The revolutionary power of diverse thought | Elif Shafak

The revolutionary power of diverse thought | Elif Shafak

“Can you taste words?” It was a question
that caught me by surprise. This summer, I was giving a talk
at a literary festival, and afterwards, as I was signing books, a teenage girl came with her friend, and this is what she asked me. I told her that some people
experience an overlap in their senses so that they could hear colors or see sounds, and many writers were fascinated
by this subject, myself included. But she cut me off, a bit impatiently,
and said, “Yeah, I know all of that. It’s called synesthesia.
We learned it at school. But my mom is reading your book, and she says there’s lots
of food and ingredients and a long dinner scene in it. She gets hungry at every page. So I was thinking, how come you don’t
get hungry when you write? And I thought maybe,
maybe you could taste words. Does it make sense?” And, actually, it did make sense, because ever since my childhood, each letter in the alphabet
has a different color, and colors bring me flavors. So for instance, the color purple
is quite pungent, almost perfumed, and any words that I associate with purple taste the same way, such as “sunset” — a very spicy word. But I was worried that if I tell
all of this to the teenager, it might sound either too abstract or perhaps too weird, and there wasn’t enough time anyhow, because people were waiting in the queue, so it suddenly felt like
what I was trying to convey was more complicated and detailed than what the circumstances
allowed me to say. And I did what I usually do
in similar situations: I stammered, I shut down,
and I stopped talking. I stopped talking because
the truth was complicated, even though I knew, deep within, that one should never, ever
remain silent for fear of complexity. So I want to start my talk today with the answer that I was not able
to give on that day. Yes, I can taste words — sometimes, that is, not always, and happy words have
a different flavor than sad words. I like to explore: What does
the word “creativity” taste like, or “equality,” “love,” “revolution?” And what about “motherland?” These days, it’s particularly
this last word that troubles me. It leaves a sweet taste on my tongue, like cinnamon, a bit of rose water and golden apples. But underneath, there’s a sharp tang, like nettles and dandelion. The taste of my motherland, Turkey, is a mixture of sweet and bitter. And the reason why I’m telling you this is because I think
there’s more and more people all around the world today who have similarly mixed emotions about the lands they come from. We love our native countries, yeah? How can we not? We feel attached to the people,
the culture, the land, the food. And yet at the same time, we feel increasingly frustrated
by its politics and politicians, sometimes to the point
of despair or hurt or anger. I want to talk about emotions and the need to boost
our emotional intelligence. I think it’s a pity that mainstream political theory
pays very little attention to emotions. Oftentimes, analysts and experts
are so busy with data and metrics that they seem to forget
those things in life that are difficult to measure and perhaps impossible to cluster
under statistical models. But I think this is a mistake,
for two main reasons. Firstly, because we are emotional beings. As human beings,
I think we all are like that. But secondly, and this is new, we have entered
a new stage in world history in which collective sentiments
guide and misguide politics more than ever before. And through social media
and social networking, these sentiments are further amplified, polarized, and they travel
around the world quite fast. Ours is the age of anxiety, anger, distrust, resentment and, I think, lots of fear. But here’s the thing: even though there’s plenty of research
about economic factors, there’s relatively few studies
about emotional factors. Why is it that we underestimate
feelings and perceptions? I think it’s going to be one
of our biggest intellectual challenges, because our political systems
are replete with emotions. In country after country, we have seen illiberal politicians
exploiting these emotions. And yet within the academia
and among the intelligentsia, we are yet to take emotions seriously. I think we should. And just like we should focus
on economic inequality worldwide, we need to pay more attention
to emotional and cognitive gaps worldwide and how to bridge these gaps, because they do matter. Years ago, when I was still
living in Istanbul, an American scholar working on
women writers in the Middle East came to see me. And at some point
in our exchange, she said, “I understand why you’re a feminist, because, you know, you live in Turkey.” And I said to her, “I don’t understand
why you’re not a feminist, because, you know, you live in America.” (Laughter) (Applause) And she laughed. She took it as a joke, and the moment passed. (Laughter) But the way she had divided the world
into two imaginary camps, into two opposite camps — it bothered me and it stayed with me. According to this imaginary map, some parts of the world
were liquid countries. They were like choppy waters
not yet settled. Some other parts of the world,
namely the West, were solid, safe and stable. So it was the liquid lands
that needed feminism and activism and human rights, and those of us who were
unfortunate enough to come from such places had to keep struggling
