Bullies and a pile-up of victims — can we finally address our culture of aggression and violence?

I saw an exchange on CNN this AM with a Utah gun advocate who is training teachers on use of firearms so they can pack heat in class. The hosts seemed stunned when the guy said that parents didn’t have a right to know whether the person teaching their kid is armed in school.

BTW, Ali Velshi noted that this trainer had counseled someone who ended up on the FBI’s fugitive list, pointing out that just because someone receives training and passes muster to own and use a firearm doesn’t guarantee lawful behavior down the road.

I wish there were more serious discussions not just about the proliferation of guns in the wrong hands, but the fact that our society is full of people who have no impulse control when it comes to anger and acting out — and those people have easy access to firearms and unfortunately feel the need to use them in circumstances that formerly resulted in a shouting match or fisticuffs. What is wrong with people and what in our culture is fomenting these hair-trigger, deadly reactions, many times steeped in substance abuse?

You can’t heap all of the blame on inanimate objects — guns, video games, etc. — not everyone who owns a gun or plays violent videos becomes a spree killer. But for the vulnerable minds easily swayed by violence for pleasure we don’t seem to have any kind of handle on it, mostly because no one wants their kid labeled a sociopath. In fact, you cannot until they are an adult. The NYT article Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath? doesn’t come to a conclusion about what to do – they don’t want to label the kids, but the science shows sociopathy is hereditary, like many conditions, and in about 50% of the cases the behavior resolves at adulthood. The point is that to do the research to find a way to help the other 50%; it means assigning a label. Until we walk in those parents’ shoes, I certainly cannot fathom what can help families in this situation. The conundrum:

“Others fear that even if such a diagnosis can be made accurately, the social cost of branding a young child a psychopath is simply too high. (The disorder has historically been considered untreatable.) John Edens, a clinical psychologist at Texas A&M University, has cautioned against spending money on research to identify children at risk of psychopathy. “This isn’t like autism, where the child and parents will find support,” Edens observes. “Even if accurate, it’s a ruinous diagnosis. No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath.”

But while there is evidence that some sociopaths may come out of the womb that way, it’s clear the vast majority of these men acting out with weapons in horrific ways didn’t just become that way overnight. We are doing something terribly wrong in raising our young men they are getting the message that violence is a successful way to get a leg up one-up on someone — or to force compliance rather than communicate or negotiate.

Too many are acting out at a young age, with people looking the other way or feeling helpless to do anything. The fact that there are epidemic levels of bullying should tell us something — parents and schools are letting kids down – both the victims and the bullies. Those bullies grow up, often become supervisors, and they bully there as well. Aggression in most forms is not only tolerated in our culture, but rewarded.

Simply labeling these people “crazy” is unhelpful when most of these incidents in the news, particularly domestic disputes, involve a gun turned on family members over pointless crap.

So we will see endless, fruitless exchanges about gun rights and gun control; I don’t see a lot of hope for compromise on any front, even after Newtown. The Second Amendment is here to stay, and the fact is that there isn’t a consensus around the country about what to do, only that this situation is dire and something needs to be done.

Bullies and a pile-up of victims — can we finally address our culture of aggression and violence?

I saw an exchange on CNN this AM with a Utah gun advocate who is training teachers on use of firearms so they can pack heat in class. The hosts seemed stunned when the guy said that parents didn’t have a right to know whether the person teaching their kid is armed in school.

BTW, Ali Velshi noted that this trainer had counseled someone who ended up on the FBI’s fugitive list, pointing out that just because someone receives training and passes muster to own and use a firearm doesn’t guarantee lawful behavior down the road.

I wish there were more serious discussions not just about the proliferation of guns in the wrong hands, but the fact that our society is full of people who have no impulse control when it comes to anger and acting out — and those people have easy access to firearms and unfortunately feel the need to use them in circumstances that formerly resulted in a shouting match or fisticuffs. What is wrong with people and what in our culture is fomenting these hair-trigger, deadly reactions, many times steeped in substance abuse?

