Cat Up a Tree

June 29, 2009
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

I’m in Akron, OH this week conducting training for a group of teachers from a charter school. Good bunch of Midwestern folk who have never been through the program before. It’s always nice to have participants who have no knowledge of the course. Fresh minds and impartial attitudes for me to work with.

One of my participants showed me a cartoon of a cat stuck in a tree holding a shotgun. The owner of the cat is on the phone asking the fire department whether they consider that type of situation an emergency. It actually looks a lot funnier than I am able to describe it here. It reminded me how we sometimes forget that threatening behavior is a crisis behavior that should be treated, if not as an emergency, then as something we should vigorously consider.

Consider that when someone makes a threat they are giving you a warning. They are saying, “I’ve thought about this action, but I haven’t done it yet. I may engage in this behavior and I’m just letting you know. Whether I do it or not, depends largely upon you.” This is not necessarily a bad thing. Because if someone is going to carry out a threat, personally, I would like to know in advance so that I can help prevent it from happening. Or at the very least, prepare for what may be inevitable.

We have a bad habit in this country of ignoring threats. I hear people all the time tell me that they are threatened on a daily basis and if they took every single threat seriously, then it would consume all of their time and resources. The problem with that logic is that there really is no way to predict whether someone is going to carry out a threat or not. If you don’t prepare, you won’t be ready when it happens.

Another aspect to consider is that ignoring threats sends a message to the person making the threat that their threat-making behavior is acceptable. They then may consider that if making threats is OK then taking it to the next level (carrying out the threat) must be OK too. For that reason, something needs to be done when a threat is made, if for no other reason than to let the person who made the threat know that you find their behavior unacceptable and there could be consequences for their actions.

People don’t like to be ignored. Sending a message that you may harm yourself or other people can be looked upon as a cry for help in some cases. And there is no good reason to ignore something like that. Making threats is a crisis behavior. Let’s do more to pay attention to this kind of behavior and avoid falling into the trap of ignoring it. Unlike that cartoon, threats are not funny, especially when they are carried out.

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