The idea of “suffering together” is pretty alien to a lot of people - and this is not necessarily bad at all. Yet for those to whom this idea is new, we can learn from many communities in the world who have experienced it over the course of human history. We are going through collective trauma right now. It is a once in a century deal. And it will shape our lives forever. I hope I can help us see and think about the effects of what we are going through right now in a way that will prepare us, and shape us and help us to heal as a people.
Collective trauma is a weird idea to people that have never suffered collectively. I obviously am no expert in this subject, but there are truths we can learn from experts on the subject that can help inform our worldview as we process what is going on in us, to us and around us. Simply defined, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It follows then that when a group of people goes through a deeply distressing situation together, that accounts then for what is called collective trauma.
We get it when we talk about family trauma, but we probably do not think much about it when we talk about whole societies or communities. Think with me about a family set-up, say, a hypothetical picture of a family that has lost a loved one suddenly and tragically. While the rest of us will try to console them, they would have to go through the stages of grief themselves and how person A processes that grief might be different from person B. But this type of trauma is experienced collectively, though somewhat processed individually.
At a macro-scale, communities that were previously enslaved or colonized always deal with the effects of this collective trauma — and it is inevitably passed down as each individual tries to process the distress upon their community, whether it affected them directly or indirectly. I have been honest to those close to me that I was terribly affected by hearing war stories from my parents about how white colonial soldiers would knock on their doors, ask everyone to come out, search the homes, and ask them where the black guerilla warfighters where. I was not there in the 70s during the liberation struggle, but as a teen, I definitely did not like white people in general, because I associated them with a traumatic period in my mom and dad's childhood. I had to process this as an individual, as our society also processes it collectively.
The same applies to sufferers of the Rwandan genocide.
Or the Jewish holocaust.
Or Americans in the wake of 9/11.
My point is: this will affect all of us, directly or indirectly. Some - and a lot of people that is - have lost loved ones to COVID-19, or have loved ones who have been battling this disease. It has been said by a lot of people wrestling with COVID-19 that it is a super psychological battle on top of the obvious physical one. Many others are just not okay because of the economic uncertainty that this has caused in their lives. Many many others are highly traumatized seeing communities suffer, and seemingly no solution on the table even from the brightest minds in the world. The psychological effect is real. The mental stresses that people are going through are not to be underestimated at all.
People are depressed and distressed because of this situation.
We are all not okay. But if we are all not okay, what will become of us? This is the very danger of collective trauma - when everyone is not okay, it will be an uphill task to move on. But if we are aware of what is coming, perhaps we can begin to align our actions with simple postures that will help our communities heal once this ordeal subsides. We can start now, and start slow. I offer no expert advice, but just small actions that can have far-reaching effects on our communities.
We are all not okay.
The long-lasting effects of collective trauma should not be underestimated. And as we navigate this pandemic together, I would hope and pray that we can all be kind to each other as we all are and will be processing the effects of this in varying ways. I am trying to write every night this week and last night I came up with the acronym H.E.A.T as a suggestion on how we can process this on-going collective trauma.
Express how you feel, honestly. If you are scared, it's okay to say you are. If you are stressed, bored, fed up, tired — tell someone about it. There is a freedom that comes with just talking about it. This is not the time for us to be tired of listening or communicating our deepest fears.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
There are so many people who need to hear some encouragement In the midst of all the bad news that is on their timeline. Be a source of that. God's Word is full of words that can console people and comfort the deepest of sorrows. Be a tap of encouragement - you can never give enough of it. Encouraging is saying, with God's help, we can do this and get through this.
I am super encouraged by pastors leading congregations virtually right now, and all the gospel workers who are having to figure out how to disciple and love others. The same goes for doctors, emergency workers, students, mothers, and fathers — who are having to navigate this. Encourage them. You can easily do the opposite - discouragement. Avoid that!
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
You want to affirm people of what God has promised, and remind them of all that he has done. This can be lost in the noise of complaint. Our situation has changed, but God has not. God loves us. He cares. Affirming is saying, God already got this - remember what He said!
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
This is hard with social distancing in place. But the gift of presence is the best we can give. In fact, we cannot be any of the other three things I mentioned unless we are there. Thank God for phones, texts, email and all means of technology. We actually can be present with each other in some ways.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
We are in this together.