A man in Minneapolis stands accused of raping a woman. According to the accusation he used the ploy of asking for directions to approach the woman:
The victim told police she was out for a walk that night when she saw Wilkes’ car go around the block several times. He eventually stopped and got out of his car. Assuming he was lost, the victim asked if he needed help. She said Wilkes then told her he was trying to get to 29th and Franklin.
After the victim gave Wilkes directions, she turned around and continued walking. Wilkes then grabbed her throat from behind and began choking her, saying he had a gun.
There are a lot of common ploys criminals will use to get within close range of an intended victim. Asking for directions, to borrow a cell phone, a couple of bucks to buy a bus ticket to get back home, for help in an emergency situation, and so on. These ploys all serve to drop the intended victims guard so they can be approached more easily.
During a discussion about this story I mentioned to a friend that my standard response to these types of situations is to take a defensive stance, slide my hands into my pocket (usually onto a conceal weapon), and pretend that I don’t speak English (in my experience this tends to reduce the amount of time an individual will invest in trying to interact with me). My friend told me that that sounds paranoid, which brings me to the point of this post. Our society places a stigma on perceived paranoia. People who carry a firearm, for example, are often derogatorily called paranoid. But as the old saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you.
If you live in a stable area, your chances of being in a violent encounter are pretty slim. A pretty slim chance is much different than zero chance though. Most of us recognized this fact and take certain precautions such as installing locks on the exterior doors of our home and avoiding neighbors that we perceive to be bad. But that recognition seems to stop where society’s perception of paranoid begins. This is ridiculous in my opinion.
First of all, only you have the unique knowledge of your life experiences to know what level of defensive measures are appropriate for you. Nobody else has spent their entire life being you so relying on them to decide what level of defense is appropriate for you is an exercise in outsourcing to a less qualified entity.
I have decided that carrying a gun and training to defend myself are appropriate defensive measures based on the knowledge I’ve gained over my lifetime. This isn’t because I believe I have a high level of encountering a violent situation. It’s because the detriments of doing so are minuscule while the potential consequences of not doing so are very high.
Let’s analyze the costs and benefits of the situation of a stranger asking for directions. When somebody initiates contact I take a defensive stance, which is to say that I make it as obvious as possible that I am aware of the person and that I am maintaining awareness of my surroundings. I also maintain a neutral expression on my face and straighten my posture, which serves the purpose of making me look more intimidating without making me look aggressive. What have any of these responses cost me? At most they have cost appearance. I come off as cold and less than friendly instead of warm and friendly. Since I don’t know who this stranger is nor am I likely to ever meet them again the cost of appearance is minuscule to me.
Another thing I do is slide my hands into my pockets. This action deprives the approaching person of some information. If my hands are visible the approaching person can identify whether or not I have a potential weapon at the ready. By concealing my hands the approaching person is forced to guess whether or not I have a concealed weapon in one of my pockets. Since I also regularly carry a firearm putting my hands in my pockets often results in me having immediate access to a weapon. What does this action cost me? Again, it potentially costs me appearance in the eyes of a stranger, which I don’t place much value.
If the person asks for directions and goes about their way I’ve still lost nothing of value to me. On the other hand, if the person meant me ill my positioning may be enough to convince them to find a different target. Predatory criminals tend to prefer easy targets. Making yourself appear to be a difficult target is often enough to convince them to go elsewhere. If my posturing wasn’t enough to dissuade them then I’m in a better position to defend myself when they attack.
What many people would considered paranoid has actually costs me very little and could benefit me greatly if the small chance of something bad occurring is realized.
You have every right to be paranoid. Bad things do happen to good people. Don’t let people who lack your lifetime of experiences convince you that they know what defensive measures are appropriate for you better than you do. Instead analyze your defensive needs yourself. You may discover that you can reap some tremendous potential benefits for very little cost.