After the Shootings: Actively Caring for People

Aug 27, 2015

A makeshift memorial is assembled in front of WDBJ.
Credit AP Photo/Steve Helber

 When a tragedy like yesterday’s shootings takes place, some people feel the need to look away.

But one person who has been there says you should do just the opposite… and that American society must look even more deeply at this phenomenon, if it is to have any hope of preventing these tragedies. 

Eight years ago, Colin Goddard was shot 4 times in the massacre at Virginia Tech. Today he is Senior Policy Advocate for ‘Every-town for Gun Safety,’ a group formed after the elementary school shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut 3 years ago.  Yesterday’s shooting at Smith Mountain Lake unfolded before a television audience and his group posted a link to that video.

“And it’s incredibly difficult to watch, I mean for someone who’s been there and I know a lot of people don’t want to watch and they don’t want to give notoriety to the person who committed this crime and I totally agree, but I think you have to see that once to really understand what it means when a gun gets into the hands of someone who has dangerous intent – what can really happen with that. People don’t just go missing, don’t get ‘lost’ people are violently killed and when people realize that I think we will be able to have the proper conversation that we so badly need in America.”

Goddard says it’s a conversation that gets pushed aside in the aftermath of these events. Scott Geller is a professor of Psychology at Virginia Tech.

“We react after the tragedy but what’s missing in our culture is pro activity. Reacting before a tragedy might happen. “

Geller has a point of view that may seem difficult to hear after a tragedy like this

We have an anger managment situation and we should ask your listeners how many people have seen others, if not themselves dealing with anger management. And a lot of it is caused by frustration. In psychology, we all know that frustration, causes aggression.”

Geller’s book, called Actively Caring for People, outlines a radical approach to helping angry, isolated, even hateful people.  It looks to applaud the moments when others go out of their way to reach out and help someone so clearly in pain.  Adherents carry plastic bracelets they offer to people when they see them carrying out acts of kindness or compassion for others.  Geller says it takes this kind of literal approach because difficult people often naturally alienate others.

“We could go back to 2007April 16 and that tragedy at Virginia Tech.  That shooter, he was bullied in elementary school.  Here at VT he had no friends and I ask this question every day; how many people could have prevented that tragedy had they stepped to the plate and offered some social support.”

You might think that would be hard for a mass shooting survivor to hear, but..

“Dr. Geller is absolutely right there are much greater societal changes that have to be made focusing on respect for your fellow man and your neighbor. That would undoubtedly improve the lives of everyone it this country. There are so many disgruntled people in their jobs, life and they take it out in so many different ways and that’s when it becomes a national tragedy.”

Goddard’s work with Every-town for Gun Safety is focused on getting every state to make background checks mandatory for anyone buying guns.  That goal he point out, is not to ban guns, but to respect the second amendment, but in so doing do battle with the deadly combination of extreme frustration and a loaded gun.

Click here  for the Ted Talk by Virginia Tech Psychology Professor, Scott Geller about his concept of “Actively Caring for People.”