The Least Addressed Element in All Self-Protection that is Most Critical to Staying Safe from Violence
I have spent 22 years in the martial arts, personal protection, and staying-safe-from-violence world. I’ve seen and heard and trained in A LOT of things. Weapons, tech, gear, tactics, techniques, forms, teaching theories, how to gather information, etc. All good stuff to be sure. However, something is missing from this list. Can see what is missing?
Ok, so a lot of things are missing. But I am thinking of one thing in particular. I was reminded of this thing several nights ago when I was speaking about the 7 virtues of the warrior heart to the Columbus OH, Well Armed Woman Chapter. It was something I said off the cuff in the moment of the talk (thank goodness I have begun recording all my presentations). This missing element that I have seen few trainers or experts address is very simple: meaning.
In order for you to even want to protect yourself in the first place, you must attach meaning to your life. Does your life mean anything? If your answer is “no”, then the next obvious question is, “Why go to any trouble to protect it then?”
When mass murderers like the Columbine killers visit death and destruction on a school, what meaning do you think they believed their lives and the lives of others had? We can’t know this for certain, but studying their lives and how it led them to that point could give us clues or indicators as to what meaning they placed on human life (theirs and others).
In the Western World, we see incidents like Las Vegas or Columbine and we demand answers. “Why did these people or person do this?” “What was the motive?” Motive, many times, flows directly from what meaning you believe a thing has. What meaning you place on things leads directly to another crucial element of human existence: Your identity.
With no meaning, what identity could you have? If all your meaning is bad, is it likely you will have a good identity? An interesting phenomenon of being human is that even if we have a terrible identity and ascribe little meaning to anything, we continue to strive to be consistent: to have our thoughts and ideas match reality and behavior. Let me tell you a story to illustrate this:
A few years ago, I had a neighbor who was a married man with 3 young children. He and his wife seemed to get along well enough and the children seemed well adjusted and successful. By all outside appearances, they were doing well. This neighbor had a skeleton in his past though, alcohol. He had overcome that demon years ago, but he was fond of saying, “If I ever fall of the wagon, I won’t make it.” Most chalked it up to humor or simply a saying people say. However, it was not so. He fell off that wagon one day, and plunged back into alcoholism. After fighting it for a while and not overcoming it, he did what anyone would do if they wanted to be consistent, he took his own life. He had told himself for years that if he ever fell of the wagon he “wouldn’t make it.” If he failed to take his own life and he recovered, he would be a liar. In order to avoid being a liar, he killed himself.
Let me be clear, do I know this was his final, true motivation for killing himself? No. If it was, do I believe he consciously thought, "I really don't want to be a liar so I'd better kill myself"? No. I can never be sure one way or another. But I do find it interesting and submit the story for you to ponder. I find it interesting that he programmed himself for years that he would be unable to succeed at battling alcohol a second time. What meaning do you think he put on his life? How much of that meaning morphed his identity into something that felt he could never overcome alcohol a second time? He had conquered it once; that is evidence that he could conquer it again. But that isn’t how he saw it.
It is my personal opinion that one reason we are seeing the types of extreme violence we are seeing (events like the Vegas massacre) and the increase in suicides, opiate drug use, etc. is because we have raised a generation that has no meaning. This leads some to ask simple, logical questions that eventually lead to devaluing human life and nihilism. If life has no meaning, why protect it? Why value it? How is anything about it sacred? Where do human rights come from and do they even exist if life has no meaning? Many, not finding good answers to these questions, turn to a life of addictions designed to distract and numb them from the fact they don't know or have any objective meaning for their life.
At a foundational level, everyone is a protector. Because everyone is trusted with protecting at least one person - themselves. Some are trusted to protect more people than just themselves, but all of us at least have been given the duty of self-protection. In order to do this task well, it really helps if you believe your life has value and meaning.
The inescapable truth of reality is that your life either has objective, transcendent meaning, or it doesn’t. Your life either matters in some ultimate, significant sense, or it doesn’t. I firmly believe that those who see no meaning to life are more likely to commit self-harm, suicide, or pass on similar beliefs to their friends, children and loved ones.
In the personal protection world, we don’t talk about meaning too often – because it can make people uncomfortable. Many of us spend so much time avoiding finding out whether or not our life has meaning, and if it does, what that meaning is. We are too busy. Facebook needs browsed. Instagram followers need to see what food we are eating. Drugs, alcohol, porn, or some other addiction needs satisfied. We are too busy to figure out if our life has meaning and what it is.
I am writing this blog not to condemn you but to encourage you to look at your own life and ask, “What ultimate meaning do I believe I have?” Do you believe your life actually matters and why? These are the types of things you should be taught as a child by parents or in school. The answers you come up with are not insignificant. They matter a great deal. They especially matter for the warriors and protectors.
For why do you continue to do what you do? Sacrificing your own time and life for the safety of others - if there is no meaning? If there is no objective meaning then the task of warriorship is not praiseworthy or noble – it is simply another thing that exists. In my book, Anatomy of a Warrior, the 6th of the 7 virtues is the virtue of faith. I ask the reader in the book, “Where do you place your faith?” Similarly, I ask you now, “Where do you place your meaning?” Do you have any meaning? Have you ever thought to ask the question? Just as your faith, what meaning you believe life has is of tremendous importance to being a warrior and a protector. Almost all issues, political or otherwise, boil down to a dispute about meaning.
In all your warrior ways, do not neglect to discover your true meaning. Train hard, get better gear, clean your weapons, study the tactics of great warriors who went before you, but don’t forget to ask yourself the big questions either. What is your meaning, why do you believe that, and how do you know your life has any meaning? Why did you choose to become a protector at all? Why do you keep doing it? What does it all mean?All good questions that we must not forget to ask. Your life and the lives of others ultimately rest with your core beliefs on meaning – for what you think things mean determines your behavior and your behavior determines the outcomes of real world events with real consequences for real people.
Live with virtue!
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National Speaker, author, blogger, and life-long student of warrior arts and science.