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Old October 11, 2014, 05:26 AM   #1
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Expectation, Rationalization and Reality

It's common for victims of violent crime to comment afterwards that they never thought it could happen to them. Presumably, they watch the news like everyone else. They know that crime happens every day and that no one is immune from crime. So why are they surprised when it finally happens to them?

To some extent they are surprised because it's never happened to them before and it's normal for humans to feel some level of surprise when facing a new experience.

But a large part of the problem is that humans have a tendency to build their own expectations and then to fortify those expectations with rationalization. The eventual result is that they create alternate realities for themselves.

Why does it matter? Because if you spend time in a violent encounter marveling that such a thing could actually happen to you, then you're not responding constructively. If you stand transfixed, unable to reconcile the true reality with the alternate reality you have built with your expectations and rationalization, the time you waste convincing yourself that what is happening is REALLY happening, may be time you desperately need to save your own life.

What is Rationalization? It's an explanation we create to make us feel good about what we have already decided to do. So, for example, let's say that on the way to work this morning, there's a panhandler on the corner. I don't give him a $20 when I pass. There was never a chance that I WAS going to donate to his cause. It's not that I had really thought it through and come up with reasons that I didn't contribute before making the decision. But AFTER the decision I rationalize my actions by saying that I didn't do it because he would just waste it on alcohol or drugs. So I feel good about my decision because I have a good reason for it.

Of course, the reason that makes me feel good isn't REALLY why I'm not going to give him the money--it's a reason I made up after the real decision had already been made. The reason is a rationalization.

How does this apply to violent crime, tactics and training? It might take this form: Because I am only willing and able to train for certain types of violent crimes taking place under a limited set of circumstances, I convince myself, through rationalization, that planning for just a few crimes and circumstances is all that is really necessary. Because thinking about certain aspects of violent crime makes me uncomfortable, I don't even consider some possibilities.

I might convince myself that my plan is a good one, that my training regimen is ideal and that it's all perfectly logical, reasonable and more than adequate. In my mind, I might downplay, or even completely ignore the possibility of occurrences that my plan won't cover, so that I can feel confident that my training regimen is comprehensive. I may even go so far as to denigrate those who don't plan the way I do. Either because they don't plan as thoroughly as I do and therefore they are clueless "sheeple"--or because they plan for occurences that I rationalize as being too unlikely to worry about and therefore they are paranoid.

But the reasons I give for picking my plan are most likely not the real reasons I chose it. In reality, I probably picked my plan because it was one that I wanted to implement, maybe one that I liked the sound of, maybe one that seemed cool. Or maybe it's a plan that I can put in place relatively easily or inexpensively. The rationalization will make me feel good about the plan and my training, but it has little to do with why I selected the plan. All the reasoning going into the rationalization is being done AFTER the plan was already chosen.

So, for example, I plan for a situation where a single bad guy accosts me from several paces distance, and is unattentive enough to allow me to extract my pistol from deep concealment, chamber a round, and either frighten him away or drop him with a single, well-aimed shot. I ignore the reality that bad guys often have accomplices. I downplay, or maybe dismiss, the fact that defenders miss more than they hit. I don't consider the fact that I might not have the time or opportunity to retrieve a carefully concealed but difficult to access pistol and charge the chamber. I convince myself that I don't need to worry about the case where the attacker first becomes an obvious threat when he's already inside arm's length. I don't worry about the possibility of having to chamber a round one handed. I pretend that I can keep my distance from everyone I encounter even though, in the real world, it's impractical to maintain a 2-3 yard "bubble" that no one else ever enters.

All that said, rationalization is good in some ways. It lets us sleep at night because we can ignore reality long enough to drift off into dreamland. It keeps us from going crazy worrying about all the bad things that happen in the world every day. But it can be very damaging if we use it to convince ourselves to completely accept something other than the true reality as fact. If our rationalized view of reality causes us to react inefficiently or slowly, or maybe causes us to not react at all when it comes time to defend ourselves, then it can cost us our lives.

But, you say, I am not rationalizing my choices, I really picked my plan for all the right reasons. Maybe, maybe not. The human brain is a truly amazing rationalization computer. It can rationalize so rapidly and effectively that the person who owns the brain often doesn't even realize that rationalization is taking place. Have you ever seen a hypnotist perform? Often, the hypnotist will induce unusual behavior in his subjects and then ask them, after the fact, why they acted in such an odd manner. The victims answer the question rapidly, and provide convincing and reasonable answers. Of course the answers are completely made up, but they are amazingly good answers given that the brain fabricated them virtually instantly and without any chance to prepare. The victims don't even realize that they have rationalized their actions. They believe that the answer they're giving is the true answer.

