May 29, 2020

Bear Witness

Rushing to offer solutions, or even reassurance is a way of de-centering the person who is experiencing trauma, and putting emphasis on YOU and what YOU have to offer them.

Bear Witness

One of the most important things anyone can do for another person is to simply listen and acknowledge their pain.

In fact, if you are an empathetic person, it's often harder to do this than to go through trials and tribulations of your own.

But failing to do so robs other people of something they need - something everyone desperately needs: a voice.

Rushing to offer solutions, or even reassurance, is a way of de-centering the person who is experiencing trauma, and putting emphasis on YOU and what YOU have to offer them.

The priority for mature people who are not directly impacted by events or systems during a crisis is to remain open and receptive, and allow ourselves to witness and acknowledge fear, anger, terror and pain - never taking our eyes off the people who are truly suffering; to hold them in our hearts, and give them safe places to fall apart and be a mess without judgement, and without placing any demands on them to help us understand what they are going through.

And yes, sometimes their anger or sadness will be directed at you, fairly or not. That's ok. You can handle it.

This is, of course, not to say that there's no role for solutioning, collaboration, advice or encouragement. But it's important to employ our emotional intelligence so that we know when it's appropriate to engage in anything other than witnessing and acknowledging. And once we do begin to work on solutions, it's important to allow those who have been directly affected to take a leadership role when the that time comes.

There are a whole lot of problems in the world right now. Racism. Sexism. Abuse. Homophobia. Poverty. Disease. Political unrest.

But I would say that right now may not be the time to try to "fix" things. Right now is the time to pay attention, listen, learn and tap in to the internal wells where we keep our highest virtues -- you know, the things that we've been learning about since we were children: love, patience, kindness, self-control, empathy, charity. The things that we all say we want more of in the world, but spend all our time criticizing *other* people for not putting enough of out there.

We want more of these things in the world? Open up, and let *anyone* who needs them take them, freely.