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The Neuroscience of Social Conflict (Tim Phillips at TEDxBoston 2014)

The Neuroscience of Social Conflict (Tim Phillips at TEDxBoston 2014)

Jimmy Guterman
December 2nd, 2014

One of our favorite things about TEDs and TEDx’s is that they are places where unexpected ideas bump into one another. It happens onstage – you can see a nuclear physicist follow a dancer, who has followed a religious scholar or a book designer – and it happens in the audience when you talk to the people sitting next to you. Everyone at the event is engaged in ideas, yet everyone it coming at those ideas from a different angle. One of the delights in helping curate TEDxBoston for six years has been creating a place where that can happen.

And sometimes we get especially lucky and this mixing happens inside the same talk. Tim Phillips of Beyond Conflict, a nonprofit with more than two decades of experience working to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, delivered a talk on how the latest breakthroughs in brain science might help us stop violence. Using two supposedly inexorable conflicts as his example – Northern Ireland and South Africa – Tim showed how people, no matter how at odds, can discover their shared humanity. Even more important, he showed how different parts of the brain play a role in different types of emotions – and how understanding that can help break down barriers to peace. Special thanks to our Annie White; as you watch the talk, you’ll see that her spare slides deepen both the content and emotion of Tim’s story.

Tim’s talk made us think about how new advances in brain science should lead us to reconsider how people work (or don’t work) together. We were particularly interested in having Tim talk at this year’s TEDxBoston because his work dovetails with our company’s work. At Collective Next, we’re focused on discovering ways to help our clients collaborate better. One of the lessons we took away from Tim’s talk was that, as we learn new things, we have to, as our CEO Matt Saiia often puts it, “continuously revisit what we think we know.” Learning more about one thing, like how the brain works, can help us know more about many, many things, as long as we’re open to learning. 

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