The 2016 Families in Global Transition Conference
Moving Across Cultures: Bringing Empathy and Expertise to the Evolving Global Family
By Dounia Bertuccelli
Stories. Empathy. Hope.
Those were key words at the 2016 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Considering the state of the world and the devastating news at every hour, we could all benefit from greater hope and empathy. We can also learn to connect more deeply through stories.
The speakers at FIGT taught us hope and empathy don’t have to come in world-shattering forms. You don’t have to save thousands of lives or create a rescue organization to create hope or show empathy. Showing kindness to one person in their time of need is enough to matter and make a difference. Melissa Dalton-Bradford reminded us we all have something to contribute. “Bring what you have. Every individual sitting in this room has a strength that can help someone in crisis.”
From Chris O’Shaughnessy’s humorous and touching opening keynote through to Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s beautiful and heart-wrenching closing keynote and the many sessions in-between, we were reminded about the importance of stories, empathy and hope.
Connecting Through Stories
Retaining Information: Anyone who has read Chris O’Shaughnessy’s book knows there is a special blend of humor, warmth and kindness in his storytelling. In his keynote speech, he had the audience doubled over with laughter, but he also evoked deep emotion when recounting how one small act of kindness had a live-saving consequence. He took the audience on a journey, linking his anecdotes to the greater importance of empathy and stories in today’s society. He reminded us that “we’re built to retain information better through stories.”
Greater Coherence: Michael Pollock echoed the crucial role storytelling plays for expats, Third Culture Kids (TCKs), and others living a globally mobile life, especially as our storylines do not have a steady flow. “Every time you make a move, your story is truncated,” he explained. “By sharing our stories, we can create a greater coherence.”
Resilience: During a unique panel discussion, consisting of two TCKs (Lydia Foxall and Taylor Murray) and their mothers (Elise Foxall and Susan Murray), Lydia and Susan also emphasized the importance of stories in a Third Culture family: “One of the keys to resilience is belonging to a bigger family story,” Lydia expressed, while Susan added, “Story is really critical for our TCKs.”
“Stories are powerful”: One of the most poignant presentations about story came from a 2016 Pollock Scholar, Mary Bassey, during her passionate and insightful Ignite Session Stories that Cloud Our Nomadic Realities: A Closer Look at the Stereotypes that Dominate the Globalization Narrative and How We Unknowingly Reinforce Them. Mary reminded us stories are one of the best ways to get messages across to more people, and that all stories need to be heard – not just of the mainstream or majority. “Stories are powerful. They shouldn’t be in the margins […] There needs to be an amplification of the marginal voices.”
Vulnerability and connection: To close the conference tying together the theme of stories and empathy, Melissa Dalton-Bradford reminded us we can only truly connect if we are open to connection, even if this means being vulnerable. “The more intimate the story, the more universal,” she explained. Often the hardest stories to tell create the most connections.
Messages of Empathy and Hope
“No neutral interaction”: From the start of the conference, Chris O’Shaughnessy reminded us why empathy and hope are so important: “We’re biologically created to connect.” He lamented that the world is suffering from loneliness and social isolation, which adversely impacts both physical and mental health. This loneliness, coupled with social media, personal devices and faceless interaction decreases empathy. “The world is vulnerable but doesn’t know it,” he added. We need to interact in-person, consciously seek out others, challenge our perceptions and actively teach empathy. We do not live in a bubble and “every interaction gives or takes life. There is no neutral interaction.” With greater empathy, we can ensure more positive interactions and help create better world.
Grief: When speaking about hope, we don’t automatically think about grief. But grief can be a catalyst for empathy, which can help foster hope, even in the darkest of times. “It is where we are broken that we bond,” Melissa Dalton-Bradford told the audience during her keynote. Well-versed in deep grief, after the sudden loss of her 18-year-old son, Melissa knows empathy and hope are the lights that guide those who suffer.
Family: During the TCK daughters/mothers panel, all four panelists emphasized the importance of family – both related and created. Forming bonds strengthened ties with family, friends and the host country. This helped make long-lasting relationships, despite distance. Lydia poignantly expressed the importance of this human interaction: “No matter where I was, as long as I was with people, it was a family.”
Community: FIGT has always strived to connect people, share knowledge and learn from one another. The 2016 theme Bringing Empathy and Expertise to the Evolving Global Family is more important than ever, in a world where global mobility is on the rise, including millions of refugees. Hope, empathy and stories are all fundamental for building bridges between individuals and communities. They are stepping stones to creating a better world. As Mary Bassey wisely said during her Ignite Session: “Everyone has a place at the table, we just need to pull out the chairs.”
Check out www.figt.org for more information on Families in Global Transition, including information about their upcoming FIGT17 conference in The Hague!