The ability to detect and avoid trouble and danger before it actually occurs, is probably far more important than knowing how to fight. Many unpleasant situations one might find himself in, can be prevented, simply by paying attention to your surrounding and reading the signs. Personal safety is where all your mother’s wisdom comes back in 😉
Situational awareness sounds so scientific, somewhat fancy, like being something that you learn in “Spy-school”. The truth cannot be any further from it. It actually came included with the built-in package that mother nature has equipped us with! Back in the days when humans still had many natural enemies (besides other humans), predators on the hunt for a tasty human lunch. Personal safety was all about survival and it clearly was our top priority. Nature or whoever created us gave us all the necessary abilities to overcome all those threats. History has meanwhile proven that humans are in fact the most adaptable species on earth. That means we have it already all in us, we just need to re-activate those essential survival skills again.
Over time we have abandoned skills we do not really need anymore in our everyday life. Humanity has progressed, and you will have a hard time finding someone who still knows how to start a fire without modern tools. Our danger detecting skills have also been neglected, as it appears that they are not useful anymore. Nowadays we use apps to do the thinking for us. They were created to make our life simpler, but they also easily distract us. Especially when it comes to smartphones the recent tendency is actually dangerous! You see people walking around like zombies, staring at their screens while crossing streets, walking stairs or even driving. We have all seen the kind of accidents that can be a result of this. At some we laugh, when some dummy bumps into a street sign. Others we usually ignore, like when we hear of a tragic accident where someone got killed because the driver of the other car was texting.
Natures’ built-in skillset
But even leaving that aside, there are also other dangers involved in this trend. You see, predators (this time humans) choose their victims, they are standing somewhere watching people, waiting for the right one to come along. Without going too deep with this, awareness at the lowest level simply means to at least be aware of your surroundings. You should understand where you are, where you are heading and be able to evaluate if there is any reason to be careful. For example when you enter the elevator with a stranger, or you leave the mall and enter the low lit parking lot, etc. Despite us ignoring the existence of our built-in survival system for years, maybe even a lifetime, it is still there and always active. Now, what does that mean exactly? It means that if you would know nothing about how to evaluate and detect a dangerous situation, your built-in survival system does! It uses all senses available, your sight, your hearing, your smell, your emotions, it also uses prior experiences as a reference and if it comes to the conclusion that a certain situation is potentially dangerous it rings the alarm bells. Amazingly, it is able to do all this on a subconscious level without you actively doing anything! Your active part starts when the alarm goes off, well assuming that you know how it sounds. Here is where the problem lies, the alarm bell is not really a “bell”, nor a warning message that pops up on your screen with a loud sound saying “WARNING! WARNING!”. Instead, it is a more subtle, internal thing, an unpleasant feeling, sudden fear, your heartbeat suddenly increasing… You can call it intuition, guts or whatever you wanna call it, but that is how your built-in security system is telling you that you are potentially in imminent danger.
You are distracting your senses
So far, so good, we have clarified now that we have it all built-in, in fact, it was always there, so no upgrade needed. It might not be at the level of the famous “Spider-Sense” (Spidermen can sense danger), but it certainly should work on some basic levels. So, what is wrong then? Why is this thing not working for you if we all have it? Well, the problem is actually with us, we do not listen to it! We ignore it, we obstruct it, we even often deny it exists. When you put your headphones on and leave the house, head down to the tube, how much of your surroundings do you actually actively capture? None, that is right! Because the music distracts you, it takes your attention somewhere else. You probably start daydreaming and you need to focus real hard for a moment just to mind the gap in the underground Same thing when you’re entering or leaving the bus, or walking some stairs. Is it true? So, how in god’s name would you notice if something is wrong? That someone might be following you, just waiting for the right moment to jump on you? Also correct, you cannot!!! Our modern lifestyle and gadgets are distracting us so much, someone could probably shoot a gun beside you and you would not even notice.
What you could do differently
I am not going to be extreme here at all and saying you have to give up all the benefits of modern lifestyle. You also do not need to go into the wilderness to learn how to start a fire with nothing more than two stones. In fact, I am somewhat of a geek myself, I have a lot of different gadgets, all kinds of camera equipment and a drone. I also spend a lot of time on my smartphone too, mainly on social media networks. I do not want you to give all this up to be a little safer. But you should definitely know “when” to take your headphones off or put your smartphone away and keep your hands out of the pockets for a few minutes, that is all it really takes. But why would you do that, what dangers are really out there? Let us start with the most obvious, traffic. The worst case is certainly if you are driving a car, and I admit we all tend to do it. You hear the message notification sound and you are just tempted to take a peak who might be from? Then you get intrigued by the sender and you just want to read it quickly. The things being said in the message call for immediate response and then suddenly BOOOM!………………. You might have just crashed into another car or hit a pedestrian. Maybe you are the one who is injured or even dead. But that is not the worst, maybe the passengers in the other car are dead and it’s all your fault! Can you even imagine how that feels? So, we agree that is not an option! Leave your phone alone while driving. Have a Bluetooth earpiece connected if you expect urgent calls and even then, stop on the side until your conversation is over.
Be aware and stay safe
Now, what if you are not driving but walking? If you cross the street with your headphones on, watching the latest hilarious video clip, you would probably not notice an aeroplane falling on your head until it is too late. Maybe that is a bit too dramatic, I just used this as a metaphor to make a point. But would it be any different if it were a bus or a car? Even if the driver were honking to warn you. You would probably be able to recognize those situations in time if you were not distracted, but how about less obvious ones? Criminals are usually trying to conceal their intention to the last moment. Remember the cases where people got pushed in front of a train or the underground? The guy was standing there and waiting for the right moment, he picked someone. He then must have been checking on the train, and on his victim, as timing is everything here. All this is happening before he actually does anything. Would you be able to notice that? For this particular situation, I would suggest anyone to stand by the wall at a safe distance or have at least one, two people in front of you. Standing right at the platform edge is always dangerous. But my point is actually that even the person might not reveal his real intentions until the very last moment, there are often signs that something is odd. You know what I mean, intuition, something feels wrong about a person. You might have just caught his eyes for a moment or saw something else that looked weird and you got that strange creepy feeling about the person or the situation. Well guess what, that is exactly it, that is the secret, the inner alarm bell.
A tragic “real life” example
In 2019 a 17-year-old teenager threw a 6-year-old boy from a viewing platform at the Tate Modern art gallery in London (link). A lady who was there with her own kids said she noticed the guy earlier. She had a strange feeling about him that she couldn’t explain, it was the way he looked at people and she made sure her kids were close to her. When she later heard someone screaming, she immediately thought that “he” must have done something terrible. This is not a spooky story or something that cannot be explained, it actually is just simple observations. The human body is capable of capturing all kinds of information subconsciously, meaning that you do not have to be paranoid and walk around staring at everyone in the expectation that something bad might happen. You can go on living your life absolutely normally. It is only in certain situations when you should allow your own senses to do their job, by putting away phone and headphones. For example, while driving, crossing streets, going up or downstairs, entering or exiting public transportation, walking to your car, getting cash from the ATM, just to name a few. Should you notice anything unusual or have a strange feeling about something, this is when you need to pay attention. Don’t rationalize, evaluate what might be threatening you and come up with a plan on how to get out of this situation safe. It is not really complicated, it is more that people override their own inner voice by thinking that they are acting silly.
I hope this was informative and useful, if you want to find out more about personal safety and self-defence training check out some of my other posts on the subject in the Personal Safety category.