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  • Writer's pictureDonna Miles

The Tapestry of Safety

The tapestry of personal safety is woven from threads of situational awareness….

What does that even mean, Donna?! “The tapestry of personal safety? Woven from threads of situational awareness?” Have you lost your marbles? You should talk about security, risks, and threats, not weaving a tapestry. What’s next, safety is like building a stained-glass window? I could argue that idea as well, but let’s stick with the tapestry of safety for now.

For many, if not most, people the concept of safety is considered an, either/or, on/off construct. The thought is, we are safe until we are at risk for harm and then we are no longer safe. Safe, is a condition we hope to always find ourselves in, rather than a creation of our own making. This thinking can lead to obvious trouble but is more common than not. An alternate perspective, that safety is much more than on/off, either/or, and instead is a complex, woven tapestry created by us as we develop and use our situational awareness, is much closer to the truth. The good news? It’s easier to weave and envelop yourself in a tapestry of safety, than it is to turn safety back on when it’s suddenly been turned off.

I can hear you already, "Great, so how do I weave this magical tapestry of safety? Where are the threads and the loom?" Well, don't go digging in your closet for a loom just yet. Let me provide you with five golden threads you can spin into your very own, personal safety tapestry.

1. The Thread of Observation: Practice becoming a keen observer of your immediate environment, noting your observations, and asking yourself questions about what you think you see. Look at people, objects, and spaces, both near you and far from you. Look above you at the ceiling and down at the floor near your feet. This might sound as dull as watching paint dry, but it can become a fascinating, and often beautiful pastime. (It is important to note – you CANNOT be a keen observer of your environment if you are looking at or engaged with your phone in any manner.) To spin the Thread of Observation, begin with simple exercises like observing the present moment. The “right NOW.” Yes! Right now! What do you hear, smell, see? What should be going on? Is that what is going on? Wherever you go, ask yourself questions as you look for usual and unusual details. Making sense of the small stuff you observe can help alert you to bigger changes. Why? Well, if you've made sense of the usual "pattern" of your surroundings, it's easier to spot something that breaks that pattern — like someone acting opposite to everyone else in the same setting.

2. The Thread of Anticipation: Spin the Thread of Anticipation by making it a practice to predict what you will encounter in terms of other people, activities, and attitudes, before you arrive at any event or location, based on knowledge from previous experiences at those locations or events. Ever notice how a champion chess player is always several moves ahead in the game? That’s because they anticipate their opponent’s moves. Based on their understanding of the patterns of the game from previous experience, they already have a plan of action to adjust their move as necessary to keep their king protected. You don't need to be a Grandmaster but practice anticipating events in daily life to spin the Thread of Anticipation. Now, remember, you need to weave in your Thread of Observation when you arrive anywhere, and periodically assess whether your predictions remain correct or not, or it does you no good to spin the Thread of Anticipation in the first place. Practicing anticipation keeps you a step ahead of possible risks which is where you want to stay.

3. The Thread of Decision Making: Spinning the Thread of Decision Making will improve your ability to make quick and appropriate decisions in changing conditions. As with the Thread of Anticipation, spinning the Thread of Decision Making is done before arriving anywhere. How? By developing a standard plan of action for responding to scenarios that are inconsistent with what you predicted and anticipated you would encounter anywhere you’re going. If you observe a questionable situation that is contrary to what you anticipated you would encounter, you don’t want to waste time deciding in that moment, what action you should take; you want to decide only if/when you will act. Setting yourself up to make decisions quickly can make the difference between being safe and being caught off-guard. Practice by imagining logical plans of action to respond to scenarios that would be opposite or unexpected for a given event or location, based on what you know you’ve encountered on previous experiences. (Notice how you weave in the Thread of Anticipation with the Thread of Decision Making? You really can weave a tapestry of safety if you spin these threads of situational awareness.)

4. The Thread of Focus: Cultivate the power to stay focused on the present moment, despite the allure of a myriad of distracting situations, and you will significantly increase your super-power that is situational awareness. I get it - it's tempting to lose yourself in a catchy tune, power-walk and talk on the phone, even scroll social media while walking down a street, but that's exactly when your safety tapestry could most easily unravel. Spin your Thread of Focus by not allowing your phone or any other distractions to pull your attention away from your environment. The more focused you are in each moment, the less likely you are to miss something important whether good, or bad. Now, you might be asking yourself, “What’s the difference between the Thread of Focus and the Thread of Observation, Donna?” The Thread of Focus forms the part of your safety tapestry that equips and prompts you to look for additional information, beyond your initial observations, to confirm or refute the significance or implications of an unexpected situation. Without the Thread of Observation however, you will never get to weave in the Thread of Focus.

5. The Thread of Responsibility: The Thread of Responsibility might be the most critical of these five golden threads, because without this thread you will never feel compelled to try to develop your situational awareness. And, without situational awareness you can be at greater risk for harm than someone who does have situational awareness. Just as your physical health, your job, your credit score, paying taxes etc. are your personal responsibilities, your safety is also your responsibility. Recognizing and acting on the truth of this, that once we become adults, we are all individually and fundamentally responsible for our own safety, is the key to spinning the Thread of Responsibility. It is not the responsibility of police, security, or laws to protect us from threats of harm.*

*Disclaimer: This is not intended to victim shame or blame. Those who have experienced violence or crime at the hands of another are not at fault or responsible on any level for being targeted and harmed. Even someone with highly tuned situational awareness is not 100% guaranteed to never encounter an imminent threat, however the likelihood of being taken by surprise is minimized. That is why it’s more than worth your time to spin these golden (or whatever your favorite color is) threads of situational awareness and weave them into your own personal safety tapestry.

Clearly, this was not meant to be an in-depth presentation of each of the five threads, nor of the complex concept of situational awareness itself. It was simply to introduce the idea that safety isn't a switch that you turn on when you sense danger but rather a finely woven tapestry you create through consistent and conscious efforts. By enhancing your situational awareness, you're not just passively hoping for safety, you're actively creating it. So, why don’t you give it a go, spin these five threads, and start weaving!

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