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Defensive States of Mind: Paranoia vs. Vigilance

Since becoming legal gun owner five years ago I’ve been faced with a new set of perceptions about the world we live in. I’m a war veteran, and I have been the victim of violent crime, and much of my self-work has been to free myself from certain destructive states of mind surrounding those events. I don’t come to this discussion naïve: I have some idea of how my mind, and the minds of others, work in regard to self defense, and have great respect for the human perceptual apparatus. However, I’m concerned about becoming over-defensive, over vigilant, to the point of misreading situations that could be handled another way. I’m thinking of examples of hyper vigilance that erode the quality of life. A rape victim who never trusts men again, etc.; or the case of a LEO friend who, when he sees cars parked at the end of the block, thinks there’s a crime being committed, while I know it’s a birthday party. Or, as with myself, if I see two young black men coming toward me on the street some part of me remembers that it was two young black men who assaulted and robbed me in 1981. As much as I try not to profile, that perception is there and it is my spiritual project to manage it. The point is that I am more likely to see two young black men as a threat and not just two young black men walking down the street. It’s embarrassing. Not only do our conditioned responses and preconceived ideas interfere with correctly perceiving the world, they also predispose us to be victims by rigidly assessing a situation one way instead of staying open to all the possibilities. I read a book by the Samurai, Musashi Miyamoto (The Book of The Five Rings) and it occurred to me that he had something like Zen mind, that is, a mind that responded to every situation individually and not based on prior experience or received ideas.
In any case, my dilemma is this: how do we stay open and positive about the world and not become victims? How do we train ourselves in self defense and not be “defensive?”
Interested in hearing the opinions of others.
 

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Interesting thoughts and observations you have there. For me, I start every day with a prayer that includes (but is not limited to) that I, even in some small way, make the world a better place that day, and worse-case scenario that I at least don't make it worse. I then go enjoy my day, knowing full-well that it may be my last.

I obviously carry in most situations and in spite of my personal spiritual convictions, have no reservations what-so-ever with putting a BG down for a dirt-nap. If the BG get's the drop on me, or I get killed by a drunk driver, or I simply die of natural causes, is of no real great concern with me. In otherwords, other than my SA, best intentions in my actions, and taking reasonable precautions to protect myself, I just let 'er rip and don't sweat it much. It's a simple-minded philosophy, but it really works for me.
 

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$64,000 question
 

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These are very important questions and not a simple-minded philosophy at all. Generally left to its own, our brain selectively "forgets" the bad and "remembers " the good. It's a self defense mechanism that allows us to basically function (or stay married.) The subconscious, however, never forgets anything. It can color our perceptions for the rest of our lives, if we let it. It's like a horse afraid of water that can be made to walk over a puddle if the rider (conscious) has the power of trustworthiness and dominance. Situational awareness need not be an energy drain if it becomes a calm constant vigilance. Bias in perception may be mitigated by faith and trust in Him whom you serve (and Zen.)

Heaven forbid some day one must take through defense an other's life. For some, that has caused nightmares, remorse, and broken marriage. How did the "Greatest Generation" return from WWII horror to continue their lives? They didn't talk about it to their wives or children. They didn't have the grief counsellors and analysts who asked them to keep dredging it up. No, they had to become horsemen enough to reign in those devils, locking them in a box that would shrink with time but never quite disappear.
 

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Ive never really thought of what you described...After thinking a few on it, I realize that treating others the way you want to be treated is the best way. I understand that a time may come for self defense, but I live in a manor that keeps me out of those situations. Its not hard. As for the profiling issue, each of us has our own demons. Just remember, the two guys walking towards you today are not the same individuals that did the crime in 81.
 

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Awesome question mojust and very well put. I can relate to the internal struggle you describe. I've been a gun owner for many years, but only a recent CCW permit holder. I wrote up something longer for myself (think of it as a statement of belief), but here is the short version:

To maintain vigilance, you must accept a certain amount of realism about the world in which we live. There is crime, often completely random and indiscriminate, and you have a right to defend yourself and your family.

But to maintain optimism and avoid paranoia, you must be careful how much of the "fear kool-aid" you drink, and you must maintain some faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. (Yeah, that one is tougher.)

