I received an outline of a shooting incident. Later I requested and received a detailed account of the incident.
This article is largely my e-mail response that replies to the very detailed account of the incident -- which I could not include because of it's length. In the next paragraph, I have included a summary of the detailed account of the incident that was sent to me at my request. All names have been changed to protect the people involved.
Summary of the detailed e-mail account which I requested.
"One of my employees got upset and left the building and returned with a gun fatally shooting another coworker. I was the 2nd shift manager, and there was a total of 40 of us there that night. You asked me if you could put my story in your magazine (on your Web site). The trial is still pending. However, I write this to you now because I want to do something to prevent my situation from occurring at another workplace.
"The the story does not stop with the shooting. I want to find a way to lobby in order to implement a law that will make O.S.H.A. force management to check employee references before they are hired. I want O.S.H.A. to make violence in the workplace more than a gray area, and for companies to stand by their employees instead of sweeping incidents like this one under the carpet. I just don't know where to begin.
"I am still in therapy. I can attempt to claim workers' compensation because of the Bailey ruling. If you have suggestions on how I can achieve some type of satisfaction and help myself I would appreciate it. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, (name withheld)".
[In Bailey vs United States, the Supreme Court ruled that possession of a firearm does not constitute "use" of the firearm. It is not completely clear how this ruling would assist this person's workers' compensation claim except that a gun was "used" and contributed to the 2nd shift manager's on the job emotional injury.]
My e-mail response.
I've studied your case write up about the shooting at your factory.
First, I understand the nature of PTSD, which is what you have as a result of the shooting incident. As you are aware, unless a person experiences such an event there is no way that person can really know what it was like. At the same time when a person is not yet healed from the PTSD, which takes quite a while in most cases, she or he wants to correct the situation so that it never happens again...and that is felt in a desperate way that is valid. That is why you have the desire to do everything you can to prevent such a shooting happening elsewhere.
Additionally, when someone comes along to "analyze" the situation it is too intellectual and does not dispell the emotional charge that is behind the PTSD responses and reactions for example: fear of dark, hypervigilance etc.
So what I say about your organization and the incident may not help you with your present emotional state. It may help later on.
There are two problems that will be in the way of your hearing what I have to say and there is no blame about this. The first problem is of course that you are still within the PTSD syndrome, so emotionally you are not in a place to take in an "intellectual analysis."
The second problem is that even if you were not within your present state of emotional injury, it would be hard to grasp the concepts I present here. The reason why it is hard to grasp the concepts is that none of us were taught these concepts in school as we should have been. We have not learned to learn behaviorally in school. We are generally more ignorant of human behavior and how group behaviors affect individual behavior than we realize. We may find this out later in life, but only after a great deal of study
The responses of the people, Jebb, Craig, Steven, Oliver, HR People, and the owners all demonstrate the ignorance that is representative of the normal mental awareness of any workplace. Notice how none of these people can face conflict. The simple example of how you asked these people to speak to your coworker Nina about a conflict you were having with her -- and they promised they would and never did -- shows their inability to get beyond shame feelings that come up when they think about facing conflict.
At present, you may not be able to take this in fully. But, everyone at your workplace is caught in a psychic, a mental, field of shame. No one there, not just you, can confront conflict because of a shame bind that enforces the norm of "don't confront conflict."
In social psychology, this is called normative shame about facing behavior. Not even the counselor(s) that you interacted with likely know about this and were caught in the group normative field of shame about facing conflict. Crisis counselors should explain to the owners the problem of the organization not facing conflict so that the pattern can be broken. Only the top people in the organization can change a norm like this. Even the owner is locked into shame about facing conflict. How long did it take for the owner to talk to you about what happened? Did he ever, and with what depth? None is likely.
Here is another difficult concept.
When the group norm is to not face conflict openly and easily, then everyone in that group shares that behavior. And you are a member of that group, so therefore you do not face conflict openly, and that is why you did not confront Sarah the shooter. The group norm of not facing conflict had you in it's grip. This is a fact of social psychology.
Another group norm in your work organization is blame. Blame is so common a behavior that people are not even aware of the intricacies of assigning blame. "Blame soup" everywhere in your organizatioin. People blame each other and people blame themselves. Notice how the secretary wanted to blame you for the systems issue of not confronting Sarah the shooter...and then you blamed yourself. Everytime someone hinted that it might be your fault, then you went into self-blame which is self-shame and immobilization. But you are not to blame, you were acting from within the systems norm.
Over time during your healing, study and learn about the nature of SYSTEMS and the impact systems have on individuals in that system. The entire incident, every detail, could be predicted by anyone with systems knowledge. But no one had this knowledge and the very fact of not having the knowledge is normative there. Ignorance of systems and the norm that prohibits facing conflict is the reason for the shooting. No one person could or can break that norm and remain in the group. You were a supervisor, so of course you followed the norm of not facing conflict with Sarah (the shooter).
To be chosen as a supervisor you have to have been unconsciously "okayed" as a person who can both follow the norms and enforce the norms. But people there are unaware of this fact: it is an unconscious process of the group. Since time began we all follow group norms unconsciously. We have to or we are ejected from the group and to be outside the group would have meant death early in our evolution.
What does normative mean? It means that everyone in a group system must adhere to the norms psychically in order to remain within that system. If one deviates from the norm, then that person is ejected from the system. That ejection can be subtle or it can be more overt. Jebb, the plant manager, is an example of someone who was enforcing the norm of don't face conflict by telling everyone to shut up and "get over it." These people now want you to leave. Why? Because you are beginning to break for yourself both the norm of ignorance around behavior and the group norm of not facing conflict.
You are now asking people to face this issue, to look at conflict, and do something about it, when the norm is to sweep it under the rug, because anything behavioral is shaming -- and not to be faced within that group. Do you see this presently happening? How you want people to face conflict now: to look at what has happened and will happen in the future? You are breaking the group norm. So they want you to leave unless you can retreat into sweeping things under the rug which is the norm. This is so simple, but so far from people's understanding. Why? People are not taught to see fundamentals of group behavior in school. People don't understand their own unconscious motives and actions because they were never taught to see behaviors and their sources without feeling shame.
It is important to understand that O.S.H.A. will not prevent shooting situations, that laws will not prevent shooting situations. The only thing that will help prevent shootings is for people to be able to face any conflict openly and easily before it escalates. And people are not going to be able to do that until they understand why they do not face conflict openly and easily now. Do you see the shame bind here? People have shame about past behaviors --- so much shame that it prevents them from seeing their own shame and seeing that shame is preventing people from facing and resolving conflict before it escalates into violence.
Education is the only way to prevent the kind of situation you have been through. No way will the owners do a thing about your workplace that will change anything in any basic way. The reason is they are lacking the awareness of their own shame feelings about facing conflict which pervades the entire organization along with the blame norm.
Not facing conflict early causes all kinds of long term accumulated consequences even when shootings do not occur. One of the biggest reasons for of all kinds of work abuse is shame about facing conflict. We call this kind of work abuse "denial of due process."
What has happened is you have become a scapegoat in the system. Management of your workplace focuses blame on you rather than change the system; that makes blaming you an easier option than looking for the reason for the shooting within the system itself, the system norms.
I can only hope that over time you may understand how your work system prevented you from facing the conflict between two workers before the shooting occurred. You are not to blame, because it is a systems issue. The work system, which is the responsibility of the owner, is to blame for the shooting. But the owner, like everyone else, is unaware of this truth.