This behavior goes on all the time without our knowledge. In our minds, the best TV we could afford becomes the best TV available. We like it not just because it's all we could pay for, but we may actually believe we prefer it over the more expensive models. We tell ourselves that we choose to carry a derringer because it's a great little defensive weapon and because two shots is all that anyone reasonable needs for self-defense. We become convinced we didn't choose our carry gun simply because it's cool-looking, really small and easy to carry, or because we got a really good deal on it used.

What about expectation? In the current context, expectation is when, because I have planned for X but not for Y, I assume (either overtly or subconsciously) that Y can not, or will not, happen. Therefore, when Y does happen, I am surprised and may even comment afterwards that I never thought it could happen to me. I used rationalization to create expectation, and that expectation short-circuited my response.

Instead of acting rapidly and constructively, I had to waste time convincing myself that reality was real. As a result, what I expected to happen (or expected to NOT happen) had to be reconciled with what was actually taking place and that took time. Maybe that process takes so long that I am unable to react at all in the time available. Ever wonder why some people freeze in emergencies? Sometimes it's because they don't know what to do--but often it's because they can't convince themselves that what is happening is really taking place. Keeping your expectations in line with reality allows you to plan properly and can eliminate both problems.

Expectation can cause other problems--it can cause us to be careless. After all, if I am convinced that a particular kind of crime can't befall me, why should I bother worrying about it or trying to make sure it doesn't happen? Why should I spend the time deciding how to react in advance? What sense does it make to plan for the impossible?

Reality doesn't care about our expectations nor is it impressed with the brain's amazing ability to rationalize. What you plan doesn't prevent occurrences outside of your plan from coming to pass. Your ability to rationalize doesn't change reality even if it does create an alternate "reality" in your mind. Your expectations can't control what happens to you, but they can strongly affect how you react.

What's the practical application? Should we try to create an ideal plan for everything? That's obviously not possible. It's one thing to say you can't or aren't willing to undergo certain types of preparation or train for some kinds of crimes.

It would be reasonable, for example, for a person who is physically very weak, or disabled, to decide that it won't be practical for them to attempt to master unarmed combat. In fact, it's good to acknowledge that a plan isn't comprehensive because that means you've at least flirted with reality by thinking about the "chinks" in your strategy. But you don't want to fall into the trap of beginning to believe that what you have planned is going to affect what comes to pass. The very weak or disabled person, who has decided that practicing to master unarmed combat isn't practical, shouldn't ignore the possibility that they might be faced with a situation where unarmed combat skills would be the ideal solution. They should think about that possibility and try to come up with some strategy, however feeble, to deal with such situations rather than allowing their rationalized choices to govern their expectations to the point that they ignore reality.

You may have spent a lot of time training with a carbine, only to find that you are confronted with a violent criminal trying to take your life and you have only a handgun available. You may have assumed that your attacker will be a stranger, only to be violently assaulted by a family member or friend. You may have planned for a situation where you identify a threat from several yards away, and then be faced with an attacker grabbing you from behind before you even know he's there.

You can't let your choices and planning sneak into your thoughts and control your reality.

So what's the bottom line?

It's fine to pick a plan that you find easy or fun to implement. After all, most people probably don't have any structured plan at all for dealing with violent crime. Your simple plan, even with all of its flaws, puts you ahead of the game compared to most. So set up your plan based on what you can do and what you will do. So far this is what most of us will do anyway. But here is the critical difference. Don't let yourself rationalize your way into believing that your plan is better than it is. Don't fall into the trap of convincing yourself that the things you don't plan for are such remote probabilities that you don't need to even consider them. Don't get so confident in your plan that you are surprised into inaction when confronted by something outside the plan's structure.

So let's say we decide to carry a 5 shot DAO revolver in an ankle-holster for self-defense. That plan, that choice, imposes limitations on our ability to respond to certain kinds or levels of threats. That's fine--no one can prepare perfectly for everything. It's not critically important to pick the best plan possible. It IS important for us to not ignore the possibility that we may be faced with a violent threat that isn't easily dealt with using 5 shots. It's important to keep in mind that a tiny, hard to shoot revolver, with a long, heavy, DAO trigger, concealed in a location that's not easily reached surreptitiously may not solve the problem we are faced with. We need to think about what we would do if faced with a situation where our carry choice turns out to be far from ideal--or even totally inadequate. We don't want to have to stand there looking foolish while we try to come up with a plan on the spot or, worse yet, while we try to convince ourselves that: "Yes, it really IS happening to me."

