SURVIVAL SIGNALS

 


▪ CHAPTER FOUR ▪
SURVIVAL SIGNALS

“People should learn to see and so avoid all danger.
Just as a wise man keeps away from mad dogs,
so one should not make friends with evil men.”
Buddha

Kelly had been apprehensive from the moment she heard the stranger’s voice, and now she wants me to tell her why. More than anything else, it was just the fact that someone was there, because having heard no doors open before the man appeared, Kelly knew (at least intuitively) that he must have been waiting out of sight near the entry hall. Only as we spoke did she realize that when he said he was going to the fourth floor, he didn’t offer why. It was Kelly who had filled in the blanks, concluding that he was visiting the Klines who lived across the hall from her. Now, as we are talking, she realizes that if the Klines had admitted a guest over the intercom, she’d have heard the loud buzz of the electric lock being released, and Mrs. Kline would have been at the top of the stairs, already well into a high-volume conversation with her visitor. It was because of all this that Kelly’s intuition sent her the signal to be wary.

Kelly tells me that she didn’t listen to herself because there wasn’t anything she saw in the man’s behavior to explain the alarm she felt. Just as some things must be seen to be believed, some must be believed to be seen. The stranger’s behavior didn’t match Kelly’s image of a rapist’s behavior, and she could not consciously recognize what she didn’t recognize. Neither can you, so one way to reduce risk is to learn what risk looks like.

 

The capable face-to-face criminal is an expert at keeping his victim from seeing survival signals, but the very methods he uses to conceal them can reveal them.

Forced Teaming

Kelly asks me what signals her attacker displayed, and I start with the one I call “forced teaming.” It was shown through his use of the word “we” (“We’ve got a hungry cat up there”). Forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a we’re-in-the-same-boat attitude is hard to rebuff without feeling rude. Sharing a predicament, like being stuck in a stalled elevator or arriving simultaneously at a just-closed store will understandably move people around social boundaries. But forced teaming is not about coincidence; it is intentional and directed, and it is one of the most sophisticated manipulations. The detectable signal of forced teaming is the projection of a shared purpose or experience where none exists: “Both of us;” “we’re some team;” “how are we going to handle this?;” “now we’ve done it,” etc.

David Mamet’s film House of Games is a wonderful exploration of cons and con artists that shows forced teaming at work. A young soldier enters a Western Union office late one evening; he is anxious about whether the money he needs for a bus ticket will arrive there before Western Union closes. Another man is there, apparently in the same predicament. The two commiserate while waiting, and then the man tells the soldier, “Hey, if my money comes in first, I’ll give you whatever amount you need. You can send it to me when you get back to the base.” The soldier is moved by this kindness, but the stranger brushes it off, saying, “You’d do the same for me.”

In fact, the stranger is not in the same boat, is not expecting any money to be wired. He is a con artist. Predictably, the soldier’s money is the only to arrive, and when the Western Union office closes, he insists that the stranger accept some of his cash. The best cons make the victim want to participate.

Kelly did not consciously recognize what her intuition clearly knew, so she couldn’t apply the simple defense for forced teaming, which is to make a clear refusal to accept the concept of partnership: “I did not ask for your help and I do not want it.” Like many of the best defenses, this one has the cost of appearing rude. Kelly now knows it is a small cost, comparatively speaking.

 

Safety is the preeminent concern of all creatures and it clearly justifies a seemingly abrupt and rejecting response from time to time. Anyway, rudeness is relative. If while waiting in some line, a person steps on our foot a second time, and we bark, “Hey!” we don’t call our response rude. We might even feel we showed restraint. That’s because the appropriateness of our response is relative to the behavior that provoked it. If people would view forced teaming as the inappropriate behavior it is, we might feel less concern about appearing rude in response.

Forced teaming is done in many contexts for many reasons, but when applied by a stranger to a woman in a vulnerable situation (such as alone in a remote or unpopulated area), it is always inappropriate. It is not about partnership or coincidence—it is about establishing rapport, and that may or may not be all right, depending on why someone seeks rapport.

 

Generally speaking, rapport-building has a far better reputation than it deserves. It is perceived as admirable when in fact it is almost always done for self-serving reasons. Even though the reasons most people seek rapport aren’t sinister, such as pleasantly conversing with someone you’ve just met at a party, that doesn’t mean a woman must participate with every stranger who approaches her. Perhaps the most admirable reason to seek rapport would be to put someone at ease, but if that is a stranger’s entire intent, a far simpler way is to just leave the woman alone.

