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Today, Wednesday Sept 29, 2021, is fine if somewhat overcast fall day.  The leaves on my mini maple trees are turning their fall colors, and it’s just about time to sow the fall cover crop in the garden.  Seasonal rituals, so to speak.

I have a few rituals of my own.  One is reading the comic section of the Sunday paper.  That’s the first section I go for.  A couple of weeks ago, more specifically Sept 19, this strip of Between Friends appeared.  It certainly felt familiar.  As a self-defense teacher for over a quarter of a century, I’ve heard stuff like this.  A lot. 

the fine art of just saying no

And we go over this in class.

This strip depicts the same character, at different ages, declining an invitation.  The teen girl is characterized as not quite getting out a NO and stumbling into acquiescence.  The young adult woman is saying that NO, trying to make it more credible with the words “sorry” and “but” as well as an excuse (she has a whole list of possible excuses ready, just for these occasions).  The verging-on-middle-age woman has dispensed with “sorry” as well as with using a specific excuse.  And the older, wiser woman is just saying NO, because NO is a complete sentence.  

There will be times in your life where you mess up, and you should say sorry.  Declining an invitation, indeed setting any boundary, should not be such an occasion.

I also generally try to get rid of the BUTs in the middle.  BUT is a minimizer — it says you’re not really all that sorry, or that you really would NOT love to.  

NO is a complete sentence.  Is it too brusque?  Consider the relationship with whom you’re having this conversation. Often you really don’t owe them an explanation, and if not please do not feel that you’re being rude by not offering one.  Many people feel compelled to have to explain themselves, when they don’t.  Explaining yourself to another can indicate a close relationship.  Or wanting to be heard and understood by someone you see on a regular basis.  Or it can manifest a power imbalance.  

A good all-around decline could be: 

  • Thank you for inviting me, I can’t make it
  • That’s so kind of you, and no thanks
  • I appreciate your offer of help, and no thanks

If the person presses you on why, try repeating the second clause of the decline.  “I just can’t make it.”  “No thanks.”  “I said no thanks.”   Trying to push past your boundary is itself a boundary violation.

In just about all of our classes we cover the fine art of Just Saying No.  And, for younger tweens and teens, we have classes more finely tuned to those age group precisely because at different stages they will have different understandings of and skill-sets for boundaries, as well as more built-in power imbalances, as well as enhanced self-consciousness.

Speaking of which, we have a full schedule of in-person classes for the Fall, and I’ve even begun looking at my winter calendar.  Classes for tweens, younger teens, older teens.  And, of course, classes for those more independent and still seeing more maturity.

What do you think?  How well does this comic strip characterize the declining skills of the age groups, in your experience?  How do you decline invitations, and how’s that changed over your life so far?

Stay safe, live life.

Today is Wednesday, Sept 22, 2021.  The first day of Autumn!  It’s like a week or so ago someone flipped a switch, and virtually overnight we went from Summer to Fall.  That’s just the way seasons change in the Emerald City.

In last week’s class a participant shared a bystander intervention success story.  She has this neighbor who, when he sees young kids or smallish older women walking by on the street, aggressively approaches them.  He would yell profanities, gesticulate menacingly, and try to get uncomfortably close.  Those targeted, their reactions were — not surprisingly — fearful; they’d try to make themselves smaller, sometimes even apologize, and try to back away as quickly as possible.  Angry yelling dude

This student had had enough of the spectacle.  One recent day the neighbor had begun his rant on yet another older woman walking her small dog.  My student strode near to him (keeping distance of course) and told him to leave, to stop harassing people.  Yes she did raise her voice.  The neighbor was taken aback, and he left.  And, ever since then, whenever he sees my student, he retreats back to the safety of his own abode.

We had been doing more work with bystander intervention since the beginning of the pandemic in our virtual classes.  It is a valuable skill so I’ll be bringing it more into my longer classes (those would be the 5 hour Self-Defense Seminar and the 6 week Self-Defense 101).

A lot of us envision bystander intervention as something scary we would do with angry strangers on the street, or bus, or grocery store.  And those instances are important.  Most opportunities, however, will arise in more familiar settings, and involve people we know.  People with whom we’ve some history, and can often guess their reactions.  And it’s great to learn and practice some skills to make your day-to-day living smoother and more peaceful.  I’ve got a full range of classes coming up this fall, and I’m slowly getting my winter offering up online.

