Until We Know Their Story

By Karen Jefferson

How many times have you been at work and a coworker goes off the deep end and you have no idea why? Maybe something triggered them. Perhaps something you did made them think of someone that abused them as a kid and they instantly felt unsafe and reacted in the only way they know how…by lashing out…trying to put distance between you and them…physical or psychic distance. It can happen with lovers, friends or strangers. And until we know their story, we will not understand their behavior.

Triggers come out of the blue…for survivors as well as for ‘innocent observers’.

Once at a meeting, I was taking notes on my not-so-smart-phone. At a break, thirty minutes into the meeting (and my note taking) a woman took me aside and said “Intellectually, I know you aren’t video taping me, but would you mind putting your phone away?” She took the first step to share her story. She shared that she was emotionally triggered by something I was innocently doing that was a huge trigger for her.

If we all understood one another better…actually took the time to listen to the stories of others…we would find that we will be moved to caring.

At another meeting, I was putting literature onto the tables. There was a man at one table, so I quietly, unobtrusively put the papers on his table. He startled! I began talking to him and listening to his story. I learned that he was a Vietnam Veteran, thus the startle reflex. I learned that his wife had been sexually abused as a child. I learned that he had been verbally abused as a child, which is why he verbally abused a coworker earlier in the day. I learned that this man, who lives at the farthest end of the political spectrum possible from me, shared my views on same-sex marriage, reproductive rights and tolerance.

We shared our stories and we were moved to caring.


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