Don Shomette

People are the Prize

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Throwing a Can of Soup at an Attacker: Good or Bad Idea?

As the new year is about to begin, some schools soup-smallare considering whether to require students to place a can of soup on their desk to be used against a school attacker. This decision, like any new safety initiative, has to weigh the desired outcome of the new policy against the application of the new procedures. In other words, is it worth it? Can we do it? Will it be something that we can maintain?

First, in theory the strategy of throwing a can of soup at the attacker is a great idea. Absolutely, do anything you can to survive even if that means throwing something—anything—at the school attacker if it helps you or others.

Application of this tactic however, is something completely different.

In your mind’s eye, imagine someone storming into your office to commit violence against you. Is your first thought to throw something at them? If not your first, how about your second, third, or fourth course of action? Chances are if you’re like the vast majority of people confronted with an immediate threat, throwing something at the attacker is not even a consideration.

Why do I say this?

I don’t know of a single school attack or an active shooter incident where a student or a person threw something at the attacker. Not even in the recent attack in Orlando where many of those in that tragedy were already holding something (glass and/or bottle) in their hand and nearly all were adults. If there was ever a time that someone would have thrown something at the attacker, it seems like it would have happened there.

But it didn’t because throwing something at a threat is not what we naturally do during a crisis.

There are three things that we do naturally during a crisis and that’s run, hide, and fight. This strategy, unlike the tactic of a can of soup placed on the student’s desk, was revealed to us and not created by us. In other words, after observing human behavior during numerous attacks it was revealed that people will basically do three things—run, hide, fight or some combination of the three. Therefore, it was not a case of someone coming up with what they considered a successful strategy and then telling people how to do it. People were already successfully doing it and we simply gave their behavior a name—run, hide, fight.

Telling a person to throw something at the attacker is not a natural behavior, but a created tactic.

This tactic has one great flaw, as do so many of the new strategies and tactics being created in a real effort to help people survive a school attack and an active shooter incident, which is that they demand a new behavior that is not natural to the person.

Yes, it is possible to make a person perform in a manner that is ‘unnatural’ to them, but it requires enormous and consistent amounts of training. It is not natural to run into a burning building or towards a person shooting at you, but we have people who can do it and it takes of years (or even decades) of training and re-training to make it possible. We don’t have that kind of time and we’ll never have the kind of time in the schools.

It’s so much easier to prepare a person to be successful, especially during high pressure and dangerous situations, by enhancing the behavior he or she is already naturally inclined to implement.

The most beneficial element about the concept of throwing a stapler, book, can of soup or some other object at the attacker is that it helps to instill in the person a mindset to do whatever they must to survive. The problem is that the application as a tactic is not feasible. People do not do it and if they’re not going to do it, regardless of how great of a strategy, it’s not beneficial as a tactic.

Instead, invest your time by enhancing those behaviors that have already been proven to be very successful in saving lives, reducing physical harm, and limiting emotional suffering. Train your students and staff members to better implement the strategy of run, hide, fight and it will not only save you time, but most important, it will give your school community the greatest opportunity for success.

>>>>>>>>>>If you liked this article, then you’ll like the professional development ACT FAST: Surviving a School Attack with Run, Hide, Fight. A train-the-trainer course that gives school leaders the skills and materials to teach their school community how to better implement run, hide, and fight.

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Fire Drills: The Model for Preventing School Attacks

“Why do we have so many fire drills each year? We haven’t had a major fire inside a school in a very long time.”

I get this sentiment completely and it makes perfect sense, but there’s another way of looking at it.

Fire is still a serious threat. That hasn’t changed and never will, but how we view fire has changed greatly. We no longer fear it as we once did because, over the decades, we’ve greatly enhanced our ability to prevent fire by implementing effective procedures, creating better fire-resistant building materials, redesigning schools to stop or limit the spread of fire, and instituting a mindset of fire prevention in our students, teachers, and staff members. If you’re getting tired and bored with doing fire drills, that’s not by accident. In fact, it’s exactly how you’re supposed to feel at this stage of the game.

Try to think of it this way.

We had a serious problem that was a very real threat. We worked the problem, faced it head-on, implemented and re-implemented new prevention efforts until we got it right, and now, we’re enjoying the fruits of our diligence.

This is a huge win!

Don’t get bored or tired with fire drills, celebrate the fact that we worked together to mitigate what once was a terrible threat into something that we no longer fear. At least not like we used to.

We also have a concrete example that we can follow. Let’s take this successful model and apply it to preventing the school attack. That’s our serious problem and it’s a very real threat. So, let’s work the problem, face it head-on, and implement and re-implement new prevention efforts until we get it right.

