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“To live my life, I have to use caution as a tool of empowerment. Which, I’ve learned, it is.”
Scary times out there, right? Computer hackers lurking. Old-school criminals doing the same with guns. Homegrown assholes with scores to settle.
In the face of all this, men tend to see themselves as protectors. I do. Someone coming after my family will have to go through me. Maybe that’s why I always imagine the worst things that can happen while we’re out. Will a guy stroll into our restaurant waving a Glock? What’s with the woman wearing bulky clothes in the airport security line who won’t look at anyone? Is there anything nearby that can be used as a weapon? Perhaps a chair or an overturned table as a shield? It can be an overwhelming responsibility.
A lot of men think about this, but I’ve made it harder on myself. I write thriller novels and I want them to be realistic, so I research exactly how the worst can happen. I’ve become so good at thinking like a bad guy that the government has asked me to work out doomsday scenarios so it can prepare. It’s made me ultrasensitive to just how exposed we are.
The dark side of the imagination is cold and unlimited, and you just can’t dwell there full time. You’d become paranoid and refuse to leave home; people would pity you and then forget you. So to live my life, I have to use caution as a tool of empowerment. Which, I’ve learned, it is.
Keeping safe is largely a matter of plugging small, overlooked holes around you. Think of the things you do as if they were a series of rugby moves. Did you see the centre get sold on the dummy pass? Or the backlines propensity to play a rushed defence? Of course you did; an astronaut could’ve seen it. Now, if people far away from you can see a hole, they can exploit it. But if you see the hole first, you’re closer to the action and you can plug it.
Like this: almost everyone uses their index finger to enter their PIN at an ATM. Bad guys know that and can tell which numbers you’re hitting by watching the motion of your arm and shoulder. How? Because they practice this shit over and over, that’s how. Then they pickpocket your card, and soon you’ve bought yourself a dozen big-screen TVs in Uzbekistan. So pretend to use your index finger but actually use your thumb. This changes the trajectory of your body and fools the bad guys.
Keep thinking this way. Don’t use free Wi-Fi in a public space; if you can gain access, anyone can. If someone leaves a public pool’s equipment room open, close the door. And those bumper stickers that promote your kid’s school? Or even worse, “Selling car by owner” – where someone can see you, decide you’re easy to overpower, use your phone number to look up your address, scope it out, then call you to draw you outside? Just leave this stuff off your car.
There are bigger dangers, to be sure. But if you’re caught up in something like a robbery, you’ll still want small solutions. Don’t go hand to hand with the bad guys. They’ll be armed, they’ll know how to fight, and they may not care if they die or not. Instead, rely on simple observations.
So lead by example, and your little suggestions won’t seem so intrusive. Tell friends why you’re doing something when you do it. Or play down the threat: say you’re watching the garage door closing because you don’t want a squirrel or bird to skitter in, instead of talking about murderers and rapists who can, by the way, skitter in too. It doesn’t matter why people remember to close the door; it just matters that they do.
Don’t have an example? Turn on the tube. When you see someone on TV doing something blatantly unsafe, point it out – not in a lecturing way, but in the way someone makes fun of anything on television.
We’re men. We like to think we can protect our loved ones. Physically, we can take some martial arts courses and pump iron. Lots of guys do that. Mentally, we can start to see threats and be prepared for them. Most guys don’t do that.
You should start when you walk into a place; look for alternative entry and exit points or hiding places, and maybe a door you can lock behind you. Know your surroundings so you can use them. I’m not a DEFCON 2-every-Tuesday kind of guy, even though I might seem that way. But that’s the trouble: anytime we’re not being threatened, we feel safe. And when you try to tell people how to avoid danger they don’t see, you seem paranoid. And paranoid people have no credibility.