Ending massacres: Where our attempts fail

My job involves teaching people how to be better at influence. There is a challenge we face in our society that I believe can largely benefit from understanding a very simple principle of influence. The principle I believe can make a difference and actually save lives.

Some lunatic kills innocent people in California and the video he records includes his rambling reason: he got rejected by women. It was unfair, he thought, so he went out and murdered a bunch of people. Some people get their back up because they suggest his demeaning attitude towards women as a second class species is rampant in society. Men try and distance themselves from this atrocity by saying ‘Not all men’ on Twitter. Like it needed to be said. Women respond with ‘Yes all women’ to point out that all women have had to face some discrimination by men. Fair enough. To me though, in this case, they both miss the point.

The point is that what we are doing in response to tragedies like this is fundamentally failing. What we want is to ensure it never happens again. What we actually do makes it much more likely to happen again. When something horrible happens, our society craves to find answers, craves to understand the ‘why’. The noble thought is that, once we understand why, we can finally prevent this kind of event happening. Guns need to be banned. We just need to be more empathetic. We need to attack men’s view of women. Islamic fundamentalism needs to be stopped. He did it because of Allah. He did it because of women rejecting him. He did it because he didn’t have any friends.

Whether or not any of this is true, the discussion on it isn’t working. All we are doing is labelling. We call them out as Islamic terrorists or social outcasts or women hating rejects and we explore the sociological reasoning for what they did. Interest groups use this to try and further their cause. Meanwhile, the perpetrator happily achieves his goal. The goal of these guys is simple. To become famous and get their message out there. They succeed every single time because the media plays into their hands. Sadly, the next lunatic is watching the news about this last fellow and envying the attention and the fact he got his ‘manifesto’ out there. This must stop.

Now, of course, when an atrocity is committed the media is going to do what the media is going to do and there will be a level of fame that comes with murdering a bunch of people. The apparent randomness feeds into our desire for control over our security. We think that security will come from understanding their motives. But we need to change the approach we have to these guys. We need to start to explain their actions at an individual level not at a sociological or cultural level. In reality, he did it because he was what was wrong.

Here is the deal. Here is the why to offer people. He did it because he was evil or he did it because he was a lunatic. Full stop. There is your choice. No more needed on that, thank you very much. He had a large majority of screws loose. His brain wasn’t firing connections properly and he did something unimaginable. It was nothing to do with Allah or Dating or Loneliness. They are just the excuses given. The poor soldier Lee Rigby who was murdered by those two lunatics in London in 2013 wasn’t the victim of a religious mission. They weren’t representing anyone. They deserve no notoriety whatsoever. They did it because they were twisted and mental. Full stop.

Some people talk about killings such as these that were done in the name of Islam and suggest that it is a poisonous religion that causes people to do these kinds of things so it should be banned. Yes, and then we should ban women rejecting men’s advances as well so every woman is forced to say yes to every man and while we are at it force everyone in a school to make friends with everyone else so nobody will be lonely. Let’s end people saying no and having a choice and letting them talk to who they want to. Great solution.

No, we need to treat this in a strategic way. What can we do to stop this happening? I have a suggestion. Unfortunately, given the kind of world we live in, the suggestion isn’t a guaranteed answer. But from an influence point of view I believe it’s the smartest one out there.

Influence has a very simple principle at its very core: When you find out what a person wants, you can influence them much more easily.

Stop these idiots from getting what they want and they are less likely to pick up the machine gun and continuously kill. Stop playing into their hands. I want the next potential psychopath to watch the television when a tragedy like this happens and see the news broadcast spend one minute on the shooter and the fact that he was mentally deranged. Then the rest of the hour on the beautiful victims and the heroes that tried to save lives during the massacre. I want them to see no benefit whatsoever. It has got to be a better strategy that what we have used already. It is certainly better than attacking a religion or gender and spreading hateful messages throughout the world.


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