My daughter, Megan, and I just returned from presenting talks at a meeting of social psychologists in Verona, Italy on the topic of psychological perspectives on collective victimhood. Academics from around the world shared research on the effects of genocide on groups, both victims and perpetrators. I was the only clinical psychologist and I spoke about the intensity of traumatic grief and the risks of self-harm and revenge killing if grief work is not facilitated. Megan, the only journalist, she spoke of her time in Rwanda researching her upcoming book and learning about the restorative justice practices and the forgiveness work being done there.
While the social psychologists focused on social science research on the factors that prevent reconciliation and some societal features that can facilitate it, Megan and I shared personal stories and interventions that allow individual victims to resolve their grief, find compassion, and reconnect with community.
Whether the focus is the group or the individual, I realized that we all have the same goal- to find ways of bringing resilience and empowerment to those who’ve been victimized and stop the cycles of violence and post-trauma symptoms being passed down to new generations.
After the conference, Meg and I went on to Florence and Rome to revel in some of the most magnificent art on the planet. The opportunity to see Michelangelo’s “David” again after many years was as thrilling as the first time, and it called to mind the story of David and Goliath. Most of us heard the story as the shepherd boy who somehow slew the giant with his sling-shot. The new story, however, thanks to *Malcolm Gladwell’s research, tells us that Goliath, the Philistine who challenged and terrified Saul’s army of Israelites, likely had acromegaly, or gigantism, a disorder with side effects of poor vision and awkward movements.
David, on the other hand, was a shepherd, but also a “slinger,” used to killing lions and other predators to protect his flock. In ancient times, armies had divisions of slingers as part of their artillery units. The rock David used had the power of a .45 caliber handgun. His skill, plus tremendous faith in the rightness of his mission, guaranteed his success and led to his becoming king of Israel.
Michelangelo captures this David in his monumental sculpture (17 feet tall) – a powerful young man holding a rock in his right hand, the leather sling over his left shoulder. David had no doubts that he would prevail over the giant and convinced Saul to let him be the man to do it.
Seeing Michelangelo’s David after attending a conference on mass victimization had me contemplating victims and how we think of them as weakened and diminished. One dictionary refers to them as “helpless.” While all this is true, in addition to injury, suffering and loss, the survivors I work with and the individuals and groups Megan interviewed in Rwanda strike me as being more like David. They have the courage and resolve required to process traumatic grief and re-generate a new life. To me, this is the very definition of resilience.
Survivors who thrive are willing to confront the giants of the past and present using everyday practices like sharing, journaling, meditation, service, prayer and forgiveness. They are able to re-create themselves, connect with others, and contribute.
What “giants” are intimidating or limiting you from being the Champion you are meant to be? How can you practice being confident and clear as you move forward to achieve your goals? How will you recognize the obstacles you’ve already overcome and the training you’ve received in order to be victorious?
Michelangelo created David from a block of marble that had been seen as defective and was rejected by other sculptors. Whatever human fallibilities you see in yourself, they’re nothing compared to the possibility and greatness that is within you.
Come into full bloom this summer!
*Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book is, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.