“It works for me!”
We hear that so often when it comes to all areas in life, but I see it especially in self-defense and gun-oriented groups. Someone recommends a product or technique, and backs it up by saying it’s something that works for them, or maybe someone they know, so it must be viable. Sometimes, it’s their best or only response to any challenge that suggests they may not be giving good advice.
Personal experience is important, and it’s true that personal preference plays a major role for comfort in particular. We need input from people of all sorts of shapes and sizes, living in all sorts of circumstances and facing all sorts of situations, to help understand what might and might not work for our individual bodies and lives. All opinions are valuable, because they are a person’s lived experience and they tell us something important about how they feel about and interact with the solution they suggest or warn against. The problem is that not all opinions are equal, so we need to be really careful to weigh those responses carefully and consider them appropriately.
The person may be well-intentioned but not be qualified to evaluate the solution. They might only have limited experience with other available products, or not have enough relevant education to have more than a very limited understanding of its pros and cons. If someone has only ever had McDonald’s-style fast food burgers, for instance, they might be convinced that they’re awesome and might try to tell you that – but that’s because they’ve never had a Smashburger or a pub burger or have even heard of a Juicy Lucy or a patty melt. In those cases, knowing that person’s background and range of experience and education can help you know that perhaps their opinion is fantastic about one style of fast food burger, from a person who has only ever experienced that kind of burger. You might want to seek out someone who eats a lot more burgers of all different kinds, and maybe who even knows a thing or two about making burgers, before deciding what type you’d like best.
They might be influenced by others who also might not be qualified, or by monetary or other pressures that aren’t necessarily relevant to whether a solution is objectively superior or inferior. The corollary to “it works for me” is “it was recommended by someone I know or who I’ve heard of.” That person also might have only ever eaten McDonald’s burgers, though, and just has more perceived authority. Lots of followers, a popular name, years of experience, or even an instructor certification may or may not be relevant to a person’s knowledge. Similarly, lots of people liking a particular solution might just mean a lot of people like that solution but haven’t really dug deep into the hows and whys of it and whether it is safe or effective. Marketing, after all, works because it sells a product and not necessarily because the product is high quality. Connected with that, sometimes a person recommending a solution has a financial or other relationship with the manufacturer or inventor. That doesn’t mean their opinion is always biased in favor of the solution, but it can, so knowing about it – or finding out that it’s been hidden from you – can be part of deciding if a person’s opinion is meaningful to you.
One way to tell if someone has an educated opinion that is more helpful to you is to see if they are able to tell you about the downsides of a solution they like, respond to detailed questions, and tell you why it might or might not be for you. Having that additional information at their fingertips is an indication that they understand what makes a solution work and not work, not just that they like it for their individual circumstances. They can therefore help you translate and understand the solution and how it might fit into your life far more than someone who has only considered it within their own life. It’s true that they might not have lived all of the scenarios that they talk about, but being able to talk to them likely means that they have thought about them in more depth than others who likely haven’t and maybe can’t. It’s a perfectly natural thing for a person to focus on their own life and what they like and don’t like, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But it might mean that they don’t understand why that thing works for them and therefore, why it might or might not work for others, like you.
And finally, one more thing to think about. When recommendations are especially uncritical or when they focus largely on pure aesthetics, they don’t always come with an understanding that a bad or problematic recommendation could have life or death consequences for someone who follows it. In the self-defense world, safety matters. Performance matters. Effectiveness matters. Reliability matters. Not considering trade-offs that might be made in any of those areas (and there are, with few exceptions, almost always trade-offs)…well, that makes me wonder if that person has truly thought about the life or death consequences of getting it wrong in their evaluation and recommendation and have therefore been appropriate critical in their analysis. I’m not going so far as to say you should toss out overwhelmingly positive or negative commentary when making your decisions, but do spend a little time wondering if the folks making those statements have truly considered if or how that product or technique fits the task of saving your life or if they were just accepting the invitation of a reply box.
Your life matters, and it matters more to you than anyone. Take that into account when you sift through advice for how to preserve and improve it.
And yes, I realize that you might read this and decide I’m not worth listening to. I’d ask you to consider my background and how I’ve explored relevant topics before you dismiss me entirely. But you know what? Ultimately, it’s up to you.