The Point Of No Return: The Roots Of Workplace Violence
Social anxiety is an ever-increasing problem, especially with Internet technology making it easier and easier to talk to someone that you’ll likely never, ever see face-to-face. This has resulted in people that are better adjusted to social situations where they will not be hindered by their social anxiety. While social anxiety is a major problem, particularly because quite a bit of professional success in today’s world requires a bit of social adaptation, most people don’t really worry about social anxiety as long as it doesn’t give the family status anxiety.
The Japanese, probably due to cultural differences, tend to draw their social anxiety inwards. This is best exemplified by the otaku and hikikomori phenomenon there, though these “conditions” have started to manifest in societies outside of the Far East. This can be interpreted to mean that more and more people are withdrawing socially, as society and modern civilization puts more and more pressure on them. After all, even if they are engaging in socially deviant behavior, they’re not really harming anyone but themselves. For most people, as long as those with social anxiety are not capable of doing any harm to anyone, then they can either just be ignored or be bullied by their social “superiors.”
However, what happens when that social anxiety builds, the stress compounds, and it has no other place to go but out? In theory, social anxiety alone is not going to result in someone lashing out violently, but it can play a major role in such an event.
Take the Columbine School Shooting, as perpetrated by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. The two of them were reported to have been socially ostracized and made fun of by their more sociable peers. While certainly not the only factor that served as motivation for their bloody assault on their fellow students, the fact that they intended to target their social tormentors is a telling sign of just how big a factor their social status in the school was. The sheer violence of their act has sometimes been interpreted as a reaction to the unfair treatment that they received in comparison to the “jocks” of the school. The fact that their lack of athletic ability, their introverted personalities, and their attempts to seek help from school administrators to stop the bullying were ignored likely just aggravated them. In fact, despite the incident, there are reports that the same bullies who pushed Klebold and Harris over the edge are still continuing their bullying ways, with school authorities turning a blind eye to the infractions of their “star players.”
Stress and anxiety can also play a factor when someone lashes out violently against the people around them. Dealing with bureaucracy in the workplace, problems at home, or even just a really bad day at work can cause someone to snap, find the nearest available weapon, and start trying to kill the people around him. This can be made worse by social anxiety, as this condition prevents him from truly connecting to people and forming meaningful relationships, which can help alleviate a person’s stress and worries. Without any means of alleviating their stress and anxiety, disgruntled employees can just show up one day with a submachine gun in hand and start killing the people that they work with each day. Some say this lethal concoction of factors led to Patrick Sherrill to shoot several co-workers in the US Postal Service before shooting himself back in 1986.
No one is safe from the dangers of someone whose mind can no longer take the pressure and lashes out violently. There are some jobs and cultures where such acts are less likely to occur, but there will always be that small chance. There is no definite formula to see if a particular employee will snap or if a certain company is more likely to experience such violence. The fact is, the very specific and “snap” nature of such events can make it nearly impossible to detect the people likely to do this. For school shootings, the events have a tendency to be planned ahead by the perpetrators, but there is no such “warning sign” for the office environment. Often, the stress and anxiety just builds to a level where the only way to relieve it, in the person’s mind, is to commit extreme violence.