The Internet is full of help, whether you ask for it or not. In the world of self defense and personal protection, we see it everywhere both online and off. Whether it’s a member of a group you’re part of, or an instructor you’re taking a class from…whether you should listen is a different story. It’s difficult to speak to precise qualifications for expertise in terms of classes a person must have taken, or experience or other knowledge that they must have. There are also legitimate reasons for disagreement about various equipment choices or tactics, and few people can have useful things to say about a wide variety of subjects, so there aren’t any particular statements that automatically disqualify someone from having something useful to say. It’s not even always about expertise either, because sometimes an expert isn’t needed to adequately answer a question. Instead, I encourage you to look for these markers of whether a person is worth listening to when it comes advice regarding your safety.
They realize that if they screw up, someone will die unnecessarily. I’ve harped on this one before but it’s important. When we talk about the tools and strategies to save lives, getting it wrong can, in a worst case scenario, result in death. That could mean the advice-asker, who isn’t told and shown how to train and live safely with a deadly weapon like a gun. That could mean the advice-asker again, who gains false overconfidence with a recommended technique and fails in a time of crisis, leading to their serious, life-altering injury. That could mean an innocent bystander who is put at risk or hurt because the advice given is incomplete and doesn’t include a clear explanation of the skill required to use a weapon correctly and effectively. The stakes are necessarily high when it comes to self defense because by definition, those situations involve times when one person is trying to hurt another person, and the ways of responding can be fraught with practical, legal, and moral issues. Flippant answers belie that gravity and indicate someone who may not have completely thought through the implications of their answer – implications that you must be concerned with to preserve your life and way of life.
They understand contextualization. In other words, they understand that what works for one person in one situation may not work for another person in another situation, and are sensitive to the factors that go into whether an answer is right for you. We aren’t all special snowflakes with a unique solution needed for every single one of us, but individual qualities do have a bearing on what will and won’t work to allow us to stay safe. Size, skill, strength, coordination, time, living and job situation, economic status, even gender – they and other things all play a role in whether a suggestion is appropriate for a particular person. For example, telling someone to punch their way out of a potentially troublesome situation might work for a large, strong man who works in a manual labor-heavy job but maybe not so much for a petite woman who lifts nothing heavier than her laptop at her office job. An indicator that someone is giving you an answer for you is that they are sensitive to the differences between your life and theirs, and who doesn’t try to impose what works for them on you.
They don’t demand enormous life changes. Small adjustments in how you carry through your day will often be necessary in order to increase your safety from various dangers. You might need to learn to lock your car doors as soon as you get in or get used to wearing slightly different clothes to be able to carry your pepper spray in a pocket instead of the depths of your purse. You probably need to stop walking around with your face in your cell phone (me too). But someone who suggests that you change the entire way you dress, who advocates moving to a new home right now, who thinks you can get a new job to escape a work policy that doesn’t allow you to carry a gun? That’s a sign of inflexible thinking that isn’t sensitive to the realities of how people live and change. And that’s an indication that the person offering advice might not have thought through the nuances that are necessary to understanding and offering realistic and effective solutions to the potential dangers in your life. It’s true that what they suggest might work to solve the problem at hand, but how helpful is it really, especially when smaller changes might get you most of the way to safety?
Their expectation levels are appropriate. They neither view you as incompetent and incapable, nor as able and willing to pour time, money, and other resources into becoming a super-specimen of preparedness and deadliness. Much like several of the previous items, it’s a delicate balance of life as you live it now and life as you could live it in the future. An advice-giver should be aware of what they’re asking you to do, and not assume that you already have or could easily have an extremely high skill level to, perhaps, be capable of effectively using a difficult-to-shoot small revolver to defend yourself. In those cases, there’s a failure in both understanding the expectations required and your personal ability to meet them. On the other end, there are the advice-givers who assume that women can’t possibly master the complications of a semi-automatic pistol, even though we know that women have learned to operate cars and washing machines and even fancy-pants computers and cell phones. It extends to the ability to learn and employ hands-on defensive skills, and keep them fresh over time.
They can answer “why.” And the answer is something beyond “it works for me.” You might not need, or even entirely understand, the explanation behind a specific recommendation, but being able to get one indicates a few things. For one, they have actually thought about the solution they’re offering and how it works, even if only for them, meaning they have some understanding of the reasons why it works for them and therefore, giving you clues about whether it will work for you. Even if they can’t do the work of contextualization, you can by having some of this background information. Folks who are willing to give you justification for their suggestions, instead of being defensive about why you’re questioning them, are also more likely to be experts and have a deeper understanding of the various options available rather than simply relying only on the one or two things they’ve personally been exposed to. Advice givers in this vein are also likely to be able to point you to other sources who can help you further your journey, and that’s important because your safety is a lifelong task and not something with simple, glib answers.
All of this requires a mirror for yourself too. If you’re offering people advice about how to be safer and how to save their own or others’ lives, then you, too, need to make sure that you’re not just posting for the sake of posting, to show that you have something to contribute even though it might not be on point and might result in the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do, which is to help improve someone’s safety.