Antoinette Tuff was sitting at the front desk of the elementary school where she worked when a mentally unstable young man entered with an assault rifle and a bag full of ammunition. But instead of the too-familiar narrative of a tragic school shooting, another drama played out.
While teachers evacuated the students, Tuff talked the gunman down. She opened up to him about the low points in her own life. She told him that she loved him and everything would be OK. Relaying instructions from a 911 operator, she kept him talking for 25 minutes until she could persuade him to empty his pockets, put down his weapon, and surrender himself to authorities.
It’s often been argued that tougher gun laws or background checks would prevent mass shootings. But Tuff’s display of compassion and poise reminds us of the most powerful weapon against violence: empathy.
Empathy says to others, “Like me, you are made in the image of God. You have value and dignity, and I will treat you as I would want to be treated.”
Only when we lose sight of empathy – when we see others as “less” than us ̶ can we rationalize victimizing another person. Unfortunately, as a society, we are drifting farther from empathy. We blame. We stereotype. We demonize those with whom we disagree. We have a national empathy deficit, and we see the fruits of it in the headlines daily.
But there is hope. The way of Jesus is the way of empathy. Without sacrificing truth, we must graciously and courageously reassert the value and dignity of each person God has made: young or old, male or female, incarcerated or free. When we do, love wins the day.