Rick Bowmer, AP
Elizabeth Smart and her father Ed Smart walk off after a news conference Thursday, Sept. 13, in Salt Lake City. Smart says it appears there is no viable, legal recourse she can take to stop the release of one of her kidnappers. Smart said that she only found out about 72-year-old Wanda Barzee's release shortly before the public did.

To many, the name Elizabeth Smart is no longer associated with a 14-year-old girl kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home in the middle of the night. It has instead become a name of courage, perseverance and bravery. It has become a name of positivity and hope, a name that encourages anyone facing adversity to keep moving forward and find a life of fulfillment.

The day after Smart was rescued in 2003, her mom told her to not let her captors steal anymore of her life away. In the ensuing years, she has used that guidance to thrive, giving service for her church, starting a family and becoming a vocal advocate for the abused who face hopeless injustice.

“I really have spent the last 15 years of my life trying to move forward,” Smart told CBS’s Gayle King in an interview Tuesday. “I would say this whole situation … has really given me a greater appreciation and understanding for how all of those thousands of victims (must feel) whose cases never even make it to court, whose perpetrators … are walking free from the day that they violated them or raped them or kidnapped them or hurt them in any way and nothing was ever done.”

Since coming home, Smart has testified in front of Congress, shaped legislation, given speeches across the country and received high honors. But the real effect of her advocacy is not any title or award an organization has bestowed on her. It’s that everyone can find some untapped courage to face insurmountable tasks and leverage harrowing experiences to improve the lives of others.

Smart remarked in her interview, “It changed me as a person. … I wouldn't have the voice that I have today. I wouldn't have the compassion or the empathy that I have today. I wouldn't understand what it's like to, you know, walk the proverbial mile in their shoes. But I have. I have been there. I do know what it's like.”

Similar words could be said of her family, which endured nine months of searching and waiting and tirelessly prodding officials to keep the search alive.

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When asked if Smart was worried about her safety upon returning home, she simply stated, “I was still concerned, but I wasn't consumed.” And that may be the very lesson the country needs most right now. Division can rage, but it need not consume those willing to lower their shoulders and do the hard work of fixing broken policies while striving toward higher principles of kindness and compassion. Opioid abuse, homelessness and immigration, among a host of other issues, need less blaming, shaming and shouting, and more of an Elizabeth Smart approach — an unwavering understanding and courage that present circumstances don’t need to determine the future.