The Hole in the American Psyche | Heather Swope | TEDxCoeurdalene

Translator: Mia Pan
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Well, it’s such a pleasure
to make your acquaintance. In case the title of my talk
made you wonder, I am in fact a U.S. citizen. In some ways, I think
that I am particularly American, because you can check
a lot of boxes with me. I am Caucasian, middle-class, publicly educated, car-owning, debt-carrying,
steak- and pie-appreciating, red-blooded American. And while I easily fall
into these stereotypical categories, there are definitely some things
about me that are a bit unusual. For example, I think there is a hole
in the American psyche. I believe this because I’ve spent
a fair portion of my adult life living in countries
outside of the United States. And I’ve traveled
through a couple dozen more. I learned a lot in my time outside. And I credit this to the fact that we are creatures
that learn best through our own eyes. We cultivate things
like understanding and empathy, through personal experiences. Nothing beats front row
at your favorite band’s show or the fifty-yard line at a huge game. Unforgettable experiences
are worth the cost. In that respect, I have been quite lucky. I’ve learned Mandarin Chinese
and Mongolian. I’ve danced the Macarena
on stage in Kazakhstan, which is probably its own TED Talk
and definitely under a different heading. I have drank German mulled wine
on a Vietnamese beach at Christmas. And eaten … we’ll leave it at I’ve eaten
pretty much everything. Somewhere along the way, while participating
in these random adventures, something happened. And I was able to perceive
this hole in our psyche. I’m in Indonesia, and my head is itching. It’s really itching. My husband does a check, and yes, Indonesian lice
have set up residence in my locks. I ask a local co-worker what I should do, and I’m told to go to the pharmacy
and given some rough directions. So I set out, and I’m a total failure. I get lost. My Indo is horrible so I can’t really ask for or understand
any directions I’m given, and by the time I find a pharmacy – God only knows if it was the pharmacy – it’s closed even though it’s the middle of the day. So, itchy and miserable,
I head home to return … later? Tomorrow? Oh yuck. I have to have looked
particularly pathetic walking through my neighborhood because my neighbor Suti came out. Suti spoke zero English, but after some pantomime
and scalp inspection, we had contact. Now though, she’s speaking rapid,
furious Indonesian, shaking her finger at me. She grabs my arm
and drags me into her home. I’m thrust into a seat in her living room, and she disappears into the kitchen. I hear banging and clanging, chopping noises – always a good sign, I tell myself – and she returns with a bowl
of teeny tiny limes, all cut in half. We spent the next better part of an hour
with Suti taking these lime slices and just smashing them into my scalp
and hand-picking out my lice. As she does this, she starts teaching me. She teaches me the Indonesian word
for lice – kutu rambut – in case you find yourself
in a similar situation. You’re welcome. (Laughter) And she tells me that her mom
taught her this technique. As I get my citrus scalp treatment, it occurs to me that this is not a part
of Suti’s life or job description. There is no need for her to assist sad-looking foreign people
wandering the streets of her neighborhood. But she did, and that has been the vast majority
of my experiences in other places. People are so involved and so patient. It is deeply humbling to be reminded
of all the things that we don’t know. For adults especially, I feel that we benefit
from extended periods of confusion and mental ambiguity. To be at fault, frequently,
and put back on track, not through our own merit
but through the grace of others, this cultivates a completely
different kind of mental strength. (Sniffs) Now I’m in China, and my best friend and I are descending
into a Beijing underground market. It is hot and the fans are roaring, but the air is super stale. This unforgettable combination
of urine, meat on a stick, and incense. (Laughter) As we meander through the aisles, we stop at a stall
that’s selling Buddhist items. And the shop keeper
immediately engages my friend. She is ethnically Chinese. I am me. If you were him,
who would you be talking to? As it happens, she’s an American as well. She speaks great Cantonese, but she’s in Beijing
to improve her Mandarin. As their conversation continues, I can tell she’s having a hard time
keeping up with his questions, so I start answering
and engaging the shop-keeper to kind of give her a break. My mistake. See, things quickly go downhill because we have kind of hit
a face-crisis here. Now, “mian zi,”
the Chinese concept of face, is much more than the honor
of the Shifu in a Kung Fu movie, or making a social faux pas. One tiny, tiny portion
of this complex idea is an individual’s ability
to assess others, place them in a social hierarchy, and then treat them accordingly. It’s very basic. Now, the shopkeeper has lost some face. He failed in his assessment. To be fair, we definitely threw
a wrench in his system, but picture this: A descendant of the Irish is helping a descendant
of the Chinese with her Mandarin. We have blown this man’s mind, and not in a good way. To him, it looks like the Chinese race has failed in its duty
to properly indoctrinate its people. Things got real heavy real fast. All I had wanted from this transaction was to buy some tiny Buddha statues
with big bellies and smiles, but now I’m just in the most
awkward position you can be in. In a desperate attempt
to derail this social train-wreck, I ask him, “Does the Buddha say anything about what’s on the inside of a person
having to be the same as the outside?” Luckily, it worked. Face is so subtle. There’s just no good English
equivalent or translation for this crazily complex concept. Thankfully, because
my Mandarin was good enough, and I had a rough understanding
of the nature of face, the shopkeeper and I talked Buddhist
philosophy and political principles for quite a while, and I got a fantastic deal
on my tiny, shiny Buddhas. Yes! Ah, so satisfying. And there are thousands
of these ideas out there – concepts that are untranslatable,
unknowable to us – you can’t think a thought
you don’t have a word for. Learning Mandarin totally changed
the landscape of my brain. It gave me new avenues
through which to view the world, and it added dimension to my thoughts. It’s just a typical day in Mongolia: my belly is full of khoniny öökh, or a sheep’s tail fat,