Let’s quickly get to the day that we’re bored with doing lockdown drills…

With the start of a new school year, everyone’s required to conduct a series of mandatory fire drills in quick succession. During each fire drill, let it be a reminder of how far we’ve come and what great things we can do when we work diligently to solve a problem. We should—we must—do the same in preventing violence and the school attack.

We were successful in limiting the threat of fire, we can have the same success in limiting the threat of school attacks.


2 Ways to Limit Retaliation


Everyone has heard the phrase “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi both famously said that if we follow this law then the world will be blind and toothless. They were speaking only of the vindictive or retributive aspect attributed to this saying. However, this phrase has another meaning.

It was a violence prevention measure and is perhaps the world’s first codified example of man trying to limit violence.

The phrase is contained inside the Hammurabi Code which was written by the King of Babylon nearly 3,500 years ago. It was an attempt to control, limit, and reduce violence by reminding the victim that his response must be proportionate to the wrong inflicted. You can’t do worse than what was done to you. For example, if someone killed your goat you didn’t have the right to then burn down their home and kill their family. It had to be an ‘eye for an eye’ which covered the huge transgressions and a ‘tooth for a tooth’ which applied to the minor offenses.

A student who is yelled at by a teacher is never justified to retaliate with a cussing rant, throwing his books, slamming the desk, or storming out of the classroom. The response is totally inappropriate.

A student who is bullied, treated poorly or even horribly, isn’t then justified in attacking the school. Murder is not the appropriate response. In fact, there is no real or perceived injustice that a student can ever experience in a school that would then equal out to murdering his peers and teachers.

This doesn’t mean in any way that an ‘eye for an eye’ policy should become our standard practice. A student yelled at by a teacher cannot then yell back at a teacher and a bullied student cannot then bully another student. A person can always protect himself, but one wrong doesn’t then justify another wrong. Unfortunately, too many students and adults feel that this is acceptable practice and we see it played out with horrible results in our schools, families, and society.

A person is killed by a police officer so five police officers are killed in another state. The response is totally inappropriate and no real or perceived injustice could ever justify such an extreme act.

What we learn from the ‘eye for an eye’ phrase, as well as current events, is that people have always needed and will always need strong leadership and clear mechanisms to help temper their response when they have suffered an injustice, real or perceived. If left unfiltered, too many will retaliate too often with greater violence and worse acts of injustice.

As a leader, there’s two things we can do:

1) Set high standards:
Never accept or make excuses for inappropriate responses. Remind students and adults that going overboard will never be permitted. Be quick to insist, “You cannot hit someone because they called you a bad name…you cannot publicly disparage someone because they did something you thought was dumb…you cannot destroy or steal another’s stuff because they treated you badly…you cannot hurt someone because you’re mad at them.”

This is not a cry for punishment, but an insistence on establishing and maintain high standards because it’s the best thing for people. High standards help people during very emotional moments to choose the better way. Instead of giving in to the heat of the moment, they may exert restraint due to the fact that only certain behaviors are accepted.

“We don’t do that here,” is a great personal motto and high standard as is “You’re responsible for your actions and your response to the actions of others.”

When we place a high expectation on appropriate behavior we get good behaviors. When we place the same high premium on making an appropriate response, especially during bad situations, we condition our people to be better able to endure bad moments without making them worse.

For the sake of everyone, set high standards.

2) Get Involved.
Kids wrongly believe that a public humiliation requires a public and greater retaliation. If you see or hear something degrading that has been committed against a student, act on it immediately. Don’t let it sit. The longer these things go without being addressed, the worse they usually become. Get out in front of it and defuse it.

Most people, whether they’re willing to admit it or not, want someone to intervene—they’re begging for it. They want you to make it better, lessen the hurt, and have it go away. Too often, they just don’t know how to properly restore what they feel as a loss in dignity so they give as good as they got or better, thinking that payback will rectify the situation. It won’t.

Get involved. So many of our problems could be nipped in the bud if someone just got involved early enough, in the very beginning, and redirect the situation towards a non-violent conclusion.

Be that leader.

People have never needed a reminder to get even. People do that quite naturally on their own. However, people have always needed help in controlling their emotions and appropriately measuring their response when they’ve suffered a real or perceived injustice. That’s why the ‘eye for an eye’ law was created and it reminds us how little human behavior has really changed over the centuries.

We know that most people don’t want to hurt others. We also know that most people, if given positive guidance backed up by high standards and a helpful hand, will choose the better way. It’s what people really want and that’s a positive human behavior and it should give us hope.