FearLess Fridays, Week Ten: State What You Want


Respect is an important component of personal safety. My friend Carmel describes self defense as a way to feel “safe, strong, and respected in all situations”—a description I love. Being treated disrespectfully is unpleasant, and it can also warn us of an impending threat to our safety: If someone doesn’t respect your feelings or rights, there’s a good chance they won’t respect your physical boundaries either. But we don’t always have to fight for respect—many times, we can convince people to treat us respectfully simply by using assertive communication.

An assertive response when our boundaries aren’t being respected has three  parts:

  1. Name the behavior that is causing problems.
  2. State the effect the behavior is having.
  3. Say what you want the person to do. (You can say “please” if you want.)

Example: “The way you keep following me feels threatening. I want you to stay away from me.”

If you know the offender’s name, use it:

“John, your email and text messages are making me feel uncomfortable. Please stop contacting me.”

“Emily, your requests for money are disturbing our customers. You need to leave the store.”

Notice that you can employ this approach on behalf of someone else, if you witness disrespectful behavior:

“Hey—touching her like that is inappropriate and it’s making you unwelcome here. Keep your hands to yourself.”

For the rest of the week, try this strategy out at least once. You don’t necessarily have to use when you’re angry. It could be something as simple as telling your roommate, “When you play video games late at night, the sound of gunfire and yelling makes it hard for me to sleep. I’d like you to keep the volume lower once I’ve gone to bed, please.”

You can also think ahead to situations where you might use this strategy—on the job, with strangers, or with friends and family. Or you can analyze past situations where you might have used it, and decide what to say in the future if a similar situation arises.

When you employ this strategy, remember not to argue with the other person over whether your feelings are justified. Reasonable people, when told they are making someone uncomfortable, will alter their behavior. You don’t need to waste your time arguing with an unreasonable person. If the behavior continues, use another self defense strategy, like using a loud voice to attract attention, or leaving and getting help.

By Friday, I hope you’ll feel more confident about speaking up when you’re not being treated appropriately. You may also have a better understanding of how clear, direct communication can resolve a minor irritation before it grows into a big problem.

Extra Credit! Another way to use assertive communication for safety is by learning to give clear, explicit directions that involve bystanders in an emergency. This article by Irene van der Zande at the non-profit safety organization Kidpower has great information on how to practice this skill: Overcoming the Bystander Effect. Go take a look!

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.

FearLess Fridays, Week Nine: Devise Exit Strategies


Leaving a dangerous situation is often the best, and simplest, choice for staying safe. Yet we don’t always think of it as an option. For example, as Irene van der Zande at Kidpower has pointed out, many of us spent our childhood years in school, being told we couldn’t leave the classroom. Thus we grew accustomed to handling all kinds of peer conflict without the option of leaving. This week, we’re going to re-acquaint ourselves with exits, and remind ourselves that, just as we can say “No” when we wish to, we can to choose to leave a place or situation if we decide that’s the safest option.

  1. When you go into a familiar space this week—your office, a store you visit regularly, a favorite coffeeshop—take a moment to close your eyes and visualize  all the exits. Then open your eyes and check. Are there some you hadn’t remembered or noticed?
  2. When you find yourself in a new space, take time to identify the exits—not just doors, but windows, stairs, and other ways you could get out. How would you exit quickly if you needed to?
  3. In both kinds of spaces, take a moment to go through some of the exits you see. Cross the threshold; find out what’s on the other side.

Ask yourself: What might stop me from exiting this space if I needed to? Would I feel embarrassed? Would I feel I was giving up something I have a right to?

For the rest of the week, pay close attention to doorways and exits—in cars, trains and buses; private and public buildings; parks and courtyards. Also, think about other kinds of exits and safe places in your life. Leaving a bad relationship, for example, is often the healthy thing to do, but we may believe it isn’t an option. Exiting is a skill you can practice just like any other, and the more you do it in low-stakes situations, the more likely you’ll be to use it effectively in an emergency.

By Friday, you should have a greater awareness of the exit routes and options that surround you, and be better at identifying them quickly. I hope you’ll also have a deeper appreciation of how simple and effective it is to just leave a situation—once you’ve empowered yourself to do so.

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.

