So what’s the solution? I’ve told you this week about a few things that don’t work to help you be safe. Even though those strategies might make you feel better, they’re unlikely to make much, if any, difference at all when a bad guy shows up. It sounds pretty hopeless, but knowing is half the battle (GI Joe!). Once you are aware of where the gaps are in your preparations to stay safe, you can fill them. Let me help you get started:
I’ll start with the bad news: there are unfortunately few safety strategies that are magically effective with little investment in time or money. It turns out that the value triangle is pretty much the same for everything: you can only have two of fast, cheap, and good. A martial arts technique might be offered to you for free via handy social media video, and imply that you will know all that you need to know about it after watching for a few minutes, but if you actually try it, it might look like the first half of the video I posted yesterday and not work at all when you’re counting on it the most. Something like a gun can be quick to acquire, depending on local laws, and it will work very well, but you will spend hundreds of dollars for the equipment and for best chances of success, will need to invest in intensive training and practice. Don’t be discouraged, though, because it gives you a simple test to start figuring out if you are being sold empty promises. Besides, human beings are complicated and creative creatures and that means that the bad things can happen to you in complicated and creative ways. There is no single magic bullet that will work against all things, so you should be expect to need multiple options to protect yourself against a full spectrum of threats. Even among the good, nothing is 100% and there is always a chance of failure. To paraphrase my friend, Melody Lauer/Limatunes, the trick is to find what gives you the best odds of winning that fight for your life, while balancing the effort and money required against what you need to enjoy a life worth living for.
But have hope! As you learn more about what doesn’t work or might take more time and expertise than you anticipated, you will have more realistic expectations about what you can accomplish and be able to make wiser decisions about what you will pursue. It’s wonderful to not only stop wasting your time, but know that you are. You can take back those moments in your life and refocus them on what will be a more efficient use of your resources and – this is no small thing – bring you more joy. And if you decide that one of the strategies that takes time to accomplish is for you, you can enjoy the ride, understanding that it is a process and a journey that you can indulge in because there’s no need to think of it as a sprint race. To get there, you will need to educate yourself about the various options that are offered and start to understand what’s involved in each one of them. Think about how much effort is required to master them and to use them, and how likely they are to be effective both when perfectly executed under ideal practice conditions and when sloppily executed as you might against an attacker who doesn’t want to stop. What is the cost to you, what will you get back for what you put in, and is the exchange worthwhile? Don’t take the sales pitch wholesale; learn how to evaluate for yourself or find trusted experts (plural!) with relevant resumes and experience to help you. Then, when you find the right tradeoffs, you will be in the excellent space of knowing that you are learning and relying on the right strategies that will help keep you actually safe.
And there are some small wins that can give you some outsize returns for low effort. I’ve talked about many of them over time and will continue to talk about them here. They include actions that might sound silly and simple, like locking your doors or avoiding dimly lit corners of a parking garage or subway station. One of my favorites remains Farnam’s Rule: avoid stupid people in stupid places at stupid times, with the caveat that doing so can cost you not getting to participate in certain soul-feeding adventures. Staying away from potential trouble or keeping it away from you won’t require as much work as spotting it when it’s already headed your way. Many self-defense instructors will recommend dialing up your situational awareness as a way of seeing and avoiding an inbound bad guy, and it’s the start of a helpful answer. Digging deep into what you should be paying attention to when so you will see pre-assault cues, and what to do about what you sense, will take some time and it does take some energy to add it to your life (and requires you to shed a bit of that faith that bad things only happen to other people in other places), but it’s still less work than fighting an attack off after it has already started. Rudely telling a suspicious-looking person to stay away from you or crossing the street might not feel like a sexy self-defense move, but I promise you it is because it can work. When it comes to a real confrontation, my favorite tool of pepper spray is cheap and easy to carry (hit up my friends at POM Industries for the OHO collaboration pack!), takes minutes to learn and less than an hour for skills practice, and has a high percentage likelihood of working with little risk to you. There are just those pesky details about integrating it into how you navigate life and understanding the small but real problems that can come with inappropriate use. These are all the closest things I have to fast, cheap, and good all in one, but none of them are as completely free or easy as watching a video or attending a seminar once.
Ultimately, though, personal safety is always going to be a lifelong pursuit. You might make it part of your life, as Brazilian jiu-jitsu has become part of mine for reasons that are far beyond how it’ll help me with a bigger, stronger bad guy who tries to put his hands on me. You might dedicate a serious portion of your time and money to mastering relevant skills so that they are more likely to help you when you do need to call on them, as I’ve done with shooting pistols quickly and accurately from concealment, partially for the fun of it but also partially because I know my gun is not a talisman that gives will defend me by its mere existence and presence. You might decide it deserves a spot on your checklist of getting through life, regularly staying skeptical of strangers who approach you and knowing any one of them could be the one who changes your life for the worse, as I now interact with the world with caution everyday while doing my best to not stray into unfriendly paranoia. In the process, you might get overwhelmed by how many different areas of skill and equipment and expertise might seem necessary to stay completely safe, so you’ll also have to figure out where best to spend those most precious of your resources, your time and energy. Stick with me; we’ll talk about that too.