The Power of asking "What if?"
“Living fully means accepting suffering.” – Lucy Kalanithi
TEDMED was the antidote to the election sickness. At times over the last year, the election challenged our hope in humanity. While the speakers and delegates of TEDMED could not restore hope to a severely sick political system, the speakers demonstrated the truism that humanity inherently advances – we always have. Jay Walker, chair of TEDMED, made it clear that human’s constant asking “what if” has propelled us from sticks and fire to electrical power.
Hope in humanity was evidenced through women and men across the U.S. inventing and applying some of the most mind-boggling advancements in medicine and health.
We are creating holographic visualizations of a person’s heart that show precisely how blood pumps and flows. The best cardiologists can now look at a person’s heart in 3-D from around the world, permitting diagnosis without cracking open a chest.
We are looking into the brain and learning how it stores memories and making it possible to recall specific memories.
We are beginning to understand that the brain is an electrical organ – meaning that mental illness is an electrical disorder requiring completely new and better treatments for psychiatric conditions.
And, we are also coding the lives of dying individuals so that caregivers can learn in the form of a videogame because “some knowledge needs to be experienced.”
The question of “what if” is incredibly powerful. The question can be applied retroactively, but this is mostly a futile exercise because what is past cannot be changed. The question of “what if’ when applied to the future can change mankind.
What if each of us asked “what if” in our own daily lives? What would the ripple effect be if we are all striving toward a better self in our own small way? Or as Jay Walker put it: “We are the architects of what if.”
I am grateful for the opportunity to attend TEDMED, now two years in a row, thanks to The Bush Foundation Fellowship. As the final six months of the Fellowship begin, I am starting to think well above the immediate activities, events, and learnings to understand what this Fellowship experience means for me as a leader today and as a leader tomorrow.
Even more, how does the adversity of my past intersect with the fortune of my today?
The final TEDMED speaker, James Gordon, said that it is “possible to learn from every trauma life brings to us.” Sometimes the learnings are instant; sometimes they take years to be revealed. What’s critical is that we keep ourselves open to what can be learned.
“We are all in this together,” proclaimed Gordon. We are, even when it feels like we aren’t.
Thank you, TEDMED, for continuing to be a torch that lights ideas driven by asking what if.