Do you have a bystander intervention success story you’d like to share?

Stay safe, live life.

Good morning.  It’s another fine day in the glorious Emerald City, though I can definitely feel the chilled fingers of autumn reaching out.  Today is the first day of school for Seattle Public School students.  Full days in person, mostly.  I think there’s still some remote learning.  It’s going to be an interesting year.

But, moving on.  Maybe 20ish years ago, my mother got her first email account.  She and her friends all “hung out,” if you can call it that, in the same chat rooms.  I have no idea what else they chatted about, but one of the BIGGIES was exchanging jokes.  These were not good jokes.  They were kind of off color, questionable taste, and — most importantly — really not funny.  

I have to state that in my whole life I don’t think I heard my mother ever tell a single joke.  Yet here she was, finding all these bad jokes and sharing them.  Not re-telling them, but using that other email feature, the FORWARD.  Yes, for a brief time she forwarded ALL the jokes.  To me.  Between 15 and 25 per day.

This was clearly a time to set boundaries.  But setting boundaries with a parent can be touchy.

So we had our own chat.  Over the phone.  I told her the jokes were bad, as in not funny.  And there were way too many.  And they really were really bad.  So I put her on a joke diet.  She had choices.  She could email me up to three jokes a day.  Pick out the “better” ones and forward those.  She agreed. 

Two things happened.

First, she stopped forwarding jokes.  Turns out she never thought they were all that funny either, and just the ease of hitting “forward” was driving it.  She thought we all were supposed to “share” stuff (she didn’t read that part of the memo where you’re supposed to “share” good stuff).  As a result of the joke diet, when she had to actually go through and select, it was just no longer worth the effort.

Second, it got a little easier for me to set other boundaries, in terms of my state of mind.  Just the thought of having to set a boundary can be stressful, accompanied by a whole range of emotions and what-if scenarios.  What if she got angry, what if she was upset, what if our relationship was damaged, et cetera.  I’d been feeling resentful that I even had to set that boundary.  After setting that joke boundary, I felt less resentful about articulating my limits.  And when I felt less resentful I was more OK with acknowledging that my mother and I were not going to agree on a lot of stuff, and that was fine, and I could move on without carrying so much extra baggage.  And getting into fewer arguments left me in better moods.  

I can’t say I planned all that, but I noticed that setting some small boundaries where the other person can agree may just have given me the boost to feel better about other boundaries.  Build on your successes.

And while you’re thinking about your next tricky boundary-setting, we cover this in our six-week self-defense courses.  Next one begins Sept 11.

Stay safe, live life.

Good morning, it’s another sunny day in the glorious Emerald City. Summer is already more than halfway over, at least if you’re a student in the Seattle Public Schools.

This last week and a half I’ve spent far too much time late at night watching the Olympics on TV. Not that I’m following any particular sport or athletes, I’m just overall impressed at the training and skill levels and performances. Their dedication, focus, and persistence is inspiring.

One of the bigger stories out of this Olympics is Simone Biles’ withdrawal from some events. You know who she is, right? Gymnast for the American team, and one of the top gymnasts of all time. She’s amazing. I admire Simone Biles.  And she withdrew from some events, my understanding is due to a lapse in mind-body connection. Something they called the “twisties.” Frankly, I cannot fathom how anyone can keep their mind-body connection during their routines, but again I’m not a gymnast and don’t have that concrete experience. And that’s what makes those athletes’ performances so engaging to me.

There’s been a lot of opinion expressed on social media and broadcast media. Some of it is actually informative, some not so much. I am very impressed with Simone Biles, and not just for her skills and performances. Her recognition that she has to have her own priorities straight (in this case, her wellbeing over pressure to compete), that she can and did take the reigns of control over her participation, and her openness in making it a public discussion. Given her level of achievement and drive, I am certain she did not make this decision lightly. And I trust her judgement about her readiness to spin and flip in the air over and over, and once again land intact.  And for that I even more admire Simone Biles.

