An international school in India with a message for the world

I spent seven years of my life right here in Woodstock School, Mussoorie, India.

To my mind, this is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth, 7000 ft up in the Himalayas. But actually that's not the most important thing about it.  I was invited back there this past week to give a speech to the students, and had a chance to say something I'd wanted to say for years. I told them this:


The last time I was in this hall was in 1970 when I was in the 8th grade.  And if you could zoom a camera back through time to that seat right there,  you would have seen a shy, geeky, overweight kid wearing badly-fitting clothes and spending an unhealthy amount of time bemoaning the fact that none of the cute girls would go out with him. 

But if you could have somehow continued to zoom the camera right inside the head of that 8th grader you'd have seen something strage. You'd see that something subtle had happened to his brain, something that was directly attributable to his experience of being at Woodstock, something that would profoundly shape his future. And I'm not talking about Math or Social Studies.  I'm talking about something that few of the world's children get to experience.

Most kids grow up with people who, by and large, are like them. Same town, same country, same color, same income level, same cultural assumptions.   At Woodstock... not so much. When you first come here, it's a jolt, isn't it? Admittedly it's one of the world's most beautiful places, but you have to mix with kids from what, 25 countries? And some of them seem downright weird.  But then over the months and years, you get to know each other. You learn their stories, they learn yours... and without even really thinking about it, you learn that those superficial differences of race, nationality, color really don't matter that much. We're all just people. We all laugh, we all cry, we all love, we all bleed.  

Now tragically that way of thinking puts you in a small minority of earth's people. After you've been here a while it seems strange anyone could think any other way. But they do. When I went back to England for a year aged 8 I was baffled when they beat me up for being born in Pakistan.   I didn't get how anyone could be so prejudiced. But actually most people are. And it's not because they're evil. It's because they're human.

Psychologists think that there are distinct brain circuits that drive two very different modes of thought in regards to other people. We can treat them empathetically as humans we identify with, where the watchwords are: respect, kindness, compassion ...or as outsiders who we view as 'other' where the watchwords are fear, intolerance and disdain.  The first category are granted moral consideration, the latter are threats to be dealt with.  Now these two modes of thought are present in every human and depending which one is active, people will behave very differently.  

It is of crucial importance to the world's future as to which mode of thought becomes dominant.  Here's the thing. The difference between them is not hardwired. It's possible for a child to learn to gradually expand the circle of people she or he can identify with. It might start with just family and friends, but gradually it can extend to the local village, or town or country or race or religiion, or even, just maybe beyond that to the entire human family.  

There are probably many things that can cause this change, and finding out what they are might just be the most important educational research agenda there is.  But I'm certain of this: that one of the most profound and lasting impacts of a Woodstock education is indeed a dramatically extended circle of empathy.  You come to think of the world differently from many others. You love your friends who look so different from you.  You're appalled when you hear people mouthing ignorant, offensive generalities about other races or religions. 

Now in the past, this has often caused Woodstock students problems. They returned to their countries and found themselves the odd ones out. They struggled to connect with the values and assumptions of their peers. I did. Some of my classmates did.  But I think that's changing.  Here's why. The world is getting ever more inter-connected.  Driven by the Internet, telecommunication in the 21st century doesn't know any borders. Neither does trade. Neither does terrorism. Neither does the atmosphere.   It's becoming ever more obvious that all of our main problems ... and also all of our opportunities... can only be tackled by people taking a global perspective. 

In the future, those who use the language of fear and ignorance to stigmatize others will be increasingly regarded as backward, small-thinkers. The future belongs to global souls. To people like you. Because the true global souls are those who don't just talk it... they feel it. They know in their core that the only concept of "WE" that matters is the one that includes everyone.

Look, I don't just mean all this in a kumbaya knd of way. This is real and because of where the world's heading, it's actually going to help you in life.

