Compared to 18 years of living at home, college is a distant land with loose rules, greater freedom, and endless opportunities to meet people we don’t know. As a result, safety-minded college students learn to heighten their awareness and make threat assessments by listening to their intuition. In his bestselling book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker writes a survival guide perfect for the incoming college freshman, describing human intuition as the key to staying safe.
Nature’s gift to us is intuition. The survival of every species, including human beings, depends on the ability to sense or intuit danger, i.e. assess threats and act. Notice I didn’t write think about danger. Unlike every other animal on earth, humans — with our logic oriented brains — often overthink potentially dangerous situations. When a rabbit feels danger, it sprints away without thinking: It senses danger, so it escapes danger. Yet often when we encounter a stranger (or even someone we do know) who gives us the creeps, we try to be nice and convince ourselves, “Just be nice and don’t make a scene.”
Let’s imagine you are carrying groceries across campus to your dorm and a stranger who doesn’t appear to be your typical college student walks right up to you and insists on helping with your bags. Two red flags, already: First, he looks and acts a bit different than your typical college guy. When you are aware of what is normal (typical college guy), it’s easier to notice the abnormal – someone who doesn’t belong. Second red flag: He isn’t asking if you need help, he’s demanding that he help. He’s so assertive that you begin to feel uncomfortable.
At this point, the rabbit would be gone. Yet as humans, we’re going to overthink it. We might think it’s rude to just say “No. I don’t want your help. Go away.” Yet, because we choose to be polite instead of safe, we let him help and now he’s inside our building, insisting again (i.e. demanding) to take our groceries up the stairs. What’s his next demand? You got it. He enters your room as you open the door, and he locks the door behind him. Now it’s just you and him behind a locked door. If that had been a real scenario (and it has been for many women) don’t you wish you had been rude in public when he first insisted on “helping” you?
I encourage everyone – particularly women — to harness the power of the word No. It is not rude to say No, it’s smart. (If you are a woman and you do need help with your groceries, etc., just ask another woman for help.) The word No communicates “I’m not an easy target” and the men who attack women will cowardly move on to more vulnerable prey. In these situations, I encourage all women to be rude and vocal about their personal safety.
Ed Hinman is the Director of Recruitment, Selection, and Training at Gavin de Becker & Associates, a threat assessment and executive protection firm that advises and protects the nation’s most at-risk public figures and organizations. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Hinman served eight years in the United States Marine Corps before beginning his private security career in Los Angeles.