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  • Writer's pictureAmy Hervey

You Have No Idea Who You’re Dealing With

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

If you watch TV or movies at all, you’ve likely heard the trope, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.” Awkward grammatical structure aside, it’s true for most daily encounters.

Almost anytime you’re in public — when you walk into a restaurant, get on a bus, attend a concert, or go grocery shopping — you’re quickly surrounded by people you don’t know. This doesn’t mean you should treat everyone as a threat. You have a wealth of knowledge and experience at your disposal, and every day you make dozens of assessments about the behavior of people around you that ultimately will affect your safety.

Appearances can be deceptive.

While waiting for a train in Washington, D.C., I carefully watched a man in line ahead of me who seemed nervous. He didn’t interact with anyone, mumbled to himself and glanced suddenly around the station every few minutes. He was wearing an ill-fitting business suit, and carried a single satchel. The man often patted his jacket and pants pockets, as though checking for something he wanted to be sure was still there. Potential threat? Absolutely. However, it turned out that he was traveling to an interview and had missed an earlier train, so he was very anxious about arriving on time for a job interview that afternoon.

Be courteous. Be careful.

Be careful when you encounter someone who seems angry, agitated, unstable, anxious, confused, or impaired. Before you interact with a stranger, remember…you don’t know this person, his or her mental state and background, and how he or she will react.

The lady who just cut you off in traffic may be high on drugs, mentally challenged, or in a frantic rush to the hospital for a medical emergency. The angry man who stepped in front of you in the convenience store line may have just lost his job, his home, or his hope. The angsty teen who was rude to you in the parking lot may have a terrible home life, or be the victim of bullying.

A gentle answer, an open mind, a big dose of situational awareness, and some common courtesy can go a long way toward deescalating a potentially dangerous situation. Be conscious of your own state of mind, and when you’re rushed, frustrated, tired, or even “hangry,” put a little more effort into being the best version of yourself.

Be aware, stay alert, and trust your intuition.

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