A lot of people, when they look at a scenario that they see described online, react emotionally to that description. They then announce what they “would have done” if it happened to them. And that response is almost always based on the way they feel at the moment they read or see the scenario. I feel [angry, upset, disgusted] right now as I read this story, therefore I would do X if that were happening to me. Take a look at the comments section of any news story that involves pedophilia, for example, and you’ll see what I mean. The “I would have …” reactions to such stories are not often very realistic. But they do express deep emotional truths.
What people often miss is that inside the criminal event as it is actively unfolding, they won’t feel the same way they feel right now. Right now they feel un-threatened but also angry. Right now they know how the story ends. Right now they are alone, in social isolation. But in the actual moment, they may feel confused, or embarrassed, or uncertain, or frightened. They will certainly feel some type of social pressure, whether to respond more strongly or not to respond at all. Anger leads to one action, fear to a different one, confusion and embarrassment to other actions. And social pressure is both real and powerful.
But even though emotions are powerful motivators to act, they are poor at helping us decide which actions to take. That is a job for the calm, reasoning mind.
And this is why, when a scenario that you see online or read or hear about gets you emotionally stirred up, it is important to take note of how you feel as you think about those events. Then take time to think about what other emotions you might realistically feel in the heat of the moment. Think about the sounds, sights, smells of the event. Think about the confusion at the beginning of the event. Think about the other people who could be around (children, spouse, co-worker, boss, stranger, pastor or mentor, friend who hates guns or fears violence, friend who also carries …). Will other people help you respond appropriately, or push you into an extreme reaction that’s maybe not justified? Will the presence of other people maybe stop you from reacting at all? (What will the neighbors think? What will my my children see me doing here?) Explore all the emotions these questions might stir up. Pay attention to them. Think about the social pressures you might face and think deeply about the effects they might have on your motivation to act.
But then also set those emotions aside and think as calmly and as reasonably as you can about what would be the smart and legal action to take inside that scenario. Given the emotions you yourself are likely to feel in a similar situation to this one, what are you realistically able and willing to do? Does what you reasonably believe you are likely to do match up with what you believe you should do? If not, what would it take to move yourself into a stronger position of response?
Emotions will always be there, and they are an important component of how people respond under pressure, but they are poor guides to good judgment.