I can’t tell you how many times I hear the same string of comments and questions. “Because you know what to look for, do you live your life in a constant state of paranoia” or “I bet you find yourself analyzing every single person that you’re around!” For a long time, I struggled to respond to these questions. They aren’t hard to answer, but finding the right words to try and convey how I felt was a challenge. The short answer is yes – I do try to analyze as many people as possible, but I don’t live in a perpetual state of fear.
Last week I was in a meeting with a group of scientists all with doctorate level degrees across a range of fields and was surprised to get asked the same string of questions. Answering these questions for this audience helped me to articulate a more accurate answer.
No, I don’t live in a state of fear. That is not the intention of learning to profile. By knowing what to look for and what behavior a person exhibits when they want to do something violent, not only can I know when I need to focus my attention on that person, but I also know when I’m not in danger.
I think that living in fear would come from not being in control of your own safety. Being helpless. When the only information that you have to rely on are news reports that are highlighting the latest doomsday theory in a 30 second segment, or the daily homicide and rape incidents in your city, I can see why some people do live scared. They have no control in their security.
The behavioral cues that we teach let you take that control back. You shouldn’t rely on others to protect you. The only person that you can be everywhere that you go, is you. By knowing what to look for and how to establish a baseline for the area you are in lets you check your fear at the door and be confident in your surroundings.
That’s the goal.
I started to realize that I haven’t presented this very well while reading Lie Spotting by Pamela Meyer. As she is presenting techniques to uncover liars and deception, she brings up the idea that the goal isn’t simply to know when you are being lied to, the end state is to find the truth. Detecting deception is only the first step. If you were only focused on finding liars, you would probably live a rather cynical life. But if you take that skill and focus it on ensuring that you are dealing with honest people, it takes the negative connotations out of the equation.
If you think about what the goal of our military is in Afghanistan, the situation is pretty similar. In order to defeat an insurgency, one of the things that needs to be attained is a sense of stability in the local population. The longer that insurgents can undermine the perception of security or stability through small-scale ambushes or IED strikes, the harder our mission is going to be. Every insurgent that continues to hide amongst the population only hurts our cause as the locals simply see an enemy that we are failing to capture.
Understanding human behavior and being able to put an individuals body language into the context of the groups of people you are observing, and putting those groups into the context of the environment that surrounds them is a piece to solving this. Whether it is finding the enemy hiding in front of you in Afghanistan countering your mission or finding the safety you seek here at home, these are cues that you can be confident in to help you.
So last week during the meeting, I finally found the words. Finding threats is only the first step. By knowing what to look for I don’t have to live in fear and I don’t have to be scared of things out of my control or people that I don’t know. I know what to look for so that I can be confident in my own security. Security and safety requires a constant state of alertness, but that is a lot different that paranoia or fear.