Using Instincts to Survive and Developing a Social Conscience

Using Instincts to Survive and Developing a Social Conscience

The tragedy at Umqua Community College is yet another reminder to Americans that our world is not as safe as we perceive it to be._While politicians and news media have discussed and rediscussed causes and blame, the reality is that there is no decrease in the incidents to date._This article explores the possibility of using a social conscience in prevention of shooting incidence as well as learning how to use our own instincts to fight back when involved in such an incident.


The recent events at Umqua Community College has left our nation once again stunned, outraged, and grieving the loss of innocent lives.  As President Obama stated, along with many others, Americans are becoming desensitized to these tragic weekly shootings.  In our outrage and perceived helplessness, citizens look for something or someone to blame: weapon laws, mental illness, terrorism, politics and diminishing national pride.  

I've watched with other Americans this shooting trend increase since the tragedy at Columbine.  Each of these shootings share the same common denominators: an angry shooter, guns, mental illness, the shooter's use of social media to advertise intentions and post-shooting mass media coverage.

Americans have been exposed to decades of violence real and not real through mass media.  Most of the scenes include a shooter in control and potential victims responding submissively in fear.  In real life, when we perceive a threat to our lives

, our Fight or Flight instinct is activated.  "Fight or Flight" is a built in survival mechanism that helps humans protect themselves in life threatening situations. When it is triggered we have bursts of adrenaline shoot through our bodies resulting in heightened senses, strength, and even an intuitive sense of how to survive.   As society has become more civilized by governing agencies over the centuries, we have learned to submit to authority figures or men with weapons -(i.e. police, military, security guards).  Compliance in safe circumstances whether we are scared or not is the logical response in a non life threatening situation. 

However, in learning to comply with authority or submit when a gun appears, we may have unknowingly trained ourselves what not to do in a shooter situation.  In the majority of mass shootings in the U.S. the gunman has shocked and frightened the victims who generally hide or submit.  We know now after hundreds of shooting incidents that this response is not effective. We cannot change gun laws or cure mental illness but we can change how we respond in life-threatening situations and how to be proactive in the prevention of further shootings.

First, we must address our perceptions and fear of guns and understand that statistically speaking, not fighting back consistently ends with poor outcomes.  In fact, in shooter incidents where potential victims did fight back, there has been minimal loss of life and injury.  We need to use our natural instincts and survival mechanisms to fight back in shooter incidents.  Women are told in abduction scenarios that if being forced into a car at gunpoint or by knife, to scream and fight, because we know statistically that once one gets in the car, the odds of survival are very low.  Being shot or stabbed for fighting back is worth the risk when you are certain to die by not doing so.  The Americans who fought back against the terrorist on the train in France two months ago were injured in their heroic efforts but no one died.  

The other solution to decreasing shooting incidents is teaching and embracing a social conscience.  Each of us must be proactive as citizens and report social media messages advertising the intention to harm others. The Post sadly noted that "anyone who knew this young man knew what he was capable of". As therapists, by Law we are required to break confidentiality if a client states intention to harm or kill another human being.  It is not a choice for us: the Tarasoff Law was created after the murder of a young woman whose murderer stated his intentions to kill her to his therapist (who did not report it).  

While reporting laws are not likely to be in place for every citizen, educating our youth about social responsibility is always a good idea.  We can never assume someone is kidding, having a bad day, seeking attention or someone else will report it-threats of harm are serious, taking them seriously is imperative.  And, threats must be taken seriously by both the reporting party and the authorities.

I doubt in my lifetime that I will see changes to gun laws or less individuals with untreated mental health issues.  What I do believe is possible is the development of a  social conscience where individuals feel morally obligated to report their concerns to authorities.  We must also retrain ourselves in how we respond when faced in a situation with a shooter.  Humans are wired for survival and a will to live: we must teach ourselves and our youth that it is correct to use our natural instincts to survive rather than the learned behavior to submit. 

Popular Tags

Loading Please wait...


Loading Please wait...