Anticipating Danger

We learn early on in life to anticipate danger usually as the result of being victimized by it. Whether it was the neighbor’s dog that frightened you with a growl or the pain of doctor’s needle when vaccinated, you learned to associate danger from an experience and tried to avoid the source of it in the future. In time we learned that not all pain was dangerous, and while it was unpleasant it could also warn and protect us from real danger. By learning to accept physical or emotional pain as a warning, we learned also to anticipate the danger that it represents and to make decisions about how to deal with risks of harm to ourselves and others.

Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response when faced with a threat of immediate danger. Sometimes we decide to suffer the pain likely to be experienced if we choose to fight. Or we may choose flight rather than risk the pain of the fight. Neither decision is correct for everyone even under similar circumstances. We need to be able to calculate the risk of the danger from failing to act against the risk presented by acting and perhaps suffering the consequences anyway. For most of us, life experience will sort out these difficult choices and when the time comes we will instinctively act in the manner consistent with our own needs; we act on instinct. Our instincts are reminders of prior experiences and help us to decide what course of action is likely to be best for us. Often a bad experience under similar circumstances helps us choose a better response to a familiar pattern.

Each of us in our daily lives will experience the potential for at least two kinds of danger: The danger of violence directed at us because we have been deliberately chosen as a victim, and the danger of violence that may be directed more anonymously as the result of our having been in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bomb goes off, the tornado strikes or the freight train carrying toxic chemicals derails in our town. For the former, sorting out the sources of the potential danger, prioritizing those risks and developing reasonable security to defend against them is entirely possible; for the latter, little can be done to avoid the violence but much can be done about learning how to respond to it in a manner which may reduce the harm that might otherwise be caused. Both require understanding why we are vulnerable to the risk, and from whom or what it is likely to come.

Understanding our vulnerability to the danger of violence helps us to prioritize from all of its possible sources those that are reasonably likely to impact on us and cause us the most harm. We are all more or less subject to victimization by criminals bent on taking from us that which we have and they want. We can choose to surrender to demands made under threat of violence or decide to resist and fight. Or we may put in place security that reduces our vulnerability to victimization and makes us such a difficult or risky target that the criminal looks elsewhere. Whether it’s a school yard bully, a violent spouse, a drug infected workplace, a neighborhood rapist or even a sales territory in a high crime neighborhood, strategies for self protection designed to reduce our vulnerability to violence are available. By learning to anticipate violence we can choose to try to avoid its source. If we cannot alter its potential, we can learn to make ourselves less vulnerable by becoming harder targets for criminals and deterring their intent. If we cannot avoid the actual danger, learning to terminate it quickly is yet another option if we are willing to invest in preparing ourselves to do that. When it comes to danger from violence, it is better to endure the pain of learning to handle violence than suffer the pain of falling victim to it.

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