6 Things Not To Say After The Sandy Hook Tragedy

We are all grieving after the shootings in Connecticut, and when we’re grieving, the last things we need are platitudes, blame, or fearful communication. So please, when someone expresses despair over the children that were slaughtered in Newton, please don’t say these 6 things.

1.     “It was God’s will.”

We can’t possibly know God’s will, but personally, I don’t believe God wills tragedy on innocent people. I also don’t believe God groomed some mass murderer to grow up and exterminate 26 people and then kill himself. While it might placate us to believe that this tragedy was some sort of predestined divine event, I think it’s more healing to just accept that sometimes tragedies occur – and we really have no idea why.

2.     “At least it wasn’t my child’s school.”

Yes. For those of us whose children were not harmed, we can be grateful.  But when hatred is spread among any of us, it affects us all. You can feel it in the bones of our country right now. When one of our children is killed, the shockwaves reverberate through us all. At the root of such tragedy lies a deep disconnection from Source. That any of us are so disconnected from the part of ourselves I call your “Inner Pilot Light” that such murder could happen is a sign that something is out of whack in our culture.  It might not have been your local school, but the disease that plagued Newtown, Connecticut has the potential to affect any one of us, and not until we heal the spiritual disconnection that infects so many in our society will our communities be safe.

3.     “It’s all Obama’s fault.”

I’m pro-gun control, for sure. And yes, this is a great opportunity for our politicians to examine gun control policy to ensure that the repetitive tragedy of school shootings can’t happen so easily.  But as Brené Brown so eloquently writes on her blog, “Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort,” and “you can’t shame a nation into changing any more than you can shame a person into changing.”

Yes, it’s easier to focus on politics than to really feel the grief we feel. But the only way to heal is to move through the pain, rather than cover it up with polarizing political discussions.

4.      “Someone should have stopped it.”

When we look at life through what doctors call the “retrospectoscope,” it’s easy to see warning signs that the killer Adam Lanza may have been troubled. But the world is full of troubled people who don’t pick up a weapon and start a massacre. Yes, we should do what we can to get help for those who are hurting or mentally ill.  But the truth is that things like this are unpredictable, and any attempt to identify and somehow stop potential murderers would lead to unjust violations of personal freedom. Plus, “shoulding” on people doesn’t help any of us heal.

5.     “How could it happen there?”

People say this as if it would be okay if this had happened in an elementary school on the south side of inner-city Chicago. But the fact that this happened in a sleepy, upscale suburb mostly populated by white people seems to have shocked people. The reality is that tragedies can happen anywhere – to anyone – regardless of race or socioeconomic status. To imply that it’s more shocking because of where it happened fails to recognize that we’re all at risk of the consequences of too little love in the world.

6.     “We have to keep our guard up so this doesn’t happen again.”

When something like this happens, it’s so easy to spiral down into a fear-based mentality.  Just look at what happened after September 11. If the goal of terrorism is to instill terror into our hearts, the 9/11 murderers won. We wound up terrified, and our fear-based behaviors led to even more loss. Did you know that after the tragedy of September 11, people were so afraid of being killed in a plane hijacking that many people switched from flying to driving, even though the biggest risk of traveling by plane is the drive to the airport?

In fact, one researcher calculated that even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one jet per week, a person flying once a month would only have a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a plane hijacking, a minuscule risk compared to the annual 1-in-6000 risk of being killed in a car crash. In fact, Gerd Gigerenzer, a Berlin psychologist, anticipating that September 11 would lead to more traffic fatalities, began tracking the data. As expected, fatalities on American roads soared in the year after September 11. With this data, Gigerenzer was able to calculate out the number of unnecessary car crash fatalities that happened only because people were irrationally afraid of flying. The number was 1,595 – more than half the number of those who died in the terrorist attacks.  Irrational fear – not another terrorist attack or plane crash – caused 1,595 people to die unnecessarily.

Keeping our guard up won’t prevent a tragedy like this from repeating itself, but it will keep us armored against a fully expressed, joyful, liberated life.  Fear is never the answer. In fact, the principal at my daughter Siena’s Waldorf school asked us not to even discuss this event with our children. We don’t want our children to keep their guards up.  We want them to feel safe and free to be kids, even in a world riddled with danger.

The reality is that life is full of risk, and the sooner we make peace with the uncertainty of this fact, the happier and healthier we’ll be. The truth is that not only does fear make us miserable and sick; it doesn’t protect us anyway.  And it’s simply no way to live.

A Lesson In The Tragedy

Instead, let this tragedy be a lesson to us. When tragedy befalls us, there is only one healthy way to respond. We must let ourselves be vulnerable, feel our grief deeply and fully, resist the urge to blame, shame, or judge, and gather in communion with other grieving souls, rather than erecting divides that separate us and merely serve to amplify our grief.

This is a time for tears, for grieving, for reaching out to each other, for holding our children close to our hearts in gratitude for the preciousness of life, and someday, for forgiveness of those who know not what they do.

With prayers for Newtown and all of us,


P.S. My latest TEDx talk – Is There Scientific Proof We Can Heal Ourselves? went up on YouTube today. (Watch it here and please spread it!) It previews some of the data from Mind Over Medicine, and I hope you’ll find it not only shockingly eye-opening, but also a force for healing.

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