We remain in control of our own destinies, and you can make a change for the better by a simple act of kindness.

I attended a TEDx Talk at Portland Community College Rock Creek Campus. It was organized by the multi-cultural center of the facility, of which my granddaughter is both a student and facilitator. 

If you've never heard of a TEDx Talk, just check it out on YouTube. These are talks on a variety of topics presented by experts in their specific fields. The "invitation only" TEDx Talks I enjoyed took place May 25.

I came away impressed, invigorated and immensely optimistic for not only our next generation of leaders, but for our community today — and ultimately our world.

I have been openly critical of the current political climate and totally frustrated by my small voice "crying in the wilderness," so to speak. But those eight short TEDx Talks and two videos provided me with a different vision.

We suddenly find ourselves living in a climate of contention. Sides are being taken and strongly held against other perspectives. This can only lead to more frustration, at the least, or total conflict, at worst. It's a philosophy lesson I learned quite some time ago, about the time I also learned that we are the masters of our own personal destinies. In other words, we — individually — can be the architects of resolving the conflicts dividing friends, family, and country today. So the problem becomes one of owning responsibility. If it truly is in my power to create a utopia where everyone gets along, how do I accomplish that? Easier said than done.

The TEDx Talks I attended — ranging from astrophysics to symphonic composition to dandelions in our gardens — helped me focus on the reality and sustainability of none other than me, myself, and I.

I alone can create or destroy my own world.

I forgot that fact while thrashing around in frustration and glibly entrenched in my point of view. I forgot to look at the neighbor sitting to my right or left. They, in turn, have the ability to construct their individual cosmos. Sustained relationships are totally destroyed if I attack, or even encourage, my views on others — or could even mutate into battle mode. 

During the Talks we were reminded that we are only one sub-microscopic particle in the universal scheme of existence. However, our minute presence has an impact on everything it touches, an influence that the construct of nature cannot deny. This makes us almost tinged with divinity. Our aura can be used for positive results or to promote negativism and discord. It's up to us to channel our future.

This is a huge responsibility and one not to be taken lightly.

One speaker, Roger Anunsen, was participating in benchmark evidence "that can help span the knowledge gap between neuroscience laboratories and real world memory and aging challenges," according to the presentation brochure. He was an innovative researcher and "pioneer intervention designer" into human cognitive posterity. His work sparked interest by researchers in the field, followed by clinical trials and invitations to present his findings at such places as Oxford and the Smithsonian. There were lots of big words being thrown around. I wondered, was this guy a snake oil mendicant like in the old days? No. Instead, I found he is an academician who is "peddling" the theory that knowledge is power and preserving it has worldwide consequences. I needed to focus on this.  

We were treated to some important facts about that powerful engine that lives between our ears. One point that caught my attention was that through our own innate cerebral activity, long-term intellectual health and functionality can be captivated and promoted. Hey, we all want that, right? I have firsthand  experience of a spouse traveling down the painful and agonizing Alzheimer's path to near-vegetable status before her death last year. I am a sad witness to mental deterioration. This was serious stuff he was presenting. 

At the symposium we were informed that our brain has the ability to protect itself if we simply activate its potential. Now, I'm all for teaching old dogs new tricks, but my brain seems to be remarkably capable of forgetting things. Could it heal itself? Paying close attention, I learned that a substance called "oxytocin" released in the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, when stimulated, improves cognitive and memory function and bonding.  And — here's the sticker — it can be triggered by such a simple thing as a smile. Besides that, it not only benefits the person doing the smiling, but also the individual who receives it. How cool is that? I decided then and there to be the smiley-face sticker for myself and others.

Oxytocin, discovered in 1906 and its molecular structure mapped in 1952, is principally a bonding agent with benefits. Memory benefits. Knowing that we all share whether we want to or not, individuals can promote their own and others well-being. It only takes a smile or meaningful "good morning to you." Being nice to our fellow community members not only helps us get along better, but sustains our cognitive control, helping ourselves while enriching others. A brainy win-win.

You may ask where I am going with this? I see the community college TEDx Talks as a wake-up call for our Scappoose community.  There is more polarization of positions now in our beloved country than I have ever witnessed just shy of my 83rd birthday. We need to stop talking past each other, or being openly hostile, and focus on unity and respect. Let's get those oxytocins activated and be nice to one another, one smile at a time. Then, let's spread the word first to our community, expand to states on a national basis, and ultimately engulf the whole world. 

Keep smiling, be happy, and support your memory.

Hal Ritz lives in Scappoose.

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