“We all go through something in life,” said Antionette Tuff, the brave and quick-thinking woman who kept up to 500 children and staff of a Georgia school from being killed or injured last week. When faced with armed Michael Hill, Tuff resisted the urge to flee and found compassion for the troubled young man. Some shots were fired that day, but not one person was physically harmed. While most of us, thankfully, will never have the opportunity to intervene in such a grand way, we can all take a moment to reflect on the role compassion played in saving so many lives last Tuesday. We should all take a lesson from Tuff and strive to consider another person’s circumstances before rushing to judgment and assuming the worst. People are more likely to do the right thing when they feel understood.
Michael Hill entered the Georgia school with the intention of killing police officers and himself. He was serious and determined and Tuff knew it. How did she then manage to convince Hill to apologize and turn himself in? Tuff decided to use her own experiences to relate to Hill and then encouraged him to do the right thing. When Hill sounded hopeless and claimed to have nothing to live for, Tuff explained that she too had felt that way in her past. She even admitted to having attempted suicide after her husband left her. She further related to Hill by talking about her own son who has multiple disabilities. She remarked that “Hill” was her mother’s maiden name and that perhaps they were related. As a result, Hill turned a corner. He admitted to being off his medications and said that he should have checked himself into a psychiatric facility. He asked Tuff to announce to the whole school that he was sorry, and he allowed police officers to come in and get him.
Lessons from this extraordinary story can be applied in our daily lives. If we try hard enough, we can find commonalities with those who are around us, even strangers. Perhaps the person who is rude to you in a store is having a particularly bad day and could use a smile instead of a fight. Maybe the friend who repeatedly cancels plans truly has had multiple emergencies and could use support rather than an angry friend.
Compassion should play an enormous role in our homes. It’s easy for parents to place blame on each other and on their children. Try to think hard about each family member’s unique situation before jumping to conclusions. You may not know exactly how another person is feeling or why they are behaving in a certain way. I am certain that all of us can remember times our own parents just didn’t understand us as children (or adults!). Ask questions and use your own experiences to get children to open up like Tuff did with Hill. The impact might not be as immediately evident as it was in last week’s case, but it will make a difference. Tuff is right, we all go through something in life.
Dr. Jaime Black is a licensed psychologist practicing in Westchester and New York City. In addition to providing general mental health services, Jaime works with individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum, doing psychotherapy, conducting evaluations, and facilitating social skills groups. Visit www.spectrumservicesnyc.com, e-mail JaimeBlackPsyD@gmail.com or call (914)712-8208.