Responding Vs Reacting
Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth – Mike Tyson
I got punched in the face yesterday.
Not for the first time in my life, and almost certainly not for the last time.
It was a wake up call. It was in broad daylight, in a good neighborhood, with hundreds of people around. I did nothing to provoke it. I didn’t even see the guy coming.
Just the wrong place at the wrong time.
People are so fond of saying that, when these types of things happen.
It doesn’t make it feel better, trust me.
You don’t expect to be the victim of random violence. You don’t see it coming, even if you’re someone who has the delusion of being ‘situationally aware’ at all times.
I’ve had my share of violent experiences in life. As a kid, I grew up in a bit of a “rough neighborhood”, with lots of skinhead gang activity and more than a few fistfights. I’ve taken some self defense classes and pride myself on my ability to de-escalate a situation.
I’ve learned the hard way– it’s never worth it to fight, unless you’re protecting yourself or your loved ones.
As an adult, I’ve been beaten, hooded, handcuffed, zip tied, tased, waterboarded and thrown into the back of a van. After I escaped (as I had been trained to do), I was chased across the city of Los Angeles and had to fight and use my wits to evade recapture.
This is all something I paid for– stress inoculation for an Urban Escape and Evasion Course I took with some friends, taught by Kevin Reeve at On-Point Tactical. I took the course because I travel to some not-so-safe places and I wanted to feel prepared in case the shit hit the fan. It expanded my comfort zone in a big way, but I did find some edges.
For example, I really hope I never have to experience something as horrific as waterboarding again.
No matter what you’ve heard on the news– it’s a brutal and terrifying ordeal.
This proclivity for adventure has led to some pretty unique experiences– In Peru, for example, my friends and I were swimming with piranhas and pink dolphins in the Amazon river, had to forage and fish for our food, and build our own shelters. We were stalked by a jaguar in the jungle when we accidentally wandered too close to her cubs. This was on the heels of a hike across the full length of the Inca trail with my buddy Neil and our dear departed friend Alex. May he rest in peace.
My friend Charlie and I almost got trampled by donkeys in Kenya, while we were touring the cradle of civilization with his boss at the time, Tim Ferriss. Tim just did a TV show about On Point Tactical and their training program if you’re interested. It’s worth a look.
In Africa, I learned that hippos kill more people there than anything. I watched lions and vultures tear antelope to pieces and pick their skeletons clean. I learned that you can take malarone pills and still contract malaria. I relearned that ice is water and you should never drink the water in a third world country.
Heed that advice only if you value the proper function of your digestive system.
I’ve gotten malaria, jaundice, flu, food poisoning (avoid buffets in Buenos Aires), pneumonia, and every other type of illness imaginable.
I’ve lived in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and traveled to every back alley in every borough and neighborhood at almost any time of the day or night, mostly without incident.
I’ve jumped off of buildings and been stunt flying incurring g-forces that made me hurl and nearly pass out.
I struggled through a triathlon long before I knew how to swim.
I’ve hiked and camped and fallen and twisted and broken things and had to chase off bears. I’m gearing up to do it again in Alaska this summer.
I wouldn’t trade these adventures for anything. I look back on them fondly and have grown and changed more than I ever could have imagined. They’ve given me the greatest gift of all, the gift of perspective. I have no real problems, when it comes right down to it.
I’ve been where bad is, and this isn’t it.
Despite all these dangerous (and sometimes ill-advised) experiences, I’m still here, still breathing. When I look back at all the hairy situations I’ve found myself in and that I’m still alive and well, I’m very grateful.
I’ve certainly never been cautious. I have a burning desire to suck the marrow from life.
There’s no other way to truly feel alive, in my experience.
Some of these events I signed up for. Most just happened to me. Wrong place at the wrong time. But that’s how life is. It’s a series of events over which you have no real control. The only thing you can hope to control is your reaction to events. And if you get really good, you stop reacting altogether, choosing to respond instead.
It doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a muscle you have to choose to work every single day, so that you can reclaim your control and your power to make good choices.
Choice of response the only real power we have in this world-– a world that’s so unpredictable and constantly shifting beneath our feet. Life is not guaranteed. It’s a fleeting thing. Best to embrace that and focus on what you can control:
Your response to a situation.
Your ability to decide. To plan. To take consistent, directed action.
Anyway, without further ado, back to the random violence.
