Why Didn’t They . . .

How often in the past few years have people heard about an event, natural disaster, terror attack, terrible accident, what have you, and thought or said, “Why didn’t they . . .? Why didn’t someone . . .?” I tend to be one of those people, always from the safety of my chair. I’m not there so I have plenty of time to think about how someone else could have reacted. But I’m also the kind of very strange person who plans in advance what if. What if someone attacks my place of employment? What if I’m in a store and someone goes nuts? What if I’m at home and a tornado strikes? What if I’m in a place of worship and someone tries to shoot up the place (and which deacons/ushers/elders are carrying today, besides That Gal. But she’s been carrying for decades and everyone knows it so she doesn’t count.) I’m coming to understand that this is not normal mental behavior.

{Interestingly, when aviation is involved, I hate it when people try to analyze what happened and what the pilot(s) did wrong. I’ve been there, I have a hair of a clue sometimes, but arrrgh, the talking heads on TV! As they say, “The accident investigators have six months to sort out what the pilots had 60 seconds to deal with.” I know pilot error will be part of the finding, that’s just a given. Beyond that . . . grrr. OK, end of that rant.}

Normal people do not operate under the assumption that the fit may hit the Shan at any given moment, so you need to be ready for it. “Ready” may involve diving out the back door, or finding a heavy desk to get under in case the storm rips the roof off, or hiding, or playing dead, or grabbing a chair and going berserker, or calming people down and herding them out of the way. What about beating someone about the head with an Attack Purse? (An attack purse is one of those lovely very large things that contains everything up to a small ACME Brand anvil. You’ve seen them, usually carried by ladies of a Certain Age.)

I do not know if it is because I have made up scenarios and scenes since I was very small, or because of being the target-of-choice for six years in Junior High and High School, or reading so much military history and science fiction, but I am always looking around and thinking “What if . . . What would I do?” It is probably also part of my anxiety problem, because I can’t turn it off when I need to. Only once has my Worst Case Scenario come close to happening, and in that case I ended up shepherding fifty or so college students into shelter when a tornado came close to Flat State. I was the only one with flashlights, an aid kit, and a plan, so I took over when the security people pointed us to the basement and then left (to sweep the building for strays). I learned later that my being calm and prepared kept several people from having hysterics or freaking out.

Heaven forbid that I find myself in a situation where my planning is needed. But I’ve made a few decisions over the years as to what I would do or try to do, depending on the problem/threat and the other people around. At the school my priority is protest the kids. Period. Whatever I need to do, be it chase them out of the building, or try to stop/distract an attacker, is based on protecting the kids. Elsewhere I have more flexibility, but I have ideas, I have plans, I try to know where the other ways out are, and what I have within grabbing and throwing distance if I’m not what I consider armed.

This is not how 95% of the population thinks. It is not a warm and fussy way to function. I can understand why people freeze, or panic and just try to get away from [threat]. My first response to the flood that endangered apartment #3 was “What the f*&%? You’ve got to be sh-tting me!” This is not conducive to effective action. I stood there, looking at the water and the other people looking at the water, and thought “What the f*#% am I supposed to do now?” Then I shook off the surprise, went and made arrangements to stay somewhere, returned to the flood and parked out of the way, hiked my skirts and waded where I knew was paved and not too deep and discovered that my place was just barely above water at that moment. I started moving stuff, changing out of my dress clothes into work clothes, and got ready for the water to rise and for someone to chase me out. (And emptied the freezer and fridge because . . . no power for at least several days. I know what happens.)

I had my stuff up and out of water’s reach, everything unplugged, valuables packed along with clothes and critical research materials and was ready to go before the next brave soul ventured in. I was very, very lucky. But I also had a trouble bag already packed in case of tornadoes, so that was pre-loaded.

I froze. Then I unfroze and got to work. Why? Because I gamed out in my mind the disaster-of-the week, except for flood. Most people don’t do that. So in some ways it is not fair for me to glare at the TV or screen and say, “Why didn’t someone?!?” Because normal people don’t have to do that. You don’t go to a cafe to meet friends with the assumption that someone’s going to go nuts and start tossing furniture. Or shooting, or threatening to set off a bomb vest, or attacking the piano,* or throwing enraged skunks.

