I have a quick homework assignment for you. Watch the first minute-and-a-half or so of this video (you can watch the rest later, but now we have work to do!)
You see what your knowledge tells you you’re seeing. You apply whatever base comprehension you have to explain or make sense of whatever it is you’re observing. That’s what the truth is, really; an explanation or a point of view that fits what you observe. Whether or not that point of view is factual is ignored, because if it gives you the certainty you need to continue with your life, you’ll accept it.
The problem is when that truth is based on a very narrow or very exceptional set of observations, as was the old explanation of the sunrise looking the way it does because of the belief that the sun revolved around the earth. At some point such a truth will encounter an observation it cannot explain; then you either cling to your outdated version of the truth at all costs, or you change the model.
In the world of defensive shooting, we do far too much of the former: clinging to outdated versions of the truth. For an illustration, read this account of a home invasion taken from The Truth About Guns. It’s a short article, but it’s important that you read it.
Done? Good – let’s get back to our discussion of truth.
Note this line in the story: “This sad tale reminds us to maintain situational awareness […]” Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? It’s not – it’s indicative of a view that’s dangerous. (Some of the comments are even worse; read them at your peril.)
Read the story again, focusing on the state of the victim: he was awake, bedridden, and made a conscious decision to open the door via remote control because he believed his neighbor was there. This wasn’t a matter of maintaining situational awareness; he was as situationally aware as he was likely to get. It was a case of believing that the person knocking on the door was his neighbor, either because the person pretended to be or because it always had been in the past.
Both possibilities are discussed in an article I wrote some time back for the Personal Defense Network, called “The Myth Of Situational Awareness“. This incident illustrates the points I made: the criminal can pierce your seemingly invincible veil of situational awareness either via cunning (pretending to be someone he’s not), or by simply waiting until you’re distracted (when the pattern matching functions of your brain are in charge.) In either case, situational awareness can (and usually will) fail.
That quote from the article is a view that is all too common: that situational awareness will keep people safe, that it is the most important thing one can possibly do for one’s own safety, and when someone becomes a victim it MUST be because his situational awareness wasn’t good enough.
I doubt the fellow in the bed could have been any more situationally aware than he already was. He made a decision to open the door because the evidence with which he was presented told him it was safe to do so. He could have been in condition chartreuse with mauve stripes and still have made the same bad decision.
The comment about situational awareness is one that’s made far too often, and (as in this case) far too casually. The author sees what his knowledge – what he’s been told – tells him he’s seeing, even when that knowledge doesn’t explain what happened. In this case, the knowledge is what he’s been told about situational awareness. The problem, in this case, is that it doesn’t explain what happened. If that’s the case, isn’t it dangerous to simply conclude that more of it will prevent such things from happening in the future?
This is why it’s critical that you think about what you’re told, or at least insist that the people teaching you think about what they’ve been told. If their version of the truth is based on a small set of observations, particularly when filtered through tradition and fallible recollection, without rational analysis you may end up with the self defense version of the sun going around the earth.
-=[ Grant ]=-