Simone Biles does not need my validation. I’m not talking about this for her. I’m talking about this, amplifying her, for us more everyday people, who sometimes feel pressured to please someone else at our own expense. Simone Biles is a truly exceptional athlete, and she is still as human as the rest of us. While the pressures on her may be more public than those on most of us, we too can face intense scrutiny over our choices and decisions. And we too can decide what’s best for us, what can be harmful to us, and figure out how to prioritize our well-being in concrete actions. So, let’s do more of it.

On another note, July’s classes were all in-person, August’s self-defense classes too will be in-person, and I’m happy with how they are going and students’ participation. Yes, I’m still asking that all students be fully vaccinated, and even for outdoor classes we’re masking up. I’ve got a lot happening in August, and my Fall schedule should be posted soon. I may even have to cut back on blogging, such as I did last week, just for increased class time. Stay tuned for more updates.

As always, stay safe, live life.

using your voice LOUDGood morning, today is Wednesday July 21, 2021.  Another nice, if hazy, morning in the Emerald City.  And I’m quite happy that most classes this month have been in-person.  

In these classes we cover recognizing when someone bumps into one of your boundaries, and how you can fix that boundary.  Most of the time, when we set boundaries, we talk in conversational tones.  That is, at the volume you normally use when having a conversation with another person.  But sometimes you want to get louder.  I’ve been asking my students WHEN they want to get loud.  The answers are interesting, but usually are in response to a different but related question.

Students tend to reply:

  • When they’re getting angry
  • When they think someone isn’t listening
  • When too many people are talking
  • When frustrated with someone else
  • When they feel they’re not being heard
  • Or when they feel they’re not being taken seriously

I think the question they are hearing is “when DO you get louder,” rather than “when do you WANT TO get louder.”  They’re thinking about what others do to that trigger their LOUD response.  Given that the question is in the context of a self-defense class (students are assuming a stressful interaction, rather than a fun party or celebration), it’s not surprising they’d look to emotions that center around anger.  The question I’m trying to ask is more strategic.  When do you WANT to get loud?  When do you think getting loud is a USEFUL response?

See, if you get loud when you get angry, you risk being played.  Someone just has to figure out your hot buttons, and WHAM! they can get the reaction THEY want.  People who are manipulative do this all the time.  It’s one of the easiest ways to shift “responsibility” for a bad interaction from them to you.  And when your knee-jerk reactions are triggered, your safety decisions are usually less sound.

I think there are these three situations when you may WANT to get loud:

  • When you want to attract attention, you want other people around to look.  Most perpetrators want to commit assault without interference, in relative isolation
  • When you believe the perpetrator thinks you’ll be easy to intimidate, or have been intimidated.  
  • And when you need to get physical and hit the perpetrator, when you need to use physical self-defense skills to disable the perpetrator so that you can safely escape. 

And in our self-defense classes we do practice various strike to vulnerable targets.  It’s a LOT easier done in-person, more challenging in the virtual world.  

And when we practice our strikes, we always use our voices.  LOUDLY.

Going forward, most classes will be in-person.  Those through Seattle Central College and Bellevue College may still be virtual this Fall, we’re just not sure right now about available space on campus.  My Fall schedule should be rolling out in the next week or so.

And that’s it for today.  Stay safe, life life.

Good morning again, today is Friday, July 16, 2021, coming to you from the glorious Emerald City that is Seattle, WA.  This month we’ve been teaching in-person classes, and it’s been so good to get back to working with students in the same room.  Classes are still small, masks are still required, because COVID cases are again on the rise.  I’m asking that all students who are eligible be vaccinated, and guess what, you have been!  Sure it’s been a small, self-selected sample, and yet it seems that everyone has been eagerly forthright about their vaccination status.  You’ve been considerate of the needs of, and risks to, all class participants (that includes yourself).

And that brings us to RESPECT.  Not just a great Aretha Franklin song.  The word does have a range of nuance, like most meaningful words, and these nuances and contexts make a difference.

You can respect a position.  Someone’s job title, station in life, authority.  You don’t have to like that person, you don’t have to agree with that person, you don’t have to know that person, and you can still respect their authority.  Teachers, pastors, coaches, law enforcement, those are some of the typical positions that expect their authority will be respected.

