Engaging Identity Series Present Keynote: “What’s Your Big Lie?”

Sunnie Ning '18 News Editor

Jordan Axani, a social researcher, public speaker and coach, came to speak at Smith College on Feb. 16 in Weinstein Auditorium. Titled “What’s your Big Lie,” the speaker used anonymous technology to allow students to share the masks they are wearing, projecting their submissions in real-time for all to see.

“What’s your Big Lie” was the keynote for the Engaging Identity Series, a campus-wide program running Feb. 9 to April 22 consisting of workshops, identity-themed dinners and a video series. The goal is to engage the entire campus community in discussions that relate to identity empowerment and social justice activism.

Axani is a touring speaker for companies, schools and factories. “I am on a mission to create school cultures that are built on belonging, and I do this by creating safe spaces for incredible honesty and humility among students,” writes Axani on his website.

Axani started the talk by confessing his recent experience in an emotionally abusive relationship in the past three months. After describing his pretense and feelings of hypocrisy, Axani said he realized that most of us spend our lives hiding, that most of us are living a big lie.

Axani then introduced his audience to the first question: “Who are you?” “We are good at saying what we are, but this question is really hard to answer,” he commented as the audience went silent and reflective. He furthered explained that our inner insecurity often leads to lies, and then actions based on these lies.

He demonstrated by sharing another of his story, a story that went viral and captured the world. Growing up in a rural area and bullied throughout childhood, Axani said that self-worth was not a concept he understood. At a young age, he had fantastic achievements, including becoming one of the youngest people to ever cycle across Canada at age 17 for charity. All these, he said, were a cry for help. “I felt this pressure because I didn’t think I was enough.”

His most viral story started after a break-up. Having purchased a ticket in his now ex-girlfriend’s name, Axani posted on Reddit, intending to give away his ticket, when his story went viral. But behind all the attention, when the momentum died down, Axani felt broken inside. “I hate myself more than ever before—and I don’t even know who I’ve become,” he said.

He then proceeded to the interactive part of his talk. Axani invited the audience to anonymously share their answers to several of his questions and projecting them on the screen. Starting with the questions “what is your big lie,” most of the audience members participated, reflecting honestly on their vulnerabilities. The crowd went very silent after seeing the words projected onto the screen. “You just yanked all of us out of the comfort zone,” one of the audience members commented.

After appreciating the honesty and participation of his audience, Axani then proceeded to ask two more questions. He said these anonymous interactions help people realize how many of us suffer a similar pain. “To know that I wasn’t alone, that was the turning point,” he said.

He ended the talk with three truths to share with the audience, “you are not alone,” “but you are a liar,” and “coming clean is your choice.”