Thursday, May 30, 2013

Are You A Wet Cat?

No one is going to help you.

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but it's true.  

This happened in my town this week, and possibly in your town, too.  I've talked about it before.  No one is going to help you, so you've got to fight like you're all you've got.  Because you probably are.  

It's fascinating really, the way the brain works to freeze us up and prevent us from helping someone who is obviously desperate.  I first learned about it in the book Opening Skinner's Box, many chapters of which I still think about years later.

On the other side of the coin, at work today I responded to an assistance call over the radio.  I ran into the hall as fast as I could, with every other available officer running in from every direction, and we physically stopped what was happening.  So what's different?  We are normal people like everybody else.  Why do we show up when the person on the street won't?  Here's what I came up with:

*We spend many hours every day in an environment where the assumption is that violence will break out at any moment.  It may be directed at someone else or at us, but it's going to happen, it's just a question of when.  Now happily, it usually doesn't, and things generally click along smoothly.  But it could turn on a dime.  I think people may assume I'm talking about murder when I say "violence", but it could be as simple as two guys suddenly in a shouting match or someone throwing a sucker punch.  Or maybe worse. Whatever the situation, my job is to stop it immediately.  This, I believe, is the most important thing:  We're mentally in a place that we understand it can happen, and it can happen now.

*We're trained to respond to different types of aggression or violence, and taught to use different methods to solve different "problems".  An hour after the incident I was in a small group talking to a person who could be quite dangerous if he wanted.  Instead of a show of aggression, we used banter to keep things going in the direction we wanted, and a dangerous situation was simply avoided.  Different problem, different solution.

*Every other person dressed like us is going to run to put out the "fire".  Do you want to be the only person standing there not helping?  I don't.

*If someone does not respond, or seems to respond weakly in an emergency, that person loses respect.  There is an expectation that you will be brave and you will give a competent response.  The expectations of one's group have a very powerful influence on one's behavior.

If you read the four points above you will see they are the opposite of normal society.  

*In normal life (at least in my normal life) there is no expectation that violence could suddenly explode into being.  That's why people are so shocked when it does.  

*Most people have little to no training, and if they do have training it is usually in a sports-type setting.  This can certainly help, but it's not the same.  

*Every other person, if there are more one, will probably stand there and stare at the situation.    This makes it less likely that you will respond.  

*If you're not a first responder, there is no realistic expectation that you will know what to do.  I think people really do hope they'll know what to do.  But once, "hey, what are you doing?" doesn't work, that's about all they've got.  Because once you're in the situation you suddenly learn it's not like it is in the movies.  And why would someone know how to respond to unexpected violence?  If you refer to the above points, there's really nothing in normal life that would prepare us - indeed, the whole thing is set up to insulate us from sudden violence.  Which I appreciate, because I like to be able to go to the mall without getting mugged.  But if you want to learn to be prepared, you're going to have to go out of your way to get that education.  

Oh, and another thing.  People under stress follow orders.  Big time.  Think about what the attacker and the victim each said to the witness.  The victim said, "he's going to kill me".  The attacker gave the witness a direct order & told him to go away.  He went away.

If you need help, say clearly and loudly, "Call 911!"  "Please help me!"  "Get me away from him!"  Notice I'm not saying 'get him away from me', which would require the witness to grab the bad guy.  Not many people want to grab the bad guy.  You can even say, "I don't know him!" as many people are reluctant to get involved in a 'lover's quarrell' but are willing to help a victim of a stranger.  It may not work, they may just stand there anyway, but it's worth a shot.  

But no matter what any witness does or does not do, you must fight like no one will help you.  Have you ever tried to give a cat a bath?  That's how you have to fight.  Like a wet cat.  Stay safe out there, y'all.


  1. I have thought about this a lot since I read the APD bulletin this morning. I believe another issue in play is that we work so hard to avoid inviting violence into our lives that when confronted with unexpected violence, like the witness in the story, our tendency is to want to run with that instinct of self-preservation. It's a great instinct except when we cannot keep ourselves out of harms way 100% of the time. Which is why it is so important to *train* to respond so that when we MUST override that primitive instinct-- for the sake of ourselves, our children, our families or a stranger--we are able to respond in a way that at the least disrupts what would have been inevitable or at most, effectively quashes the episode all together. I don't want to be afraid but when I am I don't want that fear to paralyze me--have really begun to appreciate this in recent months.

  2. Excellent, I agree. Especially the last sentence. My friend Miss C once told me she started training because she was tired of being afraid. It's being paralyzed by fear that prevents us from acting, as you say. Makes me shudder to think of it.

  3. Krav sticks, that's been proven to me. A few months ago I was confronted on a city bus and again by the same guy when exiting. The guy was off his meds I suppose. No words or looks had been exchanged before he began making threats. My eyes went to his hands, hips, eyes then center mass (weapons, weapons, emotional intent, ready). There was no fear, no anger and no adrenaline dump. I did not think about it. I did not second guess because there was nothing happening but training and a sense of calm and focus. My bike helment in hand I assumed a passive fighting stance.... automatically. I think the guy was put off by the lack of fear and normal reaction he probably received from his act. Anyhow, he sneered at me and I realized he was nothing more than an adult bully. He then turned an literally sprinted down 8th street (downtown). The whole scene left me feeling happy and calm. wtf? It worked. It actually worked.

    You've made a difference in my kids lives Parker, we love you.

    - Jeremy B

  4. Jeremy, every instructor hopes they'll someday get that note. I'm so happy right now. Thank you for telling me about that, you couldn't have handled it better. Jeremy FTW.

  5. Well said Parker! Thats why I like training in your classes, because I feel like your drills put us in situations that prepare us for those type of fight-or-flight responses.

  6. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of
    plagorism or copyright violation? My site has a lot of completely unique content I've either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help stop content from being ripped off? I'd
    really appreciate it.

    Feel free to surf to my homepage :: psn code Generator

  7. Parker, as long as there are sheep, there will always be sheepdogs. You've stepped over the fence now and see it from the crest of the hill sitting up here with the rest of the sheepdogs, the view is quite different than in the pasture with the sheep.

    Miss you like crazy!

    T. Jester

  8. T. Jester, you told me when I got this job to be careful, that if you stare into the abyss long enough it will stare back into you. I get that now. I still like it very much, just have to actively shake it off sometimes. I miss you too, would love to see you soon.

  9. Hey, Parker. Great to catch up on your blog. You're in the eye of the storm and learning things, and that's cool. You also have a gift for seeing connections and sharing what you learn. Be proud of that. --Rory