ALREADY A ROUGH YEAR
It’s been a rough year already in terms of violence in our workplaces, schools, and society in general. As of this writing, there have been 157 mass shootings according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as four or more people being shot or killed in an incident, not including the shooter. And it’s news like this that can drive many to a place of feeling particularly vulnerable and even helpless. But, in the midst of the tragedy, senseless loss, and the associated grief, I’d like to offer a message of personal hope.
The subject of interpersonal violence is always hard and oftentimes scary to think about, but it isn’t something with which we’re unfamiliar. As Gavin DeBecker asserts in his book, The Gift of Fear, “there is a universal code of violence.” The fact is, we all have an innate ability to know when we’re in the presence of danger. Now, it may be strange to think of fear as “a gift,” but inherent in that unexpected phrase is the idea that our implicit awareness of danger means we also have the ability to do something about it; that, in many situations, we CAN recognize and survive acts of Extreme Violence.
But as with most things in life, this ability to survive is only optimized if we make an effort to leverage our innate capacities into functional strengths through education and training. This doesn’t have to be some long and complicated process, and it doesn’t have to be scary and overwhelming. But it does require us to face our reservations and fears with intentionality while realizing that, behind the fear, we always have options… life saving options even in the midst of life-threatening circumstances.
When I was a new special survival training instructor in the U.S. military, one of my mentors pulled me aside and said, “Jim, the will to survive can be taught and nurtured... and that’s what we do here.” I’ve never forgotten the power of those words and I offer them to you now.
A CALL TO ACTION
The fact is, we can all develop and strengthen our will to survive, but there’s a significant barrier in the way before we can do so, and that’s our own sense of denial. Denial is, in many ways, a yielding to the inertia of our own “normalcy bias,” which can often sound like “...that doesn’t happen here,” or “that won’t happen here, or, at least, won’t happen to me.” And if anything good can come out of the recent spate of violence that has stunned and grieved us all, perhaps it will be that, once again, we’ve been shocked into a begrudging acceptance that extreme violence can happen anywhere, at any time, and to anyone. As we learned from 9-1-1, the Virginia Tech Tragedy, and other events that punctured our collective sense of invulnerability, we must all be careful not to confuse the unfamiliar with the impossible.
And I want to add here that I'm actually encouraged about how people are stepping up to the challenge we're all facing. Having taught active shooter survival courses across the country, I’ve seen that, by and large, people are willing to do what’s difficult; they’re willing to face their fears and hesitancy, especially when the training is respectful and done in a way that informs learners without overwhelming them.
A state trooper with 25+ years’ experience once said to me, “as a first responder, I want to be on scene as soon as the violence breaks out. But the reality is that, for those swept into violent situations, when seconds count for them, unfortunately, I’ll still be minutes away.”
It’s a chilling thought, but it’s also a call to action… a call for all of us to take more personal responsibility for our own immediate safety and security. And I’m seeing more and more of that. It’s almost as if people are saying to themselves, “I’m sick and tired of being afraid of being afraid.” And that’s a good thing. We can do this!