Have you ever been out walking, for errands or exercise, and felt something amiss?  And you realize the same person seems to be consistently behind you?  Perhaps as you’ve glanced back it seems like they’re suddenly looking away.  You wonder, are they following me?  And you search your brain for your safety skills.

That’s happened to a lot of my students.  It’s happened to me.  This video is about that incident, almost 40 years ago.  Way before I began teaching self-defense, even before I realized that self-defense was a thing.

I still remember it in detail, even though this happened so long ago.  I occasionally wonder how it influenced my later choices, who I consider trustworthy, or my foundations of personal safety and safety skills.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent book Talking To Strangers, proposes that unless it’s super obvious, we give people we just meet the benefit of the doubt and some of our trust.  After a while, it gets hard to change our minds about them, even when they begin to violate our boundaries and eventually cause us grief.  In fact, he infers that people who are  NOT inclined to trust others are lonely and unhappy paranoids.  (I reviewed this book on Facebook Live a few months ago.)  Not surprisingly, many students who doubt another’s intent express concern that they are paranoid.  Well, if that other person is pushing your boundaries and not listening when you correct them, you’re not paranoid.

In this story, a stranger does push boundaries.  A common response is to ignore that person, which is more likely to work when there is greater distance between you and them.  That tactic did not work in my case, and I moved on to others.  And one of the indicators of more likely success in self-defense is having a few tricks up your sleeve, and switching them until you find which works.

You’ll learn quite a few tricks in these self-defense classes, which currently are all online.

That old saying is “boys will be boys.”  Period.  End of sentence.  We’re changing it.  Boys will be the boys we let them be.  We can help with some specific safety skills for kids.

It’s creeping up to mid-September here in Seattle, and kids have headed back to school.  For some it will be a new school.  For others, more totally remote learning.  Some families will get together in “pods” for pooled learning experiences.  Others will struggle with basic access.  It won’t be easy, and for many the beginning of this school year will feel like barely contained chaos.  It’s in times like these that we all want to be on the lookout for predators and their enablers.  Remind kids that it’s OK to say no to adults.

Many of the people who say “boys will be boys” are not predators, and certainly would be offended if called an enabler.  After all, they are responsible adults helping guide young people through life’s realities.  And they do actually believe that “boys will be boys.”  As well as it’s corollary, “he punched/pinched/pushed you because he likes you.”  You may be thinking, wait what year is this?  Are people actually believing this into the 21st century?  From what I can tell, fewer kids are hearing it than I did decades ago.  But still, each year a couple of kids or tween students do report they’ve been told that “he’s mean because he likes you.”   Sometimes it comes from teachers, teaching assistants, volunteering parents, coaches, or even assistant principals.

Need I say this issue doesn’t only impact girls?  It impacts kids of any gender.  Perhaps, though, instead of “he likes you,” boys may hear “be a man.”

In our safety skills classes for kids (as well as self-defense for tweens and teens) we talk about finding trusted, supportive adults to go to for help.  And that trusted, supportive adult should be able to schedule a conversation to hold the speaker accountable.  Now, what can we ask our young people to say?  How can we help them grow into their own voices?

The exact words depend on the age of the child.  I suggest the child tell that adult they are sure that no, that other kid really is acting mean and does not like them.  That if a another kid likes you, they would not be trying to harm you.  This may be very hard for some kids, and maybe for their parents too.  Because a lot of parents themselves struggle to advocate for themselves.  The other adult may see this as a challenge to their authority — and they’d be right.  We should not have to accept unquestioningly the authority of other adults who won’t keep our kids safe.

Parents, if your child does speak up, please back them up.  Parents, if your child was the one who punched/pinched/pushed another, maybe you want to chat about why they’re choosing those behaviors for self-expression.  Is that the boy (or girl, or other) you want them to be?

What can you do when someone you care about disregards your boundaries?  The ones you thought you were so clear about?

Depends.

