Even if, as a society, we can reject such prying, compassion should involve more than suspending our curiosity. How we actually define people emerging from traumatic experiences can both support their healing and the public’s, too.
Over the past 25 years, more than a dozen countries emerging from violent conflict have established truth commissions to facilitate individual and societal reconciliation and healing. In South Africa, people who were directly affected by human rights violations under white rule could register with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as victims. That designation entitled them to modest monetary compensation.
But then what? For many, the commission process wasn’t restorative enough. In the years that followed, the terminology changed. “Victims” became “survivors” as support groups looked for new ways to help people recover from the past.
We have much the same conversation in the United States. We talk about “victims” and “survivors” of violent acts, destructive storms, and disease. Accentuating the positive surely helps, but there’s something unresolvable – and indeed unjust – about continuing to identify an individual as wronged, harmed, threatened, or less than whole.
Dr. Ochberg, of Michigan State University, noted that the three kidnapped women in Cleveland had been deprived of mothering during their long captivity. He says they’ll need a maternal presence, which of course means unconditional love. There’s a lot to that observation. We might even see it as a challenge to rethink how we identify each other.