When we see an act of someone using violence, we feel it in our guts. Our eyes turn to the hapless victim, desperately trying to defend himself, and a part of us is there, suffering with him. This is what sane, socialized people experience when they see violence: Empathy. We can imagine the pain and we empathize with the plight of the victim. This is normal and natural and good. It’s what makes society tick along and keeps us from tearing out each other’s throats at the drop of a hat.
If you spend any time at all worrying about things like violence, that knee-jerk empathy morphs into questions: What could the victim have done differently? How can I keep that from happening to me?
The fantasy is that if only you could learn from his mistakes, then what happened to him can’t happen to you.
It’s a neat idea, but much like the dead guy, full of holes.
The only piece of (almost) useful information we can learn from the dead guy is to not be there. I say “almost useful” because it’s stupid-obvious. It works okay when you’re presented with a clear-cut choice: Do I escalate or disengage? But it’s stupid when you think about scenarios like workplace shootings: “I’m not coming in today. I feel a shooting coming on.”
Anything you think you could learn from the dead guy’s performance – if he’d just gone for the eye or not stepped back – is pointless because it’s all pretend. It’s make-believe.
It didn’t happen that way.
Someone else in the picture was doing something that worked. Something that got the job done. Something that made the dead guy dead. He’s the one you’re going to want to look at if you want to learn what works when using violence.
Is this a nice, comfortable idea? Hell no. The vast majority of violent video footage also happens to be criminal. And you, not being a criminal, will find it naturally difficult to empathize with the person doing the violence. But that’s the only place where there is anything useful to be learned.
Why? Because it is a record of what works in using violence. It’s not pretend, it’s not coulda-woulda-shoulda—it is. When we shift focus off of the dead guy and onto the survivor, we leave the world of conjecture and land squarely in the realm of fact. If you’re going to bet your life on something, I don’t recommend you bet it on a bunch of opinions or armchair quarterbacking. Bet it on the facts.
The person doing the violence is using the facts to his advantage. Pay attention to what he’s up to.
The only thing the dead guy can show you is the end result of those facts. And that’s information you already had going in.