An Unfortunate Truth About People and Violence

Let’s call this a tale of two truths:
1) Violence is a relatively rare event that doesn’t affect a particularly large portion of the population
2) We have a tendency to care about violence (and any effects on us) only AFTER a violent encounter has occurred.

The first truth is irrefutable and statistically verifiable: any individual at any point in time has a fairly remote probability of experiencing a violent encounter (work and personal life choices notwithstanding).  Joe and Jane Citizen have relative surety that they can walk down a city street, enjoy a day at the park, go shopping at the mall, or wile their time away at home with a low probability of experiencing violence.  That truth assumes, of course, that people aren’t operating a crack house or running with gangs.

It’s the second truth that is more compelling, and that is the nature of the human mind when it comes to violence. We are, for the most part, fairly content to go about our daily lives without giving thought to the idea that, while not happening to us, there is violence occurring in our immediate area.  We live in a fairly small southeastern town in rural North Carolina. For the most part, it’s a sleepy little town where most people know most other people.

However, there’s a dark little secret lurking in our quiet little town. On average, we have an assault rate that outpaces the national rate by 134 people per 100,000 residents.  An individual has nearly a 60% higher likelihood of being assaulted in our town than in the US as a whole.  Further, our town out-paces the national average in the areas of burglaries, thefts, and overall crime.

The stats are even worse for the ‘Big City’ just 15 miles away.

I have taught self-defense classes at varying points in the past (something we’re trying to expand with DefCon Security), and I’ve noticed a glaring trend: many of the participants are there because they’ve experienced a violent or potentially violent event. These students include women who have been stalked in a store and came to realize that they have no idea how to manage the situation, teens who have been physically bullied, and young women whose significant others grew physically abusive.  Even my oldest son started to take his safety more seriously when the crazy neighbor threatened to shoot him when our dog got in her yard.

It’s a difficult task to get people to see beyond their normalcy bias to understand that preparation before a violent encounter is superior to waiting until we’ve survived violence to learn how to manage it.  Operating on the assumption that, “I’ve never experienced violence before, so I have no reason to believe that violence will impact my life,” people find themselves caught flat-footed when violence does find its way into their lives.

There are a good many preparatory steps that we take to protect ourselves and our property from harm. We wear seat belts in our cars. We put fire extinguishers in our homes.  Some of us install car alarms to ward off thieves. We put up security cameras, install alarm systems, and lock our doors to deter home intruders. All of these things we do with the knowledge that we are highly unlikely to be the victims of a car crash, vehicle theft, or home invasion.

It seems that the only thing we’re unwilling to proactively protect is our person.

And that is the unfortunate truth about people and violence. It appears that we have to survive violent encounters before we take steps to avoid violent encounters.

Even more compelling is that people are so comfortable with the absence of violence in their lives – so inured to the potential that they could be victimized – that they take unnecessary risks that make them even more likely to be victimized. They glue themselves to their phones in public rather than observing their surroundings (remember the woman who sued a mall when she fell into a fountain while texting?). They occlude their hearing with headphones. They stare at their feet as they walk rather than taking in what is happening around them.

I’m still searching for the magic words that can get people from the point of blithely going about their lives without concern for their safety to being active participants in their own protection. Self defense isn’t just for survivors; it is the domain of every human to protect his or her right to life.

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