Mandela and Other Heroes: The Real Meaning of Hope, Courage, and Forgiveness
by Linda Kohanov
With Nelson Mandela’s recent passing, the world continues to mourn the loss of a great leader while celebrating the life of this truly exceptional human being. But Mandela wasn’t born with the skills needed to fulfill his colossal calling. He evolved during a 95-year journey: from a “second class citizen” who endured the injustices of apartheid, to an activist who was willing to resort to violence against oppressive social structures, to a prisoner who suffered cruel punishment and self-esteem-decimating indignities at the hands of his captors, to president of a country that once marginalized him for the color of his skin.
Yet ultimately, Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing something that few leaders throughout history have had the strength of heart to do. He emerged from decades of hardship, not with the urge for revenge, but with the compassion and fortitude to forgive those who hurt him while also holding them accountable. In this way, he inspired people with generations of grievances on both sides of that conflict to collaborate, to do the long, hard mental, emotional, social and spiritual work needed to create a South African government capable of addressing the needs of both races.
In The Power of the Herd, I explored the concept of emotional heroism, citing innovators like Mandela, Gandhi, George Washington, Jesus, and the Buddha as leaders who uplifted oppressed populations—without demonizing the oppressors. This is one of main characteristics of emotional heroism. It takes more courage, power, compassion, and self-control to negotiate with those who have wronged us than it does to shame, blame, ostracize, or oppress them in response.
Some of these visionary leaders, of course, became religious figures, and not only by calling on a higher source of wisdom and power. Jesus and the Buddha purposefully taught opportunistic, sometimes intensely predatory people how they might temper the human penchant for control, intimidation, and rampant materialism to find greater fulfillment in harmonizing and collaborating with others. Whether through mindfulness techniques or parable, inspirational speeches, verbal advice or nonverbal example, history’s greatest social innovators promoted counterintuitive, counterinstinctual forms of interaction that asked people to override fear, aggression, grudge-holding and revenge-seeking behavior—even seemingly justified fight or flight impulses—in favor of empathy, connection, mutual respect, and mutual aid.
But promoting nonviolence in a violent world was not a peaceful endeavor. It required physical heroism to face the death threats most of these leaders received. It also required significant emotional heroism to keep reaching out to people despite the judgments, jeers, character assassinations, and betrayals that humanity’s most influential revolutionaries endured to introduce another way.
In 2013, I had the opportunity to more clearly define emotional heroism through lectures, interviews, and workshops based on my new book. In the process, I isolated six qualities that always seemed to show up when this herculean form of social intelligence was successfully employed, helping people to keep their hearts open in the midst of misunderstanding, conflict, deep ancestral pain, and outright betrayal. Emotional heroism combines power with compassion, courage with self-control, and forgiveness with accountability.
This constellation of life-affirming qualities allows people to show up for a conflict, refuse to fight back and refuse to leave, while refraining from portraying the aggressor as hopelessly defective, stupid, or evil. A stance of compassionate engagement, backed by considerable courage and nonpredatory power, opens the space for a new conversation to occur, one that takes the motivations of both parties into consideration. This problem-solving focus also holds people accountable without shaming them, offering aggressors more productive alternatives for getting their needs met in ways that support the ongoing health of the family, organization, or community involved. (More specific strategies for developing emotional heroism can be accessed in Chapter 23 of The Power of the Herd. A technique for having a productive conversation under challenging circumstances can be found in Chapter 21.)
With 21st-century innovations in travel, communication, business, and weaponry, we can no longer afford to ostracize, run away from, or outright destroy those who have wronged us. We need to find ways to break through the philosophical, cultural, and interpersonal challenges that divide us, and initiate heroic, healing conversations with people who would rather shame, blame or intimidate us than actually talk to us. This is not easy, obviously. It is, in fact, an advanced move to hold our heads high and keep our minds and hearts open when we encounter people who have privately undermined us or publicly humiliated us, usually by declaring that we are hopelessly defective in some way.
