Saturday, September 13, 2014

Situational Awareness: How Not to be Killed by Vending Machines (and Muggers)

I saw it as it was going to happen and was too far away to do anything about it.  Imagine if you will, some poor soul who has reached the very second where chance, circumstance, timing, karma, fate, destiny and maybe even a little bad luck have combined into the corporeal bus that a man paying attention to his phone was about to step in front of.

Yeah, a bus.

Busses are not quiet urban predators; they are loud lumbering annoyances that spend more time stopped than moving and fill up a good percentage of anyone’s vision at any distance.  If a bus was a person, it would be Chunk from Goonies.  Loveable, useful, but not someone you are going to put money on during a hide and seek competition, even if hide and seek gambling was a thing.
The problem wasn’t the bus of course because the bus just is.  We have no control over the bus; it’s up to us to not be hit by it.  We have no control over the mugger; it’s up to us to not be victimized by him.  We have no control over the burglar, the disgruntled co-worker, the random homicidal stranger.  This is where situational awareness comes in.  We have to do all we can do to see these things coming as soon as possible to best confront them.

Situational Awareness; undoubtedly most of you reading this has heard the term and maybe (hopefully) all are familiar with why the concept is so popular for self-defense.  Situational awareness has been attributed a science-like status; awareness is dissected, studied and techniques are taught to help someone be more aware of their surroundings.  We have moved more and more towards getting people to scan their surroundings during and after shooting (though not so much before.)  There have been some new ways to look at old ideas and techniques (many, many on the OODA loop alone) and of course one of the most popular is/was the Cooper Color Codes.  Now I know that in the Principals of Personal Defense, Jeff Cooper described the color codes as a mind set tool, not a situational awareness tool.  I believe that mindset and SI are inseparable concepts and cannot exist exclusive of each other.  This is relevant because most of the articles ive read over the years seem to feel much the same way.  Mindset is obviously the foundation, but a color code system or whatever your methodology is the tool that mindset uses.

I never liked the Cooper Color Codes because my state of mind isn’t a color, and the conscious thought of what color I happen to be in doesn't do me much good at all while I’m there.  It also doesn’t help me at all if I’m trying to relate to someone about something and use my color code to explain it.  Situational Awareness is more than color codes, it’s an acceptance of how the brain works and why at any color the man with the phone about to step in front of the bus could be hit because if the bus isn’t the focus, it doesn't matter how relaxed or on guard you are, if you attention isn’t on where the danger is, you can be caught off guard.  The color codes aren’t for learning how to be aware; they are an attempt to describe what awareness is.   

It wasn’t a sudden spider sense that saved him by the way, it was pure timing.  He stepped off the curb, inches from the bus as it passed.  It was the force of the bus passing (and the sound I’m sure) that caused him to startle and fall back flat on his ass, thumbs still poised on his touch screen smart phone.   He sat, dumbfounded, head spinning left and right to assess his entire area and perhaps look for any other busses or unknown predators.   I don’t know the guy, but on my drive to work we happen by the same intersection at often the same time.  In the past two years, this is the second time I have seen him almost by hit by traffic.  Two times that I’m aware of.   Some people go their entire life without a self-inflicted near death experience; this guy has at least one a year.  Of course the answer is easy here, right?  Just put down the damn phone.  That would help, at least 50% of the time in his case because the first time I saw him almost get hit at the same intersection, he was just looking down as he walked with his hands in his pockets.  It’s not what he’s doing it’s what he isn’t aware of while he’s doing it.

Multi-tasking is a myth.  It looks good on a resume if the reader doesn’t know the truth and may be apropos to drop it in a conversation but it’s still junk science; attempting it actually harms productivity and when that comes to SI, harms productivity can mean hit by a bus.  Our brain can only perform one high-function task at a time (meaning situational awareness while texting isnt much of an option.) We also sense-focus on tasks, which is why you turn the radio down in the car when you are lost; you are trying to see better, all attention is being driven to your visual input so you want to limit any interference from other senses.  Its a subconscious act that we joke about; your mind often knows what needs to happen without your input so you turn the radio down without reasoning as to why you do it.  Thing of any two possibly opposing sense activities and you will find that one is going to take precedence and the other will largely be tuned out.

As self-defense shooters, we cant multi-task high end thought processes.  Before the fight even starts we have to have a baseline plan for what may happen to us. Being aware of your surroundings is where that begins and sometimes ends.  Pre-planning and "what if-ing" are all about what we are going to do if something happens; very few (if any) people plan for what the environment or bad guy will do because we dont know, cant know.  So how do you promote situational awareness?  How do you prime yourself to be more aware?  The natural way.