for these most essential values. But there was hope. Since history moved forward, even the most unsteady lands
would someday catch up. And meanwhile, the citizens of solid lands could take comfort
in the progress of history and in the triumph of the liberal order. They could support the struggles
of other people elsewhere, but they themselves
did not have to struggle for the basics of democracy anymore, because they were beyond that stage. I think in the year 2016, this hierarchical geography
was shattered to pieces. Our world no longer follows
this dualistic pattern in the scholar’s mind, if it ever did. Now we know that history
does not necessarily move forward. Sometimes it draws circles, even slides backwards, and that generations
can make the same mistakes that their great-grandfathers had made. And now we know that there’s no such thing as solid countries
versus liquid countries. In fact, we are all living
in liquid times, just like the late Zygmunt Bauman told us. And Bauman had another
definition for our age. He used to say we are all going
to be walking on moving sands. And if that’s the case, I think, it should concern us women more than men, because when societies
slide backwards into authoritarianism, nationalism or religious fanaticism, women have much more to lose. That is why this needs
to be a vital moment, not only for global activism, but in my opinion,
for global sisterhood as well. (Applause) But I want to make a little confession
before I go any further. Until recently, whenever I took part in
an international conference or festival, I would be usually one
of the more depressed speakers. (Laughter) Having seen how our dreams of democracy
and how our dreams of coexistence were crushed in Turkey, both gradually but also
with a bewildering speed, over the years I’ve felt
quite demoralized. And at these festivals there would be
some other gloomy writers, and they would come from places
such as Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines,
China, Venezuela, Russia. And we would smile
at each other in sympathy, this camaraderie of the doomed. (Laughter) And you could call us WADWIC: Worried and Depressed
Writers International Club. (Laughter) But then things began to change, and suddenly our club became more popular, and we started to have new members. I remember — (Laughter) I remember Greek writers and poets
joined first, came on board. And then writers from Hungary and Poland, and then, interestingly, writers
from Austria, the Netherlands, France, and then writers from the UK,
where I live and where I call my home, and then writers from the USA. Suddenly, there were more of us feeling worried about
the fate of our nations and the future of the world. And maybe there were more of us now feeling like strangers
in our own motherlands. And then this bizarre thing happened. Those of us who used to be
very depressed for a long time, we started to feel less depressed, whereas the newcomers,
they were so not used to feeling this way that they were now even more depressed. (Laughter) So you could see writers
from Bangladesh or Turkey or Egypt trying to console their colleagues from Brexit Britain
or from post-election USA. (Laughter) But joking aside, I think our world is full
of unprecedented challenges, and this comes with an emotional backlash, because in the face of high-speed change, many people wish to slow down, and when there’s too much unfamiliarity, people long for the familiar. And when things get too confusing, many people crave simplicity. This is a very dangerous crossroads, because it’s exactly where the demagogue
enters into the picture. The demagogue understands
how collective sentiments work and how he — it’s usually a he —
can benefit from them. He tells us that we all
belong in our tribes, and he tells us that we will be safer
if we are surrounded by sameness. Demagogues come in all sizes
and in all shapes. This could be the eccentric leader
of a marginal political party somewhere in Europe, or an Islamist extremist imam
preaching dogma and hatred, or it could be a white supremacist
Nazi-admiring orator somewhere else. All these figures, at first glance —
they seem disconnected. But I think they feed each other, and they need each other. And all around the world, when we look at how demagogues talk
and how they inspire movements, I think they have one
unmistakable quality in common: they strongly, strongly dislike plurality. They cannot deal with multiplicity. Adorno used to say, “Intolerance of ambiguity is the sign
of an authoritarian personality.” But I ask myself: What if that same sign, that same intolerance of ambiguity — what if it’s the mark of our times,
of the age we’re living in? Because wherever I look,
I see nuances withering away. On TV shows, we have
one anti-something speaker situated against a pro-something speaker. Yeah? It’s good ratings. It’s even better
if they shout at each other. Even in academia, where our intellect
is supposed to be nourished, you see one atheist scholar
competing with a firmly theist scholar, but it’s not a real intellectual exchange, because it’s a clash
between two certainties. I think binary oppositions are everywhere. So slowly and systematically, we are being denied the right
to be complex. Istanbul, Berlin, Nice, Paris, Brussels, Dhaka, Baghdad, Barcelona: we have seen one horrible
terror attack after another. And when you express your sorrow,
