Why Eva Cox rocks

I scored a ticket to TedxBrisbane this year. Have you been to a TED? It’s a full-day event shaped to bring you in touch with social, cultural and technical innovators around the world – and especially in your own home town. Tickets are free, and won by a seemingly magical application-slash-lottery system. All meals are included – even good quality coffee.

The TEDx experience is immersive. You turn up at 8:30am to be ushered through a brilliant and precise schedule featuring 15 speakers. All speakers follow the same format, parading the diversity of ideas without any frills to dress them up. Then, sometime after the evening mixer, you staggerfloat away into the night, exhausted, drifting in a sparkling kaleidoscopic vision of humanity. Excuse the poetry; there’s just no plain way to express it.

Every part of this TEDx event was designed around principles of connection and hope, built on a strong foundation of social entrepreneurship (where resourcing initiative takes the place of charity). I met some fascinating attendees in the giant marquee on the GOMA lawn that beautiful Brissy Saturday. And the speakers were an eclectic and exciting mix. The emotional and intellectual standouts for me were:

  • Edward Harran blew my mind with his prescient insights into the K/no(w)mad generations.
  • Andrew Bartlett broke the standard format by choosing to spend his 18 TEDminutes in a heartrending and enlightening discussion with invited guest, Mr Hassan, an Afghan refugee.
  • A bible bashing eco-feminist who shall remain nameless pissed me off mightily with her patronising prostheltysing infommercial, which managed to strike a perfect balance between both ego- and guilt-tripping. (I felt bad having such a negative reaction to one of the few women on the program, but there you go.)
  • Jeff Waldman brought joy to my heart with his swing project – he hangs swings around the world, made from rope and wood or whatever he can find. Swings bring joy, Jeff says, and nobody is above a push.
But the best, the very best and mightiest of all was Eva Cox. Yes, folks, I was actually in the same room as Australia’s preeminent social change activist and feminist political visionary! Well, actually, I was in a room with her giant Skyped face on a screen. (Cheers, airline, for grounding my shero out-of-town on the big day).
eva cox
Eva Cox, rockin' her trademark turtleneck

Eva spoke elegantly and simply about what could be summed up as Stuff That Matters Most. Her take home message was “We need to start paying for what we care about, instead of caring about what we pay for”. As they put it in this terrific article over at JosephMark: how to prioritise social good rather than economic growth.

It was not only the content of Eva’s speech that made it special. There was also this one moment… One of those moments when time hung still, everyone in the room suspended in a shared epiphany.

Eva, at 73, was clearly new to the whole Skyptacular microphone/headset thang, so she was gesticulating and bumping the mic a fair bit, as newbs do. She was talking about Stuff That Matters Most in a disarmingly me-to-you way; no preaching, no talking down to us. Her face was projected onto a screen the size of a public pool. We sat in a banked auditorium that practically tipped each one of us into her digital lap. It was intimate somehow; despite the pixellations and delays, her address felt direct and oddly disintermediated.

She’d been talking for maybe 5 minutes, and was starting to warm up, to really relax and get comfortable. Eva alternated between looking straight at the camera – straight at us – with occasional downward glances, or sometimes raising her gaze thoughtfully to the ceiling. She followed the ‘no notes’ TED rule, speaking off-the-cuff, from her heart and mind and guts and dare I say it, balls.

Then Eva Cox said this: “People are much more difficult to look after than money, so why do we pay people who look after money so much more than we pay people who look after people?”

And for some reason, that struck a chord with us. A chord you could actually hear; one that began in the front row and rippled up the tiered seating like a Flamenco guitar riff. 500 of us in the main venue, plus 100s of TEDx folks in the adjoining auditoriums, all clapping and murmuring our approval.

Eva kept talking, eyes lowered, the Skype connection buffering her awareness of our response.

And our response kept growing, refusing to fade away as applause usually does. It grew into that wild, footstomping kind of applause, like an audience demanding an encore at the end of a stadium gig. Our murmurs turned to full-throated cheers, spiked with wolf whistles and ululations. Many of us found ourselves lifted to our feet in a standing ovation.

Then Eva Cox looked up.

She looked into her computer screen at home and saw us: auditoriums full of folks she didn’t know, thousands of miles away, all moved beyond measure at her stunningly simple observations about such complex and difficult issues. Borne of her truths, the sentient connection between us all was palpable, and Eva sensed it, and it stopped her in her tracks. She paused, looked surprised, looked away, looked back at us. Cleared her throat. Smiled a shy smile, fumbled for the thread of her thoughts, looked down again, still smiling to herself. Then she shot us a glance, clear-eyed and determined, and quickly picked up where she left off, carrying on with her amazing TEDx presentation.

That day, I saw Eva Cox take on a new and tricky situation, fly by the seat of her pants, speak her regular startling truths, and stay open to the fact that one person in one moment can harness the energy required for significant social  change. She is a living legend and a force to be reckoned with, yet I have seen Eva Cox blush.

And that’s why Eva Cox rocks.

6 thoughts on “Why Eva Cox rocks

  1. Sounds like an amazing event. And have to agree that Eva Cox rocks. I don’t like to think too often that I pay my cleaner more an hour than they pay the teacher’s assistants at Isaac’s Montessori school.

  2. Good point, Nicola – our car mechanic gets way more an hour than our music teacher (btw how fortunate are we – Montessori schools, music lessons!). But how can it be that much more complex to understand a car than it is to have a deep knowledge of musical theory and practice, as well as teaching techniques? It makes me crazy, the way iniquitous and unbalanced systems of value are set in stone all around us. Thank goodness for things like my little organic food coop, and other islets of sane and caring social economics!

    I love hearing news about you and your boys xo

  3. And this just to hand: In Australia, the average pay rate in social and community services is $12,000 less than the general community, and the workers in that sector are mostly women. Today, these workers won a 7% pay rise across the board. Excellent news!

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