Jeremy Brewer: A strategy for supporting and listening to others

Recorded atMay 18, 2020
Duration (min:sec)07:00
Video TypeTED Stage Talk
Words per minute153.39 medium
Readability (FK)63.31 easy
SpeakerJeremy Brewer

Official TED page for this talk


As a police officer, Jeremy Brewer interacts with individuals experiencing trauma and loss on a daily basis. Giving us a peek into this little-discussed aspect of the job, Brewer shares thoughtful insights on why respecting people's space is sometimes more important than trying to fix an unfixable moment -- and explains how you can use this approach to support someone when they need you the most.

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100:13 I'm not sure what you might think
200:15 when you think about the job of a police officer.
300:18 Recent events have sparked lots of debate over the role of law enforcement
400:21 in our society
500:23 and if it should change.
600:25 And that's a big, important conversation that we all need have.
700:29 But today I'd like to talk about something
800:32 that's at the core to my day-to-day work --
900:34 something not often discussed when talking about police work,
1000:38 and that's dealing with trauma, hurt and loss.
1100:42 What's it like to tell someone --
1200:43 someone that they know,
1300:45 someone that they love died suddenly?
1400:48 Many of you might think this is done by hospitals or doctors.
1500:52 If you die there, well, it usually is.
1600:54 If you die outside the hospital,
1700:57 it's more often than not the police who notify that nearest loved one.
1801:02 Doing that type of work has taught me powerful lessons
1901:06 on approaching highly charged situations in all areas of my life.
2001:11 My passion to connect started about 10 years ago.
2101:15 I responded to a death call that changed me.
2201:19 A woman -- let's call her Vicky.
2301:21 Vicky called because her husband had suddenly collapsed
2401:24 in the hallway of their home.
2501:26 The first responders and I tried everything.
2601:28 We gave it our best effort,
2701:31 but he died.
2801:33 In complete devastation,
2901:35 Vicky fell to the floor.
3001:37 Instantly, I could feel us strapping on that emotional armor,
3101:42 going right to work on policies and procedures.
3201:45 I began peppering her with questions like detailed medical history
3301:48 and funeral home arrangements.
3401:51 Questions that she couldn't possibly have been prepared to answer.
3501:56 In an empathetic gesture,
3601:58 I reached down and I put my hand on her shoulder.
3702:01 She flinched and pulled away.
3802:04 Suddenly, her neighbor came running in
3902:07 and instantly hugged her.
4002:10 Vicky pushed her away too.
4102:12 The neighbor seemed stunned,
4202:14 a little put off,
4302:16 and she walked back out.
4402:18 Then, to make matters worse,
4502:20 the medical examiner's office,
4602:22 carrying the body bag holding her husband,
4702:25 dropped it down a flight of stairs,
4802:29 crashing into a decorative end table.
4902:33 I will never forget the sound of her voice
5002:36 when she looked at me and said,
5102:39 "I wish I never called."
5202:41 I felt awful.
5302:44 Being confronted with death can be difficult for everyone.
5402:48 Often we rely solely on our instincts to help guide us.
5502:52 In law enforcement,
5602:53 we tend to put up an emotional shield,
5702:55 a barrier to emotions.
5802:57 That way we can focus on policies and procedures
5903:00 to guide us.
6003:02 This is why we can sometimes come across as robotic.
6103:06 I've discovered that in the civilian world,
6203:08 you're often driven by that instinct to fix it,
6303:12 usually done with well-intended comments or physical touch.
6403:16 Sometimes that may be that right answer.
6503:20 Other times, not.
6603:23 Had I slowed down and just taken a breath,
6703:27 I would have been better able to connect to the humanity of that moment.
6803:31 I could have avoided that policy and procedure, check-the-box mentality.
6903:35 Her neighbor, had she slowed down,
7003:38 just taken a breath,
7103:39 she may have been able to see that in that moment,
7203:43 Vicky just wasn't prepared for touch.
7303:46 Our hearts may have been in the right place,
7403:48 but we made it about us instead of focusing on her.
7503:54 In complete contrast,
7603:55 more recently,
7703:57 I met a woman -- let's call her Monica.
7804:00 I was tasked to tell Monica
7904:02 that her husband had tragically taken his own life.
8004:06 She fell to the floor crying so hard she could barely breathe.
8104:10 The gravity of that moment was so strong,
8204:13 but I knew I needed to resist that urge to move in
8304:17 and to comfort her.
8404:18 That sounds crazy, right?
8504:20 Honestly, it's excruciating.
8604:22 In your mind and in your heart, you just want to hug this person.
8704:26 But I stopped myself.
8804:28 Having been around trauma for over 20 years,
8904:30 I will tell you
9004:32 not everybody is comfortable with human touch.
9104:35 There are people all over the world
9204:36 suffering from physical or psychological trauma
9304:40 you may know nothing about.
9404:42 Who knows what they're thinking or feeling in those moments.
9504:46 If I move in,
9604:47 if I touch her like I did Vicky,
9704:50 I could unintentionally revictimize her all over again.
9804:56 Think: respect space.
9904:58 Be guided by respect space.
10005:00 It's a simple concept with a huge impact.
10105:03 You can't step into that space until you're invited.
10205:09 So I sat across from Monica,
10305:11 silent,
10405:13 eye level,
10505:14 just feeling that moment.
10605:17 My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it.
10705:19 That lump in my throat?
10805:21 Ugh, I -- I could barely swallow.
10905:23 And you know what?
11005:25 That's OK.
11105:28 Emotions and vulnerability can be so hard for some people.
11205:32 I understand that.
11305:34 But in human moments, people want human.
11405:37 They don't want a robotic police officer or to be talking about paperwork.
11505:41 They just want another human to connect to them.
11605:46 As we sat together,
11705:47 she asked me one question over and over and over again.
11805:52 "What am I supposed to tell my kids?"
11905:55 One of the most important parts of respecting space
12005:58 is not always having to have an answer.
12106:01 I could feel she didn't want me to answer that question.
12206:05 She didn't want me to try to fix that unfixable moment.
12306:07 She wanted me to connect to the depth of that experience
12406:11 she was going through.
12506:13 Yes, I had a job to do.
12606:14 And when the time was right,
12706:16 I asked the questions that needed to be answered,
12806:19 but I did it at her pace.
12906:22 Responding to death calls has taught me so much about the human experience
13006:27 and the best ways to be there for somebody when they need you the most.
13106:31 But it doesn't always have to be when dealing with death.
13206:34 There's never a bad time to build a connection.
13306:37 Hearing a private revelation from a friend,
13406:40 you could be such a better listener.
13506:42 In an argument with a loved one,
13606:44 by just stepping back and giving that respect space,
13706:47 you could better connect to their side of an issue.
13806:50 You may never be asked to tell a complete stranger
13906:53 that their loved one died,
14006:55 but we all have the opportunity
14106:57 to be the best, most connected versions of ourselves,
14207:00 especially in times of need.
14307:03 That respect space that you provide another
14407:06 can have a life-changing effect on the people around you.
14507:11 Thank you.