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There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men.

– Edmund Burke

I started writing this post the day of the bar shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. I wasn’t sure I would actually put anything down and post it until about midway through the day.

This is not about the politics of gun control or irresponsible rhetoric. There are plenty of other places to get an outrage fix.

Instead, I want to talk about mindset.

While scrolling through the news app on my phone, I came across a quote that struck me. It came from the Los Angeles Times.

“I’m a Thousand Oaks resident,” she said. “This is a safe place. My parents let me go here. This is a trusted place. … To know that this happened in my safe place is a very, very scary thing.”

– Los Angeles Times, Thousand Oaks gunman was ex-Marine who may have suffered from PTSD, sheriff says

This quote came from a terrified 19-year-old girl. I’m not going to criticize her or her feelings during this ordeal.

Instead, I want to analyze the mind of mindset she expressed here and offer an alternative. This is, after all, a blog dedicated to personal growth through tactical skills.

Safe Places

I don’t remember how old or where I was when I started hearing about “Safe Places.”

I’m sure it was from yet another article about those insufferable millennials and their psychological fragility.

By the way, I count as a millennial so I can say that.

I’m sure it started off innocent enough. These were places for students to come and talk about real trauma, such as a sexual assault or violent crime, and be listened to in a non-judgmental way. But that’s not how they ended up.

The stereotype of safe spaces grew along with the seeming inability of students to handle confrontation. Soon after, I started seeing articles about the importance of feeling safe all the time. These places evolved into sanctuaries to avoid unpopular opinions, then they became echo chambers for undeserved emotional validation.

Then, inexplicably, the concept grew to cover any number of public and private venues that the offended should feel “safe.” It’s no longer just about emotional safe spaces, but physical safety.

Well, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.

The Safe Place Fallacy

This is a blog about tactical skills for better living. I have no interest in hashing over my thoughts on the history of safe spaces and fragile emotions. In the end, it amounts to emotional infantilism and absolving people of having to behave like adults.

Simply put, the world is not safe space.

This focus on feeling safe tells me that we’re in a pretty good spot, though. Call it #FirstWorldProblems if you want, but I don’t see the people in the world struggling to survive daily complaining about being offended and needing safe spaces.

The people making the biggest deal about really have no context about how relatively safe they are compared to the rest of the world.

And that’s the problem.

There are still constant threats out there, all of the time. The fact that people are choosing to ignore them in favor of maintaining the illusion of safety is a separate issue.

The Tactical Mindset

I forgot when, but an old friend of mine posted something on FaceBook that pissed me off for a few hours. I know, that’s what FaceBook is for. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of the post was a researcher giving a talk about sexual assault.

I get it, it’s a hot topic these days. Stay with me.

The speaker looked at the men in the audience and asked them what they did to protect themselves from sexual assault. Of course, the story says the men went silent. They didn’t think about it much.

Then the speaker asked the women in the audience the same question. Out comes a laundry list of things that these women did to protect themselves.

  • Physically carry keys in their hands when walking to the car or front door
  • Checking back seats and windows before getting in a car
  • Carrying a weapon
  • Letting close friends know their plans
  • Don’t jog in the dark
  • Don’t look down at the phone while walking
  • Vary travel routes to and from work
  • Don’t wear headphones when jogging
  • Make assertive eye contact
  • Don’t look like a victim

There are plenty more in the article.

What pissed me off about this post, and what I said to my wife, is that these behaviors aren’t unique to women avoiding sexual assault. These are all things the military taught me for taking control of my own safety.

The fact that these these behaviors somehow seem controversial is a serious flaw in our cultural mindset. That a room full of men supposedly didn’t think of a single thing they can do on a daily basis to ensure their own safety smacks of complacency.

You are your own first line of defense

The first attribute of character is the ability to keep your head while all those around you are losing theirs.

– Rudyard Kipling

In my writing room is a great book by Navy Seal Don Mann titled The Modern Day Gunslinger: The Ultimate Handgun Training Manual. I picked it up at an Air Force Base Exchange around late 2012 or early 2013.

In it, Don describes the evolution of Jeff Cooper’s color-coded condition system by C. Allen Reed. Each color represents a mental state. What I particularly liked was the depth that he went into with each color.

I want to point out that the situational awareness model I’m presenting here is not the original intent of the color code model. Cooper’s original thinking was that the colors represented a mental escalation of preparing to fight.

My version here is blending of these concepts.

Evolution of Jeff Cooper's color code, used when there is no such thing as a safe place
Jeff Cooper and our evolved color code

Condition White

Condition white represents a lack of awareness and readiness. A person in this state is simply not thinking about a fight. Often, a person in condition white is just distracted by other things.

