TEDxJacksonville Salon on Jacksonville's Environment

May 18, 2014 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

I had just finished an exhausting two weeks the night before the TEDxJacksonville Salon at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens a couple of weekends ago. Part of me wanted to stay home and snack on lunch meat and cheap American Cheese to recover but the better part of me wanted to attend.

So, I went and when I arrived, Asghar was there to greet me. "You're lucky I'm here," he said, as I had failed to confirm my attendance. The guest list at TEDx is a few degrees under the Book of Life. No one enters just because they know someone on the list or even because they are well-intentioned. You better be on the list or you are not getting in. I'm media, though. Press credentials are a wondrous thing.

Asghar Syed with a backpack

Asghar Syed is the Partnership Director. He and Carrie Holland, Marketing Director, are MetroJacksonville.com's contacts at TEDxJacksonville. They. Are. Awesome. They have foresight and if anything even goes slightly offtrack, these two are quick to adjust. It's a bit of logistical poetry watching the TEDx team in action. I may be more impressed with their level of organization and execution than the actual talks (and the talks are good!). There is a value to seeing them operate on a behind-the-scenes level for two years now.

As Asghar and I were waiting for the tour guide, our initial conversation revolved around faith and whether various faith groups could work together to accomplish a given task. Asghar is spending time just talking to faith leaders in Jacksonville-- not for some ultimate goal, it seems, but just to gauge how people are.  

Then a few other people breezed in and the conversation evolved into a discussion about gender and language. One woman was casually annoyed at being called a girl. As in, "Right this way, 'guys' and 'girls,'" to which another replied something like, "The south figured that out a long time ago when they started using 'ya'll.'" There was slight laughter from the growing crowd but for me, a happy sense of vindication for the southern dialect.

As the tour began and throughout the experience, little pockets of conversation became the highlight of our walk around the zoo. It was great to see the tigers and giraffes, but it was pleasing to hear and voice opinions on a variety topics with a group of strangers as we walked. The cool, crisp weather right before the sun set helped to keep everyone happy in conversation. Not a lot of debate.. people were willing to nod their head when they disagreed just to keep tensions low if a hot topic arose (and by "hot topic," I mean tepid).

Side note: the tiger exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo places a visitor close to the large cats. They are a yard or two away. Plenty of fencing, but still very close! The entire zoo looked alive. The landscaping was incredible. Despite whatever moral stipulations you may have about zoos, the Jacksonville Zoo is beautiful.

Asghar is good at this. He is good at developing conversations. He is excellent at asking the people around him, "What do you think/feel about this?" and then giving that person space to answer, to think through and own their opinion. He never quite chimes in with his own opinion, though, I presume, to give space to the attendees to keep the conversation alive and to not unintentionally sway it in one direction.

After the tour, the actual event of the evening began with with food and a cash bar. Pause here. This is the only bothersome aspect of the evening. I didn't have cash on hand and I don't think the cash bar was taking debit cards. So, no drinks. No coffee. No tea. It is my ongoing and emphatic request/ribbing to TEDxJacksonville. Coffee should be everywhere and "drinks" most everywhere.

After the our initial round of eating (there were two light eating rounds before and after the talks), we watched three talks regarding the environment and sustainability (you can watch them on the last page).

The Ted talks were good, but the more enjoyable part of the the evening was the discussion groups. There were three different groups, each led by an expert but still allowing for an open forum of communication. The groups broke down into three subtle categories of people: the listeners, the questioners, and the experts. Again, I didn't hear a lot of differing opinions, but it's hard to debate the need for clean water or quality parks. There was not much to debate except for maybe how much money should be actually spent on Jacksonville's environment. A few people dominated the conversation, though these people had valid and credible information.

Asghar, assigned an "official" notetaker for each group.

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