Which Wolf?

Which Wolf?

Yesterday I wrote about justice, wondering what restitution looks like for murder. Today, I’m pondering what restitution we each owe in response to this tragedy.

One reader asked something that I’d been thinking about ever since I heard the motive behind the Brattleboro Food Co-op killing:

 Where was the open dialogue within the coop to air grievances among the staff?

This same reader asked another question that I think many of us have pondered:

What must have been happening to him cumulatively that created this last straw?

This brought to mind our responsibility to each other and to ourselves–which is illuminated by this well-known Native American tale:

Two Wolves

(open clip art. com)

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’


Kelly Salasin, August 15, 2011

To read more about the BFC Tragedy, click here.

15 thoughts on “Which Wolf?

  1. Richard is the person responsible for having shot Michael, but I too wonder how a significant relationship (store manager and wine manager) in the Coop could have deteriorated so significantly.

    Where was the consensus that Richard needed to change, and that this requirement was more than Michael’s personal wish? Where was the support to help Michael manage an employee who he thought needed to change significantly? Where was the support to help Richard change, if that indeed was what several people thought should happen? Was Richard’s perspective on his working behavior given a voice, time and respect?

    A couple years ago I encountered in another store a BFC manager who had been demoted by a superior manager for reasons of poor customer relations, as I recall. This shocked me because my experience of the “demoted” manager was that she had been particularly kind and thoughtful to me for years (We were only acquainted through the coop). Again, the issue was one manager having problems with a subordinate. Perhaps the superior manager was right, and the demoted typically did have poor customer relations, but that was certainly not my experience. The point is that there did not seem to have been more than one perspective used in the demotion, no obvious working together to have all mangers respected and supported to provide positive customer relations.

    I do not know the format for employee reviews at BFC. But what I strongly believe is that the Coop should develop if it has not already, a way of helping all employees be the best for the Coop that they can be. This would mean having employees be given a chance to reflect on how they contribute, and areas that they could work on. An employee’s work status would not be defined by one superior’s perception, but by several people’s. This does not mean that a person would never be offered severance or even be fired, but it does mean that people would be working together toward a common goal.

    This process would support the superior, in that he or she would not be alone in requesting/requiring change. The focus of the discussion would not be the superior’s impressions, but the subordinate’s behavior as seen by several people.

    The subordinate would know that the changes were necessary according to several people, not just one. This would help the subordinate focus more on his or her own behavior, rather than blaming the one superior. Teamwork and mutual respect would support the desired changes.

    Surely the coop is a place where respect and working together can manifest in employee relations.


  2. I posted that response an hour ago, and I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on the questions I posed. Instead of saying, “Where was the consensus? the support for Michael? the support for Richard?” I wish to ask, “Was there consensus? Was there support?”

    I do not wish to point fingers at anyone. I do believe that as we reflect on our behavior and our operational systems, whether corporate or personal, we can learn so much. And as we learn, we can be happier and more effective, in both our business and personal worlds.


  3. I don’t want to give my name because I am on the co-op staff and feel I need to be somewhat anonymous, but I feel I need to respond to the comments above. From what I understand about the situation, the bad review that Richard got from Michael wasn’t simply Michael’s own opinion, but was instead inspired by several staffers (from Richards department, and perhaps even other departments) saying that Richard was “hard to work with”.

    Reviews at the Co-op are made annually and are NOT based just on the opinion of one person. People who work with the individual on a regular basis do get a say.


  4. Thank you, coop staff person, for your comments and clarifications. I still wonder though, if employees are asked to reflect on ways in which they contribute positively, as well as areas of difficulty. If the employee is able to site personal challenges, even if it is that “so and so does not do what I ask them to do”, then the reviewers can work with that employee to discuss ways of more effectively working with others. When people feel empowered, when they understand that their superiors are trying to help them be more effective in their job, they are more likely going to be open to changing.


