Safety experts with insight into human behavior try to explain why schools — and workplaces — are more violent.

By the time you read this, the shock over the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, (April 20, 1999) will have faded for those of us far from the scene of the crime, dulled by more recent developments. But let me take you back for a minute. The morning after this stunning tragedy I asked several safety experts with insight into human behavior for their reaction. And more broadly, what are we—kids and adults—so angry about?

Think about road rage. One of the people I talked to that morning admitted to “losing it” on a California freeway one day after work. He’s always seemed a sensible enough fellow to me, but that day he chased down a car that cut him off, jumped out and was ready to slug the guy on the side of the road. “I saw what I was doing but I couldn’t stop myself,” he said.

Then there’s workplace violence. Assaults and violent acts account for 20 percent of workplace fatalities, second only to transportation accidents, according to a 1992 federal government report.

What’s going on?

Safety consultant Carl Metzgar recalled the security of growing up in a village of 700, where he knew everyone, and someone it seemed always knew where he was. “There are no more villages,” said Carl. “Forget about caring, it’s hard to get people to even pay attention to each other.”

“We’re all running around so much, we’re all so busy, we prize efficiency over effectiveness,” said Scott Geller. That’s an interesting distinction.

Being effective at raising kids at home or solving problems at work takes up your time. It requires you to listen, probe, and simply be there to sense what’s going on.

You can be efficient, however, without being hands-on. What you need are the right tools—daily planners, to-do lists, email and cell phones. You make arrangements to be efficient. Being effective isn’t so black and white.

So what do we do differently now? How many times have you heard that question in the past two months? Ban guns? Regulate the Internet? Hire more guidance counselors?

While the debate goes on, think about your job, your responsibilities at work for safety and health. Think about being efficient, and being effective. Then think about how much of your job involves paying attention. Being there. Caring. Look at what you try to accomplish: instilling values and discipline, building relationships and teamwork — the stuff we supposedly don’t have time for anymore.

Following the gloomy assessments of what’s wrong with us after the Columbine tragedy, your work every day in safety and health stands out. Whatever drives you to make a difference, to be effective and not just efficient, keep your passion alive. And keep a little in reserve for when you get home.