Extra baggage…priceless

1 02 2012

I was fortunate to attend the 26th Annual San Diego Conference on Child Maltreatment last week in San Diego, where some 1,500 professionals from 30+ countries gathered to consider the latest developments, research, and practices in the fields related to child maltreatment. It was an overwhelming opportunity to immerse myself in the diverse content and myriad approaches shared by an impressive line-up of presenters. I brought back some excellent ideas and resources, and made some valuable contacts. But the weightiest item in my luggage on the return flight wasn’t a book, a manual, a DVD, or any other tangible item. It was the insight I gained from one particular speaker, and it is more precious to me than anything else I learned or experienced during the entire conference.

Pam Toohey

This would probably be a good place to insert a “spoiler alert” to protect those who might be lucky enough to be in a future audience being addressed by Pam Toohey. But I won’t spoil anything. It wouldn’t be right. The impact of sitting in that audience, hearing Pam speak, and taking away her powerful message is just too valuable to risk diminishing it for anyone else. Suffice it to say that Pam found a way to share “lived experience” in a way that was both unique and inspiring. I have never experienced anything quite like it before. More than the story she told, it was the way she told it and also the ways she chose to deliver it to an audience of “in the know” professionals. Their reactions, like my own, are a tribute to Pam’s amazing contribution to the conference… spontaneous, thunderous, on-your-feet applause. I have no doubt that most of them left with the same indelible messages Pam left with me.

I had the honour of telling Pam, in person, how much I appreciated her presentation. I joked with her that any excess baggage fees I might have to pay on my flight home would be due to the incredible gift she had given me, and that I would happily pay them in exchange for coming away with such an inspiring message. Pam laughed at that, then blushed when I told her that her presentation alone had made the conference for me. In the midst of the clinical trials, the stats and outcomes, the new approaches, and the policy discussions, Pam had painted the whole experience with a very personal, very provocative brush. It coloured my entire conference experience for the better, and it will stay with me in my work and in my life for a long time to come.

Thank you Pam. I’m asking the right questions now.

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