Charm and Niceness

Charm is another overrated ability. Note that I called it an ability, not an inherent feature of one’s personality. Charm is almost always a directed instrument, which, like rapport-building, has motive. To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction. Think of charm as a verb, not a trait. If you consciously tell yourself, “This person is trying to charm me” as opposed to, “This person is charming,” you’ll be able to see around it. Most often, when you see what’s behind charm, it won’t be sinister, but other times you’ll be glad you looked.

So many signals, I tell Kelly, are in the face. She intuitively read the face of her attacker, as she is now reading mine, as I am now reading hers. University of California at San Francisco psychologist Paul Eckman says, “The face tells us subtleties in feelings that only a poet can put into words.” One way to charm is with the smile, which Eckman calls the most important signal of intent. He adds that it is also “the typical disguise used to mask the emotions.”

University of California at Los Angeles psychiatrist Leslie Brothers says, “If I am trying to deceive someone, that person has to be just a bit smarter than I am in order to see through my deceit. That means you have sort of an arms race.”

The predatory criminal does all he can to make that arms race look like détente. “He was so nice” is a comment I often hear from people describing the man who, moments or months after his niceness, attacked them. We must learn and then teach our children that niceness does not equal goodness. Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character trait. People seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person in the beginning. Like rapport-building, charm and the deceptive smile, unsolicited niceness often has a discoverable motive.

 

Kelly nods and reminds me that her attacker was “very nice.” I tell her about a rhyme by Edward Gorey, the master of dark humor:

The proctor buys a pupil ices
And hopes the boy will not resist,
When he attempts to practice vices
Few people even know exist
.

Yes, the proctor is nice enough to buy some sweets for the boy, and he is nice in lots of other ways, but that is not a credential of his good intent.

 

Way back in 1859, in a book called Self Help (which pioneered a new genre), Samuel Smiles said personality itself is “plainly a vehicle for self-advancement.” He wrote that “men whose acts are at direct variance with their words command no respect, and what they say has but little weight.” Unfortunately, this isn’t as true in our time. Unlike when people lived in small communities and could not escape their past behavior, we live in an age of anonymous onetime encounters, and many people have become expert at the art of fast persuasion. Trust, formerly earned through actions, is now purchased with sleight of hand, and sleight of words.

I encourage women to explicitly rebuff unwanted approaches, but I know it is difficult to do. Just as rapport-building has a good reputation, explicitness applied by women in this culture has a terrible reputation. A woman who is clear and precise is viewed as cold, or a bitch, or both. A woman is expected, first and foremost, to respond to every communication from a man. And the response is expected to be one of willingness and attentiveness. It is considered attractive if she is a bit uncertain (the opposite of explicit). Women are expected to be warm and open, and in the context of approaches from male strangers, warmth lengthens the encounter, raises his expectations, increases his investment, and, at best, wastes time. At worst, it serves the man who has sinister intent by providing much of the information he will need to evaluate and then control his prospective victim.

Too Many Details

People who want to deceive you, I explain to Kelly, will often use a simple technique which has a simple name: too many details. The man’s use of the story about the cat he left unfed in a friend’s apartment: too many details. His reference to leaving the door open, “like ladies do in old movies”: too many details. His volunteering that he is always late (“broken watch, not my fault”): too many details.

 

When people are telling the truth, they don’t feel doubted, so they don’t feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking.

Each detail may be only a small tack he throws on the road, but together they can stop a truck. The defense is to remain consciously aware of the context in which details are offered.

 

Context is always apparent at the start of an interaction and usually apparent at the end of one, but too many details can make us lose sight of it. Imagine gazing out the window of a train as it pulls away from the station. Details move by you, or you by them, slowly at first. As the train gets going a little faster, you see more details, but each one more briefly: an empty playground, a phrase painted in graffiti, some kids playing in the street, a construction site, the steeple of a church, until the train reaches a speed that requires you to let the individual components become… a neighborhood. This same transition can occur as a conversation becomes… a robbery. Every type of con relies upon distracting us from the obvious.

Kelly had so many details thrown at her that she lost sight of this simple context: the man was an absolute stranger. Whenever the train got going fast enough that she was uncomfortable, whenever she might have seen what was happening, like his taking the shopping bag from her hand even though she said no, he slowed the train down with some new irrelevance. He used catchy details to come to be perceived as someone familiar to her, someone she could trust. But she knew him artificially; she knew the con, not the con man.