You can respect a person who has a position of authority.  You can hold that individual in high esteem, you can admire them, even revere them.  You may consider them an expert.  You may not know much about them as a person, but you hold their public persona or accomplishments in high regard.  Dr. Anthony Fauci fills that roll for many today.

Or maybe someone you know personally has earned your respect, via their actions and behavior, their honesty and integrity and even expertise.
Dictionary definition - expecting respect as deference
According to my pocket dictionary/thesaurus, one expectation of this kind of respect can be deference.  A yielding to someone else’s authority.  

Showing respect as consideration of othersAccording to this same dictionary, here’s another aspect to respect.  Consideration for others’ rights and wishes.  This is how you show respect.  On one side, there’s the respect coming to you, on the other there’s you showing respect for someone.

And then there’s the respect of treating someone like, well, another human.  Not dependent on status or position or wealth.  A basic level of respect, due to the fact that all humans are created equal.

So, what does this have to do with your personal safety?  I’ll bet you can see where this is going.  There can be conflict when a person has status or a job title or accomplishments and they assume they’re owed respect, but their personal behavior is less than respectable.  And maybe they feel you’re not showing enough deference.  They may say, or imply, something like since you’re not respecting them, they won’t respect you either.  Meaning if you don’t defer to them, they will cease treating you like a human.  But these two aspects of respect are neither equivalent nor interchangeable.  This is becomes a power dynamic.  

In our self-defense classes we talk a lot about recognizing “red flags,” which are boundary violations, often showing up as these power dynamics.  Manipulation of respect in this way is a red flag, poking a boundary to see how compliant you could be when confronted with a claim of authority and need for respect.  Know your rights, find your allies, and consider how you can limit your contact with that person.

That’s it for today.

We’re continuing in-person self-defense classes through August and September, probably the whole fall.  Hopefully ongoing.  There will still be a couple of virtual classes.  Masks probably will still be required for a while.  We want our students and staff to be safe.

So stay safe, live life. 

Today is June 24, 2021.  We’re just in the first week of summer, and I already am sunburnt.  This weekend the temperature is expected to hit over 100° Fahrenheit.  Yes, here in the glorious Emerald City, in June.

Regardless, June is a great month for grilling (ok, maybe not this weekend).  One of my favorites is grilled peaches.  Find some freestone peaches, cut them in half and get rid of the pit, oil them a bit, and put them on a hot grill. I do cut side down first, then flip them over and move them off direct heat so juices can accumulate in the little well.  After they are nice and soft and smokey I let them cool down, slice them, and stir in some dessert wine vinegar or good balsamic.

Speaking of peaches.  Maybe about nine years ago one of my students in the six-week self-defense course came to class beaming.  She got to use some of what she learned.  She was grocery shopping in the early evening.  She was picking out some nice peaches, ripe ones, ready to eat.  As she contemplated her choices, she felt an odd sensation, like someone standing right behind her.  There was someone standing behind her.  She glanced over her shoulder, and described to us in the class a man, kind of tall and wide.  He was wearing a faded T shirt and sweatpants.  She thought he hadn’t bothered combing his hair before leaving his house.  The image of Jabba the Hut popped into my head.

She then took a look at the cart next to him.  What would Jabba the Hut eat?  Beer.  Pretzels.  Chips.  Beer.  Twinkies.  Did I say beer?

A little voice in her head whispered, “He’s not here for the peaches.”

My student said that before taking this class she would have made herself smaller, said in a soft yet high-pitched voice “oh, am I in your way, I’m so sorry!”  She would have slinked away, without ever having looked at his face.  She decided to do different.

She extended her elbows so they were sticking out to the sides.  Then she turned.  He was so close that one elbow got him in the ribs.  Not hard, but just enough to make him take a step back.  Then she looked him in the face and said, in a voice just loud enough for anyone in the produce section to hear, “Oh, you were standing so close!”

Did you notice what she did NOT say?  I’ll tell you at the end.*

She could tell he was angry.  And other people in the produce section were staring at them.  So he just glared, grabbed his cart, and huffed away.

