Playlist TED Talks

Playlist: 8 talks on doing the right thing, politically speaking

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With just two weeks to go before the 2012 presidential election in the US, eyes around the world are on the contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. As shown in last night’s debate, the election may well come down to a few key issues. So what matters most to Americans? The TED Blog read this Gallup poll on the issues that citizens want the next president to prioritize. Conveniently, these are topics that speakers often address on the TED stage. So, every week until the election, we’ll bring you a new playlist focusing on one of the top-rated issues.

While 76 percent of Americans indicated that “setting high moral standards for the nation” is one of their highest priorities for the next president, the complexity of the issue can be difficult to interpret. What should those moral standards be, exactly? Here, 8 speakers reflect on how we know what’s right, and how we can give it a prominent place in our society.

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Karen Armstrong: Let’s revive the Golden Rule
Compassion is the root of all morality, says Karen Armstrong, and the world’s religious and spiritual leaders need to guide their communities back to that source. Too often, those entrusted with leadership only want to be right, or fail to grasp that being compassionate fundamentally requires action. At TEDGlobal 2009, she asks one and all for the return of Golden Rule.

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Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice
As a young boy, Bryan Stevenson’s grandmother made him promise to always do the right thing, even when it was the hard thing. At TED 2012, he shares a life’s work dedicated to that promise, fighting the social and racial inequality stemming from mass incarceration in the United States. He compels us to take a hard look at the wrongs within our system of justice and to persevere until they’ve been righted.

Nate Garvis: Change our culture, change our world
We are surrounded by cultural tools that express our values — from sexy electric sports cars to Cookie Monster’s acceptance of vegetables. Those gentle nudges are just as effective as our laws are. In this talk from TEDxTC, Nate Garvis explains that if we want to create a future for the causes we care about, we need to look outside the battle zone of politics and embrace the moral potential of trends.

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Jonathan Zittrain: The Web as random acts of kindness
Though we may not like all of the Internet’s content, Jonathan Zittrain points out that there’s something deeply admirable in its underlying structure. “The Internet has no business plan,” he says at TEDGlobal 2009. Still, information gets successfully transmitted by cooperation and goodwill. If this altruistic system is what drives the Internet, which drives our lives, he says maybe the world is not doing so badly after all.

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Paul Zak: Trust, morality – and oxytocin
At TEDGlobal 2011, Paul Zak shows a syringe full of morality, in the form of the hormone oxytocin. Trust, bonding and empathy have their chemical roots in oxytocin, he says, and we don’t need God or government to give us what’s already running through our veins.

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Dan Ariely: Our buggy moral code
We can’t make the right moral decisions if we don’t understand what tempts us to make the wrong ones. At TED2009, Dan Ariely presents some surprising studies on the dissociative factors that contribute to lying and cheating.

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Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives
Why do our morals and values always seem to correlate with our political views? And how can we learn to appreciate those whose values are different? At TED2008, Jonathan Haidt shares the five key categories of human morality — and which three have a polarizing effect in countries around the world.

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Barry Schwartz: Our loss of wisdom
It’s wisdom that gets us through the trickiest moral dilemmas, says Barry Schwartz at TED2009, because even the best of rules and guidelines can’t always provide the answers. If we want to turn out wiser professionals — from janitors to lawyers — we need to celebrate individuals of integrity, and acknowledge once and for all that brilliance isn’t enough.