Don't let rationalization and expectation convince you it's all right to ignore certain possibilities--come up with a basic plan. It can be a very simple plan requiring little effort, or training, to implement--maybe something as basic as screaming for help and running away. That may sound silly, but which is better, being frozen in place with a stupid look on your face, or screaming and running away?

Don't frustrate yourself by believing that all of your planned actions must be tactically awesome options--not having an super plan for everything isn't a deal-breaker. The important thing is that you acknowledge that reality doesn't conform to your preconceptions. Even a very simple plan with a relatively low chance of success is better than freezing and doing nothing at all because you never expected to be confronted with such a situation.
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Old October 11, 2014, 07:32 AM   #2
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A should read and think about.
live and let live
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Old October 11, 2014, 09:04 AM   #3
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Yes, the actual situation can never be known beforehand.
That's always up to the aggressor.
But one's reaction to it can be very effective.
By being alert and able to be reactive in a quick and decisive manner can win the day.
But it takes a lot of dedication to get to that state.
And, as you say, it's easier to imagine the situation will always be within our level of competence, whatever its limitations.
Better to be as good as possible with the techniques and equipment we decide to use.
And be able to apply them as needed.
Simple basic ones, expertly executed, are far more effective than complicated and exotic ones poorly done.
And far better than just depending on luck and the odds.
Walt Kelly, alias Pogo, sez:
“Don't take life so serious, son, it ain't nohow permanent.”

Last edited by g.willikers; October 11, 2014 at 09:09 AM.
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Old October 11, 2014, 11:46 AM   #4
Frank Ettin
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Originally Posted by JohnKSa
...Reality doesn't care about our expectations nor is it impressed with the brain's amazing ability to rationalize. What you plan doesn't prevent occurrences outside of your plan from coming to pass. Your ability to rationalize doesn't change reality even if it does create an alternate "reality" in your mind. Your expectations can't control what happens to you, but they can strongly affect how you react....
This, BTW, is a pretty much universal and fundamental truth. It is a core topic in Thomas Sowell's book, Knowledge and Decision and Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, The Black Swan. We saw it constantly in business: no matter how well a transaction or activity was thought through and planned by very smart, knowledgeable people, there were always unexpected complications.

How does this translate to dealing with self defense. A couple of points come immediately to mind:
  1. We need to know, and accept, that this happens. It's something of a mind set issue. We need to be mentally prepared to have to deal with the unexpected and not so "married" to our plans that we will be unable to abandon them as necessary.

    1. Role playing, force-on-force, and or simulator training are helpful in this regard. Instead of practicing one or two or three things over and over, we become forced to confront varied and changing situations.

    2. Action competition (USPSA and/or IDPA) is also helpful because we are forced to try to solved varied shooting problems.

  2. A solid grounding in the fundamentals helps. Unconscious competence, i. e., the ability to perform necessary, mechanical and physical tasks without thinking, on demand, supports greater adaptability and allows one to focus on assessing and responding properly to a novel, unfolding situation.
"It is long been a principle of ours that one is no more armed because he has possession of a firearm than he is a musician because he owns a piano. There is no point in having a gun if you are not capable of using it skillfully." -- Jeff Cooper
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Old October 13, 2014, 03:51 PM   #5
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Great post, made me think, thanks.
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Old October 13, 2014, 05:41 PM   #6
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Probably the best OP in the T&T section ever made. Thanks for posting.
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Old October 14, 2014, 12:26 AM   #7
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JohnKSa's OP

The OP contains much food for thought. Much good information.
For me,it boils down to two distinct ways to view the world:
1.The way things are ("what is"/the facts/actual,unvarnished reality).
2.The way we want things to be("what should be"/our expectations/

NEVER mix up the two! It's hard to do,but try to always know "what is"
in every situation.Thinking about "what should be" often prevents knowing
"what is",and that brings trouble. You can't deal effectively with reality if
you don't recognize it,and if your thinking is colored with "what should be",
a clear view of reality is lost.
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Old October 16, 2014, 08:39 PM   #8
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All else fails, I will be the most disarming flake possible. Sometimes the perfect words come for the situation or the type of person you're dealing with. Humor sometimes works, also a potential threat might be unlikely to mess with someone they perceive as a true nut job. Don't overplay it, but don't be afraid to play it, either.
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Old October 18, 2014, 08:14 PM   #9
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Very good excellent advice great read
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