Consider the state of Tennessee, where I live. 932 deaths occured by suicide, a rate of 14.7 per 100,000, in 2010. This is an improvement since 2008 but it represents too many losses that were totally preventable. Consider the case of Adam Lanza who perpetrated the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It appears that he went largely unnoticed and unassociated with throughout his life, and in the end he committed a horrific mass murder and suicide. Suicide prevention skill building programs, like First Aid and CPR certification programs, teach that, through skill building and confident involvement, lives can be saved. How many lives might have been saved if there had been a greater sense of responsibility for 932 Tennessee lives, or 1 Connecticut life that held so many others in his hands?
The New Era of Responsibility calls for greater Responsiveness. The only wrong action that can be taken, when there is a need, is to take no action at all.
A few notes about responsiveness:
Prepare: respond with tools that you are skilled with and ready to use. This starts long before a response is needed. However, I think this also involves building up one’s confidence in the moment of need as well; nervousness or uncertainty lead to responding in unhelpful ways.
Prioritize: respond to what is important in the moment. In the medical world, this is called “triage.” In approaching employee development recently, I have had to address performance issues while being cognizant of personal hurts that resulted out of professional work. Looking at employees through the lens of personhood has caused me to choose my response wisely and compassionately.
Approach: respond with what is helpful in the moment. Do not use 10 words when two will do, and no amount of words will accomplish what a few moments of listening can. Openness, genuineness, honesty, and positive regard are all necessary in a proper approach to human need. In the words of Stephen Covey from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”
Donald T. Phillips recounts one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite stories in the book Lincoln on Leadership. It is about a US colonel who had a policy that he would do all the swearing for the entire regiment. One day the teamster, John Todd, spouted off a stream of profanities while driving his wagon down a rough road. When the colonel took him to task for it, John stated, “The fact was the swearing had to be done then or not at all, and you weren’t there to do it.” Though humorous, the illustration is clear: so one who is around must respond when a response is needed.
People around us, in growing numbers, are experiencing trauma, loss, impoverishment, or rejection that they will never speak to anyone. The opportunity to help others is great. In this new era, we should take more responsibility for the well being of others by being more responsive to the needs we find all around us.
What do you think? Is it worth it to get involved, to call for help, to be present? What do you think are the obstacles to greater responsiveness?