In harm’s way

Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.


We are at the point in the Twelve Step program where we are thinking about the people we have harmed. To do that we will have to exercise our empathy.

I don’t know about you, but there is something about this last Valentines Day school shooting in Florida that is not going away as easily as before.  Honestly, we’ve been through so many of these that we are tempted to grow numb to the reality. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Dunblane, Virginia Tech, they bounce off the walls of our memory like underdone pasta, but for some reason this one sticks. Something in me says, “Enough. Can’t take this anymore. Can’t just move on and let someone else clean up the mess. This is not going to go away.”

Sandie, one of our frequent contributors, shares my assessment. She is a retired educator who has specialized in dealing with troubled kids and she has put up a comment after my mention of this tragedy yesterday, and I think we would all benefit from her perspective. Part of making amends is realizing how we have harmed people, and that takes a certain amount of empathy. Sandie understands empathy.

My heart breaks every time I see another special news broadcast – not just because of the close physical proximity – but because it hits hard in my heart. You see, I worked in a high school, dealing with the segment that was hell-bent on destruction for themselves and others. (Though things are much worse now; one of the reasons I resigned was the increasing danger, while those in charge tried to wish it away). Nikolas [the shooter] would have been one of my students for sure. Because my kids went to the same school, I knew all their friends and teammates. I worked closely with principals, teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, indeed, every level of staff. I would have been expected to put myself in harm’s way (without a means to defend myself). Kids and staff would have looked to me, because that was my training. I would be at the school door, waiting to greet those coming back. There would be a lot of hugging and crying. I was thinking this morning of the psychological toll this will take from everyone in that school – survivors’ guilt, increased risk-taking, fear, anger. I would have to put my issues aside to help my kids, as this staff will have to do. I would have to carry someone else’s pain as well as my own. One person’s actions is like a stone dropped into an ocean — where do the ripples stop? Do they ever stop? I tried to instill that in my kids at the high school, at the Boys and Girls Clubs, and as a Youth minister. Truly, no man is an island. What we do – good or evil – will resonate through countless lives and years. Doing harm makes it easier to harm the next time, but thank God the opposite is true; doing good makes it easier to do good the next time. I don’t know how far off the rails I’ve gone, but this is personal for me. I have known all these kids – even though they have different names — and I will never forget them.

This is just as true for us as it is for everyone. Our actions continue to resonate through the lives of those we harm. We can put a stop to those ripples — at least we can try.

Thank you, Sandie for the lesson in empathy and for the encouragement to put a stop to the downhill slide.

[Check out this story and video for a piece of good news.]

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3 Responses to In harm’s way

  1. Sandie says:

    You humble me John. As does the Spirit that compels me. It’s uncanny how the times I think I have strayed far off the subject, I wind up hitting the nail square on the head. You know the main reason I was in a Christian band during those years I worked at the high school? It was to wake up believers to the hurt that was around them, and the responsibility they had to do something about that hurt. The words to the only song I ever wrote told how God planted that responsibility in my heart – a responsibility I can never escape, no matter how hard I try. Letting God break your heart for someone is the easy part…allowing it to stay broken…now that’s a different story for sure. Especially for those that are hard to love. But who is harder to love than we are? Jesus literally wrote the book on empathy – we need to pay a lot more attention to His example.

    • Mark D Seguin says:

      Amen – “Jesus literally wrote the book on empathy – we need to pay a lot more attention to His example.” ❤

      • Timothy J logan says:

        Sandie you are right Jesus heart is broken for Nikolas and his desire is that Nikolas will turn to him for forgiveness and help.

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