On Her Own

“But it works for me!”

You’ve all seen at least one person who dismisses criticism of a technique or a piece of equipment because “it works for me.” Some of you, even me, have been that person. In an age when lived experience is an important part of truth, it’s not surprising to run into the position that the individual is the best judge of what, well, works for them. After all, nobody is more familiar with the specific context of where that individual lives, geographically, socially, and experientially. However, that still doesn’t mean that they are well qualified to decide that something is a good solution. It’s not a knock on that person, but it is a warning to look beyond “it works for me” when thinking about whether you should listen to their advice. Here are some reasons why:

They might not know about other options. If the only macaroni and cheese you’ve ever eaten was out of a blue box, then the stuff with the cheese sauce all made up in a packet can seem amazing even though neither of them approach the glory of a homemade-from-scratch pasta dish with a rich, cheesy mornay sauce. You wouldn’t know about all that, though, unless you know the other kinds exist and have had the opportunity to try them. It’s the same with self-defense tools and strategies. We see it with folks who believe that carrying a gun is the start and end of defending themselves because they’ve never learned about other options like pepper spray, and we see it with folks who are certain that a specific gun is the absolute best because it’s the only one they’ve ever owned. Even if they are aware of other choices, they may lack the knowledge and expertise to compare them productively or have approached that comparison with a closed mind. Of course, they may decide they like the blue box better anyway, but you should ask them why to decide if it’s still the best choice for what you’re looking for.

They might not have a true sense of their uniqueness. This hits on two sides. On one, they may argue that a particular choice is appropriate for them because of particular details of their lives and bodies, details that nobody else could possibly empathize with. They think are the only ones who can or have figured out the right answer for them, because nobody else can understand their challenges or because nobody else’s solutions can apply to them. More often than not, though, there are not so far off the norm that they need an all-new answer, like folks who believe that nobody else skinny or curvy has ever tried to conceal a pistol before and will reject any advice contrary to what they’ve discovered for themselves. On the other, they may assume that because an option fits them that it will be right for everybody. Context can be more generalized than we often think, but it can’t be ignored entirely, which is why we can’t tell a petite woman that anybody can comfortably carry a Glock 19 concealed, just like we can’t tell a person with a mobility challenge to simply run away from bad guys. Those solutions may work for us, but not for them because we may be unique from them in a way we don’t appreciate.

They might not have objectively tested the technique or piece of equipment. A favored knife might seem like it’s sharp and strong, or a specific way of holding a gun can feel like it’s comfortable and effective. The problem is the seeming and the feeling without data to back it up. Some parts of self-defense do come down to personal comfort, but whether a tool or strategy works at all is not generally debatable that way. You can believe that a knife is properly designed for defensive use, but you can’t know for sure unless you have the expertise to assess it or have consulted with someone who has. You can believe that a certain grip technique helps you shoot quickly and accurately, but you can only determine if that’s true by measuring your results against known standards with a scored target and a shot timer. Having that kind of analysis available is necessary to tell if those things do, in fact, work for you. You might land on something that’s against the norm that is actually better for your specific use case, but that conclusion should be provable.

They might not have subjected the technique or piece of equipment to rigorous use. Testing is one piece of the puzzle, but testing in an opposed environment, under pressure, is another piece entirely. That doesn’t mean that trying something out in a fight is necessary, or that “real world” success against an actual attacker is a requirement to determine whether it’s effective. It does mean that serious, dedicated training of the technique and long-term living with the tool will say a lot about how much they really do work and continue working. There are, for instance, some concealed carry methods that appear superficially comfortable, safe, and effective at concealing the gun and keeping it accessible for use. Wearing them for more than a few hours or days, in different environments and with varying activity levels, or taking them to a day-long class will start to highlight all of the ways they aren’t. If they’ve decided that comfort for a few hours of hanging out at home without high concealment demands are good enough for them, that doesn’t mean they’ll work well under the more demanding circumstances you anticipate.

“Works for me” may indeed be true. However, that statement alone doesn’t tell the whole story, and isn’t one you should rely on to make the best decisions for you, even if you are the person saying it. Instead, you need to know whether that statement is based on a knowledgeable assessment of what else is available, a thorough and objective evaluation of those options, and appropriate contextualization of the chosen tool or technique together with the individual using them.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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