 

The person who recognizes the strategy of Too Many Details sees the forest while simultaneously being able to see the few trees that really matter. When approached by a stranger while walking on some city street at night, no matter how engaging he might be, you must never lose sight of the context: He is a stranger who approached you. A good exercise is to occasionally remind yourself of where you are and what your relationship is to the people around you. With a date who stays beyond his welcome, for example, no matter how jokey or charming he may be, a woman can keep herself focused on context simply by thinking, “I have asked him to leave twice.” The defense for too many details is simple: bring the context into conscious thought.

TYPECASTING

Another strategy used by Kelly’s rapist is called typecasting. A man labels a woman in some slightly critical way, hoping she’ll feel compelled to prove that his opinion is not accurate. “You’re probably too snobbish to talk to the likes of me,” a man might say, and the woman will cast off the mantle of “snob” by talking to him. A man tells a woman, “You don’t look like someone who reads the newspaper,” and she sets out to prove that she is intelligent and well-informed. When Kelly refused her attacker’s assistance, he said, “There’s such thing as being too proud, you know,” and she resisted the label by accepting his help.

Typecasting always involves a slight insult, and usually one that is easy to refute. But since it is the response itself that the typecaster seeks, the defense is silence, acting as if the words weren’t even spoken. If you engage, you can win the point, but you might lose something greater. Not that it matters what some stranger thinks anyway, but the typecaster doesn’t even believe what he says is true. He just believes that it will work.

Loan Sharking

The next signal I explain to Kelly is one I call loan-sharking: “He wanted to be allowed to help you because that would place you in his debt, and the fact that you owe a person something makes it hard to ask him to leave you alone.” The more traditional loan shark gladly lends one amount but cruelly collects much more. Likewise, the predatory criminal generously offers assistance but is always calculating the debt. The defense is to bring two rarely remembered facts into consciousness: He approached me, and I didn’t ask for any help. Then, though a person may turn out to be just a kindly stranger, watch for other signals.

 

We are all familiar with the stranger who offers to help a woman with her groceries; most often he is a fairly unsophisticated loan shark looking to pick someone up. The debt he records in his ledger can usually be paid off quite easily, just a little talk will do it. But he has something in common with the predatory criminal who imposes his counterfeit charity into someone’s life: motive. There is no spiritually minded movement dedicated to lightening the burden of American women by carrying their groceries. At its best, loan sharking is a strategy on a par with asking a woman, “Do you come here often?” At its worst, it exploits a victim’s sense of obligation and fairness.

I haven’t focused here on the criminal who simply walks up, displays a weapon, and demands money. That’s because he is distinctly more obvious than those who use the strategies I’ve described.

 

It’s important to clarify that forced teaming, too many details, charm, niceness, typecasting and loan sharking are all in daily use by people who have no sinister intent. You might have already recognized several of these strategies as those commonly used by men who want little more than an opportunity to engage a woman in conversation. I don’t mean to cramp the style of some crude Casanova, but times have changed, and we men can surely develop some approaches which are not steeped in deceit and manipulation.

The Unsolicited Promise

For the next signal, I ask Kelly to go back to that moment when she was reluctant to let her attacker into her apartment. He had said, “I’ll just put this stuff down and go. I promise.”

The unsolicited promise is one of the most reliable signals because it is nearly always of questionable motive. Promises are used to convince us of an intention, but they are not guarantees. A guarantee is a promise that offers some compensation if the speaker fails to deliver; he commits to make it all right again if things don’t go as he says they would. But promises offer no such collateral. They are the very hollowest instruments of speech, showing nothing more than the speaker’s desire to convince you of something. So, aside from meeting all unsolicited promises with skepticism (whether or not they are about safety), it’s useful to ask yourself: Why does this person need to convince me? The answer, it turns out, is not about him—it is about you. The reason a person promises something, the reason he needs to convince you, is that he can see that you are not convinced. You have doubt (which is a messenger of intuition), likely because there is reason to doubt. The great gift of the unsolicited promise is that the speaker tells you so himself!

In effect, the promise holds up a mirror in which you get a second chance to see your own intuitive signal; the promise is the image and the reflection of your doubt. Always, in every context, be suspicious of the unsolicited promise. When Kelly’s rapist told her he would leave after he got something to drink from the kitchen, he detected her doubt, so he added, “I promise.”

