Like many of you, I’ve spent the majority of the week trying to come to terms with the horrendous tragedy in Las Vegas. I’ve found myself feeling particularly devastated by this event, wondering when our country will decide that we will no longer tolerate such violence. There have been long, silent pauses in conversations with family, friends + clients. There are few words of comfort left anymore. This is not an isolated incident; this is the new normal. Hope and reason seem to be increasingly more difficult for individuals to find.
As all of this was unfolding, I was finishing Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown; a book about the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. A timely read for everything transpiring in the world today, especially this week’s tragedy. Brené Brown is one of my heroes; a research professor and author who studies shame, courage, vulnerability and empathy — topics that are difficult for most of us to fully comprehend and can be even more difficult to discuss. But she writes about them in a beautiful, brilliant, down-to-earth and often hilarious way (highly recommend all of her books).
In Braving the Wilderness, Brown discusses increasing feelings of loneliness in a culture marked by such political divisiveness and separation. She discusses how we’ve sorted ourselves into like-minded groups based on geography, politics and spirituality. She talks about fear and our desire to fit in while also remaining true to our beliefs. Brown covers many culturally relevant topics throughout the book, but today I will just highlight the areas that most closely relate to Las Vegas.
FEAR + LONELINESS IN OUR CULTURE
“The ultimate goal of both global and domestic terrorism is to conduct strikes that embed fear so deeply in the heart of a community that fear becomes a way of life. The unconscious way of living then fuels so much anger and blame that people start to turn on one another.” Brown discusses violence and fear in our country and describes the initial trauma and devastation of violence and how it unites us for a short period of time. She goes on to explain that if what’s really uniting us is shared hatred and stifled fear that’s eventually expressed as blame, we become a country even more divided. This division isolates us from each other even more, resulting in more people feeling lonely and without a place of true belonging in the world, leading to more pain and hate. Brown pleads for us to find our way back to one another in an effort to ensure that fear doesn’t win.
SECONDARY TRAUMA + HOLDING HANDS WITH STRANGERS
She discusses secondary trauma, the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. She warns that being alone in the midst of a widely reported tragedy and watching endless hours of news coverage can plant the roots for secondary trauma. Brown suggests that not enough of us know how to sit in pain with others and that we must reach out to one another in difficult times. Understandably, most of us would rather experience intense emotions alone. But she believes “crying with strangers in person could save the world.”
USING PAIN IN A POSITIVE WAY
Brown describes pain as a vulnerable emotion and explains that it takes courage to allow ourselves to feel pain. Many of us are better at causing pain than feeling it, to cause hurt rather than feel hurt. It’s easier to become angry than it is to feel pain. Brown talks about transforming our hate + anger into courage, love, compassion, and justice. Pain can be a powerful catalyst for change, but we need to channel it correctly and make sure it doesn’t lead to anger.
COLLECTIVE PAIN + JOY
Lastly, she discusses the power of “collective joy” and “collective pain” — experiencing events together in moments of sacredness: Concerts. Church. Funerals. Plays. Sporting events. Yoga classes. Having these experiences help remind us how inextricably connected we are as humans, even if we have different views, opinions or values from the person next to us. In these moments, humanity transcends all of these differences that otherwise keep us apart.
We’ve reached a point where sending thoughts and prayers to victims + their families isn’t enough. This will keep happening until we collectively decide that it won’t be tolerated. We need to change the conversation this country is having surrounding gun violence + mental health. Often times, these tragedies inflict so many feelings of pain and helplessness that it’s easier for us to disengage; to block out the news, go back to our cozy lives and wait until the world has moved on. But we can no longer afford to do that. It’s up to us to be the change.
So… what can you do?
Stand up for what you believe in. If you don’t know what you believe in, find out. Research gun laws. Educate yourself. If you don’t like the way things are, help facilitate change. Write letters to congressmen, volunteer, donate blood, fundraise, share your beliefs with others (in a civil way). Ask questions about other people’s beliefs. Stay curious and remain kind. Your voice matters— don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in and find the “courage to stand alone” when needed.
Don’t Let Fear Win
Keep going to concerts. Attend events with large gatherings. We need these things because they elicit collective joy and help us feel connected to one another, something we need now more than ever. Keep doing these things, do even more of them. If we begin letting our fears prohibit us from experiencing joy; fear has won.
Focus On The Good
Stories of the heroes are already starting to emerge, and in the coming days, weeks and months, there will be even more. We can’t let one person’s act of evil make us lose our faith in humanity as a whole. There is so much inherent good in people all around us, but we will miss it if we choose to only focus on the evil. Look for the good.
Spread kindness like wildfire. Provide a random act of kindness for a stranger; hold the door for someone, smile at a stranger, strike up a conversation with the person next to you in line, go the extra mile to help someone out. We could all use a little extra kindness right now — help restore our faith in humanity.
As Brown points out in the book, these types of events usually unite all of us for a short period of time. They remind us that we are only human and we are all in this together. But eventually, politics will return, we’ll remember that we have different views and we’ll become divided once again. It’s time to find our way back to one another for the greater good of humanity. We need to stop fighting with each other and start working together.
Talk It Out
It’s normal for these types of events to trigger deep emotions within us, even if we were not directly impacted by the event. Talk with your family. Call a friend. Go to Therapy in Virginia Beach It doesn’t do anyone any good to repress their emotions, but it does help to talk.