Connection Over Correction
Updated: Apr 18, 2021
Riding the train in Chicago (or the “L” as we call it) conditions you for some intense experiences. Let's just say I’ve seen my fair share of strange, spontaneous, sometimes unsettling events. So one spring day, I hopped on the Redline on the north side of the city, making my normal commute to yoga class. After a few stops, a man stumbled onto the nearly full car, slurring his words, his eyes darting around. He was about six feet tall and his clothes were tattered. The slurs quickly escalated to a raised voice, and before you know it, he was shouting and rambling at no one in particular.
But it wasn’t necessarily how he was speaking but what he was saying that pulled me in. He was shouting about one of his friends who he had watched die in Afghanistan. In vivid detail, he shouted about the sound of bombs and gunfire and seeing his friend without his legs, lying helpless on the ground.
At the time, I was undergoing intensive trauma-informed care trainings and even training to train others in a science-based somatic therapy (Trauma Recovery Yoga). Having a more clear understanding of trauma and the physiological effects it has on people's bodies and brains has continuously allowed me to be a more patient, empathetic person in the world.
I took a few deep breaths, standing there on the train only five or six feet from this man, who, behind the anger, confusion and chaotic energy, was clearly suffering deeply.
The other people on the train avoided eye contact with him, which is standard protocol when someone is screaming on the train. It's easier for us to detach from the situation and think that person is "crazy" than to put ourselves in their shoes for a moment... that's more difficult. We have become an apathetic people when it comes to other people’s traumas and even more so, our own scars and bruises.
Eventually, someone hit the “Operator” button in the car and, at the next stop, a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) employee hopped on our car. She was compassionate yet firm with the man, asking him what was going on, and properly de-escalating the situation. But the man’s pain was still highly apparent. I've always been an empathic person, and I was quite literally feeling this man's pain.
The train traveled a few more stops until the next stop was mine. I cautiously took a step toward the man. “Thank you for your service,” I said, as I stuck out my hand to shake his. He just looked at me for a while, as did everyone else on the full train car, anticipating his response. They had to be thinking, “What in the hell is this girl thinking?”
After a minute, the man’s eyes welled up with tears. They started to fall, as he bypassed my attempted handshake and embraced me in a big hug. This six-foot man was sobbing on my shoulder, and it took only a few seconds for the emotions to well up inside me, too. We hugged like that for probably a minute before we pulled up to my stop and said a quick farewell.
Reframing our approach when faced with situations like this can be incredibly challenging, but it starts with a shift in mindset. Until I was "trauma-informed," I can't say I would've have just kept listening to my podcast and turning up the volume to drown out his cries for help.
However, since I've gained extensive textbook and first-hand experience about the effects of trauma, I have more fully adopted the practice of connection over correction. In my experience, this approach almost always turns a seemingly threatening or uncomfortable situation into an opportunity to grow and, if we're lucky, to heal a wound. Making that decision to connect instead of judge and correct is powerful and transformative, and you wield that power at your fingertips. You have the power to stand up and say "I see you" ~ to acknowledge their existence and pain ~ to shift the consciousness of humanity toward the light in this simple yet profound way.