Here’s the defense: When someone says “I promise,” you say (at least in your head) “You’re right, I am hesitant about trusting you, and maybe with good reason. Thank you for pointing it out.”

Discounting the Word “No”

It is late, and I suggest to Kelly that we’ll discuss the rest tomorrow, but she wants another signal before we stop. Like every victim of a truly awful crime, she is anxious to make some sense of it, to understand it, to control it. So I speak to her about one more signal, perhaps the most universally significant one of all: a man’s ignoring or discounting the concept of no. Kelly’s rapist ignored it several times, in various forms. First she said no, she didn’t want his help. Then she showed him no when she didn’t immediately let go of the bag.

 

Actions are far more eloquent and credible than words, particularly a short and under-valued word like “no,” and particularly when it’s offered tentatively or without conviction. So when Kelly said no but then agreed, it wasn’t really no anymore. “No” is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you.

In situations in which unsolicited offers of assistance are appropriate, such as approaches by a salesman or flight attendant, it is simply annoying if you have to decline three times. With a stranger, however, refusal to hear no can be an important survival signal, as with a suitor, a friend, a boyfriend, even a husband.

Declining to hear “no” is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. With strangers, even those with the best intentions, never, ever relent on the issue of “no,” because it sets the stage for more efforts to control. If you let someone talk you out of the word “no,” you might as well wear a sign that reads, “You are in charge.”

The worst response when someone fails to accept “no” is to give ever-weakening refusals and then give in. Another common response that serves the criminal is to negotiate (“I really appreciate your offer, but let me try to do it on my own first”). Negotiations are about possibilities, and providing access to someone who makes you apprehensive is not a possibility you want to keep on the agenda. I encourage people to remember that “no” is a complete sentence.

 

The criminal’s process of victim selection, which I call “the interview,” is similar to a shark’s circling potential prey. The predatory criminal of every variety is looking for someone, a vulnerable someone who will allow him to be in control, and just as he constantly gives signals, so does he read them.

The man in the underground parking lot who approaches a woman as she puts groceries in the trunk of her car and offers assistance may be a gentleman or he may be conducting an interview. The woman whose shoulders tense slightly, who looks intimidated and shyly says, “No, thanks, I think I’ve got it,” may be his victim. Conversely, the woman who turns toward him, raises her hands to the STOPposition, and says directly, “I don’t want your help,” is less likely to be his victim.

 

A decent man would understand her reaction or, more likely, wouldn’t have approached a woman alone in the first place, unless she really had some obvious need. If a man doesn’t understand the reaction and stomps off dejected, that’s fine too. In fact, any reaction—even anger—from a decent man who had no sinister intent is preferable to continued attention from a violent man who might have used your concern about rudeness to his advantage.

A woman alone who needs assistance is actually far better off choosing someone and asking for help, as opposed to waiting for an unsolicited approach. The person you choose is nowhere near as likely to bring you hazard as is the person who chooses you. That’s because the possibility that you’ll inadvertently select a predatory criminal for whom you are the right victim type is very remote. I encourage women to ask other women for help when they need it, and it’s likewise safer to accept an offer from a woman than from a man. (Unfortunately, women rarely make such offers to other women, and I wish more would.)

I want to clarify that many men offer help without any sinister or self-serving intent, with no more in mind than kindness and chivalry, but I have been addressing those times that men refuse to hear the word “No,” and that is not chivalrous—it is dangerous.

When someone ignores that word, ask yourself: Why is this person seeking to control me? What does he want? It is best to get away from the person altogether, but if that’s not practical, the response that serves safety is to dramatically raise your insistence, skipping several levels of politeness. “I said NO!”

When I encounter people hung up on the seeming rudeness of this response (and there are many), I imagine this conversation after a stranger is told No by a woman he has approached:

MAN: What a bitch. What’s your problem, lady? I was just trying to offer a little help to a pretty woman. What are you so paranoid about?

