Reflections from a Public Seminar

Ready to go.

Last Saturday, I attended my first OpEd Project event, a public seminar in Washington D.C. The room was full of bioethicists, lawyers, policy wonks, land rights activists, reproductive rights advocates, and journalists. Many may have expected to receive a training in how to make effective pitches to editors, use more accessible language in their writing, and receive a list of connections for future journalistic endeavors.

What we received instead was a 7-hour training in thought leadership. We got the practical info as well–structuring pieces, how to pitch, etc.–but the real meat was in the morning session.

It’s impossible to capture to the energy, the excitement, and the empowerment that happened in that room. I hesitate to use the phrase “life-changing” because people use it these days to describe burritos or slices of pizza. But this workshop taught a group of smart, talented people how to value their ideas, something that is truly invaluable.

I recounted the big takeaways to a close friend the next day. “I have shivers,” she said. “I have shivers and feel empowered to change the world and I’m living this secondhand in a five-minute recap.”

We struggled to find the answers to questions like “What are you an expert in?” “Is there a difference between being an expert and having expertise in something?” We debated whether we have a duty to contribute to the public forum when we have knowledge that might be of public value. We asked ourselves why we hesitated to consider ourselves experts and share our knowledge when others so readily volunteer information. We thought about what we know as individuals, how we think about what we know, and what our responsibility is when we know something. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring these ideas in more depth on this blog, sharing the wealth of knowledge offered by the room’s teachers and participants that day. 

If a burrito can be described as life-changing, than this seminar truly was world-altering. I can’t wait to see the op-eds (and beyond) that come out of this group. 


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