Aspen Ideas Festival: Highlights

Hello from the Aspen airport, an adorable set of cozy cabins that apparently facilitate flights. As I mentioned in my last post about ideas on a macro scale, I’ve spent the past four days immersed in quite literally a land of ideas: the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival. The festival, which took place on this breathtakingly gorgeous campus, hosted both national and international leaders, artists, activists, academics, and more, to give talks on the ideas that make them tick.

Upon walking into the registration tent on Wednesday, I went straight to the Scholars booth…because a huge part of this festival, for me, was having the privilege to be amongst a cohort of awesome people who came from a wide variety of fields to experience the magic of Aspen courtesy of donors and the Institute itself. At the Scholars booth, I thankfully received a large tote bag that I used to carry my laptop and notebooks during the duration of my time. When everything is so inspiring all at once, it is so important to be prepared to integrate that inspiration into one’s own work…or so I’ve learned. I filled my notebook with notes from these phenomenal talks. Below are the highlights, as well as the titles of my favorite events. Enjoy!

Afternoon of Conversation: Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative

The festival started off with a BANG. Bryan Stevenson is my new activism idol. Here are some of his genius beliefs.

  • We need to get proximate. If we stay far from the problem, we lose the nuances.
  • In proximity, there is power. We have to change the narratives underneath the politics.
  • We’ve allowed narratives in this country that say some children aren’t children.
  • As educators, we need to start talking about how we got where we are.
    1. Get proximate.
    2. Change the narrative.
    3. Stay hopeful.
    4. Choose to do the uncomfortable.
  • It take courage to be hopeful in a complex world.
  • Each of us is more than the worst thing we are.
  • The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, it’s justice.

Academic Freedom, Safe Spaces, Dissent + Dignity 

I feel like I had just the right amount of distance from my undergraduate experience to truly listen to a diverse variety of panels on academic freedom on leading college campuses across the country (including my own alma mater). The conversation made me a) reflect a lot on the university I graduated from, which I love so freaking much, but also realize has many problems, and b) realize that one day I might actually love to work in higher education, to help students channel free speech on campus into activism off campus. Here are some excellent points that were brought up.

  • Academic freedom is a central tenet to the university yet it is often one we take for granted.
  • A core responsibility of universities is to prepare our students to be in the real world.
  • The problem of academic freedom goes beyond the First Amendment because the First Amendment covers public, but not private, universities.
  • College free speech is a microcosm of a larger national challenge.
  • Schools can’t be afraid of their students.
  • We need to come together, learn from one another, and question. The status quo should always be, “Be challenged.”

Job as Vocation: David Brooks + Arthur Brooks

Though not related, these two leading intellectuals share a last name and a purpose: to view work as a fueling force for a life well-lived. Here are some of their thoughts on job as vocation…

  • Always have something you’re writing (I’ve been feeling this one big time lately).
  • Serve ideals in your work that push the conversation away from the political and more toward the moral and personal.
  • Every day we are working to serve others.
  • Ask these questions:
    1. Who can I serve?
    2. What am I pouring my love into?
    3. Am I all in?
  • Pick the four best moments in your life. Do they have anything in common?
  • In your 20s and 30s, you should be exploring your new ideas (flashes of insight). Widen your horizon of risk in your 20s.
  • Shift ground continually.
  • What are you doing in your job when you’re the happiest? What are your circumstances asking you to do?
  • The happiest people feel like they’re needed. We need a society of people that put moral worth on who’s necessary.
  • A portfolio of life is comprised of:
    1. Faith
    2. Family
    3. Community
    4. Work

These are the talks and panels that dealt with the most universal themes of what it means to “grow up on OM.” I also went to some other really cool panels on podcasts (like the Slate Political Gabfest Live – !!! – and “Understanding the Podcast Explosion”) which were phenomenal. After all the ideas, though, I made sure the fuel up with a yoga hOMe practice, and a total treat of a class at Aspen Shakti Shala…ya gotta nourish the body too! 

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