It’s a given that workplace violence prevention and response training teaches people how to increase their chances of survival should they find themselves in an extreme violence event (such as an active shooter). But there’s another benefit of this training that I don’t often hear talked about, and that’s how it can help people behave with honor in the midst of crisis. I know that may sound odd, but the assertion is based on my experience working with military servicemen and women who’ve just returned from hostile captivity.
In the initial debriefing process, the returnee is always provided with ample time and a safe environment to fully recall their captivity experience. And this process can take some time. Eventually, though, the person gets to the end of their account and with just the two of you in the room…things suddenly get very quiet. (I’ve learned over the years to let that silence persist; to let it linger just in case some other details or perspectives come to mind that they might want to share.) And invariably, at the end of this silence (and I can’t think of an exception here), the person who’s just returned from hostile captivity looks you directly in the eye and asks a poignant question; one that often sounds something like… “how do you think I did?”
It’s a profound moment that speaks to a deep aspect of our humanity, which is that, at some level, we all seem to measure ourselves against some intrinsic standard of moral conduct. “How did I do?”is basically asking, “Do you think I did the right thing? Did I carry myself in a way that’s honorable?”
As humans, we’re imbued with the ability to anticipate the consequences of our actions. This, combined with our ability to make value judgments, and the capacity to choose between various courses of action, gives us our moral compass and our sense of moral responsibility.
And what I’ve observed is that training people in extreme violence awareness and response also facilitates their ability to respond to life-threatening danger in a way that better aligns with their innate desire to be honorable; to live to a higher moral standard.
So, instead of, “I’m out for me and me only,” training nurtures and strengthens a sense of “I’m here for us. We can do this!”
Extreme violence events often unfold in a way where honorable action is fulfilled through responses like:
Informing and guiding others away from danger
Helping to calm others who may be struggling with disbelief and panic
Resisting the temptation to take risky self-protective measures and instead, working together with others to disorient or overwhelm an attacker
What Can Be Learned From Military Survival Training
The tendency to evaluate our behavior from a moral perspective is a powerful aspect of our collective humanity. So much so, that it’s a key component of military survival training where trainees are prepared to face any number of moral conflicts that could come at the hands of a hostile captor--including providing information or support that could put the lives of their fellow comrades at risk as a way to avoid personal physical reprisal or deprivations.
Survival School Trainees are reminded that physical consequences, while difficult, are generally temporary, but moral decisions carry for the entirety of someone’s life. This is taught as a way of preserving the individual’s higher sense of human dignity in the event they’re confronted with such moral dilemmas.
While military personnel have taken an oath to serve their country and are trained to a very high standard of conduct, the training they receive about thinking through dilemmas ahead of time is something non-military personnel can learn from. For example, in the midst of an extreme violence event, some workplace leaders will implicitly sense they have a “duty of care” responsibility for those in their charge and will likely feel the moral weight of the decisions they make in these situations. (See below.)
Do Leaders Have a Choice?
When events such as an active shooter occur, managers and supervisors sometimes wonder if it is their duty to protect others above themselves.
It’s important these leaders know that helping others to safety or protecting them is no more an obligation for them than for any other person. However, the same post-event moral evaluation will almost certainly come into play.
Actions taken to save others despite great personal risk is a deeply personal decision, (and we NEVER advocate incautious action). But what we KNOW is that survivors who can reflect on their behavior in those moments as reasonably “right and honorable,” recover faster from, and move forward more successfully in their lives, post incident.
By sharing a variety of best practices for surviving an extreme violence event, training nurtures the will to survive, which leads to a sense of learned optimism resulting in clearer thinking and decisive action; all of which empowers individuals to conduct themselves honorably in the face of extreme adversity.
Heart and Courage… James
James Sporleder has more than 25 years' experience in the security industry. With a unique background in specialized captivity survival, James has trained thousands of US military personnel from one of the most elite units in the US Department of Defense. He’s worked in the corporate arena for more than 17 years, focusing on the development and implementation of specialized training programs and helping more than 50 percent of the Fortune 100 prepare for and respond to emerging challenges related to workplace violence, intimate partner violence, and extreme violence such as active shooter.