No Red Flags? No Motive? Eyes Wide Shut?

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This Washington Post article, which reports Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s assertion that there were no red flags or motive, shows how blind he and those around him were. Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who had a fondness for trench coats and a growing darkness, was bullied by other students and by coaches. He was a loner. Like so many loners, he was likely very lonely, a victim of the loneliness epidemic.

There were bystanders to his being bullied. There were bystanders to his increased isolation. There were bystanders to his changed behaviours. What did these bystanders do? What could they have done? Just imagine if just one of the bystanders came to his defense when he was being bullied. Just imagine if just one of the bystanders befriended him. Based on the extensive research I have done on bullying, this tragedy could have been avoided. 

Having researched emotional intelligence and the link to bullying, it becomes more and more apparent to me the need for schools, workplaces and communities to become emotionally intelligent. This is something that my foundation and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence have embarked on. Our initiative, Emotion Revolution in the Workplace, patterned what Yale has done in the schools with the RULER program.

We have come to recognize, however, that just being schooled in emotional intelligence does not make one emotionally intelligent. What it takes is for individuals to internalize their emotions so that they can influence the emotions of others, simply by applying what we all learned in kindergarten – the ethic of reciprocity, or The Golden Rule.

This also requires a safe environment and an encouraging climate where people are able to apply and practice their emotional intelligence skills, which is simply building relationships and communicating with each other.

This tragedy exemplifies one of the best arguments for all of us to develop our emotional intelligence skills. Being bullied, targeted and abused is a very lonely place to be. Have we, as a society, deteriorated to the point where we see people nose dive into depression and isolation, and think it is ok? It is little wonder why the loneliness epidemic isn’t resonating.

In my book, ‘From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire’,I challenge readers to consider their role as bystander and to ask yourselves the following questions:

            Could I have helped avoid a physical or mental breakdown?

            Could I have helped avoid ruining a career?

            Could I have helped avoid a family breakdown?

            Could I have helped avoid the organization’s downfall?

            Could I have helped avoid a suicide (or attempted suicide)?

            Could I have helped avoid a murder?

Although it has been several years since I wrote about this unfortunate lack of awareness, and how to change it, in the chapterDefining the Unjust – Advice to the Bystander, nothing has changed. What this lack of inertia tells me is that bystanders don’t have the kind of emotional intelligence to see this and then do something about it. Emotional intelligence isn’t a matter of just being nice to one another, it is a matter of life and death.