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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?

Our January post began what I expected to be a two or three part look at self-care, and how that fits into your personal safety plan.  


Then COVID-19 happened.


Self-care in the wake of the rapid spread of COVID-19 has slammed us into uncomfortable positions. We have to pay more attention to both physical and social boundaries. Boundaries with strangers, acquaintances, and loved ones. Boundaries in public and in private. And sometimes, unfortunately, boundaries that hurt.


In January, I listed 5 categories of activities that fall under the umbrella of self-care. I looked more closely at two: those that can make you feel better in the short term but may or may not help your quality of life (self-soothing), and those that do positively impact your long-term quality of life (self-care). A few weeks ago I asked Facebook followers if their view of personal safety has changed with the onset of COVID-19, and a couple noted it was now easier to set boundaries. Mostly with people they knew. Here’s a good article about setting boundaries in these borderline chaotic times — what makes this particularly useful are the concrete examples given on setting different boundaries in ways that are more likely to build relationships.


If you find yourself yearning for some self-care structure, there’s help. The Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn, NY, has free webinars. One is called From Social Distancing to Social Care (the beginning of this workshop has a lot of self-care info), and the other is Decreasing Tension in Our Homes During COVID-19 (de-escalation skills). A great concept for self-care is mutual care, and a tool in that direction is pod mapping. Because sometimes the best way to care for yourself is to have a hand in caring for others, and allowing yourself to ask for care. It involves just a bit of planning, of thinking with whom you have a close relationship and could be supportive, and who you could also support. Thinking of others you also know and with whom you could build a better relationship (hint: this involves prioritizing friendships). And thinking of what organizations (NPOs, government, media, community) are impactful.  
One more self-care option: online reading group. Saturday afternoon I heard about Tolstoy Together, which has several thousand participant on six continents. They are reading War and Peace. It’s been decades since I’ve read anything by Tolstoy, and this blog is SO tempting . . .


As a self-defense teacher, I’ve noticed that most people put off important “stuff.” I am not the first to notice (I think it’s often pointed out by life coaches and self-help authors that “important but not urgent” often gets pushed aside by “urgent but not important”). Alas, that includes deep connections with others. Going through a pod mapping for some may be a good check on how solid your social network really is. To get through this stretch of time where we are asked to be physically distant, we will need to honestly assess and strengthen the quality of our social contacts.

Today I’m thinking about self-care.

If you’ve taken one of our classes, you know that self-care is one of four essential skill sets for personal safety.

Self-care is a crucial part of just plain living, as well as effective personal safety.  Yet the phrase covers a nebulous and ever-expanding array of activities.  Not all these activities are helpful, and in fact some may be harmful.  Sometimes there’s confusion about different types of self-care.  Let’s divide the range of activities into these five levels:

  • Self-soothing behaviors can make you feel better in the short term,
  • Self-care activities make your quality of life better in the long term,
  • Professional care is for what’s beyond your scope of effecting,
  • Social care is that network of family and friends, who will help you through challenging times by relieving some of your obligations to others, and
  • Institutional care is relief provided by employers and government, regardless of your personal financial assets.  This includes justice.

Most of the time when we consider self-care, it’s the first two items.  And yes they are pretty important.  In reality, there’s not a hard and fast line between those two, and some activities will cover both.

Self-soothing behaviors are ways you can calm yourself in the moment.  It includes a large range of behaviors, spanning TV binge-watching to singing in the shower to exercise to retail therapy to a nice glass of wine.  While any of these may calm you in the moment, not all will help you move forward in healing; in fact, of the five I listed, only two (can you guess which) are likely to help with longer-term growth.  And some (indulging in alcohol/drugs or spending money) have the potential to drive other concerns to the front.


Self-care activities, on the other hand, have more potential to help you develop resilience and better deal with adversity.  Those can include getting enough sleep, eating well for your body, setting boundaries, meditation, medical attention, and exercise.  Unlike self-soothing behaviors, these involve a vision of how you want to live in the future. 

Another key is the ability to recognize when to move from self-care to professional care. What got me onto this issue, in fact, was reading this article on how “self-care” has become a new industry, with services and products purporting to help us help ourselves.  Which can be great, since self-care is an essential element of self-efficacy.  When, however, “self-care” is held out as a surrogate for professional care, we get shorted.  Specialized, mental health, and psychiatric medical attention has become exceedingly expensive for those without access to high-quality (and often high-cost) insurance; at the same time, many mental health care providers no longer accept insurance.  The article cited above notes that a high percentage people with mental illness, particularly the young, go undiagnosed and untreated.


You may think that self-care is obvious, a no-brainer.  It should be.  However, you’d be incorrect.  Other considerations can get in the way.  You may not want to admit you need time and resources for yourself because of fear.  You may fear being labeled weak, defective, stupid, incompetent, needy, or lazy (not only by others, but even by yourself).  You may be concerned that tere will be negative social consequences.  Maybe friends and family will begin pulling back, even as they say nice supportive things to your face.  Or maybe you could experience negative job consequences, such as not being considered for advancements, promotions, raises (or even getting fired).  Will others look at you with pity, or contempt, or even as a target for exploitation?

Your personal safety is linked to your ability to care for yourself (and care about others in your life).  What can you do to improve your self-care ecosystem?