Trigger Types: Confirmation, Opportunity and Necessity – Schalk Holloway

We can set our triggers in two broad categories – proactive and reactive. Proactive is when we still have initiative. Reactive is when the aggressor has initiative. Confirmation Triggers fall into a proactive sphere. Opportunity Triggers and Necessity Triggers fall into a reactive sphere. When we are proactive we are acting. When we are reactive we are reacting. Meaning, when I notice a potential threat, I can flag him, decide or select certain triggers, and when I see them I act. Reactive means I have missed that evaluation process and I am now left responding to the confirmed threat’s initiative.

For example. Proactive is when I flag a pair of potential muggers before they attack. I can now set “if one of them pulls a knife I will do this” or “if one of them demands something from me” as a signal, trigger and response. A Confirmation Trigger was used. If I miss flagging the potential muggers and they jump me with a knife against my throat I have to kick into reactive mode. I can still run an IF THEN clause but now I will need to set Opportunity or Necessity Triggers. In terms of Opportunity it can be something like “if knife guy looks away I will do this.” In terms of Necessity it can be something like “if his buddy says kill him then I will do this.”

This breakdown of Confirmation, Opportunity and Necessity Triggers serves as a great training tool. It helps the learner to understand different tactics as well as wisdom in terms of when to deploy certain types of techniques. It also serves as an easy way to categorize the triggers into more memorable subsets.

Negative Influence Factors
All though there are others I am going to list the main negative influence factors in executing this Just Right Response.

1. Emotional State
If I can use an analogy that is still very active in our industry, this question has to do with whether the defender is functioning with his human (cognitive), monkey (emotional) or lizard (survival) brain. The decision making processes and goals differ in all three of these states. They form a linear line with human on the one side and lizard on the other. By implication, the more you go to the one side the less in control the other side is. Your emotional state thus influences your ability to make certain types of decisions.

The primary emotions we deal with in confrontations are fear and indignation or anger. The more scared or angry you get the more difficult it becomes to make good decisions. The problem with this is that the moment you become emotionally led you don’t always notice it. You think you are functioning normally but seldomly are. I’m not speaking about becoming or trying to be completely unemotional. It is normal, healthy, and can be beneficial for you to experience certain emotional and physiological changes under these conditions – I am talking about the fine line where you move from experiencing them to becoming led by them.

Going back to our thinking on a Just Right Response is becomes glaringly obvious that your emotional state can seriously influence this. If the emotions of fear or anger take over you might respond in any one of these: Too fast, too late, with too much force or with too little. Remember you observe and interpret data differently when emotional, you orient yourself differently to incoming data as well, so any decision you make is based on possibly faulty data. If your freeze response kicks in you might respond too late and with no force. If your fight response kicks in you possibly respond too fast and with too much force. The idea is to try and remain in control until it’s necessary or wise not to do so any more.

2. Accurate Mental Models
All of us store models of what threat signals look like in our subconscious. Your foundational models are based on simplistic data sets – an object travelling at your head really fast or a sudden shadow moving into your line of sight or a really loud bang. The reality however is that criminal attacks, depending on the type of criminal or attack, can send out very complex or minute signals that they are a threat. Also, the effective criminal works hard at actually hiding these already complex or minute signals. Understanding what valid threat signals LOOK or SOUND or FEEL or SMELL like is key to setting up a Just Right Response.

This is difficult without much experience and/or good training. The problem with much experience is the obvious and inherent dangers involved. Yes, we can learn first hand about the signals, the twitch we missed, the change in face colouration we missed, the slight shift in stance we missed, the hand ducking behind the back or into a pocket that we missed, the momentary change in his eyes and where they’re focusing, we can learn from these but we’re not guaranteed to walk away in one piece.

The problem with training is twofold. First of all it’s just whether you are training with these signals integrated or not in the first place – and whether you are being encouraged to explore, set and practice your triggers. Second of all it’s whether it’s being done in a realistic manner. Remember, you won’t just be dealing with the physical signals, but also with things like emotional state, presence, projection of power and intimidation, all of these change your brain’s ability to deal with the situation effectively as it provides more incoming data albeit at a more subconscious level.

3. Data Overload
Data overload can be approached from two different angles – time constraints and volume. Both of them create an overload effect. The first creates it due to the fact that your brain does not have enough time to deal with all of the incoming signals. The second creates it due to pure volume. There is simply too much happening at once for your brain to deal with it effectively.

