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.
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.