Vaccine For Violence

03/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Instances of violence could be stopped or lessened with a little preventive medicine

Note: "Vaccine For Violence" is mirrored both here and in the January 21, 2010 issue of the Pasadena Weekly, for which it was written. Kind thanks to the PW editor, Kevin Uhrich, for making this happen.

I dream that learning the basics of physical self-defense will be a part of everyone's personal as well as public policy health care agenda. Along with that fantasy, our society would value prevention equally with other values, like medicine and surgery, which are actually remedial care. We would teach good nutrition and reward exercise because we know that physical fitness helps keep disease and degeneration in check. Then, as a matter of course, schools would teach age-appropriate methods to stop bullies on playgrounds, in school classrooms and hallways. For adult bully management, colleges, universities, unions, hospitals, small businesses and corporations would include self-defense as a requirement of admission, membership or employment. Violence prevention would be seen as a feasible and necessary part of modern life, reducing stress and helping well-being.

Prevention is a hallmark of good planning, and yet seems so elusive for lots of folks. Whether it's smoking cessation, exercise or healthy eating, so many of us wait for a crisis before we consider prevention as a viable solution. And so it is with violent crime.

Sadly, so many people who take classes with the nonprofit IMPACT Personal Safety, where I'm on the board, don't enroll until they've experienced an assault. We can't always depend on law enforcement, a big brother, or stronger person to keep a "villain" from hurting us. As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are many instances where violence could be prevented, or at least the effects of it lessened. That's squarely a health issue.

Our society's concern about fire provides a good model for dealing with violence. We recognize that fire happens. There's not an institution in the country that doesn't prepare for the possibility of a fire. We legislate fire codes. We have fire drills. We have fire insurance. And yet, we do not relate to physical violence as something we might prevent. Prepare for violence the way we prepare for fires? Yes! Is that far-fetched? Or is it being "negative," the big bugaboo of some "new-ager" types?

How pervasive is violent crime? The subject came up when a holiday dinner guest talked about her recent stint at jury duty. The typical questions were asked: age, profession, ability to be objective. But then, the prosecutor directed a specific question to the entire jury pool: how many of you have been the victim of a violent crime? Since the defendant would be on trial for the perpetration of an alleged violent crime, the question was relevant. Our dinner guest was flabbergasted at the response. She said that approximately three-quarters of the potential jurors raised their hands! Three-quarters! Mind-boggling. I'll wager that if you'd asked the same group how many people had confronted a dangerous fire, the number would have been very few to none. And yet we don't include violence preparation in our "package" of disaster prevention or health care. This is absurd to me.

I'm reminded again and again how uneducated most of us are about very basic principles of self-defense. A recent example: On Air America, Turi Ryder posed the question: "What weapons can passengers use on airplanes if and when there's a threatening person aboard?" She was, of course, referring to the sputtering underpants bomb plot by would-be terrorist Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab on Northwest Flight 253. A Dutch citizen, Jasper Shuringa, tackled the man as Mutallab lit his crotch. Ms. Ryder wanted experts to call in to discuss what else passengers can do... with weapons.

A pilot called in to say there are hidden fire axes and extinguishers on board. I finally called in and told Ryder that to depend on weapons that are both hard to use in close quarters and inaccessible is simply not practical. Instead, we should all know about the hard pointy places on our own bodies which can be used with force against potential assailants' soft, hurty places -- like eyes, throat, temples and yes... gonads. In other words, my pointy hard elbow in someone's face is the only weapon I'm going to be able to access quickly if I'm sitting in an upright and locked position. Alas, she really wasn't interested in what I had to say and wanted to focus solely on weapons.

I want everyone I know and love to learn how to protect themselves in the unlikely event they are attacked by a violent person. And there's that word: "unlikely." Even though it's unlikely your plane will crash -- from terrorism or any other reason -- our airlines are required to give you procedures for a crash landing. Similarly, I want you to know how to handle someone who is out of control.

I can dream, right?