Mass shootings are becoming more common in today’s world, and while there are many debates about the best way to reduce their numbers, one major issue is the idea of warning signs. Sometimes these warning signs go ignored, even if there are social media posts or threats made beforehand. I had a chance to interview Christine Miles, author of the award winning book, What Is It Costing You Not To Listen? Miles known as the listening guru says it is because we truly do not listen to what is in front of us. We listen she says but only truly listen to 3% and ignore what it is said until it is too late.
Often in the face of tragic crimes, people will say that they didn’t expect it – but then later, warning signs will come out. Why are warning signs often overlooked?
The recent mass shootings in Texas and Buffalo are unimaginable for the majority of us. It is beyond most peoples’ scope to understand how someone would take such extreme and heinous actions and it is human nature is to explain away the actions and behaviors we don’t understand. When it comes to warning signs, we tell ourselves a story like “that person is weird, or different,” rather than “that person is capable of committing a mass shooting.” We are not taught to dig deeper and look beyond the surface of what we noticed or what the future perpetrator has said. Our subconscious brain tells us, “he won’t go to those lengths” and we talk ourselves out of what goes beyond our reference point.
How can people be more alert to potential warning signs that might lead up to violent crimes?
When we go back to people around the perpetrator after an atrocity is committed, they often say, “I knew something wasn’t right.” It’s clear looking back but hindsight is 20/20. The first step to heeding the warning signs is to slow down, listen to yourself, and trust your instincts. If you are saying to yourself, “something doesn’t seem right,” then listen, pay attention, and tune into what you’re feeling. You don’t need to be a psychologist to know if the person fits the profile of a mass shooter; you just need to listen to your own story in response to them.
What are ways to better recognize danger signs, and what are appropriate ways to act on that information?
Danger signs are not typically a scream, they are more like a whisper. We hear and or see some signs, but they are not alarming. The clues tend to be more subtle. It is human nature to worry more about “what if I say something and I am wrong?”, rather than “what if I am right?” Follow the Department of Homeland Security slogan, “if you see something, say something.” When we hear or see something that doesn’t seem right, tell yourself a different story: What if I am right? What is the worst thing that can happen if I say something? It is better to risk being overly cautious rather than saying nothing at all. The new story reframes the worry and gives us permission to act.
Why do we so often listen to the warning signs and not act until it’s too late?
It can be very difficult to empathize and understand people who commit these horrific crimes and take the lives of innocent people. People who are in pain more often inflict pain on themselves. Less frequently, people in pain inflict pain on others, but there is still a correlation. Like instances of sexually abuse, approximately 2/3 of men who are abused do not become abusers, but about a 1/3 do. Similarly, people who have been marginalized, bullied, abused, or suffer from mental illness, will more often hurt themselves, but the cycle does occur where they will retaliate by hurting others. When we see or hear warning signs, it is usually a cry for help from someone in pain that they need our help. We need to see the warning signs as a message from them of “please see me, pay attention to me, understand I am in pain. Please stop me.” Action is a gift of seeing someone who is in pain and preventing future loss and pain.
How can we truly understand and listen to what people are saying before it is too late?
We too often believe we need to have the answers when we hear someone in pain or observe warning signs of potentially destructive behavior. We put ourselves in a position where we think we have to somehow solve the pain or the problem. Instead, the answer is to bear witness to someone’s pain. Ask them to “tell you more” or ask “how are you feeling?” It’s amazing what people will tell you when you ask these two simple questions. By doing so, you will get more insight into your concerns and be in a better position to understand if you need to involve the police, family, a counselor, or all of the above.