Today I won’t be giving the “one answer,” because there isn’t one answer most of the time.  I’ll outline more of a process. However, the crucial approach is your focus.  If your intent is to punish someone, it will be far less effective.  Your focus should be on YOUR comfort and safety.  Focus on YOURself.

We’ll begin with the assumption that this is someone you know, as most conflict happens with people you know.  Consider:

  • What’s the fundamental nature of this relationship?  Family?  Good friend?  Neighbor?  Work colleague?  Supervisor?  Social acquaintance?  Boss?  Coach?
  • What is the history?  What is your past experience in this relationship?
  • What are the power dynamics?  Have they changed over time?
  • What does this relationship mean to you?  Not what you think it should mean to you.
  • Where is this relationship on the continuum between adversarial and collaborative?
  • How important is this person in your life?

Think about that last point again — how important this person is in your life.  A more important relationship can generally stand more discussion about expectations, hopes, and trust.  Dr. Brené Brown has noted that having boundaries respected is a significant indicator of trust, and we confer more trust on those who acknowledge and respect boundaries (including their own).

Notice I’m not saying “use these words” or “that body language.”  Those choices should follow the contours of the relationship, where you’ve been with it in the past and where you see its future.

One instance.  a student had a romantic interest abroad.  He lived in Eurpoe — when it was evening over there it was past midnight in Seattle.  He tended to phone her in his evening, usually around 2:00 am her time.  They had a few conversations about it, she asked him not to phone so late, and he would always apologize and say he’d try to call earlier but just need to hear her voice.  And he kept phoning her at 2 am.  Yes, she kept answering.

Another instance.  Actually, a number of instances since I’ve heard this same basic story over and over.  Student is dating a very smart, witty, articulate, funny person.  They usually have a great time.  However, every so often if they disagree, this person’s cleverness would turn contemptuous.  The discussion would move quickly from whatever they disagreed about to student’s “fundamental flaws.”  In some cases they broke up but got back together.  They promised they’d change — until the next disagreement.

In both instances, there was little downside for the other person to continue their behavior.  In the first case, to keep phoning at his convenience since she didn’t reinforce her boundary by not answering. In the second, to keep up personal attacks instead of working through differences.  Why are these boundaries ignored?  Maybe:

  • They don’t agree with your boundaries but won’t say that outright
  • They continue to get what they want, with no appreciable consequences
  • They are solidifying a power imbalance
  • This relationship is not as important to them as it is to you
  • They have other needs they are reluctant to express

Remember, there will be disagreements in any relationship of value.  The issues lies in how those disagreements are expressed and processed.

The next level is to recognize that ignoring a boundary it yet another boundary violation, and articulate that. Possibilities:

“Honey, we’d talked about you phoning me so late, and you always agree to phone earlier.  But that doesn’t happen.  I love talking with you, and I need uninterrupted sleep.  I’m turning my phone off at 10 pm Seattle time.  Please call earlier.”

“Honey, we’d talked about you phoning me so late, and you always agree to phone earlier.  But that doesn’t happen, and I see that it really doesn’t work with your schedule.  I love talking with you, and I need more uninterrupted sleep.  How about if we schedule our phone calls, so I can plan for more quality sleep?”

“Every time we disagree, it devolves into name-calling and personal attacks.  That’s not how I want to resolve our differences!  I’m going to call a “time out” next time a discussion begins to get off-track.  Maybe I’ll take a walk, or go for some tea.  And I’ll expect that when I come back we can come to a better way of resolution.”

“Whenever we disagree, you get angry quickly and resort to name-calling.  We discuss this, you swear you’ll change, yet the next disagreement finds the same pattern on repeat.  Being able to talk about feelings and issues is important to me, and important in every meaningful relationship I’m in.  What do you need to honor that?”

The idea is setting a more concrete boundary, involving your level of contact and time with that person.  And then sticking to it.  While ehe intent is your self-care, the other person may feel it as punitive.  So be sure it’s a boundary you are willing to enforce!

