Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Importance of Awareness

An article was recently brought to my attention:

In the article it describes:
Recently released footage from a Muni security camera allegedly shows that on Sept. 23, Nikhom Thephakayson pulled out a .45-caliber pistol, raised it, pointed it across the aisle, put it down and continued to pull it out multiple times, even wiping his nose with the handgun. Absorbed in their phones, not one of the dozens of passengers reacted until he fired a bullet into the back of Justin Valdez, 20, a sophomore at San Francisco State University.

Before you make any snap judgments about the people on the train lets examine ourselves for a moment.

How often do you check your phone while walking in the street, on the check out line or just waiting? 

When sitting/standing in the train or any other mass transit vehicle are you aware of the people around you or are you immersed in your phone ( or any other technological gadget) oblivious to who gets on or off? 

Do you text while you drive?

How often do you wear headphones (ear-buds) while outside, effectively cutting off your sense of hearing, which is in essence an early warning system?

After reading this article I took an informal survey as I rode the train in New York City. On one random subway car alone more than half the people in the car were immersed in some sort of device completely oblivious to those around them. Another large group were dozing or had their eyes closed.

As I walked down Broadway, I counted on one block ten people with ear-buds or headphones who would not have heard me if they were in danger and I needed to call out for their safety ( I tested this by just saying "Excuse me." while behind or beside them. Only two people registered that they heard me.) The others couldn't hear me because the music was audible from where I stood, about 3-4 feet away. Three people had to stop short at intersections before crossing the street because they were crossing against the flow of traffic and didn't notice, they were all texting or reading their phones.

As I proceeded  on Broadway I attempted to get close enough to invade personal space, from the side, rear and front. I used ploys like asking for time and directions or just acted creepy and tried to get  real close. Yes it was a busy afternoon, but I really wanted to see what the level of awareness was. These exercises didn't take more than an hour. Out of the twenty people I approached in a five block radius (I was on Broadway and 79th street), sixteen of them allowed me into their personal space. After I closed the distance I informed them that they each could have been a victim, some laughed it off and most dismissed it, it was the middle of the day after all and  no one gets attacked in broad daylight, right?

Its this awareness that we stress so much in self defense classes. Awareness or situational awareness as it is sometimes called is the act of not walking around in a fog.  You will often hear when people are attacked or when incidents occur that it just happened " out of the blue" or "I never saw it coming". In the case of blindside, ambush attacks or spontaneous acts, this may be possible, the other times however you just weren't aware.

If you drive you need to be even more aware. I wont go into the amount of people I have seen driving and looking down at phones or just not focusing on whats in front of them. Considering that even a small vehicle can weigh a few tons its in our best interest to focus and be aware while driving what is essentially a large battering ram capable of wreaking devastating damage.

This lack of awareness is becoming more and more prevalent. Not only because of technology. I think the technology just facilitates it, but rather we need to shift our attitude of " I'm not going to get involved, or " It has nothing to do with me". When we choose to be this way we are passively saying-I don't care.

I invite you to try some of the exercises I did. See how close you can get to other people in normal settings
 ( please don't get yourself arrested) without them noticing. Understand that those who would victimize others are doing the exact same thing.

Make the choice to be aware, look around on the bus, train and the street you walk down. Unplug the headphones / ear-buds and engage all of your senses. Cultivate a  radar of who and what is around you, this does not mean you walk around paranoid all of the time, but aware. One of the first things we teach in our self defense classes is awareness and its importance. It doesn't matter how skilled or trained you are if you are walking around in a fog, oblivious to your surroundings.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando


Meera said...

This is such a great post--it's about self-defense here but i think it should be applied to life in general. As a writing teacher, I always tell my students that all awareness is cut off when they are staring at their phones or have headphones in. It cuts them off from anything outside--like real life conversations, like noticing how people move and sit and gesture, like having interesting conversations that could spark an idea or a story and yes, like being aware of dangerous situations. As a culture we turn more and more to our devices to populate our worlds and forget that there's life to be lived out there.

Orlando Sanchez said...

Meera it is certainly translatable to life in general. It is truly alarming to see how cut off from reality most people are today, especially the younger generations. They are living life virtually. This has led to the lack of basic social skills like having a conversation.

In addition to being a safety issue, awareness is key to living life fully. I always tell my sons- you don't want to merely exist, but you want to be fully present and engaged. That requires awareness.