Revealing a Heartbreaking Secret on the TED Stage
TED and The Huffington Post are excited to bring you TEDWeekends, a curated weekend program that introduces a powerful “idea worth spreading” every Friday, anchored in an exceptional TEDTalk. This week’s TEDTalk is accompanied by an original blog post from the featured speaker.
My sharing of John’s story was my first attempt to spark a conversation about the taboo subject of suicide, and in particular the challenge of coming back from an attempt and choosing life. It worked well enough to bring more than a half million viewers to see it. It’s been lovingly translated into 39 languages by volunteers and shown at numerous TED events around the world. I said in the talk that I was trying to “start a conversation worth having about an idea worth spreading.” That idea is determining how best to support the many people who attempt suicide but fail and seek to return to life.
What I’ve learned since the privilege of delivering this talk and then having TED put it online has been profound.
- 1) Breaking the silence is not an event, but a process. Through hundreds of emails and thousands of comments on various websites, it is clear that attempt survivors don’t just break the silence one time, but over and over and over again. Or they don’t, and live in the silence after once having a bad experience with sharing their secret with another.
- 2) Tough questions don’t have easy answers. I’m a layperson with no training in the healing arts. I attempted to start a conversation, but then could mostly just listen (or rather) read as others were inspired to share about their journey. Where possible I pointed people to the best resources I knew but felt inadequate to do more.
- 3) Conversations are a crucial, but slow path to change. In my own life I’ve witnessed the self-inflicted deaths of several people I’ve loved and known. While I wanted their closest friends and family members to share their stories too, I was powerless to cause that. I simply remained open to the conversation, replied to each email or invitation to chat, and urged strugglers to find or build the network of committed listeners in their own lives to further the conversation.
My TEDTalk may have begun a conversation, but the challenge now is how to continue that dialogue. The first book I know of that treated this topic directly was Richard Heckler’s 1996 Waking Up Alive. Just this month he published a second edition and in the preface he offers encouragement for all of us to continue this conversation:
“Perhaps no other life-threatening condition on the planet can be so positively impacted by honest, forthright and intimate conversations with friends, loved-ones, clients and colleagues. As we do this, we demystify suicide. We render it approachable by creating a net of understanding so strong and a willingness to intervene imbued with such resolve, that people can no longer fall through the cracks.”
And yet no conversation, no matter how meaningful and powerful, can bring back the millions we’ve already lost to suicide. The loved ones of these victims also have a thirst for conversation and our efforts to engage with them may very well prevent the next loss to suicide if we can all continue to break the silence and share our journeys. For it is in the sharing of these journeys that we become vulnerable and open to healing.
In my mind ending the taboo of suicide remains a conversation worth having and an idea worth spreading. Join me in continuing to make that possible for others.
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