Basically, this is about maintaining balance in your worldview. In the gun community, we tend to hyper-focus on personal protection from crime. We read the stories of people who defended themselves. We listen to the news about drug and gang violence. And many of us know or have experienced being a victim. We probably focus too much on this. The key is to balance this with the positive in life: family, friends, community, good news (which nobody in the media seems to report.)

By way of example, my brother-in-law is a LEO who works closely with prisoners. After years of working with lowlifes, his worldview is totally corrupted. He doesn't like to be outside of his house without his uniform and vest. He prefers to just stay at home most of the time when he's off duty. He's very paranoid about the possibility of ex-cons threatening his life. Now, he's not a detective, narco, or patrol office in a high crime city. He just handles prisoners (transport, court, etc.). At some point, he lost balance. I suspect it happens to a lot of LEO's.

This is the slippery slope. I think the Zen mind is probably the right mindset.
 

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A zen life is an ideology. To be completely zen or virtuous in life is almost an impossibility; the key is to try to be as close to it as you can muster.

I learned to deal with the bad by balancing it with the good, my family and friends.
 

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Awesome question mojust and very well put. I can relate to the internal struggle you describe. I've been a gun owner for many years, but only a recent CCW permit holder. I wrote up something longer for myself (think of it as a statement of belief), but here is the short version:

To maintain vigilance, you must accept a certain amount of realism about the world in which we live. There is crime, often completely random and indiscriminate, and you have a right to defend yourself and your family.

But to maintain optimism and avoid paranoia, you must be careful how much of the "fear kool-aid" you drink, and you must maintain some faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. (Yeah, that one is tougher.)

Basically, this is about maintaining balance in your worldview. In the gun community, we tend to hyper-focus on personal protection from crime. We read the stories of people who defended themselves. We listen to the news about drug and gang violence. And many of us know or have experienced being a victim. We probably focus too much on this. The key is to balance this with the positive in life: family, friends, community, good news (which nobody in the media seems to report.)

By way of example, my brother-in-law is a LEO who works closely with prisoners. After years of working with lowlifes, his worldview is totally corrupted. He doesn't like to be outside of his house without his uniform and vest. He prefers to just stay at home most of the time when he's off duty. He's very paranoid about the possibility of ex-cons threatening his life. Now, he's not a detective, narco, or patrol office in a high crime city. He just handles prisoners (transport, court, etc.). At some point, he lost balance. I suspect it happens to a lot of LEO's.

This is the slippery slope. I think the Zen mind is probably the right mindset.
Good post, sir and welcome to the forum.

I would agree that the mind set after a tragic event such as being mugged would be one of a profiling nature. I would call that being human.
 

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Yes indeed, you have asked the $64,000 question.

Working in the occupation I do I always have to stop and wonder if someone is lying to me, and what game are the running? I consider everyone a threat, given the right circumstances.

Sorry, but I don't live in Zenville, nor Utopia, and it's the price I pay for staying alive and unharmed. Your cop buddy is much the same way I presume. I don't know any other way after seeing too many bad things happen to good people in the nicest of places.

In short, you can call it the price of admission to reality. Life's expiriences teaches you what it does, and makes you the way you are. It's a form of survival mechanism that all animals have. We, as humans, have tended to disregard some of the survival cues that life gives us, much to our peril I'm afraid.

I'm a basic and simple person and don't worry about $64,000 Questions too much. I have found a balance that works for me. My balance may not work for you, as we are all different. In the grand scheme of things you may say that I have shut off a portion of my humanity to survive. I'm OK with that, as survival is the goal. The other stuff is just "fluff" IMO.

Biker
 

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FWIW: I hope you stay around and contribute.

Post like your's are what keep me coming back, as they require deep thinking. I may have given a not so deep answer to your question, but that is because I'm getting ready for work.

I will sum it up by saying however that survival is the ultimate goal. How we get to that goal can be discussed. I have hobbies and a few friends, as well as a very loving family. That's what makes it worthwhile.

Biker
 

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Great Post

I struggle with the same questions you're struggling with. I think that the question you're asking is big, if not the biggest. How do my perceptions effect my actions, and are my perceptions accurate? In other words: what is the truth, right here, right now?

