Pico Iyer on Home, Travel, and Stillness (plus, Have You Seen the TED Commandments?)

161335960_3c30374d20_nPico Iyer, best-selling author on the topic of crossing cultures, finds the concept of “home” difficult to describe. It’s no wonder. His parents are Indian. He was born in England. At the age of eight he moved with his family to California. And currently, between his many travels, he lives with his Japanese wife in Japan.

In a TED Talk from 3 months ago, Iyer “meditates on the meaning of home, the joy of traveling and the serenity of standing still.”

Some great writers are not great speakers, but Iyer expresses his thoughts with eloquence in both forms. Here are a few of those thoughts:

On multi-cultural children:
“[T[heir whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained-glass whole.”

On traveling:
“The real voyage of discovery, as Marcel Proust famously said, consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes. And of course, once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home become something different.”

On the concept of home:
“[H]ome, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”

On collecting 1 million miles on a frequent-flyer program:
“You all know that crazy system, six days in hell, you get the seventh day free.”

And on spending three days in silence at a monastery:
“I began to think that something in me had really been crying out for stillness, but of course I couldn’t hear it because I was running around so much.”

Following the TED Commandments

I’ve watched several TED Talks, and I’m always impressed with how the speakers seem to present their thoughts articulately and effortlessly. I’ve always wondered if they use teleprompters. I found my answer at Jimmy Guterman’s blog. Guterman, a TED Talk presenter, wrote that the TED Talk stage includes “confidence monitors.” These floor-mounted monitors show the slides used in the presentation, to which presenter notes can be added. He added these notes, but regretted it later, as he was distracted by the monitors and felt that he looked down at them too often.

Guterman goes on to list the “TED Commandments” that TED sends to every speaker. It’s a great list of advice, and most of it applies to even casual conversations:

I. Thou shalt not steal time.
II. Thou shalt not sell from the stage.
III. Thou shalt not flaunt thine ego.
IV. Thou shalt not commit obfuscation.
V. Thou shalt not murder PowerPoint.
VI. Thou shalt shine a light.
VII. Thou shalt tell a story.
VIII. Thou shalt honor emotion.
IX. Thou shalt bravely bare thy soul.
X. Thou shalt prepare for impact.

To this, Guterman adds a number eleven: Trust thyself. (In other words, Don’t use monitors.)

If you’re thinking about brushing up your public-speaking skills and want to imitate that TED Talk style, you might want to take a look at this “Onion Talk,” produced by the folks at The Onion. It’s called “Ducks Go Quack, Chickens Say Cluck” . . . sort of a lesson on cross-cultural communication.

(Jimmy Guterman, “How to Give a TED Talk (and How Not To),” Jimmy Guterman’s blog, March 12, 2002)

[photo: “Loneliness,” by David Jakes, used under a Creative Commons license]


Silences, by Carla Williams

During our time in Taipei, my family and I served as missionaries with Team Expansion. Carla Williams, Team Expansion’s Creative Arts Writer, wrote the following a couple years ago for Window’s into the World, and she has allowed me to reprint it here. It is a reflection on years of meetings with missionaries, and on one conversation in particular. It speaks for those of us who often run out of words but still have much to say. 

I want to talk about the silences. I want to talk about the pained glances shared between husband and wife when I asked questions that hurt just a little too much. I want to talk about what faith looks like in the failures. Not in the everyday, stumble-and-move-on failures, but in the ones that knock you to your knees and change the course of the rest of your life.

I want to talk about the silence that filled the room when I asked the young couple sitting in front of me what they thought they did well while they were in the country they’d just left. The silence of insecurity. The silence of painful memories. The silence of doubt.

I want to talk about the silence that was the result of the question, “How is God affirming you right now?” The silence of seeking. The silence of uncertainty. The silence of battered hope.

Those silences are honest. They are full of all that is not being said. They are almost too loud.

I’ve heard countless stories of victory.  God calls people out of the complacency of their lives and pushes them toward a fruitful life of adventure and faith.  They have their struggles and their challenges, and even some very dark times, but in the end, those are stories of hope—of knowing what God called them to do and faithfully pursuing it. And there’s affirmation and joy and a sense of purpose. These are beautiful stories—stories that should be told over and over. These stories inspire and encourage.

But these aren’t the only stories.

There are also stories of bitterness, burnout, and arrogance. Sometimes, people sit in front of me angry, tired, and frustrated. But their stories are not full of silences. They are overflowing with words—issues to be talked out and resolved, fingers to be pointed, faults to be listed, and hopefully—peace to be restored. These stories are hard, but they’re not the ones I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the quiet couple who sat in front of me, with their eyes looking intently at the floor, their very presence conveying the wounds they were suffering. They’d eagerly and prayerfully moved where they wholeheartedly believed God wanted them to be. They’d fallen in love with an unreached people group. They’d invested years of their life into pioneering a ministry in one of the most spiritually dark parts of the world. They had been obedient and faithful. And they’d failed. Or, at least, that’s how it seemed to them.

And so, they sat in front of me. Cautiously and painfully looking behind, as if looking at a fresh wound under a thin bandage. And even more carefully peering into the future. Not knowing how yesterday’s pain was going to shape tomorrow’s journey.

With all the pain of having sought the will of God and having it bring them to an unspeakable valley, they answered my gentle questions. But it wasn’t in their words that I learned about their persistent hope in the face of the raging storm. It wasn’t in their words that I discovered their unfaltering desire to keep going. It wasn’t their words that revealed the faithfulness of the broken.

It was in the silences.

(Carla Williams, “Silences,” Windows into the World: True Stories about Team Expansion Workers around the World,” June 15, 2010)

[photo: “Simple Silhouette—Busy Delancey,” by leonem, used under a Creative Commons license]