It is the day after the horrific shootings at Fort Hood. Once again we find ourselves frightened by the violent events that seem to make no sense and for which we have no context to find meaning. The news stations and websites are filled with details, endless speculations, and ongoing analysis. As I scanned these headlines I saw an article on one of the heroes of this tragedy, a female police officer who is credited with stopping the assault while she herself was seriously wounded. Sgt. Kimberly Munley risks her life daily as a police officer. An article on MSNBC states that Sgt. Munley’s Twitter account shows the following quote: “I live a good life. ... a hard one, but I go to sleep peacefully @ night knowing that I may have made a difference in someone's life." That single statement resonates with me although I cannot say that I have ever had the opportunity or the courage to save any lives.
When I listen to the reasons that prospective students give for wanting to pursue a degree in counseling, it seems to result in a similar sentiment: wanting to make a difference. There is a significant human yearning for life to have meaning beyond just mere existence. The life story approach to identity development places its focus on the self within the narrative. “The stories we live by reflect subjectively recalled, specific, and vivid experiences, drawn together in a life narrative” (McLean & Pratt, 2006). What are the stories that are part of your life narrative? My ‘hero’ when I was growing up was Robert F. Kennedy. His run for the presidency instilled in me a life long love of politics. I was in middle school when he was assassinated and I can still paraphrase the statement his brother Ted made in his eulogy: He saw wrong and tried to right it, he saw suffering and tried to heal it, and he saw war and tried to stop it. Robert F. Kennedy was the reason I became first a social worker and then a counselor. He modeled for me the philosophy that faith without action is an empty faith.
I was drawn to a helping field to help mediate the pain of others. Research on adolescent’s identity development finds that memories about relationships and mortality events have more meaning than other memories in the structuring of identity. Another factor that has import is the emotionality of events. Looking back on the 1960’s it is difficult to find another time in my life for which the word emotionality would more apply. One theory about the reason for this is that negative events have more impact on identity development because a negative event is more memorable. It stands out more easily than a positive event. Where were you 9/11/01? You can probably easily answer that. Where were you 10/11/01? If you are like me you probably have no idea. So what does all this mean? First of all the events of yesterday are simply horrible. Many lives were irrevocably changed. Hopes and dreams are now shattered or seriously damaged. People are hurting and desperate to find answers and to make some sense for themselves so they can move forward with some sense of hope. Erik Erikson’s theory about the implications of crisis to identity formation is in focus at times like this. And it is for times like this that those of us who want to make a positive difference, who see making a difference as a core aspect of our identity, and who have committed our lives to be trained to make a difference, need to step forward and do so.
This event will shape identity one way or another. It will either turn more people to choose the shooter’s narrative of violence and hopelessness or turn more to choose Sgt. Munley’s narrative of positive difference making. As Robert F. Kennedy said: “Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” I choose hope.
Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.