WOMAN: You’re right. I shouldn’t be wary. I’m overreacting about nothing. I mean, just because a man makes an unsolicited and persistent approach in an underground parking lot in a society where crimes against women have risen four times faster than the general crime rate, and three out of four women will suffer a violent crime; and just because I’ve personally heard horror stories from every female friend I’ve ever had; and just because I have to consider where I park, where I walk, whom I talk to, and whom I date in the context of whether someone will kill me or rape me or scare me half to death; and just because several times a week someone makes an inappropriate remark, stares at me, harasses me, follows me, or drives alongside my car pacing me; and just because I have to deal with the apartment manager who gives me the creeps for reasons I haven’t figured out, yet I can tell by the way he looks at me that given an opportunity he’d do something that would get us both on the evening news; and just because these are life-and-death issues most men know nothing about so that I’m made to feel foolish for being cautious even though I live at the center of a swirl of possible hazards DOESN’T MEAN A WOMAN SHOULD BE WARY OF A STRANGER WHO IGNORES THE WORD ‘NO’.”

Whether or not men can relate to it or believe it or accept it, that is the way it is. Women, particularly in big cities, live with a constant wariness. Their lives are literally on the line in ways men just don’t experience. Ask some man you know, “When is the last time you were concerned or afraid that another person would harm you?” Many men cannot recall an incident within years. Ask a woman the same question and most will give you a recent example or say, “Last night,” “Today,” or even “Every day.”

Still, women’s concerns about safety are frequently the subject of critical comments from the men in their lives. One woman told me of constant ridicule and sarcasm from her boyfriend whenever she discussed fear or safety. He called her precautions silly and asked, “How can you live like that?” To which she replied, “How could I not?”

I have a message for women who feel forced to defend their safety concerns: tell Mister I-Know-Everything-About-Danger that he has nothing to contribute to the topic of your personal security. Tell him that your survival instinct is a gift from Nature that knows a lot more about your safety than he does. And tell him that nature does not require his approval.

 

It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different—men and women live in different worlds. I don’t remember where I first heard this simple description of one dramatic contrast between the genders, but it is strikingly accurate: At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.

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I referred Kelly to IMPACT, which I believe is the best self-defense course for women. She is now an instructor there, helping others to heed the signals. At IMPACT, which is available in most major cities, women have actual physical confrontations with male instructors who play assailants. (The men wear heavily padded outfits that can withstand direct punches and kicks.) Women learn not only physical defense tactics but also about how to deal with strangers who make unwanted approaches. (See appendix 2 for more information about IMPACT.)

Most new IMPACT students are very concerned that they must avoid making a man angry, reasoning that this could turn someone whose intent was favorable into someone dangerous. Be aware, however, that it is impossible in this context to transform an ordinary, decent man into a rapist or killer. Thankfully, though, it is possible to transform yourself into a person who responds to the signals and is thus a less likely victim.

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I recently got a close look at several of the strategies outlined above. I was on a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles, seated next to a teenage girl who was traveling alone. A man in his forties who’d been watching her from across the aisle took off the headphones he was wearing and said to her with party-like flair, “These things just don’t get loudenough for me!” He then put his hand out toward her and said, “I’m Billy.” Though it may not be immediately apparent, his statement was actually a question, and the young girl responded with exactly the information Billy hoped for: She told him her full name. Then she put out her hand, which he held a little too long. In the conversation that ensued, he didn’t directly ask for any information, but he certainly got lots of it.

He said, “I hate landing in a city and not knowing if anybody is meeting me.” The girl answered this question by saying that she didn’t know how she was getting from the airport to the house where she was staying. Billy asked another question: “Friends can really let you down sometimes.” The young girl responded by explaining, “The people I’m staying with [thus, not family] are expecting me on a later flight.”

Billy said, “I love the independence of arriving in a city when nobody knows I’m coming.” This was the virtual opposite of what he’d said a moment before about hating to arrive and not be met. He added, “But you’re probably not that independent.” She quickly volunteered that she’d been traveling on her own since she was thirteen.

 

“You sound like a woman I know from Europe, more like a woman than a teenager,” he said as he handed her his drink (Scotch), which the flight attendant had just served him. “You sound like you play by your own rules.” I hoped she would decline to take the drink, and she did at first, but he persisted, “Come on, you can do whatever you want,” and she took a sip of his drink.

I looked over at Billy, looked at his muscular build, at the old tattoo showing on the top of his wrist, and at his cheap jewelry. I noted that he was drinking alcohol on this morning flight and had no carry-on bag. I looked at his new cowboy boots, new denim pants and leather jacket. I knew he’d recently been in jail. He responded to my knowing look assertively, “How you doin’ this morning, pal? Gettin’ out of Chicago?” I nodded.

As Billy got up to go to the bathroom, he put one more piece of bait in his trap: Leaning close to the girl, he gave a slow smile and said, “Your eyes are awesome.”

