Monday, March 30, 2015

I Trust Myself to Respond Appropriately to Low-Level Threats

I went to the bank today to exchange foreign currency. Not my regular credit union but near where I live and super culturally diverse. In line with me, and among tellers, there were folks who were Somali, Ethiopian, Latino, lots of different languages being spoken in one place. When I was up at the teller window I was in that hyper focused bubble like you get when dealing with money or engaged in personal conversation or something.

Out if nowhere, a guy taps me on the shoulder and hands me a small bottle of water. No context, just a bump and a small water bottle handed to me. Happened too fast to really have a chance to give consent. Kind of triggered a low level shock response, a bit freezey, then a low-level fight response that sometimes happens when you get bumped or cut off or something. Subtle, low level and I am able to just notice.

So, I watch this guy go down the rest of the line, interrupting people at the window to give them water, which is not an aggressive gesture, kind if care-takey in a way, but oddly out of context. Then, he headed back in my direction. All this took like 30 seconds.

I said, "Hey can I check in with you for a second? When you came by and handed me water, it was a bit if a surprise. At a bank window, it is usually a private thing so I was really surprised to have someone come up and tap me unexpectedly. Like, I wasn't at all expecting that to happen. I teach self-defense and it helps to notice when you do something in a way that might startle people. I worked at the Center for Victims of Torture as an interpreter for a long time and this could be unsettling for people with PTSD."

He says "Thank you. You teach self-defense? Cool. Can I like, take your classes.?" I say, "Well, I usually teach women and kids, but I would be glad to offer a workshop for your staff here about personal safety. He says "I have to go to a meeting" and asks this teller to give me his card. My teller says - "You teach self-defense? I think personal safety is important. Do you have a card."

So, I went to the bank to get some money and ended up getting much more. The fact that I was able to be honest in the moment (without being defended) may have actually gotten me a job and certainly made for an unexpectedly enjoyable time at the bank.

I wanted to share this because it is like after the first time I used self-defense when harassed after my first 6-week SD class 24 years ago. My body knew what to do. Now, my higher brain and my heart do, too. I can find the words to describe my experience in the moment to better respond to really low level threats and do so in a way that helps other people be more conscious of how what they do might affect others (without the charge that makes people feel like they have to be defended). I am trusting myself more and trusting that most people want to act in loving, intentional ways, especially when they have the tools and appropriate support.

Diane Long, founder of Minneapolis-based Kaleidoscope Healing Arts

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