How We Should Prevent School Shootings and Other Acts of Terror

October 16, 2015
Kendra Stea
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

After the more recent school and university shootings, I found myself reading Mark Manson’s article from May 2014, How We All Miss the Point on School Shootings. I was intrigued by his message:

“Every school shooting incident comes in the same dreary package: an angry, politically-charged rant, shrink-wrapped around a core of mental illness and neglect. These shooters leave behind journals, videos, diagrams, manifestos and treatises. They broadcast their plans and intentions to their friends and family. They email news outlets minutes before they start firing. They write down their plans and make checklists so that others may follow in their footsteps. They go on angry rants against materialism, hedonism, the government, mass media, women, and sometimes even the people close to them.

“And each time, as a culture, we work ourselves into a frenzy debating the angry exterior message, while ignoring the interior life and context of each killer. We miss the point entirely.”

The last line in particular caught my attention because I, like Mr. Manson, have felt like we are missing the picture. Surely if we had the puzzle pieces together; if it really was just about gun control, mental health treatment, social justice, and gender equality, it seems like we’d be closer to figuring it out than we are.

According to Manson’s article, the FBI defines mass shootings as shooting events that kill at least four people. He goes on to say that the FBI says that mass shootings occur every two weeks in the United States, though we really hear about few of them.

The ones we do hear about are especially painful for me as an individual who works with schools (and other organizations) working toward creating cultures of nonviolence.

These are the situations that capture the stage of the media. And while these events have raised the awareness of many, as Manson states, we seem caught by surprise when a school shooting occurs.

Maybe this is because the media shields us from the truth and allows us to believe that these events “happen out of nowhere.”

When the reality is that they are often well-planned out, and the killers have been broadcasting their upcoming crimes through behaviors and words.

If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you know that I regularly find myself quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “Violence is the language of the unheard,” and then challenging the persons within earshot to HEAR people even when they are simply anxious. Challenging all of us to raise our awareness and engage a person when things don’t seem quite right.

Mr. Manson ties it to empathy, and the power of listening to others around you. If you have engaged with me even a little through this blog, you’ve seen me decry the stigmatization over talking about mental health issues; making it absolutely normal for your child, or you, to say, “Hey, there’s a person I know and he’s talking a lot about killing people.”

In so many instances the messages are out there. And I echo Mr. Manson’s tenet that we fail to have empathy, and I would say, the courage to do something about it.

So once again, this is my call to action for all of you who are daily working to prevent an episode of workplace violence—whether that’s verbal aggression, physical aggression, incivility, or someone planning to cause great harm to others by use of bombs or guns or knives:

If violence is the language of the unheard, and all behavior is communication, let us all hear each other when we are simply anxious.

“Violence is the language of the unheard.”

Do not allow another person to go unheard to the point where they act to be heard. Take empathy, engage them, report it, talk about it with anyone, but don’t ignore it or pretend they don’t mean it.

We are all passionate about the issues that are the external face of this act of terrorism facing our nation, but I think Mr. Manson said it best:

“And while we’re all fighting over whose pet cause is more right and more true and more noble, there’s likely another young man out there, maybe suicidally depressed, maybe paranoid and delusional, maybe a psychopath, and he’s researching guns and bombs and mapping out schools and recording videos and thinking every day about the anger and hate he feels for this world.

“And no one is paying attention to him.”

Let’s stop diverting our attention from the one thing we have most control over. It can be easy for us to blame. It can be easy for us to externalize our fears about the “causes” of such atrocities. Instead, let us simply listen and empathize with people, and then take the bold step to actually do something with what we know.

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