There is an old Polish idiom: “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” My grandmother would say it when she wanted to let people know that she was not getting involved in something that was not her problem. Apparently, in Poland, monkeys are problems and circuses are where monkeys (and thus problems) come from.

This old saying should come to mind when you’re assessing whether or not to get involved in a use-of-force incident. Is this situation your circus, and are these, indeed, your monkeys?

If the answer to either question is “nope,” I would suggest moving, along with your loved ones, to a position of safety or tactical advantage. Implement the “conflict avoidance” portion of your personal-protection plan.

Your Personal-Protection Plan

Let’s recap the chief bullet points of any personal-protection plan:

  • Situational Awareness
  • Conflict Avoidance
  • Use of Force

The details that fall beneath these three bullet points will be different for every single location and situation you enter. Notice that these bullet points appear in order of use. You will see that “Use of Force” is at the bottom because you should only use force as a last resort (and that force should be objectively reasonable to stop the unlawful interference you face).

In short, I’m telling you to see danger well ahead of time and to walk away. There is great risk in getting involved with any use-of-force incident. The primary risk is to your safety. We all imagine that we will win every fight, but that is not always true. I had a defensive tactics instructor once reinforce the danger of close-quarters battle by saying, “At contact distances, even a poorly trained bad guy can get lucky.”

Avoid the Fight

Later in my life, I came to understand that most bad guys have much more experience at fighting than do most good guys. Consider how many street fights a mugger has likely been in. Now compare that to how many times you have actually had to fight. I can’t lay hands on the actual statistics right now, but during one of my training classes, I remember hearing and being shocked by one fact: The average criminal charged with shooting at police admits to having been involved in no less than four shootings. Most cops are not involved in four shootings in a career.

This means that the person you are likely to face in a deadly force incident is probably younger, stronger and more experienced than you. Where you have the advantage is that you have the element of surprise. The attacker, as a predator, is looking for a soft target and is not expecting that you will fight back. To sway the advantage even further in your favor, I suggest that you make every effort to avoid such situations.

The best fight is the one you are not involved in.

Forget the idea that avoiding a fight is cowardice. Your moral obligation is to remain alive to care for your loved ones. To fight is to risk death. Moreover, even if you win the fight, the effects of that encounter may linger for years.

Before you step into the fray, ask yourself: Is this my circus, and are these my monkeys?