From the annual meeting of the American College of Psychiatrists, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Getting Archbishop Desmond Tutu as your headline speaker is a coup for any medical society, but it also turned into an incredibly powerful pep talk.
The Arch, as he was introduced, recalled some of the personal stories he heard presiding over South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was 20 years ago this month that the world was rocked when then-South Africa State President F.W. de Klerk announced the demise of apartheid and nine days later, Nelson Mandela was freed after 27 years of incarceration.
Archbishop Tutu told of Fulbright scholar Amy Biehl who was killed by a crowd of angry young black men and of white soldiers who casually sat down to a BBQ after setting a black man on fire.
The details from these traumatic events were so difficult to hear that it was hard “not to break down” for the self-described “cry baby.”
Although the commission did not require perpetrators to express regret or remorse, almost all did, he said.
When a trio of white soldiers asked an angry courtroom crowd to forgive them for shooting on a group of black protesters, Archbishop Tutu said the crowd broke out in deafening applause. And when the applause finally died down, he asked the room for silence because “we are standing on holy ground…we can not explain the alchemy that has happened here.”
What he did not understand, Archbishop Tutu admitted, was that “telling one’s story could be so potent, could be so therapeutic, so healing.”
There wasn’t a sound among the 500 or so psychiatrists packing the hotel auditorium, but you knew they understood that power.