Violence happens every day. Example. Example. Example. We all know this. It’s evident from watching the nightly news that awful things are a daily occurrence in life. But do we ever really believe that it will happen to us? Humans tend to think that brutality happens to other people, or it comes from being in the ‘wrong’ side of town (which says a lot about our own assumptions). But the truth is that violence happens anywhere.
This blog post isn’t just doom and gloom; it isn’t designed to make anyone paranoid. Rather, this essay is to point out common blind spots in our thinking. Optimism bias is the belief that for any action, we as individuals, will have better outcomes than those around us. One example is “smokers believing that they are less likely to contract lung cancer or disease than other smokers.” Another example, and more important to this conversation, is that we believe we are less at risk of being a crime victim than other people. Optimism bias is a strong evolutionary trait that makes it possible for humans to exist and take risks, but it can also make us complacent in our safety.
Last year at a Counterpoint Tactical Systems (CTS) seminar, Master Zach Whitson talked about a list in one of Ed Parker’s books on Kenpo that had profound effect on him. The list detailed preparatory considerations for the martial arts. The idea at the top of the list was acceptance. Master Whitson went on to talk about accepting that violence can happen to any of us. The discussion forced me to examine my own thought processes. If I really looked at myself and was honest, I found that I had optimism bias in two ways.
The first bias was that a violent street encounter would not happen to me. The second bias was that I could handle myself in a violent street encounter. I practice a martial arts system designed for the realities of the street right? CTS is an art dedicated to training with weapons or empty hands. It explores all ranges of personal defense and assumes multiple opponents. I study my art by practicing with capable individuals who challenge me. In other words, I was a full blown victim of overconfidence. CTS gives me the tools to defend myself if I have to but it doesn’t it make me invincible. For example, I could slip and fall during an attack. What if the first move is getting stunned by a taser? What if my attacker is simply a better fighter than I am?
Optimism bias is bolstered by confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to believe information that confirms what we know and discount information that disagrees with our beliefs. For example of how these concepts work together, examine this statement: “since violence hasn’t happened to me (confirmation bias), it must mean that violence can’t happen to me (optimism bias).” These two concepts work together as a cycle of reinforced beliefs that skews our perception of reality. The confirmation bias that I suffered from an inflation of the ego. CTS is an art with excellent concepts and training models. I work with and hold my own with talented martial artists; so, this means that I must be prepared for everything. Right? Sadly, no. Humans are infinitely strange and creative. This past weekend at kickball, a player on the opposing team got so angry about an interpretation of the rules, he tried to start a fight. I was definitely not prepared for that.
How does knowing about these biases help us? Well, it’s rather simple. We have to accept that violence can happen to us. This acceptance comes about by determining our assumptions about daily violence. Why do we think violence won’t happen to us? What do we do to protect ourselves from it? Then, we can examine our assumptions for these biases.
Acceptance is a difficult psychological concept to achieve, but it is important. There’s a reason that acceptance is the final phase of the Kubler-Ross model of grief (also known as the five stages of grief). Acceptance brings us back to reality. We are forced to deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be.
 Ed Parker’s “Infinite Insights into Kenpo” Book 1 Chapter 11
 Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and nothing happened. I thought my days of fighting over kickball were done when I moved on to junior high school. You might have anger problems if you want to start a fight at adult KICKBALL.
 This is different than saying it will happen; we are acknowledging that the possibility exists everywhere. I hesitate to write the previous sentence because it has tones of paranoia. I’m not saying that everyone is out to get you or that the world is always unsafe. Just realize violence happens, that it is a possibility.