If asked, “are you willing to use violence to stop violence against you or a loved one?” many of us would answer “yes”. I know I would. The truth is, unless you’ve been tested, you really don’t know. During the last couple of months, I have put in a lot of drive time, listening to the audiobook “On Killing” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. This book helped firm up my understanding of humans and their capacity and willingness to use violence. In short, the vast majority of human beings are not wired to use violence on one another.
Lt. Col. Grossman goes into great detail to explain how, through the earliest of American wars; the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the World Wars, the majority of the men fighting them would purposely miss what they were shooting at. He explained how the aversion to killing another human was so strong that a trained soldier often times would not shoot another, even if it meant losing his own life.
Leading up to the Vietnam War, great effort went into figuring out how to train men, not only to kill but to do so without hesitation. Today’s military are some of the most efficient warriors in the world’s history.
Someone might say that an aversion to violence is a good thing and that Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. I would agree with Him, but He did not say we should never use the sword. In fact, I believe that if we willingly decide not to act in our own defense or in the defense of another innocent person, we have sinned. We now bare blood guilt and are accountable for all of the future acts of violence our attacker commits. We also bare the guilt of all the good that we or the person we did not defend would have done.
Less Than Lethal Force
It is my belief that the majority of humans have an aversion to using any form of violence against one another. I’ve mentioned before that I took a real world martial art called “Haganah”. I noticed that almost all new students hesitated using even minimal force to strike their partner. These are people who are aware of the need to learn to defend themselves but have to be trained that it was acceptable to strike another person. I was a wrestler in high school and had a few minor altercations as a young adult. Physical violence wasn’t completely new to me. I still had to retrain myself that using force was not only acceptable in this setting, but encouraged. I trained with some students who hesitated striking with even 10% of their force even after months of training.
In the book The Survivors Club, author Ben Sherwood explores a theory developed by a man named John Leach called “The 10-80-10 rule”. In summary, the rule states that the top 10% of people in a crisis excel; they think clearly and take immediate action. The middle group comprises 80% of people; they are “quite simply stunned and bewildered”; “reasoning is significantly impaired and thinking is difficult”. The last 10% of people are the “ones you definitely want to avoid in an emergency”.
A few pages later, he explains something called ‘behavioral inaction’; “The current theory of behavioral inaction goes like this: As your frontal lobes process the site of an airplane wing on fire, they seek to match the information with memories of similar situations in the past. If you have no stored experience of a plane crash, your brain can’t find a match and gets stuck in a loop trying and failing to come up with the right response. Hence: immobility.”
While he was talking about a plane crash, I believe the theory carries over to any type of critical incident. In terms of violence I think that the first 10% are capable of violence, either to harm or to defend. The middle 80% of people are those who will freeze either initially and then take action or remain frozen. The last 10% of people are made up of those who just shut down.
More Than Fight or Flight
You’ve probably heard of “fight or flight”, but there are at least five possible responses. They are fight, flight, freeze, posture and submit.
Fight – This is a group of people who have a capacity for violence, either to hurt or to protect. Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs is an excellent depiction of those who’re willing to use violence. The wolves are those who prey upon others (the sheep). Sheepdogs are those who’re capable of using violence in protection of themselves and in defense of the sheep.
Posturing – Posturing is combat without making contact, using intimidation. This is frequently seen in the animal world but can be seen in humans as well. Posturing comes easy to those who fight but I have seen some who were not typically thought of as fighter’s posture enough to prevent an attack and back a wolf down.
Flight – This is a group of people who have an innate urge to flee from harm. There are some who might initially flee, only to change to another behavior.
Freeze – People who freeze might do so for mere seconds while their brain catches up to the reality of the situation. They could also be people who are so completely overwhelmed that they simply shut down. People in this group can slide to other groups. For instance, someone might freeze for a second before being able to use violence to defend themselves. Another person might freeze before running away or submitting.
Submit – Submitting is totally giving up to an attacker. There is evidence in the FBI’s annual uniform crime report to suggest that submitting is more dangerous than fighting back. However, feigning compliance and submitting temporarily can give a person the upper hand.
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