The Presumption of Innocents

Most of the people who come into the dojo for training are good people. Or so it seems. My impression is that the people who practice traditional karate and stick with it are decent. I know and have known a lot of them. They want to be happy and safe and strong.

There are a lot of good people who do not train in self-defense. But some have a vulnerability that goes beyond a lack of skill. And it can be even more serious than lack of skill.

Some people who do not train have a magical view of their own safety. They have what you might call the ‘presumption of innocents’.

They presume that because they are innocent that they are safe. They tell themselves: I am nice. I am tolerant. I want to get along with others. I treat other people with respect. Why would anyone want to hurt me?

If you suggest otherwise they may think you are being alarmist or that you are unenlightened. They think since they are nice, and what goes around comes around, and they will be safe.

To some degree that is true.  If you treat people well you are less likely to be lured into provocations or rivalry or irritations that grow into disputes and lawsuits and confrontations. But it is no guarantee.

Some of these nice people presume that training in martial arts, or simply being strong, is itself provocative. They prefer to appear harmless, and to be harmless. This is a mystification of the power of their mind, as if their mind and their mood were the only variables in their safety equation. Appearing harmless, appearing like prey, can be as provocative as being a swaggering badass. Being attractive to opportunistic predators  is at least as dangerous as shouting “What are you looking at?” to strangers who make eye contact.

The presumption of innocents leads to magical thinking: If I am nice then everyone will be nice. That is magical thinking because it overlooks the variety of threats we may encounter, and the range of reasons for them. And it severs the link between cause and effect.

As trained people we have a different understanding. Because of our experience we understand that respect is one safety measure. It is one of many. Self-respect influences our demeanor; respecting others influences the way they respond to us. Real strength does not require a show of strength. It is calm and stable under pressure. You do not need acknowledgement or deference to confirm it. There you are. Ready. People can sense it.

Which is still no guarantee that things will go our way. Which is one of the reasons we train.

We know from experience that we need to rely on multiple layers of defense for personal security. Just as we do in the physical security of a building or a facility – we will not rely on one device, but a layered, redundant system: a gate, a door, a lock, a fence, a camera, people, whatever – in a sequence arranged to work together. We establish a perimeter; we respond appropriately if the perimeter is breached by a threat.

It works about the same way in personal safety. If someone who may present a threat enters our field of perception, we respond. If they enter our personal, tactical perimeter and present a threat, we respond. If they are being rude we respond, maybe with words or by de-escalating or walking away. If they are being assaultive, we respond in another way. If they present a lethal threat we respond another way. The more intrusive the threat, the more vigorous the response.

For trained people physical self-defense is one component of our personal security – it is one of the layers of our response.

We take responsibility for our own well-being, and for the safety of the people who depend on us. Our training happens to have the added benefit of keeping us fit, healthy and confident no matter what we are doing. (The rewards of training go far beyond tactical defense.)

If people presume that being nice is adequate for safety and that being strong and able is a provocation then they may become vulnerable. They may even need our help.

It is not easy for people to assume responsibility for their own well-being – in self-defense, and in many other ways.  Some will default to fantasy or passivity.

So we help where we can, and meanwhile we stay confident and vigilant and good.


Post by Jeff Brooks


All rights reserved © 2018 Copyright Jeffrey M. Brooks

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