Data overload is one of the key motivators for hammering effective situational awareness and range skills into our students. If you are able to pick up the development of a situation in a timely manner then you will have, by definition, more time to evaluate the incoming signals accurately. If you ingrain the simple, but not always so easy, habit of maintaining certain ranges from potential threats you immediately buffer your abilities substantially. The shorter the range the less time you have to evaluate and make decisions. The shorter the range the less you can see and less data you available to accurately evaluate and make decisions.

Training Tips
Signal and Trigger Discussions
Most of self defense training is geared towards the response side of this process. Consider stopping your class every now and again asking them about signals – and then about their individual triggers. Keep it short, maybe a minute or two. This will also help you pick up whether they actually have a good knowledge base of signals and a good idea of what would be good triggers for them as individuals.

Pick a Number
When doing striking combinations or pad work let the students pick a number between one and five. Let them pull of the combo when they hear that number. Then with variations in tempo, rhythm and volume count from one to five. The idea is that they only strike when they hear their number – and do so fast and effectively. Change it randomly switching over to the alphabet or different number strings.

Scenario Training
Include full blown scenario training into your classes. Teach your students how to realistically model certain signals when they are playing the role of the aggressor. Also, consider getting involved every now and again. Unexpected jump in on a scenario and really amp up the pressure. Or do something new. This will cause them to go either into an unplanned emotional or data overload state – or trip up their existing mental models.

*These are concepts and models that we, as in our training community, frequently use. This is the first time that I have attempted to pen them down upon Gary’s request. If any of the readers have any input or relevant research to share it would be much appreciated.

Dynamic Decision Making Process – Schalk Holloway

“So when do I actually hit him?”

This is a question I frequently get in training environments or events we host. The reason for this is that all of our training includes a situational, or scenario, component. We role play different types of situations more prevalent within our context. We then teach our “aggressors” how to escalate the situation they’re role playing realistically. This however always leads to someone wondering at which point they should now react. This sounds easier than it actually is. Due to the inherent dynamism in potentially violent encounters, or even in verbal confrontations and conflicts, it is difficult to have catch all answer to this problem. In retrospect we can say that then or there was the perfect time to react. Whilst there it’s not always so clear. Also, if we think about training, our role as provider is to help others to think right, we need to teach them to evaluate for themselves when they should react.

This article will help you to explore, and hopefully better equip you to train yourself and others on, some the dynamics involved in preparing yourself to respond effectively in developing situations. It is going to do so through helping you to understand the importance of being able to make decisions dynamically as a situation develops. It will also delve into some of the challenges this progressive decision making faces and give you some tips on how to train it.

Just Right Decisions – Timing and Force

In self defense specifically, as in boundary enforcement (Just Right Boundary Enforcement, Erik Kondo), there is what we would call a Just Right Response. Just right specifically in terms of the timing of the response as well as the amount of force used in the response.

In terms of timing it’s easy to understand that responding either too early or too late can have negative consequences. If I respond too early I lose my ability to legally justify the response because it essentially means that I responded before there was a valid Confirmed Threat Indicator (as opposed to only a Potential Threat Indicator). If I respond too late it means that I have just lost initiative. I’ve now been forced into a reactive pattern. There are quite a few negative consequences here. First of all, we are much less effective when we are responding as our decision making ability is greatly hampered by all of the incoming data. Second, losing initiative means that I now stand the chance of being injured first, which could lead to serious complications and even death.

In terms of the amount of force that we use there’s also a just right decision that needs to made. Using too little force could mean that my response is ineffectual. This has a couple of negative consequences of which I’ll highlight two. First, there’s a psychological factor involved for both parties. I know I responded ineffectual and this could hamper my confidence going forward. He knows it too and this could fuel his confidence. Secondly, when we think about the physical side of a confrontation, too little force could once again bring us back to being injured and all of the bad stuff included there. Using too much force we now get faced with both the emotional and legal fallout that will follow. From experience I always tell others, whether you hurt somebody for good, whether you hurt them for bad, whether you used just enough or too much force, at some stage it comes back to haunt you. You never want to be the guy that puts his head down at night and wonders whether you were justified in severely hurting or killing another human being. If you can’t answer that question with a good conscience you have some problems on the way.