Maybe more people will, now.

*The guy was so high it took four big police officers and major tranquilizers to subdue him. And the drugs wore off in the ER, to the great surprise of the staff. Apparently he should have slept for an other half hour or so. Apparently he’d taken everything you could find on the street at that time (LSD, PCP, crack, speed, and a few others that had the toxicologist all excited).


8 thoughts on “Why Didn’t They . . .

  1. Military and aviators tend to plan, routinely… It’s ingrained in our beings by the training we received. Combat veterans even more so…

  2. Hubby and I were having this conversation yesterday, we both habitually plan in these ways, particularly for violent confrontations and the occasional hurricane, but between us we have 33 years in the military and counting. By the same token, we realize this is not a mindset that most people consider normal. Especially young healthy people who’ve always lived in relative safety, out for nothing more than an evening of fun.

    Even with that mindset, I can’t guarantee what I would have done when Monday-morning quarterbacking. The best I (or any of us) can manage is to analyze what the best course of action would have been as a mental exercise (and a form of psychological practice), and hope like hell I won’t nevertheless panic and freeze if the shiz ever goes go down around me. That and get my CCW back up to date (Yes, I know how irresponsible it was to let it lapse, the world is a constant reminder of that, and it’s in the budget now, so no more excuses.)

    Oddly we manifest it in different ways. Hubby, the ex-MP, can’t walk into a room unarmed without immediately identifying all potential improvised weapons and figuring out how to use them. Me, I’m medical, we don’t do a lot of hand-to-hand, so I tend identify all exits for a quick evac and subconsciously sit where I can see the whole room.

    • Having been prey, I tend to look for exits and threats. Then I look at what I could use as a weapon or road-block. I’m trying to condition myself out of the prey mindset, and most of the time it works, but I have to watch myself when I’m exhausted. Prey attracts the attention of predators.

  3. I consider your attitude perfectly normal, there are just a tremendous amount of idiots in the world. When confronted with such I have to consciously remind myself that it isn’t always tactful or strategically smart to point out their idiocy in short conscise sentences.

  4. If you don’t think that a thing is reasonably possible, you won’t be ready to deal with it.

    That’s 90% of why people freeze– like you said, the what-huh response, but then they STOP.

    We had what I think was an attempted walk-in robbery– some people still don’t lock their doors, and it was when we only had one car so they didn’t know I was home– but once they shoulder-thumped the door, I did my “I will DESTROY YOU” voice and demanded to know what they were doing; while they were talking, I went and got my gun, then checked the back door, shut the window, and beeper ed the car locked. Good thing, too, they went through the back yard, over the kids’ toys, and I think they tried my car’s doors while I was on the phone with the police.

    Planning for this started way before that day– we turned down two different houses because the were not defensible; this one only has one window that can be reached when your feet are on the ground, and it’s over a sink. You are so royally screwed if you try coming in that window.

    Gamers that take it way too serious tend to be really good at applying the “what if” in real life, if they can learn to apply it right. Random Encounters shouldn’t be that big of a shock, and for heavens sake will people start LOOKING UP every so often?!


    The sad thing is, people should ALWAYS be doing some “what if”– because this is Goal #1 for driving. Look at what’s going on, and have an idea what to do if it does. Going under an overpass? What if something comes over the edge, is there room to dodge? Dog, rock or car, you’re just as dead if it comes through the window.

    • Agreed. If more people tried to think ahead, my car insurance rates would be lower. All our rates would be lower. 🙂

      My rule of thumb is that if someone tries to come in via the window, I’m going to assume that they are not planning to ask if I’d like a copy of _Watchtower_ or offer to mow the lawn, and act accordingly.

  5. I understand the “we were not expecting trouble so we didn’t know how to react” and I’m honest enough about myself that I don’t know how I’d react if there was trouble.

    However, what pisses me off is that for all the rhetoric about “Christian Right Wants To Kill Gays” these people apparently never really expected to be attacked.

    For all they may believed about “the Christian Right”, it’s obvious that emotionally they saw themselves as safe.

    I feel somewhat sorry for the next person who tries to tell me that Gays have “Good Reasons” to fear the Christian Right because these people didn’t really feel any danger. [Frown]

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