and when you react against the cruelty, you get all kinds of reactions, messages on social media. But one of them is quite disturbing, only because it’s so widespread. They say, “Why do you feel sorry for them? Why do you feel sorry for them? Why don’t you feel sorry
for civilians in Yemen or civilians in Syria?” And I think the people
who write such messages do not understand that we can feel sorry for
and stand in solidarity with victims of terrorism and violence
in the Middle East, in Europe, in Asia, in America, wherever, everywhere, equally and simultaneously. They don’t seem to understand
that we don’t have to pick one pain and one place over all others. But I think this is what
tribalism does to us. It shrinks our minds, for sure, but it also shrinks our hearts, to such an extent that we become numb
to the suffering of other people. And the sad truth is,
we weren’t always like this. I had a children’s book out in Turkey, and when the book was published,
I did lots of events. I went to many primary schools, which gave me a chance to observe
younger kids in Turkey. And it was always amazing to see
how much empathy, imagination and chutzpah they have. These children are much more inclined
to become global citizens than nationalists at that age. And it’s wonderful to see,
when you ask them, so many of them want
to be poets and writers, and girls are just as confident as boys, if not even more. But then I would go to high schools, and everything has changed. Now nobody wants to be a writer anymore, now nobody wants to be a novelist anymore, and girls have become timid, they are cautious, guarded, reluctant to speak up in the public space, because we have taught them — the family, the school, the society — we have taught them
to erase their individuality. I think East and West, we are losing multiplicity, both within our societies
and within ourselves. And coming from Turkey,
I do know that the loss of diversity is a major, major loss. Today, my motherland became
the world’s biggest jailer for journalists, surpassing even China’s sad record. And I also believe that what happened
over there in Turkey can happen anywhere. It can even happen here. So just like solid countries
was an illusion, singular identities is also an illusion, because we all have
a multiplicity of voices inside. The Iranian, the Persian poet, Hafiz, used to say, “You carry in your soul
every ingredient necessary to turn your existence into joy. All you have to do
is to mix those ingredients.” And I think mix we can. I am an Istanbulite, but I’m also attached to the Balkans, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Levant. I am a European by birth, by choice, the values that I uphold. I have become a Londoner over the years. I would like to think of myself
as a global soul, as a world citizen, a nomad and an itinerant storyteller. I have multiple attachments,
just like all of us do. And multiple attachments
mean multiple stories. As writers, we always
chase stories, of course, but I think we are also
interested in silences, the things we cannot talk about, political taboos, cultural taboos. We’re also interested in our own silences. I have always been very vocal
about and written extensively about minority rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights. But as I was thinking about this TED Talk, I realized one thing: I have never had the courage
to say in a public space that I was bisexual myself, because I so feared the slander and the stigma and the ridicule and the hatred that was sure to follow. But of course, one should never,
ever, remain silent for fear of complexity. (Applause) And although I am
no stranger to anxieties, and although I am talking here
about the power of emotions — I do know the power of emotions — I have discovered over time that emotions are not limitless. You know? They have a limit. There comes a moment — it’s like a tipping point
or a threshold — when you get tired of feeling afraid, when you get tired of feeling anxious. And I think not only individuals, but perhaps nations, too,
have their own tipping points. So even stronger than my emotions is my awareness that not only gender, not only identity, but life itself is fluid. They want to divide us into tribes, but we are connected across borders. They preach certainty, but we know that life has plenty of magic and plenty of ambiguity. And they like to incite dualities, but we are far more nuanced than that. So what can we do? I think we need to go back to the basics, back to the colors of the alphabet. The Lebanese poet
Khalil Gibran used to say, “I learned silence from the talkative and tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind.” I think it’s a great motto for our times. So from populist demagogues, we will learn the indispensability of democracy. And from isolationists, we will learn
the need for global solidarity. And from tribalists, we will learn
the beauty of cosmopolitanism and the beauty of diversity. As I finish, I want to leave you
with one word, or one taste. The word “yurt” in Turkish
means “motherland.” It means “homeland.” But interestingly, the word also means “a tent used by nomadic tribes.” And I like that combination,
because it makes me think homelands do not need
to be rooted in one place. They can be portable. We can take them with us everywhere. And I think for writers, for storytellers, at the end of the day, there is one main homeland, and it’s called “Storyland.” And the taste of that word is the taste of freedom. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The revolutionary power of diverse thought | Elif Shafak