Think of a time where you spaced out, and then found yourself surprised by something happening around you. Maybe you were driving and mentally drifted off, only to slam on the brakes when rounding a corner.

Maybe it’s a time you got lost scrolling through your Instagram feed and didn’t notice someone staring at you waiting for attention.

In a defensive situation, condition white will get you killed. In fact, predators actively seek prey in condition white, since they are the easiest to take down.

Condition Yellow

Condition yellow is one of relaxed alertness.

There isn’t a specific threat, but you know there could be. Someone in condition yellow is like a defensive driver scanning down the road ahead looking for traffic backups, pedestrians who might run out into the road, or watching the front wheels of the car pulling up to an intersection to see if they are going to stop.

People in condition yellow have their head on a swivel and are much more difficult to take by surprise.

That said, I wouldn’t expect someone to maintain condition yellow all of the time. Instead, it’s one of those things to do when the situation calls for it. More importantly, it’s also about allowing your self the ability to pick up on potential problems by not blocking your senses.

Condition Orange

Condition orange means heightened awareness.

You’ve spotted something specific and out of the ordinary. A person reaching under their jacket, or a ball bouncing into a busy roadway. You are now past observing for threats and are actively evaluating a potential situation in which you might need to act.

In this condition, you are ready to react because you’re thinking about how you will respond if it happens.

Condition Red

In condition red, it is time for action.

The man reaching into his jacket pulls out a knife. A child runs into the street chasing the bouncing ball. The other driver decides to run the intersection and pulls out in front of you.

It’s time to deal with the threat.

If you’ve done your part, you’ve already gamed this out in your mind. You already thought of a course of action and just cross over the line into executing it.

Condition Black

Condition black is panic mode. You are no longer in control of your actions. It is uncontrolled instinct.

If you are well trained, then this might be a animalistic and instinctually correct response.

But you also might freeze up, your mind totally blank on what to do next.

The fastest way to reach this condition is to have something happen while you are in condition white. You were unaware, unobservant, and unprepared…so now you’re panicking.

Live in the Yellow

Your goal, to use Cooper’s words, is to live in the yellow.

Keeping your mind alert and on the lookout for possible threats is your natural state as a human. The relatively easy life we experience now is but a blip on the timeline of human existence. For the vast majority of our past, survival meant surviving and defeating predators, weather, poisonous plants, animals, disease, war, and a seemingly infinite number of other threats.

Yet against all the odds, we are here. It wasn’t an accident.

Awareness is Not Paranoia

If you think about it, keeping a weather eye open is the result of lessons learned through experience or teaching. If you’ve survived something terrible, you’re probably going to develop habits to prevent it from happening to you again.

The only humans who naturally exist in condition white are children who have no experience nor have been taught how to survive.

This goes hand in hand with the infantilization of young adults I mentioned earlier. We shield them from experiences to protect their psyches, but we also stunt their growth. When I talk about this subject with younger people, they usually say something along the lines of, “I just don’t want to live my life like that. Who wants to be paranoid all of the time?”

If you take anything away from this post, it’s that that maintaining situational awareness is not being paranoid.

Paranoia is a mental condition characterized by unreasonable delusions of persecution.

Situational awareness is just good business. One of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject is Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horn and Jason A. Riley. In it, they preach that you need to develop a baseline understanding of your surroundings.

  • What does “regular” behavior look like?
  • What kind of people are typically hanging around?
  • Who are the regulars, and how do they relate?
  • What does the place sound like?

There are more, but you get the idea. The point here is that once you establish this baseline, then you are much better prepared to detect when something is off. In the intelligence community, they call these indicators.

Indicators

The presence of an indicator doesn’t mean something is about to go wrong, but it does mean you should pay closer attention and pick up your scanning. This principle has been around for a long time, and is why police officers usually worked a “beat.” If the officer knows the area, the daily life, and the people, then they are best prepared to detect something going wrong.

You don’t have to be a police officer or intelligence community member to apply this to your daily life.

If you’re a parent of a toddler, what does it usually mean when your normally loud and boisterous child suddenly goes quiet while playing? If you’re like most parents I know, it means trouble is afoot.

I’ll spend more time on this subject in another post.

There’s No Such Thing as a Safe Space

To bring this whole thing back to the beginning. I want you to come away from this article understanding that the world is not an inherently safe place. Your relative safety may be very high compared to other places, but it’s not perfect.

Anyone who tries telling you that you should feel “safe” and that you’re being paranoid by maintaining awareness of your surroundings is wrong. They are in denial and are operating on the same emotional instincts as a child.

Develop your tactical mindset and instincts. Pay attention to your surroundings and set your baseline.

Don’t become a victim.

Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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