So our goal is to find a Just Right Response. Under extremely dynamic situations. This is what Progressive Decision Making Ability is about. It’s about training the ability to make those decisions effectively under pressure.

Progressive Decision Making

Progressive decision making is the discipline and art of arranging signals and triggers to support us in making Just Right Responses.

We arrange Signals, Threats and Responses like this. The Signals are all the indicators that a person or persons (or situation) is a potential or a confirmed threat. A Trigger is the imaginary line in the sand. It is the moment at which I feel I now have to respond. The Response is the action that I take when triggered. A Response can be Too Much or Too Little, Too Soon or Too Late, as already discussed. The goal though is to be able to pick up on signals, select or have pre selected triggers in place, so that we can set up a Just Right Response.

Without spending too much time Boyd’s OODA loop model, one large take-away is the fact that decision precedes action. When we are able to make a specific decision about something we set ourselves up to take action more in line with our preferred outcome. Our Triggers are these decisions because essentially that’s what a line in the sand is. A visual or conceptual representation of a decision. Procrastination is not the lack of action – it’s the lack of deciding to act. In self defense, or in most types of confrontation or conflict, procrastination frequently leads to timing related consequences. For now it’s important to understand that I need to make decisions when in a hostile encounter. The decisions are mostly IF THEN clauses. IF person or persons A does this THEN I do that.

Progressive Decision Making is the ability to make those decisions as the incoming data develops.

For example. I’m sitting in a pub having a beer. A guy comes in through the door. His demeanor is subtly aggressive. I make a decision (trigger) that “if he gets really loud, demanding or confrontational with anyone (signals) I’m flagging him as a potential threat (response)”. He orders a beer and starts talking to another guy next to him at the bar. He systematically gets louder and more confrontational. I now flag him as a potential threat. Due to many factors however he’s not really a potential threat to me. However, I make the decision (trigger) that “if he comes over and starts talking with me (signal) I will flag him as a potential threat to me (response).” Low and behold, he catches my eye and over he comes. I converse with him congenially but I make a decision (trigger) that (for example) “if he gets argumentative (signal) I’ll excuse myself and leave (response).” Surely he does become argumentative and I congenially excuse myself and get ready to leave. I make two last decisions (triggers), one, “if he insults me I will continue to leave,” but two, “if he touches me I will hit him so hard that his head will smack the floor before his feet lift from it.”

This is a process that most of us go through without being aware that we are doing so. The challenge however is that if you are not experienced or trained in these matters you either miss the signals or you don’t set the triggers. Failure in either of these leads to inadequate responses.

Relativistic Nature of of Triggers

It is important to understand that there are some factors that should influence the selection of triggers. These factors are based on physical attributes, training and experience background, and situational development.

First of all remember, signals are what the other party is displaying, triggers are your own personal lines in the sand.

1.  Physical Attributes

My wife has been struggling with one of her knees for a couple of years now. She struggles to run fast as she experiences a lot of pain. This means, that any response that is geared towards escaping or leaving an area fast, will be problematic for her. This isn’t necessarily a crisis – it just means that her trigger or her line in the sand needs to be a bit further away from the critical incident than, say, mine has to be.

For example, both of us are in a shopping centre, we pick up aggressive and demanding signals from a guy at one of the fast food outlets’ paypoints. There are some other signals as well. Aggressive guy is dressed anomalous, it’s warm weather but he has a jacket on. The cashier is glancing at his waist the whole time looking nervous. We cannot see if he’s holding something there and we cannot hear what’s happening. It could be a robbery or it could be an argument over a till slip he’s holding. The signals are the same for both of us. However, a trigger for me might be “if I see him pull a gun I’m out of here.” A trigger for her might be further from such a critical incident. It might be “if he starts yelling or someone screams I’m out of here.”

In this way your physical attributes like strength, athleticism, ease of communication, fitness and so forth might influence your own personal triggers.

2. Training and Experience

Let’s imagine that we’re in a situation that, if it evolves into a full blown physical encounter, it will remain within the sphere of hand to hand combat. Ie. No chance of weapons. I’m standing at the bar ordering a drink. All of a sudden the guy next to me looks towards me and shouts “hey man, what’s your problem?” I did not do anything to him. I didn’t touch him, bump him, look at him, spill my drink on him, engage with anyone in his party in any way. So as far as I’m concerned the signals he’s giving off is that he’s looking for a fight.

