Tuesday, January 21, 2014

All that is required for evil to succeed…

"All that is required for evil to succeed…Is for good people to do nothing."

This powerful saying has come up time and time again in discussions among Protect instructors, clients, and friends over the past decade. Every single day we see blatant examples of apathy, indifference and denial playing a role in situations of violence where victims/targets were not helped in their moment of need. We see it regularly in domestic situations, child abuse situations, animal abuse, and also in violent situations ‘on the street’.

This has again been highlighted this week by the vicious attack on Mrs Pravit Singh, in Papatoetoe, Auckland. For reference you should read the article here:

At Protect, we deal in the currency of reality, not martial arts or movies, not from the safe confines of the ‘keyboard commando’s’ battle-station (Mum’s sofa), and not from  behind some politicians desk. So as usual, after an event like this is reported (we see them every day, occasionally one is reported), when we hear all of the opinions and advice from everyone from politicians to neighbours, and from martial artists to reporters, we tend to cringe. The reason for that is that suddenly everyone is an expert on the situation. Suddenly everyone is a bullet-proof SAS commando with the emotional response of a cyborg terminator. And they all know “what they would have done”. Or worse, they all know “what the victim SHOULD have done”. We have a term for this phenomena at Protect; “White Noise” (we actually have a far more descriptive and accurate term for it but as it contains profanity I shan’t repeat it here). Most of it is as useful, and as annoying as white noise on a TV set.

So you know what you would have done huh? No, you don’t.
You may speculate on what you may have done in a similar situation, but nobody really knows. Nobody. There are too many variables in a real live dynamic situation for anybody to be able to say what they ‘would have done’. Sure, if you are trained to deal with these situations you will have dramatically more options than someone who is not, but even then you cannot say for sure. The situation always dictates the possible responses, there is no “black and white answer”.
As for the people who trumpet their misguided opinions on what Mrs Singh “Should have done”…I have two words for you. You may guess them in your own time. Mrs Singh has survived an horrific, traumatic event. She did the absolute best that she could given the situation, a situation where onlookers watched as she screamed for help while being attacked but nobody helped, and she should be praised for it. People have emailed me this week saying that I should write an article now about what would have happened if Mrs Singh had self-defence training. My answer; “Absolutely no way”. Why? Quite simply because it will not change anything now, will it? Many victims of violent events will blame themselves as it is, they will be confused, uncertain, fearful (all completely normal), and one of the worst things to say to them is “you should have done this” or “If I was you, I would have done this”. It is insensitive, callous, and totally ignorant and misinformed.

But it does once again bring to light the question my team has been asked literally hundreds of times; “Should I get involved if I see someone in trouble?”. Although there are few absolutes with anything to do with self-protection or violence, the answer to this question is ‘almost’ (there are always exceptions) always YES. To some degree at least.

We have studied at length the ‘bystander effect’ and it is a complex and multi-faceted issue. But I certainly believe it is the responsibility of anyone who is witness to any type of abuse, assault, mistreatment to at least do SOMETHING. If something is nothing more than dialling emergency services and getting help on the way that is still something. If it is intervening verbally, that is something. If it is intervening physically, that is something else. Which option is right will depend on many factors, the variables in the situation, the witness’s perception of their ability to handle the situation, past associations the witness may have to violent encounters, and predominantly…Fear.

It’s interesting to me that a pod of whales strand themselves on the same day Mrs Singh was attacked and hundreds of people come from all over to help (good for them of course) but a woman is being beaten only 10 meters away and nobody helps. What’s the difference? It is (at least in part) very obvious. Violence is not a factor with the whales. There is no perceived threat to personal safety with the whales. But when witnessing a violent encounter where a person needs help, the universal human phobia comes into play and causes hesitation, or inaction. I believe that most people do want to help, so what gets in the way?

Is it fair to be concerned about your personal safety? Of course it is. People have been killed (Vulcan Lane, Auckland in 2008 for example) intervening, others have been seriously hurt. Is it fair to worry about retaliation from the attacker(s) if you intervene? Absolutely it is, it happens all the time, and since our justice system is a bad joke where violent offenders are regularly given bail (some of whom go on to kill/rape/attack people while on bail) when they should be behind bars, it’s a very valid concern. Is it fair to worry about legal consequences? Yes, absolutely it is. Is it fair to worry about your family at this time? Yes. I could go on with dozens of other concerns, most of which would be totally valid. But do any of these excuse us from doing absolutely nothing? Doubtful.

On the same day that this event happened to Mrs Singh (and a bunch of others too which are not reported) one of our trainers in Auckland intervened successfully in a rapidly escalating situation at a skating rink. It involved multiple persons, and a very clear aggressor and a very clear ‘victim/target’ who did not want anything to do with it. In a matter of seconds (because she is trained and knows what to look for and how to assess a situation very quickly) she had assessed the situation, determined that intervention was necessary, given clear directives to the people she was with, and acted with absolute assertive authority and conviction, putting herself into a volatile situation to help another person. She was able to defuse the situation and control the scene to ensure that no further escalation happened before the victim was away from the scene. She did a fantastic job. Would I suggest that everybody should take that course of action? Hell no. She is trained for this stuff, she has a far greater probability of success than the average person. But if she had of decided that the situation was too dangerous to enter, she would have at least picked up the phone.

The way that Mrs Singh was left un-aided in her moment of need is horrible. But it is also unfortunately extremely common. I recognise and understand the phenomena. What can we do about it? I think it starts with awareness. Awareness of the problem and a few hard questions asked of ourselves about what we are willing to do if we witness an event like this. We will never have a definite answer but we can at least make a decision not to be followers and instead take personal responsibility and at least do…something. After all, if it was ourselves this was happening to, what would we want to happen? Indifference kills, folks.

“Be the change we want to see in the world”Ghandi

(oh, and let’s not forget… “Actions speak louder than words”).