or a poet — and the pursuit of possibility is very much at the heart of Gilbert’s mission to empower us to enter into creative endeavor the way one enters into a monastic order: “as a devotional practice, as an act of love, and as a lifelong commitment to the search for grace and transcendence.”

A generation earlier, Julia Cameron termed the spark of this creative transcendence “spiritual electricity,” and a generation before that Rollo May explored the fears keeping us from attaining it. Gilbert, who has contemplated the complexities of creativity for a long time and with electrifying insight, calls its supreme manifestation “Big Magic”:

This, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?


Surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels — that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often surprising results of that hunt — that’s what I call Big Magic.

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for 'The Big Green Book' by Robert Graves
Illustration by Maurice Sendak for ‘The Big Green Book’ by Robert Graves. Click image for more.

That notion of summoning the courage to bring forth one’s hidden treasures is one Gilbert borrowed from Jack Gilbert — a brilliant poet to whom she is related not by genealogy but by creative kinship, graced with the astonishing coincidence of their last names and a university teaching position they both occupied a generation apart. She reflects on the poet’s unusual creative ethos:

“We must risk delight,” he wrote. “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”


He seemed to live in a state of uninterrupted marvel, and he encouraged [his students] to do the same. He didn’t so much teach them how to write poetry, they said, but why: because of delight. Because of stubborn gladness. He told them that they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world.

Most of all, though, he asked his students to be brave. Without bravery, he instructed, they would never be able to realize the vaulting scope of their own capacities. Without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, their lives would remain small — far smaller than they probably wanted their lives to be.

But this notion of bravery seeds a common confusion, which Gilbert takes care to dispel:

We all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. This is common knowledge; sometimes we just don’t know what to do about it.


Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognize the distinction.


If your goal in life is to become fearless, then I believe you’re already on the wrong path, because the only truly fearless people I’ve ever met were straight-up sociopaths and a few exceptionally reckless three-year-olds — and those aren’t good role models for anyone.

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Click image for more.

Bravery, Gilbert suggests, is the product of a certain kind of obstinacy in the face of fear — and that obstinacy, rather than one’s occupation, is what defines the creative life:

While the paths and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner — continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you — is a fine art, in and of itself.

To be sure, Gilbert — whose writing lives in the Venn diagram of Brené Brown, Dani Shapiro, Cheryl Strayed, and David Whyte — is a far cry from the self-help canon of authoritarian advice dictated by a detached expert. What makes her book so immensely helpful is precisely its lived and living nature. She writes:

The only reason I can speak so authoritatively about fear is that I know it so intimately. I know every inch of fear, from head to toe. I’ve been a frightened person my entire life. I was born terrified. I’m not exaggerating; you can ask anyone in my family, and they’ll confirm that, yes, I was an exceptionally freaked-out child. My earliest memories are of fear, as are pretty much all the memories that come after my earliest memories.

Growing up, I was afraid not only of all the commonly recognized and legitimate childhood dangers (the dark, strangers, the deep end of the swimming pool), but I was also afraid of an extensive list of completely benign things (snow, perfectly nice babysitters, cars, playgrounds, stairs, Sesame Street, the telephone, board games, the grocery store, sharp blades of grass, any new situation whatsoever, anything that dared to move, etc., etc., etc.).

I was a sensitive and easily traumatized creature who would fall into fits of weeping at any disturbance in her force field. My father, exasperated, used to call me Pitiful Pearl. We went to the Delaware shore one summer when I was eight years old, and the ocean upset me so much that I tried to get my parents to stop all the people on the beach from going into the surf.

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton from ‘Meanwhile.’ Click image for more.

I can’t help but see in this tragicomic anecdote a magnificent metaphor for the psychology of trolling. The impulse to attack others who have dared to put themselves and their art into the world springs from the same fear-seed. What is trolling, after all, if not a concentrated effort to stop others from going into the surf — not because trolls try to protect the rest of the world from the perils of bad art but because they seek to protect themselves from the fear that if they dare plunge into the surf, their own art might wash up ashore lifeless.

Kierkegaard knew this when he contemplated the psychology of trolling two centuries ago, and Neil Gaiman knew it when he delivered his spectacular speech on courage and the creative life. All of us know this on some primordial level when we contemplate the metaphorical surf, for every time we decide to swim we must also allow for the possibility of sinking, which seems decidedly less mortifying if there weren’t other people swimming while we sink.

Gilbert considers the somewhat mysterious, somewhat perfectly sensical stimulus that eventually sent her on a life-path of plunging into the surf:

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what finally made me stop playing the role of Pitiful Pearl, almost overnight. Surely there were many factors involved in that evolution (the tough-mom factor, the growing-up factor), but mostly I think it was just this: I finally realized that my fear was boring.


Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note — only one word, actually — and that word was “STOP!” My fear never had anything more interesting or subtle to offer than that one emphatic word, repeated at full volume on an endless loop: “STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!”


I also realized that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: “STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!” True, the volume may vary from person to person, but the song itself never changes, because all of us humans were equipped with the same basic fear package when we were being knitted in our mothers’ wombs.

Far from a uniquely human faculty, this fear is there for a reason — an evolutionary mechanism that aided us in our survival, much like it has aided every living creature that made it to this point of evolutionary history. Gilbert writes:

If you pass your hand over a petri dish containing a tadpole, the tadpole will flinch beneath your shadow. That tadpole cannot write poetry, and it cannot sing, and it will never know love or jealousy or triumph, and it has a brain the size of a punctuation mark, but it damn sure knows how to be afraid of the unknown.

Illustration by Ralph Steadman for a special edition of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Click image for more.

And yet the human gift, Gilbert reminds us, is the willingness to march forward — in terror and transcendence, and often alone — even though we too flinch beneath the shadow of the unknown:

Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.

What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.

We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.

We are terrified, and we are brave.

Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.

Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.

In the remainder of the wholly electrifying Big Magic, Gilbert goes on to explore the building blocks of the bravery that makes that wonderful privilege available to each of us. Complement it with Dani Shapiro on why creativity requires leaping into the unknown, Cheryl Strayed’s no-nonsense advice on faith and humility, Brené Brown on creative resilience, and Anaïs Nin on why emotional excess is essential for creative endeavor.


The Big Green Book: Robert Graves and Maurice Sendak’s Little-Known and Lovely Vintage Children’s Book About the Magic of Reading

A subversive celebration of how books transform us.

In 1962, the revered British poet and novelist Robert Graves was sixty-seven, with his greatest works long behind him; Maurice Sendak was an insecure young artist of thirty-four, with Where the Wild Things Are — his greatest work, which would turn him into a household name for generations to come — still a year ahead.

Mere months earlier, Sendak had illustrated Tolstoy, and now he was about to join forces with one of the greatest living authors of his own era: He was tasked with illustrating The Big Green Book (public library), Graves only children’s book — a wondrous and subversive story about the magic of reading.

That the protagonist is named Jack, like Sendak’s beloved brother, would have only added to the felicitous allure of the collaboration.

Little Jack is an orphan living with his aunt and uncle, who are “not very nice to him” because they take him on long walks when he wants to be left alone to play, and with their big old dog — a rather familiar dog — who likes chasing rabbits so much that the family frequently has rabbit pie for dinner.

One day, Jack climbs into the attic to play and discovers a big green book, which turns out to be full of magic spells.

As his eyes grow “bigger and bigger” with wonder, his magical find makes literal Rebecca Solnit’s memorable metaphor for the book as “a heart that only beats in the chest of another.” Jack’s heart magically migrates from his little-boy chest into a little-old-man chest as he transmogrifies into a miniature Merlin-like personage, with a big beard and a tattered robe.

The story is delightfully nonsensical, but in a Lewis Carroll kind of way — nonsense undergirded by existential insight and deep human truth. It’s hard, for instance, not to feel Graves’s wistfulness at the incomprehensibly swift passage of life when he, in his late sixties, writes of little Jack’s magical transmutation:

Soon he found he was not a little boy any more — he was an old man with a long beard.

And when the aunt and uncle, now fretting over Jack’s disappearance, decide that they must ask “that ragged old man” whether he has seen the little boy anywhere, it’s hard not to feel thrust into the middle of the immutable mystery of personal identity — how is it, really, that you and your childhood self are the same person despite a lifetime of staggering physical and psychological changes? The ragged old man, Graves writes, “was really Jack all the time” — miraculously, so are we. And when the old man answers the uncle’s question, it’s impossible for the heart not to swell with Graves’s wistfulness once more:

A little boy was here only a minute ago… Now he’s disappeared.

The little old man convinces the aunt and uncle to stick around for a game of cards. With the help of his newfound magic, he proceeds to beat them over and over again. They start out playing for just a couple of dollars, but double the stakes each new game, hoping to recover their losses, only to lose again — until they owe the little sorcerer their house, their garden, and even their rabbit-chasing dog. (Three decades later, Sendak would dust off the symbolism of playing cards as a manipulation tool in his darkest children’s book, also starring a protagonist named Jack.)

Just as they’re about to take the little old man to the house, for him to claim his winnings, he performs one last spell — the rabbit being chased by the dog suddenly turns around, punches the dog in the nose, and reverses the chase.

