Ok. So you think it won’t happen to you?
I’m not going to post many statistics here, but I will say this; in the year 2017 to 2018, police in England and Wales recorded 3,200 offences of violence against the person, per day, and approximately two thirds of these incidents of violence resulted in injury.
I remember receiving a brief from the Battalion Commander one week prior to commencing my fourth tour in the Middle East during my military service. He claimed he studied and analysed trends relating to loss of soldiers lives while on overseas missions in our area of operations, and he warned us there was a high probability lives would be lost during our period overseas. He asked us to “put your hand up if you think it will be you.” As you can imagine, no one put their hands up. He then asked us to “put your hand up if you think it will one of your comrades,” and hesitantly, most of us put our hands up.
The point is this. Even though we were to spend the next six months in a highly volatile part of the world, none of us thought ‘it will be me’ who is killed or injured. And, evidently, he was right; soldiers did lose their lives on that tour.
So why is this? Why doesn’t anyone ever think ‘it could be me?
Katherine Gillespie, a Psychologist, wrote an article on this way of thinking. Her article is supported by the WA Road Safety Commission, who wanted to reduce speeding, and needed a Psychological view as to why people think they won’t get caught. Katherine explains, if everyone thought world war three was on the horizon, then, most of you will personally think that you will be ok when the first nuke is dropped. This enduring held ‘against the odds’ belief, which eighty percent of us experience on an individual level, is called ‘optimism bias.’ Katherine mentions the academic, Tali Sharot, who brought the optimism bias theory into the open, and our thought process, in this regard, is actually influenced by our positive thinking about the future. While positive thinking is regarded as a good attribute to have, it does give way to that ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude.
Sheppard et al, discusses four existing factors that lead to optimistic biased thinking. These are, your desired end state, information you have about yourself versus others, overall mood, and your cognitive mechanisms. They provide examples to support this as, smokers who believe they are less likely to get lung cancer than other smokers, first time bungee jumpers believing they are less likely to sustain an injury than other jumpers, and people believing they are less likely to be victims of crime than other people.
Let’s look at this another way. How many of you who drive, think you are a better than the average driver and can skilfully manoeuvre your car in any situation. Unfortunately road safety statistics do not match this way of thinking, and this clear example of optimistic bias, especially among young male drivers, has a disastrous effect on safe decision making. Would attending an advanced driving and speed awareness course change your way of thinking and make you a safer driver? Maybe, but some of you may be thinking it will only reinforce the ‘I’m a better than the average driver’ attitude, and lead to more risk taking.
But let’s add that perspective for people who think they won’t be victims of attack. How many of you think you are safe? I’m talking about unprovoked attacks in the street, robbery, home invasion, sexual assaults, and domestic violence. The problem here is, how many victims of the, 1,167,998 (2017-18) recorded attacks, thought it would not be them? As I’ve said, two thirds of that number resulted in injury. So, what if these victims had the knowledge and skills to defend themselves, would the results or outcomes be the same?
Self-Defence is not just about techniques needed during a physical altercation, but provides you with knowledge on how to read situations, and conduct yourself during incidents of violence, or potential violence. It provides you with insight regarding your capabilities, and what is available to you when your body and mind is preparing itself for your survival, and the ability to protect others. If you have these skills, it may not change your ‘never happen to me attitude,’ and why should it, but it will prepare you for the worst, without the bias.
Right, now think optimistically about having Self-Defence skills. You now have the skills to give you a fighting chance to carry on into your future. If you add bias to this way of thinking, you won’t allow yourself the chance to gain these skills because you think you won’t need them. I am very optimistic about my future, but it hasn’t been this way all the time. In regards to personal safety, I have the knowledge and skills to maintain that. Do I think I will come out unscathed from an attack? No, as that would be biased of me. But, I do know I have the skills to increase my chances of survival, and the skills to avoid the situation in the first place, and that’s being optimistically prepared.
So, here’s the moral of the story, be optimistic about your future but prepare yourself to safely take that journey. You prepared yourself to drive, by learning how to drive or to use computers by learning how to use computers. Why compromise your safety by not learning how to defend yourself?
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Shepperd, James A.; Patrick Carroll; Jodi Grace; Meredith Terry (2002). "Exploring the Causes of Comparative Optimism" (PDF). Psychologica Belgica. 42: 65–98.