Assume This Not That

If You Want To Live

The brief: 100-year-old maples form unbroken arches of emerald leaves, shading streets of well-tended craftsman-built homes; a peaceful neighborhood in a very low-crime community. Doors are often unlocked, because who stops by except neighbors and friends? Yes, such places still exist, and good friends of ours, an attractive single mom and her pretty teenage daughter live there. But one recent night a “visitor” to the area, a whacked-out, drugged-up psychopath, crept into a nearby home at random and committed a horrific assault, stabbing one victim until the blade of his cheap knife bent into uselessness. It was an aberration; the neighbors slipped back into somnolence. Not the girls. For them it was a reminder of another place, another time.

They knew this was a statistical anomaly — but they also knew those are the events you prepare for; those rare and dangerous anomalies. Already trained and armed with handguns, they added a 12-gauge pump to their battery and requested a refresher on home defense considerations. Afterward, they picked out some points they had not heard or read before and asked me to write about them. And so …

Go Ahead & Assume

All your life you’ve been told not to assume — but there are some assumptions you must make, because the consequence of error is grave. The “qualifier” for assumptions should be, “If you want to live, you assume this, not that.” The first is anyone who enters your occupied home at night chooses to, knowing you’re inside, and it’s not just about opportunistic theft.

Opportunist burglars bent only on theft have no desire to confront residents. They’re all about the loot and getting away clean. They typically commit daytime burglaries after assuring themselves nobody’s home. A tiny, miniscule percentage of burglars get a thrill out of creeping undetected through an occupied home while victims sleep, stealing and leaving. If a goblin enters your home at night, the human prey is as much a part of the feast as your possessions. What’s your most survivable assumption?

The second is any sound or movement which alerts you, especially if it wakes you, must be investigated, even if it’s not repeated. Typically, people wait for sound or movement to be repeated, or, sound-after-movement or movement-after-sound, before they admit the possibility of threat.

Whether they’re military sentries or peaceable civilians, people want — and have a psychological need — to dismiss possible threats; to believe singular sounds and movements, not repeated, are phenomena which can be safely ignored. “First-world” people do this routinely, and often enough, they don’t suffer for it, but is that a sound assumption? So-called “primitives” and non-industrialized people typically do not assume so. They know something was responsible for activating their spider-sense, and it can only be ignored at great peril.

There’s a certain symphony of sounds which you ordinarily sleep through; the routine creaks and groans of structural response to temperature changes, the gurgle of water in the pipes, the subdued hum of routine traffic. Your senses become inured to them, and they don’t wake you. But over millennia your survival subconscious has been honed to respond to alien noises, the ones which might signal the presence of danger. They not only wake you, but may give you an instant shot of adrenaline to prepare you for fight-or-flight.

If you’re awakened, your socially-conditioned reflex is to turn on a light, the brighter the better, to soothe your conditioned reflexes. Don’t. Your vision is adjusted to low light, so use it; protect it. Only use light as a weapon and a search-tool projected in front of you.

More Assumptions

If you see one intruder, do you assume there’s only one? If you don’t see a weapon in his hands, do you assume he’s unarmed? If you see a weapon in his hand, should you assume that’s the only one he has? The only safe assumptions you can make are that this person is dangerous; the presence of a weapon only makes them more dangerous, and an unseen weapon can be more dangerous than one you see.

You’ve got him at gunpoint, and he cajoles, he begs, he pleads, he swears to leave peacefully if you’ll just let him go. What can you assume? That his mouth is moving, possibly to alert unseen companions; that he’s still the goblin who entered with evil, violent intent. Do you assume he would show you the same mercy he’s begging for, if he now got the drop on you?

You’ve shot him and he’s down. Does that mean he’s finished? If he’s not moving, do you assume he can’t move — suddenly and violently? If he’s silent, is it because he’s silenced, or because he’s listening?

Keep the gun on him until police arrive and are present. Recently an older lady in California had to shoot an intruder while she was literally on the phone with a police dispatcher. The goblin wasn’t moving. When sirens became audible — still some distance away — the dispatcher told the lady to put down her gun. When can you assume you’re safe? Think about it.

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