Amanda Lindhout is a speaker like no other. Captivating and unforgettable, she alights on the positive and leaves the audience with a fuller understanding of the freedom we can all experience when we choose to embrace compassion. One of the most consistently praised speakers by audiences, her powerful portrait of the strength of the human spirit has moved audiences around the world.
The issues and debates surrounding kidnapping and negotiations have been thrust into the public spotlight once again thanks in large part to the world’s most downloaded podcasts. The Peadbody award-winning Serial Podcast. Season 2 see’s the focus shift to that of the capture, confinement and release of United Stated Army Sargent Bowe Bergdahl.
Amanda sat down for an exclusive interview to discuss the podcast, the parrallels, her bestselling memoir and the upcoming screen adaptation.
*Warning – Serial Podcast Spoilers Ahead*What are your thoughts on the world’s most downloaded podcast taking a look at a hostage situation in this investigative approach?
It doesn’t surprise me at all how popular this is. I think, season one of Serial was very popular, but this particular story is so controversial. Yes, different than mine in many ways and yet I see parallels between the story and my own that maybe are not even immediately apparent. Like poor decision making in your 20’s. I was young and ambitious, but I also say quite naïve and walked into something that a lot of people would say ‘how could you have not known that something bad would happen to you?’ So as a person who lived in my 20’s in a way that many people might perceive to be reckless, I can also appreciate his story.
There are really obvious differences of course. I can understand how people can have conflicted feelings about who he is and what he did. For me, as I listen to it, I have nothing but compassion for this guy. Maybe he was mixed up and a troubled 23-year-old when he walked off that base, which I think he acknowledges.
For me, I identified with that poor decision making in your early 20’s, when you probably can’t even wrap your head around the bad things that can actually happen when they happen to you.
Bergdahl speaks at length about the 5 years in captivity, at times in complete darkness. What do you think would be the most surprising thing people don’t know about this kind of captivity?
It resonated so much that I have listened to that portion of him talking about being in the dark maybe 30 times. I even wrote it down word for word. For me, to listen to someone else articulate -which I thought he did very beautifully- in such a clear way, especially after everything he had been through, the pain of the darkness, it really touched me.
Obviously, I too was held in the dark, I had very restrictive movement of my body. When you’re devoid of any sort of meaningful human contact, you have no sort of visual stimulation, you’re just the weight of that darkness and when I listen to him talk about that, it affected me so deeply.
Bergdahl noted how his final unsuccessful attempt at escape came out of the fact he could no longer bear the thought of his captors winning. How hard was it to deal dynamic of victory or defeat? How did this eventually transition to your current message on forgiveness?
I remember when he said that and it did resonate with me because at the time that we escaped, which was 5 and a half months into captivity, yes, I didn’t want them to win. The thought for me, that my family would bankrupt themselves to pay all this money, I literally thought I would rather try to escape and die that then have that happen.
Now looking back on it, it’s money and of course, it’s my life, but at the time it was different. That was before the big epiphany that I had. I was really angry at them, I was so angry at the way I was being treated, and yes, certainly it was sort of like an ‘I’m going to get out of here, you guys are going to get nothing’ and there was a satisfaction in that. And then the whole coming back after being recaptured. It was interesting, the difference between Bowe and I was that he never stopped thinking about captivity, but for me, after that one time, it didn’t live inside me anymore, at all. I would never have risked it again.
How do you feel it will affect the public’s opinion on dealing with hostage situations?
I actually think it’s good. I think the whole dialogue and narrative around hostage situations including government policy are very timely and are really important.
People ask me about that a lot ‘How do I feel the Canadian government dealt with my kidnapping, what do I think of the US government’s policies?’ President Obama just changed an important policy that families can now negotiate and pay a ransom, which was illegal just six months ago.
These are new developments and I think the sort of focus through Serial will have, people talking about these sort of nuanced aspects of hostage taking, maybe in a way that they didn’t before. I’m interested to see who else they’ll bring on as guests to interview throughout the rest of the season.
How do you deal with those critics when you’re already dealing with the trauma of your experience?
I have a lot of compassion when I think about what he’s going through right now. For myself, I came home from my experience with a lot of self-awareness for the choices I made and it seems like he has as well. So, I could understand where people’s criticism was coming from. It’s a hard experience to go through when you’re really faced publicly with your poor decisions. But what do you do? You have to learn from it.
What I always say is ‘people, especially in your 20’s, just feel like nothing bad can happen to you, you feel invincible.’ Until something bad happens. I was a person pushing limits and I recognize that now. I recognized it even when I was in Somalia in captivity. Now, thankfully I actually deal with so little of that, very few people criticize me like that.
You’ve said that you feel it’s important for survivors of trauma to have control over the telling of their story. This podcast takes away that control from Bergdahl. Do you feel this will negatively impact his healing?
No, he has agreed to allow those audio recordings to be used, so he made that choice. The fact that he was speaking to Mark Boal, suggests that the telling of the story in itself is also healing. Obviously, he developed some kind of relationship with Mark and has agreed to let Serial use this, in doing so he completely loses control over people’s opinions while they are listening to it, what guests they are going to bring on, the editorial, he’s got nothing to do with it, which I think is really brave, incredibly so. But I don’t think detrimental to his healing process. I think especially because he has allowed them to be used, there must be part of him that, like many survivors of trauma, wants to be heard.
The podcast aims to answer questions and address theories floating around in relation to the capture of Bergdahl and his release. What was your experience in dealing with theories around your capture and release?
Coming out, people had this idea that they knew what happened to me through rumors and misinformation. I’ve had this amazing opportunity to just correct everything by writing a book about it and speaking about it openly. The false stories were difficult to deal with but I always knew I’d have the chance to share my side of things.
You can read part 2 of our interview with Amanda here.
Learn more about Amanda’s message and how she can help inspire your audience on her speaker profile.