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Sixth annual TEDxBigSky highlights the power of resilience

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Jan Winburn "Tragic Endings Spark New Beginnings" PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Gabrielle Gasser and Tucker Harris EBS STAFF

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Jet Senters Aviation was a Fortune 500 company. The article has been updated to remove that description.

BIG SKY – In a darkened theater, nearly 200 people listened raptly to an avalanche survivor’s account of being buried beneath 9-and-a-half feet of snow for 60 minutes. 

The survivor, Ken Scott, was one of 15 speakers to bring to life stories of resilience on stage at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on Jan. 29 and 30 for the sixth annual TEDxBigSky. Scott invited the audience into the terror of being buried alive, the struggle to breath and the gradual narrowing of consciousness.

“Let’s all take a breath, shall we?” Scott said, chuckling. Collectively, the audience let out the breaths they didn’t realize they were holding.

TEDxBigSky is a local, self-organized event where speakers come together to spark deep discussion and connection. After being offered only as a live stream last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Outlaw Partners, publisher of Explore Big Sky and producer of TEDxBigSky, presented both live and virtual viewing for the 2022 event. For the first time, this year’s speaker series spanned two nights.

“Over the years, talks from this event have been spread around the world,” said Ersin Ozer, media and events director at Outlaw Partners. “And the impact doesn’t stop on the stage after they give their talks, it starts there.”

In some ways the choice for this year’s theme of resilience was obvious, said Ennion Williams, vice president of events at Outlaw Partners. 

“Through the year of 2022, our world has been going through a lot of resilience in dealing with what’s been going on in the world,” Williams said. “It just seemed like a very appropriate theme being in the time and place our world and society are in.”

Introduced by a haiku presentation by poet Tom Levar and music by DJ Daniel Kern, this year’s speakers offered expressions of resiliency brought to life by themes of trauma and recovery; living a meaningful life; resilience through responsibility; and overcoming adversity.

Ken Scott “16 to 1 – A Story of Avalanches, Survival and the Aftermath” PHOTO BY MICAH ROBIN

Trauma and recovery

Ken Scott’s story of resilience in the face of a deeply traumatic experience was a theme echoed throughout both evenings of the event. 

Though born of events of a different nature, both Scott and speaker Saul Martinez discussed coping with the aftermath.

The two men suffer from PTSD and depression, Martinez due to an incident in Iraq in 2007 when he lost both of his legs to a car bomb. 

Both Scott and Martinez found ways to move through their traumas. “Take it, build on it, make it a discipline, then use it for yourself and others,” Martinez said. “Discipline and resilience are what we do to improve when it’s hard.”

Rev. Briana Lynn has also used resilience to help her cope with the trauma, or “shadow” as she calls it, in her life. She focuses on “radical aliveness” and navigates the duality of light and darkness in her life by accepting it as a paradox within which she must exist.

“I share these [stories] because I feel and I teach and I, in my best ways, try to embody what it means to be alive, to feel the full spectrum of human experience, that there is nothing that we need to run from, or avoid that we’re actually meant to feel it all,” she said.

Both having experienced trauma of her own and reporting on the trauma of others, decorated journalist Jan Winburn’s storytelling career has focused on the aftermath of trauma and the ways that people recover like Scott, Martinez and Lynn.

Reflecting on the experience of being a TEDx speaker after the event, Winburn said she received incredible support.

“There was all this support from everyone who put on TEDx, but then there was also tonight this community support where people–you know we’re human–so you mess up and don’t do exactly what you wanted but nobody cared about that; they accepted that,” she said. “I just felt a tremendous gratitude to be a part of this.”

Monique Benabou “Under Pressure: A Talk on Purpose” PHOTO BY MICAH ROBIN

Living a meaningful life

After traumatic events and along the road to recovery, life continues, and many speakers touched on the power of making that life meaningful. 

