Platitudes aren’t plans

In any discussion of self defense you will encounter people who have mistaken a platitude for a plan. Just as any discussion of safety will bring out some goober who reflexively types some spiel about “booger hooks” in all caps (because that’s how people know you’re super, super serial you guys) anytime there’s a discussion of some potential complexities of self defense there will be somebody who squawks “I’ll just shoot him!” like a parrot…and with all the critical thinking skills behind it that you would expect from a bird.

Human beings like to deal in absolutes. (Obi Wan Kenobi: Only Sith deal in absolutes! Tim watching the movie: That was an absolute. Who wrote this crap?) We prefer things that are concrete and binary, something that either is or isn’t. While we find this comforting it’s just not how the universe we live in actually functions, especially when it comes to interpersonal interaction, particularly the violent kind. Our ideas about a self defense scenario matter because that’s setting the “script” in our head. Thinking about the problem is similar to programming a computer. A robust program considers many possibilities and appropriate responses, and is able to produce the proper action in the moment when it’s required. A bad program sets a very limited number of conditions and if it encounters something else…

Simplistic platitudinal statements about what one will do in an unfamiliar, highly stressful situation is the mental equivalent to writing sloppy, buggy code for a critical system. False assumptions (typically made out of thin air) about the nature of the problem one is likely to face, the options available in the middle of the problem, and the consequences of actions seem to dominate conversations related to self defense…and that’s setting people up for failure. It’s the self defense equivalent to the business plan of South Park’s underpants gnomes:

The ol’ “I’ll just shoot him!” chestnut is one of the worst offenders in this regard. How many times have you heard someone say “If there’s an intruder in my house I’ll just shoot him!” in discussions? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read that on a forum I’d be driving a brand new Porsche 911 Turbo S. The best takedown of the folly of that idea I’ve ever heard comes from Craig “SouthNarc” Douglas. I took Armed Movement In Structures with him a couple of years ago and he presented a scenario where students faced a cooperative home intruder. Nobody shot him. To paraphrase Craig, you find this guy in your house and you issue a verbal challenge. Caught by surprise, he turns and is staring down the barrel of your Glock. He immediately drops the screwdriver in his hand and is standing there with his hands up, about to piss himself from fear apologizing and begging you not to shoot. How many people when presented with that scenario are really going to say “Castle doctrine!” and then BANG.

If you’ve only ever conceived of BANG as the solution to that problem, you’ll be left in the moment trying to think through how to manage this situation as it’s happening, and that sucks. The fact that the guy dropped the screwdriver and is obviously scared doesn’t mean he’s harmless. He could be concealing another weapon you don’t see…he could be partnered up with someone else in the house you haven’t encountered yet. You don’t know this stuff, and in the moment where you’re actually looking over the sights at this dude you’ll be keenly aware that you don’t know and trying to figure out what in devil’s name to do next. It would be better if you had considered this possibility ahead of time and worked out a few small steps to increase your safety and keep him from getting the idea that your brain is in vapor lock trying to figure out the next step.

When our mental computer hits something that isn’t in the script, it creates gaps in our ability to perceive things and react to them…especially when adrenaline is involved. This gap is often perceptible to the other party we’re dealing with. All of us have seen somebody go into mental vapor lock at some point in our lives, right? In that state we are weak and vulnerable even if we happen to have a gun in our hands.

Make the effort to educate yourself. Attend training where your assumptions are tested under stress. Think about useful reactions to sudden stressful problems informed by your ongoing efforts in education and training. If you do these things the odds are pretty good that you’ll be able to handle most anything you’re likely to encounter.


  1. Most of us have read about home invaders who turned out to be the next door neighbor who was drunk, lost his keys and thought he was breaking into his own house.

    Or the guy who shot the intruder in his dark living room and it turned out to be his step daughter who came home unannounced from college and let herself in with her own key.

    Imagine living with that for the rest of your life.

    People post all kinds of things on the web. I don’t personally know anyone who wants to shoot/kill another unless it’s unavoidable and absolutely necessary

  2. The internet bravado actually worries me. Why would a rational persons first reaction be to shoot someone. Honestly it gives one a pause as regards to some of these folks owning a firearm.

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