Our primitive or reptilian brain (it's a real thing, look it up) is the lowest or crudest part of our thinking apparatus. This is the part of the brain that higher mammals share with rattle snakes, bull frogs, and geckos. The reptilian brain reacts to direct stimulus and can over ride our higher faculties. This phenomenon can cause an otherwise sane rational person to act quite primitively- think of the guy with the MBA who runs someone off the free way during rush hour and beats them to a pulp. When we feel cornered, threatened, and anxious the primitive brain is triggered and we either fight or run away. This is a survival strategy that is built into the DNA of all animals- even Homo sapiens sapiens. That’s a fact. Here’s my opinion, which I feel is supported by the above facts.

If we do not intentionally develop our higher faculties, our consciousness remains trapped in our primitive center. If we do not wake up every day and stimulate our cerebrum with reading, writing, research, intelligent conversation, productive problem solving, spiritual growth, and physical attainment, we become like a snake in the weeds. We lye in wait for something to come along and stimulate our aggression centers: a meal, a mate, or a threat. When we receive that stimulus we react. Our speech is dull and blunt. When someone challenges our views we spit venom instead of reflecting on the truth or falsity of their statement. When we perceive a threat we strike. It could be a hiker coming down the trail who comes to close to our den or a mongoose who has every intention of eating us. The primitive brain is not capable of discernment. It reacts, it is incapable of reflection.

As human animals we will never be free of it, nor would I want to be. The fight or flight response gives us the ability to act quickly, within fractions of a second. It gives us the ability to instantly access danger and mitigate its effects. Without a thought we can be running at top speed out of the path of an errant bus, or we can be fighting tooth and claw with enhanced, adrenaline drenched strength, against a rapist or mugger with out having to pause to contemplate the moral dilemma of violence.

I think the problems start when we try to face a complex world with our simplest devices. When we become lazy and dull we close down our higher faculties and slip into a baser state. Also, there is the question of having trauma in our past that centers our consciousness on the question of survival. We wake up everyday with the fear of death looming over us- i.e. paranoia. I too have been the victim of violence and it is daily struggle for me to take things as they come instead letting my past color my perceptions or the here and now.

How do we remain balanced? Do we tear out our primitive instincts through force of will and float suspended above the world in an esoteric state, fearing not, wanting not, taking a tire iron to the side of the head without compunction because we are one with the coked-up biker who wants to feel up our wife’s bosoms. Or do we sleep with a pistol under our pillows and jump out of bed, gun hand, every time we hear a cricket chirp or a leaf rustle.

I actively work on trying to remain present and centered in every situation I may find myself. I try to look at each person for who they are and acknowledge that every situation is different. Our primitive minds love to make broad generalizations. Just like the dog who was beaten by a man in a cap and beard as a puppy goes berserk on your hippy neighbor who happens to be wearing a Red Socks cap on game day; our primitive minds can become programmed to attack or run away from similar stimuli. This is dangerous. Just like the dog who had to be put down for attacking a beatnik neighbor who was only reaching down to pet him, a human can find him or her self in a similar predicament. Race, sex, style, age, and ethnicity can become the threat our primitive minds constantly scan the horizon for. We all have such prejudices and they can get us in trouble.

With out a balance of consciousness, situational awareness, instinct, logic, and reason we can fail to rise to the occasion in the appropriate manor and cause big problems for ourselves and our families. This is the tricky part about being a funny looking, furless, two legged ape called a human being. More often than not we can be our own worst enemy. Sorry this was so long.
 

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The fact that you've asked the question shows you're not paranoid. We're all torn about what we should or shouldn't do. You're entitled to be paranoid about situations that have caused you grief. We all indulge in that. The difference is that you can make the decision whether or not to respond with force. It makes me think your judgement is good. The fact that you agonize about it is more evidence that you'll, given the opportunity, do the right thing.
 

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I went from the rural Ozarks hometown, to a small in-state public college, to Navy OCS, to different military schools, then straight to Vietnam. I don't think I had ever talked to an Asian person. I immediately was in close contact with civilians in remote agricultural Vietnam. I was astonished on my first trip, the kids came up to feel the hair on my arms. They had not seen body hair due to their age and the area where they lived. I still today remember having down time after the first hair incident and spent it thinking about the kids and their parents. I realized I was as strange to them as they were to me. I tried to remember the 'hair on my arm' while in country. I intently studied the 'hair on their arm'(the small things) about them. A mental approach that helped me very much in Vietnam.

