Aug 23

Connecting the Dots: Antoinette Tuff and Amanda Palmer

Earlier this week, a woman named Antoinette Tuff managed to keep a 20-year-old man who walked into a Georgia school with an assault rifle and more than 500 rounds of ammunition from killing anyone, even himself. The school where she works had 870 students, pre-K through fifth grade. Because of her cool thinking and quick actions, it still has 870 students. Did she distract and disarm him, Hollywood-style? Did she pull out her own gun and shoot him? No. What she did was this: she spoke to him with understanding and compassion. She talked him down.

I know I’m not breaking any news here. We pretty much all know the story. But this morning after I saw another mention of it, after I read this article and watched the included video, what I thought of was the singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer. Specifically, I thought about how shortly after the Boston bombing on April 15 of this year, she wrote A Poem for Dzhokhar, a seemingly compassionate ode to the young mass murderer.

The reaction to that poem fell into two camps, basically: acceptance, by her die-hard fans, and outrage, by everyone else. There were a handful who were somewhere in the middle, and I was in that small group. At the time, I understood—or thought I did—what she was trying to do, but I also thought that her radar was a bit off, that her timing was unfortunate, that the entire thing was inappropriate. I think now that maybe I was right: her timing was off, but not because it was “too soon.” It wasn’t soon enough to do any direct and measurable good (not that she, personally, could have had any way of knowing about the bombing beforehand, of course). Barring that kind of psychic power, she posted it at the best time available to her: when it might make a difference for the next time—because there’s always a next time.

The phrase “bleeding heart liberal” is a contemptuous way of implying that understanding and compassion are ridiculous and pathetic responses to, in this case, threats of force. Maybe sometimes. And certainly, the more instinctual reactions are fear and fury. But what would fear and fury have gotten Antoinette Tuff? What would it have gotten those 870 children? How many tiny coffins would have been needed in the town of Decatur had her approach been different?

But it wasn’t different. In her time of fear—and she was terrified—she courageously reached out to the young man who had the power to kill her and hundreds more in a very short time, a young man who told her he was also going to die that day. She reached out to him with kindness, compassion, and love. The results speak for themselves.


  1. Lynn

    I agree. I was in the middle camp with you on Ms. Palmer’s ode. I thought the ode was spot on; however, I think the negative reaction happened because innocent bystanders and runners were killed and seriously injured. Had that devastation not occurred, I think more people would have agree with Ms. Palmer’s ode. Many of these terrible events occur because someone feels alone, isolated, unloved. If we would all take more time to be kind and compassionate to our fellow humans, maybe then this kind of tragedy will no longer grace the front page. Blessings to Ms. Tuff for thinking clearly and compassionately even during a time of high stress and fear. And thank you for ‘connecting the dots!’

    1. Evelyn Stice

      I’m so grateful for how many people this has touched, including you. And I think you’re right; I think the cause of the poem, the Boston bombing, is what touched the raw nerve. But why should it? My God, what if someone had just looked those brothers in the eye and said “I see you, I care, you matter, you don’t have to be connected to people who want to harm the rest of the world”?

      I know this is unlikely, but just imagine this scenario: suppose someone read Amanda Palmer’s poem and couldn’t get it out of their heads. Perhaps they were upset by it. Maybe even angered. But then … something happened. They were in a situation. Maybe it was just a family shouting match. Maybe there was a gun, or maybe just fists, or maybe just words. And maybe something clicked in that person’s head, and they SAW the other person. And they said, “You don’t have to do this. I love you. I promise this WILL get better.” She could have saved a life, and I can’t be upset with someone for writing a poem that could save someone’s life.

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