The Cornered Cat
Coulda Woulda Shoulda

Some time back, there was a news story about a concealed carry person who tried to intervene to stop a public mass murder. He was in a store when he heard yells, screams, and gunfire from the front of the building, and he told his friend he was going to try to stop the attacker. Unfortunately, there wasn’t just one killer, but two — and the second killer shot and killed the would-be good Samaritan as he focused in on the person who appeared to be the only threat.

Rotten outcome, right.

We naturally want to re-tell the story in a way that makes the good people live, the bad people get what’s coming to them, and no permanent harm done to anyone. We want a happy ending.

How do we get that happy outcome? We start fiddling around with the variables: “Well, if he had only …” and “If I were there, I would have…” and “What he should have done was…”

When we start playing the coulda-woulda-shoulda game, it’s usually because we’re looking for some kind of guarantee. We want to say that if only someone in the news had done everything our way, everything would have ended well.

Two problems with that:

1) We don’t know how it would have ended if the good guy had done anything different than what he actually did. Hindsight¬†is not 20/20, no matter what the old proverb might claim. Hindsight only tells us what did happen. It never tells us what would have happened if.

2) We don’t know if he could have come to peace with making with the choice we would have made in the same circumstances. One person’s (hypothetical) choice to walk away from a situation that does not involve them might be something they could easily live with. But that same decision might give another person screaming nightmares or sleepless nights of regret for the entire rest of their life.

So in the story that opened this post, the doomed hero’s choice to run to the sound of the guns may have been a valid choice for him, even in hindsight and even though he ultimately died. Too bad we can’t pull him out of his grave to ask if it was worth it… by his measure and meaning of “worth it.” Because by his standards of action, maybe it was. After all, the attackers didn’t kill anyone else after he got involved. Was giving up his life for that outcome worth it to him?¬†We don’t know.

The horrifying reality is… there really aren’t any guarantees of a good outcome when lives are on the line. To be really prepared to protect yourself and your loved ones means that you have thought about and ultimately accepted many different possible outcomes of acting in self defense, including the awful ones. It means you have looked at both the positive and the negative possibilities, without glossing them over or shoving the bad ones aside in favor of a fantasy where it always only ends well as long as you follow the steps.

Related food for thought: If you’re going to die anyway, what do you want your family’s last memory of you to be? Do you want them to remember you cowering under the furniture and huddling together with other helpless people as you await the final blow? Or do you want your family to remember you bravely facing danger, running toward the sound of the guns, determined to save innocent lives? (Alternately: do you want them to remember you holding hands with the fearful, terrified innocents, comforting them and ultimately sheltering them with your own body? Or do you want your family to remember you abandoning innocent others to rush toward danger in a doomed, foolhardy attempt to be some kind of hero?)

These choices and others like them are the things a well-prepared person looks at and considers for themselves. It’s not a job anyone else can do for us. We have to do on our own, inside our own selves. And it’s good to re-visit our own choices from time to time, whenever we hear another story on the news of people acting to defend themselves and the people around them, whether or not the outcome was one we would cheer for.

That’s hard work. It’s easier to retreat into platitudes and bluster and fantasies that tell us we know how the story will end. More comfortable, certainly.

But it’s better to be prepared.

One Response to Coulda Woulda Shoulda

  1. larryarnold says:

    The 2005 shootout at the Tyler Courthouse had a similar outcome, being one of the few where the killer actually had a protective vest.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyler_courthouse_shooting

    Some situations are survivable, some are not; but having a gun and knowing how to use it improves the odds.

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