Certainly, the Woodstock-inspired global soul instinct has been very good to me. When my life in England started feeling too small and I felt America calling... that was Woodstock. It opened doors of opportunity I could never otherwise have discovered.  When I took over the TED conference and decided, with my team, that the content was so good it had to be shared freely with the world... that was Woodstock. It turned out beautifully with millions around the world now participating in an event that had been closed.  And when just this year we started giving permission to people around the world to organize their own TED events so that already in year one 40,000 people in 50 countries have met locally to celebrate the power of ideas... that was Woodstock.

I owe this place an extraordinary debt of gratitude.  And whether or not you feel it right here right now, I promise you, you will too.

So that's my message. Think long and hard about this amazing gift you're receiving here. Without really trying, you are becoming a global soul. A child of the future. Cherish that. Be thrilled by it.  You and your classmates are on the winning side here. The world's ready for you. It needs you. Good luck. 

82 responses
What an incredibly beautiful school! I would love to teach here. Thanks Chris for sharing this moving story.
Fantastic words. I am with you 110%.
Simply great!!!
I love the sound of that--becoming a global soul.
Great story, Chris.
Well, can't say much about school but what a beautiful place surrounded my nature in its full glory.
Thank you for this wonderful piece. We should all aspire to thinking and acting with a "global soul."
Dear Mr. Anderson. Such an absolute joy to read this. Very inspiring for parents such as me, to ensure that our children are bought up with the global way of life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Chris: Wonderful story & carries an answer to the question: 'how do we foster thinking/living as global citizens'. If all children lived in a multi-cultural environment where intermingling was unavoidable, its possible to change the world in two generations.

The other tactic is: choose to marry someone who is from another country/ culture/ race/ religion! Not easy, but doable.

Warm regards,
Anita Lobo

Wow ... love this speech. Very well articulated.
"we all bleed" that was fantastic...:)
the audience would have definitely felt it by heart that u really have been a child before..:D
Thank you for sharing your story. Very well put.
Well spoken, brother! I would so have loved to have been there. Very proud of you! Look forward to reading/hearing about TED India R x
Incredible inspiring story. (Sometimes 140 characters are enough)
There should be more people like you, all over the world.

Thanks Chris.

Thanks Chris - you beautifully articulated what I've felt for years. I remember the shock of coming back to "civilization" and had similar experiences to yours...
Thank you so much for sharing this! I have spent an amazing 8 years at Woodstock, graduated in 2003 and it is the most memorable experience in my life! Woodstock has shaped me into who I'm today, my perspectives of life - no stereotypes (they are almost always wrong), no judgments!
Thank you for reminding me with your great story!
Thank you Chris, for expressing what so many of us alumni know and feel. We certainly were fortunate to have the Woodstock experience and friendships which span the globe continue long after graduation.
it feels great reading this
being at woodstock for 9 yrs i know is the best gift that i could ever get
i have just graduated this year and am hoping to remain a "woodstocker" for life. thanks for those words
SHA BASH Meri Bhai! When I came back to the U.S., I was considered a "Third Culture Kid" We are truely one. Lets make it one with the Universe. Great Job!
Thanks for articulating so beautifully what all of us Woodstockers have felt. I was even gladder that my daughter also got to feel it.
Thanks from another Woodstock alum for putting it so beautifully --- not just the Woodstock advantage and privilege, but the responsibility as well.
Well said. As I wrote on my blog a few years ago:

"About two years is the most that I ever spent in any one ... Yet when I refer to my school, there is only one that I mean.
Woodstock is a strange little community in the hills of northern India. Though only a tiny fraction of the size of any comprehensive in the West, it housed the most diverse group of kids from every corner of the globe. From children of christian missionaries to Indian expatriates to foreign diplomats to refugees to locals to those who just couldn't cope in the lowlands, we had every kind of freak that you can imagine.
And so it fit perfectly"

When in 1970 you were sitting there in Parker Hall my mob was graduating -- or maybe had graduated some weeks before?

You have done wonders with speaking of that which we all need to do better: do our work and our play in such a way as to make the world a better place.

