Random Thoughts on Being ABLE to Intervene

by | May 4, 2016

Ralph Mroz and Claude Werner are esteemed Elders of the Warrior Tribe. They both recently posted their thoughts on intervention by armed civilians. Ralph here: https://thestreetstandards.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/to-intervene-or-not/ Claude here: https://tacticalprofessor.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/intervene-and-die/

In Claude’s post he makes the excellent point that the CCW holder who intervened in a domestic dispute (and died doing so) may have made poor decisions, no matter how well intentioned his actions. Claude focuses on the failure of critical thinking or good decision making under stress in this incident. This is an area we research, and our work here attracts significant attention among organizations that field people who must make appropriate decisions under stress.

What happens to skill sets (assuming that you have them) when you encounter a situation that elicits “immediate onset threat to life stress” i.e. something that causes your body to dump massive amounts of chemicals into your body to prepare you to fight to the death or flee? Why would your combative skills, empty hand or weapon, not transfer from the gym/range to the street when you need them the most?

In other words, why do would we choke and perform sub-optimally when under immediate onset threat to life stress?

1. Most people choke because they worry. What does worry mean? It means thinking of all the things that can go wrong or have gone wrong already (instead of focusing on what is actually unfolding in real time) It means trying to keep themselves together while experiencing (perhaps for the first time in their lives) the physiological reaction commonly referred to as adrenal stress. What causes that particular flavor of stress? The other-than-conscious realization that something is happening that a) they haven’t seen before and b) they don’t KNOW if they can handle it.

2. Their internal representations (the mental pictures, self talk and kinesthetics — feelings) are about the worst case — everything that can possibly go wrong and what that will look and sound and feel like. They haven’t previously prepared for the worst case and feelings the internal representations of failure are creating are actually driving the person towards failure by driving a psycho-physiological state change that inhibits optimal performance.

3. They are trying to do consciously something that is normally done unconsciously (making unconscious competence consciously competent). This presupposes they’ve previously done the homework and actually have appropriate skills/techniques trained to unconscious competence.

4. They haven’t trained in a high-fidelity simulation. They haven’t practiced under circumstances that as duplicate as closely as possible the most likely circumstances they will need to use the skill under.

5. They focus on how to do it (a technique driven focus) rather than what to do (strategy driven focus). The case Claude cites is an example. The choices cited indicate a “strategy” that may have evolved from poor or non-existent RELEVANT training (he was a Marine, but in this instance civilian oriented training addressing legal parameters, appropriate decision making regarding his obligation to himself and family first may have been more important than Marine combat experience) which led to poor thinking and decision making. The “strategy” of: “Get my gun, stop this guy, arrest him” got him killed. Thinking through what strategy would be appropriate (in light of his skills, his obligation to his wife and family, his legal standing, and his lack of information about the details of the scenario, and the absence of immediate imminent threat to himself) might have saved his life.

My suggestion based on recent research into how the brain works under stress would be to consider a strategy like the one listed below to determine whether you are ABLE to effectively intervene…or not.

A — Assess the situation. Apply full knowledge of the law, the circumstances, what you know and, importantly, what you don’t know. Is you required legally to intervene? Is there an immediate threat to yourself and those you’re responsible for? Is there continuing violence that justifies lethal force? Are you putting yourself and those you’re responsible for at risk? Do you have a plan? Have you ever a) experienced a similar situation b) trained for a similar situation c) mentally rehearsed for a similar situation? Do you have the capability to execute that plan? (Can you approach an armed subject and take control of him? Do you know how? Have you ever done it before? Can you do it without escalating the situation and putting yourself and others at risk?) etc. etc.

B — Breathe. As in take a deep breath and calm the fuck down. Think before you spring into action. In an immediate onset event that takes you by surprise (see situational awareness, mental rehearsal, and previous training) you may not have time to. Consider that a good response to plug in BEFORE your “conditioned response” to run into a gunfight is taking a deep breath — get yourself under control, calm your heart/breathing down, manage your psycho-physiological state.

L — Listen to yourself. What kind of self-talk is going through your head? Are you talking yourself into something you’re not prepared to handle? Are you playing out worst case scenarios? Are you building a narrative based on what you “think” you see? Are you hearing a little voice judging you, calling you coward, urging you to jump in? Sort that self-talk out.

E — Evaluate: Exit or Engage. Evaluate all of the above once you’ve managed your state. Should you exit the situation based on all of the above? Or should you engage? Is there continuing danger? As in imminent to you and yours? Would moving to intervene leave those you are responsible for unprotected or helpless? Or alone after you’re dead?

I’ll go into specific training tips you can plug into your personal practice and instructors can plug into training in another post.

Think it through before you jump into a fight, and make sure you’re ABLE first…