Like many of you, the day of the shooting at Sandy Hook, I cried. I spent many parts of the day crying in fact. I cried in bed when I woke up and saw the news on my twitter feed. I cried in the car on the way to work. I cried before going into the gym. I cried on my way home in the middle of busy Dallas traffic. I was devastated when I thought about those who had died, but I cried for those left to grieve.
I had a hard time NOT booking the first flight to Connecticut.
I felt sure that trauma had occurred, that mental health treatment was needed, and that I could help to provide it.
Tragedy affects us in ways that cannot be foreseen and leaves us with feelings that we do not know how to handle. I believe it’s my job to assist with these things. Not just because I’m a therapist, but because people need people when they are hurting.
While dealing with my own emotions (and not knowing whether I should head to DFW airport or not), I emailed a close friend who is a children’s counselor and asked her what to do with these feelings.
She replied, “I think embracing the reality that even making a difference to one could someday save the lives of many is one way to grab onto hope and strength in what we do in working in the trenches and, to never underestimate the power of true unconditional acceptance of others that we may interface with daily and not even know the amount of pain they are entrenched in.”
And I took a deep breath.
I thought of each child and teenage client I have worked with weekly over the past 6 months as a volunteer counselor at an inner city school clinic. I thought of the “bad kids” who had entered my office after being labeled and written off by others. I thought of those who were painfully awkward that I sat in silence with for a session or two before they said anything at all.
I thought about what a difference a 45 minute weekly meeting made with a person endeavoring to create a space where one could feel unconditionally accepted, completely heard and understood, and very safe to be, say, or think anything.
I thought about the changes clients had made over time.
And then I thought about what their lives might have been like had we not worked together in therapy.
It occurred to me that my unconditional acceptance may have saved lives.
When people feel better, their behavior changes. Feeling accepted allows one to accept themselves, to believe they are good enough for a good life. An unconditionally accepting environment creates the space for one to trust, forgive, choose, and begin to form more a more high functioning, happy life.
What does this have to do with you?
We all have this ability.
Counseling is the profession I’ve chosen and seeing clients is an opportunity I’ve been given, but showing acceptance is something we can all incorporate into our daily lives.
You can listen to those who talk to you. You can be present in chance encounters. You can choose to have a positive perceptions of those you are tempted to judge. You can bring a glimmer of hope. You can show love.
You can teach your children to do the same.
One person has the ability to allow someone to be themselves and talk about what life is like for them, without fear of judgment or rejection.
You may be thinking that the gunman’s issues were way past what a therapist, friend, or stranger could have helped. Maybe that’s true. Maybe he should have been heavily medicated and in an inpatient treatment center. Maybe he was a true psychopath and should have been in jail.
But, maybe he could have been helped. Maybe no one was paying attention to what it felt like to be him. Maybe one person like me or you could have changed his life course.
I don’t know the details of his life.
I do not know what it was like to be his parent, teacher, therapist, or classmate, but I know what a difference one person can make.
I do know that life is hard and I know we all need one another.
And I am unapologetic in my belief that I have the ability to make the world a better place.
I have the ability to push a stranger over the edge or bring them closer to feeling love… And so do you.
Smile at those you pass by. Take someone to lunch who can not repay you. Be kind to the person behind you in line. Pray for someone who looks like their day is not going well. Be warm and accepting at every chance you get. Be love.
We each have the ability to create a more loving world, a world where we are safe to send our children to school.
It starts with you.