I attempt to de-escalate the situation verbally. Whilst doing so I start to make my IF THEN decisions. I set my triggers. Here’s the problem though. Let’s imagine I’m 5’6” and he’s about 6’6”. If I have no relevant training I might decide “if he shifts his stance to face me I’m out of here.” If I have some training I might use the same trigger but respond “then I’m going to punch him.” If I’m really well trained and experienced my response can be “then I’m subtly going to match his footwork, set up the range so it works in my favor, get my hands into a good position, start to pick the best attack vector, and continue to try and de-escalate.”

Training and experience essentially allows us to come closer to the critical incident before we act. It also gives us more options in terms of how we can act. Training and experience, in legal expectations as well as in my own personal opinion, also leave us with the responsibility to attempt to have a more positive impact in a peaceful resolution to the situation.

3. Roles and Responsibilities

This is the dynamic of how close or far we, as an individual, HAVE TO or EXPERIENCE WE HAVE TO set our triggers to the actual critical incident. It is easier and less complex to set up triggers and responses very far from the critical incident. Certain individuals though, either through choice, sense of responsibility, or employment expectations, are required to get really really close, even INTO, the critical incident. Think predators, law enforcement, military, security professional, certain bystanders, paramedic and so forth.

In all three of these subcategories it becomes clear that triggers are sometimes very subjective by nature.

Why Do We Do It? – Schalk Holloway

I’ve seen some of the looks in people’s faces when I tell them I teach close combat for a living.

There are different types of looks; some of these looks lean towards the positive and others toward the negative. One of them I frequently get is this litle frown coupled with a tad of confusion, as if to ask why would anyone do that for a living? Why would you teach people to hurt or kill other human beings? Why would you break your body week after week and year after year for what is usually not that big of an income? Why would you do this knowing that your retirement prospects probably don’t look that good? Why would you spend most of your life purposely focused on negative things like violence, aggression, crime, injury and death?

This question of why is important. Why do we do what we do?

What Happens When We Forget?

The question is important because if we don’t answer it clearly we run into problems:

The first things to go are usually our peace and our joy. We tend to become frustrated human beings. We mostly try to hide this frustration but it always seeps through – classes are a bit tougher, patience is a bit thinner, how we interact with our students and our clients go slightly off. This is not good. And this is the reason that I’m writing this specific article for CRGI. I have found too many instructors with unresolved inner conflict. Instructors that are not at peace with themselves and that have subsequently lost their own personal joy. It is difficult to teach others how to resolve conflict if you are constantly struggling with your own. And many times, for me at least, my inner conflict stemmed from the fact that I lost touch with why I’m doing what I’m doing. Purpose brings peace.

Other times we lose focus on what we should be trying to achieve. Instead of delivering the best training that we humanly can we start to focus on things like income and money. Our focus gradually shifts and the acquisition of students slowly starts to dominate our thoughts. Without realizing it we commercialize and turn into marketing gurus and salesmen. Not a problem when in balance with the rest of your business priorities – big problem when it becomes our main priority. I doubt any of us started our careers as martial arts instructors because we wanted to get rich quick. And yes, I understand the need for income is real, and yes, I understand the pressure of when the books don’t balance at the end of the month.

Some of us pull through these seasons of frustration and financial struggle. Others lose their passion completely and throw in the towel. Job satisfaction comes from three things: Knowing what you should be doing, knowing why you’re doing it, and knowing how to do it well. Let’s have a look at that all important question: Why are we doing what we’re doing?

Five Factors that Motivate Martial Arts Teachers
Some of us are in it because we simply progressed through our systems. This is an interesting point because you could have progressed through your system, become an instructor, but not really be a teacher in terms of your calling and or gifting. I have so much respect for any person that has mastered their art – but are you a teacher in your heart? Any person can learn to teach; skills can be acquired by anyone. But not all people should teach. If teaching drains you instead of energizing you then maybe it’s not for you. Not a criticism – just a fact of life.

Some of us are in it because our personalities do well with being in the limelight. I personally don’t like the limelight but I have friends who literally thrive in it. They’re not immature about it. It’s just that they’ve been hardwired to get energy from being there. So they actively seek opportunities where they can be in the limelight. What about you? Is this the only reason that you’re an instructor? Have you made the effort to mature and acquire the skills required to back up your personality?