At the house, under the pretext that he is taking a look at his new property, the little old man goes back to the attic and transmogrifies into Jack.

When the little boy joins his aunt and uncle outside, they begin telling him about the mysterious little man who now owned their lives, but Jack points out that there is no such person in sight, convincing them — in one final mind-muddling prank — that they had dreamt it all, making them feel “very silly” for it.

Life returns to normal, except for the dog, whose fresh fear of rabbits endures and ensures that the family is never to have rabbit pie again — a sweet, subtle reminder that although we inevitably return to the real world when the reading experience ends, books always transform us and leave traces of themselves in our real selves, to be carried forward beyond the last page.

Complement the wholly magical The Big Green Book with Sendak’s illustrations for The Nutcracker, the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, Melville’s Pierre, and William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, then revisit his little-known and lovely vintage posters celebrating the joy of reading.


Big Wolf & Little Wolf: A Tender Tale of Loneliness, Belonging, and How Friendship Transforms Us

A subtle meditation on the meaning of solidarity, the relationship between the ego and the capacity for love, and the little tendrils of care that become the armature of friendship.

We spend our lives trying to discern where we end and the rest of the world begins. There is a strange and sorrowful loneliness to this, to being a creature that carries its fragile sense of self in a bag of skin on an endless pilgrimage to some promised land of belonging. We are willing to erect many defenses to hedge against that loneliness and fortress our fragility. But every once in a while, we encounter another such creature who reminds us with the sweetness of persistent yet undemanding affection that we need not walk alone.

Such a reminder radiates with uncommon tenderness from Big Wolf & Little Wolf (public library) by French author Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by the always magical Olivier Tallec and translated by publisher Claudia Zoe Bedrick, the visionary founder of Brooklyn-based independent powerhouse Enchanted Lion. With great subtlety and sensitivity, the story invites a meditation on loneliness, the meaning of solidarity, the relationship between the ego and the capacity for love, and the little tendrils of care that become the armature of friendship.

We meet Big Wolf during one of his customary afternoon stretches under a tree he has long considered his own, atop a hill he has claimed for himself. But this is no ordinary day — Big Wolf spots a new presence perched on the horizon, a tiny blue figure, “no bigger than a dot.” With that all too human tendency to project onto the unknown our innermost fears, Big Wolf is chilled by the terrifying possibility that the newcomer might be bigger than he is.

But as the newcomer approaches, he turns out to be Little Wolf.

Big Wolf saw that he was small and felt reassured. He let Little Wolf climb right up to his tree.

“It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar,” Anaïs Nin wrote, and it is precisely the stark contrast between Big Wolf’s towering stature and his vulnerable insecurity that lends the story its loveliness and profundity.

At first, the two wolves observe one another silently out of the corner of their eyes. His fear cooled by the smallness and timidity of his visitor, Big Wolf begins to regard him with unsuspicious curiosity that slowly warms into cautious affection. We watch Big Wolf as he learns, with equal parts habitual resistance and sincerity of self-transcendence, a new habit of heart and a wholly novel vocabulary of being.

Night came.
Little Wolf stayed.
Big Wolf thought that Little Wolf went a bit too far.
After all, it had always been his tree.

When Big Wolf went to bed, Little Wolf went to bed too.
When Big Wolf saw that Little Wolf was shivering at the tip of his nose, he pushed a teeny tiny corner of his leaf blanket closer to him.

“That is certainly enough for such a little wolf,” he thought.

When morning breaks, Big Wolf goes about his daily routine and climbs up his tree to do his exercises, at first alarmed, then amused, and finally — perhaps, perhaps — endeared that Little Wolf follows him instead of leaving.

Once again, Big Wolf at first defaults to that small insecure place, fearing that Little Wolf might outclimb him. But the newcomer struggles, exhaling a tiny “Ouch” as he thuds to the ground on his first attempt before making it up the tree, leaving Big Wolf both unthreatened and impressed with the little one’s quiet courage.

Silently, Little Wolf mirrors Big Wolf’s exercises. Silently, he follows him back down. On the descent, Big Wolf picks his usual fruit for breakfast, but, seeing as Little Wolf isn’t picking any, grabs a few more than usual. Silently, he pushes a modest plate to Little Wolf, who eats it just as silently. The eyes and the body language of the wolves emanate universes of emotion in Tallec’s spare, wonderfully expressive pencil and gouache illustrations.

When Big Wolf goes for his daily walk, he peers at his tree from the bottom of the hill and sees Little Wolf still stationed there, sitting quietly.

