Posts

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, today is Wednesday Sept 15, 2021.  It’s another pleasant late summer morning in the glorious Emerald City.  Tonight begins Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, the most significant of all Jewish holidays.  A time for reflections, on forgiveness, on atonement, on resolving to do better this coming year, to be a better person this coming year.

One approach to becoming a better person could be how we handle the “oopsies and ouchies” that sometimes pop up in interactions.  For instance, one person uses a phrase that perhaps they’ve heard all their lives and never really thought about what it meant, and it contains words that negatively reference the identity of someone else — a friend, a co-worker, family member — who is standing right there.  In an ideal world, that would not have happened, but we don’t live in that ideal world.  In my next-best world, the listener would be comfortable pointing out the phrase as derogatory, and the person who uttered it would be amenable to upgrading their language, in part because both listener’s and speaker’s intent would be to maintain a good relationship.  Because, in my next-best world, acknowledging oopsies and ouchies is what people would do, with the hope of creating a healthier community together.  

I used to hear the phrase “that’s so gay!” to refer to something considered stupid.  Rarely do I hear that these days.  A lot of people are good with asking others to upgrade their language in certain situations.

This notion is fundamental to understanding communication.  True communication is not just what is said, it is also what is heard.  Yes intent is important, and so is the impact on the listener.

For this to work, participants actually have to agree that they want to get along and make an effort.  That the impact of one’s actions, even well-intentioned actions, can adversely affect someone else.  Are you willing to consider that?

We look at these issues and skills in some of our classes, esp the six-week Self-Defense 101 course.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling New Year!  Stay safe, live life.

The final day in March, 2021, is another nice, sunny day in the glorious Emerald City. I love sunshine. Rain and darkness certainly have their essential restorative qualities, and inspire me to appreciate the contrasting clarity and brightness of daylight even more. And, on a more metaphorical level, yes of course it connects with self-defense, this IS a self-defense page, of course I’m going to talk about self-defense. To daylight something is to bring it to awareness, to attention. Usually that something is that which many people would rather ignore, like the elephant in the room.

This is coming up, again, in the wake of a slew of assaults committed against persons of Asian descent living in America. Yes, this America, land of the free and home of the brave. I’ve been reading that many of those targeted are reluctant to come forward, to report the assaults. To possibly bring further unwanted attention to themselves. There’s a hope that if nobody talks about the elephant, the elephant will go back to sleep in its corner (until the next time).

Of all the people in the metaphorical room, some may ignore the elephant because they’re unaware of the presence of the elephant because they personally are not impacted. Others because not only are they personally not affected, they are also choosing not to pay attention because it’s not important to them. And some because not only are they not personally impacted, they don’t think it’s a serious or even a real impact for anyone.

If a person not personally affected by the elephant can successfully ignore that elephant, they have some power (the word privilege can also used here) whether they want to acknowledge it or not. If they can define another person’s concerns as insignificant, well that’s more power. If a person can successfully silence those voicing concerns about that elephant, they have real power and privilege.elephant in the room

To ignore the elephant when you are profoundly impacted, isn’t that fear of someone else’s power. Fear of retaliation, of consequences for inconveniencing someone more privileged who doesn’t want to deal with your elephant.  There are many situations where using one’s voice at that instant is the best tool, but others where timing is also important.

Seattle-based author and activist Ijeoma Oluo wrote this article about living in fear and living anyways, about silence not helping her. Even though the article is almost two years old, it reads as relevant today as it did then. She also talks about the love and support she’s received from her communities to get her through the hate and death threats.

A significant reason many others don’t speak up is they feel they do NOT have that kind of support. And the burden to speak up should not fall solely with the victim, especially as we know they could be opening themselves to further threats and danger. Because they are not the problem. The problem lies with those committing violence and as well as with people who enable them directly, and indirectly encourage conditions that promote violence.

And violence thrives in silence.

Those of us who see the elephant but are not directly impacted also need to speak up for what is right and provide support.

Not sure where to begin?  Try one of these Bystander/Upstander Intervention Trainings.

STAY SAFE, LIVE LIFE

“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.

I used to work a regular 9 to 5 job, before shifting my focus on teaching self-defense. A feature of many regular jobs is having co-workers. Some you like, some you get along with, and others, not so much. At one job I had two co-workers who really did not like each other, we’ll call them Sally and Nicky. They pretty much did the same tasks for different supervisors, but often disagreed on processes. And every so often, their disagreements would get a bit loud. Specifically, Sally would get loud.

