Just How Do You Act...?

Atwater Vitki

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A terrible tragedy strikes and one person reacts one way and another completely different. Is there a protocol for how a person is suppose to act during tragic events in our lives?

Sure it might seem awful strange to many of us that a survivor can be in hysterical laughter after a fatal auto accident or is seemingly distant and moody over something as nonchalant as knocking over a coffee cup....but who wrote the rules for tragedy etiquette?

I bring this up because of the story linked below and what parent would want to endure what this woman did, having her baby shot and killed in front of her? The defense for the man that has been convicted of this crime seemed to go to great lengths to prove the mother was somehow involved because she was occasionally joking and laughing while being questioned by police and making other bizarre statements.

While many of us here at the ULC will limit our pastoral duties to officiating weddings, we might keep this in mind if called upon to render aid to folks during other events in their lives. As a pastor, priest, minister, vicar or vitki our calling may take us beyond simple officiant duties. I would hope that whether we are new to ministering or experienced, we remember that our duties could be for victims and/or survivors of any number of tragic events.

It may seem very odd to us that a person acts in an unexpected manner to what or how we think they ought to be acting....but let us never forget....there is no set protocol for many of Life's emotional ups and downs. The last thing I've wanted while facing my emotional upheavals in life, is someone telling me how I'm suppose to be acting!

I firmly believe that those of us who've had experience in certain situations should be helping our younger protégés Do That Which is Right. Any thoughts, ideas, questions?

Blessings of Peace,


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I don't see my ministry as a tribunal, so here are a few thoughts from my experience in dealing with those in crisis (or anywhere else, for that matter):

  • Meet people where they are, not where you think they should be.
  • Don't assume you know where they are, no matter how much you've been through yourself.
  • When acting as a spiritual guide, questions are usually more valuable than answers.
  • Make an effort to be empathetic (not necessarily sympathetic) rather than accusatory, regardless of personal beliefs.
  • Respect, compassion and love are all free, so be generous. Even to your enemy.
  • Humans are both mimics and rebels; it's more effective to lead by example than by command.
  • Only give advice when asked, and don't be afraid to say "I don't know."
  • Try to give them a way to save face. People won't walk any path if they don't believe they're worthy.
  • Never speak in absolutes.
  • Be a rock, not a hero.
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I have been known to scare heck out of people because it is not unusual for me to start crying when I sing, especially certain hymns. Part of it is that I no longer sing in English, but now sign the songs. I don't know if the emotional "disconnect" is from memories of when I could hear the music, the amount of concentration required for me to keep time to music I no longer hear (when I sing, I am usually singing with others, and have to keep the timing of my signing matched to the phrasing and timing of their vocals). There was a time where I would have been ashamed to "lose it" on stage and cry in front of people. But I have learned two things: trying to hold it back is like trying to use a paper cup to hold the tide, and frankly, I no longer care if someone is put off seeing me cry. Some were put off seeing me sign songs, but I look at it this way: the vast majority of songs I sign are worship songs in a worship setting, so the question lies, who am I trying to impress? If I am worshiping my Almighty, He already knows the depths of my heart, and the tears are in context. If I am trying to impress the people in the congregation, I am worshipping for the wrong reason.

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As with most situations I usually respond to specific environmental variables. I have met people that wanted to talk about their crisis and I have also met people that just wanted someone to hang out with to distract them from it. Some people wish to ignore the problem, and some others wish to solve it, while other problems both ignoring and solving are not options.

I think the best way to handle a crisis is to try to make the person in crisis feel better. If that requires buying them a coffee, or a beer, or just going for a walk, or giving them a hug...for every individual person there is an individual form of comfort that is most effective. Most of all it is important to show those we care about that we care about them and to show those we don't know compassion, if not empathy.

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