Your voice is your most important safety tool.  But sometimes your voice, a solo voice, alone, is not enough.

Several years ago I read about this strategy used by women staffers at the White House.  Although then-President Obama did have numerous women on staff, they often felt unheard in a still mostly male environment.  They chose to “amplify” each other.  When one make a point, others would repeat it and give credit to the originator.  It was simple, and effective.

A friend of mine was dealing with a verbally abusive supervisor.  He wasn’t abusive just to her, but to anyone in his environment.  Over the years individuals in the department would approach HR and senior management.  But nothing happened, and eventually staff stopped going to HR.  One day this supervisor had a particularly abrasive day, which impacted multiple staff as well as customers.  A majority of staff from that department converged on HR and management.  This time the supervisor was let go.  Because a group acting together can accomplish what individuals cannot.

But sometimes even that isn’t enough. Sometimes it takes a lot of people.  Thousands.  Tens of thousands,  Hundreds of thousands.  Thousands of thousands.  You can’t fit into HR’s office.  You’re in the streets.

In our self-defense classes we talk strategically about using our voices.  When to set boundaries in a conversational tone, or when to get LOUD.  You want to get LOUD when you need to attract attention.

Now is a good time to be LOUD.Black Lives Matter

You probably want to balance your own safety with your need to speak up.  Take a look at this Protest Safety Guide from Black Lives Matter Seattle – King County.  To paraphrase Audre Lorde, caring for yourself does not have to mean indulgence — it is self-preservation, an act of political warfare against those who’d rather you just went away, shut up, or die.  Preserving yourself in a world hostile to your community is truly self-care.  So that you’re ready to again face the outside world.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Not just for Spiderman.  This idea has been expressed by Voltaire, Winston Churchill, and both Presidents Roosevelt.  Some people even cite the New Testament verse Luke 12:48 as an early expression of this concept.

Trevor Noah is a comedian, and and astute commentator.  In this video he steps away from comedy.  He provides a thoughtful and heartfelt analysis of today’s protest actions spurred by the recent and raw murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.  I’m not going to recap him here, his presentation is far more eloquent and precise than mine.  Just watch the video. Embedded for your convenience.

I very much appreciate how Noah discusses the “social contract” as key to any civil society.  As you probably remember from your high school history, the idea of a social contract was central to British and French Enlightenment philosophers, who were themselves highly influential in the thoughts and writings of our American founding fathers (think Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Paine).  All these were signers of our Declaration of Independence, which boldly asserted that all men are created equal.

And we are still stumbling through that most basic idea.  It needs to be amplified.  By you.  Today.

using your voiceYour voice is your most effective safety tool.  Yet it’s the tool most folk, especially women and girls, are reluctant to use.  “Do I have to say anything?” is a too-common question in class.  The answer is no, you don’t HAVE to do or say anything you don’t want to, and there are some cases where saying nothing may be your best choice.  That being said, there are reasons why using your voice is an essential tool.

  1. BREATHING.  Show of hands, who thinks breathing isn’t that important?  Yeah, that’s what I figured.  If you are using your voice you are breathing.  Breathing is critical to life, and critical to managing your reactions in challenging situations.  Which brings me to the next reason . . .
  2. FREEZING.  Inability to respond.  Using your voice can break that freeze.  The assailant is, in fact, often hoping you will freeze.  Which brings us to . . .
  3. STARTLING the assailant.  Assailants, like any predator, are looking for easier prey.  Targets who will be afraid, unsure, easily intimidated.  Using your voice, especially LOUDLY, by itself has a good chance of chasing off the assailant as that’s not what they expected.  Which can . . .
  4. ATTRACT ATTENTION.  Maybe any people around will look.  Perhaps some will whip out their phones to capture video.  If you’re super lucky, someone might try to intervene.  Most assailants don’t want to risk attention.  But maybe nobody is around . . . you may want to . . .
  5. INCREASE YOUR ADRENALINE.  Adrenaline, at the right level, can increase your physical effectiveness should you need to actually fight your assailant.  It can increase your speed and strength.  It can make time feel like its going slooooowwww.   (Note:  too much adrenaline, on the other hand, can begin shutting down your responses and effectiveness.)  And, finally, using your voice can . . .
  6. ENGAGE YOUR CORE.  Which brings in more muscle groups, connects parts of your body to work together like a power drive train, and increases your physical effectiveness.