  5. Look, I’m not saying that our annual review process is perfect. But it is my understanding that Richard was given several warnings and chances to change well before he was offered the severance. The system isn’t perfect, but staff IS aware of who they can go to if their needs aren’t being met. Honestly, nobody should have to hold the hand of an adult man who has worked there for over 20 years, making sure he knows what his job is. Richard had a million options for how to deal with his problems and instead of choosing to seek help from someone other than Michael (like Alex or Dick, both of whom I feel would have handled the conflict effectively) he chose something completely extreme and terrible.

    I have worked at the Co-op for many years, and I know for a fact that the mass majority of the staff are very happy with their jobs and managers. From knowing how much the staff (and management) care about the Co-op, I resent that blame is being passed onto the Co-op. I care about Richard, and I consider(ed?) him to be a friend. But it is careless and irresponsible to not hold him accountable to his own decisions and actions.


    1. As a previous part-timer at BFC, I think I can add something to this conversation while in no way claiming the depth or breadth of experience of those who have devoted their lives to work there. When I was dissatisfied with my annual performance review and couldn’t make headway with my own department manager, I asked the HR person for support. At my next review, another manager sat in and she was very supportive and helpful in a clear, concise way.

      It’s hard to understand why some are able to get the help they need and others are not. I remember once reading something by the author Robert Fulgum that spoke to this. He remarked that brain research demonstrates that we are all soooo different on the inside that it’s amazing that we can even hold a conversation.


    2. I am also co-op staff (5yrs+). I have never spoken much more than a hello to Richard. Most of the time he would just ignore any greeting. I just never saw him as a friendly guy. He would not even make eye contact most of the time. I attended one wine tasting and he did not offer any words to me even though I tried to start up conversation. When I would see him in the office area in the back of the store it was always so much effort to strike up any kind of small talk with him and I don’t have any problem chatting up with anyone. I just always thought he was weird but never saw him as a murderer.

      Nope, I don’t care one bit about Richard. I am deeply offended that he entered not-guilty plea!! He had the smoking gun in his hand when he was arrested. All these wounds will be re-opened when his trial starts. Hopefully justice will be done swiftly and he will spend the rest of his years in a four by eight cell, eating lousy food and no wine.

      I have worked for a number of different companies in my employment career. I can honestly say BFC is just as fair regarding evaluations as any other company I have worked. Like any job, if you have a poor evaluation you are given an opportunity to correct the problem/situation and you will be evaluated again at a later date. As an employee who wants to keep your job you are supposed to try and correct the problem. If Richard’s later evaluation was bad the only person to blame is Richard. There is a grievance review panel in place and it has been used on several occasions with other employees who had issues. ALL employees are aware of the process. They recently recruited new members for this panel since some of the members have moved on. The upper management of BFC are a wonderful group of people. They go above and beyond what I expect from an employer and they should not be blamed at all for Richard’s actions. As much as customers and members enjoy shopping the co-op the majority of the staff enjoy working there. There are always going to be that co-worker you really don’t like or that boss you disagree with and think they are unreasonable, but we don’t kill them.

      Richard knew what he intended to do when he left his house with a loaded weapon and second full clip. He knew what he intended when he walked into the store that morning. He was focused enough to walk through the store and entered the office area. He remained focused until he entered Michael’s office and did his evil deed. Shot him from behind, such a cowardly act of an evil man. There is only one person to blame for all of this and it is Richard.

      I too resent any blame passed onto the co-op. I also resent that a few random acts of violence that have taken place here to label Brattleboro as a bad/violent place. Although I am shaken and troubled by all of this I still love this little town and I love life!


