Eight Ways to Process a Tragedy


Note: I am making a few changes to this blog as more accurate news emerges and I gain more perspective from wise colleagues.

A terrorist, racist hate crime happened in my city just before the long Memorial day weekend, and at the start of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and reflection for Muslims around the world. The fasting serves as a reminder of the hardships that millions of people living in poverty endure daily. Zakat, the third pillar of Islam, is the practice of charitable giving by Muslims. I make this point because the tragedy involved one Muslim teenage girl and one African American teenage girl, being shouted at and asked to leave the country by a White man, who then killed two White men and maimed another as they were trying to calm and stop him from verbally attacking the women.

I write this blog as I deeply grieve. I am confounded about what to do and I know I must first grieve. Nonetheless, I woke up thinking about how a facilitator who is conflict-trained would handle this? That is going to be subject of the blog today: How do you help a grieving community process a vicious incident that shatters them to the core? As I thought about it, I realized there were eight different perspectives at least that needed to be considered. And there are some perspectives that I am not yet emotionally able to explore – e.g., having a conversation with the perpetrator of the crime or, having a conversation with White supremacists.

I am going to give you eight unique structured, meaningful conversation examples you could use with groups who each have a different perspective on the same incident. They are based on the Technology of Participation Focused Conversation Method (See Resources section below). Please feel free to adapt and use these conversation examples for any deeply disturbing incident that may have occurred in your own community or family. We have no shortage of deeply disturbing incidents with the Manchester, England concert bombing, and many other recent violent incidents in the US, Canada and around the world. The eight perspectives for which I provide a dialogue conversation are:

    • 1. Portlanders and those who know Portland well


    • 2. Senior city leaders dealing with the tragedy


    • 3. Leaders and employees of the urban transit system in which the incident occurred i.e. the Max train


    • 4. The Muslim community and the African American community


    • 5. Families, friends and colleagues of the slain and injured men who defended the targeted women


    • 6. Those who witnessed everything on the train


    • 7. The targeted females of the attack and those who regularly are the target of hate crimes


    8. Those who knew the person who committed the violence

Many White Portlanders like to think of their city as progressive. But it is no surprise to people of color and others targeted by oppression that this city is well-known for its past and present history of racism (articles in resources section below). In the time I have lived in the US and this city, 15 years, I have seen some changes in my own originally predominantly White middle class neighborhood (less expensive suburb of Portland). There are many more races other diverse groups coming to live, work and recreate in my neighborhood. Sadly, it is mainly due to gentrification however in the Portland proper areas. I naively thought we lived peacefully together in my suburb although I knew we are nowhere close to a tight, completely welcoming community.

The recent incident rocked my false sense of safety in this US city. Portland typically does not make the news as a city of stabbings and shootings. But this past Friday, a lot changed. How do we deal with something that blatantly shows us that our outer world is far from the ideal that we want?

In my ideal world, there would be no hatred spoken or acted out against people who were different from me. We would all be united in our efforts to protect the planet, cherish each other’s cultural,religious traditions and life choices. We would be very happy to hear others’ perspectives (as long as they were not violent toward others) and support each other through hardship. We would ensure everyone has shelter, safety, good health care and nutritious food. We would watch out for loneliness, offering a kind word, action or gift to those who feel isolated. We would each live joyful, peaceful, creative lives surrounded by an ecosystem that was brilliantly cared for by its human inhabitants. None of us would be discriminated against or have hate crimes acted toward us.

So at this moment, I have to turn to my facilitator tools. What are the ones that come to me as the most useful ones?

