Something larger than either life or death has
gripped North America. In the aftermath of last week's horror, we've witnessed
the rising up of some of the most precious qualities of the human spirit: strength,
courage, kindness, love and endurance.
It's been a long time since I've felt proud to be human, but that's what I'm feeling
I'm responding not just to the heroic deeds of those whose names we've come to
know; men like Fire Chief Peter Ganci, who died in the World Trade Center debris
as he had lived rescuing others; and Thomas Burnett who, along with other
passengers on the hijacked United Flight 93, decided to do something fatal to
avert a larger tragedy. I'm struck, also, by the heroic reactions of people like
Burnett's widow Deena who, in her grief, could state: "I'm so proud of him
and so grateful."
'I keep thinking of those farewell cell-phone calls and of the couple who, hand
in hand, plummeted 70 floors to certain death.
For days, the dust-covered faces of rescuers have conveyed a brutal truth that
makes it difficult not to choke up when listening to the people who wait in hope
and fear for news of loved ones.
Right after the disaster, New Yorkers were forming queues outside hospitals to
give blood. People wanted to help but now much of that donated blood sits unused,
hospitals are quiet and doctors have nothing to do. It's body bags, not stretchers,
that are moving.
Yet people continue to do what is humanly possible. And they pray, light candles,
sing, cry and express a unity that President George W. Bush described at last
Friday's service of remembrance as a "kinship of grief."
We have a sense of loss and a sense of community - a feeling that people actually
care about each other. If we can hold on to this sense of humanity, we might actually
be able to cope with a death toll that New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani warned early
on would be "more than any of us can bear."
But arriving on the scene now is a threat to our strength. It's the trauma counsellors
- those well-meaning people who babble on about something called critical incident
stress. They've invaded New York and Washington. And they're popping up in every
city and town across this continent, including Vancouver and Victoria.
What do these people do? First, they tell us what stress is and how it affects
our emotions, thoughts and behaviours - as if we don't already know. Then, they
tell us to take care of ourselves - to eat regularly, get enough sleep, avoid
drinking too much, get a hobby or see a movie. And they warn us about possible
psychological problems that might need to be treated. This is what they call critical
incident stress management.
Some of this is what we used to call common sense. But, the rest is dangerous
nonsense that only serves to draw us away from concern about others and into a
Our society, for decades now, has been a dismal place where the unifying "we"
has been replaced with a whining "me, me, me." For a brief time, we
have risen above that state and shared a concern for the common good. Now, if
we take seriously what these counsellors are telling us, I fear they'll drag us
down into that sad, lonely place where wallowing in one's own trivial concerns
justifies ignoring the needs of others.
I listened to a trauma counsellor recently talk about her own "survivor guilt,"
her own distress caused by wondering why she was still alive in Victoria when
others were dead in New York. And I heard another describe how debilitated she
was because of all the emotional weight she carried for all the people she knows
are suffering. She called it "compassion fatigue."
This kind of self-preoccupation does no one any good.
With the tremendous human response we've witnessed so far, why would we allow
the intrusion of these professionals who, at best, add nothing more to what we
already are doing and, at worst, encourage us to put our mundane problems ahead
of real suffering and anguish.
My heart goes out to the victims, their relatives and friends, and to the rescue
workers who fill the body bags. But I recoil in disgust from the trauma counsellors.
We have a choice. We can ignore them and assert our humanity, or we can follow
their lead into whining victimhood.
by Dr. Tana Dineen, columnist