Written on the morning of October 2, 2017 after hearing of the hideous tragedy in Las Vegas.
Dealing With Tragic News
By Jim Cathcart
On a day like this it feels wrong to even smile. I’m so grateful for being safe today but there’s a guilt feeling that accompanies my gratitude. Much like our feelings on 9-11-2001, these emotions are powerful and we are untrained in how to deal with them. My heart goes out to all the victims of the terrorism in Las Vegas and those who care about them. My mind screams in rage at the pure Evil behind this heinous act! (I even feel bad about capitalizing the word “evil” but I want to call it what it is!)
All of us are stunned and confused.
Each of us is wondering:
Should we shelter, withdraw and fortify our lives?
Should we look for threats and take them out?
Should we huddle close with those we love and wait for the danger to subside?
Is it wrong to go about our daily lives when others are steeped in tragedy today?
Who should I call to check on? What responsibilities am I not aware of?
Isn’t there something I should be doing?
This has nothing to do with business and yet it touches every business in America.
Employers are asking:
What should I do?
I don’t know what to do but I feel like I should do something.
Are my coworkers afraid? Do they expect me to do something? If so, what?
What’s “the right thing” to do?
If I don’t say anything is that the best? Or should I encourage people to talk about their feelings and share ideas?
What if some of them start blaming, criticizing and expressing hatred?
How do you keep this from separating people?
This isn’t about our business but it has affected all of us (and therefore our business), so how can I not do something?
Arrrrrgggghhhh!!! I just want to scream!
I don’t want to hear about perspective. I don’t want to be objective or understanding toward people who would do something this despicable. I just want to strike out at the bad people and to make the danger and the pain go away!
Yes, I hear you. I feel the same way.
While we ache from the blows of this tragedy let’s assure that we don’t add to the hateful energy. There is much hatred, anger and pain in the world, very much. And, there is more love, happiness and good in the world by a factor of thousands. Look at the outpouring of support for the victims of hurricanes in the South and the Caribbean. Look how many people have already come together on the same day as this tragedy in efforts to help, support and protect victims and would be victims of the shooting.
Notice more: look at how many people were evil in this scenario.
One, and maybe some conspirators.
How many non-aggressive, caring, innocent people were there?
Tens of thousands.
There is hope. When we act together to diminish the fear, pain, anger and hatred in the world our numbers grow as theirs diminish.
I’m not saying that we should all chant mantras and give flowers to enemies.
What I’m suggesting is that every time you smile at another person as you pass them on the street, you increase good and decrease bad. Each time you assist another person, or reach out in positive ways, you set an example that starts a chain of positive events. Every considerate act reduces the odds of someone else being harmed.
First heal yourself of the tendency to act angrily. Don’t invest emotionally in the misbehavior of others. Let idiots in traffic pass you by. Don’t honk your horn or flip them an insulting gesture. When someone else is doing their best impression of an absolute ass-hole, just observe their misbehavior and don’t buy into it emotionally. It’s not about you, it’s them.
Once on a plane my seatmate was angrily complaining, blaming and growling at everyone and everything. I took a risk and said to him, “I know you’re having a really bad day and I’m sorry for that. But please remember, it wasn’t me who caused it.” Luckily my comment caused him to calm down a bit and we didn’t have a further problem. But if I’d confronted him more aggressively I’m certain that a fight (verbal or physical) would have ensued. I was tempted to tell him off but luckily thought better of it before reacting.
When I was in New York shortly after 9-11 to speak at a conference, I chose not to mention the terrorism in my comments. After my speech an audience member asked, “Why didn’t you talk about the attack?” I explained that since every other speaker had done so, I didn’t feel my comments would add anything to the mix. He disagreed and said it would have been the respectful thing to do. In retrospect, I agree with him. I should have said something no matter how briefly.
At times when everyone’s emotions are raw it is usually best to acknowledge them even if just as a courtesy.
So, get a read on others as we all go through this tragedy. Be more attuned to their behaviors. Notice non-verbal reactions more than you normally do. Listen for the message behind their words and determine whether they might need a bit of gentler treatment for now. It may be that no change is needed at all, but then…it’s best to err on the side of being more caring than usual.
Let little disagreements and momentary emotional reactions go for now. If someone gets just a bit too upset, don’t put them down or confront them. Just give them the opportunity to “chill.”
In times of tragedy we need first to stop long enough to do what is needed. Interrupt your usual patterns and notice more.
When I was trained as a combat medic and hospital corpsman in the Army (91A10) they taught us the following first aid. This certainly applies today.
- Stop the bleeding. (Get the person to safety as you assure that they don’t lose too much blood.)
- Clear the airway, so that they can breathe.
- Protect the wound. (Prevent further damage or infection.)
- Treat for shock. (Allow them to process this trauma in healing ways.)
The same concept can be applied to interpersonal dealings over the coming weeks.
- Don’t do further damage. Behave in healing ways not angry ways.
- Cool down, take a breath, reduce anger.
- Be nurturing and helpful in whatever ways you can. Allow people’s emotions to heal and know that their healing time clock may take longer than you expect.
- Do good things, caring things, happy things to guide people back onto a life affirming path.
May God bless all of us and May God Bless America.
(Photo from Ground Zero, World Trade Center, NYC, in 2005)