In a period of just a few minutes, I had watched Billy use forced teaming (they both had nobody meeting them, he said), too many details (the headphones and the woman he knows from Europe), loan sharking (the drink offer), charm (the compliment about the girl’s eyes), and typecasting (“You’re probably not that independent”). I had also seen him discount the girl’s “no” when she declined the drink.

As Billy walked away down the aisle, I asked the girl if I could talk to her for a moment, and she hesitantly said yes. It speaks to the power of predatory strategies that she was glad to talk to Billy but a bit wary of the passenger (me) who asked permission to speak with her. “He is going to offer you a ride from the airport,” I told her, “and he’s not a good guy.”

I saw Billy again at baggage claim as he approached the girl. Though I couldn’t hear them, the conversation was apparent. She was shaking her head and saying no, and he wasn’t accepting it. She held firm, and he finally walked off with an angry gesture, not the “nice” guy he’d been up till then.

 

There was no movie on that flight, but Billy had let me watch a classic performance of an interview, that, by little more than the context (forty-year-old stranger and teenage girl alone) was high stakes.

Remember, the nicest guy, the guy with no self-serving agenda whatsoever, the one who wants nothing from you, won’t approach you at all. You are not comparing the man who approaches you to all men, the vast majority of whom have no sinister intent. Instead, you are comparing him to other men who make unsolicited approaches to women alone, or to other men who don’t listen when you say no.

 

In my firm, when we make complex, high-stakes predictions, part of the approach also involves comparison. Let’s imagine we are predicting whether a former boyfriend might act out violently toward the woman he is stalking. We first seek to identify characteristics that separate him from the population as a whole. To do this, imagine a circle containing 240 million Americans. At the center are the few thousand men who kill those they stalk. Figuratively working from an outer ring of 240 million people, we eliminate all those who are the wrong gender, too young, too old, or otherwise disqualified. We then seek to determine if this man’s behavior is most similar to those at the center of the circle.

A prediction about safety is not, of course, merely statistical or demographic. If it were, a woman crossing a park alone one late afternoon could calculate risk like this: there are 200 people in the park; 100 are children, so they cause no concern. Of the remaining 100, all but 20 are part of couples; 5 of those 20 are women, meaning concern would appropriately attach to about 15 people she might encounter (men alone). But rather than acting just on these demographics, the woman’s intuition will focus on the behavior of the 15 (and on the context of that behavior). Any man alone may get her attention for an instant, but among those, only the ones doing doingdo certain things will be moved closer to the center of the predictive circle. Men who look at her, show special interest in her, follow her, appear furtive, or approach her will be far closer to the center than those who walk by without apparent interest, or those playing with a dog, or those on a bicycle, or those asleep on the grass.

 

Speaking of crossing a park alone, I often see women violating some of nature’s basic safety rules. The woman who jogs along enjoying music through Walkman headphones has disabled the survival sense most likely to warn her about dangerous approaches: her hearing. To make matters worse, those wires leading up to her ears display her vulnerability for everyone to see. Another example is that while women wouldn’t walk around blind-folded, of course, many do not use the full resources of their vision; they are reluctant to look squarely at strangers who concern them. Believing she is being followed, a woman might take just a tentative look, hoping to see if someone is visible in her peripheral vision. It is better to turn completely, take in everything, and look squarely at someone who concerns you. This not only gives you information, but it communicates to him that you are not a tentative, frightened victim-in-waiting. You are an animal of nature, fully endowed with hearing, sight, intellect, and dangerous defenses. You are not easy prey, so don’t act like you are.

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Predictions of stranger-to-stranger crimes must usually be based on few details, but even the simplest street crime is preceded by a victim selection process that follows some protocol. More complicated crimes, such as those committed by the serial rapist and killer whom Kelly escaped from, require that a series of specific conditions be met. Some aspects of victim selection (being the right appearance or “type,” for example) are generally outside the victim’s influence, but those that involve making oneself available to a criminal, such as accessibility, setting, and circumstance (all part of context), are determinable. In other words, you can influence them. Most of all, you can control your response to the tests the interviewer applies. Will you engage in conversation with a stranger when you’d rather not? Can you be manipulated by guilt or by the feeling that you owe something to a person just because he offered assistance? Will you yield to someone’s will simply because he wants you to, or will your resolve be strengthened when someone seeks to control your conduct? Most importantly, will you honor your intuition?

