This past week, eleven Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue were murdered while attending a baby-naming ceremony. This was a cold-blooded act of anti-Semitic terrorism. As psychologists, we might be tempted to talk about this act in terms of trauma, but this is deeper than trauma. This is horror. We know from our clinical training that one can find words for trauma - even though it might take decades to find those words. There are no words for horror. To face horror, one does not speak - one remembers and listens. So before any more is written, let us remember the names again and pledge to keep those names forever in our memory:
In the days since this terrorist act, politicians and media pundits have offered words of solace and hope to the nation. They’ve pleaded for more civility, kindness, and tolerance. To be sure, nurturing these characteristics is an important part of the healing process, but we should avoid the comforting narrative that if we were all nicer and more open-minded tragedies like this wouldn’t happen. As scientists, it is beneath us to embrace such facile solutions - solutions that don’t account for the complex web of societal, developmental, and emotional factors that feed into acts of hatred. As clinicians, we should not endorse a narrative that doesn’t deeply challenge us to live our lives differently. The civility-and-tolerance narrative asks us only to make a private, individual commitment to change our ways, not to go into our communities and speak with those who are different - those who we might consider the Other. It doesn’t challenge us to hold our national leaders responsible and to agitate for change, both on the streets and in the voting booth. It doesn’t demand of us self-reflection. It doesn’t ask us to confront our own participation - both active and passive - in a national culture where attacks like this are increasingly common.
After the Holocaust, the world rose up with one voice and said, “Never Forget.” We’ve forgotten. But Pittsburgh can be the place where we begin to remember again. The board calls upon all psychologists - but especially those psychologists in Pittsburgh - to act as a model for the world. We must begin with the work of memory. We call upon psychologists to listen to and join with marginalized communities. Remember their words and join in their efforts to prevent and heal from violence. Never forget that Jewish leaders warned that an attack like this was coming. Perhaps it could have been prevented if we heeded their words sooner.
Remember those cut down in the name of racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. Name them at every opportunity and in their memory fight for a righteous and peaceful world. Remember those who work to end violence and discrimination. Name them at every opportunity, and join them in their efforts to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Remember the names of those who peddle these vile ideologies. Name them at every opportunity, and work to extinguish their influence.
As psychologists and clinicians, we know that comfort and healing can only happen after one has confronted painful truths about oneself that are easier to deny. We must bring that wisdom to our work in the months and years ahead. Before we offer comfort and healing, we must confront the world with the truth that is easier to deny: horror only happens if we let it.
Dr. Will Hasek, GPPA Board Member