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When Tragedy Provides

Tragedy is never a welcome guest.

This past month’s events at Columbine High School in Colorado has reminded us that tragedy knows no bounds — neither class, nor race, nor philosophy, nor education, nor age. But tragedy does know one thing — how to provide. Whether we choose or not and what we choose to take back from tragedy is up to us.

Tragedy provides us with many things. Tragedy provides us with so much grief, and so much finger-pointing. We look for answers to questions which have no simple answers. The media look to scapegoat, as I’m sure do many others. Activists see an opportunity to promote their cause, whether it be gun control, morality, or whatever.

What we often tend to forget during times like this is that tragedy also provides one, unintended service: It brings us closer together and allows us — for one fleeting moment, anyway — to feel we share common bounds in humanity. We become more human and more focused on the things which really matter in our lives — our family, friendships, social relationships with others just like ourselves. The community comes together, joined in their sorrow and grief.

I doubt this could provide comfort to anyone who has experienced tragedy on such an epic scale as this one. Most tragedies which occur and touch our lives are very personal ones — the loss of a loved one. We have all known tragedy. But all tragedies — personal or epic — have positive side-effects, whether we can see them at the time or not.

Besides bringing people closer together and often reacquainting them with their most basic human emotions, a personal tragedy can cause a person to realize the finite-ness and mortality of their lives… That we are not on this Earth forever, despite the way we feel sometimes, and that every day — starting today — counts. It should count as though it were your last day alive.

Most of us don’t live our lives like that… We take it for granted we will be here tomorrow. That our significant others will be here tomorrow. Or our children. Or our parents. Or our friends. Should we live our lives as if every day were our last? Well, perhaps not. But we could live our lives understanding that each and every moment we are alive should be cherished. Not taken for granted, but understand it for what it is — a special gift which should not be wasted.

Tragedy carries many after-effects. For most of us, these surround the grief and sorrow we feel. But one after-effect which we don’t always realize is this renewed perspective and appreciation for the life we do have. It is a truism to say that without the bad, we cannot appreciate the good. But such extremes have the potential to add balance and perspective to our lives, and add to the richness of our experience. These events can be important learning experiences for some of us. They can motivate us to change in our own lives, or to do beneficial things in our community and towns we wouldn’t have otherwise done. Putting our lives in perspective and keeping them there can be one small positive result of an otherwise negative event.

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You don’t have to wait until tragedy strikes your life. Make an effort today to begin appreciating the life you have. Start paying attention again to your children. Turn off the TV and communicate more with your spouse, your children, your family, and each other. Forgive a grudge. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Call your parents. Make an effort to listen more, talk less. Play games for fun. Life is all around us… It’s just that sometimes we forget to enjoy it.

So stop and smell the flowers… Because the flowers are waiting.

When Tragedy Provides

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). When Tragedy Provides. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.