Initiating a heroic conversation—one backed by power, compassion, accountability, forgiveness, courage and self-control—is a colossal act of faith combined with a certain amount of realism. It is not natural to stand up, with dignity and hope, and reach out to those who have knocked us to the ground. It feels more like we’re pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps while being stabbed, repeatedly, in the heart. Yet, over time, the practice of emotional heroism gives us the tools and the confidence to accept a challenge few of us have considered: to become heroes in our own daily lives.
The Power Behind Nonviolence
Due to a waiting list for the now-full five-day January intensive, The Power Behind Nonviolence, Linda Kohanov has added another TPBN workshop March 15 to 19. For a description of this powerful training, and to register: http://eponaquest.com/workshop-details/?event=780.
A New Training for Therapists and EFP Horse Professionals
Healing the Herd: Connection Focused Therapy™ for Trauma Survivors and Families in Crisis
March 6-9, 2014
Led by two prominent innovators in the fields of equine-facilitated therapy and experiential learning, this four-day advanced training is for therapists—and horse professionals working closely with therapists—who would like to learn advanced techniques for helping families with complex case scenarios. This includes post-traumatic stress from abuse, war, criminal acts, or accidents, high or low conflict divorce, and reunification/reintegration following familial or non-familial abduction.
Psychologist, author, and abduction/family reunification expert Dr. Rebecca Bailey, and author/equine-facilitated learning pioneer Linda Kohanov team up to share the horse-facilitated activities, therapeutic interventions, relationship-building tools, and personal empowerment/life skills they’ve found to be highly effective in helping people heal from trauma and learn to thrive in their relationships and personal lives.
Rebecca Bailey, PhD, is a leading family psychologist and personal therapist. Co-author of the new book Safe Kids, Smart Parents: What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Children Safe (with Elizabeth Bailey, RN BC), she is frequently called upon as an expert commentator on CNN, Good Morning America, and other national news shows, including those hosted by Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer, Piers Morgan, and Katie Couric. The founder of Transitioning Families, Dr. Bailey has employed various forms of animal-assisted therapy, working with dogs, horses, and nature-based experiential techniques. She has also led trainings for police departments and the FBI to raise awareness and sensitivity to the issues that victims of rape, abduction, and other crimes face in surviving these extreme experiences, reuniting with their families, and healing over time. While she has worked with hundreds of individuals and families in crisis, she is best known as the therapist who helped Jaycee Dugard reunite with her family after she was rescued from a highly-publicized 18-year abduction in California.
Linda Kohanov, author of four books, including The Tao of Equus (2001), and The Power of the Herd (2013), has worked with numerous mental health professionals to offer equine-facilitated interventions to people in crisis, including rape and childhood sexual abuse survivors, veterans and their spouses, and families dealing with divorce, remarriage, troubled teens and children with disabilities, suicide attempts, and other challenges. Since 2003, Linda has also trained over 200 professionals worldwide in the techniques she and her colleagues have developed since Eponaquest was originally founded in 1997 as a collective of counselors, educators and horse trainers.
In 2013, Rebecca and Linda combined their talents to develop a new approach to helping families recover from conflict, unproductive ancestral patterns, and traumatic events. Connection Focused Therapy™ is the multi-disciplinary modality they created to help people become empowered as individuals while also learning to support, collaborate with, and draw strength from their loved ones, peers, and communities. In this effort, Rebecca and Linda have drawn upon the “wisdom and power of the herd,” a phrase they use to describe therapeutic techniques and life skills inspired by how horses take care of individual and group needs simultaneously.
“Horses are herbivores, but they’re not quivering, gutless victims,” Linda reveals, drawing upon four years of research for her latest book The Power of the Herd. “Horses model nonpredatory power in action, working together to stand up to predators and protect vulnerable family members. Then, after the danger has passed, they all go back to grazing, back to enjoying life to its fullest. There’s no question that humans in crisis can learn a lot from the courage, agility and peaceful engagement with life that horses embody.