So many folk cannot seem to grasp that everything and everyone is connected, inextricably. We can pretend we're acting apart (say, running a Ponzi scheme), but sooner or later the fact of our connection to everything and everyone will overthrow our willful ignorance; reality comes crashing through.

Congratulations on being Woodstock's latest Distinguished Alumnus.

I know that you have inspired the people who heard your speach and
now thanks to the internet, you will continue to inspire people from all
around the world. Thank you. Barbara Byg Mahajan 1964
when more people understand, what u said above... It would be very easy to find solution to any global issue.. good One..
values taught at schools are so idealistic that they hardly apply in real life
Well said Chris,

As some one who came along a good decade or two later - I can vouch for the enduring quality of our my cohort at WS which resonates with your thoughts - a deep bond between us - no matter how much we differed.

At the same time, I would suggest that it did not only have to do with mixing lots of different nationalities together - that is something that almost any international/expat school does - but I would argue that the strong and sacrificial Christian commitment of the staff provided a foundation in which we flourished. My father is a Kodai alum and made a conscious decision to send us to Woodstock in the mid 80s based primarily on the spiritual climate. I am very grateful for his wise decision.

Woodstock has shaped me in many ways. Helping develop a life-long challenge to observe, reflect, pray and then make choices (which can border on the courageous) is just one of them.

