“You don’t have to die today…”

Those were her words.  The words of Antoinette Tuff, an elementary school bookkeeper, who found herself the only thing between a 19 year old shooter and hundreds of children.  Her actions or inaction were critical.  But how many of us think we could come even close to being an Antoinette?  Some say a higher power was acting that day.  Antoinette says, “I’m no hero – I just give it all up to God.”

Interviews have been happening with negotiation experts, people who have trained all their lives for incidents no where near what Antoinette faced that day.  Experts who get tears in their eyes and stumble in the interviews because with no training at all, Antoinette displayed everything necessary, and then some, to be that hero on that day.

I must admit to being fairly mesmerized by this story…I’ve listened to the audio tapes.  I heard her say, “I love you, I’m proud of you.”  I heard her retell his explanation that he should have gone to a hospital; that he was off his medication, and more details that would be helpful to the 911 operator she was talking to.  But I also heard her say something else.  That last year her husband of 30 something years left her and she tried to commit suicide.  A little later I heard her talk about her child with multiple physical challenges.  You could literally feel the space between this young man and Antoinette disappear.  Now they were eye to eye, figuratively.   And their hearts were on the same plane.

Years from now hostage negotiators and conflict resolutors will diagram and dissect what Antoinette did this day.  They will attempt, and fail, to teach how to do what she did.  You can’t teach that.  You can make someone a better negotiator but to do what Antoinette did, well, you’d have to be a special person – you’d have to be Antoinette!

I think about two things.  One is how we educate people.  How we test them and evaluate them, but how little we know about personality and inner strength.  How we need more information to match people with sensitive jobs.  Doctors.  Therapists.  Lawyers.  Who will be those who excel, and why?  Also, what does this say about how we hire people for almost any job – what foolish questions we ask (i.e., tell me something you handled poorly at work, and why, and how you should have handled it better) – when we should be asking questions to reveal personality – trustworthiness, loyalty, honesty, strength, character, courage.  It makes me wonder what questions we should ask – (i.e., what in your life gives you strength, or who are your heroes, and why?).

This also makes me think about the power of our own stories.  The power to reach out to someone to help by revealing something about ourselves.  Find a common plane.  Be bold enough to share.  What do we really know about a lot of the people we spend time with?  What significant interaction do we have where we work, at networking meetings, on social media?  We live in a fast paced, and every increasingly so, environment.  Social media has even trained our eye to make it difficult to read long form media, multi-page articles in magazines.  Our commercials are now 30 seconds, because 1 full minute is just too long.  And I think about how the world slowed down for Antoinette and this young man.  How time stopped, there, in the school office – just the two of them, and a listener on the other end of the phone – and now we are the listener, the world is listening.

“You don’t have to die today…”

“I love you.”

“I’m proud of you for giving up.”

“We all have things that happen to us.”

“I’m not a hero…I just give it up to God.”


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