  1. Hey guys.
    I am German and I would really like to be in contact with a foreign (English speaking) person, so we both could improve our English skills. Just write me!!

  2. Sure stronger Vision. so is Education and Culture Knowledge in life and if the rest of a world, freedoms and democracies, is emotions Hobbies, A set of feelings that result in love is the best thing, in human life.

  3. TED video are always interesting, for the better or worse

    but damn the comment section is more cancerous than Chernobyl power plant

  4. I loved this, I found it very inspiring, thankyou. Elif came across very genuine and authentic and passionate. She spoke eloquently and I'm now going to Look up her writings 🙂

  5. "I learned silence from the talkative and tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind" – Khalil Gibran
    That really touched me. I think it's really time for everyone to listen to each other, perceive each other not as enemies, but as individual people intelligent enough to communicate effectively. Thanks for this talk.

  6. that's why liberalism fails and produces snowflakes, cuz we take into consideration emotions

    in the ingnorance of emotion can we truly thrive as a species

  7. People really don't seem to understand what "diverse thought" is. Respecting extremist ideologies like homofobia, male chauvenism or racism (among others) is not supporting diversity, but supporting individualism. Human Rights are the limit of our believes/behaviour and of course there are ethical values and not moral values. Of course there exists good and bad, things which are legitimate and things which are not valid.

    Diverse thinking means taking care of multiple identities, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, etc, meaning human plurality/reality. Therefore, the aim of equality is to erradicate any kind of mindset which threatens those principles, the reason being that sexual orientation, race, gender, etc, do NOT go against ANY human right (in most cases those characteristcis aren't even something which can be chosen). People have the right to be black, woman, LGTBI, etc, but nobody has the right to discriminate against them because of those characteristics.


  8. but big liberal elites like to surround themselves with like minded individuals and try to destroy diversity of thought in favor of ethnic diversity.

  9. I gave up in the five minute zone, lecture or lecturing , judgement & superiority & political weird talk. yah ¿

  10. The far right in the west exist as a reaction against the far left. They are the one who started abandoning liberalism and turning people against each other with identity policy. It is true that the situation today is similar with the one during the 30s, your have the threat of Marxist derived believes that stimulate a defensive reaction and polarization of society.

  11. We are rational beings. We should leave irrationality and tribalism behind and we should think rationally and make decisions based on logic and reason, not influenced by emotions and feelings.

  12. i live in Au for several years , there r still many of ppl do not like Asia , they always with the impolite language to Asia ppl. so , diversity thought ? i dont know   heart broken …….

  13. Hello Mrs. Elif ! First I would like to emphasize my respect for you and for your talk and I think I can understand your message because I would like to do something in order to promote goodness to the world, my country, state, city and community. However May I politely ask you a question? Please, do not misunderstand my "Tom of voice" through this question. I am asking it politely and in a respectful manner. Honestly, Don't you think that people (not you), in general, who are promoting that kind of feminist thought are not the ones who are in power know and destroying our contries? I would be glad to hear from you. Thank you very much!

  14. I dont understand how audiences listen that. This woman is talking about diversity while supporting AKP and Erdoğan's politics.

  15. hope she can LIVE her own world….rules are made to be followed….the difference between hers and mine is the Creator….does she think that her emotion is created by her mind ONLY ( without believeing that she has the right to choose not being in complexity )??? if yes then I see why she becomes bisexual…hope she can meet her creator soon in her storyland….

  16. People don't fear staying silent because of complexity. People stay silent for fear of getting their heads kicked in.

  17. I'm just gonna leave this here…

    "The critic Is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his Impression of beautiful things.
    The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.
    Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
    Those who find beautiful meanings In beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there Is hope". (Oscar Wilde)

  18. Elif Şafak mükemmel bir konuşmacı. Kadının konuşmasının bir bölümüne odaklanıp gerisin dinlememek aptallıktır. Ayakta alkışlanmasından gurur duymak varken neden nefret söylemlerine maruz bırakıyorsunuz kadını. Söyledikleri gerçek değil mi? Bal gibi biliyorsunuz, hissediyorsunuz gerçek olduğunu. Cesur Elif Şafak seviliyorsun

  19. The key is to embrace the withdrawal process and to fully accept that it is a time for navel gazing. In our isolation, we can ask ourselves "What are the especially precious persons, places, and things that we lost, and how did those meaningful things make our lives better?" Sharing those stories of loss will reconnect us. I truly believe that.

  20. In the U.S. 'we' spend a near infinite amount of energy resources, human energy and monetary energy on Militarization and in contrast next to nothing on peaceful approaches to resolving our challenges…One wonders if we spent 5 to 10% of the current military budget on the combined skills of emotional literacy and conflict resolution… if much of the devolutionary chest thumping would go the way of the dinosaur in a matter of generations?

  21. I feel this speech moves too much for my taste. Perhaps she could consider the psychology driving those she criticises, their needs and emotions rather than just creating her own binary oppositions in order to attack them. Maybe then she will realise what she is preaching, and no longer be a hypocrite.

