Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Be Polite....

"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

I'm sure many of you have heard that quote before. It has most recently been attributed to retired General James Mattis, USMC. I don't know that the quote originated with him (and I'm too lazy tonight to do all the background research), but he has certainly made it well known in recent years. There are a number of aspects to the quote that I am sure rub some people the wrong way and/or give them the wrong impression, but I wanted to take a look at how it can also be applied in our everyday civilian life.

The context in which General Mattis was using the quote (at least in the speech I'm familiar with) was indeed in the context of war. As a former Marine, I didn't think twice about what he said because I understood the intent, but I know a few people who used that quote to fuel their (incorrect) idea that military personnel are out looking for the next kill. That is NOT what was being said. In our most recent wars, our military has had to operate in the middle of cities surrounded by civilians. Being polite and professional is pretty straight forward. You are patrolling in someone else's backyard, near their families, while they are trying to go about their daily routines. While you're doing that, there are enemy combatants (many indistinguishable from the civilians) trying to kill you. It IS war. In a nutshell, be polite and professional to the other human beings around you, but don't lose sight of what you are doing, because one of  them may be trying to kill you. It is unfortunate, but true. That would be the extreme example of situational awareness.

On a slightly lesser level, I recall being told many times during my past years of martial arts training, to never let down my guard. It doesn't only apply to time spent in the ring, on the mat, or even during an actual fight. Situational awareness applies wherever you are and in whatever you're doing. Our natural instinct does much of it for us without having to think about it. It's kind of like the saying, "I wouldn't want to meet that guy in a dark alley". Well, most of us naturally choose not to walk down a dark alley. Common sense has us choose the safer, smarter route whenever we can. Even walking down the sidewalk in broad daylight can be dangerous. We are naturally aware of that car engine revving up a little too much behind us, or (not to stereotype or profile) that "shady looking" character walking towards you. That's where the be polite quote comes into effect.

I remember walking down the streets of Oceanside, CA, while on liberty during my Marine Corps days at Camp Pendleton. Some streets you couldn't walk 15 feet without having a panhandler begging you for money or having to step over a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk. There is no reason you can't smile and say hello (being polite), but you should also be prepared for that passing smile to be met with a knife or gun. There were enough police reports and liberty briefs to attest to the number of muggings of, or attacks on, unsuspecting people.

I've had numerous people tell me that I'm just paranoid to walk around the streets thinking about what I would do if the person I was passing lunged at me or pulled a weapon. Most of them are the same people who think that (legally) carrying a concealed firearm is paranoid, but that's a story for another time. Many of them don't realize that they too are doing it subconsciously. The problem is that subconscious reaction time isn't as fast as a proactively planned reaction. So, call me paranoid if you want, but that way of thinking has been stuck in my head for decades already. I've even survived all attacks with relatively minor injuries.

I'll finish this off with the mildest level of situational awareness....the office. I know, I know.... a whole bunch of reading before I got to the part that I started out saying I was going to talk about. Well, here it is. Situational awareness is an absolute must if you are going to survive in an everyday office situation. I'm not referring to a co-worker pulling out a gun and shooting the place up, but that is unfortunately happening a lot more often these days. I am referring to normal, everyday activities around the office.

I know everyone already has the be polite, be professional thing down at the office. (I know, I'm laughing too.) Being polite and professional really should be able to go unsaid, but look around many offices today and you'll realize that's not true. There are impolite unprofessional people occupying seats in cubicles all across our great land. We don't have to be one of them though.

Situational awareness comes into play everywhere from meetings to project planning in the office. Another similarity to war is that no plan survives first contact. You can gather data, crunch numbers, and devise the greatest plan ever seen in your industry for it to get thrown out on day one of implementation because of some minor detail that changed. Since your are prepared for the worst (at least if you're "paranoid" like me), you take it in stride, tweak your plan, and keep pushing forward towards the goal. If the detail that threw you off course happens to be human related (they usually are) you can start the mantra over again at the beginning and handle the situation in a polite, professional manner.

That's enough for tonight. Sorry, but I guess the class on how to build make-shift weapons with common office supplies will have to wait for another post. Until next time....