I’m crossing the street on Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, CA– in full view of dozens of passer-bys– when some kind, upstanding young man decides he’s going to sucker punch me in the face as hard as he can, then run off.
When something like this happens, you’re forced to make decisions really quickly.
Your first instinct, it turns out, is to cover up in case another one is coming. Ok. That’s cool. I can deal with that. The second instinct is to retaliate, but by the time I registered the pain and what had happened, the coward was already across the street and making his escape.
Bystanders and motorists sat agog and watched the events unfold. I yelled something probably very equally charming, peppered with some cleverly distasteful New York language, which usually gets peoples’ attention.
A few people asked if I was alright. A few shared in my outrage, but nobody really DID anything. No vigilante street justice was forthcoming. Nobody took the license plate of that speeding car, and it was gone before I could make sense of it all.
If it wasn’t for the aching in my temple and jaw, and the small crowd who had formed to witness the event, I would have suspected it was all a dream.
One person told me that “it’s been happening a lot recently, some “knock-out” game that people are playing” to get their rocks off or ‘be cool’ and ‘build a rep’ with their gang.
Ego craving significance. Wait. I can play this game too. Let’s reframe this. “Great news! I’m part of a trending topic.” Maybe this will go viral and I’ll be super cool too! ERMAHGERD.
Please. Get a real hobby. True significance can only come from growth and contribution.
After the incident, I stood for a moment taking stock of the situation. I weighed my options and prioritized my safety. Once I had confirmed that I wasn’t cut or bleeding, I called it in. I mean it makes sense to alert the authorities that someone is walking around punching people unprovoked, right? I’m pretty sure that falls under their job description.
This isn’t Grand Theft Auto, right?
The lady on the other end of 911 kindly informed me that it was a misdemeanor crime, but that if I wasn’t willing to wait for officers to arrive so I could file a report, that there was very little she could do. The guy was long gone anyway.
So what should I have done?
I suppose I could have reacted. I could have chased the guy and tried to fight him. Probably not the best idea. He’s obviously a dangerous, cowardly individual with no respect for himself or others. He might be capable of greater violence than I am willing to commit, unless cornered. He may be armed with more than a fist, and it’s not doing me any good to get stabbed or shot.
A punch in the face is a punch in the face. I’m a big dumb animal, after all. I can take a punch.
I could have chased him down and attempted to hand him over to the cops, but I was on my way to dinner and didn’t want to stand my friend up. Or act all butt-hurt about it. So I decided to let it go and get on with dinner. It was certainly a topic of discussion, but I didn’t let it ruin my night.
Why spend a perfectly good evening filling out police reports and dealing with idiots who get off on random violence to fill their desperate need for significance? I was just relieved that it wasn’t a worse experience.
As it turns out, it was a fun story to break the ice with people we met for the rest of the night.
“Hey, did you hear what happened to my friend?” Or “so I was walking across the street earlier, minding my own business, and you’ll never BELIEVE what happened.”
Something about surviving a violent encounter is viscerally attractive to the opposite sex. I can’t really explain it, but there were more than a few alluring glances shot my way. Even without talking. Flirting happened, numbers were exchanged.
Life was good again, even if my temple and jaw are still aching as I type this.
I didn’t die in my sleep, and the swelling has gone down, so that’s a win.
We could replay the scene 1,000 times and I could have handled it dozens of ways. So many people I’ve spoken to said they would have handled it way differently if they had been there. I did what I did and I’m glad it wasn’t a bigger deal than it could have been. It’s easy to say you have a plan, right up until the second you get punched in the face.
I’m choosing to write about it, for closure, for catharsis, and so that you, dear reader, can hopefully understand the lesson, which is this: shit happens. It’s going to keep happening. But your reaction determines the ultimate outcome.
As my friend Brian Kight is keen to say, E + R = O.
You cannot control events, but you can control your response, which invariably creates the outcome.
So if you want to control outcomes, focus on your response, because where focus goes, energy flows. A healthy dose of stoicism is a key to thriving in the the modern world. Stay alert and be safe out there, it’s a crazy world, for sure. As long as humans crave significance, some will resort to violence to get it.
Don’t let it ruin your day, or by extension, your life.
You’re the one who’s in control. No matter what happens.
Don’t wait around for a punch in the face to remind you.
Let me know your story and any questions you might have in the comments section below, and please do share this post with your network. This can happen to anyone, and it’s important that the word gets out so that people can be more aware of their surroundings and take reasonable and proper precautions.