The wheel is round.  Its been round for over 5000 years.  There is plenty of ways to improve the wheel, but any attempt to re-invent it have failed because it does exactly what it is supposed to do the best way physics will allow.  Your brain works in much the same way.  We have deeply rooted evolutionary programs that handle things we cant be immediately trusted to handle.  Your startle reaction, developed without any conscious input from you and it occurs when there simply isnt time for conscious input, anyway.  What you do when startled is not your choice and it is not reliably possible to train a startle reaction because of the way the brain works.  We can train to fight, to process ODDA after a startle reaction, we can cut the time between startle and response but to overcome millennia of evolutionary programming would be like rewriting our DNA.  Its not the best system to cope with a threat, but it helps more than it hurts.  So how does that apply to situational awareness?  We are already programmed very well for it.  Our own technology has robbed us of that.

We evolved with binocular and Trichromatic Color vision, which lets us judge distance, posses a wider field of view, detect color variations in our environment to warn us of threats and generally make our lives a little easier.  Like other predators, having our eyes in the front of our head makes hunting much simpler.  Not satisfied with a simple advantage of depth perception, we used our cognitive abilities to develop tools.  A few thousand years of trial and error have brought us to the present day and a time when daily survival is not a war for the top of the food chain.  When we still hunted with spears it was give or take with other predators.  The bow and later the firearm (along with the civilization explosion) has seen us firmly plant ourselves as king of the mountain; at a cost of all those generations of hunters.  See, in order for you to be who you are, way back in your blood line its safe to assume your ancestor had to survive some serious shit.  Im not talking about WWI (which in the order of magnitude would be much worse) but far enough back that being stalked by a lion, a pack of wolves or other man eaters was a daily concern.  Of course we also have to remember the most violent of all predators, other men.  We've been killing each other daily far longer than we have been civilized and many of the first civilizations had some fatalistic ideas of who was worthy of their civilization. These days, more people are killed by vending machines than sharks (a funny story that ignores a lot of facts in order to be "true.") and someone being eaten by the wild is rare enough in most civilized places to make the news unlike 1900s India where 1000 people a year were eaten by tigers.  Nope, we pretty much have it made.  Except when we dont.

Our relative societal safety has killed our situational awareness.  The way to fix it it as simple as paying attention; no easy task when there are texts to send, cracks in the sidewalk to avoid, tweets to compose or videos to watch.  No easy task if you dont believe there are people out there who would kill you for a dollar.  Violence isnt as common as it once was; which is not a comforting statistic for someone beaten by a mob of people or robbed at gun point.  Natural situational awareness is processing the environment for something you need to be concerned with.  Its avoiding our body's natural auto pilot where we spend almost half our waking day not paying attention (seriously, read that one).  How do you do that?  How do we pay attention?  A heightened situational awareness, a level of vigilance one experiences when expecting an attack cannot be maintained indefinitely.  Our mind is not built like that of a reptile, the complexities are so great that such a level of awareness is physically draining and of course without the expected stimulus, we may drift right back into auto pilot.  Its an experiment anyone can try on their own.  start a stop watch and go throughout your day physically and mentally expecting an attack; your first thought about vacation, that girls ass, how much it sucks to be at work or any other thought that doesn't involve Stabby McMurderface and you lose.  Ive had people tell me they can maintain a level of constant vigilance for every waking minute and I call those people liars, or mistaken as to what the statement means.

A heightened sense of awareness is goal-oriented.  To increase our attention to our environment, we have to have a goal.  The more unique that goal, the more we are likely to actually see when we look.  In the car, on foot or in an open public space (mall, shopping center, etc) there is enough audible and visual stimulus that to evaluate all of it would be a daunting task.  A goal can be something as simple as find a blue car, find a man with a red shirt, find the nearest stop sign or find the closest exit.  By visually searching for an object of interest, we are weighing everything we see against our goal.  This serves a few purposes: it gets you off your portable distraction device, focuses all your senses on the search and heightens your awareness to general stimulus.  Its goal driven awareness that isnt as prone to fatigue as constant vigilance because it has an achievable goal that isnt relying on today being the day someone tries to kill you.  The world exists outside of what you can see so it pays to be 360 degrees aware.  Once you find your goal, you move on to a new one. This concept is similar to the Kims Game  because it encourages detail awareness.  Once you get used to the idea, you develop the habit and then it becomes a constant that may require a gentle self-reminder to continue every so often.  You cant multi-task situational awareness and you cant rely on the environment to alert you to the threat.  We may not be bale to control the environment until it tries to control us, but we can do a much better job of predicting it.  Situational awareness doesnt need a color code, an acronym or a 300 page book to explain; our natural ability to see the predators be they man or machine just has to be turned back on.  We do indeed live in a civilized world, but it is prone to fits of uncivilized violence. Train accordingly.  

1 comment:

  1. Someone has been reading Left of Bang...