Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

You have to deal with what is, not what is supposed to be.

Thinking about rape survival and teaching self defense and we all skirt the edge of the real problem. Everyone has defensive strategies and skills for dealing with conflict. These skills have been honed over a lifetime and they are efficient and well-practiced and trusted... and they are keyed to an environment and a specific society.

For most women- for most people- these defenses are social. They are ways of avoiding confrontation, not solving it. Ignoring. Appeasment. Flattery. Self-deprecation. "I'm on your side"- teaming.

When the environment changes from a social situation where conflict is pending to a violent or predatory situation where the battle is on, every single one of these sets the victim up for failure, more clearly labels the victim as a victim. Possibly worse, when it is all over and the bruises have healed, these failed strategies will be remembered as cowardice or compliance and compound the survivor guilt until the victim may even convince herself that she 'deserved' or 'wanted' the attack.

So there is the first challenge in teaching: how do you teach students to recognize when they have stepped through the Looking Glass? It is a new world on this side and everything you think you know, all the ways the world is supposed to work no longer apply. What worked for you all those years on that side will not work for you here.

Explaining this is one thing, but that's the easy part. You can read books and watch movies but the old part of your brain is very smart and very cautious. It knows what has worked in the past. It sticks with what it knows. No matter how bad the situation is, the old part of your brain only knows that what you have always done has never gotten you killed and any change might. The old brain doesn't accept that the world is different on this side of the Glass.

How do you teach this? How do you get even trained people to do dangerous things (and any action, including doing nothing, is a potentially dangerous choice in an attack) while fighting their own survival instincts? Make no mistake, the caution of the old brain and all the various adrenaline effects are survival instincts and were better options through most of human history when the danger was being eaten by predators than a spinning back kick or a nifty fingerlock.

Comfort level- everyone has a lifetime of experience in the normal world. Very few have more than a few minutes in the other. We understand and know the rules in the normal world. We don't understand the rules or the physics or our own perception in the other- we just don't have enough experience to figure it out.

I have more experience there than most, but I've never been deluded enough to think that I know the truth or that I can predict anything beyond the most basic things. Think about this- I've had well over three hundred jail fights. Big number, huh? That's probably less than five hours of experience, in a subject that is probably as complicated as language. Far more complicated than driving.

How do we get students to see when the world changed and how do we get them experienced enough to function in a world we hope they will never see?


Kai Jones said...

One thing I do is roleplay in my head, especially when I'm in the elevator with a man I don't know. "What if he were to attack me?"

Mark Jones said...

The easy answer is "learn from the experiences of those who _do_ have knowledge of being on the other side of the looking glass." But as you point out, even those with a lot of experience don't have all that much time on the clock. Plus, how do you know when someone speaking with the voice of experience is sincere (not a fraud), and how do you know he's drawn valid conclusions? YOU may know a fraud when you see/hear one, but I don't have your background to guide me.

Unknown said...

Being a survivor, and watching how young women are socialized in our society...I've become afraid on this one that the mentality that's needed at this point is the bone deep belief that THERE is NOTHING left to lose. You are going to die, or be hurt so bad you will wish you are dead.

As a mother, you can trigger this instinct in me now by threatening my children... do whatever you want to me, I will endure, I'm a survivor, I've endured. Touch a fricken hair on one of my kid's heads and I will be all over your ass like fire on dry wood.