You may have no clue as to how to defeat ISIS, but you can still save your own ass
In the hours and days following the terror attacks in Paris I’ve heard and read all kinds of opinions, posts, theories and suggestions about what Europe and the so-called civilized world should do in response to the vile and cruel slaughter ISIS has perpetrated in Paris.
Some blame the West and its arrogance, some claim tactical bombers should already be wheels-up and pounding the IS and Syria 24/7, or that NATO should invade it. Others direct their hate toward Islam, a few suggest we should go back and re-read history, many preach we should all pray for peace.
While governments are sitting on a fence themselves, it’s probably all right for you not to have a definite, precise and above all decisive opinion about the best strategy to defeat terrorism and to neutralize the IS. Your local intelligence services are very likely to know what measures are called for in times like these and are arguably doing their best.
But to deliberately misquote president Kennedy, before wondering what your country can do for your own protection, you should ask yourself what you can do about it. No matter how little.
And no, it doesn’t involve buying a gun.
The big question in these hours is: is it still safe to go out, hang around, go to cinemas, concerts, theaters? Should you refrain from travelling, boarding planes or trains, linger in crowded squares or places?
Responses may vary.
Mathematicians would argue it’s all about statistics, today as it was ten or three days before the attacks. Your local parish priest would answer you’ll be safe as long as you trust in God (or whatever deity may pledge to ensure your safety). The interior ministry in your country will reassure you effective steps are being taken to increase security in cities and towns as you’re reading this.
Let me put it this way: no matter how fatal may be the road accident you hear about on the radio, you do not get off your car and stop driving.
So, keeping on with your habits, continuing to get out, to live your life as usual and refusing to change your routine and your attitude, may be the wisest and the boldest behaviour at the same time, in answer to terrorists who instead want you to be paralyzed by fear.
But just as you need to be reminded by commercials that texting and driving may get you killed, you should bear in mind that there is something that you can do to improve your own safety while you keep on living as usual.
Look around you.
Watch your back.
Whether you’re crossing a station or an airport terminal, walking down a street or hanging around a crowded square, spend less time looking at your smartphone or absorbed in your own thoughts and do pay a lot more attention to what’s going on around you.
Learn to swivel your head, practice keeping a constant eye out for anybody’s odd, unexpected or sudden movement. For the guy, the van, the car that shouldn’t be loitering there, parked in that place or that simply seems odd or out of place, acting funny, looking suspicious.
Like in a rehearsal for a role, try and impersonate the watchman, the guard of your own security. Be ready to react, but most of all to anticipate any threats.
To see them coming.
The span of time between what might strike you as out of place or potentially dangerous, that lapse that precedes a deadly event, when your instincts alert you might be the briefest, but it could also save your life.
After all, paying attention isn’t that what you normally (and hopefully) do when driving?
Well, make it a habit to pay attention.
The next time you walk into a pub or a restaurant, make sure to spot any emergency exit or backdoor. If you feel the urge to text your friends or to instagram the picture you just took, to make that pressing phone call, don’t do it from the middle of the square. Stand with your back against a building, first.
I could go on and on…
No matter how silly the most instinctive precaution may seem, it may also be what makes a difference. That difference.
If you just stop and look around on the street, it’s amazing how many people seem to walk, talk, phone, linger, hurry, rush or drive someplace paying very little attention — if none at all — to what goes on around them.
Anytime something bad or tragic happens, the most recurring word is “suddenly”. «I was standing there, talking to my friend when suddenly…»
Suddenly will get you in trouble. Learn to take suddenly out of the equation.
Don’t change your habits. Change your awareness.