From Compassion to Safety

Antoinette Tuff image from

Antoinette Tuff. Image from

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.
. . . human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. . . . And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. ―Howard Zinn



Cheers and gratitude for Antoinette Tuff, the elementary school bookkeeper who averted near tragedy by showing compassion to a troubled stranger. Tuff spared thousands of people from grief by choosing to engage an uncertain human―not certain enemy―when a disturbed young man entered her administrative offices with an AK-47, 500 rounds of ammunition, and almost unbearable distress.

What’s your modus operandi? Do you absorb difficulties to avoid conflict? Are you ready to scrap over perceived slights? Evolution, we’re told, protects the safety of threatened creatures with instincts to fight or flee. But maybe fight or flight is another false dichotomy, like good or bad, true or false, black or white. Shades of grey are everywhere.

The next time you encounter a difficult situation at home, school, work, or elsewhere, consider alternatives to brawling or running. Confronting personal issues with others can feel intensely uncomfortable, but problems often stem from misunderstandings and knee-jerk reactions.

Like any fear, it’s amazing how quickly conflict disappears when it’s approached head-on as a riddle to solve, not a threat to defeat. Antoinette Tuff’s courageous composure reminds me of how important it is to choose the stories by which we live.

What do you think?