Just about as soon as he left, she felt twinges of regret.  What if she was wrong?  What if he wasn’t simply trying to harass her?  She fretted as she continued shopping.

But just a few minutes later he was back.  He didn’t see her, but she sure noticed him.  And she saw him do the SAME THING to two other women.  One woman was selecting green beans, and the other strawberries.  Both of those women did what she said she would have done, made themselves smaller, apologized for taking up space in a public grocery store, and slinked away.  Did he then avail himself of the green beans and strawberries?  No.

By the time she found the store manager, it was too late.  He had checked out and gone.

She decided that she’s spend more time practicing with and trusting her instincts.

So she’d be better able to stay safe and live life.  You too can do that.

[*Oh, right, she did not say “sorry.”]

 

About six weeks ago I wrote about this confusion around fixing boundary violations, that somehow many people have this nagging doubt, this feeling that it’s rude or impolite, even though they want to and know they’d be happier and in a better state of mind if they did. And I’m going to talk about it again, because there was this “ripped from the headlines” moment earlier this month, that seems to have dropped off the front page, but don’t worry, it’ll be back.

You may have heard that Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is said to have shown colleagues photos on his phone of nude women and bragged about his sexual exploits. But we’re not going to focus on Representative Gaetz at this moment, because this is a personal safety channel about our lives. What if, instead of this being someone far away in a different circle, this was in your workplace? Perhaps a co-worker, a colleague, an intern, or a supervisor thought nothing of showing off nude photos of their sex partners? Would you be elbowing others aside to get a better look? Would you be wanting to throw a party just to invite that person, so others would think that you too were one of the cool kids?  If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing not. Would you be uncomfortable? Would you be more uncomfortable speaking up, or staying silent? A trade-off of discomfort in the moment of speaking up, versus the long-term discomfort of feeling that you missed that an important moment.

See, this generally doesn’t come out of the blue. Other boundaries would have been crossed before, but didn’t seem important enough to risk embarrassing someone. Maybe now you’d be regretting those, too.

Most people think of bystander intervention as breaking up a fight, getting between people who are about to grab and hit and kick each other, or at least one is looking to physically obliterate the other. So they miss other, smaller opportunities. Other littler boundary pokes, where the poker is testing what they can get away with. And if they can get away with the littler stuff, well, as the great American philosopher Bruce Springsteen sang, “from small things mama, big things one day come.”

[“Bystander intervention” and “setting boundaries” have a lot of overlap.  Setting boundaries usually refers to action you take for yourself, while bystander intervention is more likely to refer to helping someone else maintain their boundaries.]

So let’s get back to your workplace. What to do? What to say? I dunno. Fixing boundary violations depends on the relationship you have with that offender, other colleagues, etc. I do suggest you lay out a plan. Get some paper and a pen, and start writing possible responses. What do you want to express? Disgust? Disappointment? Dismay? Do you want to throw in some humor? Think of several responses, work them a bit, grade them on level of aggression, run them by some trusted friends. Consider possible outcomes — what result do you want to see? Here’s a couple:

  • Uh, TMI!!!
  • Why are you showing that to me?
  • Are you OK? Showing this is repugnant, and I’ve always expected better from you.
  • Wow, are you sure you want to be broadcasting how shallow a person you really are?
  • I always thought you were a jerk, I hadn’t realized you’re also a pervert.
  • Put that away, and do not ever show me your pornography again.
  • Your sharing these images makes me sad, because I expect my (friends / colleagues / elected officials) to have more regard and respect for other people and not objectify them as personal toys. Please put that away, and don’t show them to me, or anyone, ever.

One approach is pure shaming. Another is a classic confrontation strategy: tell the person what behavior is wrong, maybe include how you feel about it, and what they should do to fix it. And a third leans more towards Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non-Violent (or Compassionate) Communication,” where you state observations, how you feel, what you need, and make a request to remedy it.

Now it’s your turn. Write stuff, and read it back out loud.  [Hint:  the reading it back out loud part is CRITICAL.]  Fixing boundary violations takes a little effort, and it can pay off big time in your peace of mind.

Stay safe, and live life.

PS – while Springsteen wrote the song, I prefer Dave Edmunds’ version.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Although many students in class already get this, a good number don’t. Or intellectually get the idea, but it isn’t yet incorporated into their lives.