There is a world of difference between an intellectual knowledge of your voice’s importance, and actually using it.  As in your ability to not only recognize but to state your needs, your preferences, and your boundaries. That’s why we practice using our voices in our self-defense classes.

Do you sometimes find yourself in situations (social, work, family) where you kinda go along because it’s just not a big deal?  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — a crucial life skill is navigating and prioritizing choices.  But also recognize that we are often socialized to feel uncomfortable standing up for ourselves.  If you default that that, do you find yourself constantly left unsatisfied?  Do you feel more like a spectator rather than player in your own life?


Today’s Google Doodle commemorates the 388th birthday of French author Charles Perrault. He wrote (based on folk tales) some of today’s widely-read, widely-watched, and widely-merchandised classic fairly tales, including Little Red Riding Hood. Today’s versions of the tales, however, have been sanitized to make them more family-friendly (and marketable). As this article notes:

“His version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, made it more explicitly obvious that the ‘wolf’ is a man intent on preying on young girls who wander alone in woods.

“From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner,” he wrote.

 “I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”

Some things haven’t changed much in the last 400 years.  Most people still envision those who mean harm as looking like monsters.  Pretty easy to spot, right?

If all “bad guys” were this obvious, there wouldn’t be as much of a problem evading them, right?  But, alas, not all those who mean harm look like scary monsters.  Most, in fact, look like regular people.  Just like the three photos below, all of whom are Ted Bundy.  (If you don’t know about Ted Bundy by now, do a web search.)  


I could have told you the fellow depicted was an actor, a tech startup CEO, an attorney, or just any regular joe.

You don’t have to be a famous serial killer/rapist to get away with crimes.  Most perpetrators are someone the target knows, and to some extent likes and trusts.  That’s a deliberate ploy.  Most perpetrators depend on their targets’ trust, and manipulate it to their advantage.

And they rely on silence.  Not only the silence of their victims, but silence of those around them.  Silence of those who think they’re a “nice guy.”  (Bundy got away with his crimes longer than he should have because he was well regarded by a number of influential people.)  
This is why we spend time in our self-defense classes learning to recognize the “red flags” that a person’s intent may not be good for you.  I’ve heard from some students, in retrospect, that this turned out to be the most valuable and useful part of class.
Because not all monsters look like wolves.

I resisted watching this video for a couple of months.  Really, the first few moments of music made me want to hunker down with a glass of wine to go with the cheese.  I caved in only because a class of high school girls wanted to dissect it.  And, as I watched, the overly cute morphed into creepy.

You may have seen it — this video was all over my Facebook feed earlier this year.

“Slap Her.”  The one in Italian with boys ages 7 to 11.  An off-camera interviewer asks them a few preliminary questions, to prove they’re just regular joes (but smaller, and cute).  Name and age.  What do you want to be when you grow up, and why?  (Firefighter, baker, pizza maker — because they want to help people, make messes, like pizza.  Regular li’l joes.)

Next they are introduced to a girl.  Martina bounds into the frame.  Taller than the boys, looking more like a tween than little girl, Martina may be 11 or 13 years old.  A bit of makeup is balanced by the braces on her teeth. 

One more question is directed to the boys:  What do you like about her?  Various answers, all on appearance (well, they don’t know anything else about her since she hasn’t said or done anything, what else could they say? other than uhhhhh . . .).  Her hands, eyes, shoes, hair, . . . everything.  She is a pretty girl.

Enough with the questions.  On to commands.  The voice behind the camera tells them to caress her.  Then to make funny faces at her.  The boys comply, with varying degrees of awkwardness.