Once again I find myself turning to the Focused Conversation Method, also known as ORID (see Banner above). This was developed as a Technology of Participation (ToP™)tool by the Institute of Cultural Affairs. It is what I love teaching the most out of any tool to which I’ve been introduced. It is simply a set of four sequenced thinking levels spoken most often in question form. It is meant to help everyone in a group process a topic in a meaningful and connected way. At the end of a Focused Conversation, everyone who has participated feels they have come a resolution. It may not be a firm decision. In the case of a tragedy processing, it often might just be a feeling of relief knowing that other people are doing their best thinking with you. It might help remedy the pain and move to the next step in the process of grieving. The purpose of each conversation is to relieve the pain and anguish of the incident, and begin to share most appropriate early steps to move forward.

Here is what it would look like in its simplest form if I would just processing this with:

1. Portlanders and those who know Portland well.

  • What did you hear in the media about this event? What did you see?
  • How are you reacting to this?
  • What is most painful to you? What is most hopeful to you?
  • Where are you now in your processing of this?
  • How are you talking about this with your children and family?
  • What do you want to be different?
  • How shall we help and support one another over the next few weeks?

2. Senior city leaders dealing with the tragedy

  • When did you first hear or learn of this incident?
  • What have been the most accurate reportings on the news of this incident? What have we leanred from these sources?
  • Who has talked to whom about what?
  • Who from the city has talked to the media? What was reported?
  • What else have you heard community groups are planning to do in response to this event?
  • How are you personally reacting to this?
  • What is the range of emotions you are witnessing in our city employees? In the public? In the Bureau of Transportation?
  • What is being said that has been helpful to you in processing this ? Not helpful?
  • What can we learn form our collective experiences to help us communicate effectively with our employees and the public about this?
  • How shall we begin the process of healing needed for the city in general?
  • What is most needed to ensure the safety and protection of human rights of our residents and visitors and stop hate crimes as we move forward?
  • What is the bigger picture we need to take around hate crimes, racism
    and our long history of racism?
  • What are our specific next steps?
  • When shall we meet again? What must be do first? What can wait til the next meeting? Let’s make a list of agenda items for the next three-four meetings.

3. Leaders and employees of the urban transit system in which the incident occurred i.e. the Max train or Light Rail

  • What actually happened? Which of our employees were involved? What has been their account of the incident?
  • What has been our official public response to this event? When? What? How often?
  • What measures have we taken since the incident for enhanced protection?
  • What are specific statements you have read in social media posts from people riding the Max train or about riding the Max train in general?
  • What is the change in statistics for riding the train since the incident?
  • How are you each reacting to the incident?
  • What is most painful to you?
  • What can we do to respond to the public’s current and future fears about riding the Max train?
  • What could we learn from other public transit agencies elsewhere in the world who have had violence occur?
  • What must we as a transit organization do to ensure this never happens again?
  • What can do internally as a Bureau to recover from this heinous event that occurred with our infrastructure?
  • What support can we get to recover from this incident? Who or what organizations are in the best position to help us with that?

4. The Muslim Community and the African American Community

  • What did you hear in the media about this event? What did you hear from the two teenagers who were targeted? What did you hear in your communities? What images did you see?
  • What is most painful to you? Where have you personally experienced something like this before? Or, in the lives of those you love?
  • What makes you angry? fearful?
  • What are you most hopeless about?
  • What is hopeful if anything, to you?
  • What would you like to say to White People who are
    “shocked” that this kind of thing happens in Portland?
  • What would you like to say (if you could) to the two men who lost their lives protecting two members of our community? What would you like to say to the families of those who lost their lives?
  • How are you talking about this with your children, families, and friends?
  • What do you want to say to other non-targeted Portlanders so things will be different and better for our communities?
  • How shall we help and support one another emotionally over the next few weeks?
  • What support do we need going forward to keep our community safe? What support might we ask for from our allies?
  • What might be some elements of our community’s public response to this?
  • (Only for the Muslim community since Ramadan) How can we continue our holy days with as much peace in our hearts as possible?