Setting boundaries for morning coffee

I would rather have my coffee constrained in the boundaries of the mug, than free-form over all over the table.

“Being nice” versus setting boundaries. The two are not mutually exclusive. They do not form opposite ends of a dichotomy. This is not “Godzilla vs. King Kong.”

Being nice and setting boundaries are two completely distinct concepts.

I looked up “nice” in a thesaurus. Synonyms include: good, pleasant, agreeable, enjoyable, delightful, good-natured and charming. I didn’t see anything about being a doormat or not setting boundaries.

A boundary is a noun, an object. “Setting” a boundary is acting on that object. Nothing there refers to niceness. Nothing.

You can set firm boundaries in a nice way. You can set weak boundaries in a snarky way. You can set boundaries in many different ways. Setting boundaries itself is neither “nice” nor “nasty.” It’s the words you use, the body language, the tone of voice, that determines the level of niceness.

And, if the other person objects just to having a boundary set, it really does not matter how you set them. They will object to any boundary, and I would seriously consider limiting my connection with that person.

If you are one of those who struggles to set an appropriate boundary, try this exercise. Take out some paper and a pen. Write down what you can say (and how to say it) that really does NOT set a boundary; it’s more submissive, and you are hoping that the other person will take the hint without you having to actually set a boundary. Then write down a brusque and pointed way of setting that same boundary, also complete with body language and tone of voice.

Now start filling in the middle — change some of what made the second one abrasive to smooth it out, and change some of what made the submissive one too weak to strengthen your message. Envision your body language, and what the distance between you should look like. You can do this!  We do practice this in our self-defense classes.

Stay safe, live life.

Today I’m back to “red flags.” These are the hints that something may be awry. Also called gut feelings, intuition, instincts, it refers to trusting yourself when you’re uncomfortable or sensing something amGirls learning about red flags and trusting their intuition when sensing something wrongiss. Some red flags are subtle, some really blatant. They are all specific behaviors that somebody is doing that bumps into one of your boundaries.

Red flags also come in different “flavors.” By that I mean they are tactics to try to take down specific boundaries. Consider these three red flags, and what they have in common:

▪ Keeps asking you out after you’ve said no
▪ Pushes you to drink alcohol or use drugs
▪ Refuses to wear protection when engaging in sex

If this were a class setting, I’d give you a few seconds to think about it. If you want to, take a bit of time yourself to think about these three.

What they have in common is an explicit rejection of boundaries you’ve already stated.

If you’ve already said no to dating, repeatedly asking is not flattering. At best, it’s awkward.  At worst, dangerous and (very) rarely life-threatening.  Do you really want to go on a date with someone who ignores your boundaries?

Alcohol and drugs are known to impair our cognitive functions and physical reactions. Indulgence should be a choice. If someone is pressuring you, wonder why. Never underestimate the human need to fit in, to belong. Perpetrators will frequently exploit that, especially in a social situation.

Refusing to wear protection when having sex. What could possibly go wrong? The statement assumes you’ve already had a discussion, or you’re having the discussion. Maybe you’re not ready for parenthood, or don’t want to deal with an STD. Now do you think the person with whom you’re having this discussion is unaware of potential risks? They’re aware all right, just don’t feel it’s a big deal for them, and your boundary is just a nuisance.

As I’ve already said, the flavor of these three red flags is that of explicitly negating your boundary.  Of saying your needs are just preferences, probably trivial, and not taken seriously. You may be past the state of sensing something amiss, you could very well be experiencing some strong feelings of violation, or embarrassment, or even shame that your boundaries were disregarded. We all know that many boundaries do change over time and with different people, and you get to decide which are more fluid and which are more fixed. Because your freedom to make your own choices, to be able to trust yourself in sensing something wrong, is essential to real personal safety.

Speaking of which, our Personal Safety Essentials class is happening tomorrow night. Self-Defense for Teen Girls ages 12-14 is this coming Sunday, and Self-Defense for Teen Girls ages 15+ is March 13th (but that one may be full now). I should be posting a Spring schedule in the next week or so.

Stay safe, live life.