On Tragedy and Healthy Coping

The United States and all loving people around the globe watched in horror as the tragedy in Tucson, Arizona unfolded on our television screens. This irrational act of violence resulted in such loss of life and trauma that most of us are left trying to understand. Such behavior cannot be boiled down to a simple explanation. Rather, this act typically is the outcome of many factors that may have originated many years ago.

Such acts of violence and impulsive hostility cause shock and psychological harm that can last long after the actual act. It is important to take time to process what has unfolded, to reach out and help those in need, and to unite with love and prayer. Such approaches to coping after a tragedy are healthy and help the healing process.

There are also so many heroic acts that were displayed in Tucson. The older woman who acted to prevent the killer from acting again, the 20 year-old student of the University of Arizona who helped to save the Congresswoman’s life at the scene, the police and medics who rushed to help those in need, and the medical staff at the University of Arizona Medical Center who continue to display such skill and compassion in their treatment of the victims.

I lived nearly ten years in Tucson, earned my graduate degree at the University of Arizona, and trained at the university hospital. I am very proud of the community, the loving people of Tucson, the University and their medical staff. It is true that we are dealing with an act of horror. However, it is also true that we witnessed acts of courage, skill, and compassion that remind us of our best qualities.

As a psychologist, I encourage everyone to move forward with hopes and prayers for those most directly affected by this tragedy. Consider reaching out to those who may be in need at this time and explain the situation to the young in your life who may be afraid. We should not use this as a means to advance any agenda and we should not affix blame to anyone or anything that is not related. This is not a political issue; it is a human issue of horrific consequence.

Moving forward we should try to refrain from personal attack and from personalizing messages that might contrast with our own ideas. We need leaders across the planet who can communicate messages that unite and not divide. The same is true for the media. We should not call others names simply because they disagree with us. We can remain passionate about our beliefs and maintain civility with others who have opposing ideas.

We need a more mature discourse in the United States and across the world, one that unites rather than divides. We are all human with more commonality than difference. Political leaders, media, and those with the ability to connect with millions of people need to lead by example. The rest of us need to work on a daily basis to be more patient and tolerant, to forgive, and to reach out to those who may disagree with our views the most.

Life is too valuable and we are too smart to not try.

God bless the victims of this tragedy and congratulations to the great people of Tucson for their acts of courage and compassion.

Dr. Nussbaum