This past weekend my brother, sister-in-law and their friends Marched for Our Lives in NYC. While I didn’t go, I did reach out to my Congressional Representative and Senators. If you couldn’t / didn’t march, but want to advocate, you can easily reach out via these links too.
My family’s advocacy made me think of a principle of psychology that applies to trauma like not only the one we saw in the shooting in Florida but also every day disappointments and anxieties.
This NIH paper explains the important practices we can all embody to help make us more resilient as we deal with upsets we experience. Pro-social behavior, or altruism, helps us cope (see this study of Greek school children in 2010). The best response of traumatic events comes when we act to change them, if not for ourselves, then for others that may experience them in the future. Thus, while the Marches across the country served our country to provoke better gun regulation, they also helped the students in Florida and others impacted heal. I find it reassuring that part of the healing process focuses on helping others.
Why do pro-social behaviors help us so much? Elizabeth Werner found in studying poor children in Kaui “Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively,” Werner wrote. “Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.” (The New Yorker, Feb 2016). In acting to change, we develop a sense of control.
While the children of Florida got no control over what happened to them in February, they do control their efforts to speak out and act upon others. I encourage us to do the same for ourselves, both selfishly and in service.