Wednesday, April 18, 2007

how to pre-empt mass shootings

For those of you who watch the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, you know that last night they devoted the entire hour to coverage and analysis of the VTech shooting. One segment had two experts on the criminal mind. Here is the opening introduction:
JEFFREY BROWN: We turn to Stanton Samenow, a clinical psychologist based in Alexandria, Virginia. He's the author of "Inside the Criminal Mind." And Paul Viollis, he's CEO of Risk Control Strategies, which provides security consulting for corporations and educational institutions. He's the author of "Avoiding Violence in our Schools."
Check out the transcript or view the clip here. I haven't read these books, but both experts gave testimony to the fact that in these types of cases, the perpetrator has certain defining characteristics. For example,

PAUL VIOLLIS: Typically, this type of person is someone that's found as a loner, more or less the quintessential outsider, someone that's never accepted, someone who has a difficulty accepting criticism.

This person finds himself in a position where he's constantly searching for attention, constantly searching for inner control. And if it escalates to the extent that he cannot find that, it builds to a sense of powerlessness. And when that happens, typically violence is imminent.

And from Samenow, "They do have unrealistic expectations of other people. They have this all-or-nothing thinking, but that is not mental illness."

So it seems to me, that this is somewhat systemic, in that, the perpetrator goes down a downward spiral, with behaviors that reinforce each turn. Say you are this person who is an outsider, never accepted, etc. But then some kind hearted soul reaches out to you and tries to be friends. But unbeknownst to you, you have unrealistic expectations of this kind friend, and the first time they cross you (whether real or imagined/misunderstood), you respond with exaggerated anger and perhaps even violence. Well, how is the friend going to react? I know if I were in those shoes, I would get freaked out and probably not want to be friends anymore. Indeed, I would probably warn others to stay away from "you" because I think you have a screw loose. Thus, the downward spiral. Isolation and erratic behavior beget more isolation and desperation.

I think we need to develop the response-ability to recognize these situations and stop the downward spiral. How to do that? Well, I think it has to start with our hypothetical friend. The friend needs to first recognize that unrealistic expectations were held, and then not give up on "you" so quickly. Somehow, explain that sometimes things don't go exactly as we'd like them to, but that doesn't mean the end of the world, or relationship or whatever. This is definitely the tricky part.

My two cents.


nina said...

hi tim~

this is such a complex issue. when someone has reached that place where they have spiraled to the bottom, they're likely not able to see what they're doing. they're not likely to know their triggers. and they definitely aren't going to be open to constructive criticism. i once heard if someone has been used to being cricitized, put down, etc.--when that has been their reality--it takes a LOT of positive/loving actions and words to counter just one negative comment. for some reason, that has always stayed with me.

what do we do once someone has reached that point? love them all we can w/o allowing ourselves to be an ongoing target for their anger. tricky, as you said. during a moment of open sharing, acknowledge their pain. don't judge it. don't try to fix it. offer an ear. love hangs in there.

i read this morning there were signs this young man had shown in the past, which isn't surprising. he had stalked two girls and the girls had reported it. THAT is when some sort of loving intervention needs to happen--when those behaviors are being displayed.

until we acknowledge our pain and go through the process of healing (so that we don't pass on our stuff to our children and thus repeat cycles), reach out to others and help when we can/are able, and practice love in action consciously, patiently, these sorts of emotional breakdowns will continue.

another issue to address is bullying. this young man was likely bullied/harassed in some way growing up. schools--adults--still don't get how utterly damaging this is to kids. i was the victim of bullying--both in school and at home--and it hurts deeply. those wounds take a long time to heal, often a lifetime.

i know what it's like to feel alone and isolated. and i know how scary it is to take the steps to heal and reach out. some people are simply not able to or not aware they ARE able to take such steps. we're all in this together. when we see someone who we think is spiraling downward, we need to do something without harming ourselves. that, as you said, is tricky.

good post. :)

tkn said...

Thanks nina,

Indeed, love is the answer. Your comment brought to mind an intervention type of event. Not unlike what I understand is sometimes done to help substance addicts, and I seem to recall hearing about ancient tribal customs where the whole village gets together to help a troubled member...but when you don't even know the member, people fall through the cracks, as it were, its tough. I also agree that bullying is a huge issue.

Watching the news a little while ago, I was thinking that the solution to this problem will not come from the institutions that are so thoroughly heirarchical, but rather it must come from a cultural shift initiated from the ground up.

Part of the thinking behind the open forum is to provide a social safety net, if you will. I mean, we as individuals might not have the resources to provide an economic safety net in terms of food, shelter, health care and employment, but we can create a place where people know they will be treated with respect and be allowed to express themselves without fear of humiliation. I'm not saying that someone like Seung-hui Cho might have been helped by something like the forum, but it is a shift in culture toward acceptance and community mindedness, at least.

nina said...

your comment about the ancient tribal customs reminded me of a movie i recently watched, riding alone for thousands of miles. beautiful film. part of the film includes a visit to a village in remote japan. the people truly care for one another, look out for one another (in the film that is--but i know this is true in villages across the globe). villages are small--it's easy therefore to do that. i've felt for a long time now that cities are detrimental to peace. i long to see small villages/small communities crop up again and become a way of life once more.

i used to live by people who were from a small village in kenya. they suffered quite the culture shock (this was when i lived in seattle) and the mother said she was horrified how people in the states did not really look out for one another, especially the children. it was such an amazing experience for me. the mother was so trusting of me with their little girl, right off the start. there was no distrust, no hesitation, no background checks, etc. etc.. i found it odd and refreshing at the same time.

we need to return to the level of trust again or we're really screwed. but i don't know if it's possible to do given how we live today. we need to change how we live in so many ways. now.