Igniting change around the world

TEDxBinghamtonUniversity speakers show passion, creativity

Binghamton University junior Jonathan Caputo rides onto the TEDxBinghamtonUniversity stage on a scooter before giving his "It's OK not to love yourself" talk. Image Credit: Sophia Cohen.
Binghamton University junior Jonathan Caputo rides onto the TEDxBinghamtonUniversity stage on a scooter before giving his
Binghamton University junior Jonathan Caputo rides onto the TEDxBinghamtonUniversity stage on a scooter before giving his "It's OK not to love yourself" talk. Photography: Sophia Cohen.

Time is of the essence. Don’t let life pass you by.

That was the main message from two of the seven TEDxBinghamtonUniversity speakers at the annual conference, held March 3 in the Anderson Center’s Osterhout Concert Theater on campus.

This year’s TEDxBinghamtonUniversity lineup included a biochemist hoping to change science education, an alumnus who believes life is worth living to its fullest, a curious innovator passionate about the refugee crisis, a leader and collaborator in gaming animation, a student who understands the importance of mental health, a former member of the CIA who served in Baghdad, and an enthusiastic entertainment writer. All have a passion to make a difference in the world and ignite change.

Alumnus Peter Guttman ’76, a world traveler, photographer and author, urged audience members to be adventurers in whatever way they can, while student speaker Jonathan Caputo, a junior triple majoring in psychology, philosophy and Italian, told the crowd that he wasn’t going to wait to make decisions that make him happy.

Guttman, who titled his TEDx talk “Ensuring your soul doesn’t go gray before your hair does,” joked that “time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana. … But time is our most valuable resources and even this talk is a race against time.”

Watching his father fall ill with multiple sclerosis caused Guttman to resolve to make the most of his time. And he did. He conducted research into internal power sources for artificial hearts at the age of 11 and thought he would be a pre-med major at Binghamton. “When I arrived on campus, this city boy was blown away by the beauty of upstate New York and the dazzle of four seasons,” he said.

“I had my mid-life crisis at 19, when I realized organic chemistry was no match for driving the back roads of Broome County. I had an epiphany and chucked pre-med and became a geography major.”

Guttman was much more interested in crafting a life than in making a living, he said. “As my friends moved up, I moved across.” He was a tour guide on bus trips across the country, taking photos as he went and recording his travels on a map in ballpoint pen.

But he knew time was ticking down with each revolution around the sun, so Guttman talked a friend into riding a Greyhound bus to frigid North Dakota to see an eclipse. Sweating and freezing while building a snowman in the middle of nowhere – and being checked out by state troopers before the task was done – resulted in a photo that caught the eye of National Geographic’s creative director and Guttman’s adventures took off.

“I’ve enjoyed warming up in cozy lighthouses just as much as freezing in and ice hotel,” he said, showing photos on the big screen of feeding a giraffe from a couch, sleeping in a harbor crane so he could inspect the horizon from all directions, caving in the Southwest, hanging with 5,000 walruses in the Aleutian Islands and riding the rapids in the Grand Canyon. The list barely scratches the surface.

“I have continued to avoid the humdrum, everyday life,” Guttman said. “I’ve continued to push the boundaries of my comfort zone.” He has summited Mount Kilamanjaro and sailed to Timbukto. He’s photographed thousands of King Penguins in Antarctica and dancers at the North Pole skipping back and forth over the International Dateline.

“An astonishing array of humanity has caught my attention,” he said. “People are stubbornly thriving as ancient cultures are vanishing, fragile landscapes are deteriorating and species are one the verge of extinction. It’s happening fast, this modern progress.”

Guttman’s most recent book, Children Around the World, reminds him of his son, who is also racing against time and who served as an inspiration for Guttman’s award-winning travel app, Beautiful Planet HD.

“It’s not the number of days, but the thickness of our experience that counts,” Guttman said. “I’ve learned to look at every brand-new waking day as a giant canvas on which to compose my life. Our time here on earth is an opportunity to make a significant difference if we don’t treat it like a dress rehearsal.”

Caputo titled his talk “It’s OK not to love yourself” after a conversation with a friend left him wondering why she cautioned him against needing someone else to make him happy. Caputo had said he was ready to be in love again, but his friend said his happiness should come from within himself.

“It put pressure on me to figure out what was wrong,” Caputo said. “It’s the damaging nature of this culture that you have to love yourself first, but what does that really mean? That I need to be happy before giving or receiving love? And if I’m not happy, then I shouldn’t even try to get into a relationship?”

That’s wrong, Caputo said. “We’re all human beings. Regardless of the group you’re in, you need strong, emotional attachments.”

There’s an evolutionary theory for attachment that’s important for our development, so that means it’s biological from the very beginning of our lives, Caputo said. “If we push away love, then we’re going against our own best interests.”

Caputo asked what is possible to enjoy if you’re by yourself?

“I love to play football, but I need people to play with,” he said. “It’s not as fun by myself. I can get happiness from music, hobbies, sports, but as soon as I want happiness that especially involves another person, everyone gets weird.

“Nobody has an issue with enjoying music or sports too much, but lots of people have an issue with enjoying people too much. Why?” Caputo asked.

It’s important to have a healthy sense of identity and vital for a healthy mental state, but needing to love yourself first puts pressure on yourself that you’re not OK to love, Caputo added.

“The underlying mechanism and what this topic also gets at is our misunderstanding of time and opportunities. Can we afford to live our lives waiting for the perfect moment?” Caputo asked. “Needing to love yourself first means you have to wait until you’re happy to find love. A New Year’s resolution means you need to wait until next year to improve yourself. That’s the wrong mentality.”

Caputo suggested everyone live their lives 100 percent. “It’s all contingent on the assumption that we have a lot of time left, when the sobering reality is we don’t know,” he said. “So if you love something, pursue it. If you want to experience love or friendship, don’t think you need to love yourself first. Allow yourself to change and experience things. Allow yourself to go out there and be open to it.”

Sunday’s other speakers were:

• Kate Hagen, a writer whose work can be found on the Black List Blog, who spoke about her search for the last great video store

• Andrew Foley, the development director of Better Days Greece, a Swiss-Greek NGO that focuses on healing and trauma relief in refugee campus, who spoke about the value of education in such camps

• Komal Dadlani, a biochemist and entrepreneur who created an app (Lab4U) to teach science, who spoke about democratizing science with a lab in your pocket

• Michele Rigby Assad, a former CIA undercover intelligence officer, who spoke about intuition is a marketable skill, a lesson she learned while with the CIA

Sunil Thankamushy, a video game-industry based animation director and creative executive, who spoke about ideas and creativity driven by deep meditation

Posted in: Campus News, Harpur