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31 days of ideas
Jorge Drexler

Poetry, music and identity

Recommended by Simon Anholt

This enchanting performance by the Uruguayan musician Jorge Drexler is one of the best illustrations I've ever seen of the power of music and poetry to reach us in ways and places that prose alone can't. 

If you want to transmit everyday concepts to people's conscious minds, ordinary speech is a perfectly good channel -- but it's a narrow one. It soon clogs up, and it only activates our intellect. If you want to transmit wisdom, understanding and emotion, you need a fatter pipe; as the computer people say, you need more bandwidth. That's where culture comes in: it plugs you straight into the soul. You don't just inform people, you move them. You almost literally pick them up from the place they started and gently set them down somewhere new. You change them. 

"Identity is infinitely dense, like an infinite series of real numbers, and even if you get very close and zoom in, it never ends," Jorge says. "Things only look pure if you look at them from far away. It's very important to know about our roots, to know where we come from, to understand our history. But at the same time, as important as knowing where we're from, is understanding that deep down, we're all from nowhere and a little bit from everywhere."

Jorge's theme -- the idea that beneath the obvious racial and cultural distinctions, we're all part of the same family -- is common throughout the TED canon and the last belief I'll ever abandon. But he comes at us through parable, poetry and song, so the message sails unchallenged straight to our hearts. It comes with the force of proof; it's as compelling as real experience. In fact, music and poetry is one really good answer to the "fake news" dilemma, because trust in the messenger comes bundled with the message. You can ignore it if you like, but you can't argue with it.

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