Armed Decision Making
We are all capable of good decisions and actions and not so good decisions and actions. When not so good, those decision and actions have been found to often be driven by attitudes--thought patterns and habits--we develop. Both good and bad can be changed. Here we introduce the not-so-good, generally, and later each hazardous attitude in particular.
During decision-making training, hazardous attitude(s) manifest themselves in actions. And when one appears it is usually displayed regularly. An instructor can identify the attitude and often remediate it. Sometimes, however, a hazardous attitude borders on pathology and cannot be easily remedied.
When we look at each of the hazardous attitudes the reader will admit that at times each has been exercised. That's normal. What is dangerous is when such attitude(s) dominate thinking and action.
The three subject areas about which all judgments are made and actions are taken are yourself, the weapon (firearm), and the environment. One must analyze the environmental advantages and disadvantages presented in a self-defense situation. One might call this analysis of environmental conditions "situational awareness," which is ongoing and requires "repeated reviewing."
Conditions, such as the background behind the threat, can dramatically alter judgments and actions. Your own physical and mental ability may also be changing during a self-defense situation. Conditions change, hence situational awareness (analysis of the environment) is dynamic and requires the repeated review of conditions, i.e., taking advantage of changing conditions that can lead to survival.
This mental process of environmental awareness should be at the level of "automatic reaction," as opposed to "problem solving." This requires practice and training. An example: consider that you're writing your signature--this is action at the automatic reaction level (a complex activity done without much conscious thought). But now put the pen in your other hand and make your signature. This becomes an activity requiring much concentration and is at the problem solving level of accomplishment. With practice this can become an automatic reaction.
A final thought: the more your judgment and action can be "automatic," the more mental capacity you have available for situational awareness.
The second of the three subject areas is "The Weapon," in this case more particularly, a firearm. When making decisions regarding its use, one must consider one's familiarity with it and its condition. It is counterproductive and dangerous to carry a firearm for defense when the holder of it does not know how to operate it. One should be intimately familiar with any tool before it is employed.
Knowing the condition of a firearm is equally important. Is it loaded and with what is it loaded? Is it clean and in a condition to be fully operational? Has it been properly and regularly maintained? Are any attached accessories compatible and also fully operational? These questions should be answered prior to the firearm being made available for use.
There may be situations in which a particular firearm is unsuitable for defense regardless of its condition and the holder's competency with it. Such a situation would require unique decision making.
Any tool is only as good as its suitability for use when considering a variety of factors.
Without some level of stress--the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response--we die. When there is stress beyond the body's capability to cope, we die. So, somewhere in the middle is optimum. Yet that middle point, especially psychologically, is different for each of us mostly because of our experience.
Since the subject here is defense with a firearm, consider that the person with little ability with a firearm (most people who own one) is likely in a stress-overload state when in a situation using a firearm for defense. What is the likelihood that decisions and actions will be appropriate and lead to survival? 50/50? Less?
Now consider a well-trained and capable person in a situation using a firearm for defense. Certainly there exists stress, but the chance of maintaining eustress--the very top of the bell curve--is good. Decisions and actions are more likely to be appropriate and lead to survival.
Firearm defense training is emergency training and not simply normal-procedures training. Would you like to take your next airline flight with a crew that received no emergency training? Of course not. Their actions would likely not be appropriate and be those that lead to survival.
Many times when poor decisions are made and unfortunate actions are taken, the cause can be traced back to our compromised self. The IM SAFE personal assessment is a good and quick tool.
Consider these elements in brief:
- (I)llness. Being sick or injured affects mood and capability, which in turn affects the ability to make accurate perceptions and take appropriate and timely action.
- (M)edication. We're all familiar with drug warning labels.
- (S)tress. Some stress is needed just to stay alive. Too much stress is incapacitating. It is "eustress" which we wish to experience to enjoy normal thoughts and actions.
- (A)lcohol. No amount of alcohol benefits the judgment process. A social lubricant, maybe. But alcohol in any amount does not otherwise enhance the ability to use any tool.
- (F)atigue. In varying degrees, fatigue itself can have the effect, combined or singular, of illness, medication, stress, or alcohol.
- (E)ating. Nourishment affects body chemistry as does all of the above. A lack of proper nourishment is detrimental.
Now consider the person who leaves home and is about to strap on a concealed firearm. This person just came down with an illness last night, and has taken medication containing alcohol and a sleep aid. Still, this person slept hardly at all because of the neighbor's loud dog--something that must be resolved soon. And, finally, this individual is late for work (again) and must perform well today since continued-employment warnings have been given.
Is this someone who should strap on a firearm today? Used properly, the IM SAFE checklist might persuade our friend to leave the firearm at home today, or at least resolve to use extra caution in interpreting situations.
All decisions involving lethal force used for self defense involve these three subject areas:
- the person (yourself);
- the weapon (some prefer the term firearm);
- the environment.
The next three posts will explore each in some detail, though here is a thumbnail sketch: before discharging your firearm you will analyze within the time available your capabilities as they may be affected by a variety of factors, the suitability of the firearm you intend to use, and the complications of the surrounding environment. In short, these elements form the foundation of what is often referred to as "situational awareness."
The next post will explore how your personal decision-making process is affected simply because of your human condition.
As simply stated in the first posting below--and it makes a good definition too--judgment is "the analysis of options followed by an action." Without seeing options we're left with a panic response. Judgment replaces the panic response.
Skill-based training alone does not teach judgment. You can fire away all day at the range, get very good shooting at paper, and then mistakenly use lethal force against someone who scares you but is not going to be shown later when in a calm courtroom to be a lethal or serious threat. Getting your panic response under control is a big part of decision making training. Then your live-fire experience has meaning and application.
If you believe that live-fire practice provides competent physical skill, you must also believe that decision making training provides competent decision making skill. Consider that your judgment process when faced with a serious or lethal threat is the same process jurors will use in court. But you may have only seconds to engage that process whereas jurors have days, weeks, or even longer. The purpose of virtual-reality decision making training is to enable you to front-load the process.
To possess ability in any field, including the use of lethal force in defense, these are the three key elements.
KNOWLEDGE of rules and laws provide the basis for legal and appropriate action. Knowledge of yourself, your limitations, strengths, physical capability at any given time and circumstance guide your actions. And a knowledge of human behavior can help you predict outcomes.
SKILL in the use of any defensive tool is required for success. Spend time becoming intimately familiar with the operation of your firearm. Practice until competent at a firearms range.
JUDGMENT is not instinctual. It must be taught. And at its foundation is knowledge and skill. Judgment can be defined as an analysis of options followed by an action. Virtual reality is probably the best method of teaching judgment, also known as decision making. Competence in decision making replaces the panic response with a learned response.
Thus we have a person with ability. In the case of self defense with a firearm available, it is the ability to survive that is paramount, not necessarily the employment of lethal force.
The next post will introduce the process of decision making, including a closer look at the definition.