– Two words that balance abuse, violence, humiliation and paralysing fear.
On Friday my new husband and I were part of the opening ‘ceremony’ for the Professional Speakers of Australia National Convention. We were there as dancers in a fun presentation with the ‘grandfather' of professional public speaking in Australia, Winston Marsh, and his lovely wife Lauris, who has supported both Winston and the speaking industry for many years. For most of the rest of the weekend we were at leisure - a mini honeymoon since we haven't had ours yet after marrying three weeks ago. (It's coming up! Europe this June...)
But we were also invited, by conference convenor Glenn Capelli, to sit in on the Saturday morning session #PSABraveHearts.
Five women shared their stories of extraordinary bravery:
- Marayka Jonkers spoke about her achievements and challenges as a Paralympian
- Rabia Siddique spoke about a confronting hostage situation she experienced
- Karen Tui Boyes spoke about the humiliation of financial crisis
- Sally Callie spoke about going from Olympian rowing status to overcoming brain tumours and strokes
- Margo Halbert spoke about a parent’s greatest fear: children who reject us
All their messages were powerful but I specifically want to mention Rabia Siddique’s presentation because in two words she demonstrated the power of the philosophies I’ve been talking about for years in The Mastery Club and The Hidden Order.
In a world-first presentation, Rabia shared her story of being sent in to negotiate a sensitive hostage situation in the Middle East. She was not actually a negotiator but had been specifically requested, and as the lives of two Special Forces SAS officers were at stake, she agreed to go.
The ensuing eight and a half hours were the most terrifying she had ever experienced. The prison she arrived at was soon attacked by rioters who set the surrounding area on fire. She was thrown into a cell with colleagues. The leader of the Iraqi insurgents then turned his attention to her, the only woman present, adding the threat of rape to the already chilling military situation.
The only one of her colleagues to understand Arabic, Rabia alone heard him talking about her with his men, detailing what he was going to do to her, and how many times, and how they would humiliate her, and how they would involve her own colleagues in her defilement. He made her kneel before him, stripping her of any dignity, refusing to let her use the toilet until she was sick with need.
At her lowest point in this ordeal she surrendered to the experience, deciding that whatever they might do to her body, they couldn’t affect her mind or her soul without her say-so. She was in control of those, even in the midst of such a traumatic experience. The words she uttered in her presentation about those moments of realisation were ‘Discover my capacity’, and that was the tingling moment for me.
I’ve often spoken about finding the benefits in dark times, how every experience has its silver lining, how awful events are often blessings in disguise. It is VERY difficult to find the blessings when we are frightened, hurting, lost, confused, overwhelmed, lonely, etc. Very difficult. So to hear from a woman who experienced the worst of what is possible in life and was still able to recognise the value in that experience even as it was occurring was, for me, a riveting endorsement of this principle.
When we create two columns: the awful experience on one side and the benefits of it on the other, it often seems that the awful experience carries the more powerful impact - we can list off multiple detailed and distressing descriptions whereas the other side just lists phrases like ‘made me stronger’ or ‘taught me compassion’. But those simple words in the right-hand column belie a universe of meaning. What Rabia Siddique discovered was her ability to trust life, to determine what was truly important, to reach into her deepest reservoirs of courage and power. She discovered her capacity.
Within moments of that insight she and her colleagues were safely removed from that horrific situation. How fascinating that our rescue often occurs very soon after we have an insight, after we change our perception of the event, after we change our energetic relationship to the event.
Determine what is truly important.
Reach into your deepest reservoirs of courage and power.
These are not just words. They are testimony to the human spirit. Without awful challenges like these, we might never dig so deep or discover so much.
I salute Rabia and the other women who shared their stories on Saturday.
And every other woman who is battling her own demons or some external force that is compelling her to dig deep.
And every man and child who is doing the same.