If you’ve ever turned on the news to hear about the latest horrific killing spree, there seems to be one phrase that is consistently repeated among everyone covering the story: “How could there be no warning signs?” Thing is though, there usually are warning signs; you just need to know how to spot them.
1.) Where are you? A key component to surviving a dangerous situation is to understand your surroundings. The majority of the time the places that you visit in a day are usually all places you’ve been to before (your work, your school, the bank, a bar, the grocery store). Instead of simply coasting through your day, take a look around each of these places. Where are the exits? What would you do if a gunman walked in? Or there was an earthquake? Knowing your surroundings will help you be even more prepared when the time comes.
2.) Is there a behavior change? People, at a psychological level, are creatures of habit. We do what makes us most comfortable. That’s why when you go to class you often try to sit wherever you sat on your first day, and if that seats taken you take the closet seat to that one. So when something changes, for no apparent reason, it can be a warning sign. If the student that always sits at the front of the class and participates suddenly becomes a recluse in the last row, you should be aware of it (and maybe even say something to your professor). Of course, nothing may be the problem (maybe they have strep throat this week), but it’s best to be aware of the change.
3.) Are you given explicit warning signs? For some reason, many people seem to feel that they can disregard “official” warnings. If you live in a place that is susceptible to hurricanes, and you are told to evacuate your area, evacuate your area.
4.) Are others calm? Is the man next to you wringing his hands or sweating profusely? Is the woman behind the register shaking? Is the policeman telling everyone that everything is under control stuttering? These are all tell-tale signs that something is probably not right.
Your best bet in this situation is to remain calm yourself, keep your eyes open, and leave the situation if possible. If the man across from you on the bus is getting more and more agitated, get off the bus.
5.) Are you calm? If everything seems normal but you just don’t feel…right…something may be amiss. Our bodies have a way of picking up on things before we consciously notice them, accounting for that “feeling” that something is wrong.
Trust that feeling. Unless you have a history of being paranoid or nervous for no good reason, it’s surprisingly accurate. If the perfectly pleasant man sitting next to you is making you uncomfortable, move.
Case in point: I used to work night shifts at a psychiatric hospital. One night, around 3:30 in the morning, one of the patients came out of his room into the hallway. He looked at me, smiled and waved and went back to his room. A few minutes later he came out again and asked what time it was, then went back to his room. Now his behavior was completely normal; nothing out of the ordinary at all! But I had that weird feeling in my gut, so I got one of the male nurses to ask him if everything is okay. The patient confessed to having extreme homicidal urges. We took the necessary precautions, but if I hadn’t said something, based on just a gut instinct, who know what would’ve happened.
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