Seeing the interview for what it is while it is happening doesn’t mean that you view every unexpected encounter as if it is part of a crime, but it does mean that you react to the signals if and as they occur. Trust that what causes alarm probably should, because when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways:

1. It is always in response to something.

2. It always has your best interest at heart.

Having just said that intuition is always right, I can imagine some readers resisting, so I’ll clarify. Intuition is always right in the ways I noted, but our interpretation of intuition is not always right. Clearly, not everything we predict will come to pass, but since intuition is always in response to something, rather than making a fast effort to explain it away or deny the possible hazard, we are wiser (and more true to nature) if we make an effort to identify the hazard, if it exists.

If there’s no hazard, we have lost nothing and have added a new distinction to our intuition, so that it might not sound the alarm again in the same situation. This process of adding new distinctions is one of the reasons it is difficult at first to sleep in a new house: Your intuition has not yet categorized all those little noises. On the first night, the clinking of the ice-maker or the rumbling of the water-heater might be an intruder. By the third night, your mind knows better and doesn’t wake you. You might not think intuition is working while you sleep, but it is. A book salesman I know who often returns late at night from out-of-town trips: “I can drive into the garage, open and close the back door, walk up the stairs, open the bedroom door, toss down my luggage, get undressed, and get into bed—and my wife won’t wake up. But if our four-year-old opens the door to his room in the middle of the night, my wife bolts out of bed in an instant.”

▪ ▪ ▪

Intuition is always learning, and though it may occasionally send a signal that turns out to be less than urgent, everything it communicates to you is meaningful. Unlike worry, it will not waste your time. Intuition might send any of several messengers to get your attention, and because they differ according to urgency, it is good to know the ranking. The intuitive signal of the highest order, the one with the greatest urgency, is fear; accordingly, it should always be listened to (more on that in chapter 15). The next level is apprehension, then suspicion, then hesitation, doubt, gut feelings, hunches and curiosity. There are also nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, and anxiety. Generally speaking, these are less urgent. By thinking about these signals with an open mind when they occur, you will learn how you communicate with yourself.

 

There is another signal people rarely recognize, and that is dark humor.

In one story which offers an excellent example, all the information was there like a great unharvested crop left to dry in the sun. The receptionist was off that day, so Bob Taylor and others at the California Forestry Association sorted through the mail. When they came upon the package, they looked it over and chatted about what to do with it. It was addressed to the former president of the association, and they debated whether to just forward it to him. When Gilbert Murray, the current president arrived, they brought him in on their discussion. Murray said, “Let’s open it.”

Taylor got up and cracked a joke: “I’m going back to my office before the bomb goes off.” He walked down the hall to his desk, but before he sat down, he heard the enormous explosion that killed his boss. Because of intuition, that bomb didn’t kill Bob Taylor.

All the information he needed was there and dismissed by the others, but not before Taylor’s intuition sent a signal to everyone in the clearest language: “I’m going back to my office before the bomb goes off.”

I have learned to listen to the jokes clients make when we are discussing some possible hazard. If, as I stand to leave the office of a corporate president, he says, “I’ll call you tomorrow—if I haven’t been shot,” I sit back down to get more information.

Humor, particularly dark humor, is a common way to communicate true concern without the risk of feeling silly afterwards, and without overtly showing fear. But how does this type of remark evolve? One doesn’t consciously direct the mind to search all files for something funny to say. Were that the case, Bob Taylor might have looked at this package addressed to a man who’d resigned a year earlier and more cleverly said, “It’s probably a fruitcake that’s been lost in the mail since Christmas,” or any of thousands of comments. Or he could have made no comment at all. But with this type of humor, an idea comes into consciousness that, in context, seems so outlandish as to be ridiculous. And that’s precisely why it’s funny. The point is, though, that the idea came into consciousness. Why? Because all the information was there.

 

That package sent by the Unabomber to the California Forestry Association was very heavy. It was covered with tape, had too much postage, and aroused enough interest that morning that several people speculated on whether it might be a bomb. They had noted the Oakland firm named on the return address, and had they called directory assistance, they’d have found it to be fictitious. Still, it was opened.

A few weeks earlier, advertising executive Thomas Mosser received such a package at his New Jersey home. Just before he opened it, he was curious enough to ask his wife if she was expecting a parcel. She said she was not. Mosser had asked a good question, but a moment later, he ignored the answer he’d sought. He was killed when he opened the package (also sent by the Unabomber).