Some of us are in it because of the opportunity to master our art. Certain individuals are strongly driven to master the activities that they are involved in. I know everyone wants to be good at what they do. But certain people can’t settle for good – they want to master. Teaching and instructing becomes a new method for your own personal growth. It forces you to engage with the art from a completely new perspective – one of creatively and effectively helping others to grow. The big caveat with this form of motivation is that many times it’s individuals with a type A or strongly task orientated temperament that displays this drive to perfection. Individuals that can easily become a dick when things aren’t going their way. So mastering is great – but you need to be a nice guy and a good teacher as well.

Some of us are in it because of the violence hovering under the surface. This can be a great motivator. The discipline and physicality of the fighting arts becomes our path to self control and expending the aggresion that some of us so frequently struggle with. It’s a forgotten fact that males primarily unload aggressive emotions through gross motor movement. The dark side of this motivator is that we sometimes unload these emotions onto other human beings. We use our martial art as a way of hurting because we ourselves are still hurt. This is especially destructive in instructors as they can easily start to damage students through verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

Some of us are in it because we have been called to protect. I firmly believe this to be first a human calling, then a male calling and lastly a very personal individual calling. Somewhere alongside the development of the human rights movement we have forgotten the very human idea of responsiblity to protect. Many, especially in the Western world, seem to think it’s solely the police and the military’s job to protect us. That’s great, I’m thankful for a standing force of brave men and women that have got our backs, but where have we forgotten that for millenia past it was our own individual responsibility to protect ourselves, our famlies and our micro and macro communities? There are some of us who deeply feel this responsibility and have been called to nuture this passion in others as well.

What Motivates You?
Maybe you should put some thought into why you are doing what you’re doing. Why did you start on this journey? What significant indicators were there during your life that can remind you why you should still be on this path?

For me personally – it’s about protection. I hate fear. I hate the crippling effect it has on people. It steals from them. Once a person starts to struggle with fear it’s like it grows tentacles. It’s crippling effects slowly start to take hold of every area of their lives. They lose their boldness and their authenticity. Honesty, business, risk, relationships, love – everything starts to suffer due to fear. And so I also hate violent crime – as it deals in fear. It buys with fear and it pays with fear. This is why I do what I do. I have the ability and opportunity to help others push back against violent crime in my country; I can help them deal with the fear associated with and left behind by violent crime. And in doing so I have the opportunity to free them up to live full lives. Lives filled with joy, peace and success.

Oh yes, and I really really like fighting as well.

What about you? What motivates you? My wish is that you may you rediscover your motivation and that that rediscovery will help you to be a more peaceful, joyous and above all – focused – instructor.

How to get your ass kicked in any conflict situation… – Schalk Holloway

I was lucky enough to finish school with a full academic bursary. I could basically pick any tertiary institution in our country and enroll for any graduate course that my final marks allowed for. Long story short I proceeded to enroll in Tswhane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa. It was part of their first year student culture – especially if you stayed in one of the University’s hostels – to undergo a lengthy hazing process. This included not being able to leave the hostel for any social reason until a bit later in the year.

This anecdote plays off on the very first night I was allowed off campus with my senior hostel members. I was 18 years old. Comfortable with getting in trouble, but still very naive about violence and especially predators as I grew up in quite a small and relaxed town on our country’s north coast.

As we left one of the clubs I saw a group of guys approaching one of our seniors. One of that group’s members initiated a dumbass argument with him and subsequently it turned into a fight. My senior was quite a big boy and I thought him able to handle himself in most situations.

As the two of them were going at it (now on the floor) one of the other group’s guys moved to jump in on my senior. I judge he was about 15 – 20 years older than me, smaller but with a lean and capable look to him. Still, I was confident in myself. I put my hand out against his chest and told him to leave the two of them to sort it out. He looked at me with a huge smile on his face, gave me a playful tap on the shoulder and said something like, “yeah buddy, you know what, you’re right, let’s leave them.”

As I turned back to the two guys on the floor that dirty old bastard hit me as hard as he could behind the head. I immediately retaliated but I effectively had my ass handed to me for the following five minutes.