Big Wolf smiled. Little Wolf was small.

Big Wolf crossed the big field of wheat at the bottom of the hill.
Then he turned around again.
Little Wolf was still there under the tree.
Big Wolf smiled. Little Wolf looked even smaller.

He reached the edge of the forest and turned around one last time.
Little Wolf was still there under the tree, but he was now so small that only a wolf as big as Big Wolf could possibly see that such a little wolf was there.
Big Wolf smiled one last time and entered the forest to continue his walk.

But when he reemerges from the forest by evening, the tiny blue dot is gone from under the tree.

At first, Big Wolf assures himself that he must be too far away to see Little Wolf. But as he crosses the wheat field, he still sees nothing. We watch his silhouette tense with urgency as he makes his way up the hill, propelled by a brand new hollowness of heart.

Big Wolf felt uneasy for the first time in his life.
He climbed back up the hill much more quickly than on all other evenings.

There was no one under his tree. No one big, no one little.
It was like before.
Except that now Big Wolf was sad.

“The joy of meeting and the sorrow of separation,” Simone Weil wrote in contemplating the paradox of closeness, “we should welcome these gifts … with our whole soul, and experience to the full, and with the same gratitude, all the sweetness or bitterness as the case may be.” But Big Wolf feels only the bitterness of having lost what he didn’t know he needed until it invaded his life with its unmerited grace.

That evening for the first time Big Wolf didn’t eat.
That night for the first time Big Wolf didn’t sleep.
He waited.

For the first time he said to himself that a little one, indeed a very little one, had taken up space in his heart.

A lot of space.

By morning, Big Wolf climbs his tree but can’t bring himself to exercise — instead, he peers into the distance, his forlorn eyes wide with sorrow and longing.

He bargains the way the bereaved do — if Little Wolf returns, he vows, he would offer him “a larger corner of his leaf blanket, even a much larger one”; he would give him all the fruit he wanted; he would let him climb higher and mirror all of his exercises, “even the special ones known only to him.”

Big Wolf waits and waits and waits, beyond reason, beyond season.

And then, one day, a tiny blue dot appears on the horizon.

For the first time in his life Big Wolf’s heart beat with joy.

Silently, Little Wolf climbs up the hill toward the tree.

“Where were you?” asked Big Wolf.

“Down here,” said Little Wolf without pointing.

“Without you,” said Big Wolf in a very small voice, “I was lonely.”

Little Wolf took a step closer to Big Wolf.
“Me too,” he said. “I was lonely too.”
He rested his head gently on Big Wolf’s shoulder.
Big Wolf felt good.

And so it was decided that from then on Little Wolf would stay.

Complement the immeasurably lovely Big Wolf & Little Wolf with Seneca on true and false friendship and astronomer Maria Mitchell on how we co-create each other in relationship, then revisit other thoughtful and touching treasures from Enchanted Lion: Cry, Heart, But Never Break, The Lion and the Bird, Bertolt, The Paper-Flower Tree, and This Is a Poem That Heals Fish

Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; photographs by Maria Popova


The Magic and Logic of Powerful Public Speaking: TED Curator Chris Anderson’s Field Guide to Giving a Great Talk

How to master the generous art of inspiration and avoid the pitfalls of attention-hungry manipulation.

The Magic and Logic of Powerful Public Speaking: TED Curator Chris Anderson’s Field Guide to Giving a Great Talk

“Words are events, they do things, change things,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in her sublime reflection on telling and listening. “They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.” This mutual transformation takes place in a special atmosphere that exists in no other realm of life — one Paul Goodman captured beautifully in his taxonomy of the nine kinds of silence, among which he listed “the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear.”

The architecture of that singular atmosphere is what TED curator Chris Anderson explores in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking (public library) — a contemporary counterpart to George Plimptom’s advice on public speaking, drawing on Anderson’s experience in hosting some of the most electrifying, inspiring, and mobilizing idea-packets of our time, delivered from the TED stage to more than a billion people around the world who hunger for intellectual, creative, and spiritual nourishment.

Photograph by Bret Hartman / TED
Photograph by Bret Hartman / TED

Anderson paints the backdrop for the uncommon magic of a powerful talk:

The house lights dim. A woman, her palms sweating, her legs trembling just a little, steps out onto the stage. A spotlight hits her face, and 1,200 pairs of eyes lock onto hers. The audience senses her nervousness. There is palpable tension in the room. She clears her throat and starts to speak.

What happens next is astounding.

