10:38
TEDxSydney

Gill Hicks: I survived a terrorist attack. Here's what I learned

Filmed:

Gill Hicks's story is one of compassion and humanity, emerging from the ashes of chaos and hate. A survivor of the London terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005, she shares her story of the events of that day -- and the profound lessons that came as she learned how to live on.

- Survivor and activist
Gill Hicks has dedicated her life to being an advocate for peace. Full bio

I could never have imagined
00:12
that a 19-year-old suicide bomber
00:15
would actually teach me a valuable lesson.
00:19
But he did.
00:24
He taught me to never presume anything
00:26
about anyone you don't know.
00:31
On a Thursday morning in July 2005,
00:36
the bomber and I, unknowingly,
00:40
boarded the same train carriage
at the same time,
00:43
standing, apparently, just feet apart.
00:48
I didn't see him.
00:54
Actually, I didn't see anyone.
00:56
You know not to look
at anyone on the Tube,
00:58
but I guess he saw me.
01:00
I guess he looked at all of us,
01:04
as his hand hovered
over the detonation switch.
01:08
I've often wondered: What was he thinking?
01:14
Especially in those final seconds.
01:18
I know it wasn't personal.
01:24
He didn't set out to kill
or maim me, Gill Hicks.
01:26
I mean -- he didn't know me.
01:31
No.
01:33
Instead, he gave me
01:35
an unwarranted and an unwanted label.
01:38
I had become the enemy.
01:44
To him, I was the "other,"
01:49
the "them," as opposed to "us."
01:52
The label "enemy" allowed him
to dehumanize us.
01:57
It allowed him to push that button.
02:03
And he wasn't selective.
02:07
Twenty-six precious lives were taken
in my carriage alone,
02:10
and I was almost one of them.
02:17
In the time it takes to draw a breath,
02:20
we were plunged into a darkness so immense
02:23
that it was almost tangible;
02:27
what I imagine wading
through tar might be like.
02:29
We didn't know we were the enemy.
02:35
We were just a bunch of commuters
who, minutes earlier,
02:38
had followed the Tube etiquette:
02:42
no direct eye contact,
02:44
no talking
02:47
and absolutely no conversation.
02:48
But in the lifting of the darkness,
02:53
we were reaching out.
02:57
We were helping each other.
03:00
We were calling out our names,
03:02
a little bit like a roll call,
03:05
waiting for responses.
03:08
"I'm Gill. I'm here.
03:12
I'm alive.
03:17
OK."
03:20
"I'm Gill.
03:23
Here.
03:25
Alive.
03:28
OK."
03:31
I didn't know Alison.
03:35
But I listened for her check-ins
every few minutes.
03:38
I didn't know Richard.
03:43
But it mattered to me that he survived.
03:45
All I shared with them
03:50
was my first name.
03:52
They didn't know
03:55
that I was a head of a department
at the Design Council.
03:56
And here is my beloved briefcase,
04:01
also rescued from that morning.
04:04
They didn't know that I published
architecture and design journals,
04:08
that I was a Fellow
of the Royal Society of Arts,
04:12
that I wore black --
04:15
still do --
04:18
that I smoked cigarillos.
04:20
I don't smoke cigarillos anymore.
04:23
I drank gin and I watched TED Talks,
04:26
of course, never dreaming
that one day I would be standing,
04:30
balancing on prosthetic legs,
04:37
giving a talk.
04:40
I was a young Australian woman
doing extraordinary things in London.
04:42
And I wasn't ready for that all to end.
04:48
I was so determined to survive
04:52
that I used my scarf to tie tourniquets
around the tops of my legs,
04:56
and I just shut everything
and everyone out,
05:01
to focus, to listen to myself,
05:07
to be guided by instinct alone.
05:10
I lowered my breathing rate.
05:15
I elevated my thighs.
05:17
I held myself upright
05:19
and I fought the urge to close my eyes.
05:21
I held on for almost an hour,
05:26
an hour to contemplate
the whole of my life
05:31
up until this point.
05:35
Perhaps I should have done more.
05:39
Perhaps I could have
lived more, seen more.
05:43
Maybe I should have gone running,
dancing, taken up yoga.
05:46
But my priority and my focus
was always my work.
05:52
I lived to work.
05:57
Who I was on my business card
05:59
mattered to me.
06:02
But it didn't matter down in that tunnel.
06:05
By the time I felt that first touch
06:11
from one of my rescuers,
06:15
I was unable to speak,
06:18
unable to say even
a small word, like "Gill."
06:20
I surrendered my body to them.
06:27
I had done all I possibly could,
06:29
and now I was in their hands.
06:32
I understood
06:39
just who and what humanity really is,
06:41
when I first saw the ID tag
06:47
that was given to me
when I was admitted to hospital.
06:51
And it read:
06:54
"One unknown estimated female."
06:56
One unknown estimated female.
07:03
Those four words were my gift.
07:09
What they told me very clearly
07:13
was that my life was saved,
07:15
purely because I was a human being.
07:18
Difference of any kind made no difference
07:22
to the extraordinary lengths
that the rescuers were prepared to go
07:26
to save my life,
07:32
to save as many unknowns as they could,
07:34
and putting their own lives at risk.
07:37
To them, it didn't matter
if I was rich or poor,
07:40
the color of my skin,
07:45
whether I was male or female,
07:47
my sexual orientation,
07:49
who I voted for,
07:51
whether I was educated,
07:53
if I had a faith or no faith at all.
07:54
Nothing mattered
07:59
other than I was a precious human life.
08:01
I see myself as a living fact.
08:07
I am proof
08:12
that unconditional love and respect
can not only save,
08:14
but it can transform lives.
08:21
Here is a wonderful image
of one of my rescuers, Andy, and I
08:25
taken just last year.
08:29
Ten years after the event,
08:32
and here we are, arm in arm.
08:34
Throughout all the chaos,
08:39
my hand was held tightly.
08:41
My face was stroked gently.
08:45
What did I feel?
08:49
I felt loved.
08:51
What's shielded me from hatred
and wanting retribution,
08:53
what's given me the courage to say:
08:58
this ends with me
09:01
is love.
09:06
I was loved.
09:08
I believe the potential
for widespread positive change
09:13
is absolutely enormous
09:19
because I know what we're capable of.
09:21
I know the brilliance of humanity.
09:24
So this leaves me with some
pretty big things to ponder
09:27
and some questions for us all to consider:
09:31
Is what unites us not far greater
than what can ever divide?
09:36
Does it have to take
a tragedy or a disaster
09:43
for us to feel deeply
connected as one species,
09:47
as human beings?
09:52
And when will we embrace
the wisdom of our era
09:55
to rise above mere tolerance
10:01
and move to an acceptance
10:05
for all who are only a label
until we know them?
10:08
Thank you.
10:15
(Applause)
10:16

