by Gila Hayes

A panicked dog may explode into what is commonly called “fear biting,” a recognized canine response to perceived vulnerability even when the object of the poor creature’s fear aggression intends no harm. Animal scientists attribute fear biting to the poor animal’s earlier life experiences (post-traumatic stress), poor or non-existent socialization, or in some situations, genetics get the blame. Animals depend on fear responses to keep their species going. Perhaps humanity is not much more advanced in this regard.

While an animal’s instinctive fear response manifests in many forms, threat displays include the hard stare, growling, barking, snarling, lunging, snapping and the full-on, irrational blitz attack by an animal that has concluded–no matter how misguided–that it has to fight or be killed. Like a vulnerable teacup poodle biting its groomer, we’re hearing a lot of growling and seeing a lot of teeth-baring that suggests frightened citizens are at risk of launching into a panicked response, much like a canine fear biter.

This summer’s riots and violent demonstrations triggered the mother of all fight or flight reflexes in many citizens. Like panicked dogs, the growling from both sides has grown to deafening levels and is so raucous as to interfere with rational thought! Frankly, I have little interest in arguments and counter-arguments about blame or proofs about the truth or falsehood behind threats of all the various methods of attack heralded in social media and what passes for news reporting. In my opinion, society no longer has a reliable meter for truth.

As the book review this month discussed, once a belief is adopted, it is nearly impossible to override it with fact supported by evidence. Whether or not commentators, social media participants and reporters believe their comments to be truthful or if they’re just spreading their preferred propaganda is really of no matter to me. It is all suspect. 

I believe the critical element in surviving violence is how we respond to threatened danger, not our reaction to our participation in all the growling and snapping. Instead, we would do better to prepare by increasing our individual skills and abilities, improving our equipment and facilities, and strengthening our mental fortitude to weather both expressed threats and real violence against ourselves and our loved ones. There is no shortage of real work to be done!

If our goal, honestly and genuinely sought, is to thrive and survive the challenges inherent in social upheaval and violence, being part of all the growling and snapping is only a distraction from the real work of improving our readiness and preparation. Do we fear rioters attacking residents in their neighborhoods? Of course, we do! Fencing or barrier plantings, fire-fighting and implementing measures to increase fire-resistance, eliminating weak points in the home’s perimeter are all productive efforts into which to invest that anxious energy so many are pouring into stirring the social media pot.

Are rioters headed for your neighborhood? They may be, but the important question is not, “Are they?” but instead, “What have you done to prepare?” There is a lot more to personal defense than shooting, and by hardening the protective shell around you, questions about being arrested for shooting into a crowd of rioters become less pressing because your protective barriers have afforded you a little reaction time. If individuals from the crowd break through those barriers, the threat changes from a quickly moving crowd (that may include innocent people trying to make it to the safety of their homes) to a manageable number of genuine threats in whom you have identified the factors of ability, opportunity and jeopardy that justify use of deadly force.

Please, in all the emotion, do not willfully misunderstand me! I am not advocating being vulnerable to violent intruders. Make the violent criminal actors break out of the crowd and work their attack strategy openly so your decision to use deadly force results from rational thought, articulable reasoning, and is proportional to the threat. Don’t be a fear biter.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.