Situational Awareness is a component of self defense that belongs in everybody’s toolbox of personal preparedness. At its most basic level, it means being aware of, discerning, assessing and factoring in the elements – people, place, things, events, and even time – that are around you, and how you are or might soon be affected by them. Taken to the next step, training in responses available to cope with possible situations, and learning how to relate and react to situations. Situational Awareness is taking personal responsibility for where we are, what we encounter, and how we act.
We have had many commonsense basics drilled into us in our youth. Why does that early training tend to fade and be forgotten so easily as we become adults? I think it’s because it’s not a vaccination you get as a baby that stays with you and lasts your lifetime. It’s more like the daily food and drink you ingest, to help you grow and keep you strong and healthy. You need to attend to it every day of your life, or — like the saying goes — If you don’t use it, you lose it.
As parents we teach our children not to talk to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, tell your parents where you’re going and when you are coming home. The responsibility for a child’s safety lies in the adults around them – family, neighbors, friends and professionals of “the Village” that protects and raises that child.
During adolescence and the teen years, a shift begins. With new friendships and relationships, it’s a time of testing boundaries, and immersion in experiential activities. After high school, many kids go off to college, the military, or find jobs, marry, or take longer to leave the nest while finding their place in the world. But still the protective “shield/umbrella” of childhood lingers. Mentors coach them as they develop into adulthood. For young women these lessons are critical. Awareness of their surrounding, taking care of how they dress and learning not to put themselves in bad situations, checking in regularly and not going places alone, and some practical self defense classes help immensely.
Once childhood is fully behind, chances are few keep their situational awareness a priority, unless a tragic or frightening situation is encountered.
Many, but not all, tragedies might have been lessened or avoided if time had been spent developing a routine of awareness, which means taking responsibility for learning and knowing what surrounds or comes within your scope. Making that as much a part of life as the air you breathe and the food you eat.
That sounds like setting a high, unattainable standard to some. Or maybe just plain paranoia. Afterall, just how important could all this attention on being safe?
One theory that helps put that into perspective is psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, proposed first in 1943 in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, and expanded and developed in his widely accepted 1954 book Motivation and Personality. And it has stood the test of time. A pyramid diagram has developed over the years since then, to illustrate his premise that the needs on the bottom (foundational) must be met before a person can experience the next level, and so forth.
In this diagram, Safety is a foundational need, outranked only by basic physical needs like food, clothing, shelter.
Safety is intangible and never permanent. How we perceive we are safe is highly individual, and can easily be a false sense. We may feel safe when we are in a group, when we have family close by, have trust in law enforcement and other professionals. But what happens when we are alone, traveling, out of touch, or someone or something interrupts that feeling of safety? When our trust that others will keep us safe is betrayed, or they are unavailable, or have left.
This blog has posted in length about fear, and proposes fear typically incapacitates and interferes with our ability to respond appropriately or quickly to threats to our safety. Unless we have thought about and practiced what we need to do for a variety of potential incidents, we would have to formulate a response while under stress and duress. That doesn’t tip the odds in our favor very often. This is not a “preppie” or extreme survival issue alone. It is basic common sense for responsible adults.
Next post will look specifically at factors women face as they grow older. We’ll look at reassessing things that have changed in your life, and some ideas to include situational awareness into your daily routine, specifically geared for our “golden” years.