  6. I also worked part time briefly as a probationary employee at BFC – under Richard – some 15 years ago. To say he was “hard to work with” – even back then – is an understatement. Richard was generous with his workplace criticism, but if asked how to do the job better, would only shake his head. The woman I replaced, who had some seniority and was able to transfer out, told me it was as if he wanted his charges to fail. One day, just before my two month job review came up, he screamed obscenities at me and got abusive and threatening in the back office in front of Dick (who promptly left the room…) He never explained why. He may have caught word that I was discussing his management style with others. I sensed from other managers that Richard was a problem and that they were unable or unwilling to intervene.

    He also appeared off hours one day pushing a cart of wine bottles. When asked if he were having a party, he smiled and said there was a sale. I wondered how ethical it was for him to mark down the prices of select wines and then purchase them for persional use.

    I did not rue the day the day when my evaluation came up and I was let go. I’m not masochistic enough to work under someone like him, though I would have otherwise been happy to stay on. If you were a new employee under Richard, and he took a disliking to you (like most…), you were fodder. In retrospect, it is just as well. Pity the employees who had to work with him, and especially under him. At least I was out of harms way. I suspect Martin was brought in, in part, to do what others could not: Try to get him to be a better employee and, barring that, show him the door. It took five years and cost Martin his life.

    Yes, ultimately it is Richard who was responsible for Martin’s cowardly killing. But you have to wonder whether the BFC shares some culpability. Maybe if management had the courage to stand up to the tyrant earlier, mandated he get the mental health care he obviously needed, the outcome would have been different and the BFC a healthier workplace.

    And I wonder now, as I did then, if a union might have prevented Richard’s tyrannical behavior, which escalated into workplace violence and Martin’s death.


  7. I have worked at the Brattleboro Co-op for awhile now. I am well-liked by my fellow co-workers and shareholders and generally enjoy my job. It is a chill place to work and I do genuinely like it here. But there is little transparency with management decision-making that seems antithetical to co-op principles. The annual performance review is a straightforward enough process and involves feedback from others in your department. But I would be very uncomfortable filing a grievance against a superior co-worker, especially considering we do not have a union. What’s to be done about issues involving workplace favoritism or blatant harassment? One manager has a job for life (so long as they don’t shoot up the place) despite behavior that would have had them fired on the spot in any other workplace, but that doesn’t happen when they’re friends with all the old-timers and their target for bullying had only been around a few months. When discussing this sort of shadiness with another manager, they told me, “I’ve been watching this shit happening for years.” So…what?

    Well, it sounds like we all had a decade or two to figure out Richard had some kind of problem, to put it lightly. And Michael – a guy who worked here for just five years – got stuck with the dirty work to fire him? We’re supposed to be all about community around here, right, and every day I’m your friendly grocery store employee who notices you’re an alcoholic or a bulimic and I’m actually concerned about you, but it’s “not my business”. I wish so deeply we had had the strength to confront each other’s pain sooner.

    Thanks for coming back in the co-op. I’m heartbroken for everyone and I know it’s hard. It’s good to see familiar faces.


  8. I wrote the comments earlier that some people interpreted as blaming the coop for Richard’s actions. I guess I did not make myself clear enough. Richard is absolutely the one responsible for not seeking recourse with other management people, and instead took the horrendous, inconceivable, violent and violating choice of killing Michael.

    Just because the coop might have something to learn about its procedures or policies in no way makes the coop responsible for Richard’s actions.

    I based my belief that the coop, in particular upper management, had something to learn from this because Richard’s unhappiness did not occur overnight. This was documented. And it wasn’t clear to me as a member, and reader of the news reports, that Richard had received the support for change that he needed

    I also thought upper management might have something to learn because about five years ago (yes, old data to work from, but I do) Alex falsely accused me of shoplifting. This was deeply offensive to me, a longstanding member, but more importantly the process by which Alex chose to accuse me was deeply flawed. No matter how significant a problem shoplifting may be, there is no excuse to have a procedure which unnecessarily accuses innocent shoppers. While Alex did apologize, I was not made aware that the process would necessarily be different in the future. Hence my belief that Alex and upper management might have something to learn about their processes for dealing with difficult situations.


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