Empire State Shootings Bring Back Old Fears, Timeless Lessons

by Bill Brenner on August 24, 2012

The shooting spree outside the Empire State Building this morning reminds me of the mind-numbing fear I used to carry inside me every day — the feelings of dread that kept me indoors, away from the life I should have been living. It also reminds me of some critical lessons I’ve learned from my experiences.

Mood music:


As CNN reported news that Jeffrey Johnson, 58, had opened fire on a former co-worker and police outside the NYC landmark, I remembered:

The latter is what apparently happened today. According to reports, Johnson was apparently fired from his job as a designer of women’s accessories at Hazan Imports last year, and the 41-year-old man he shot to death may have been his former boss. Several people were injured in the crossfire before police shot Johnson dead.

Big crowds used to scare me senseless. I’d worry that if some crazy bastard came around the corner with a knife or a shotgun, I’d be trapped in the human traffic jam. I’d really freak out if I got lost in the crowd with no clue as to where I was or how to get back to familiar roads and neighborhoods. These feelings intensified after 9/11.

I also used to carry around a lot of bottled-up rage, especially over work situations. In one job I was trapped under a micro-managing viper who would blame you for everything that went wrong and take all the credit for things that went right. I can’t say I ever daydreamed about killing the man. I’ve always been either too law-abiding or too chicken for that. But I definitely dreamed up scenarios where I got to administer the beating I felt he so richly deserved.

Fortunately, I outgrew those emotions. Therapy and medication helped, but my deepening faith in God was the real game changer. I choose to worry less about other people’s motives and attitudes and focus on keeping my own in check instead.

I think the bad wiring that sent Johnson on the warpath is in all of us. It lies dormant until traumatic experiences, like getting fired, bring it to the surface and severs the rest of the brain from the part that powers our self-control.

I’m thankful that I have my own self-awareness today. I pray that you have your own awareness and that it keeps you from a tragic loss of control in the future.

Finally, I pray for those who got hurt today. Specifically, I pray this experience doesn’t send them into hiding, afraid to live their lives over the bad things that might happen.

Photo by SEAN SENATORE, New York Daily News


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Susanna J. Sturgis August 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I’m currently editing a multi-author book about shame and women. In their intro, the editors suggest that women tend to turn shame inward, e.g., into self-loathing or even suicide, and men tend to turn it outward, into aggression. I’ve been thinking about the mass shootings committed by men, including this most recent one, that seem to have been triggered by a shaming, like being fired or being bullied. Plenty of historians see a connection between the punitive (and humiliating) terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the rise of Nazism in Germany — which in turn dedicated itself to the deadly shaming of Jews and everyone else it considered “other.”

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