I bend down and thumb through a pile of shells. “Victims or survivors?” I think to myself.
On one hand, these shells have been beaten, tossed, lost. They have been separated from their counterparts; textures erased by the pounding of water that spit them out of their home. Shells, literally, are all that are left, victims of the rage of the sea.
On the other hand these shells are the few who made it to the shore. Riding what came against them, they did not drowned, they did not shatter, they rode in on their opposition and are now littering the ground like gems. A whole shell cannot be taken for granted; it is most definitely – a survivor.
I worked for a few years full-time in Anti-Human Trafficking. When I first started with the organization, I was an Administrative Assistant to the Director – a passionate modern day Abolitionist. One of the values she engrained in me from the first day was, “We do not call people victims, they are survivors.” I was tasked with sorting through correspondences, articles, and materials to meticulously delete any instance of “victim of trafficking,” and replace it with “survivor of trafficking.” It seemed to me an odd pet peeve of my boss … until …
I was sitting in a prominent conference on Human Trafficking. One of the hosts escorted a young girl to the stage who had agreed to share her story. She had been trafficked and sold for sex for a number of years. At the time of this testimony, she was fourteen years old. The room stood to their feet and applauded wholeheartedly as she approached the podium. Tears streamed down our faces as we, the audience, fought to find the honor she deserved. Before she even said a word, I finally understood … survivor. Every minute I had spent deleting the word “victim” from materials about human trafficking felt well worth it. She was not a victim; she was in every sense of the word – a survivor.
Immersed in this work for a few years, I find myself living with long-term effects on my perspectives. One of these is the value of seeing people as survivors instead of victims. People may seem very broken, but what if we don’t know the half of it? What if the fact that they are even alive is testament to their strength?
Friend, consider it for yourself. What if you are not a victim of loss, divorce, addiction, abuse, disease, loneliness, rejection, re-location, miscarriages, stress, poverty, disappointment, etc. What if you are a survivor? What if you are one of the few who hit the shore with a determination not to give up on life after internal or external pain that could easily have shattered you and left you on the bottom of the sea?
And consider it for others. What if the pain people have endured needs to be honored before they know they have the strength to heal?
I have found that seeing people as survivors empowers them to understand their own strength, which in turn inspires them to heal. I cannot tell you how many people have begun to heal from the simple recognition of, “Your pain matters, and I am amazed that you have gotten to where you are today.”
You, my friend, are in my book – a survivor.
… and so is that tattered homeless man you pass every day.
Dare to see.
Survivor = “a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship or set back.”
A pile of shells.
A pile of prized heroes who are – against all odds – here.