There’s a persistent myth in our society that “there’s safety in numbers”. “Go out in a group”, conventional wisdom tells us. “There’s danger in being alone,” it says. Conventional wisdom left out an important caveat, though: Just like being alone, there’s only safety in a group when the group is alert, oriented to and aware of its surroundings. Otherwise, the only thing being in a group does is to create a bigger pool of ready victims for the predator.
In fact, that’s sort of the origin of the expression “safety in numbers”. Think about a school of trout swimming upstream. Without warning, a bear plunges his hungry maw into the water and snatches up three fish. There are a zillion trout in the school, so the odds of the bear taking any particular fish are pretty low. Add more fish, and the individual risk of being selected drops slightly more. But this is no comfort for the three trout who – because of inattention, age, infirmity, or just plain bad luck – landed in the bear’s mouth.
So, how can we increase our odds of staying safe when we’re out in a group? Here are some suggestions:
- Practice your situational awareness as though you were alone. Relying on the group to watch your back is a fatal mistake if the rest of the group isn’t as attentive as you. Always be aware of your surroundings, and always be attentive to potential threats. If the others in your group can do this too, so much the better. And if someone in the group isn’t paying attention, there’s nothing wrong with backstopping them – after all, predators can pick the weakest member away from the group. But don’t make the mistake of thinking you can let your guard down because you’re in a group.
- When task fixation is a danger, utilize the group for overwatch. In military jargon, the term “overwatch” describes the situation where one group of soldiers is providing support and security to another during a mission. If you have to do something that requires task fixation – loading bags into a car, say, or locking doors – task the other members of your group to keep a vigilant eye on what’s going on around you while your attention is down. Obviously, this suggestion works best if you know the other members of your group have the situational awareness skills to provide effective overwatch, but even imperfect overwatch beats being head-down for an extended period of time with no awareness.
- Know who’s carrying weapons, where they are, and how to access them. Okay, this tip is obviously not going to apply to all group settings. But when I spend time with, or go out with, other friends who share my skills, training, equipment and awareness, I like to let them know discreetly ahead of time what I’m carrying and where on my body I’m carrying it. That way, if I’m disabled somehow during a crisis, the other members of my group can access my tools quickly and easily. You may disagree with this suggestion, and it may not work well if you hang out with people who don’t know this stuff. You’ll have to use your judgment here, but this is often something I do with my friends.
- Never voluntarily incapacitate yourself. When a predator goes up against a herd of potential prey, he’s going to look for one member of the herd that’s weaker, more infirm, or otherwise vulnerable to being separated from the group. Don’t be that girl, or that guy. Never incapacitate yourself with alcohol or drugs, in a place with ANY people you don’t know well enough to trust completely. I even try to avoid incapacitating myself with clothing (like tight skirts and stiletto heels) if I’m going out with a group. Again, you have to adapt this to your own life and circumstances, but I’ll trade couture for mobility almost any day of the week.
I’ll be honest and agree that going out with friends is a lot of fun. But unfortunately, having fun isn’t a magic fence that keeps danger away. Be prepared, be aware, and be safe – and then you can have fun with confidence.
What suggestions would you add to my list – or take off? What do you do to stay safe when you’re out in a group? I’d love to hear your comments!
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