Home > Communication, Education, Love, Reflections, Safety > The most powerful weapon

The most powerful weapon

On Tuesday morning, school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff was called in from vacation to fill in for a coworker.

Also on Tuesday, 20-year-old Michael Hill walked into Ms. Tuff’s school with a rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition.

Ms. Tuff intervened, simultaneously advising students to stay in their classrooms, coordinating with 911 dispatcher Kendra McCray, and calmly negotiating with Mr. Hill.

In a 911 call made public Thursday, Ms. Tuff can be heard addressing Mr. Hill with astonishing empathy. She explains that she, too, has seen hard times, on account of her “multiple disabled” son and her husband’s leaving her after 33 years of marriage; she even considered killing herself. She tells Mr. Hill that he is not past the point of no return; having hurt no one, there is still every possibility things will turn out OK.

Over the course of the 24-minute call, Ms. Tuff talks Mr. Hill into laying down his gun. She tells him she loves him, and that she’s proud of him. It is only in the final seconds of the call, after the police have taken custody of him, that she exclaims she has never been more terrified in her life.

One blogger wonders, “Can courage like Antoinette Tuff’s be taught?

It’s an interesting question. Personally, I feel most people have more courage than they–or others–credit themselves. Most will never have that courage tested in such extraordinary settings, but I have seen great courage reflected in seemingly small acts.

What is pivotal to me here is not courage, but compassion.

Like courage, there are many small, important examples of compassion in day-to-day life. Seldom are we given opportunity to bear witness to extreme compassion: compassion in an especially charged situation where it would be easy to be hateful or angry, but where compassion itself clearly changes the course of things.

My heart recognizes Ms. Tuff’s courage, but it is her compassion that touches it most deeply.

Ms. Tuff saw and responded not to a bad guy, nor a villain, but to a suffering young man.

It is a deeply moving thing to hear a woman speaking words of love to an armed gunman. This is true whether you are a 911 dispatcher, a member of the public, or a gunman.

Are guns powerful? Indubitably, with physically limited but terrible reach. Is love powerful? Indeed, for though it is a feeling, it may inspire outward acts that change the shape of things.

Is compassion–empathetic love in action–powerful? One need only listen to this 911 call to understand that it is, perhaps, the most powerful weapon available to humankind.

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  1. August 24, 2013 at 9:29 am

    She is truly a hero. My mind went automatically to the question of how it would have turned out differently if the staff/teachers had been armed.

    • August 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm

      It took me a little while to reach that question, but it is now one I share. I’m glad all played out exactly as it did.

  2. August 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

    She is a hero we should all wish for more of. Her empathy and compassion is a beacon in a cold and lonely world, a beacon Mr. Hill clearly needed to feel.

    Like you, my tears spilled over and I thought to myself, why are there not more like her? What is wrong with us today that we don’t immediately lionize the peacekeepers.

    • August 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      I have to confess I have been tearing up on and off all day. In a sweet turn, a stranger was especially kind to me, assuming I was distraught. “Overwhelmed with gratitude” is more like it.

      Ms. Tuff has been filling my mind and heart for the last couple of days–more so, I think, my heart. I would love everyone to know her name, and to reflect such empathy in daily life. I include myself in this. I have been thinking a lot about times where I could have been gentler with my words, and how much better any/every situation turns out when folks are kind to each other.

      i want people to feel more hopeful for any interaction with me, not more trepidatious. I am having to make very conscious choices toward this, but I am heartened to see that holding good examples close makes it easier. This is an especially shining example, and I mean to hold it very, very close indeed.

  3. August 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

    wow, this is an amazing story. I don’t have time to listen to the call now but will soon… thanks for bringing this to us. You just wonder how they make people like that, with such calm and compassion, and whether we could do the same…

    • August 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      I wonder as well. I think it’s easier with good examples, so it’s my hope many folks learn about Ms. Tuff’s “Tuff love.” 🙂

  4. August 24, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Wow, powerful post, Deborah. What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.

    • August 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Thank you for reding it! I debated posting it on a weekend morning since so many are AFK, but this outpouring from the heart just demanded to go up promptly. However it is folks learn about Ms. Tuff, I surely hope they do. ♥

  5. August 24, 2013 at 10:11 am

    That made me cry.

  6. August 24, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Compassion — and its cousin Mercy — have the power to change the world.

  7. August 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Half a world away, she filled me with awe. And yes, tears here too.

  8. August 25, 2013 at 4:31 am

    I know this sounds trite, but if only we all practiced compassion every single day in social interactions with others, strangers especially, people wouldn’t feel so alone and alienated in this world. I fully believe fear leads to more fear and pain and suffering.

  9. August 26, 2013 at 4:53 am

    I was amazed when I saw this story reported on CNN–all the way here in South America. Such an incredible tale of bravery and, indeed, empathy! Hope you are well, Deb.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

  10. September 5, 2013 at 12:28 am

    Terrific blog, as always. I share your thoughts on this subject (mindtwin powers, activate!) but just reading about it again made me tear up a little. I think you hit the nail on the head with pointing toward compassion as the most important part of this equation. She saved that situation — and saved not only all of those kids and staff but also Hill, too — just by identifying with another human being. She didn’t think of him as the enemy, “the shooter,” or anything else… she approached him like a fellow human being deserving of respect and compassion. I feel like if people could even manage to do that for PART of their day — like maybe start with having some compassion and helpful feelings toward other people on the roadway, and let it branch out from there ;D — we’d be better off as a people.

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