I’d spent a long career planning, managing, speaking, and teaching about community engagement, but that life ended abruptly when Karl died. My concussion and the PTSD from witnessing Karl’s death severely impaired my cognitive abilities for many months. So I was astonished when I found myself even considering engagement to heal my grief. However, action can be strong medicine in times of trouble.
While action cannot undo the trauma we have suffered, I have found that making people accountable for the wrong that caused our loss can offer a sense of well-being. Engagement in the broader community allows us literally to step outside our grief. It can steer us away from isolation and any negative tendency toward self-absorption. Activism drew my attention away from my sorrow and directed into the unfamiliar realm of road safety activism.
The Helper Principle
To contribute to a community project or action builds our confidence by reminding us what we might easily have forgotten in our grief: we can make a difference. The well-known “helper principle” in psychology applies here: when we help others, we often help ourselves, as we begin to acknowledge the power of our resilience and resourcefulness. We may experience the fusion of activism and spirituality and be uplifted by it.
Many months after Karl died, I was astonished by my first sense of “pleasurable mastery” (being able to do things competently that I could not do for many months) and “personal agency” (a sense of control and awareness of initiating and carrying out my actions in the world).