This Is Self Defense

If you haven’t already heard it, go listen to Antoinette Tuff dealing with the man who came into her elementary school armed to the teeth.

The first thing that strikes me in listening to this conversation is how calm her voice is. Certainly she must have been frightened, but it never shows in her voice or her actions.

The other thing you can hear in this conversation is that she’s dealing with the shooter with compassion, one human being to another. I suspect she had an instinctive feeling that he would respond to such treatment, and her instinct turned out to be right.

This is the best example of self defense — and defense of others — that I’ve seen in a long time.

Ms. Tuff did two key things here. She stayed calm and she picked up clues from the man who invaded the school. Something told her that if she talked to him in a calm voice, with respect and compassion, she might be able to talk him down. And she did.

It goes without saying that this took a lot of courage. Many people would have panicked, tried to run, screamed at him, or tried to attack him. In this situation, that would likely have led to a lot of people getting killed.

She was brave, she responded appropriately, and no one died. That’s self defense in a nutshell.

I am not saying this is the only way people can — or even should — defend themselves. What I am saying is that self defense is not synonymous with guns or fighting skills. It’s a whole array of skills, and Ms. Tuff displayed two of the most important: she stayed calm and she trusted her instincts.

Gavin de Becker, a self defense expert, writes about instinct in The Gift of Fear. One thing he says — and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have the book handy — is that you often don’t know why your instinct is telling you to take a particular action because you haven’t had time to look at the situation intellectually. But a lifetime of dealing with other human beings has given most of us the ability to pick up a lot of clues about their intentions from body language, voice tone, and a variety of other small clues. De Becker tells people to act on this instinct and figure out the why later.

My own experience in a few tight corners has led me to agree with de Becker.

If Ms. Tuff’s instincts had told her the man was going to shoot regardless of anything she said, she probably would have done something different — run when she had a chance, perhaps, or tried to get the gun away from him at great risk to her own life. But fortunately, this wasn’t that kind of situation.

Even if Ms. Tuff was a crack shot and had a loaded gun handy, what she did was the right thing to do. This wasn’t a situation that called for shooting someone; it was a situation that called for talking that person down.

The most perfect  self defense situation is the one in which no one gets hurt, even the person who started the trouble. That’s what happened here. Hooray for Antoinette Tuff.



This Is Self Defense — 5 Comments

  1. I’m reading THE ALPHABET VERSUS THE GODDESS (recommended by someone right here on this blog), which among other things is about left-brain versus right-brain cognition. The right brain is the body-language, expression-assessing, nuance-reading bit of us, and it is faster than the left brain — but not verbal. In other words, you feel such knowledge before you can say it. Clearly Ms. Tuff has a well-developed intuitive side.

    • I was just at an NVC workshop tonight, Dave. Very interesting, though I suspect developing a level of competence at it would take a significant amount of time.