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About the Speaker:

Gill Hicks - Survivor and activist
Gill Hicks has dedicated her life to being an advocate for peace.

Why you should listen

Dr. Gill Hicks is considered to be one of the most thought provoking, powerful and life affirming speakers in Australia and the UK. She is globally known as a survivor of the London terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005. She survived, but suffered severe and permanent injuries, losing both legs from just below the knee.

Originally from Adelaide, Australia, Hicks has lived in London since 1991, however in 2012 Hicks returned to Australia where she operates nationally and internationally through her not for profit M.A.D. for Peace network and her public speaking work.

Her unique and compelling projects and initiative's, aimed at both deterring anyone from following the path of violent extremism and building sustainable models for peace, draw upon Hicks's previous roles within the Arts.

An impressive career before the bombings included being at the helm of some of the UK's most prestigious and respected institutions -- including publishing director of the architecture, design and contemporary culture magazine, Blueprint, director of the Dangerous Minds design consultancy and head curator at the Design Council. It wasn’t until after the bombings that Hicks decided to dedicate her life to being an advocate for peace. She has made it her mission to use her experiences and her new body form to positive effect.

In 2007 Hicks founded the not for profit organisation M.A.D. for Peace, a platform that connects people globally and encourages us to think of "Peace as a Verb," something that we have an individual responsibility to do every day.

In 2008 Hicks released her first book, One Unknown, named after the chilling label given to her as she arrived to hospital as an unidentified body. The book was shortlisted for the Mind Book of the Year Awards.

Since her return to Australia in 2012, Hicks has been recognised as South Australian, Australian of the Year 2015 and is Chair to the Innovation component for the Committee for Adelaide.

In 2013 Hicks welcomed her daughter, Amelie into the world. This, as she describes it, is her finest achievement and greatest acknowledgement of the brilliance and resilience of the human body.

More profile about the speaker
Gill Hicks | Speaker | TED.com