Listen to your instincts

That video is a dashcam capture of an attempted carjacking that took place some time ago, but was only shared to the web earlier this week. Most of the action takes place behind the running dashcam, but the audio is sufficiently clear to allow you to get the flavor of what happened. The victim of this crime actually posted a thread on Reddit where he shared his account of the carjacking attempt and this video.

Many victims of violent crime are caught entirely by surprise because they are not paying attention to the world around them. Descriptions like “he came out of nowhere!” and the like are pretty common when you talk to police who have investigated these crimes. Based on victim statements it is often as if the bad guy beamed down right next to them and stuck a gun in their face. This carjacking, though, wasn’t like that…and I’m willing to bet there are an awful lot of crime victims who have had a similar experience.

The victim here related the following in the Reddit thread:

This happened about 5 months ago. I was having nightmares about being shot in the chest and bleeding out for a week or two after the experience. That’s why it took me a while to upload the video. It’s a little difficult to watch. I have even had a few of the ‘getting shot in the chest and bleeding out’ nightmares since editing and uploading the video. That’s about the extent of the psychological damage though. That and being a bit more paranoid to the people walking around me. I saw the guys acting a bit suspicious after all. I just thought I was being racist and gave them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt any more.”

These bad guys did not materialize out of thin air. The victim noted their presence and was immediately suspicious of their intentions…but he did what he has been socially conditioned to do and suppressed his instinctual reaction to their behavior in favor of a more socially acceptable reaction of criticizing himself for being “racist” and behaving as if these shifty characters that caused all his spidey senses to tingle had no ill intent towards him.

It turns out his instincts were not, in fact, racist. They were accurate.

For the majority of human history survival often depended on recognizing dangerous situations and dangerous characters before the danger was fully manifest. The human brain is actually hard-wired for what I’ll term “survival instinct.” The human brain is able, often on a subconscious level, to recognize vulnerability in a situation or malevolent intent in another human being.

Let me put it this way: How many times in your life have you been approached by someone who did not mean you any harm? It’s likely too many to count. Think about a few specific instances of that. Under what circumstances did they occur? How did the person approach you? What was their demeanor? What was their body language? You have likely interacted with thousands of people who posed no threat to you whatsoever, in circumstances that did not give you any concern for your safety. Your brain is used to that. It’s seen that movie. The human brain is big on pattern recognition, and whether you realize it or not over many benign encounters with strangers your brain has stored a lot of useful information about how people who mean you no harm approach and make contact with you.

When someone approaches you in a manner that does not fit with that pattern of benign behavior, it sets off alarm bells…and it should. When this victim saw these guys “acting a bit suspicious” he was not being racist or using the Force. He was subconsciously and instantaneously comparing their body language, demeanor, and method of approach with thousands or tens of thousands of benign interactions with other human beings and noting that these two dudes were different.

His subconscious mind was doing an exceptionally high speed, high stakes version of this:


…and realizing “Those dudes don’t look right!”

His subconscious mind was not screaming at him because of any evil “ism” he was failing to suppress, it was because these guys did not fit the behavioral expectations of a benign or friendly contact.

There are a bunch of crime victims who have the same story. They saw somebody who they thought was up to no good, but actively suppressed that instinct and took no proactive measures to protect themselves. Then they get a gun stuck in their face and they’re stuck praying they don’t get shot or trying to fight their way out of the problem. That sucks.

When your brain picks up on the “One of these kids that’s doing his own thing!” don’t argue with it. Don’t question it. Act on it immediately. By “act” I mean do whatever is necessary to get away from that person(s) as quickly as humanly possible. Your instincts will not be perfect in every situation, but remember that you don’t owe somebody you don’t know a damn thing.

You’re not getting that feeling of suspicion or unease because you’re an idiot or a bad person. You’re getting it because that dude isn’t fitting the well established pattern of a benign contact. You don’t have to figure out why he’s not fitting with the pattern of all the nice people you’ve interacted with over the years. In the parking lot of a Wal-Mart at 11:30 PM or at the ATM you aren’t required to figure out why he’s not approaching you correctly. You don’t owe him the benefit of any doubt. You owe yourself and your family the benefit of the doubt. 

If somebody doesn’t look right, assume he ain’t right and get the hell away from him/them ASAP.

Listen to your instincts.

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