20 Essential TED Talks for Peace Studies Students

It may sound oxymoronic, but peace studies majors — or at least the ones who don’t take their education for granted — wage war daily. Against inequality. Against abuse. Against violence. Against injustice. But successfully, such a broad concept requires intensive research and field work, not just waving a few dove-splashed signs around and calling it a day. An effective peace studies student is devoted to educating her- or himself on all the different subjects that filter into the classroom. Changing the world involves knowledge of economics, politics, history, cultures, religion, human rights and plenty more, all of which can be found via reliable ol’ TED. Branch off from these fantastic lectures and discover some absolutely mind-blowing supplements to classroom lessons. They may very well inspire the radical change humanity certainly needs if it hopes to ever progress.

  1. Rabbi Jackie Tabick: The balancing act of compassion

    Peace requires a delicate brew of justice, equality and compassion, and what makes it such a tenuous, ethereal concept is striking the proper balance. Although her talk doesn’t much center around politics and economics, but rather religion and the concept of "compassion fatigue," what Rabbi Jackie Tabick has to say on the matter will still resonate with peace studies students all the same. "You have to, of course, be aware of the needs of others, but you have to be aware in such a way that you can carry on with your life and be of help to people," she warns — certainly a credo all compassionate, loving people should consider, albeit one difficult to fully implement.

  2. Emiliano Salinas: A civil response to violence

    Former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s son Emiliano Salinas very bluntly addresses the violence currently ripping his nation apart — but what he has to can easily apply to different regions and historical periods. Despite his privilege, the speaker expresses genuine concern over Mexico’s descent into violence and drug from a citizen’s perspective, admitting that doing so might very well incite controversy. Salinas’ main thrust involves chastising apathy, because he believes succumbing to fear and perceiving the innocent as "victims of circumstance" allow injustices to keep happening.

  3. Ellen Gustafson: Obesity + Hunger = 1 global food issue

    Humanity will never enjoy lasting peace until the basic needs of all people can be met, and nothing illustrates this disparity like obesity issues in developed nations and starvation in their less fortunate counterparts. Ellen Gustafson’s 30 Project hopes to close this gap over the next three decades by altering agriculture itself, namely exporting technology as well as foodstuffs. Having worked with the United Nations World Food Programme, she knows firsthand exactly how both hunger and overconsumption problems burst into existence.

  4. Philip Zimbardo shows how people become monsters…or heroes

    As the instigator behind the infamous (and still-controversial) Stanford Prison Experiment, the former American Psychological Association president intimately understands how high-pressure circumstances try individuals and force them into brash actions. Here, Philip Zimbardo talks about his book The Lucifer Effect and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, for which he served as an expert witness once it went to trial. The lecture itself, however, isn’t really about jail reform, but rather the intense psychology behind individuals choosing between perpetuating justice and injustice — a topic all peace students and activists must absolutely understand if they hope to instill permanent positive change.

  5. Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf: Lose your ego, find your compassion

    Muslim (or even religious) or not, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf’s coaxing towards global understanding and heightened communication applies to pretty much everyone. He uses his faith as an example of how he understands compassion, but the Qur’an’s teachings extend beyond the boundaries of Islam and frequently parallel those found in Christianity, Buddhism and plenty others. At its core, he touts, the universal message discourages self-centeredness and believes overarching, selfless love stems directly from sloughing off arrogance — a statement even the most ardent atheist can find agreeable.

  6. JD Schramm: Break the silence for suicide survivors

    When most people speak of peace, lofty images of eradicating war, famine, pestilence, needless death and other ills typically emerge in the populaces’ mind — but the idea requires application on a micro level to survive as well. Even in the most boastfully "equal" and "enlightened" societies, the mentally ill (most especially the suicidal and suicide survivors) still suffer beneath marginalization and stigmatization. In less than four and a half minutes, business and communications expert JD Schramm illustrates one way to make the world a better place right here at home; not to mention how serious issues don’t always inspire external manifestations.

  7. John Hunter on the World Peace Game

    Lasting peace is totally useless its core components never end up in the minds of succeeding generations, and teaching it helps reinforce teachers and students alike. John Hunter’s students play the World Peace Game, where global problems loom on a plywood board, by formulating creative — sometimes even viable! — solutions. He believes their approach, as well as the lessons gleaned during engagement, could very well benefit them (and maybe even the world) for life.

  8. Rev. James Forbes: Compassion at the dinner table

    One thing activists and students must absolutely understand is that their goals don’t have to necessarily benefit millions (if not billions) right off the bat. Like Rev. James Forbes elucidates, simple, neighborly lessons his parents instilled in him over regular family dinners possessed a right fair amount of resonance. All it takes is a show of love, support and selflessness to inspire others — who, in turn, inspire others. Who inspire others. And so forth. Initiating many ripple effects instead of aiming for one giant display might very well be what it takes to change things for the better.

  9. Jody Williams: A realistic vision for world peace

    Merely touting an event or a protest as "for world peace" doesn’t exactly put an end to violent conflict — participants must engage themselves to the fullest extent personally possible and coagulate specific goals with specific solutions and specific projected outcomes. This Nobel Peace Prize Winner knows that peace requires sustainability, justice, security and equality in order to mean anything, and her TED Talk showcases some amazing women fighting for all four elements. Check out Jody Williams’ particularly inspiring favorites when looking to formulate projects sporting solid structures and more permanent results.