Now, when Sally got loud it wasn’t just that her vocal volume went up. She began verging on, and often crossed over into, verbal abrasiveness, even abuse. That’s not really surprising. When we take on expressions of anger, such as raising our voices, the emotion — even if we don’t intend it — will often also rise. (We discuss that in our self-defense classes, as one reasoTwo co-workers who dislike each other, an intervention may need to happen.n why using your voice is so important.)  Sally would ALWAYS deny that she was angry, her voice just got naturally happened to get loud. But the reality was, it didn’t JUST get loud. She’d begin throwing in derogatory comments on the other person’s overall competence and intelligence.

One day Sally and Nicky began one of their discussion just outside my cubicle. As usual, it began in quiet tones, but within a couple of minutes Sally’s voice began to rise. I got up from my desk, walked over, looked each of them in the face, and said, “indoor voices, please.” Then went back to my desk. They kept it down for another minute, but then Sally’s voice again began rising. Again, I walked over and said in a firmer tone, “indoor voices please.” This time the remainder of the conversation was held in conversational tones.

Later that day Nicky thanked me for intervening. Because Sally’s voice never rose to the point of agitation, she didn’t get to that verbally abusive level.

I’m not saying this will work in any and all situations. I had insider knowledge, a “special sauce.”  I knew the participants well enough to recognize that Sally did value the appearance of appropriate workplace behavior. I also believe she thought I had influence with the bigger boss. Those two factors probably contributed a LOT to why my “special sauce” intervention worked.

One critical aspect of bystander intervention is that while intervention is important, in our ideal world we’d all interact with other people in non-harmful manners, we’d all have that level of self-awareness and care. In that ideal world, we would not have to intervene, but if we did we’d be more comfortable and confident doing so. Maybe we’d all know and care about our friends and colleagues, so we have our own “special sauces” that would appeal to their better selves. We don’t live in that ideal world, so how do we signal to others joining our social and work groups that our norms are more respectful and non-harmful? We explicitly state those boundaries and expectations, we hold each other (as well as ourselves) accountable for actions, and we have appropriate consequences for inappropriate behavior.

I personally never overheard a Sally and Nicky argument after that. Unfortunately, they did continue, out of my earshot, because it seemed I was the only one to speak up. Was I the only person who had the recipe for the “special sauce?” No, but apparently I was the only one not too uncomfortable speaking up.  So even if you feel let off the hook because someone else already said something, no you are actually not off the hook. Please consider how to do your part to create a safer environment, so you can lessen the odds that you’ll ever have to use your more drastic self-defense skills.

All of us have had difficult conversations with friends, co-workers, family, etc., where we’ve had to set boundaries. Maybe, in the course of such boundary-setting, the other person took exception and voiced their objections, and you left shaking your head, feeling verbally or emotionally beat up. You’ve just experienced the “conversation web.”

There are many reasons to set boundaries, as well as many possible reactions. The other person may just say OK, and respect your boundaries.  They may say OK, but often “forget” (maybe just because they forget, or they’re doing it deliberately).  They may be surprised or puzzled because this isn’t something you’ve done in the past.

Or they may express surprise, sorrow, or anger.  Among the reasons (and this is NOT a comprehensive list) could be:

  • fear that you are looking to end a friendship/relationship that they still value
  • you are looking to change some of your habits that no longer are good for you, but they know you that way (and even may be enablers or co-dependent) and see this as a loss for them
  • they are manipulative, and manipulators just hate it when they hit boundaries

So they get aggressive.  One tactic they may use is the “conversation web.”

You’re chatting with one other person, and they are standing too close for your comfort.  You set a boundary.  “Hey, my space bubble is a bit bigger than yours,” you tell them as you take a half-step back and bring your hands in front.  “I’m more comfortable here.”  Most people will just say OK, and leave it at that.  But this person takes offense and challenges you.  “What, do I smell bad?  It was OK yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.  Chris and Jamie are OK with it, why aren’t you?  That’s just RUDE!  Are you PMSing?  You’re making a big deal out of nothing.  You’re just too sensitive!  I thought we were friends.  You are SO selfish!  That attitude is messed up.  No wonder you don’t have any friends.”

This is the “PARTING SHOT,” where they shoot back negatives hoping to deflate you.  It really isn’t about you at all.  It’s just them taking their frustrations out on you for daring to have boundaries that are inconvenient (for them).  And you can get caught trying to justify why, but no explanation seems good enough for them.

The antidote?  The “BROKEN RECORD.”  Saying the same phrase over and over and over and over.

Because the whole conversation web is not the other person trying to get to know you better via your explanation.  It’s all about you handing over your explanation so it can be shot back at you.

Here’s a dialog about how this would work, taking the statements from above:

THEM:  What, do I smell bad?