5. Families, friends and colleagues of the slain and injured men who defended the targeted females

  • What do you remember most, know and love about these men?
  • What is most painful to you?
  • What are most afraid about? What are you most hopeless about?
  • What is giving you some solace?
  • Where are you now in your processing of this?
  • How are you talking about this with our children and family?
  • How shall we help each other and support one another over the next few weeks?
  • How can we help each other deal with the incessant attention of the media on this?
  • How shall we thank those who donated to a fund to help us survive economically in the future?
  • What gives us some small amount of peace about all of this?

6. Those who witnessed everything

  • What did you see? Hear?
  • What did the assailant do? The defenders do? The targeted women do? What did you do? What happened then?
  • What was most terrifying to you? What worries you the most?
  • What was it like to see the women being defended?
  • Where are you now in your processing of this?
  • How kind of support are you getting to heal from this? What additional support would help you?
  • What do you want to be different?
  • How have you successfully processed deep trauma in the past? What from that experience could help you now?
  • What do you need from anyone in this group of allies to help you through the next few days and weeks?

7. The targeted females of this attack (and those who are routinely targets of hate crimes). Note: I offer this conversation to fill out the picture but actually I would not ask these at this moment because the young females are likely already traumatized enough without additional “questioning”. It is helpful however generally for victims of trauma to verbally process in great detail what happened as long as they feel safety. I might just do a lot of empathetic listening after a few questions without asking all these questions.

  • What do you remember from the scene as it played out?
  • What were the words you heard your assailant use toward you?
  • What was your initial reaction?
  • When did you notice the other men come to your defense?
  • What was most frightening?
  • What was your reaction then?
  • What was most horrifying?
  • What has been accurate or not accurate about reports by the media?
  • What has been most difficult about this happening to you?
  • What other feelings are coming up now?
  • What would you say to anyone who has used hateful words or actions toward you? Toward your community?
  • What else do you want anyone affected by this incident to know?
  • What is the best possible thing that could come out of this incident?
  • What will help you most to heal now? Who can provide that for you?

8. Those who knew the person who committed violence towards the Muslim women and the three men trying to interrupt that targeting.

  • How are you hearing people describe this person in the media?
  • What have you heard has happened with this person since the incident? How are you reacting to this?
  • What shocked you about his behavior based on what you know about him?
  • What is most painful to you? What are you most worried about?
  • Where are you now in your processing of this?
  • How are you talking about this with your children and family who know this person?
  • What do you want to be different?
  • What would we want people to know about this person?
  • How can we ensure all aspects of the story are told?
  • How shall we help and support one another over the next few weeks?
  • What do we most want to say or convey to this person over the next few weeks?

Eight other ways to reconcile with tragedy (to do on your own or with close friends, family)

Maybe you hoped this blog would give you some general tips to reconcile with your anguish. Here are a few I am using or planning to use along with having regular deep conversations and peer listening sessions with people I love and respect and groups I facilitate ( note these activities are not meant to trivialize the deeply rooted issue with which we are dealing. Rather it is intentional when we become overwhelmed with the pain to allow ourselves emotional release, followed by acknowledging moments of joy and/or connection with others. This will remind us that life is good):

    • 1. Writing this blog, in my journal,composing a poem, short story,


    • or song about my feelings


    • 2. Visiting a mosque and reading about Islam and African American


    • history in the US (followed by some peer counselling)


    • 3. Doing physical activity – dancing, cycling, swimming outdoors


    • 4. Expressing anguish through art, singing or drumming with others


    • 5. Asking for a healing dream in the night time before I go to sleep


    • 6. Practicing stillness and loving kindness (metta) meditation


    • 7. Gardening – digging in the dirt


    8. If I had a pet, I’d cuddle with her/him/them

A friend sent me a poem today to comfort me. We’ve provided it on our global poetry page. Maybe you have a poem that has helped you and want to read that to yourself if you too are processing this incident or another one like it.

More Resources

A few articles about this May 2017 incident and Portland’s history of racism:




Books/articles that explicitly describe the The Focused Conversation Method:


Courses we give online and in person that describe the Focused Conversation Method:

ToP Facilitation Methods

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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