“With the right support, people too can heal from traumatic experiences. Few therapists have experienced this more profoundly than Dr. Rebecca Bailey, who has spent over 20 years helping survivors and their families recover from the most extreme experiences you can possibly imagine.”
In working together this past year, Linda and Rebecca immediately found common ground—and not just in understanding how amazing horses are in assisting this process. These two seasoned collaborators also agree that deep healing happens only through nourishing relationships, through families and other caring social groups in which people are valued for who they are as individuals, while also knowing that their loved ones are capable of supporting them during the hard times, celebrating the good times, and fostering an underlying sense of peaceful connection, rejuvenation, and exploration in daily life. Connection Focused Therapy™ not only helps individuals process trauma, it gives families the skills they need to handle crisis, uplift each other, and thrive long term.
“Survivors need to define themselves by who they are, not what they went through,” Rebecca emphasizes. “The scars of serious trauma can hold people back or become something they build upon and incorporate into new strengths. But people don’t get better in a vacuum. This is definitely what brought Linda and I together: An understanding of the interdependent nature of life and, consequently, healing. From this perspective, it becomes clear that families, communities, and other social systems can promote growth and transformation—or reinforce fear, hate, resentment and depression. Families are a lot like herds. They’re impacted by each other, by the environment, and by the events that touch their lives. In order to help people move beyond challenging circumstances and thrive, you have to consider all the systems and their interplay. Giving people the support, and the skills, to reconnect to each other is crucial.”
As an expert in family reunification following, in the most extreme cases, abduction and sexual abuse, Rebecca was particularly intrigued by Linda’s new book The Power of the Herd, not only for its emphasis on social intelligence and authentic community, but for its unprecedented insights into nonpredatory power. “The people I work with have dealt with some of the most vicious, self-serving human predators out there,” the noted psychologist says. “Victims of predatory acts often have trouble reclaiming their own power because they refuse to adopt the cruel and manipulative images of power their perpetrators modeled—and rightly so.”
In her new book, Linda draws insight from empowered herd behavior to create tools for humans to excel in life and work. Rebecca immediately recognized that seeing the horse, not as a prey animal, but as a nonpredatory power animal that draws on the wisdom and support of the entire herd, offers trauma survivors and their families a metaphor for a new way of being successful in the world.
“Add to this, the actual interactions with living horses that Rebecca and I have developed separately over the last 20 years, and now together,” Linda says, “and you have a highly effective model not only of healing, but of true empowerment. Equine-facilitated activities—combined with therapeutic interventions and life skills training—allow the entire family to move forward with a winning combination of personal confidence and sensitivity to the needs of others.”
Linda shared anecdotes of the healing effects of equine-facilitated therapy in her first bestseller The Tao of Equus. The author highly recommends reading Jaycee Dugard’s memoire for a look at Dr. Bailey’s approach to this same modality. “Toward the end of her book A Stolen Life, Jaycee shared some of the moving experiences she had working with Rebecca’s horses,” Linda says. “These therapeutic interventions helped Jaycee and her family cut through the insanity surrounding them in the weeks and months after a highly publicized rescue from the man who abducted her, a time in which the press was acting in predatory ways as well.”
“I’m so pleased that Rebecca and I can now share these specialized tools and horse activities with other therapists and horse professionals who work with trauma survivors and families in conflict,” Linda says. “In dealing with complex case scenarios, Rebecca really knows what works therapeutically, and what doesn’t. She knows how to deal with law enforcement, and how to handle the intensely opportunistic press that can further traumatize survivors in high profile cases. She also knows what therapists face personally when working with these populations. Over the years, she has learned how to handle her own responses to the horrific experiences her clients must share with her. These are all topics that we will cover in our workshop, in addition to teaching horse-facilitated activities and emotional and social intelligence skills that help families work through their differences and draw upon each other for support, healing, and renewal.”
For further information go to http://eponaquest.com/workshop-details/?event=794 or contact the Eponaquest office at firstname.lastname@example.org. To register online go to http://eponaquest.com/workshop-registration/.