in case you were wondering. I know, you think a calorie dump
form biscuits and gravy is bad. My host mom is cleaning up
my family’s ger, the circular structure that Mongolians
have lived in for a thousand years. Then she turns to me and asks, “Heather, why do Americans
put their babies in cages?” (Laughter) Excuse me? I double check because translation errors
have definitely occurred in the past, and it dawns on me: Cribs! She’s asking
why we put our babies in cribs! I don’t have a child
of my own at this point, so I do my best to explain
my understanding of cribs. That, you know, when babies need to sleep
or the parents have to do something, they can put them in there,
and they can rest and be all safe. Oh ho, oh ho no. Now it’s a family-wide interrogation. The question floodgates
have really opened up. “Well, why don’t the babies
sleep with their mothers and fathers?” “Why is there no one else around
to hold the baby if the parents are busy?” “Is it true? Americans can only go
to each other’s houses if they have special invitations.” “What happens if the baby gets hot or cold
or has to pee in its cage?” “Are Americans just lonely all the time?” “Why don’t the parents
just ask the neighbors to hold their baby
while they do their chores?” It was a verbal hydra. For every question I answered, three more took its place. But they’ve got me thinking: God, cribs do look
a little like cages, don’t they? That is creepy. I suppose it would be preferable
if there were someone around to hold the baby
when the parents are busy. I had not once in my life pondered the philosophy
behind an infant’s sleeping apparatus, but the more I did, the more I realized
that some components of this idea were actually dissonant
with my personal beliefs. Mongolia became a mirror for me. It allowed me to review even the most mundane seeming aspects
of my home culture. And I had the opportunity to adopt practices
more in line with my values. Mongolia made me
a much more flexible person. It made my mind adaptive. There is a hole in the American psyche. If I were queen of America, I would send all of us
to developing countries. I’d make sure we had awkward,
uncomfortable adventures just like mine. Doing this wouldn’t solve any of the issues
that we currently face today, but it would give us the tools to do so. The hole in the American
psyche is compassion. The compassion we practice
is much more akin to sympathy than it is to authentic compassion. If we examine our feelings of compassion, who would we extend it to, for an example? We find many more limitations
than we would care to acknowledge. The compassion we
currently practice is restricted. It’s restricted by
our perceptions of otherness; it’s restricted by our own knowledge; and importantly, it is restricted
by the scope of our experiences. Unfortunately, this lack of compassion, of authentic compassion, it hurts us. On an individual level, this lack of authentic compassion
creates people who are insecure, anxious, depressed, and angry. Look at our rates of suicide
and social violence. On a societal level, this lack
of authentic compassion, it fills our world
with over-simplification, judgement, defensiveness. And on a global scale,
our lack of authentic compassion makes us seem a nation
that is cold, selfish, and sometimes cruel. The global refugee crisis, US business practices
across the developing world. Honestly, it breaks my heart to see the people
that I have such respect for and care so deeply about, to be living this way – in lives filled with judgement, awash in anxiety. For the challenges
that we are approaching and those that will come in the future, we require minds that are creative,
that are adaptable, that have compassion. The narrow path that we’ve been walking, where we shrink back
from this expanding world around us, is not sustainable. We have to get out. We have to put ourselves on a crash course
with novel experiences. We must do this to test our understanding, our own beliefs, and our fortitude. It’s our responsibility to relearn
authentic compassion from people who frankly
are much better at it than us – like my neighbor Suti. Because we, just us,
clearly we don’t have all the answers. But I happen to know that there are
some great ideas out there. I’d actually like to share
a poem I wrote with you. This poem sprang, almost fully formed,
from my consciousness, a little over a year ago, after I read about
a horrific act of violence that took place here in the United States. This incident instilled in me
a sense of urgency, a need to understand
what was really going on around me. This will actually be the first time I’ve read any of my poetry
to an audience before. Don’t believe them when they tell you
that this world’s a scary place, they say it loud and often, a sombre mask upon their face. I’ve been around it more than once, and I will tell you true, there is beauty and there is terror for this world is much like you. It’s layered and it’s complicated, it leaves us mystified. I’ve seen courage and humanity, glimpsed wonders with these eyes. Mothers love their children, strangers help you with your car, old folk, they tell stories, the youth yearns to fly afar. But somewhere in the pages
of our tilted history, someone spied advantage
planting fear and mystery. They whispered, “See, they’re different,
don’t believe those not like us.” And as trusting fools we listened, perhaps afraid to cause a fuss. That fear, it grew voraciously, its tendrils now run deep, and like a crippling wound it’s festered, choked our hearts to endless sleep. We’ve lost our brothers and our sisters, become hermits in our lands, and born of fear and hatred, we kill strangers with these hands. We cry out, “This is not the way!” wonder why things are not right, not remembering it is we fools
who built this hateful plight. But surely, we’ve grown tired, gotten fed up with the lies. They have two ears, one head, one heart, we see this with our eyes. It’s true that what’s the outside
won’t always the inside be, yet can’t it be a sign that says
they’re quite a bit like me? You spoke divide and conquer, never said a truer word. I’ll see one day, unite and thrive
becomes the phrase preferred. As your queen, I command you to go forth and leave these lands, feel the warmth of strangers
who will help you, see the chaos in the market, smell the incense in the air, fill your bellies with strange
and unsusal food, and listen to the questions
that make you think. Fill that hole in your psyche
little by little. Let it overflow. (Applause) (Cheers)

