Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend TEDxDirigo, a TED-affiliated event organized here in Portland, Maine. The day was filled with inspirational speakers, dynamic conversations, and a whole lot of very cool people doing good things for the world. I am interviewing some of the interesting people who were there, from presenters to attendees to organizers. This interview is with Adam Burk, the man with the Dirigo plan who led the team of volunteer organizers who pulled the event together. If you have a little extra time, read my interviews with TEDxDirigo presenters John Rooks and Roger Doiron.




MNN: What is special about Maine?

Adam Burk: Maine is my home. A place where I find rest, good company, support, inspiration and meaningful work.


People here tend to concentrate on how we can improve the quality of life for ourselves, our neighbors, and our communities, without damaging the integrity of our ecosystems. This general acknowledgement of the preciousness of our natural world and its benefits to our sanity and peace is truly a rare gem.


The opportunity to make change in the state is also something special. Maine is a hub for creativity and innovation. Connected to our humble roots of making do with what we have in order to make a better life, we continue to develop solutions — often surprisingly simple, yet genius, solutions — to life’s toughest problems.


How should people get more involved in the world?

I believe, as Gandhi did, in “being the change you wish to see in the world.” Beginning with oneself, it’s important to learn to manage destructive tendencies and cultivate compassion and insight for timely action. A great place to begin is a general level of graciousness — smiling, holding doors, saying excuse me and thank you, letting other cars merge on the highway, forgiving small trespasses, washing your hands — these things can begin to elevate the human condition.


Once we’re orientated towards a habit of being reflective, orientated toward compassion and receptive to wiser perspectives, then we can get to work collaborating on matters of justice, equality, restoration and regeneration.


(Shea's note: I asked Adam to make up and answer his own question here.)

What is a “Maine Idea Worth Spreading?”

A “Maine Idea Worth Spreading” improves quality of life on the planet or has potential to. It may originate in any field, or transcend them. It is an expression of human beauty, embodying traits of strong character including an orientation toward compassion and timely action as opposed to greed and indifference. It is a fine example of the work ethic and collaborative nature of Mainers. A “Maine Idea Worth Spreading” is often inspired by a connection to the mountains, forests, and waters of Maine and all those (human and more-than-human) that live here.


What's the story behind TEDxDirigo? How did it come to life?

TEDxDirigo is the collective vision of a small group of people who love Maine, love the TED Talk format, and love the power of ideas. In 2010, Michael “Gil” Gilroy of Frontier Cafe, Cinema, and Gallery in Brunswick and Dean Merrill of Apogee Creative Studio in Portland, each had the idea to start a TEDx event in Maine. As their plans began to develop, they joined forces and I led the event organizing process. Through a whole lot of devotion, TEDxDirigo’s inaugural event kicked off on 10-10-10. Our passion carried us through to this year’s event, thanks to more than 2,000 volunteered hours by high-level professionals.


TEDxDirigo came to life because Maine needs its story told in this way. Maine has some of the answers the world needs today, as our name suggests (“Dirigo” is the state motto meaning “I lead”). TEDxDirigo was born to give “Maine ideas worth spreading” the platform they deserve.


Where is TEDxDirigo going? What direction would you like to see it move in?

The short answer is that we plan to do more. More events, more places. We want to continue rallying a community and movement here in Maine oriented toward positive and hopeful solutions to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs. We hope to be part of building a sustainable economy and give rise to more innovators and entrepreneurs. Our crystal ball says this will include our annual full-day event; shorter evening events; a TEDxYouth event; and TEDxDirigo workshops, tryouts, and meet-ups. We hope to continue lighting the fires of passion, hope, and possibility all over the state to catalyze bold action for positive impact in every field.


How do we save the world?

There are a thousand adages that come to mind, and they are all right. We save the world by practicing the sound bites of wisdom we all know. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” We must learn to evaluate our habits in reflection of these glimmers of our best selves and continually return to wisdom’s way. Compassion needs to be widened while our capacity for timely action refined.


We need to slow down, and when you have a chance to do so, I recommend three pieces of literature. The first is Aldo Leopold’s "A Sand County Almanac," which presents an ecological view of the world as the basis for a sane and peaceful society. Building on this, "The Earth Charter," a concise document drafted and adopted by people all over the world, offers a common framework for us to nurture a just and resilient world. Lastly, we need practical examples to disrupt systems that are not aligned with these principles. Luckily, such a manual exists: "Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century."



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Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

The TEDxDirigo Interviews: Adam Burk
TEDxDirigo organizer and die-hard Mainer Adam Burk took some time to answer a few questions about what makes his state great and how we can make the world a bet