Communities, whether it refers to people in a geographical area, a church family, a school, or another group of individuals, sometimes have a need for healing. In some cases, this is a long-term need arising from neglect, lack of work, or on-going violence. In other cases, the need arises in relationship to a specific tragedy or natural disaster.
Healing a community is similar to healing an individual. However, the process varies a bit and can be complicated by having a number of people involved. On the other hand, the people of the community can also be helpful in assisting each other in their healing.
Deciding to Heal
Just like with a person, the community first needs to decide to heal. The challenge with this is that different people are of different mindsets with regards to healing and not everyone is on the same timeline with regards to grieving over what has happened. Likewise, those that desire to heal may remain on autopilot for some time simply dealing with the things that have to be done.
Support from Outside
Each situation is different. In the case of a hurricane, for example, outside assistance may be needed for shelter, food, debris removal, and rebuilding. However, the ultimate healing comes from within the community. The Red Cross and other volunteers cannot heal for the community. Likewise, they cannot force the community to heal. The only thing they can do is support the community while they heal, much like a cast supports someone’s leg while a broken bone heals.
Different types of traumas require different amount of healing. Likewise, they require different amounts of time to heal. For instance, healing from an earthquake that made various structures in the community uninhabitable might not require the same level of healing as an event that takes several people’s lives.
For people outside the community, the biggest challenge is to allow the community to heal on its own timeline without imposing deadlines or expectations. After 9/11, there was tremendous support from across the country and around the world. However, over time that support for New York and the country in general waned. Thus, the expectations from outside the communities most significantly impacted changed. Yet, especially in New York City, many people are still dealing with the trauma. First responders, in particular, continue to have both emotional and physical issues as a result of their efforts that day.
Within the communities impacted by 9/11, the challenge from day one was that various people were impacted in different ways and to a different extent. The same is true of any community impacted by a traumatic event. Each person has a different timeline for grieving related to the event. Thus, after a year some people may be moving on with their life and really spend very little time thinking the event. Meanwhile, others may still be struggling to accept what happened.
In situations, such as, economic depression, all of the above perspectives apply. The community may need a leg up, but will only truly heal when members of the community make a decision to heal. These situations have different challenges as the issues they are facing have often developed over generations. In these cases, it may be more difficult to gain the momentum to heal despite the desire to move forward.
It takes longer in these cases to attain true healing as the trauma has been reinforced over and over. People may have even lost their belief in healing, thinking that things cannot improve. One of the biggest things people outside these communities can do is to spread hope without expectation. If they help these people believe, the people will then be able to start healing.
One worst things people outside the community can do is to use these situations and the people involved to make political statements or to support some perspective that they would like others to believe. Actions of this nature limit the healing of the communities. In some cases, actions with these types of motives may even cause additional hurt and damage.
The Best Action
The best action outsiders can take to help a community heal is to provide support and encouragement to the individuals in the community as well as to the community leaders. Within the community, it is important for each person to remember that each person will heal on his or her own schedule. No person can speed up another person’s healing nor should they judge that someone has healed too fast. As each individual focuses on their own healing, they will create an environment for those around them to heal more quickly allowing the community to gain overall momentum in its healing.
Remember, healing is possible. It just takes time.