Speakers spoke about a breadth of ways to achieve purpose and meaning in life, from the use of plant medicine such as ayahuasca described by Azrya and Benjamin Bequer to help humanity achieve its full spectrum of aliveness to crafting meaningful relationships with our dreams and mentors as advised by psychotherapist Timothy Tate. 

Musician Monique Benabou gave a stunning musical performance to close out night one that encouraged audience members to embrace their purpose in life.

“Resilience is something in the spirit that I really feel is the most protected element of the spirit,” Banabou said after the event. “It’s only found by going to the edge, by hitting a bottom, by finding out what you’re made of. That’s where you really get to experience the gift of one’s personal relationship with resilience.”

Brothers Nick and Mike Fiorito tethered their life’s purpose to the characteristics of love and kindness, as demonstrated through the work of their nonprofit Blankets of Hope which donates blankets to the homeless. 

“Every single act of kindness brings us all one step closer to winning the game of life,” they said.

Ryan Busse “Responsibility: Democracy’s Critical Ingredient” PHOTO BY MICAH ROBIN

Resilience through responsibility 

In addition to messages about achieving individual resiliency, a handful of speakers discussed how personal and cultural responsibility can and should help the world achieve collective resiliency. 

Ryan Busse, former National Rifle Association member and firearms executive, discussed this concept in the context of gun ownership, a polarized issue in the U.S. 

​​“I had a front row seat to it all for almost the entirety of that last 25 years,” Busse said. “I sold millions of guns, while trying to hold a line on decency. At the same time, I found myself in the middle of an industry that was transforming a country—and not for the better.”

Busse asked the audience to participate in one simple solution: to strive for responsibility in their own lives.

Speakers Tom Spruance and Todd Dittman addressed the need for resiliency in environmental spaces. 

Similar to Busse’s request for listeners to take personal responsibility, Tom Spruance advocated for people to consider their impact on the places they live and to take responsibility for protecting the wild spaces.

He believes the love of the natural world can help “transform you into becoming a protector, a steward of wildlife and wild places.”

Investment professional Todd Dittmann spoke of the need for national and global solidarity as society looks to transition to renewable energy from fossil fuels. Dittman asked the audience to consider the impacts of energy transition on the economically vulnerable and advocated for a transition that considers socioeconomic impacts to society. 

Lisa Senters-McDermott “Resilience as an Entrepreneur” PHOTO BY MICAH ROBIN

Overcoming adversity 

The final perspective on resilience offered by speaker Lisa Senters-McDermott, focused on perseverance in the face of adversity.

Now the CEO and founder of Jet Senters Aviation, Senters-McDermott worked hard for years, ignoring the naysayers in her life,  to build her career as an entrepreneur. 

“I know not to ask permission. I trust my gut. I believe dreams can be prophetic,” she said. “I know the brain conspires to help us. And I know that life is precious and a whole lot of fun.”

Reflecting on her talk and the meaning of resilience after the event, Senters-McDermott said that she hopes attendees left her talk with the message that they should all follow their own unique passions rather than trying to fit into a prescribed societal mold.

“Resilience is what separates the quitters from those that are successful,” Senters-McDermott said.

To close out a profound night of shared storytelling, singer/songwriter and local legend Bruce Anfinson took the stage with songs and anecdotes from his Montana roots. From raising draft horses in Helena to building 30-foot teepees in the summertime, Anfinson reminisced on his past through song. 

Anfinson’s last tune of the night was “Home Is Where Montana Is,” which reminds us of the beauty of Montana. “It’s just too dang pretty to try to capture it you know,” Anfinson said before starting the song.

After a weekend of speakers bringing tales of resilience to life, it was an apt request. Alive in the audience was a sense of potential, of hope and of perseverance.

“Even when we are doomed, we hope for something,” Scott said during his talk. “We are all beings of hope. There is great power in recognizing the hope within you. Please recognize that hope within yourself.” 

Bruce Anfinson “Montana’s Musical Ambassador” PHOTO BY MICAH ROBIN

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