Life: A Democratic Process in the Making

Have you ever thought about life itself as a democratic process? Have you considered how the individual choices you make, or the topics you choose explore, can truly affect and influence those around you? Or have you thought about how collectively, when it comes down to it, we really all do have the ability to contribute to the fabric and structure of the world around us? In the talks given by Shila Morris, Michelle Killebrew, and Mignon Fogarty at TEDxUniversityofNevada 2015, the key takeaway was just that.

Shila Morris is the President and co-owner of the Squeeze In restaurants. She regularly speaks at the local, regional, and national level regarding family business, small business marketing, and leadership. In her talk about the “American Dream,” she outlined her family’s journey from food stamps to eventually having it all, when she realized that the American Dream wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Shila Morris

Shila Morris

While recounting her personal experience, Morris stated: “We thought the American Dream was years of toil offering careers with rigid schedules resulting in middle class success. When we got there, we realized it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and we had sacrificed more than we bargained for … what we had really wanted was to be financially stable of course, but above that, to be doing something meaningful together, and to have a positive impact on the people around us and in our community.”

In other words, the Morris family learned that the “American Dream” wasn’t their American dream, for it lacked the togetherness, connection, and meaningful impact they desired. Embracing this truth, when Morris was a young girl, her parents decided to quit their stressful jobs and embark on a journey together by purchasing a small restaurant based in Truckee, CA that they could call their own. After plenty of hard work, one location eventually expanded into five. As their company grew, various extended family members also became involved in the business as the company leveraged its success. Morris asked the audience to consider: “Whatever it is you do, if it doesn’t benefit your family, is it really benefiting you?”

Michelle Killebrew

Michelle Killebrew

In Michelle Killebrew’s talk, she focused on sharing the many the reasons why she is a tech optimist. Having built her first computer in 1994, and coming from a background that includes over 14 years of high-tech marketing experience, it was refreshing to have her share this sentiment.

Killebrew currently leads the go-to-market strategy for IBM Social Business, where her team focuses on messaging and solutions that define social business and demonstrate how organizations can embrace this next information revolution in the workforce. In her talk she outlined how technology can actually make us more human, offering examples of how mobile technology, global connectivity, threats to our security, and the ability to collaborate and co-create can foster a sense of humanity among us, and not detract from it. Admittedly, she stated: “You have the power to let technology foster and enrich your life, you can choose to hide behind it, or simply ignore it all.” And therein lies the democratic nature of how we can choose to let technology either add to or detract from our lives.

Killebrew also pondered what it means to be human, and suggested three traits that epitomize humanity: the drive for survival, the desire to foster relationships, and hope. Because of these traits, we can choose to use technology to our advantage, and not our demise. Because Killebrew believes that it’s human nature to overcome adversity, to struggle, to rise, evolve, advance, learn, connect, socialize, and belong, technology can and should certainly be used as a platform for helping us to satisfy these objectives. She left the audience with the question: “Can technology make us more human? The choice is yours.”

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty

In Mignon Fogarty’s talk about language as a democratic process, she drove home the point that “language is more than a set of fixed rules” and that “the natural order of language is to change.” Because words can gain or lose meaning by the energy we attach to them, at its core, language is in fact a democratic process that can be manipulated and shaped over time. She shared many interesting examples of how certain words have originated, evolved, and entered into the common vernacular including most recently (and one of her favorites), the word “adulting.” Not to be confused with adultery or adulating, “adulting” simply describes acting like an adult or engaging in activities usually associated with adulthood—often responsible or boring tasks.

All in all, her talk was enlightening, engaging, and refreshing. Ultimately, she reminded us that “the rules of grammar are not above being questioned and revised,” once again driving home the point that we can collectively have an impact on our future —in this case, the very future of language —simply choosing which words to adopt or ignore.

In summary, even though the act of selecting our careers, engaging with technology, and choosing the very words we use day after day can seem like nothing more than a personal choice, in actuality these personal choices can collectively add up over time into something much larger, ultimately influencing and actively creating the future.