In Oklahoma, the seasons can seemingly change in an evening, with the golden fireworks of autumn leaves acquiescing to the isolating omniscience of winter with one heavy snowfall. In November of 2002, however, autumn persisted day after day and the leaves clung to their family trees as strong, dry winds ripped through the prairie state.
A young Navy ensign became a hero on one of those days. Driving down the road amid those same falling leaves, he and a companion nearly ran over a bag of money lying in the road. And while the temptation to split it amongst themselves and blow off some steam on a buying spree of videogames or cds or beer must have itched at the back of their brains, the two turned the sack of cash in to the local police.
They could not have known that the money had been collected by the Korean Church of Grace or that the bag had fallen off the roof of a church member's car as he drove to the bank. Yet they returned it. The young ensign called it "an integrity thing." He received a letter of commendation from the Navy and called a hero by the press.
Today, this hero is no more. He died by his own hand after murdering four and wounding another four in a killing rampage across Southern California.
What happened in ten short years to cause former Navy reservist and ex-Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner to turn his back on his integrity and ruthlessly target fellow police officers -- his former co-workers - and innocents alike?
We ask ourselves this question whenever horrific acts of violence occur especially in the workplace. We often cannot comprehend how a person who clocks-in and puts in his shift time working beside or around us, can commit acts so far beyond our society's accepted values. How can someone who sits in the break-room beside us eating a home-packed sandwich or rubs suit-sleeves beside ours at the conference table be so different? Perhaps he is not so different.
In recent years, workplace mass shootings have commanded our attention. Robert Reza opened fire at Emcore Corporation in Albuquerque in July 2010, killing three and injuring four. That same year, Omar Sheriff Thornton killed 8 former co-workers at the beer distribution company he had just been fired from for stealing. This past September, at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, Andrew John Engeldinger, upon being fired, took out a Glock 19 9 mm, killed 8 people and injured 2.
In all of these cases, employees who had been asked to resign or fired, as Dorner had been after a disciplinary hearing in 2009, not only chose revenge over self-renewal, but did so in a dreadfully destructive manner. While workplace violence actually diminished from 1993- 2011, the level of violence has perhaps increased. All of the examples cited above were the worst in their state's history. Dorner's rampage has been called the worst individual assault in LAPD history.
We assume that these men, and they are predominantly men in these cases, are devoid of values. Yet, time and again they have demonstrated by past actions, such as Dorner returning the sack of cash, that they hold similar values to most of ours. This should not perhaps surprise us. The vast majority of criminals, aside from the few very most dismal cases, assert their desires to see their children live by good values and not land in the same situations they have. When asked, they espouse the same qualities of integrity, love, devotion to friends and family, and loyalty that the greater society does.
The true difference then lies not in theirs and our values, but farther down the moral path. While values comprise our inner beliefs and are our soul's moral compass, ethics represent our true relation to the outer world. Our ethics answer the question of what would we give up to defend our values. What would we do or not do to uphold our inner beliefs? What differentiates individuals from one another is not so much their beliefs as the price they are willing to pay to uphold their beliefs and values. There is a point at which almost any one of us will compromise a value we believe in. This could happen either because we do so for the sake of an even higher value, or because we are triggered into a moment of uncontrollable fear or aggression where values play no part, only primal instinct.
We can only guess as to what caused the changes in each assailant to decide that giving up everything -- family, lawfulness, freedom or life itself -- was worth fulfilling a vengeful quest. Did their inner rage trigger their instinctual aggression or even more disturbingly were their actions driven by a conscious values choice, a distorted belief they were meting out justice? These are unique to each situation. What unites Dorner and the rest, however, is a leap into isolationism and a letting go of societal bonds. It is in recognizing this that we can take steps to defuse the next tragedy.
As fellow workers and leaders, neighbors and associates, we need to commit to checking in with those outside of our closest circle. Take notice when a coworker stops joining in communal coffee breaks. Take notice when the long-time employee's performance becomes lethargic. Take notice when a subordinate complains of unfairness. And take action. A company of values and integrity needs to give to its employees not only time and compensation, but an interest in his or her needs and wants even when these needs are emotional in nature.
There is no guarantee that a person bent on violence can be stopped. In the case of Christopher Dorner, the LAPD addressed his concerns within a mandated disciplinary hearing, which ended up with his dismissal. Perhaps, in the next case, however, the intent of an organization to notice the loosening of an employee's grasp on the societal tree will result in one less fall into the winter of isolation.
Written by David Lapin with Brooks Bigart