Ignorance vs. Complacency

Yesterday I wrote about the choice we make not to be a victim, and I said that choosing not to make a choice is still a choice. AGirl from A Girl and Her Gun left a comment that I wanted to respond to, because I want to clarify the difference I see between ignorance and complacency. She wrote:

I don’t necessarily agree that not making a choice is a choice. Yes, a great many people know the facts and choose not to take respsoiblity, but I would argue that most people just don’t know. I honestly believed I was doing everything to be safe. I was making a choice to be safe, but my information was flawed. I was not choosing to be a victim. There was more that I could have done, but the fact that I didn’t was based on ignorance not a choice and what happened was not just punishment for being naive.

First of all, I want to be explicit and clear: I did not mean to suggest that being a victim of violence is ever “just punishment for being naive”. I am saddened that I came across this way, and I am doubly saddened that AGirl – who I respect tremendously – took my comment that way. So, to get the preliminary bit out of the way, I want to say clearly that under no circumstances does the blame for an act of violence rest anywhere other than on the perpetrator. It’s not the victim’s fault – even if we can look back in hindsight and see opportunities to de-escalate or avoid that we missed, the ultimate responsibility for violence always rests with the predator.

That said, I want to circle back and clarify the point I was trying to make. There is a difference between ignorance and complacency, and I think it’s an important one. From everything she’s shared, I don’t for a second believe that AGirl chose to be a victim. When we don’t know a threat exists, when we have no reason in the circumstances and our experience to suggest that a threat is there, we cannot fairly be expected to respond to that threat.

But when we know about the threat and still choose to pretend it doesn’t exist, we are giving into complacency. When we say to ourselves, “I should go take that self-defense class, but…” or “I should go to the range and do some training, but…”, we’re choosing not to prioritize our own safety, knowing that our safety is something we should be paying attention to. When we choose to place ourselves in harm’s way knowing that this is what we’re doing we’ve dropped the ball. That doesn’t make anything tragic that subsequently happens anyone’s fault but the criminal’s, of course. But if we know there’s a threat there, burying our heads in the sand and choosing not to do anything about it places us in harm’s way.

In her situation, is there anything AGirl could have done to defuse, evade, or escape what happened to her? I don’t know because I wasn’t there, inside her head, seeing what she saw. The science of victimology suggests that offenders go through a (sometimes lengthy) victim selection process and that recognizing when that’s happening can help alert us to trouble. Could AGirl have done that? At this point, that doesn’t matter – I suspect if she was in a similar situation again, the outcome would be very different.

But part of the reason it would be different, I think, is because – having become clearly and painfully aware of the danger that’s out there, she chose not to bury her head in the sand and pretend it couldn’t happen again, and she chose to prepare for it. And after my encounters with violence, I made the same choice.

I hope that’s clearer, and I hope it’s also clear that I don’t ascribe any part of the blame for what happened to AGirl, to me, or to any other crime victim, to anyone but the perpetrator. The point I was trying to make is that, once you have the awareness that you need to protect yourself, burying your head in the sand and pretending the trouble can’t find you isn’t a choice targeted toward ensuring your safety – and knowing, conscious complacency just punishment for being naive is a choice.


  1. AGirl says:

    Hey, I was not offered in the slightest nor was I upset. I just was giving my perspective. I hear over and over again about the choice people make to be a victim and I don’t agree that 100% of the people who are walking around clueless have made that choice. I think most people are very naive. Not all of them, of course.

    I am a huge advocate of waking up and taking responsibility and a bigger advocate of taking steps to be more safe, but I think there is a difference between someone knowing what to do and choosing not to do it vise someone who just doesn’t know.

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