Here at Compass Community Counseling we are located in the pacific northwest. While normally this is a statement filled with pride, as we reside in my biased opinion of one the most beautiful areas of the country, and safest, recently we have been overcome with devastating fires. We have lived in extremely smokey conditions while our natural forest is burning. We are hearing from our neighboring cities that they are being evacuated, wildlife is being displaced and our natural history is dissipating. One of the closest fires to use currently is the “eagle Creek fire” This fire has overtaken our gorge and diminished our believed hiking and swimming holes. The most recent numbers indicate 33 thousand acres burned and three homes destroyed. There are no words for this kind of devastation. However, there is a twist to this. The news recently reported that they believe the fire was set by a group of teenagers who were lighting fireworks on this particular hiking trail. Insert social outrage here. Each news article has multiple angry adults raging at the irresponsibility of these teens and what they believe their legal punishment should be. It has raised the question of how do we empathize with the teens involved, while also allow our anger to be felt?
Here’s the thing, I am pretty darn angry about this whole thing. It feels senseless, and is disheartening to see our local world on fire. I worry for the people that are directly impacted, I fear for the safety of our firefighters and personnel, I feel sorrow for the animals and wildlife impacted. I am personally impacted health wise with the smokey air in my local town, and my family is impacted by cancelation of activities due to poor air quality. The ripple affect continues down the line. But I am also aware that while this was undoubtedly a really irresponsible move on the teenagers part, it was no doubt a purposeful action. We have vast research that indicates that the teenage brain just simply isn’t close to full development at 15, and a primary affected area is rational decision making. Let’s bring some humanness inot this situation. This is a 15 year old KID. A child, that doesn’t yet have the ability to drive. This is the son of parents that are more than likely trying their best. This is a child that is out having fun with his friends. You may think I know this family directly, I don’t. But I do know 15 year olds. I work with them often, and believe it or not I was once one. So how can we balance this diliema out? How might be feel angry and saddened and also be empathetic to what I can only assume to be a horrendous experience for both parent and child in this situation? What can we do to protect ourselves and our community from hate and slander? Here are a few steps to get started:
1. Allow yourself to be angry, sad, disappointed, scared. Whatever you may feel is okay. And understanding that you are feeling that was because of the devastation, because of the loss of beauty or natural resources. Being angry can be useful, as long as it is stifling. So make a effort to limit yoru feelings of anger or saddnes for a certain period of time, or allowing yourself to feel them at a certain time each day. This allows for rational clear thinking the rest of the day.
2. Let’s humanize the kids involved. Imagine for a moment they are your son, your brother, your cousin or friend. How might you react if that was the case? Would you still be angry? Certainly! But I believe you may also know a lot of other really great things about the kids. You may also know what makes them laugh, what sports they play, what their favorite subject in school is, or who they hang out with the most. You may notice that if these kids were someone you knew, you would understand them from a personal level, perhaps even stand up or defend them against critics.
3. This is a time we have to stand together in community. I am sure you have heard this a lot lately. We live in a current social climate of separateness. One in which prides itself on individuality. Now is the time to step up and out of this. We don’t have to be the firefighters to be of assistance in this. We can donate to local charities, we can check on our fragile community members, we can simply start a forum of support. We can start by allowing humanity to shine through like it often does in the photos that are taken after destruction. We can allow for both anger and understanding in the situation of these teens and the fires. It is so much more significant than you may know.
I will end this by stating this. This isn’t it. The kids who have allegedly started this fire will deal with the ramification of this socially, financially, mentally, emotionally for their entire lives. The parents will as well. Those of us that choose to reside in the Pacific northwest will have permanently lost this wildlife in our lifetimes. There is permanent damage done here. Let’s not allow the permanent physical damage live in us emotionally or mentally.