So what can we learn about conflict management from this episode? Quite a bit actually but let’s try and glean three important insights. Let’s break it down into where I went wrong, or, to link back to the article title, let’s look at how to get your ass kicked in any conflict situation:

1. Assuming your opponent is playing by your rules.
I got into a lot of fights and trouble growing up in my hometown. However, most of these were cases of me getting into trouble individually. Even in terms of physical fights it was almost always a one on one situation. I can remember ONLY ONE occasion in my first 18 years which was a serious group effort, but that’s it. So basically I was molded into this idea of guys sorting each other out one on one. Then I took that assumption into the big city and projected it onto my opponent. Ha ha ha, as you saw, big mistake! (But good lesson.)

This dynamic can only be solved with one of two tactics. First, is to try and understand who you’re dealing with. What type of animal are you in the cage or about to get into the cage with. As seen above however these lessons mostly come through experience. However, regardless of what type of conflict situation you’re in – whether relational argument, marriage issue, business deal, legal matter or physical fight – understanding what makes the other party tick gives you an immense advantage in successfully resolving or prevailing in the conflict. The second tactic, and this is especially relevant when there is no time, basis or need for a proper character evaluation, is to just go at your opponent as if they are the worst, dirtiest and hardest opponent you’ll ever face. Get in, get the job done, get out. All business.

The sneaky old street fighter immediately made an accurate judgement on me based on my request to let them sort it out one on one. He then used this accurate judgment against me by playing into my naivety and disarming me with his big smile, friendly tap on the shoulder and agreeing words. Clever guy. 😉

2. Giving away initiative.
I saw the dirty old streetfighter go in long before he saw me. He had initiative on my senior but I had initiative on him. I essentially gave this superior position away by using the wrong tactics ie. I should have just climbed into him. However, this was not possible due to the wrong assumptions I held about him.

One of the best advantages of having and maintaining initiative is that it creates different types of stress for your opponent. One of these types of stress that I personally have a lot of love for is disorientation. As your opponent has to constantly deal with new incoming stimulus (whether verbal judo, physical attack or even revealing new information) it becomes a struggle for him to orient and compose himself to the situation. Still dealing with stimulus A and then suddenly being hit by stimulus B becomes highly taxing on his resources – and eventually he starts to fall behind.

The moment that guy started climbing into me he just kept going. Doesn’t matter what I did or how I did it, he just kept going. He was always one step ahead of me and I really never caught up.

3. Losing heart.
A couple of minutes into the fight he spear tackled me onto a car’s bonnet. I was quite desperate by this stage and still playing catchup. I lifted myself up, went into a controlled fall and drove my elbow down as hard as I could aiming for the back of his neck. I really put a lot of effort into that strike. I missed though. Immediately after this effort he straightened out and stood up. I gave him quite a solid right cross in the face. Then he chuckled at me and said “you’re hitting me but I’m not feeling anything.”

I have to be honest but at this stage I stopped fighting and started retreating. Missing that critical strike (remember I was playing catchup and desperately needed something to regain initiative) and hearing those words completely broke my will. I lost confidence started to seriously doubt whether I was going to survive this encounter without serious injury. I started playing a defensive game and he just kept on coming at me. Suffice it to say, to this day I have never had a worse beating than on that night.

After this beating I learned a lot about causing others to lose heart. I have used the tactic to gain the upper hand in many conflict situations. But here’s a secret – sometimes I was the one about to lose heart and then I used the tactic as a last ditch effort to gain or keep my advantage in the conflict. Ie, just before I felt I’m going to throw in the towel I made an effective last play at intimidation, power projection etc. and it worked.

Which begs the question: What is the chance that ol’ streetfighter was about to quit himself? The possibility is there (ha ha ha, however I don’t think it was with him) but in reality I’ll never know. What if I didn’t give up and kept on fighting? Was I possibly one step away from regaining the upper hand and then I gave up? I’ll never know.

But on the other hand, maybe I did keep on going and I got killed. And I guess that’s the problem with conflict. We need to be sure why we’re getting involved in the first place. It’s only when we understand the stakes that we can decide on our commitment.

Managing Discrepancy – Schalk Holloway

My parents stayed in a small town on the Gold Coast of Queensland Australia for a couple of years. As is customary when visiting another country one quickly gets around to chatting about everything that’s different and strange from what you are used to. One of the first things they told me was about how different pedestrian crossings were to South Africa (where I reside and where we all come from). Apparently vehicle drivers in their own and the surrounding towns always give way to pedestrians. As in always. This sounded unbelievable as in South Africa you really have to watch your ass when crossing roads. Being my usual sceptical self I decided to check it out for the six weeks that I visited.