The final command: to slap her.  The cheesy music stops.  They boys look at the camera.  They seem not sure they really heard correctly.  They look at her, look at the camera, look at the camera some more.  They refuse.  And the cheesy music resumes, with the addition of a string orchestra swelling in the background.

The boys give various reasons.  Because we’re not supposed to hit girls (not even with a flower).  Because she’s pretty.  Because hitting is bad.  Because Jesus said so.  Because he’s against violence.  Because he’s a man.

Fade to text scrolling on the screen:  In the kids’ world women don’t get hit.

I really wanted to get sucked into the cuteness.  But I could not, even when accompanied by a glass of red rhone.  The “creepy” factor just overtook the “cute.”  Let’s count the ways:

  1. Martina doesn’t talk.  She giggles, behind her hand, at some point.  She is portrayed more as a Disney automaton (an object) than a real person. 
  2. Martina is an object labeled “girl.”  The boys are asked what they like about her after having first met her.  What can they say, really?  Is the interviewer leading the boys to believe that the only parts worth assessing are what’s visible?  That’s annoying.
  3. The really creepy part for me began when the interviewer told the boys to caress her.  Huh?  How about ASKING HER?  With all the media coverage these past months about “consent,” this stands out in an out-of-touch way.
  4. So by the time it got to “slap her,” I was past annoyed.  The cheese was spread thick, and no wine was cutting through that stinky layer.

But we all know that in the real world, women and girls (and boys and men, and transgender and questioning) do get hit.  Is the question we’re left to ponder how that happens?  What transpires between the magic of childhood and the mundanity of adulthood to make violence okay?  I think the structure of the video makes that clear:  both boys and girls got pigeonholed in very hetero-normative boxes, where girls are pretty objects (for boys) and not to be hit, and boys are active agents. 

The whole point of learning self-defense skills is NOT to beat up others, nor to lock yourself in an apartment cell to keep harm at bay, nor even to set up invisible impenetrable boundaries.  You learn self-defense so you can go out and meet others and travel and study and go to parties and gatherings and meet other people and make friends.  You get to pick your wine as well as the cheese, or decide whether or not you want either.  You learn skills so you can be happy and successful and expand the scope of your activities.

So you are an active agent in your life.  Anything less is cheating on yourself.

Postscripts: 

While this has the look and feel of a PSA, it is not.  This video refers viewers to Fanpage.it, is an Italian news company (too bad I don’t know if this news company is more like the New York Times or the National Enquirer).  No references to domestic or dating violence resources are provided at the end, which diminishes the value of the video.

Here are a few other YouTube comments on this viral video.
    •    Sad that the NFL has become so susceptible to parody:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNPfT0-Ss3g
    •    Kids React had these American children watch and comment:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar20hv0rpBM (Lucas’ reaction to why abuse happens:  They are dumb)  These kids were also asked would girls hit boys, and some believed yes.
    •    While in India, girls were asked to slap boys:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np4xpXYV1rE

One student told me that when a guy on the street bumped into her friend — she’s sure deliberately — the friend apologized right away and asked the guy if he was OK.  I had to stop the story to make sure I heard it right.  So this guy, on purpose, almost knocked her over and SHE said sorry?  Yup, I heard it right.
Apologies carry a complicated burden.  A heartfelt apology can mend fences and relationships.  A sincere apology can save face and begin to heal hearts.  An inauthentic apology can infuriate the receiver.  And a social apology can superficially appease others and make you seem more likeable — really?
I began to consider apologies after reading this article, where author Lindsay King-Miller describes how offering apologies has totally transformed how others relate to her.  Got some pithy quotes, too:

“So these days I apologize a lot. Everyone tells me all the time that I don’t need to, that I have nothing to be sorry for, that I shouldn’t be so insecure, but in between they tell me how likable I am. How personable. How pleasant. How I set people at ease.

