Creatures of Habit

The music in the bar was loud, and the air very cold. It was crowded, and the lights strobed in dizzying flashes of red and blue. I’d love to be able to claim these factors disoriented me, clouded my judgment and slow my reflexes. I’d love to be able to say that, because of them, I wasn’t in my right mind, that my faculties had temporarily deserted me.

I’d love to be able to fall back on those excuses for why I didn’t respond more immediately and forcefully when the man who reeked of sweat and stale beer got far too close to me. I’d love to use them to explain why I didn’t say “no”, clearly and unequivocally, when he touched the back of my hand. I’d love to rationalize away all the reasons why it wasn’t until his hand had skimmed past my knee and was disappearing under the hem of my skirt before I finally responded.

And why, even then, my response was soft and quiet and meek, all things I try not to be, so that even after that point he followed me around for another hour, right up to the moment that my friends and I left the bar.

I’d love to be able to say that ths encounter took place long ago, back before I had the training and knowledge I do now. Back before I knew better. But I can’t even say that. In truth, the incident I described was appallingly recently, and I’ve done a lot of thinking since about lessons (re-)learned, and about why I responded the way I did. And why you might respond that way, too, even though you too know better.

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Making the Choice Not to Carry

1070609_65995437On a recent trip to Seattle for business, I had a chance to have lunch with the inimitable Kathy Jackson. As you might imagine, our conversation touched on all sorts of topics, including armed self-defense. At one point, I commented about how I think it’s important to encourage other women to become responsible for their own safety, but that it’s also important to let women come to that decision on their own and not be pushy about it.

Kathy said something which surprised me, but which on reflection I totally agree with. “I’d go farther than that,” she replied, “and say that I think it’s irresponsible to pressure women into making that decision.”

Though we didn’t talk in depth about Kathy’s reasons for feeling that way, I’d like to talk about the reasons why I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiment.

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Situational Awareness Fail

20130207-065247.jpgI might not have see the dog, even if I’d been paying closer attention. He darted out from behind a large trash can and a low brick wall, and his nose was nuzzling my fingers before I even knew what was happening. Luckily, his intentions weren’t hostile, and I was able to just walk away. But there’s no guarantee that will always be the outcome.

I was out for a “road hike” when it happened. I’m going backpacking with a friend semi-regularly now so I’ve added a small pack of about 15 pounds to my routine when I go for a walk. It’s good exercise, good practice, and a chance to troubleshoot my gear. When the stray dog approached me, I was two miles into a 3-1/2 mile walk. I had a good pace, good rhythm, and I was feeling relaxed and confident. And just like that, relaxed and confident, I let my guard down and my attention drift, for just a minute.

Lessons learned?

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Safety in Numbers?

777060_28725674There’s a persistent myth in our society that “there’s safety in numbers”. “Go out in a group”, conventional wisdom tells us. “There’s danger in being alone,” it says. Conventional wisdom left out an important caveat, though: Just like being alone, there’s only safety in a group when the group is alert, oriented to and aware of its surroundings. Otherwise, the only thing being in a group does is to create a bigger pool of ready victims for the predator.

In fact, that’s sort of the origin of the expression “safety in numbers”. Think about a school of trout swimming upstream. Without warning, a bear plunges his hungry maw into the water and snatches up three fish. There are a zillion trout in the school, so the odds of the bear taking any particular fish are pretty low. Add more fish, and the individual risk of being selected drops slightly more. But this is no comfort for the three trout who – because of inattention, age, infirmity, or just plain bad luck – landed in the bear’s mouth.

So, how can we increase our odds of staying safe when we’re out in a group? Here are some suggestions:

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Lessons from the Clackamas Mall Shooting

585836_31371578The mainstream media is whipping itself into a frenzy this morning after a shooting at a mall in Oregon yesterday. Although the details are fuzzy, current media reports suggest a killer with body armor and a semiautomatic rifle killed two people and wounded a third before taking his own life. Law enforcement response was gratifyingly fast — by some accounts, the first officers on scene arrived in less than two minutes — but by then the incident was already over and the killer lay dead of what sounds to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I think there are some good lessons that can be learned from this incident, and I’d like to talk about a few of them. As tragic as yesterday’s events were for the victims and their families (and for the family of the killer, a victim of his crime and yet often overlooked), they’d be even more tragic if we didn’t learn anything from them.
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The Problem with Less-Lethal Weapons

20121104-181310.jpgWhen I talk to women about armed self-defense, a certain percentage of them are bound to ask me what I think of less-lethal weapons, such as TASERs and OC spray. (I call these “less-lethal” because there is a small, but non-zero, risk of fatal complications from both.)

For women who know they need something more than hand-to-hand combat skills to ensure their own safety, but who don’t feel emotionally prepared for the possibility of taking a life, less-lethal alternatives might seem an appealing proposition. After all, they can end the threat without having to actually kill someone. Right?

Well, not exactly.

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What Would You Do – Creepy Store Employee

Garand Gal shared a story the other day about an experience she had while shopping for new glasses for her daughter. I’ll let you read her post for the whole story, but here’s the gist of what happened:

The technician was complimenting her on how pretty her eyes were, then it was her hair (it’s long, she’s never had her hair cut) and then he kept asking her to turn around so he could see the butterflies embroidered on her back pockets (he did this at least three times) and telling her how cute they were and how pretty she was, did she wear make-up etc. I saw red flags flying all over throughout the conversation. One of them being that when he was doing the store spiel he was using a normal tone of voice but when he was complimenting her or asking her to turn he was using a very quiet voice. I assumed so it wouldn’t be picked up by the surveillance. Another was that he waited until I appeared distracted with my other children or my phone before he said anything, not realizing that I was texting the things he was saying to my husband and that as a mother I can pay attention to several things at once. When I didn’t give him any indication that I’d heard, he started saying more and more things to her.

Garand Gal asked her readers what they would have done in a similar situation. I think she handled what happened well (you can read her post to find out what she did), but I wanted to link to this because I think it’s instructive to talk about what Garand Gal did right.

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Disengage the Autopilot

How can you fix a problem that you haven’t recognized is a problem yet? What are the habits you’ve fallen into, without even consciously being aware of them, that might lead you into trouble?

I was thinking about this question earlier today when I noticed myself doing something that I didn’t give a moment’s thought to at the time, but which I’ve sure been thinking about afterward.

I had to take my car into the shop this morning. It was a completely routine thing, and I was in and out in 20 minutes. The service station was one I’ve patronized for years, the owner someone who’s been fixing cars longer than I’ve been alive. To say that I trust him and his work is a bit of an understatement. So, when I got there, without even thinking about it, I handed over my keys.

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Magical Thinking

I had a challenging conversation yesterday about my interest in safety and self-defense, and the end result left me feeling frustrated and bewildered.

“I believe in the Law of Attraction“, this person declared, “and by focusing so much attention on this negative and scary stuff, I think you’re attracting danger and violence into your life. If you don’t spend so much time and energy thinking about bad stuff happening, it won’t happen.”

I was momentarily stunned into speechlessness. It was clear from the conversation that the person I was talking to genuinely believed what he was saying. It was equally clear that he had no idea how absolutely ridiculous this idea sounds to my ears. The empirical evidence is vast, it seems to me, to support the proposition that trouble finds us whether we expect it or not, and that it’s better to have it find us prepared than unprepared. And besides which, all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that being aware and confident and prepared makes us less attractive targets for the predators, not more attractive. When I’d regained the ability to talk, I said so.

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