As most of you are certainly aware, two journalists – reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward – were shot and killed on live TV last week in Virginia.
This hit me pretty hard, partly because I worked in TV news for a decade after earning a degree in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Miami. I’ve actually been out in the field on stories just like that – as both videographer and reporter.
I was working at CNN when news broke of the Columbine shootings, and as I walked through the newsroom, it occurred to me that such an attack might someday occur on live TV.
Still, it was incredibly shocking and heart-wrenching to see the event unfold.
Every time I see one of these shootings in the news, it frustrates me that the suspect (or suspects) failed to get the help they needed. Their stories and backgrounds have become predictable.
As a therapist, I’ve worked with many clients over the years who were dealing with long-standing anger issues. Theirs are tales of abandonment, rejection, frustration and pain.
But at least my clients were trying to heal. Many people don’t find (or even seek) the help they need.
So when the shooter was identified, I immediately began to look for information about his background and upbringing.
In my experience, the fact that he was a disgruntled former employee of the network wasn’t sufficient. Plenty of disgruntled former employees are roaming around out there, and most of them don’t ever so much as consider exacting revenge with such senseless violence.
Then I found an article from the New York Daily News that confirmed my suspicions.
The gunman’s mother had threatened to kill the entire family, was frequently prone to violent outbursts, and let’s face it, was herself in dire need of help that she likely never received.
Now that fact alone neither completely explains nor justifies his actions, but it does shine some light on his state of mind, even long before his professional problems emerged.
Ignoring the factors that led this shooter to do what he did (and simply cheering his death/punishment/suffering) will lead to even more of these outcomes.
The media will make this story about race, or guns, or some other hot button issue. But I do know something about even very angry people – they don’t throw their lives away like this unless they perceive their lives to be without value.
The shooting wouldn’t have happened if:
1) Vester Flanagan believed he could improve his life.
2) He had good friends to confide in who would support him.
3) His happiness wasn’t tied to his professional, social or economic status.
4) He took responsibility for his life.
Look, many people experience struggles in life. But those who give up typically lack the belief that things will get better. According to those who knew Vester, he became hopeless after multiple failures in television.
News reports also indicate he was isolated from family and friends, although it isn’t yet clear whether than was by choice or circumstance.
Most importantly, and the final element that ultimately led to this outcome, Vester Flanagan blamed others for his situation in life.
While I will grant him some deserved sympathy for enduring such a traumatic childhood, it’s unfortunate no one ever taught him the principle of personal responsibility.
In truth, even if he actually was wronged by his previous employers (which appears unlikely), they didn’t have the power to destroy his life.
Had he dedicated himself to improving his ability to communicate with both his audience and his co-workers, he would very likely have landed on his feet.
The good news is that for every Vester Flanagan, there are either thousands or millions of people who stumble and fall, only to use that as an opportunity to become stronger and get back on their feet.
Three lessons I take from this story are:
1) Be a good parent to your children. What they experience in youth has a profound influence throughout their entire lives.
2) Take responsibility for your life. Otherwise, you feel powerless to change or improve it.
3) Reach out and connect with people. It’s really sad that no one knew Vester well enough to talk him out of this and encourage him to heal and move forward in a positive direction. If you’re a parent, I think it’s extremely important to teach children how to control their emotions and connect with people on a deeper level.
It’s more important than reading, writing and arithmetic… since that lack of connection or ability to control one’s emotions are key factors in nearly all of these senseless acts of violence.
Thanks for taking the time to read.