DIFFUSING COLLECTIVE TRAUMA THROUGH HOPE AND UNITY
By Geraldin “Gerry” Viggiani
The coronavirus pandemic and now the massive civil rights protests spurned by the unjust death of George Floyd, have left most of us feeling off-kilter, angry and frightened.
We are living in what feels like the “The Twilight Zone,” a horror movie that is constantly running in the background of our minds. Humankind is not a stranger to traumatic events like natural disasters, but traumas that are systemic and pervasive have the potential to cause a deeper level of hopelessness and alienation both individually and as a collective whole.
Many studies have shown that resilience in the face of adversity has aided survivors of traumatic events to grow and heal. Resilience is understood as the innate human capacity to rebound from traumatic experiences. Dispersing the experience of the tragedy as a collective experience adds an extra layer of healing. “We’re all in this together” allows us to feel supported, connected, and diffuses the intensity.
Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter (BLM), highlights this concept when she collaboratively wrote the mission statement of BLM: “[To] provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation.”
This essay is not meant to ignore the strife we are enduring but to shine a light on lessons that can be learned and the power to collectively drive change.
Hope is defined as the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Valarie Braithwaite, a theorist on collective hope, contends that collective hope is a “shared desire for a better society articulated through a broad set of agreed-upon goals and principles and elaborated throughs social inclusive dialogue.”
Seeing hope as a collective and boundless well can increase our courage to act and create social change despite the darkness and uncertainty. It can life us up instead of dragging us down.
Unfortunately, some are taking this opportunity to instead divide, focusing on the powerful above the weak, on who has a right to survive and who does not. Paradoxically, we have also seen the beauty of displays of love, epic acts of citizenship, and heroism. There is abundance of gratitude for “essential” and health care workers. Charity, donations, and volunteerism are at all-time highs. We have seen positive changes in our environment through a reduction of harmful emissions, and our wildlife have seen renewal.
We now have time to learn something new, connect with friends, enhance family time, remove clutter, and more importantly, stand up for change—all signs of our resilience individually and as a collective group.
Michelle Obama said, “You may not always have a comfortable life. And you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems all at once. But don’t ever underestimate the impact you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”
Disaster preparation, sweeping changes in our food supply, healthcare, and power differentials have all been lacking. It has become apparent that we need to recognize our role in this troubling environment and work together through advocacy and change.
What can you do to contribute and tap into this collective hope? Get on social media and start a conversation, advocate, learn and grow. Meditate and pray within a community. Join groups that share like-minded ideas that help you feel connected. Rest and take care of yourself and also others. Make eye contact despite your mask. Volunteer and donate within your means. Contact your government to advocate for change. Sign petitions. Protest, and vote! Spend quality time with your family, friends within the confines of what feels safe and is permitted.
Ultimately it’s important to reflect on the things that bind us together instead of focusing on what drives us apart. We are all grieving a world that we once knew, and/or praying for a new peaceful and just world. We can choose to tap into collective hope and participate in the profound opportunity to unite for a better world through agency and service and work toward healing the trauma.
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