I am moved by the story of a true hero of our time – Antoinette Tuff. On August 20, 2013, a disturbed young man walked into a Georgia elementary school with large amounts of firearms intent on harming the 900+ students and teachers. Ms. Tuff, bookkeeper at the school, managed to talk to the heavily-armed man and get him to surrender without anyone being harmed.
With the amount of ammunition he had, the outcome of this unstable man’s actions could have been devastating. Tuff and others in the school could have approached him in a way that we often see when faced with violence. But Ms. Tuff managed to overcome her own reactive behavior and her own instinct to hate, attack, and just save herself.
Here is how she effectively acted from the perspective of Respectful Confrontation: when it became clear that she was in a dangerous situation, she remained grounded and focused. Even though she felt terror and panic within, staying grounded and focused allowed her to clearly assess the situation and make constructive choices, as well as not get reactive and consequently trigger the unstable man.
She then used a good balance of strength and flexibility in engaging with both the armed man and with the dispatcher at 9-1-1, as well as take into consideration the police and the unarmed people in the building. This shifting between strength and flexibility allowed Ms. Tuff to connect and engage in a way that wasn’t threatening yet showed enough authority to win the assailant’s trust. What a great demonstration of the skills and benefits of the 4 Pillars of True Power (learn more about this).
However, the greatest display of her actions through the eyes of Respectful Confrontation was her resolve to stand face-to-face with this young man, instead of run away or in some way try to attack him. She opened herself up in true vulnerability and, from her heart, made the choice to connect with this man’s humanity. Despite the risk she was taking, she knew that the strongest “weapon” she had at that moment was her ability to show respect and compassion. She modeled for us the wisdom of one of the foundational philosophies of Respectful Confrontation: it is in your vulnerability that your True Power Is revealed.
Thank you Ms. Tuff for reminding us that the power of Love, Respect and Compassion are not just sentimental ideas, but unmoving forces within each one of us that can motivate us to reach our highest potential, find new solutions to old problems and bring about positive change.
When interviewed, Ms Tuff was asked what gave her the courage to do what she did. Her response was, “I felt grounded and anchored in the Word of the Lord.” What in your life grounds and anchors you? What do you have complete faith and confidence in which would allow you to face any challenge with courage, wisdom, skill, respect, power, compassion and openhearted engagement? I hope you can identify what that is. Who knows? The lives of a school full of children might depend on it.