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  It was OK yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  Chris and Jamie are OK with it, why aren’t you?

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  That’s just RUDE!

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  Are you PMSing?

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  You’re making a big deal out of nothing.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  You’re just too sensitive!

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  I thought we were friends.

YOU:  And I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  You are SO selfish!

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  That attitude is messed up.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

THEM:  No wonder you don’t have any friends.

YOU:  I just feel more comfortable here.

See the pattern?  We practice this in most of our classes.  Especially the online classes.  Pick a neutral phrase — short is great — that you  can repeat over and over and over again.  A phrase that references YOURSELF, not justifies WHY.  I a calm tone of voice.  With good eye-to-face contact.  And know when you can walk away.

A few years ago I taught two very short classes at a local high school. This school had set aside some time to bring in community experts for extra-curricular programming, and students were able to select which classes they would attend. My two classes were identical, or should have been. Both were for older high school students, both mixed gender though mostly girls, both had between 20 and 25 participants, both had the same class outline, same activities, same discussion topics. Both were even in the same room. One of the school’s teachers sat in on the classes, sort of as a proctor.  And I came away with a clear illustration of group dynamics and learning about safety.

As I mentioned, both classes were mostly girls with a few boys. But in the first class, the girls were more giggly, reluctant to show competence, especially in physical skills such as striking a mitt, and kept looking around as if to see who was watching. A couple of the boys were more vocal, in a participatory way, then average. It’s not like there was “mansplaining” going on, or those boys interrupting girls, or making disparaging comments. The girls were acting in a very self-conscious manner.

The second class was different. Similar size (a couple fewer kids), similar gender distribution. But different dynamics. In this class there was a lot less giggling. Everyone seemed to participate in class activities, including the basic striking skills, and striving for improvement. No single person, or group, stood out as sharing more than their due.Learning self-defense physical moves

After the two classes I chatted a bit with the room’s teacher. I brought up my observations of the different group dynamics. She thought the difference was in the specific participants — the first class included some of the “popular” boys. Boys who were admired, who she thought of as “good” kids but their opinions were given greater weight by other students. The boys in the second class were also well-liked, but they were not in the “popular” group.

Aren’t group dynamics interesting!  Now combine group dynamics and safety.  How does the interaction of group members affect learning skills to stay safer?

I’ve always had “socialization” as a class topic, and since then I’ve expanded the conversation. (Especially now that classes are online.)  Socialization is what behavior is rewarded, in a social way, or punished. Peer pressure. So you’re in school and say something, and a few others make faces that indicate your comment did not at all resonate with them, and they ignore you and don’t sit with you at lunch . . . peer pressure and socialization.  Can this happen at work also?  Oh yes.

For girls (well, not just girls), I ask them to think about when they wanted to say no, or set a boundary but did not. What were the barriers? How much of that is social pressure? We are social creatures, we look to others for acceptable behavior, for standards, for boundaries.

Never under-estimate the need to fit in. While this is most often connected with teens, it does impact all age groups in varying degrees. Sometimes social pressure and your needs are at odds. And part of your safety planning is in recognizing those situations, navigating those situations, and making honest and accountable (to yourself) choices.

Stay safe, live life.

In self-defense we talk a LOT about saying NO and STOP and BACK OFF!!!  But more often in our routine lives saying YES could be the more satisfying option.  What if the request is coming from a stranger?  Here I’m going to describe one instance of my process.

This happened to me only a couple of years ago. I live in a little house in the part of Seattle called Beacon Hill, which is south of downtown and even south of the baseball and football stadiums. A quiet residential area, except for the nearby highway and airports, which can be a bit noisy in a droning sort of way. Not exactly a cul-de-sac, but limited cross-streets and little traffic. That nearby highway is Interstate 5, and I could just cross the street, walk a few feet to the fence, go through the gate, and I’m a hop, skip, and jump from the road.

It was middle of the afternoon, middle of the week, in the summer.  I had arrived home after teaching a morning class, pulled up in front of my little house. Got out of my car, locked the door, and turned to go up my walkway. From the corner of my eye I saw a person. Now my neighborhood sees few pedestrians, especially in the middle of the day, so a pedestrian is noteworthy. Especially one carrying what looked like several gallon plastic jugs.

He called out to me, “Miss, hey Miss!”  I turned. He was on the sidewalk in front of my little house, and I was half-way down my walkway (so there was quite a bit of distance between us). He said his car’s radiator sprung a leak, and he asked if he could get some water.