38 thoughts on “The Hole in the American Psyche | Heather Swope | TEDxCoeurdalene

  1. Amazing talk, hopefully with information like this us Americans will wake up to Western Imperialism and the echo chamber we're in. Considering we dropped 3 airstrikes an hour primarily on Muslim countries in 2016 and potentially even more in 2017 without any Antiwar movement resulting (despite a surge in interest for social justice) we are in bad shape ethically speaking and need to get over our country's 'man up culture' before we lose our humanity and lose our chance to redeem ourselves on the world stage. Right now I'm embarrassed and mortified.

  2. I think there's no coincidence that this was posted shortly after the Florida high school shooting.

  3. Raised some good points?? Stop destroying lives of others… the US has very adverse reputation among common mortals across the world. Be kind to others.. news travels fast in the world now. Read the book What is Islam by Parwez..

  4. She needs to travel around the US more. I’m from California but I went to grad school in Eastern Kentucky. I found the Appalachian people to be very friendly and helpful to me as a stranger with a CA accent. I met many people who had very little but would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. In many ways I got the same feelings she gained from being in Asia but I didn’t need a passport or learn a different language.

  5. Amazing talk! I loved the point about concepts that are untranslatable. Makes me wonder.. what ideas do I have yet to think about? Thank you for sharing your experiences, wisdom, and poetry.

  6. She's hot but her too is too long and she looks like she's trying to chew something or get a mintie out of her teeth

  7. This was really good. I'm glad to see you didn't squander your freedom. I like your appreciation of language and your poem. But, what I liked best was your open mind to consider such things. Without that, I never would have heard you tell about it. Thanks.

  8. Dear Heather Swope.- Colgate is a good tooth paste to use before a talk. Also, the people who like America are already on the border. So, just let them in, instead of advising to contaminate the what you call "developing" countries. Other than that, I like your Irish folk look and your 16th century sounding message.  I enjoyed your talk, thanks!  🙂

  9. Critique:
    1) You seemed like you were acting. Seemed memorized. Better for kids than adults.
    2) Tongue in cheek excessive – physically jabbing your cheeks with your tongue. I just found it annoying.
    3 Took waaaay too long to get to the point.