The mental trick I used while mayor of my hometown: As the citizen visitors walked the hall toward my office I could see them coming. Before they got to my door, I tried to picture the view from their kitchen window. Of course, I had never been in most of these houses, but generally knew where they lived before they visited. By doing that, I put myself in their shoes mentally before we even met. When they complained about the neighbor, the potholes, the dead tree in the alley, the drag racers or whatever, my responses seemed appropriate. It wasn't because I always had solutions, but because I had somehow connected with their concerns. I was mentally in their kitchen.

So finally, I come to the posters questions.

How do we stay open and positive about the world and not become victims? How do we train ourselves in self defense and not be “defensive?”
Train to observe the 'hair on their arm' and put yourself in their kitchen. That will help you be defensive, but not offensive.
 

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Wow

Thank you to everyone who has posted here for such enlightening statements. I am trying to balance my desire to increase my SA and my personal security against becoming obsessed with the topic and freaking out my wife :smile:.

This has been very educational and helpful.
 

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I went from the rural Ozarks hometown, to a small in-state public college, to Navy OCS, to different military schools, then straight to Vietnam. I don't think I had ever talked to an Asian person. I immediately was in close contact with civilians in remote agricultural Vietnam. I was astonished on my first trip, the kids came up to feel the hair on my arms. They had not seen body hair due to their age and the area where they lived. I still today remember having down time after the first hair incident and spent it thinking about the kids and their parents. I realized I was as strange to them as they were to me. I tried to remember the 'hair on my arm' while in country. I intently studied the 'hair on their arm'(the small things) about them. A mental approach that helped me very much in Vietnam.


The mental trick I used while mayor of my hometown: As the citizen visitors walked the hall toward my office I could see them coming. Before they got to my door, I tried to picture the view from their kitchen window. Of course, I had never been in most of these houses, but generally knew where they lived before they visited. By doing that, I put myself in their shoes mentally before we even met. When they complained about the neighbor, the potholes, the dead tree in the alley, the drag racers or whatever, my responses seemed appropriate. It wasn't because I always had solutions, but because I had somehow connected with their concerns. I was mentally in their kitchen.

So finally, I come to the posters questions.

How do we stay open and positive about the world and not become victims? How do we train ourselves in self defense and not be “defensive?”
Train to observe the 'hair on their arm' and put yourself in their kitchen. That will help you be defensive, but not offensive.
67-68 Corpsman, Lima Company, 3/1, third platoon. South of Marble Mountain between Highway One and the ocean. Where were you?
 

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Defensive States of Mind: Paranoia vs. Vigilance

........Or, as with myself, if I see two young black men coming toward me on the street some part of me remembers that it was two young black men who assaulted and robbed me in 1981. As much as I try not to profile, that perception is there and it is my spiritual project to manage it. The point is that I am more likely to see two young black men as a threat and not just two young black men walking down the street. It’s embarrassing. Not only do our conditioned responses and preconceived ideas interfere with correctly perceiving the world, they also predispose us to be victims by rigidly assessing a situation one way instead of staying open to all the possibilities. I read a book by the Samurai, Musashi Miyamoto (The Book of The Five Rings) and it occurred to me that he had something like Zen mind, that is, a mind that responded to every situation individually and not based on prior experience or received ideas.
In any case, my dilemma is this: how do we stay open and positive about the world and not become victims? How do we train ourselves in self defense and not be “defensive?”
Interested in hearing the opinions of others.



Why should you try so hard to ignore your own instincts? I see no reason for the guilt trip unless you are mistreating someone. If the prospect of defensive training causes you this much angst, how are you going to feel if you are ever involved in a defensive shooting?

People are defined by the decisions that they make, not by every little thought that pops into their head.

And I am not trying to ruin the Zen vibe in this thread,
but training is by definition the collection of experience and conditioned responses. Anyone that thinks they can react to a situation without relying on prior experience is kidding themselves. Without prior experience, you would have no means to recognize anything or know what a threat is.

Just another opinion.
 

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Im with Biker on this one. My philosophy is one of the USMC rules on gunfights: Be polite, be professional but have a plan to kill everyone you meet. To me, that means simply be prepared because you do not know what someone else is thinking. As long as you arent walking around 24/7 in condition red, I think its vigilance and not paranoia.OMO
 
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