Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Power of Listening

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 30, 2013

“He told me he was sorry for what he was doing. He was willing to die,” Tuff told ABC.¬†Antoinette Tuff demonstrates the power of human connection in preventing antisocial behavior. She approached Michael Hill, an almost school shooter, with dignity and compassion, thereby preventing an enormous tragedy. Ms. Tuff gave Mr. Hill and ear, a compassionate audience, allowing Mr. Hill to reflect on his behavior before he proceeded to hurt innocent children. This story illustrates the value of human kindness in the prevention of serious human destruction. It parallels the work of psychotherapy, where human to human understanding helps people think about their behavior, rather than act impulsively. There is no checklist, or automated treatment, but rather a sense of understanding human suffering, because, as Ms. Tuff, explained to Mr. Hill, she too, has gone through hard times. This remarkable empathy led to heroism that was celebrated by President Obama. I imagine that instinctively, Ms. Tuff knew, that if she could see this 20 year old gentleman, as a man in pain, and not a horrible murderer, then she had a chance to help him. Her instincts proved right, as she was a compassionate person, believing that with a little self-revelation, she could change the course of history. It seems to me that she saw Mr. Hill as a man looking for help, but not knowing how to ask for it, and so she supplied an ear, giving him the intervention he needed, but did not know how to elicit. This story should be our model for how to help the mentally ill. They need understanding and caring, and sometimes, not all the time, this simple modality, will prevent violent behavior.

2 Responses to “The Power of Listening”

  1. Shelly said

    No doubt about it, Ms. Tuff is a hero. When push came to shove, she was ready to die to save the children and talk the shooter down. What I don’t understand is why Michael Hill and all the others like him feel that to gain a voice they need to kill innocent people. If they die in the shooting spree, what have they actually said? That they were sick individuals? That they killed innocents? What is it exactly that they think they are saying? Was this Mr. Hill’s only way to ask for help? And why?

    • Hi Shelly,
      My hunch is that Mr. Hill was feeling uncomfortable internally, and with so much mental anguish, he fantasized that externalizing his distress would somehow lead to him feeling relieved, in the same way, that some individuals cut on themselves to express the darkness of their interior. Ms. Tuff provided an ear which allowed Mr. Hill’s mental state to achieve a state of calmness, thereby saving the lives of hundreds of children.

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