The Cornered Cat
The Road Not Taken

They say hindsight is 20/20. When you look behind you, you can always see clearly what you should have done, how you should have acted, what you should have said. Hindsight always whispers, “Well, if only you had done x, then z would have happened.”

Hindsight is a liar. You can’t see an unchosen future any better in retrospect than you could see it the first time around.

Let me try that again: We have this idea that from the future, you can know what would have happened if… We call this idea “hindsight.” And it is a bitter, stupid lie. Why? Because looking back tells you exactly what did happen in the past, on the road you did take, and that’s all it tells you. You know exactly how the world looks from the path you did choose. So maybe you want to go back for a do-over. Looking back, you think you know exactly where you went wrong. You think you know where that other road – the one you did not take – would have led.

Wanna bet?

Even knowing how your previous choices turned out, you still don’t know how any other choices would have worked. You never get to see what was down that other path, because you didn’t walk down it to find out. Looking back from your lofty perch in next week, you still don’t know what would have happened if you’d taken that road less traveled. You only know what happened on the road you actually took. No matter blatantly wrong (or gloriously right!) your old choices seem when you look back at them, your deceptively clear hindsight absolutely never, ever tells you what would have happened if you had made other choices. It only tells you what actually did happen. Nothing more.

Okay, let’s bring this back to my world – the world of self defense. I need to beg your indulgence and forgiveness for something I have done in the past, something I vow here to never to do again. From this date forward, I will do my best never to second guess a survivor. “Well, if you’d only (said this, done that, moved this way or asserted yourself in that way)…”

That’s an expert’s lie. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into in the past, to my shame. Because it is a lie. It presupposes that the expert can somehow see down an untaken road into a future that never happened. But she can’t see down that road any more than you could, either in the past or today. An expert does have some specialized knowledge, but she can’t see into the future, not even an unchosen future.

The best the honest expert can do is point out statistics and trends, possibilities and probabilities. She can tell you how someone’s behavior fit inside known paradigms for criminal victimization, or avoided those paradigms. She can explain how to reduce your odds of being attacked and she can teach you how to improve your odds of survival if you are attacked.

She can offer no guarantees. Because life does not come with those.

And she can never – with any degree of integrity whatsoever – say she knows how the story would have ended if only one of the participants had done something the participant didn’t do at the time.

Holding onto your integrity as an expert means you can’t pretend to know more than you do. Fortune-telling and soothsaying take no integrity. Just unjustified, overdone confidence reaching to arrogance.

8 Responses to The Road Not Taken

  1. Shandower says:

    When people ask me how/why I got into guns, I usually start with a story about how I got shot by a lazy mugger (the shoot first, demand after type). At the time, the concept of awareness levels and concealed carry were not something I was remotely aware of.

    Several times now, immediately following the telling of that story, I have heard comments like:

    “It’s a good thing you WEREN’T armed, because you might have shot the mugger!”

    and..

    “If you had had a gun you probably would have ended up dead.”

    To your point, yes, it’s pointless to say what MIGHT have happened if I had been armed. Or even if I had been more aware. Or maybe if I had chosen to walk on the side of the street without hedges. If. Might. Maybe.

    But there are so many OTHER maybes. What if the mugger just picked someone else? What if the shot had missed me entirely? What if he had hit a couple inches left and killed me outright?

    There are so many factors in the entire attack that beating myself up for how I reacted AFTER the main event seems pretty pointless. As for OTHER people armchair quarterbacking what I MIGHT have done differntly, well… I like to think the attacker choked to death on a corndog the following day.

    It MIGHT have happened that way. Who’s to say?

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  3. elogan says:

    Students in my firearms classes who have had rape, assault, etc. incidents in their past often ask me what they *should* have done. I tell them that since they’re sitting in the class, they clearly survived, and that means that they did the right thing for that moment in time. If you survived, you did the right thing. Period. Congratulate yourself and move on.

    • Tom Walls says:

      ‘Zackly !!! I also get questions from students… what to do, what gun is best etc. I often answer with a question (forgive me, Mom); “What’s the Mission ?? ” What are you trying to acheive, what is the goal, what is the desired outcome ? It’s a wonderfully clarifying question.

      You can only act based on the circumstances and with the tools and skills you have at that time, in the time frame Fate gives you. “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”

    • helkat says:

      A good summation. Sadly, moving on is very difficult for some.

    • kparker says:

      Or, turn the question around. “Anything in life can be a learning experience. Is there anything *you* think you might have done differently?”

  4. larryarnold says:

    Since I teach self-defense and work with a rape crisis agency, I get all kinds of stories.
    1. You survived, that’s what counts.
    2. What did you/can you learn from the incident?

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