This has been a sad and scary week in America.
Like many of you, I have been feeling helpless in the face of so much violence and heartbreak.
But this week I read an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that made me feel hopeful that our collective work is a small part of preventing further tragedy.
The op-ed was written by two psychology professors who undertook a two-year comprehensive study of all mass shootings in America since 1966. They analyzed everything they could about the perpetrators’ history and motives, including interviewing those who are still alive.
Their study found several commonalities between these perpetrators’ histories, including precipitating events like a job loss or a breakup, participation in inflammatory online forums, and access to firearms.
And almost all of the perpetrators experienced early childhood trauma.
Much of this trauma is similar to that in the life histories of our Braid youth: experiencing or witnessing abuse and violence. (A good deal of research shows that witnessing violence has almost as profound an effect on children as being the victims themselves.)
There is a saying we hear often in this field: “Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.”
These perpetrators of mass shootings were never able to transform their pain.
Without the support and resources to process their early trauma, they were not able to cope with later losses.
Without caring community, they turned to unhealthy online forums.
Without loving and hopeful voices around them, they absorbed these forums’ rhetoric of hate and despair.
Sometimes at Braid it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of what we do, because we don’t actually know what would happen in our youths’ lives if we weren’t there, but these shooters’ life histories provide some awful and extreme examples of what isolated trauma can grow into.
While week to week it may not feel like much to show up for an hour to make crafts or throw a frisbee, our volunteers’ presence is gradually building the support and caring community and hopeful, safe space that gradually transforms pain.
We will never be able to totally prevent childhood trauma, and we aren’t able to build Braid teams for every child in America just yet. But we can and do make a big difference in those lives we are touching, as we strive to reach more.
I hope you will tell people about the work of Braid, going right to the heart of the type of pain that birthed these tragedies.
I hope you will believe that every week we are helping youth know that trauma is not the end of their stories.