Attitude is one of those things that gets people in trouble. But our attitude is perhaps the most important component of self-protection. Those of us who have been trained have gained an invaluable advantage over others: we know what to do when our life is on the line. Our attitude in our daily life is part of our armor.
Very often we see people, even people in dangerous occupations, simply going through life as if it were all unicorns and rainbows. They assume that since the past hour has been quiet, the next one will be too. Or they assume that because they’re in a crowd, enjoying a concert, that they are not a target. In other words, most people go through life in condition white, or what I would call, oblivious. I’ve been guilty of this, just like most people. But I know the difference now. I know the truth of the real world. No one is coming to save me. I have to save myself. My safety, my self-protection is my responsibility.
That means that even a walk to the mailbox is an opportunity to employ observation skills. Are there new cars in the neighborhood? New people about? I take notice of these things now. At the gas station I look to see whose cars are running. Is anyone nervous? Is anyone blading? Do I see pre-assault indicators? Does this make me paranoid? I don’t think so.
I have become the master of the apology. “Sorry if I didn’t see you while I was backing up.” “Sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off.” I practice apologies with straight faces because I don’t want to get drawn into a fight based on ego, and about half the time people are satisfied with an apology.
In short, I do just about everything I can to avoid confrontation and trouble. When people describe me, I want them to talk about what a nice guy I am. I am unfailingly polite, even when irritated. To do otherwise might well provoke a confrontation. I don’t really care if someone thinks I apologized because I am weak and afraid of them, so long as they don’t try to capitalize on that perception of weakness or fear.
Perception & Reality
I do all of this because I am a trial lawyer and I understand the law of evidence. I understand what the power of reputation and attitude can do for you, and against you, in a self-defense situation. I understand that reality is many different things to many different people, and the difference between being called the aggressor or the victim is often simply a matter of perception to people who may only be seeing a part of an encounter. People tend to remember only that which reinforces their beliefs.
I saw a very interesting experiment performed in a college course on perception. As the professor was lecturing a man came in through the door, pointed a gun at the professor, and pulled the trigger. There was a loud bang, and the professor fell to the floor. He was not shot; the gun had caps in it. The shooter ran out the other side of the room.
At that point a person playing the interrogator came in and started asking questions. That interrogator had the students in the room, as well as me watching the video, believing that the shooter was a young white male with red hair and a beard wearing a red plaid shirt. Everyone in the room agreed on this description.
When the tape was replayed to the group, the 35 year old male had dark brown hair, no beard, and was wearing a solid blue shirt. In effect, the interrogator had planted recollections in the minds of a group of over 30 people simply by the questions asked. I have never forgotten that experience, and it’s the reason I use open-ended questions when talking to witnesses. I do not want to plant false memories.
Take the situation where someone takes offense at a word or actions. You hold up your hands and take a step back as you’re apologizing. Does the witness to this event describe you as “putting up your dukes, as if you were getting ready to fight?” Likely that happens if you have a reputation or display an attitude of being a tough guy. Your image and your reputation put a series of stereotypes into the brains of people who know you. That perception becomes their reality if, at some future time, they are called to testify about what you did, and what led up to it.
That’s precisely why, in spite of being an NRA Life Member, in spite of believing strongly in the Second Amendment, and in spite of believing strongly in my right to carry, I don’t wear Tee-shirts that suggest that image. There are two good reasons for this.
First, I don’t want people to know I am armed. It gives away an advantage. It effectively acts as a “shoot me first” directive to criminals.
Second, and most important, that tee-shirt becomes Exhibit 1 at the trial where you’re charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of the carjacker you shot and killed. That happens because the tee-shirt says you’re a “gun nut” and certain liberal prosecutors have the belief that you should simply have given up your car, that your property was not worth the carjacker’s life. And they enforce their own personal values and beliefs in the courtroom. Your actual culpability matters not to them: they are making a political statement.
Once many years ago I saw a depiction of justice in a southern courtoom where the judge told the suspected felon “you come here looking for justice, well that’s what you get: just us.” I have remember that, because in some parts of this country if you defend your life successfully, justice might not look anything like what you’ve been told.
So, just like I engage in careful Condition Yellow vigilance at all times, and just like I apologize profusely when necessary, I also avoid trips to:
- New York
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- Washington DC
- Oregon, and
- Washignton State
I avoid these places because, as you might guess, they tend to believe that anyone who defends themselves must be a criminal at heart. Perhaps not all jurisdictions in these states, but certainly the most populous take this approach.
As for me, I will stay in the south, where if you shoot someone who is breaking into your house, that’s really all the cops need to know.