You can’t heap all of the blame on inanimate objects — guns, video games, etc. — not everyone who owns a gun or plays violent videos becomes a spree killer. But for the vulnerable minds easily swayed by violence for pleasure we don’t seem to have any kind of handle on it, mostly because no one wants their kid labeled a sociopath. In fact, you cannot until they are an adult. The NYT article Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath? doesn’t come to a conclusion about what to do – they don’t want to label the kids, but the science shows sociopathy is hereditary, like many conditions, and in about 50% of the cases the behavior resolves at adulthood. The point is that to do the research to find a way to help the other 50%; it means assigning a label. Until we walk in those parents’ shoes, I certainly cannot fathom what can help families in this situation. The conundrum:

“Others fear that even if such a diagnosis can be made accurately, the social cost of branding a young child a psychopath is simply too high. (The disorder has historically been considered untreatable.) John Edens, a clinical psychologist at Texas A&M University, has cautioned against spending money on research to identify children at risk of psychopathy. “This isn’t like autism, where the child and parents will find support,” Edens observes. “Even if accurate, it’s a ruinous diagnosis. No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath.”

But while there is evidence that some sociopaths may come out of the womb that way, it’s clear the vast majority of these men acting out with weapons in horrific ways didn’t just become that way overnight. We are doing something terribly wrong in raising our young men they are getting the message that violence is a successful way to get a leg up one-up on someone — or to force compliance rather than communicate or negotiate.

Too many are acting out at a young age, with people looking the other way or feeling helpless to do anything. The fact that there are epidemic levels of bullying should tell us something — parents and schools are letting kids down – both the victims and the bullies. Those bullies grow up, often become supervisors, and they bully there as well. Aggression in most forms is not only tolerated in our culture, but rewarded.

Simply labeling these people “crazy” is unhelpful when most of these incidents in the news, particularly domestic disputes, involve a gun turned on family members over pointless crap.

So we will see endless, fruitless exchanges about gun rights and gun control; I don’t see a lot of hope for compromise on any front, even after Newtown. The Second Amendment is here to stay, and the fact is that there isn’t a consensus around the country about what to do, only that this situation is dire and something needs to be done.

***

Workplace culture and violence

Our culture loves labeling and ranking in a survival of the fittest mode, particularly in corporate America. The bully is rewarded, specifically those who step upon the less-assertive to rise in the ranks. And who would tout this no better than former General Electric Co. CEO Jack Welch, whose infamous and blunt management style is upheld by many:

He believes that managers should assess their employees every year, and divide them into three categories: the top 20 percent, the middle 70 percent, and the bottom 10 percent.

The top 20 should be showered with praise, affection and various and generous financial rewards. “Sprinkling” financial rewards over a much larger group is a mistake, Mr. Welch argues.

The middle 70 should be given coaching, training, and thoughtful goal-setting, with an eye toward giving them an opportunity to move into the top. Keeping them motivated is the most difficult part of the manager’s task, he says. “You do not want to lose the vast majority of your middle 70 – you want to improve them,” Mr. Welch says in his 2005 book, ”Winning.”

As for the bottom 10 percent, “there is no sugarcoating this,” Mr. Welch says. “They have to go.”

Critics say this forced ranking undermines team work. It encourages employees to engage in destructive and wasteful game-playing designed to ensure they get credit, or others don’t.

This cold attitude may work on the surface in some workplaces, but it certainly won’t with many employees simply not built for the cutthroat environment — and those people are weeded out by one particular standard.  Who knows whether that “bottom 10″ might thrive elsewhere under different circumstances (hey, some of that group may not be able to cut it anywhere). But it’s what constitutes failure — and how management handles supervisors who are overly ambitious to the point of being abusive to their subordinates. It often rewards them for  being “tough” or “can-do”. And the message to workers is that reporting the abuse only exacerbates the stress and punishment.

In a gun-soaked culture, it’s not surprising that workplace violence (not a focus in the discussion about what occurred in Newtown, since it’s largely debated as an issue of  innocent kids getting mowed down, not teachers and working conditions) isn’t on the NRA’s agenda. Yeah, let’s just arm everyone on the job — there’s the ticket.

Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. Homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.

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