First thing I noticed was that the pedestrians there don’t even look before crossing. Initially it freaked me out. Every time I saw a pedestrian just going for it I would imagine them getting ploughed down by oncoming traffic. Never happened though. Vehicles just magically stop for pedestrians. It was crazy. They just assume all vehicles are going to stop. And they do. Interesting thing is that it is law that vehicles should give way for pedestrians in both countries. So technically – that’s what it should be like in South Africa as well. But it isn’t.

There’s a discrepancy between what is and what we believe should be.

I got into a tangle with a couple of ladies a while ago for sharing an article from Mashable where Mashable responded to a statement made by Dr. Ruth Westheimer. She was quoted saying the following on a radio show

I know it’s controversial, but for your program, I’m going to stand up and be counted and, like I do in the book, be very honest. I am very worried about college campuses saying that a woman and a man or two men or two women, but I talk right now about woman and man, can be in bed together, Diane, and at one time, naked, and at one time, he or she — most of the time they think she can say, I changed my mind. No such thing is possible. ¹

I thought “wow, that’s good advice.” Got riled big time though by the girls. They felt that this idea is oppressive by nature. Their argument is that they should be able to do pretty much what they want to with their bodies without any fear of any type abuse. I agree.

But there is currently a discrepancy between what is and what we believe should be.

That discrepancy is conflicting by nature. In both the anecdotes that I have shared I am presupposing that what we believe should be is truth. Coming to this position is also a necessary process but it is not the focus of this article. This article is focused on the discrepancy and managing that discrepancy.

The first principle of managing the discrepancy is mutual acceptance of both positions.

Those on the side of what is needs to be honest about whether change or movement is necessary. Is what should be honestly and objectively healthier for all involved? If so, are we willing to accept that? If not why not? Those on the side of what we believe should be should at least acknowledge, if not accept, the reality of what currently is. If what is really is then we need to work from there to here.

I shared the first anecdote with the ladies from the second anecdote. Why? My argument is the following: If I, as a loving father, have to teach my children about pedestrian crossings, what do I teach? Do I just teach what is (South African experience)? Do I just teach what should be (Australian experience)? Or do I teach both? Which approach is best equated with my position as a loving father?

For me, it would obviously be to teach both. Advocates of what should be say that I should just teach my child that YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO CROSS THE ROAD WHENEVER YOU WANT TO WITHOUT FEAR OF MOVING VEHICLES. THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO STOP FOR YOU! But that would be silly because the current reality of what is is that they don’t always stop. So I teach both. I teach something along the lines of “remember, vehicles are supposed to stop, and when you drive try to be aware and always stop. But still, before crossing, check, because they don’t always stop.”

So why not teach my daughter that yes, her body is hers and she should be able to do with it what she wants, but also, that yes, the world DOES NOT CURRENTLY WORK LIKE THAT, so maybe it’s not the wisest thing to jump naked into bed if you’re not planning on having sex (and yes, I, as her father, would talk to my daughter about that).

The ladies agreed to this line of thinking. If they did not, I would seriously have wondered why.

The second principle of managing the discrepancy is accepting that it is a process.

Getting from there to here will have to be a process.

If we have to put should be as position 10 on a line of 1 to 10 and is as position 1 as follows


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

and we are serious about getting from what is to what should be then we need to acknowledge that is is a distance away. There has to be a process. If you are not willing to acknowledge this principle of process – why not?

The third principle of managing the discrepancy is allowing the two positions to compliment each other.

This principle should actually be the first principle.

However, in highly polarized or aggressive environments it’s not possible to see the complimentary potential until the first two principles have been established. Thinking about different words to describe the two groups we can possibly go with realists for the what is camp and visionaries for the should be camp.

My wife and I fall broadly into these two categories. I’m the realist. She’s the visionary. She essentially creates a lot of energy for movement by consistently helping us to see where we should be going. I get us moving effectively because I’ve got a good handle on where we are and what would be good first steps. This is great. Energy and effectivity. We compliment each other. And I think it serves as a good (albeit simplistic) analogy for what can be possible once we start to see the worth that each of the groups bring to the situation.