From 1983 to 1993 there were ten incidents where postal employees went on homicidal rampages killing a total of 34 supervisors and fellow employees. The problem became so well known that the phrase, “Going postal,” became a common term in the American terminology.

Though no excuse, sometimes a toxic work environment or an abusive boss pushes an employee to go on a shooting rampage. Treat everyone with respect.

When we hear of school shootings and office shootings we tend to place all the blame on the shooter and vilify him. Yes, the shooter is indeed responsible for his crimes and should be punished for them, but in many of these cases other people indirectly contributed to the tragedy. Case in point, on March 11, 2011 an American soldier left his base in southern Afghanistan without authorization and open fired on Afghan citizens killing 16 people and critically wounded five. (Read About Incident)

This incident is not only painful for the families involved, but it has also pushed tensions between the United States and Afghanistan to the point where Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants American troops out of his country earlier than planned. The pullout was scheduled for 2014, but now the Afghan government is insisting on 2013.

My first thoughts when I heard about this incident were, What an atrocity! This solider is crazy! He deserves the death penalty! Then my second thought was, What an idiot! He is destroying everything we have worked for other there for the past ten years! After all, I have personally trained many American and NATO troops to fight in this war for the past six years. I have worked hard to do my part.

Reports have it that this solider massacred people in their sleep, nine of them children, and then piled them up in a stack and set them on fire. He went from hut to hut killing people. At this point the government is keeping the soldier’s identity confidential, and they have even flown him out of the country, but some information has been released to the media. The gunman is said to be a staff sergeant in a Stryker Brigade (a combat unit) based out of Fort Lewis in Washington. In the past other soldiers from this base have been tried and convicted for murdering civilians. However, stories are just now coming out that this particular solider, who has honorably served combat tours in Iraq as well, had been experiencing severe stress and should not have been in a combat unit at this time. Supposedly his problems have been documented. This may be his attorney’s strategy to protect his client, by pleading temporary insanity in a court of law, or it may very well be the truth “premeditated vengeful murder”.

Even if this American soldier had severe stress it can never excuse the murders. I believe if he is found guilty of these crimes he should be punished to the full extent of the law. However, this incident may end up focusing on not just the shooter, but if he did suffer a hostile work environment (not from the enemy but from his own supervisors), it will also point to a problem which is widespread in any organization: a toxic work environment and abusive bosses. Sometimes other people indirectly contribute to a person “snapping” and then going on a shooting rampage.

I remember back when I first started teaching the martial arts there were suddenly many post office shootings in the United States, and as a self-defense instructor I started addressing this issue and taught my students how to survive such attacks. From 1983 to 1993 there were ten incidents where postal employees went on homicidal rampages killing a total of 34 supervisors and fellow employees. The problem became so well known that the phrase, “Going postal,” became a common term in the American terminology. If someone got really angry people would say, “He went postal.” Researched showed that the work itself was not the contributing factor for the postal murders, but the conclusion was that the way the post office managed people caused the conditions for the gunmen to become explosive. The United States Postal Service learned their lessons and changed their management approach, and over the past two decades postal shootings have decreased significantly.

In my own experiences I have been in both hostile work conditions and I have had my share of abusive bosses. I don’t condone people taking their frustrations out on those they feel are responsible for their stress or lashing out at the world, but I can understand why such conditions or people can drive weaker individuals to “go postal.”

In any organization, be it a school environment, job, police or military service, we are all entitled to respect. We may have to earn a raise, a promotion, or perks, but human relations demands fairness. Those who ridicule, humiliate, make threats, and launch personal attacks through “office gossip” or online cause injury to both the individual who they are targeting and to the organization. When people are faced with an abusive teacher, boss, or supervisor they basically have three choices they are faced with:

  1. Endure the humiliation
  2. Leave the organization
  3. Demand respect

Enduring the humiliation of an abusive boss or hostile work environment is what most people do; especially if their livelihood depends upon a job. These people are the silent sufferers. They may show no signs of the pain outwardly, but the adverse effects may be lack of initiative, lack of motivation, low productivity, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and even physical problems or illness. The condition of “burnout” is usually the direct result of someone not being appreciated. Many of these people do just enough to get by. For any organization this is not a good thing.

Some people handle the abuse by simply leaving. If this person was a good member or worker it hurts the organization, and sometimes the upper leadership has no idea why the person left and may never get an answer. They don’t realize that their own middle management or their own employees are unintentionally sabotaging the organization. On the other hand, there are many organizations that tend to protect abusers, and when the abused person leaves the organization they actually condemn the parting person.

Then you have very strong personalities that when they start getting abused they stand up for themselves. Obviously there is a vast difference between a “tough” boss and an “abusive” boss or “demanding” work and “easy” work. I’m talking about genuine abuse of power or thoughtless peers. A good person, supervisor, or organization will correct the problem if abuse or a hostile work environment is revealed. When it is corrected the abused person feels appreciated and they continue to contribute to the organization; problem solved. However, a bad character, abusive boss who has no intention of changing their abusive behavior, or an unprofessional organization will see the complaint as a negative and hold it against the complainer. Anyone in this volatile situation is clearly playing with fire, and they risk getting a reputation as a trouble-maker.

What about if the person who feels abused or cannot get out of a hostile environment is not “the average person,” but the weak individual I had mentioned? This is the person who most likely picks up a gun and takes it out on others. We’ve seen it time and time again; a child that is bullied at school (in person or cyber bullying), an employee who is not delicately laid off or humiliated before being fired, or people who were always around the individual were just not respectful. Our society is also contributing to the disrespect of others. We are constantly seeing television shows and movies where people are “getting even” with other people, even for minor offenses. “We no longer just disagree with a politician’s politics, but we assassinate their character. On social media we ridicule those who don’t think like us instead of presenting an intelligent argument. Politeness and manners are definitely fading in Western culture. I’ve seen the dramatic decline just in my half century on this planet.

At the moment I see a gunman shooting up the area, and I am in the kill zone, do I care why the gunman is doing it? At that moment do I care what brought him to that point? No. I just rely on my Reality-Based Personal Protection skills to try and survive it. Yet, can I contribute to a future shooting or diffuse one? The answer is yes. I can either be part of the problem and treat people with disrespect or I can treat people the way I want to be treated, with respect and dignity. If someone goes off the deep end it won’t be because I pushed them.

Be A Hard Target.

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Jim Wagner

Jim Wagner, one of the first self-defense instructor to introduce techniques, tactics, and training methods to survive terrorist attacks and modern crime (active shooters, criminal chemical attacks, drive-by shootings, etc.). His teaching is based on his tactical career as a U.S. Army combat soldier, corrections officer, police officer, S.W.A.T. officer, team leader of a Dignitary Protection Unit for America’s fifth largest Sheriff’s department, a U.S. federal agent counterterrorist during the Global War on Terrorism, Reserve Military Police soldier, military bodyguard, Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO), Security Forces sergeant, and a team leader of a military Special Reaction Team. He worked in the private security and bodyguarding sectors, most notably protecting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and working for the Walt Disney Company. Since 2003 Jim has been teaching his Reality-Based Personal Protection system around the world and in martial arts schools, where he offers self-defense instructors a way to increase their business by teaching Terrorism Survival, Crime Survival, and other courses. If you want to become certified to teach at your school, you can purchase the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection Instructor Package at a discount through USAdojo.com by using the code USARBPP1706.