TED Fellow and TED 2019 speaker Brandon Anderson met his partner in school. They got engaged, but his soon-to-be died at the hands of police brutality. Years later, the Iraq vet founded the police reporting hub Raheem. On the platform, residents share their interactions with the police. The data can then be shared with police oversight boards and other governing bodies to enact change.

"Raheem is like Waze for reporting police," Anderson told me. "A single report builds onto a larger ecosystem that maps police conduct over time. Policymakers, public defenders and communities leverage the reporters in aggregate to address police violence at scale."

According to Anderson, Raheem has garnered more than 12,000 messages within the community, with twice as much data in its first three months in San Francisco than the city did in an entire year. The feedback is giving metrics to implement change.

Anderson now is helping others in ways he could not help his late fiancé. It required transforming pain into hope.

Grief as a motivator

There are certain setbacks in which willpower will not help us. Loved ones die, chronic pain stays with us and even significant relationships can't always be rebuilt.  The question is, what do you do with that energy, that longing and that power? You have to transmute it into something else.

It sometimes turns us into creators.

Anderson did two tours in post-9/11 Iraq using his mapping skills to keep soldiers safe. His partner died shortly after. Anderson realized his same skills could help keep people safe on American soil. The tragedy transformed his vision of how he could make the world better.

I recently shared TED speakers Mark Pollock and Simone George, a couple who persevered after Pollock became paraplegic. That energy, that grief, turned them into fierce handicapable activists. They now partner with scientists to help rehabilitate paraplegic patients.

Pollock summed it up well:

The optimists rely on hope alone and they risk being disappointed and demoralized. The realists, on the other hand, they accept the brutal facts and they keep hope alive as well. The realists have managed to resolve the tension between acceptance and hope by running them in parallel.

It has to run parallel, the pain and the growth. One feeds the other. Both are true.

Innovation comes from the need for peace

After his TED Talk, Anderson shared with me that his path wasn't unique. He is a long line of innovators sparked by a difficult truth:

We are often driven to purpose by our pain. Mary Davidson, a Black woman with multiple sclerosis, invented the walker. Marie Ban Brittan Brown, a full-time nurse, devised a system that would alert her when she was away from home, laying the groundwork for the home security systems we use today. I invented Raheem and have committed my life to end police violence because it got in the way of building an intimate, meaningful relationship with the single, most important person in my life -- while serving in this country's military. 

Learning to help the world after your own grief may feel altruistic. It also may be the best way to process your own journey and perhaps find peace in helping others experiencing the same crisis.