*(Thanks to Roch Randon at www.quantumcoaching.ca for sharing this. Treat yourself and subscribe to his excellent blog.)
This is how Nelson Mandela not only survived through over 25 years of imprisonment, much of it in solitary confinement, but how he became one of the foremost moral and political leaders of our generation: he embraced the (unimaginable) difficulties, disillusionment and pain that was heaped upon him, as an opportunity to learn and grow and change and be better prepared for the life task that he envisioned as set before him. He lived his life with the conviction that everything that came his way could be given meaning, could be transformed into something redemptive and make him and his world better as a consequence.
There is a little of Nelson Mandela in each one of us, in as much as we embrace the difficulties and challenges that come our way, not as an excuse to give up or to play victim but to grow stronger and wiser.
And for those who do that transformational work, nothing could be more offensive, as Tony Roberts discovered, than to be identified as a victim or mere survivor.
I have a personal story that parallels the above slur in a small way. I was at an authors’ seminar and had the opportunity to relay briefly the scope of my book Trauma to Tango: dancing through the shadows of unforgiven dreams, beginning with aninsight into childhood trauma and sexual abuse and ending with the healing and strength that can be fashioned out of adversity.
A fellow participant came up to me afterward, placed a very sympathetic hand on my shoulder and looking softly into my eyes said, “So you are a survivor.”
My gut turned. I thought, “Thanks alot. I share my life story of strength and courage and all you heard were the bad bits of my childhood? Where does that leave me as a powerful and wise adult?”
I did not revisit my childhood trauma simply to feel sorry for myself or find a lifelong excuse or someone else to blame for my screwups, although that was a temptation and I did spend some time there. But I didn’t stay there. I made choices that took me beyond that sense of victimhood and making someone else responsible for my life path.
My comment back to her was, “I am a thriver, not a survivor.”
The very turmoil in which I was steeped as a child steeled my resolve to become something more, to rise above. Throughout life I have been impelled by a vision to do more than simply repair the damage but to overcome past patterns and create from it a learning. In the end, my marred past has become a gift not only to myself but that I offer to others.
All of us to greater or lesser degree are called to make a difference in this world. It is my belief that this calling begins as often as not, with some atrocity, injustice, or trauma that we endured, as a child or an adult As we dig our way out from under that rubble we learn not only to heal from the scars but to undo the propensity to repeat those patterns. Our learning and growth becomes humanity’s learning and growth. Our pain and healing becomes our gift to the world.
One more reference to Nelson Mandela. While in prison, engaged in his herculean struggle to maintain his mental and moral strength, he repeated endlessly to himself the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. It ends with these lines: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”