Reflecting on the value of our lives and putting things into perspective is not something we often have time for in today’s fast-paced world.
Yet for 40 minutes or so at the annual Abta Travel Convention, the 500-strong audience gave their full attention to the man on stage – renowned war photographer Giles Duley.
For those not present, I’ll explain his astonishing story. When hopes of a sports scholarship to the US were cut short by a car crash at the age of 18, Giles decided he wanted to become a photographer.
He began his photography career snapping bands such as Oasis, the Prodigy and Pulp for top magazine titles, but eventually decided his true calling was war photography. So, after selling his house and moving abroad, he began documenting people affected by conflict.
But tragedy struck in 2011 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while working in Afghanistan. He lost both legs and an arm, as well as suffering serious internal injuries.
I could not take my eyes off some of the most remarkable real-life video footage I had ever seen, recorded inside the emergency helicopter taking Giles to the US Army hospital in Kandahar as a team of medics battled to keep him alive.
At one point, Giles asked a doctor whether he was going to live and received a reply so candidly alarming I cannot quote it here. Incredibly, within two years, Giles was back in Afghanistan resuming his career as a war photographer.
By this time, he had set up his own Legacy of War foundation to help displaced victims of conflict who cannot move into habitable accommodation. All in all, the audience was enthralled by Giles.
It so happened his appearance came shortly after a group of my friends had talked about the difficulty of finding the time to “see the wood for the trees”, and it reinforced a commitment I had made to myself that I would channel positive energy into thinking about the bigger picture more often.
After Giles’s session – and joining my colleagues in a standing ovation – it was back down to earth, but I felt re-energised, with a better perspective to help me deal with the challenges ahead.
I reflected on some of the key findings from the conference. For me, highlights included the University of Liverpool’s Dr Paul Redmond’s session on the “zombie apocalypse”. Apparently, accounting is the profession most at risk of becoming “zombified” and faces a depressing 97% chance of being replaced by automation in the future.
Wellbeing in the workplace was another subject covered by Dr Redmond, while Global Radio’s Jo McCrostie suggested 50% of all web browsing would be screen-less by 2020, and that voice was bidding to take over from other mediums.
While we may well be hearing a lot more from the likes of virtual assistants such as Alexa over the next few years, it’s important to remember that the experiences and words of real people – such as Giles – are the ones we should pay most attention to.