The Blessing is Next to the Wound–Hector Aristizábal

Hector is a survivor of torture who has many interesting things to say in this interview. Here’s a teaser, about the notion of victimhood. It’s a central but somewhat troubling notion in Restorative Practice. What can we learn from Hector? I suspect quite a bit.  As you read the interview try substituting “crime” for torture.  The teaser begins here…

Lefer (Interviewer): You often quote the African saying, “The blessing is next to the wound.” What blessing can you possibly find in torture?

Aristizábal: That’s up to the person. Each of us who survives must create meaning from the experience: Why did this happen to me? Why did I survive when other people didn’t? We seek meaning by creating narratives about our lives. The dominant narrative for torture is about “victims.” But I don’t believe in victimhood. People have tried to place me in the category of victim, and I won’t allow it. Those of us who’ve been tortured need to see it as simply one more event in our lives, not a defining characteristic of who we are. And any time you go through a difficult ordeal, it can awaken inner resources. Instead of being a victim, each person can learn the lesson his or her spirit needs to learn. This is very hard to do, though, especially immediately after the traumatic event. First you need medical doctors who will treat you physically and psychologists who will help you find emotional release-the range of services provided here at PTV.

Lefer: After the military let you go, did you have any sort of therapy?

Aristizábal: No, no one thought to give me any, but I had people who listened to me, and friends who hid me because we were afraid the army had only let me go in order to kill me, and I had people who protected me from myself, because I was capable then of doing something stupid. So I did have support.

Since then, I have tried to recast the experience of being tortured as an initiation experience. In a traditional society, initiation marks the end of your old life and the beginning of something new. And when the initiation ordeal is over, if you survive, you are welcomed back into the community. Perhaps you come back with a gift of knowledge to share.

People undergo many ordeals – not only torture, but accidents, illness, depression, divorce, imprisonment, even adolescence. But in this country we don’t have ceremonies to reintegrate people back into society.


An observation: One way to view restorative encounters is exactly as ceremonies of reintegration.


One Response

  1. Thanks for this post. I was recently ‘wounded’ and by thinking of the blessing being very close makes sense. You know I believe we should embrace ‘ritual’. Not have it be a scary “drink the Kool-aid” concept, but one to signify moving past a harmful incident.

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