Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know and Tim Larkin’s book, When Violence Is The Answer: Learning How To Do What It Takes When Your Life Is At Risk, may seem to have little to do with each other just based on their titles. In reality, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Both of these books should be required reading for anyone navigating their way in today’s dangerous world.
Interestingly, early on in both of these books, the use of examples from a “routine” traffic stop demonstrate how unpredictable life is. In both examples the author illustrates how the situations escalated quickly and had tragic results.
Mr. Gladwell uses the example of a woman getting pulled over for a minor violation and how this exchange led to her unfair arrest. She committed suicide three days later while still in custody and the officer who arrested her lost his job. Mr. Larkin uses the example of a female officer who pulls over a man who has his young daughter in the car with him. The officer in this case was too forgiving and gave the man the benefit of the doubt, not even putting her hand on her service weapon. She believed the man would not do anything violent or upsetting in front of his daughter. She was wrong. The man rushed the officer and nearly beat her to death.
Law enforcement officers have a difficult job. They never know when someone could turn on them and have their life suddenly in danger. In addition, they are vulnerable to public scrutiny no matter what choice they make. It is obvious that this can put an officer in a no-win situation.
What about the rest of us? Do we have it any easier? Probably not. I use these two examples from these specific books because everyone has such strong opinions about what the police should and shouldn’t do in various situations. But do we really know what we would do if we found ourselves in similar situations? No. Most of us are not trained police officers. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “He should just shoot him in the leg.” That’s actually a good idea… if you want to miss the bad guy and hit the innocent child behind him walking home from school!!
My point is that most people do not have any real training and live in a fantasy world where they assume that they know what would be the right thing to do were they to find themselves in a dangerous confrontation. However, you cannot talk your way out of a fight when the other person starts punching and compliance does not insure your survival when confronted by a mugger who does not want to leave a witness behind.
Both of the books I am recommending touch on the idea of social contracts. Social contracts consist of the unspoken rules of how people are supposed to behave toward each other in a civilized society. The problem with this is that not everyone plays by the same rules. You may walk into a room while I am reading a book and think that I am being rude and chastise me because I failed to say hi to you. At the same time, I may feel you are being rude being interrupting my study time.
Admittedly, that is a rather tame example compared to what you will find in both Mr. Gladwell’s and Mr. Larkin’s books. Their examples show that things can take a tragic turn at a moment’s notice, and it could happen to anyone, anywhere.
Tim Larkin’s book expresses a number of viewpoints that I have been recently advised to avoid expressing myself. This is because I teach martial arts and there is the chance of opening myself up to a degree of criticism and possibly some legal conflicts. Mr. Larkin talks about when violence is and is not the answer and to what degree it should be used in a very real and practical way. If you read his book or listen to the audio version, take everything he says to heart.
I strongly recommend reading both Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell and When Violence Is The Answer: Learning How To Do What It Takes When Your Life Is At Risk by Tim Larkin. These books could save your life.