A beautiful story, Chris.
Thank you Chris for sharing your story with all of us. My family left in 1969 for the US and my childhood memories of Wookstock and Champa are still very vivid. Growing up with different cultures is so very rewarding. I was lucky to return in 1995 to 2000 with my father for short visits. Your inspiration is contagious! Thank you! Keep the message alive!!!!!!!!!!!!
Many thanks, Chris. I graduated in 1945 and served on the staff with my wife, Ann Leeder, a Class of 1947 graduate, in the mid-1950s, and still later served on the Boards of WOSA/NA and the school itself. Your words reflect elegantly what I tried to convey in my Foreword to Living on the Edge, that wonderful tribute to Woodstock in 2004 edited by Sally Stoddard and others. Shabash! I think it is remarkable that alumni of Woodstock ranging in age from 18 to 100, share such a strong bond with the school and with eachother. Doug Pickett
Dear Chris,
Congratulations on an award richly deserved! My husband Terry and I are graduates of the '50s and Woodstock is dear to our hearts and the source of our values and inspiration. You transported us back to Parker Hall and we were right there hanging onto every wonderful word. Reaching out to people with warm sincerity and humour are your gifts and delight your audience. Thank you for a remarkable speech and for filling us with joy at your stunning achievements and humility. May you continue to enjoy success as you creatively seek ways to be inclusive and make connections around the world, a shining example of Woodstock Spirit! Charlene Chitambar Connell
Having lived in Fiji from age 5-9 (I am a New Zealander) I also feel that this upbringing in a foreign (and 3rd world) country has done alot to shape me as a person for the the better. Colour and background has never been an issue for me. We are all one people and what it has made hard, is my ability to understand why people act with such hate towards other humans.
so very right! one feels this when he/she comes out of successive levels of circles....home/town/state/country. We do start having more compassion towards those who were stuck in our brains as mere labels. This experience is like a big churning sea where all prejudices start dissolving and we start identifying with one another...
i hope that this message gets passed along many many times (cf my tweet). thanks for TED. we LINKed (and will do so) some some TED-Talk to birkenbihl.com/Favorites and many have thus "found you" and now go to TED directly which was my goal. all of you are going great work + enjoying it, i bet (i know tht feeling). have a wonderful day (or night, as the case may be).
vfb
please, i am still new to web.2.o how can i FAVORISE this wonderful text of yours? i fail to see any favor...-button but then it might just be my ignorance. can you help?
vfb
ps so sorry, tries to subscribe (RSS), it worked, there i found a tiny button, seemed to say I LIKE i pushed and now it reads i DON't like. please be patient, i am desperately trying to find my way. i wanted to just watch for a while but your post is so strong, i had to react. if you now habe 1 don't like, it would be my mistake (how to rectify). it not, no comment is necessary. sorry to bother you again.
thanks. vfb
birkenbihi, to favorite a post, you mouse over the title and then click the yellow star. But please don't worry... and thanks for your nice comment on the post.
Well done and yes the Global Soul grounded in a local place that links us all as Woodstockites is a foundation with a responsibility. Thank you for your address.
Inspiring! :-) ... How better world would have been if everyone could find the opportunity to become a 'global soul'.. to think like a 'global soul'!
My `work` was once published in Personal Computer Games magazine while Mr. Anderson was the editor, one of my proud moment!
SHA BASH Meri Bhai! When I came back to the U.S., I was considered a "Third Culture Kid" We are truely one. Lets make it one with the Universe. Great Job!
Well done and yes the Global Soul grounded in a local place that links us all as Woodstockites is a foundation with a responsibility. Thank you for your address.
Amazing insight. I am inspired by you Chris. I admire what you are doing in Ted and believe that you've helped millions and millions of people by just sharing brilliant and inspiring ideas to EVERYONE thru TED. I am with you in the "WE" concept. Thank you so much for sharing this. :)
Very nice story, it is with individual volunteers like you that the world progresses!
You are needed in South Africa
Muito bom ver tudo isso, ver a história que se constrói ao longo do tempo e que permite alguém fazer coisas tão maravilhosas. Agradeço muito a você, Chris, pelas oportunidades que o TED e o TEDx tem criado. Há 2 dias, aqui, no Rio de Janeiro, participamos de mais de mais um TEDx. E esperamos continuar espalhando esta maravilhosa ideia.... Grande abraço. Sérgio
hey hi..
i read the whole post.it was very interesting and very knowledgeable.
and here is the place where anyone can share their knowledge.
after all very nice story.i like it very much.
It's a pity the majority of us is born and grow and go to school and work in the same place in a lifetime and thus will neve understand Woodstock nor believe there is such a place. What's more, by staying in the same spot our identity start to become more and more rigid since others create a perception of it that allows only certain features, and tris is what kills us and our curiosity towards the world diversity and other humans. Thanks for sharing this story, hope to' see this place sometime.
Laura
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Really effective material, thanks so much for the post.
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This wae very well said. I was class of "66" and have felt the years at Woodstonk grade one 12 were the best years of my life
Chris, truly amazing.Thank you. I relate so much because I spent 8 years(1963-69) in Wynberg Allen and had close friends in Woodstock.Truly a great institution. In New Delhi where I live, I look forward every year for the Woodstock school choir to perform.I have an 80 year old boy from Woodstock Mr Suri who also attends.SAM MATHEWS, New Delhi
I graduated from Woodstock in 1996 after 4 years there and I couldnt agree with you more. That is the best gift Woodstock School gives you.
Well put, Chris! I can only hope that your wonderful sentiment was absorbed and appreciated by the students that got to hear it directly from you. I'm not sure I could've understood the deep implications when I was there, and at that age. I totally "get" it now, though. Woodstock - the entire experience - seems to become more ingrained in our psyches as we get older, perhaps because we can more easily assimilate than others who have not experienced the multi-cultural situation we were given the opportunity to explore.
Sherri Ann Petievich - Class of '72
Your wonderful speech was sent to me by my cousin Kathy Coleman who along with her brother Dale and sister Carolanne spent several years at Woodstock.

I was a teacher, I taught in inner city schools in Canada for my whole career.A year In Ottawa at Glashan Snr. Public and for the City of York in Toronto. My children came from all over the world, many new to Canada and for most English was there third or fourth language. The great think about all the schools I taught in is that the children taught the adults who came in contact with them so very much. The children laughed, played worked together had their tiffs but they were like children the world over they did not isolate each other on race, nationality, religion they kept it simple and followed the old adage " do unto others as you'd have done unto you".

