“We all are broken by something. We have all hurt someone or have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.” — Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director, Equal Justice Initiative
The power of the ACE Study is that for many of us — most of us — is that we recognize the stories it reveals. I’ve facilitated more than a dozen conversations around ACEs and the documentary “Resilience,” and after every session I’ve met somebody who simply wanted to say, “That’s me.”
It’s a validating, empowering and often overwhelming revelation, which may help explain why most of those conversations end with the question, “What can I do?”
And that’s where we are, answering the question “What can I do?” or more precisely, “What can we do?”
It’s a conversation happening at every level and in every sector in our community — which is both exciting yet excruciatingly slow. From physicians to librarians, people are struggling with a question not of credibility of the study’s findings, but of its application.
What’s at the root of that struggle? Fear.
No matter how bad things are, humans tend to stick with what they know and stay in their lanes. We allow our systems and conventions to guide us — in our boardrooms, our exam rooms, our classrooms and even in our living rooms. Drawing on the “boiling frog” fable, we accept the way things are, even if the way things are is profoundly wrong, even if it can kill us.
Years ago, I had the honor of serving with a group individuals united in the cause of confronting the high rates of youth violence in our community. One of those individuals, Pastor Creighton Mabry, had a saying that I think about often: “Get in where you fit in.”
It was both an invitation and a call to action whenever we talked about moving people to demand better from themselves and their leaders. Which is to say that we all have a role — even when it’s not clear. The first step is simply deciding that you want a role and getting involved wherever it feels natural.
The ACE Study is serious science, but you can boil down to but a few essential takeaways. Among them is that people — children and adults — are suffering and dying too young because of the failure of our systems to adequately support their healing.
The second is that developing “trauma-informed approaches” — approaches where “people realize the prevalence of trauma, recognize the impact and responses to trauma, and resist practices that could cause more harm” — can help end that suffering.
And that is something we all can do. We can demand it in ourselves, and we can demand it of our systems — our schools, our governments, our physicians, our funders — even our employers.
Another member of that group I mentioned — the former prosecutor and now Judge John Hallacy — had another saying that I think of often. “A community will have just as much crime as it will tolerate.”
Ask yourself: How much suffering are you willing to tolerate when the remedy is so close at hand?
Creating a trauma-informed community requires a paradigm shift that can only come when the residents of our community demand it. That’s you.
This is not an issue outside of ourselves. This is a community issue, and we are part of the community.