EQ Reflection: Vigilance and Prevention
April 27, 1999

I know we’ve all heard and thought a lot about Columbine. Rather than going over the same ground about what happened and why, I’d like to consider my own role in this kind of violence, and ask you to do the same.

Like all of us, I am devastated by this atrocity. I am also devastated by the implications and the responses. It is terrible to even write this, but I am not shocked that such a thing could happen — in some ways it seems the natural outcome of the system we each perpetuate. Claire Nuer, a great teacher about commitment and getting “unstuck” called this system the egosystem. Partly I mention Claire because she died recently, and I wonder what she would have said about Columbine. I think she would have said that if we look at our actions, we are not actually committed to ending violence.

I AM shocked by the degree to which America’s response is “install metal detectors, arm principals, create tough discipline policies.” I see that these reactions are more of the same — Einstein wrote, roughly, that we can not solve a problem using the same kind of thinking that got us INTO the problem. And while I too am compelled to urgent action, I hope that we can utilize different kinds of thinking than the “egosystem.”

In the last week, Six Seconds has been working to gather a broad spectrum of educators who will join a call for a re-focus on long-term prevention. I will send that out next week, but for now, it has been sad for me to see the egosystem at work in our colleagues — so many of whom wanted to sign-on only to their projects, their perspectives. And as I write this and point my finger, I realize that even in the way I wrote the original “call for prevention”, I was doing the very same thing. I was writing a press release that talked a lot about Six Seconds and our work… and then blaming people for wanting to only talk about their work….

Marsha told me that when she taught kindergarten, she taught that when we point a finger, we point three at ourselves. As I have thought more about this, I realize that one implication is that when I find myself pointing my finger, I need to learn something about what I am thinking, feeling, and doing. That might be a good moment for me to take a six second pause and carefully reflect.

It takes vigilance. Not metal detector vigilance, but stuck-in-the-same-pattern vigilance. If we can only change ourselves, we’d each better take that responsibility pretty seriously. Vigilance is cental to that seriousness.

Essentially, “vigilance” means careful watching. To add the EQ piece, it would also include monitoring the interplay of thoughts, feelings, and actions. Why do you do what you do? Why are you responding to this question the way that you are? As I become more vigilant, I become more aware of cause and effect within myself; I become more aware of the patterns that drive me — and perhaps automatically become more responsible for them.

I am not sure it is automatic. I have seen students have this moment of realization where they see how a pattern has driven them, and they immediately move toward responsibility. But it is often short term — they have to see it over and over.

In the face of kids killing kids, I lose patience. I do not want to see it over and over before I learn about my responsibility.

The emotional part of vigilance also means that like watching closely, I will “feel closely.” Each time I hear more about Columbine, I close off more feeling — I do not want to go there. But if I am going to vigilant, I can not ignore those feelings. Instead, I will use them to motivate myself toward change — despite finger pointing, and despite the long uphill climb.

I will send the prevention info in a few days.
– Josh

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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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