What does it mean to be human? - Leeds International Festival
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#LEEDSINTFEST 2 - 12 MAY, 2019
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9 May
Various times

What does it mean to be human?


Such a fundamental question isn’t fully answered with a biological definition. The very things that make us unique (if we are) can be considered from a philosophical, historical, innate, technological or future-thinking perspective.

A series of talks curated by Leeds Beckett University, this Leeds International Festival event will explore the question, ‘What does it mean to be human?’

The world advances at such rapid pace; changes in society, commerce, lifestyles and environments, often driven by economic or technological stimuli, occur much more quickly than we as humans and societies can respond to them.  This is generating turmoil as our presence and standing becomes ever associated not with who we are as people, but what we do, how we do it and who with.

Are we losing sight of what it means to be human, or did we never really understand that anyway?  More than ever, we are questioning our own behaviour, unhappy or uncomfortable with where it has led us, or where it may be leading humanity.

What does it mean to be human? We are unpredictable and that’s something central to our humanity, after all; does modern life push us into a too-narrow, conformist space dominated by technology, money and other influences? Can, or should, that be resisted, or do we shape these fields for our own, and society’s, needs?

We need to ask insightful questions about ourselves and our communities. For example, have we reached ‘peak tech’ now that we have digital detox, switch off and screen free days? Have we lost sight of the essence of what we want from our life? Have we forgotten how to be human? Join us for one, two, three or all four talks as we explore this question.

Staying Human in a Busy World - Gelong Thubten

This talk will elaborate on how meditation and mindfulness techniques can help us maintain our humanity and compassion in an increasingly busy world.

Many of us would describe our everyday lives as ‘busy’, it’s a badge some wear with pride, we like to be busy and tell others we are.   This busyness can become tumultuous, the demands from those around us combined with the expectations we place on ourselves, generates increased and unsustainable levels of stress.  Add to this the ever-present distractions of the digital age, the stimuli of a 24 hour 7 days-a-week culture and it is easy to be overwhelmed.  However, we can and must combat this for our own good.

Some see meditation as a way of ‘switching off’,  but in fact it’s about switching on the faculty of awareness – learning to be present – training ourselves to engage.

Gelong Thubten will explore how practising ‘micro moments’ of mindfulness throughout a busy day can help us to engage more positively with our lives.  He specialises in helping people to bring mindfulness into busy environments and will be doing just that in this special L19 event.

The Incredible Human Journey - Professor Alice Roberts

Ten years on from making her landmark BBC2 series, The Incredible Human Journey, Alice Roberts explores the latest insights into the colonisation of the globe by our ancient forebears. Sometimes racing along coastlines, at other times, coming to a standstill, with any advance blocked by great walls of ice, our ancient ancestors gradually spread right across the globe. Along the way, they adapted to a huge range of different environments, learning to live everywhere – from tropical forests and temperate shorelines to the high Arctic.

In the last ten years, the evidence has piled up: new fossils, archaeological sites and astounding insights from genetics have painted a new picture of these ancient journeys, and the challenges overcome by our Stone Age ancestors.

How Good Should a Country Be? - Simon Anholt

Here’s a new question: instead of asking how well your country is doing, trying asking how much it is doing?

We believe that world leaders aren’t just responsible for their own people and their own slice of territory: today, their responsibility extends to the whole of humanity and the whole of the planet.

We live in an age of Grand Challenges: climate change, violent conflict, pandemics, nuclear proliferation, organised crime, human trafficking, mass migration, racism and intolerance, human rights abuses, and natural disasters, to name just a few. Each of these problems has been made more dangerous and pervasive by globalisation, and each of them is now too big and too complex for any individual nation to resolve on its own.

For millennia, people in positions of power and authority have been held responsible for their own people and their own territory, but in our interconnected and interdependent modern world this is no longer a sufficient principle: in the longer term, it’s disastrous. The next goal for humanity is simple: to change the culture of governance from one that is fundamentally competitive to one that is fundamentally collaborative.

Notes On A Nervous Planet - Matt Haig

The world is messing with our minds.

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. We are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our Body Mass Index.

How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad?  How do we stay human in a technological world?

After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig, so he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him. The poignant and natural follow-up to Matt’s Reasons To Stay Alive, which sat in the bestseller list for over 46 weeks, Notes on a Nervous Planet is a personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the twenty-first century.

Join the author for an evening of positive and insightful discussion about the modern world, offering a closer look at the challenges posed by our ever-changing technological landscape and his advice on how best to navigate it.

Event partners

All Four Talks

Thursday 9 May 14:30 - 21:30
£38.00
L19 Cube @ The Village

Staying Human in a Busy World - Gelong Thubten

Thursday 9 May 14:30 - 15:30
£12.00
L19 Cube @ The Village

The Incredible Human Journey - Professor Alice Roberts

Thursday 9 May 16:30 - 17:30
£12.00
L19 Cube @ The Village

How Good Should a Country Be? - Simon Anholt

Thursday 9 May 18:30 - 19:30
£12.00
L19 Cube @ The Village

Notes On A Nervous Planet - Matt Haig

Thursday 9 May 20:30 - 21:30
£12.00
L19 Cube @ The Village

Additional Information:

Age restrictions – 14+ – Under 18’s to be accompanied by an adult.

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A biological anthropologist, author and broadcaster, Professor Alice Roberts is interested in the evolution, structure and function of humans. Originally a medic, she then became a university lecturer. Professor of Public Engagement in Science at Birmingham since 2012, Alice has also presented a range of biology and archaeology programmes on television.

Gelong, a title meaning ‘senior monk’, is a Buddhist monk, meditation teacher and author. A world pioneer in mindfulness, Gelong was educated at Oxford University. He then became an actor. Stress brought him to meditation, which brought him eventually to ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist monk at Europe’s oldest and largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery, in Scotland.

Co-founder (with Madeline Hung) of the Good Country (a country whose national interest is the international interest), Simon also publishes the Good Country Index, a survey ranking countries on their contribution to humanity and the planet. Professor Anholt previously worked as an advisor to the presidents, prime ministers and governments of 55 countries, for over twenty years.

Matt has authored bestselling and award-winning novels and non-fiction books, including Notes on a Nervous Planet (the current Sunday Times bestseller) and  How to Stop Time (which spent six months on the bestseller list), as well as screenplays and novels for children such as Shadow Forest and  A Boy Called Christmas.