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Gabrielle Giffords and the Tragedy in Tucson: Lessons Moving Forward

January 9, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords and the Tragedy in Tucson: Lessons Moving Forward

Much has been written about this horrific event. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is in critical condition from being shot in the head, six others are dead, including District Judge John Roll, and many others wounded. All of these people cared about their community and country or they would not have been attending this “Congress on Your Corner” event – even  the youngest of them, who may have been there more to learn than anything else. Our hearts, prayers, and thoughts are with all of them and their families.

Representative Giffords is a young and talented public servant, who has demonstrated integrity, courage, intelligence, and grace during her service in Congress and in Tucson. What prompted the gun shooter to target her is one of the big unknowns of this tragedy. Unfortunately, this seems to be part of a larger pattern in which relatively young people go on rampages. Columbine was one of the first that I recall and shootings at several other public schools followed. Then there was the killing spree at Virginia Tech. In September a student with an AK-47 assault rifle terrorized the campus at the University of Texas at Austin. What all of these terrible events have in common is that they were committed by people in their teens or early twenties.

These young people seem to have been full of rage. Different motives may be behind their fatal actions. In some cases, the motivation stemmed from bullying and feeling alienated or disenfranchised. In other cases, the killers were angry or about a specific event in which they felt they were treated unfairly or meanly. Politics and religious motivations were behind some violent actions as well, including plots to attack military bases such as Fort Dix. None of these are excuses or valid rationalizations for hostile or violent behavior.

Unfortunately, these hostile incidents are not limited to young people. Adults fired from jobs have returned to the workplace to shoot their former managers and coworkers. There have also been several other incidents by people who consider themselves victims.

It seems to me that another common denominator is that the people behind these shootings do not know how to channel, process, or express their anger in constructive ways. To my knowledge, this is not taught in our schools. I am not talking about just values education. Rather I am thinking about behavioral and experiential training that will develop skills and knowledge for responding appropriately and positively to the hostility of others (e.g., bullying, scapegoating, extortion, threats); feeling excluded, alienated or treated unfairly; or having some other grievance. Developing this competency requires coaching, repeated practice, and behavioral feedback.

Life is not fair and all of us feel mistreated occasionally, some of us more than others. Perhaps we will have far fewer of these tragic incidents if one of the life skills developed in schools is the ability to handle these challenges constructively and proficiently, rather than by striking back or striking out at others. How can we help people respond positively when being mistreated or feeling singled out unfairly? This is a competency or skill set that seems to be underdeveloped and perhaps it’s time we focus on it.

We cannot flourish if we do not know how to overcome setbacks, bad breaks, and mean-spirited behavior from others. Feeling justified because we may have been victimized is not a justification. A victim mentality spawns anger and hostility, which does not produce positive or fulfilling outcomes. And no one comes out ahead or wins as a result, including the perpetrator.

If any good is to come from the tragic events in Tucson and all the unnecessary deaths and injuries, perhaps it will be a more concerted effort to prevent these incidents in the future, including behavioral training programs for rebounding from adversity constructively. Whatever we are doing now is not decreasing the frequency of these horrific acts.

Let’s find ways to help our young people develop the skills for overcoming adversity, finding paths to personal fulfillment, and flourishing – instead of self-destructing and ruining other lives.

And let’s pray for Gabrielle Giffords and all those slain or wounded in Tucson, Arizona. We owe it to them to do all we can to prevent future tragedies.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Visit our new website: FindFulfillFlourish.com. Take the FREE Guiding Values Exercise. Please give is feedback.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2011 3:13 pm

    This is a BRILLIANT insight, Steve. I hope many people read – and decide to act on – your thoughtful suggestion.

    Laura

    • January 10, 2011 4:32 pm

      Thanks Laura. I appreciate your feedback and hope people do act on it.
      Steve

  2. January 11, 2011 10:15 am

    Thanks Steve for your great insight into this issue.
    Judy

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