I could have run into the house and locked the door, but like most humans I prefer to be helpful.  Saying YES would fulfill that, and how could I make sure I stayed safe at the same time?  I noted he did seem to be stressed. Could have been from his car’s breakdown, or considering that if I said no he may have to knock on doors which would be more stressful. Perhaps he didn’t have access to AAA or other roadside assistance. But the most important clue was that he stayed on the sidewalk. He did not try to get closer by coming onto my walkway, and seemed mindful of boundaries. So I said YES.  I would bring out the garden hose and he could fill his jugs. He asked if it were OK to come back a second time, and I said sure, just let me know when he was done. And I got the hose, brought it close to where he was and still kept over 10 feet of distance. I left him to his refilling. Of course I watched periodically as he filled jugs, left, returned, filled them again. When I figured he was done I went to my doorway, we made brief eye contact and he thanked me and left.  He even smiled! He looked less stressed. After he crossed the street and disappeared onto I-5, I retrieved the hose.

If you’ve taken any of my self-defense classes, you may remember that all attackers need both a target and an opportunity. If you short-circuit either, you’ll be safer. Signs of opportunities, also called red flags, I could have been looking for would be distracting chatter, self defense using your voice saying yesquestions of a personal nature, or questions about my neighbors that feel intrusive.  And simultaneously trying to stealthily move closer. Because any attack depends on proximity. That was my key indicator then, and it in this instance it worked out well.

Keep in mind this was MY response at that time. It does NOT make it the best response or the correct response.  I believe the thought process is far more informative than the specific decision.  And while I made a decision, I did keep the young man on my radar and was ready to re-assess that decision should the situation change.  Saying YES is an important choice, one which we should be able to consider.

And that’s all for today. Stay safe, live life.

Red flags. Those warnings that something is amiss. Also called trusting your gut feelings, listening to your intuition, paying attention to your instincts. That’s recognizing boundary violations, which is why we feel uncomfortable. We know what that feels like, and we also sometimes try to sweep those feelings aside. Have you ever ignored red flags? How does that usually turn out? Why do so many of us ignore them?

I think a large part is that most of us do want to get along with most people — neighbors, co-workers, family, clients, coaches, acquaintances, friends. A lot of us also feel that the red flag in question, the words or behavior that jolted us into this questioning mindset, is so small it’s insignificant. And besides, different people have different boundaries, right?  That’s just their particular boundary, right? Not everyone with different boundaries means harm — most don’t! Though some do, and how do you tell the difference?

In the beginning, you don’t. It’s hard to determine if that slight boundary bump was inadvertent or a deliberate boundary test as you’re getting to know someone. However, what you can rely on is that feeling of discomfort. That’s what’s important. And you are entitled to have your own boundaries.

In my self-defense classes I often ask students what they are currently doing to keep themselves safer. Most answer along the lines of not going out alone at night, or parking their car in a well-lit space, or locking doors and windows, or carrying pepper spray, or keeping their keys in their hand at the ready. Most actions that people take to keep themselves safer involve threat from strangers. Yet women are far more likely to be assaulted by someone they know, someone who’s done boundary testing to make sure you’d be a good victim.

How do you stay safer with people you know? By setting your boundaries when you feel the red flags. That might seem Self defense class red flagsuncomfortable. You have boundaries with everyone, even your family and best friends, that’s healthy. Even small ones. In a matter-of-fact manner, with confidence. Manipulators hate having boundaries set. You might experience a bit of pushback, to see if those boundaries are real. So keep them real as you set them. And set them

You can use your voice. It is a really good idea to verbally articulate your boundaries. Use your body language. Your voice and your body language should work together. Take up some more of your space bubble. Use your arms and hands to take up that space — you can talk with your hands. Stand up straight. Good eye-to-face-contact. And when you’re setting a boundary you don’t have to smile at them.

In my classes I also ask students who they want to smile at. Responses generally are family, friends, pets, small children, people I like. People I want to encourage. If you are setting a boundary to discourage a specific behavior, you probably don’t want to smile at that person! It can send a mixed message, with your words saying no but your tone saying maybe or try harder or even yes if you convince me. You want your words and body language to be congruent, to work together.

Use your feet! Control the distance between you and the other person. If someone is standing too close during a conversation, you can step back and use your hands, talk with your hands, to occupy that space.

Sometimes students are worried about making the other person angry, or losing the relationship.  I think of it this way. If someone told me that I were standing a bit too close during a conversation, I’d feel a bit embarrassed that my action made someone I care about uncomfortable.  How about you?  That being said, sometimes setting new boundaries in old relationships will come with some pushback and discomfort, as the other person may be left wondering what’s going on and feel at a loss. It may take some emotional effort, some back-and-forth, communication of intent, and even some justification. But as a result, you may have better boundaries and better relationships.