The tragedy in Meron and the terrorist attack at Tapuah Junction converge as they begin to fade in our communal conscience, I am reminded of the importance of paying attention long after the spotlights have dimmed. In our current culture of instant media, and the never ending barrage of pictures, video clips and live interviews, it is easy to become numb, and to tune out. Once the pictures of the current tragedy have made way for the latest political crisis, we can “return to normal”, or can we?
In Israel we are very proud of our seemingly innate resilience. In a recent book I coauthored with Michael Dickson, ISResilience: What Israelis Can Teach the World, we profiled fourteen amazing Israelis who have recovered from unimaginable traumas and gone on to live meaningful lives. As a nation, we applaud this. But what happens to those people who are left behind?
Working in the field of trauma and resilience for the last two decades, I know that we excel at returning to routine. Remember how, in the aftermath of deadly terrorist bus bombings, the streets were washed down, and life returned to normal within hours? Schools were more than willing to engage my services or those of my colleagues in the immediate aftermath of tragedy. But what happened one week later? one month later? three months later? Silence. Emotions are pushed under the proverbial carpet. No one wants to talk about trauma. Why raise sleeping dogs? Unfortunately, signs of distress are often ignored, until they can be ignored no longer.
In my experience, both in Israel and abroad in the wake of disaster whether man made or natural, the trajectory of recovery from trauma spans many months and often years. What that means is that now, a little more than one week after Meron, and a week after the shooting at Tupah junction, the important adults in our children’s environment, whether it be educators or parents, should be paying closer attention to their children. It means that in the adult world, employers, school principals, hospital administrators, television executives, senior police officers, or directors of social welfare offices, all need to pay extra attention to their colleagues and their employees.
People who have been directly exposed to the trauma or disaster warrant not only attention, but also support. The term “helping the helpers,” is not just “nice”, but also necessary. It is imperative that front line workers, paramedics, reporters, social workers, municipal workers and all those involved in the immediate recovery efforts learn about post trauma reactions, and have a place to share thoughts, feelings, and concerns with their co-workers. This kind of support goes a long way to mitigating the sense of isolation that so often develops in the wake of trauma, and helps to normalize and reduce post trauma reactions.
Extra attention must also be directed to those who have experienced significant traumas in the past. These adults and children are more vulnerable and susceptible to experiencing distress in current crises. Reaching out, acknowledging, and providing informal support is often all that is needed to help people regain their footing. Only occasionally is more significant intervention necessary.
None of this is rocket science. You don’t have to be a psychologist or a mental health professional to offer support. This means, that teachers and parents need to open their hearts and reach out to initiate conversations with their students and children and allow for conversations on difficult topics to take place. As adults, we don’t always have to have a ready answer. What we do need, is the readiness to listen. As employers or administrators, let’s make sure we check in on the people working with us, asking them how they are doing, paying attention. Let’s not assume that everything is okay simply because the media has turned to more pressing items, and the most recent tragedy has receded to the sidelines. Talk with your children and students, and check in with your employees. You won’t regret it!