I had the opportunity to work on a series of instructional videos for inservicing teachers, The videographer spent a full day at my school in my classroom with my children. The producer of the video was also with us. This gentleman just happened to be white and of the jewish faith. after the children came in from morning recess he took me asde and said" How do you do it?" "Do what? "I asked. "Get all these different cultures & races to work and play together?" My answer was simple " We teach & actively practice respect for one another in all we do. I have childrens books in several different languages, early each year we do a unit on multi culturalism each child is asked to research his/her culture by talking to their family, then each in turn gives a talk about their culture/country and brings in artifacts, music etc to share. Culmiating this unit we held a Multicultural festival and asked the childrens families to join us and each bring a culinary dish from their country that could be shared.

Initially I was doing this unit ith just my class eventually I had all the grade 3 classes participating. The children loved it as did their parents, The great trickle down effect from this was that parents that were hesitant to come into the school began dropping in and talking with us about their children and concerns they had re the new community/country.

Understanding others cultures , respecting & charishing our differences is just a fantastic way to live.

beautifully articulated. yes I was in true shock of how my understanding of the world was challenged, when I came straight from Woodstock to Kentucky , USA. Been in America 25 years and yet not found that global understanding. Perhaps it is that seed of a global soul that was sown all those years back that inspired me to start Global Bridges!
Thanks for posting this and to my Woodstock classmate for reposting it on Facebook. My step-daughter has just begun Grade 11 at Woodstock, as a SAGE Student on a one-year program. She has dreamed of attending Woodstock since she was 7 or 8 and just last week celebrated her 16th birthday there..... realizing a childhood dream! She is already very much a 'global soul' and yet Woodstock will play a large part in continuing to shape and mold her. I am so grateful that she has this utterly amazing opportunity in her life. :)
Thanks for this speech and congratulations on your award. I am going to print it and put it with my papers so that my children and grandchildren will better understand this place which is so dear to my heart. I am a second generation Woodstockite and you have stated so well what I have tried to explain to friends and family.
Woodstock '85; TedXHanze 2012. Convergence of interests.
The teachers and the teaching methodologies employed are the foundation on which the quality of any school is defined.
I liked this and actually will be in Mussoorie on Tuesday for a week. Class of 67.
Wonderfully written and I can unsurprisingly relate to your experiences at Woodstock because of the impact it had over my life as well, while and after growing up there for 16 + years. I love Woodstock more than any other place in the world. Its close to all corners of my heart and finding out every single day, how Woodstock Changed my life forever and here it was. It is a major blessing accounted for and agree all the way with you Mr. Chris Anderson. A HOME, A FAMILY, A FRATERNITY and a place of LOVE and FRIENDSHIP..... CHeers!!! GO WOODSTOCK!!!
My daughter studied in two different schools before she attended her 11th and 12th grade in Woodstock. Not that the previous schools were bad but I can vouch Woodstock was the best experience of her school days. Every holiday, it was so much fun to listen to all that she had to share about the school, various activities, friends, fun, teachers and the loads she got to learn from other children from around the world. Thank you Woodstock for the lovely two years my daughter spent in that beautiful place!
Thanks, Peter! Wonderful inspiration producing a great speech! The 2 ways people approach each other (compassion or fear) is a useful dichotomy. The workshop version would be more nuanced, but those are certainly the poles. I really like the phrase "widening our circle of compassion."
Nicely written, Chris. I think John was there when you gave this talk. I'm looking forward to catching up with your sister in a few weeks when she comes to visit Mussoorie. I never tire of the beautiful view in the photo. I see it every morning as I walk to school. Totally shaabaash!
Its always great to travel back to the memories of such a wonderful experience. Woodstock is family and a way of life. I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. It certainly does " widen our circle of compassion." :)
Too bad they rammed Christian garbage down everyone's throats while spewing out homophobic values. Not everyone was so *welcome* at Woodstock.
Beautiful article. Woodstock was a place of real diversity. I am from Africa, Kenya to be precise (class of '92) and I got real life values from that school.
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