Many of us have the desire to be a quick fixer. Table a little wobbly at a coffee shop? Fold up a napkin and shove it under the leg. Not enough people to volunteer at an on-campus event? Gather as many folks as you can and offer them free pizza. Your friend has too much work on their plate? Join them in a late night study session. A natural reaction to identifying problems is to try and find solutions. But this isn’t always the right move.
While progressing along the Active Citizen Continuum, we uncover realities of a long history of injustice and resulting generations of trauma experienced by marginalized communities. We find individual - often incredibly personal - stories of violence and discrimination, barred or inhibited access to basic needs, and tragic events that alter life’s course. We also know traumatic events happen to people every day. The pain that comes with it can’t simply be fixed. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach and there isn’t a singular solution. Healing processes look different and more often than not, are everlasting.
As outsiders to an experience, whether or not we hold shared identities, or even shared experiences, we have to be okay with knowing that although we can’t fix it and we won’t fully understand - we can humbly approach offering what we can to support. Knowing when not to act is a critical and overlooked skill in the pursuit of active citizenship. Anguish cannot be relieved by knowing the “right” thing to say or even offering answers earnestly found by trying to understand how other people have healed. When our immediate response to grief is proposing solutions, we’re disregarding a necessary part of the healing process.
So what can we do as friends and supporters? Sometimes being a listening ear or a physical presence is the most important role. Someone sharing their grief doesn’t want to hear “things could be worse” or “at least it’s not xyz.” Often all you can do is suffer alongside and do what you can to lighten the burden.
We need to slow down and decenter ourselves. Be present, listen to understand, let them know they aren’t alone - especially when personal suffering exists beyond others’ attention span. Those who go through the process of healing adjust to their new reality but are fundamentally changed by it. The trauma never really leaves. Show up - even when it’s hard - it’s when we need communities the most.