  10. Well done. US Americans do need to get out more. We tend to be isolated between two oceans. Our main contact with the world is through imperialism–something of course that the mainstream media never talks about. Embedding oneself in a foreign culture expands the mind because cultural biases that we assume to be universal are exposed as peculiarly US American. This is especially important for US Americans because our cultural exports and military presence tend to be hegemonic.

  11. 12:46 the hole in the American psyhe is COMPASSION. yep I say TLC.  hard to come by.we are really screwed up.

  12. "Publicly educated" 0:40 – 0:43 reminds one of the opening of a play by George Bernard Shaw, Caesar And Cleopatra, where the Egyptian God Ra speaks to the audience, addressing them – amongst other things – as "O you compulsorily educated people!"!

    "Red blooded American" 0:50 – because other earthlings are, um, blue blood, or white?

    This promises to be fun! Glad she's safe, having travelled across various end of the world corners, and particularly so despite dancing Macarena on stage in Kazakhstan! Don't know about Kazakhstan, but in another central Asian country across a border, kidnapping brides for purpose of wedding is routine. Whether fact of her being already married would make a difference, no clue.

  13. You can actually think about the concepts that you don't have a word for. That's how the words get "invented" anyways. It's a little sad that only scientific or let's say pseudo-scientific claim you made is wrong. Coming from someone from a developing country btw. Also i dont know if you have some kind of tourettes but if not your way of delivery is really distracting.

  14. I've never travelled that far but I know that no country is superior in terms of humanity. Government and institutions may be better or worse, and they represent the people who have the most power, but one-on-one interactions tell different stories.

  15. 1. She advocates "compassion" without ever defining it. Etymologically, "compassion" denotes "suffering with" another. One who does not suffer accepts in sacrifice the suffering of another to help alleviate the other's suffering. Americans generally flee suffering at every moment. In this sense she is very correct to call for "fortitude", if by this she means the fortitude to suffer in charity for others. However, we need not necessarily have the proposed exotic experiences to learn compassion. We can start simply by having compassion for those around us. It will ennoble us, and draw Americans from the pusillanimous pride that plagues us. 2. Consider that what separates those in underdeveloped nations from Americans is often authentic religious belief and practice, and moreover, that Christians are hands down the best practitioners of authentic compassion, because they know that God suffered on the Cross for them, in sacrifice for their salvation, and that He solemnly commanded them to obey His law of charity, which is the supreme law of the Gospel. Charity includes compassion, of course. Yes, many Americans do have this internal "hole"; it is the void that only God and His charity can fill. Do you want to fill that hole? The "new experience" you need is of the Catholic Church, the original and complete Christian Church. Talk to a practicing Catholic without delay…

  16. "I went abroad and found out I'm smarter than people that haven't!" No dear, you were just sheltered around, apparently, jerks.

  17. jeg vil give hende et godt råd læs H.C. Andersen. hun taler mere om sig selv en resten af verden .

  18. Wonderful presentation, Heather! Your, incredibly insightful, perspective has really helped me with my own! This TEDx channel, is what humanity should truly be about, learning and growing. I can't even express how important and helpful, these messages are. Maybe I need to learn another language or two! Thank you, so much!

  19. Such beautiful stories and your poem was awesome. You are such a beautiful person both inside and out. You are so right, we as Americans lack so much compassion outside of our own little world.
    Thank you for your words queen Heather

  20. "I don't have a child of my own at this point." — Here, hold my beer ; – ) And there are American Psychos hiding in every hole! – j q t –

  21. anyone else find this "talk" to be some of the worst acting they've ever seen?

  22. yeah i always look for solid advice from spoiled rich white girls. they are on top of how the world works ! wtf ted talks any body talks on ted

  23. The America I was born into was much more connected than it is now and I have to think people have been systematically and slowly manipulated to be more individualistic and consequently less connected to their fellow man. Empathy is sorely lacking.

  24. GREAT talk, but SERIOUSLY!!!! That insanely loud noise at the start of the video nearly gave me a heart attack. Shock and Awe….. as in AWE HECK – why did they have to DO that. Very American, lol.

  25. You tell them gal. There is so much hatred, and people just for themselves (no compassion), I wish it could change. And if they got out more, to foreign countries, this compassion would hit them gobsmack in the face. Especially Asian countries. I been there.

  26. I love this talk ❤️ the poetry is absolutely beautiful.

  27. America is a developing country. Sending Americans to other countries to learn and improve themselves is the epitome of white privilage.

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