- No, you probably wouldn’t have tackled that rampaging gunman and brought his workplace shooting to a halt.
- No, you probably wouldn’t have stopped that dangerous scene at the kink club.
- No, you probably wouldn’t have punched out that abuser who was molesting you when you weren’t expecting it.
Because those last words are the critical ones: when you weren’t expecting it.
The problem is that you’re not continually braced for the unexpected, and so when these extraordinary things happen to you, you’re not in the frame of mind of “This is a shooting” but rather mired in a muddled stew of “Wait, what’s going on here? Are those firecrackers? Am I overreacting? Does that guy really have a gun, or am I going to tackle some random dude for no good reason and make a fool out of myself?”
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s see what someone who survived the Columbine massacre has to say:
“I was thinking it sounded like firecrackers, and that it was just a weird sound to hear at that time of day.”
By the time you hear about it, you’re presented with a nice headline that is also an easy conclusion: Mass shooting. Kink scene gone wrong. Rape. But you wouldn’t have had information like that available to you at the moment of the incident.
Instead, you’re spending time you could have been a Big Damn Hero merely trying to figure out what the hell is happening.
And there are significant disincentives to coming to the wrong conclusion. Yes, it’s awesome if you see that rope scene is dangerous, and override the dungeon monitors to swoop in with a knife and scream, “THAT HARDPOINT IS INSUFFICIENT FOR THE BOTTOM’S WEIGHT!” But you know what’s not awesome?
You swooping in and ruining someone’s scene because you, you idiot, didn’t understand how hardpoints worked at this club and in fact everything was just right and you now have made a total ass of yourself.
Again, it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback when you know what the results were – but here in not-action-hero-land, you’re contemplating what an idiot you’ll look like if you make a bold, dangerous move and it turns out you were wrong.
Tackle a gunman, you’re a hero. Tackle a guy holding a stapler, and you’re the talk of the office for years.
Then add that to the fact that things don’t often look like they do in movies. Gunmen don’t always burst in through the door, dressed in conveniently color-coded black, to shout their intentions. Your molester probably isn’t wearing a balaclava and jumping out at you from the bushes, they can be an acquaintance who’s saying quite nice things as they ignore your discomfort. And the people running dangerous scenes aren’t comedy-doofy – they often look like they’re taking things quite seriously.
So you’re likely to do what most people do, which is to take your cues from the people around you – wasting more time as you make eye contact and go, “Is everyone else seeing this?” And of course, most of them are looking back to you, herd instinct in search of a conclusion.
Because at this point, you don’t really have a conclusion. You just have a bunch of facts fluttering around. Tomorrow’s headlines will have the conclusions, but you’re not reading them.
Yet even when you do come to the conclusion of something as distasteful as Yes, I am being molested, then there’s that final layer of confusion: Am I positive this is happening?
Because, remember, this is an unexpected situation. Thankfully, you probably don’t deal with people trying to fondle your genitals without permission all the time. So when that happens, your brain often glitches from the unexpected input, throwing up a dialogue box that wastes more time: “This is really weird! Are you certain this is what’s actually going on? Y/N.”
And by the time you finally process through all of this confusion, and the potential embarrassment of getting it wrong, and the unreality, it may be too late to do anything worthwhile. The guns have been fired, the bottom has fallen, your body’s been violated.
Then people will yell at you because “They would have known” what to do.
There is one exception, however. Quite often, you would know what to do, because it’s not unexpected to you. You’ve experienced this before – perhaps under tragic circumstances, but this is nothing new to you.
Most of the folks who’d know what to do if some random asshole threw a punch at them have, not coincidentally, been in lots of fights before. Lots of the people who have no problem raising the alarms when some skeeve starts making nonconsensual moves on them have, sadly, dealt with an abundance du skeeve. And the people who’d be comfortable intervening solo in a dangerous scene are often experienced DMs, or teachers, or both.
And I’m glad those people are there to step in. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t step up when the time calls – you absolutely should, if you can do so and protect your own safety. Any time someone in the community can rally and shut down a dangerous event before it gets rolling is a good moment.
But every time some bad incident happens, I hear people saying, “Well, that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been there.” They say it by the hundreds, until the Internet would have you believe that everyone in existence is a coiled spring of justice, eternally braced for the most unusual incidents, and these constant dribbles of disappointment are some whacky exception.
Alas. We’re human. Humans generally react poorly to unexpected stimuli. And as much as I’d love it if we all had the correct initial reaction, the sad truth is that by the time we’ve figured out what’s happening, whether we’re sure it’s happening, and what to do to stop it from happening… it’s happened.
The best you can do is try to expect the unexpected. But how easy is that, really?
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
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