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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 39 along a dirt path when two government soldiers mo- tioned with their guns for him to follow them. He was drafted into their army and for the next three years, he was—as he puts it—a long way gone. As a child sol- dier, Beah committed all sorts of atrocities, including murder. “I lost my humanity,” he says. ALL HUMANS SUFFER. It’s the basic human story. Yet true stories of horrific suffering were not widely circulated historically. Victors wrote the history books, and their victims’ stories were rarely recounted. “What has kept these stories back in the past is the tremen- dous amount of shame and the lack of receptivity to hearing them,” explains psychologist Dr. Beth Hedva. “Historically, there has been a strong blaming of the victim.” But things are changing now. According to Dr. Hedva, there is a trend in storytelling that points to a shift in consciousness. More than ever before, she says, people are developing the capacity to listen to the stories of others and to truly empathize with them. And since people are now ready to hear the victims’ perspective, the victims are ready to tell it. Beah, however, was not just a victim. He was also a perpetrator of violence. It is a difficult truth that hu- mans can be both victims and victimizers, and stories revealing this truth test the compassion of the listener. For that reason, says Dr. Hedva, when storytellers in the past wanted to make this point, they usually used parables rather than first-person narratives. One such parable recounts the friendship between the Buddha and a man named Angulimala. Angulimala was a student of Brahmanic learning, but after being betrayed by his teacher and his teach- er’s wife, he spiraled down into a life of evil, fueled by bitterness and resentment. He became a murderer and took to wearing a necklace made of the severed fingers of his victims. Yet the Buddha was undaunted by this grisly decoration and sought Angulimala out, determined to save him. At first Angulimala tried to attack the Buddha, but eventually, through the Bud- dha’s guidance, Angulimala returned to a peaceful and happy life. This story illustrates that even someone who com- mits the most appalling acts of violence can be saved through true compassion. Beah’s story is much the same. Both Angulimala and Beah descend into the worst kind of evil, yet in the end they are transformed and their life experiences serve as a light for others. There is one big difference between the two stories, however. Angulimala’s is likely fictitious, while Beah’s is hauntingly real. UNICEF WORKERS RESCUED Beah from his three- year ordeal in the Sierra Leone army and put him into a rehabilitation program for child soldiers in Freetown, the A fourteen-year-old soldier in the Sierra Leone Army is helped with his rifle by another soldier (2000). ADAMBUTLER/ASSOCIATEDPRESS SEPT 36-43.indd 39 SEPT 36-43.indd 39 6/25/07 4:53:53 PM 6/25/07 4:53:53 PM