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Difficile est proprie communia dicere.
(It is difficult to speak of what is
common in a way of your own.)

The importance of letting go of what you think

On this page:
Things Change | Emotional Safety vs. Physical Safety | When It's Not About You

Let me put this bluntly ... that bullet coming at your forehead doesn't care what you think. Unfortunately, what you think probably has a lot to do with why the bullet is coming at you.

Before you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation, it is important to examine the connection between what you think, how that effects your behavior and the likelihood of unintended consequences. Most crime and violence can be easily avoided if you've recognized the causal relationship of these.

But that's not as easy as you might think it is ...

People tend to cling fiercely to their beliefs and assumptions. While in general terms it is very difficult to jettison civilized constructs and assumptions and shift gears to a radically different operating method, it's nearly impossible to do so at a moment's notice and in a crisis. The odds of you being able to drop how you normally think and react effectively to a new, unexpected and dangerous environment are microscopically small (1). Therefore your best bet is to recognize when you're heading there before things explode. And once you recognize where things are heading, changing course to avoid going there.

Things Change
When it comes to surviving crime and violence, there comes a point where everything changes. Once you pass this point, all the constructs of civilization (that most people live their lives by) no longer apply. They -- for that moment in time --are meaningless.

That, however, does not mean there are no rules in this new environment. It isn't total chaos there, it's just different. Knowing this helps because although it isn't how you normally function, that doesn't mean you can't operate in that mode long enough to get out of there.

And that's the next point: If you are a normal, civilized person, forget trying to 'win' in these different circumstances. The rules are too different, just focus on getting out of there. Trying to win using your normal standards, reactions and behaviors is like trying to survive in the Antarctic using your desert survival skills. What you know just doesn't work there.

The trick is to recognize when you're heading into such an environment  before things explode. And once you recognize where things are heading, changing course so you don't go there. (Using the previous analogy, it's recognizing when you are leaving the desert you are competent to survive in, then heading back to it).

The sad truth is the people who are least likely to realize when they've known territory are the ones most likely to be attacked. This page explores the dynamics of this problem...

Emotional Safety vs. Physical Safety
A big part of these normal constructs is that your thoughts and feelings are important. There has been a shift in the philosophies of many modern societies towards this attitude being emphasized(2). While in general terms there is nothing wrong with this, in some circumstances, this is not going to have positive results.

The hardest idea to get across to people is past a certain point, your emotions and thoughts don't matter. What matters is what is happening -- not what you think or feel about it.

This idea can be very threatening. In fact, upon reading it many people will have a strong negative reaction. That's emotion talking. While it may sound like we're trying to negate the value of your thoughts and feelings, those are only important if your life isn't at stake. In violent situations, your life is at stake. This isn't hyperbole, it really is a matter of not getting your brains blown out. But until you can focus on what is happening outside your head, you cannot react in a manner most likely to ensure your physical safety.

In violent (or potentially violent) situations, your thoughts and emotions are just excess baggage that are going to hinder you from doing what is necessary to keep from getting hurt. In fact, often a strong emotional reaction is likely to increase your chances of getting hurt.

Unfortunately, all too often your emotions and what you think are what sent you speeding past that point and into the realm where violence occurs. That's another reason why you need to look at this subject before you find yourself in dangerous territory.

The most important thing you can realize is once you've past this point, the rules have changed. You're in a new territory. And that means, that your normal reactions, patterns, reflexive responses, assumptions and behaviors -- all of which work in your day to day lifestyle -- are no longer effective. What works back there, doesn't work here.

Now that gives you two basic choices ... drop your preexisting assumption and adapt OR get out of there.

Unfortunately most people who are hurt by violence try to do a third option. They attempt to force the situation to conform to how they expect the world to work (this is incidentally also a big part of why violence is so psychologically traumatic)

When It's Not About You
Many years ago Marc was doing a talk-radio interview about personal safety when the hostess, asked him a question that stunned him. The woman was obviously competent in her career (she had her own show), used to dealing with people (it was a call-in show) and considered herself a modern, assertive woman -- we tell you this to put her question in perspective.

The topic was, if despite your best attempts to avoid putting yourself into situations, you find yourself looking down a barrel of a robber's gun, what do you do? Marc's answer was "give him your wallet/purse." It was then the hostess asked her question:
       Let's say someone is robbing you and you've decided to give in.
       Is there anything you can say to the robber to let him know how
       upset you are with him that he's robbing you?

WHAT?!? The magnitude of the question floored Marc. Short of pulling the trigger yourself, to this day, Marc has not found a better, more guaranteed way to get shot. She might have just as well asked him "What's the best way to commit suicide?" This woman had just displayed her complete and utter lack of understanding of how dangerous people act and think. But that isn't the worst of it...