“Apologizing is a survival skill in a society where women are penalized, personally and professionally, for being abrasive, for speaking their minds, for not smoothing their sharp edges down, for not fitting in. Apologizing is a way of saying I know I’m smart but I don’t mean to be. I know I take up space but I’m trying not to. I want you to like me more than I want to be right.These are things the world demands from women. If you don’t provide them, it punishes you. Before I started apologizing I heard all the time, secondhand, that people hated me. That this girl or that girl thought I was a bitch. That I was too aggressive and guys were scared of me. I never hear that anymore.

“People tell me that higher self-esteem would help me apologize less. I think No, you don’t understand. I have to apologize because I can’t let people know how awesome I actually think I am.  The world is not kind to women who love themselves as much as I do — certainly not fat, queer, socially awkward girls. I am not supposed to have confidence. I am not supposed to think my opinions matter.” 

Personally, I had never thought of apologizing for my opinions as a way to make others comfortable.  I despise the idea that anyone would expect me to express regret for being smart or projecting confidence.  But it happens, and consequences happen. 
King-Miller describes her younger self as brash, confrontational, emotionally needy, and sensitive.  She says she hated how people would shut her out to not deal with her intensity and neediness.  At some point, when in her 20s, she found herself apologizing for all the crying, saying that she was over-sensitive, it was no big deal. And she found that was acceptable.  And people liked her better. 
I do not know King-Miller.  I’ve never met her, and only know what she says about herself in this one article.  But I do know intelligent, articulate, and opinionated women — who I would not characterize as brash, confrontational and emotionally needy — who were too readily dismissed as abrasive when they spoke uncomfortable truths (and most truths will make someone uncomfortable).  Assertive women can get labeled aggressive. And there’s a small yet vocal group of trolls who are eagerly watching to pull off-balance any women who dare to “lean in.” 
I don’t believe that women’s only two options are to blurt bluntly or cower contritely. Yes it takes some art and energy coming up with more appropriate and effective ways of expressing myself.  I accept the fact that there always will be individuals who just will not like what I have to say, regardless of how I couch it.  And I am a native New Yorker, so there are limits on how much I’m willing to care about others’ opinions.  But the article did get me thinking about how saying sorry can be used to stay safe.  
Yes, the apology can be a self-defense strategy.  It can be a tool of camouflage, of distraction, of social disguise.  It has a VERY big role as a de-escalation tactic.  In rare instances you have to chose between being right (and maybe physically hurt) and emotionally available (which may manifest as sympathetic, empathetic, or apologetic).  When you make safety your priority, learning the art of apology can pay off.  That’s good self-care, an essential component of your toolkit.
To make the choice that best suits your goals, you want to have all options at your disposal.  When you have to take out your self-defense toolkit — whether physical or verbal or emotional responses are called for — recognize that sometimes your choices are between bad and worse.  Do you want to pick your best response, or will you let someone else will decide for you?

We’ve all seen them.  Decals, generally on minivans, showing stick figures representing family members.  Or sometimes representing parodies of family members.  Or a T Rex snacking on family members . . .

Some people like them, some are annoyed, most probably don’t care one way or the other.

But do pedophiles care?  Will the decal draw the criminal element to your family?  Some people believe so.

Even a few police departments are warning about having these decals on your vehicle.

However, there is one little issue.  There are no cases cited where a perpetrator gleaned personal information from stick figures and used it to commit a crime.

As a self-defense instructor, I have a short list of “rules” I check before giving safety recommendations to students.  Rule #1 is that any piece of safety advice has to be based on evidence.  There has to be some proof that this reduces violence in the real world, not just as a hypothetical in the world between someone’s ears.  No matter how logical or reasonable it may seem, if it does not exist in reality it does not get forwarded.

This suggestion that stick figure family decals can attract bad guys fails to meet that standard.

This piece of advice also ignores the substantiated fact that most predators who go after children are people already known to the family and do not need any decals to inform them.  You’re better off learning how to assess the real people in your children’s lives.