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6 Things You Can Do Today as We Process Another School Shooting

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After the Sandy Hook shooting, I did not want to read another article debating who is to blame for gun violence. That did not soothe my weary heart. And here I am today, sitting with the same heavy heart, only I feel less like I have been run over by a mack truck and more able to trust our collective capacity to come together and make a difference.

I am with you. It hurts. It sucks. Please don’t lose hope. Let’s turn toward, not against each other.

You see, I decided the best thing I could offer was to take my psychotherapy chair (I am a therapist), push it out onto a sidewalk and just sit there and say, “Come talk to me, tell me what is happening here.” And now, three years later, we have 1,200 volunteers in 40 cities and 12 countries doing just that. The project is called Sidewalk Talk.

We are 100 percent volunteer-led, which means we pull this off for about $2,000 a year. Can you believe that? When kindness wins, big things happen and by golly, kindness is going to win. I refuse to throw my hands up in the air when unattended heartaches, illnesses and traumas of individuals armed with weapons lead to very scary violence. Their violence is our collective responsibility, in my humble opinion.

I know after 17 are confirmed dead at Stoneman Douglas High School this may sound way too pollyanna. I am not a pollyanna, I assure you. But I have learned a thing or two sitting on sidewalks all over the world: Connection makes us better. It now rules my life. So this article will be kept short because my 10-year-old wants to connect with me right now, and, well, connection makes him better too.

Here is the scoop: One in five of us in the United States struggle with a mental illness. We can’t hate or target “the mentally ill” after events like this. As Brené Brown says in “Braving the Wilderness,” “You can’t hate people close up. Move in.”

So this weekend, we are moving in.

Sidewalk Talk will have listening events all over the U.S. in the coming weeks to help us all recover. Visit our calendar here as more are being added. You can volunteer, start a chapter in your area or come connect and be heard. Find out more on our site. Anyone can join. We will also be doing a bus tour across the U.S. end of April, so you can join in then as well.

And if you can’t join us, consider these key points you can do right now to make a difference in your community. Feeling like you can do something can really soothe frayed nerves, ease your heartache and elevate your own mental health.

Here are six things you can try today:

1. Challenge your judgments.

You are going to get pulled in all kinds of directions trying to place blame for this shooting tragedy. But right now, that is not going to help. Your judgments are going to tax your nervous system even more. So wait a few days.

2. Actively practice inclusion.

Isolation is dangerous for everyone, so contribute to others’ wellness by practicing inclusion. My embrace has widened to all different kinds of people from listening on sidewalks for three years.

3. Commit to acts of loving kindness every day.

A good friend of mine wrote this beautiful book called “There Is No Good Card for This” about how to support friends in times of tragedy. I hold her words dear. You don’t have to do kindness right, you just have to show up.

4. Turn off the news and regulate your nervous system.

News is important but sometimes we need to turn it off because it frays our nerves and makes us angry, reactive and frankly ineffective at healing our communities. You know the info, now give yourself a break from watching the tragedy over and over.

5. Seek joy.

Blek. Don’t you hate hearing stuff like this in times of tragedy? I do. But, we can’t forget the light exists even when things are bad. We always have to know where the sun is even when it is dark. (My son Leif just added, “And where our heart is.”)

6. Get active. Volunteer, donate, join, lead.

Find an organization you feel called to spread your kindness to. Volunteer with them or give them $5 today. It is amazing how that little gesture gives you just a bit of outbreath. You can find a little bit of power in an otherwise powerless situation.

Mental illness happens to many of us. Guns make it easier to harm others. There is not a fast and easy answer. But you can widen your embrace to your community today and make a real difference. So let us do this together. For together, we are mighty!

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Lead photo credit: JacobRushingPhotgoraphy

Originally published: February 15, 2018
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