  22. Attention to the point of talking (18:56 th minute)
    Too sad on behalf of humanity.

    (The Noble Qur'an. Surah Al A’raf. Verse:80-84)
    And [We had sent] Lot when he said to his people, "Do you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds?
    Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.
    But the answer of his people was only that they said, "Evict them from your city! Indeed, they are men who keep themselves pure.
    So We saved him and his family, except for his wife; she was of those who remained [with the evildoers].
    And We rained upon them a rain [of stones]. Then see how was the end of the criminals.

  23. Before the man says I'm bisexual; she must respect her husband and her children first of all. All religions do not welcome this situation. What a pity.

  24. When she is speaking her magical language with rich vocabulary touches , i feel to be obliged listening. Whatever she talks, she makes it moving like her stories. Eastern wisdom with balkanic beauty. İts very rare. We adore you Elif. As a man how ı would be able to atract you?

  25. Dear lady in the name of the truth you are Satan's spokeswoman no more comment about your presence…
    A note for Those who listen to her lies, wake up to the truth of the reality and do not fall in these soft spoken disguised satans behind a beautiful face.

  26. This is so stupid who wants diversity thought. We need intelligent thoughts we need the top thinkers to matter the talk test scores the smartest people only no matter who they are not by their skin not by their culture

  27. This is stupidity at its finest this is a stupid person educated. If you're racing somebody to be the best you cannot hold back. Nobody left behind is a curse. you must be the best and ordered the push the best the create the best

  28. Oh my God this is a bunch of nonsense of convincing people that she knows what she's talking about. It does nothing it gets us nowhere. Thank God our scientist that invented antibiotics didn't worry about this stuff

  29. The cosmopolitanism is myth, no one can choose by itself, where to belong, identity isn´t individual but collective, that means that you cannot claim to belong in a group as long as they accept you, and this is never going to happen. sorry for my english.

  30. Terrorist group "FETO" which is ruled by Fetullah Gülen, supports she. That's why she is talking on TED. So, don't care what she says. She is an uninformed and insufficient writer for Turkey like Orhan Pamuk.

  31. "The demagogue tells us we'll be safer in our tribes surrounded by our own people."

    Sounds just like a college safe space to me.

  32. "Diversity of Thought" = someone being allowed to say "I don't like homosexuals", or "Never trust a woman", or "All men are rapists", or "I'm a Satanist"…and then having others reply with their own thoughts on what was stated. But, at NO POINT should 'the society' be allowed to punish those people with such diverse thoughts OTHER THAN via speaking their own thoughts to counteract.

    So the second any person, group, government, etc says "Anyone can say anything here. It's a safe space. … but if you say something 'hateful', we'll kick you out and not allow you to speak". Especially when you ask them "Ok, what is defined as 'hateful'? Disagreement is ok, right?", and they reply with "Hateful is Hate Speech. Don't do that"…"Ok, what is defined as 'hate speech'?"… "The fact you are asking that means you are a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, white-supremacist, so GET OUT!". Well, THAT is a problem.

    Nowadays, anytime someone mentions or brings up "hate speech"…just walk away. You are dealing with a SJW/FarLeftist/Feminist/Antifa type person who judges what is good based on how they feel at the moment.

  33. I like her.But ,please do not say “you are İstanbulate.Because,it does not exist.Turkish women are unfortunatly nothing like you .İstanbul isfull of wolfs.

  34. Let’s run the world with emotion and romanticism so that we can and up in less scientific and more sentimental world. Moreover when a famine hits we can eat letters and taste words. How does Elif Şafak taste? She tastes irrational to me

  35. the spark for the " RENAISSANCE " was the " individual " at the center of life , nowadays humans needs have been crashed by the nations abstract pryority.
    When the countries leaderships work to impose the nationalistic agenda not only the private life is sacrificed x the country propaganda with the people ending up with empty life fighting x the country fake image.We see this in all dictatorship real or in disguise.We have left the century of fighting x the motherland and entered the 21st century with international diplomacy is a mess ,with local diplomacy in a mess to.
    Too much enphasis on ideology and the supremacy of the state.Countries are not much in the businness of making their citizen happy but in creating an abstract enemy to justified populism and repression.
    The individual should gain center stage as in the Renaissance.

  36. Elif you are great women i love you , you book the forty rules of love one of the greatest pieces of art you have made when i read every word about god and every rule i feel explosion in my conciousness and expanding and that changed me so thank you thank you a lot a lot ❤

  37. Böyle naif bir insana yapılan çirkin eleştiriler yaralıyor beni. Fakat gönül rahatlığı ile şunu söyleyebilirim bütün dünya onu eleştirse bile ben okudukça yazdıklarında kendimi görüyorum ve tam da bu noktada gözümdeki değeri bir gram bile oynamıyor… #kucak dolusu sevgilerle…♡

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