Marc attempted to explain that such an approach was likely to get her hurt, but the hostess became adamant. Marc's best efforts to tell this woman why what she was proposing was dangerous failed. Not only did he fail, but the next caller was a former gang member. He told her "Lady, he's right. I would have shot you had you done that" Even then, facing two people experienced with crime and violence, she argued for her 'right' to tell off the robber who was pointing a gun at her.

The subject concluded with her stating "I refuse to believe that there's nothing I can say that will tell him how angry I am with him for robbing me!"

Later that day Marc was telling his friend Tim Toohey about the event and Tim's response cut to the crux of the issue. He said "No she can't say anything that matters -- because she's dealing with someone more self-absorbed than she is."

Often people have a hard time understanding how self-absorbed violent people are. Interestingly enough the people who seem to have the hardest time (and are the most subject to violence) are themselves self-absorbed. The  radio hostess was a sterling example of this idea. She simply couldn't imagine a situation where what she thought or felt wasn't important.

The reason we say Tim's response is the crux of the issue is simple:
When you are dealing with a violent person, you are dealing with someone who is far more selfish than you could ever dream of being.

Not only that, but also someone who doesn't have the same social conventions that keep your behavior in check. In short, think of someone with the same emotional maturity and self-control of a two-year-old ... and a gun.

We cannot stress the importance of this concept. In civilized society, people assume that their person is sacrosanct. No matter how selfish one is acting, there is the assumption you will not be physically assaulted for those actions. Because of this, people proceed along behavioral paths assuming that the worst they will endure is emotional upheaval (e.g. getting yelled at).

Neither the criminal or the violent person is operates under the idea that you are off limits from being attacked. To him you are very much a candidate for assault -- especially if you assume you aren't. If you believe that you can react emotionally or in a selfish manner without physical consequence, then you have just greatly increased your chances of being assaulted.

This is why we don't recommend trying to out do these people with your feelings of outrage, anger or self-righteousness. To you shooting someone for irritating you is an outrageous idea, but it isn't to him. (Remember, a two-year-old with a gun.) If we may use a sports analogy here, you may be somewhat talented at the game of football, but these people are the equivalent of professional football players of selfishness. And they have no hesitation about attacking people they believe they can defeat.

Where things get really slippery is how fast such a person will attack and over what. You may not be acting in a particularly outrageous or selfish manner, but it might be just enough to set off a violent person. Recognize that being prima donnas of selfishness they do not tolerate it well in others -- especially when it involves their feelings or preventing them from getting what they want.

This is why something that you have done hundreds, if not thousands, of times before can blow up in your face when dealing with the wrong person. It doesn't matter how many times you've done it before (or your assumptions why it worked before), all it takes is to do it to someone like this and in the wrong circumstances and you'll be on your way to the hospital.

The raw, unpalatable fact is that people who are robbed, raped, attacked or assaulted have overwhelmingly made a string of conscious decisions that put them into the circumstances that allow for them to be attacked. And quite often those decisions were -- to some degree or the other -- selfish.

When we bring this point up there usually is a huge uproar by people who claim we are blaming the victim or who come up with outlandish what-if-scenarios. The simple fact is a person who walks into a parking lot and sees a bunch of hooligans hanging about looking for a victim has a choice. A choice is to stop, turn around, go back and get help or continue into the parking lot. Just as a person walking out of a store and sees two thugs in a pincer position has the choice to cross the street and not walk between them.

The most common reason for the wiser choices being rejected is that they would inconvenience the person. And because of the person chooses not to be inconvenienced he/she walks right into the lions jaws.

The attitude of putting your wants, desires or convenience above everything else works great in situations where people don't physically assault each other. Which quite frankly is most of the time. However in certain circumstances, these standards no longer apply. Therefore putting your emotions first can have dire consequences.

The good news is that

Now we're not going to tell you that you have to change your thinking all the time. What we're saying is that by recognizing where (and when) your normal way of thinking isn't applicable -- and avoiding those kinds of situations -- you greatly reduce your chances of becoming a victim.

Return to top

1) For example, try moving to a new country. The cultural shock is often intense. Often people who do so move into enclaves where they self-isolate to maintain their comfort level with familiar customs, language and behaviors. Changing to the new cultural standards is generational. Now imagine trying to make the shift unexpectedly and in mere moments (e.g. you're putting your groceries in your car trunk one moment and facing a gun the next). Return to text

2 Historically there are ideas and attitudes that are generation specific. While one generation accepts them as obvious truths, the next generation doesn't share those same assumptions. Nor does the next generation have the same experiences that shaped the previous generation's assumptions about life. Return to text

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