Postal Inspector Dan Mihalko: “I’ve heard many times that people would make a comment, ‘This looks like a bomb,’ and still open it. That’s one for the psychologists to answer. Perhaps they don’t want to call the police and be embarrassed if it turns out to be nothing.”

The Unabomber himself has mocked some of the 23 people hurt by his bombs. Two years after being injured, Yale computer scientist David Gelenter received a letter from the Unabomber: “If you had any brains you would have realized that there are a lot of people out there who resent the way techno-nerds like you are changing the world and you wouldn’t have been dumb enough to open an unexpected package from an unknown source. People with advanced degrees aren’t as smart as they think they are.”

In fairness to the victims, I note that mail-bombs are very rare and aren’t the type of hazard one is normally concerned about, but the point is that these victims were concerned enough to comment on it. Anyway, people are just as likely to make jokes about more common crimes before sacrificing themselves to some avoidable harm.

While a group of employees at the Standard Gravure plant sat eating lunch, they heard sounds from outside. Some thought they were firecrackers, but one made a quip about an angry coworker: “That’s probably just Westbecher coming back to finish us off.” A moment later, it was indeed Joseph Westbecher who burst into the room spraying bullets, one of which hit the man who’d made the joke. Listen to humor, particularly dark humor. It can be good for more than a laugh.

 

THE MESSENGERS OF INTUITION


Nagging feelings

Persistent thoughts

Humor

Wonder

Anxiety

Curiosity

Hunches

Gut feelings

Doubt

Hesitation

Suspicion

Apprehension

Fear

 

The first messenger from Kelly’s intuition was apprehension. China Leonard got the unheeded message about her son’s surgery through a strong persistent thought. Michael Cantrell had nagging feelings about his partner’s recklessness. Bob Taylor’s survival signal about the bomb package came through dark humor. Robert Thompson got the loudest signal—fear—when he entered and then exited that convenience store.

 

That’s the same messenger a young woman named Nancy heeded as she sat in the passenger seat of a parked sports car. Her friend had left the car running when he got out to withdraw money from an ATM. Suddenly and without knowing why, Nancy felt great fear. She felt in danger, but where from? To her credit, she didn’t wait for an answer to that question. Her breathing stopped and her arms started: She scrambled to find the door locks, but it was too late. A man opened the driver’s door, got in, put a gun against her stomach, and drove the car away, kidnapping Nancy.

She hadn’t seen the man, so why the fear signal? A tiny image in the side-view mirror on the opposite side of the car, a glimpse of a three-inch section of denim—that was her signal that a man in blue jeans was too close to the car and moving too fast. That was her accurately interpreted signal that he might imminently get into the car with sinister intent. All this was gleaned from a tiny patch of blue, meaningful only in context, which she had no time to figure out but which her intuition already had figured out. If one had tried to convince Nancy to lock the car on the basis of just this fleeting blue image, she might have argued, but fear is far more persuasive than logic.

 

Nancy survived her five-hour ordeal by following another intuition: She engaged the dangerous stranger in constant conversation. Inside her head, she heard the repeated word “calm, calm, calm.” Outside, she acted as if she were speaking with a close friend. When her kidnapper ordered her out of the car behind a remote warehouse miles from the city, Nancy felt he wouldn’t shoot a person he had come to know, and she was right.

▪ ▪ ▪

I have spoken at length about the warning signs that can help you avoid being a victim of violence, but even if you make excellent predictions, you might still find yourself in danger. Though I am often asked for advice on how a person should respond to a robber or car-jacker, for example, I cannot offer a checklist of what to do for each type of hazard you could encounter, because cookie-cutter approaches are dangerous. Some people say about rape, for example, do not resist, while others say always resist. Neither strategy is right for all situations, but one strategy is: Listen to your intuition. I don’t know what might be best for you in some hazardous situation because I don’t have all the information, but you will have all the information. Do not listen to the TV news checklist of what to do, or the magazine article’s checklist of what to do, or the story about what your friend did. Listen to the wisdom that comes from having heard it all by listening to yourself.

▪ ▪ ▪

The stories in this chapter have been about dangers posed by strangers, but what about dangers that might come from those people we choose to bring into our lives as employees, employers, people we date, and people we marry? These relationships do not start with the first meeting—we meet many people we don’t keep in our lives. Our relationships actually start with predictions, predictions that determine—literally—the quality and course of our lives. So it is time to take a look at the quality of those predictions.






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