The talking cure

This week we saw intuitive human genius at work. Antoinette Tuff, a school bookkeeper, through sheer instinct and soundness of character, walked a potential mass murderer back from the brink.

The approach she took with the troubled intruder armed with an AK47 has been hailed by trained negotiators as following the very steps they take weeks to inculcate in their students.

When I heard the 911 call that Ms. Tuff carried on for over twenty minutes, giving authorities precious time to get to the scene and keeping the gunman occupied with her instead of carrying out his deadly plans, it reminded me of the amazing book I read in the 1980s by Joseph Chilton Pearce, “The Magical Child”.  It was among the many books from a wide range of disciplines that I devoured in those days as an avid student of child development psychology.

Along with all the classics, I read  Fritz Redl and Bruno Bettelheim, of course, the behavioral psychologists in the Skinnerian school, Freudians, Jungians, and Jean Piaget as well as the brilliant Rudolf Steiner.  I was also fascinated at that time with Primal Therapy and the ideas of Arthur Janov.

Among much wisdom to be found in the Pearce book, I seem to recall his account of a girl who stopped her own rape by taking a superhuman compassionate approach to her would-be assailant.  The incident was something along the lines of what Ms. Tuff did.  Somewhere in the girl’s psyche she had found a strength and calm that shattered the deranged scenario that the attacker, a psychopath, had rehearsed and acted out repeatedly with his victims. This girl recognized the damaged soul that lay hidden underneath the violent pathology and addressed that part of the man’s personality. A lot of these men were rejected by their mothers, as small children and it runs them for the rest of their lives, snowballing at some point and often forming part of a schizophrenic break during early adulthood.

As I remember it (and I just re-ordered the book, having given my copy away long ago – I think there are two, newer versions at Amazon, one published in 1992 and another in 2004 – I hope they are all like the original, with no abridgement) the murderous assailant broke down in sobs and the girl escaped unharmed.


Incredibly, this is what Antoinette Tuff did too.  Ms. Tuff recognized that this individual was emotionally desperate and instead of reacting in fear or defensiveness, she showered him with understanding and patience. How did she learn this?  Shouldn’t all of us be trained in these techniques, this courageous and compassionate avenue of dealing with troubled minds and emotions? Certainly, every parent and teacher, every psychologist could model what Ms. Tuff did.

Maybe the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is arming a good person with hostage training.


Image: Le poeme de l’ame, Louis Janmot, Wikimedia Commons


2 Comments on “The talking cure”

  1. WHAAAAT?! How dare you insinuate that had Ms. Tuff been armed she could have…done exactly what she did without one. Oops. Seriously, if there is a better example of the flaw in the NRA’s than this I sure don’t know of it. Too bad those dopes don’t give a damn,

    And The Peace Pilgrim in her book tells a very similar story, of being cornered by a man who intended to rape or murder her, or both, she was not sure. But she began talking to him, asking him about himself, and even forgiving him before he had the chance to do anything wrong. He broke down and let her escape unharmed. Isn’t it sad as hell there are so many people in the world who do so much damage to others than can be brought down with a small show of compassion? what does that say about us as a people, I wonder?


    • Oh! I had not heard of that one – have to look it up. I agree with you – that was my reaction exactly and to think that a person with no formal training understood intuitively what to do. It might not work in all cases, I realize that, but it is a good place to start. My position on guns is what drove the trolls on FB to a frenzy. I wonder what Mr. La Pierre has to say about Ms.Tuff. She didn’t help him sell guns so I guess he dismisses her and the whole idea of compassion. Much better to have regular shoot-outs.


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