  10. Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others

    TED sometimes posts historical video footage of political, academic and/or social significance for its viewer’s intellectual stimulation; this small-but-piquant talk by pioneering psychologist Viktor Frankl is absolutely essential viewing for many different majors. As a Holocaust survivor, he found himself particularly fascinated by how humans make decisions to create meaning in their own lives, the lives of others and the positive and negative impacts of both. Some might dismiss Frankl’s views as too idealistic for these cynical times, but he still earnestly believed that love begins with trust, understanding and mutually beneficial exchange…and from there, peace.

  11. Shaffi Mather: A new way to fight corruption

    Bribery and underhanded bureaucracy stand as probably the most major roadblocks to national and international peace, with sociopathic authority figures supposedly for the people looking out for their own self-interest. With a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and cunning, it might very well be possible to start chipping away at this unfortunate phenomenon and dispense real justice. Shaffi Mather wants to do just that, dissecting the "supply and demand" economy of bribery and formulating plans turning its very structure against itself.

  12. Joseph Nye on global power shifts

    Peace studies students (especially those hoping to explore the subject from a geopolitical angle) should understand how hegemonic power theory works, which former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye explains here. Pulling directly from human history and using today’s rivalry between the United States and China as an example, he spends nearly 20 minutes explaining the concept. Such massive conflicts obviously challenge international relations and human rights — factors which can easily escalate into violence and other ills — and warrant considerable research to prevent something horrible.

  13. Jessica Jackley: Poverty, money — and love

    Jessica Jackley co-founded Kiva.org to provide the impoverished worldwide with "microloans" earmarked for creating economic opportunities and accomplishing professional and personal dreams. Her TED Talk shares some of the stories and people who inspired her before, during and after the nonprofit’s launch — and, of course, some great anecdotes about some of its successes! As its simple title states, everything Jackley has to say revolves around the intersection of love, compassion and charity with the hope of accomplishing lasting goals.

  14. Stefan Wolff: The path to ending ethnic conflicts

    Although immediate (or near-immediate) access to news sources make it seem like civil wars, genocide and other ills stemming from ethnic conflict are at an all-time high, Stefan Wolff’s statistics say otherwise. In fact, he’s noted a 10% decrease in the number of civil wars and civilian casualties between the 1990s and the 2000s’ first decade — but that doesn’t mean humanity should settle and start cheering just yet. Juxtaposing "good news" with the horrific, Wolff notes that the decline contains some exceptionally valuable lessons on how to maybe keep the numbers (very) slowly lowering over time to nurture a more sustainable, nonviolent end.

  15. Jamais Cascio on tools for a better world

    No matter a student’s major, if he or she desires to change the world and bring about justice, equality and peace, different tools, techniques and recourses are absolutely necessary. Creativity counts for a lot, of course, but WorldChanging.com co-founder Jamais Cascio highlights some of what burgeoning (and even seasoned) activists will need if they desire viable results. Although he doesn’t cover all of them at TED, he estimates that the number sits in the 4,000 range and fascinatingly discusses some of their commonalities.

  16. Thomas Barnett draws a new map for peace

    It doesn’t take Thomas Barnett’s extensive defense strategy experience to understand all too well how drawing boundary lines can quickly escalate into some seriously nasty violence. But it takes Thomas Barnett’s extensive defense strategy experience to understand exactly how the governments and civilizations concerned might consider laying them out for maximum peace. His TED Talk covers an impressively wide breadth of relevant military and geopolitical topics, and the undeniable highlight revolves around an ingenious post-Cold War map that pleases more than it piques.

  17. Sunitha Krishnan fights sex slavery

    Billions of dollars filter into sexual slavery rings annually — a despicable black market trade exploiting women (even children) worldwide that promotes violence, abuse of all types, horrific human rights violations and obviously stands as a major threat to global harmony. Despite grossly unfair shaming and stigma, Sunitha Krishnan has come out as a former victim and works closely with governments, nonprofits and other organizations to stop others from suffering as she once did. Human trafficking, particularly of the sexual variety, remains an unfortunately overlooked social justice issue, and the world cannot experience true peace if it is allowed to continue.

  18. Kiran Bedi: A police chief with a difference

    When looking at facilitating peace on a smaller scale than "THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD," some students might want to look into prison rehabilitation and reform — and Kiran Bedi makes for an excellent inspiration. It’s true that not everyone can be saved, but this tough-as-nails former prison manager and current Director General of the Indian Police Service definitely found an intriguing way to reach out to the incarcerated. "With community support," she provided prisoners with educational (even religious) resources and approached them with equal parts compassion and steely determination — a mindset that ended up producing some almost miraculous positive results.

  19. Auret van Heerden: Making global labor fair

    Economic justice often walks hand-in-codependent-hand with social justice on the beach at sunset, so deploying one frequently means acknowledging and nurturing the other. Peace studies majors interested in worker’s rights and labor issues are undoubtedly familiar with the fair trade movement, which ensures First World luxuries didn’t pop into existence thanks to Third World exploitation. Auret van Heerden talks frankly about how governments must play a more prominent role in only exporting and importing goods made entirely sans human rights violations — and believes consumers themselves should start caring as well..

  20. Martin Luther King Jr.: I have a dream

    While not a TED Talk, obviously, the site hosts a link to this essential historical moment for anyone hoping to relive it or watch for the very first time. Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t invent the concept of nonviolent resistance to social injustice, but he definitely spearheaded one of the world’s most influential applications. Demographics far, far beyond peace studies students will definitely find his most famous speech a riveting, inspiring clarion call for equality and an end to violent conflict.

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