The 1,200 brains inside the heads of 1,200 independent individuals start to behave very strangely. They begin to sync up. A magic spell woven by the woman washes over each person. They gasp together. Laugh together. Weep together. And as they do so, something else happens. Rich, neurologically encoded patterns of information inside the woman’s brain are somehow copied and transferred to the 1,200 brains in the audience. These patterns will remain in those brains for the rest of their lives, potentially impacting their behavior years into the future.

The woman on the stage is weaving wonder, not witchcraft. But her skills are as potent as any sorcery.

Ants shape each other’s behavior by exchanging chemicals. We do it by standing in front of each other, peering into each other’s eyes, waving our hands and emitting strange sounds from our mouths. Human-to-human communication is a true wonder of the world. We do it unconsciously every day. And it reaches its most intense form on the public stage.

But perhaps because this everyday wonder emanates from our basic humanity, it is also highly susceptible to basic human fallibility. Anderson goes on to enumerate the most common pitfalls in public speaking and provides strategies for countering them. In my own experience of having witnessed hundreds of live public talks over the years, at TED and elsewhere, the worst of these foibles is a kind of narcissistic greed on behalf of the speaker — a lack of the core generosity of spirit that lends all true art its power.

Anderson writes:

Sometimes speakers get it exactly backwards. They plan to take, not give.


Reputation is everything. You want to build a reputation as a generous person, bringing something wonderful to your audiences, not as a tedious self-promoter. It’s boring and frustrating to be pitched to, especially when you’re expecting something else.


The key principle is to remember that the speaker’s job is to give to the audience, not take from them.

TED2009, Long Beach, CA, February 3-7, 2009.  credit: TED / Asa Mathat
Photograph by Asa Mathat / TED

Anderson admonishes against another side of the same coin — a kind of transactional pseudo-generosity, in which the speaker creates the illusion of giving in order to wrest out of the audience a desired response. Amid our Pavolvian culture, in which our interior sense of worth is increasingly predicated on constant exterior reinforcement, this temptation is difficult to resist — “likes” and retweets and view counts become a toxic quantitative measure of the quality of our work and, at their most perilous, a sort of valuation of our character. To engage in public life is to be increasingly aware of the vast potential for such response, and to grub for it.

A grave mistake in public speaking, Andersen cautions, is this tendency to try to manipulate one’s way into positive reinforcement — a tendency resulting in talks that “flatter to deceive,” which in turn commodify the greatest gift a speaker can give an audience. Andersen writes:

Absolutely one of the most powerful things you can experience when watching a talk is inspiration. The speaker’s work and words move you and fill you with an expanded sense of possibility and excitement. You want to go out and be a better person… I believe in inspiration’s power.

But it’s a power that must be handled with great care.

When a great speaker finishes her talk and the whole crowd rises to its feet and applauds, it’s a thrilling moment for everyone in the room. The audience is excited by what they’ve heard, and for the speaker, it’s indescribably satisfying to receive such powerful recognition.

But the promise of this satisfaction, Anderson admonishes, can be so alluring that speakers might be tempted to manipulate their way into it — which, of course, not only never works but always backfires. Nothing embitters the sweetness of mutual appreciation more effectively than one side’s ego-driven greed for affirmation. Anderson writes:

Here’s the thing about inspiration: It has to be earned. Someone is inspiring not because they look at you with big eyes and ask you to find it in your heart to believe in their dream. It’s because they actually have a dream that’s worth getting excited about. And those dreams don’t come lightly. They come from blood, sweat, and tears.

Inspiration is like love. You don’t get it by pursuing it directly.


Inspiration can’t be performed. It’s an audience response to authenticity, courage, selfless work, and genuine wisdom.

In this authentic responsiveness, Anderson argues, lies the great promise of a powerful talk — a promise built on the intersection of our most ancient longings, encoded in our elemental humanity, and the singular rewards of our time, an era marked by enormous potential for connection, cross-pollination, and mutual expansion, unimaginable to our ancestors. He writes:

We’re wired to respond to each other’s vulnerability, honesty, and passion — provided we just get a chance to see it. Today, we have that chance… We are physically connected to each other like never before. Which means that our ability to share our best ideas with each other matters more than it ever has. The single greatest lesson I have learned from listening to TED Talks is this: The future is not yet written. We are all, collectively, in the process of writing it.

What is an idea, anyway? You can think of it as a packet of information that helps you understand and navigate the world.


Your mind is teeming with ideas, and not just randomly — they’re carefully linked together. Collectively, they form an amazingly complex structure that is your personal worldview. It’s your brain’s operating system, it’s how you navigate the world, and it’s built out of millions of individual ideas.

For a necessary complement to TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, see Anna Deavere Smith on the art of listening in a culture of speaking, then revisit Ursula K. Le Guin on the magic of human communication.


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