SAFETY RECALL NOTICE—2008 Bachelor of Arts Degree

diploma-152024_150I’ve been cleaning out some of my old files and found this humor piece I wrote years ago and never submitted anywhere. I’m posting it here to celebrate finally paying off my giant, soul-sucking student loans. Hooray!

Dear Alumnus/Alumna:

You are receiving this notice because your alma mater has determined that a defect exists in certain 2006 through 2009 model year Bachelor of Arts degrees. This condition could affect the degree-holder’s ability to think safely and effectively during normal use of the degree. Our records indicate that you possess a degree which has not had this condition corrected.

What is the Defect?

The defect is the potential for unsubstantiated rumor, conjecture, or spurious correlations to be mistaken for plausible argument. This may result in you reaching illogical conclusions, or encountering philosophical dilemmas or conundrums that could interfere with your ability to rationally determine the best course of action when presented with multiple options. You may experience difficulty operating electronic equipment, crossing the street safely, or knowing whom you should believe, vote for, or drop bombs on. In certain situations this defect could cause injury or death, or just leave you looking like a complete ignoramus.

Additionally, some degree models (American Studies, Government, and Creative Writing) may experience a sudden loss of quantitative reasoning skill, a persistent belief that Larry Kudlow is a pretty bright guy, and/or a recurring inability to add fractions.

What Will the University Do? 

To make it less likely that your appalling ignorance will adversely impact your life and career, your degree-granting institution will correct the deficiencies in your degree at NO CHARGE to you. The remedy will entail modifying certain neurochemical pathways in your brain, specifically in the cerebral cortex. The correction process may take up to two years; however, if it takes over six months, your university will provide you with a loaner degree at NO COST to you.*

*Subject to availability. Loaner degrees limited to History, Anthropology, and Economics.

What Should You Do?

Please contact your nearest accredited institution of higher learning to make an appointment as soon as possible.

Until these important remedies to your degree are completed, we recommend that you exercise caution in the following situations:

  • If you receive email from an unknown person claiming to be descended from Nigerian royalty and asking for money, do not reply.
  • Do not post any comments on Internet message boards.
  • While walking, you may encounter a series of successively higher or lower broad, shallow platforms. These are stairs. Do not attempt to navigate them without the assistance of an educated person.
  • Refrain from signing legally-binding contracts, enlisting in the military of any nation, or applying to graduate school.
  • If you are already in graduate school, please have your advisor call 1-800-FIX-GRAD as soon as possible. (Your advisor is the slightly paunchy middle-aged man with the beard who props his office door open with a copy of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.)

What Caused the Defect?

This unfortunate problem with your degree was completely unavoidable and could not have been foreseen by anyone. Twenty years of state-legislated budget cuts may have also had something to do with it and, in retrospect, there are a few people on the staff who suspect that converting the entire core curriculum to video lectures accessed via Skype may not have been the soundest pedagogical approach.

Please place this letter underneath the cardboard backing of your framed diploma for future reference.

To view this message as a short YouTube video being performed by an adorable 4-year-old, click here.


FearLess Fridays, Week Eight: Learn the Best Targets and Weapons


Humans have an instinctive ability to use physical force to defend ourselves—skills that have evolved over many thousands of years of survival. But there are some basic principles you can practice that will increase the effectiveness of any physical self defense you might need to employ. Generally, we want to use a hard weapon to strike a soft target on the body

1. First, familiarize yourself with the best targets. The human body is full of vulnerable areas, but we’ll focus on the easiest ones to remember and reach. Stand in front of a mirror, or look at someone else, and identify each of the following:

  • Eyes
  • Temple
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Groin
  • Knee
  • Shin
  • Instep
  • Toes

2. Next, try forming some of the natural weapons you have available to you:

  • Fingers/fingernails: Rake your fingernails across at eye level, from one side to another. Raking downward works too!
  • Palm heel: Pull back your fingers and thrust forward with the bottom half of your palm. This is a great strike to throw upward into the bottom of someone’s jaw, beneath the chin.
  • Hammerfist: Make a tight fist and drop the butt end of it–the pinkie and outer edge of your palm–into your other palm, as if you’re hammering in a nail. This weapon works great against an opponent’s nose or throat, and you can also swing it sideways into the temple.
  • Knee: Knee kicks are especially good if your opponent is already holding on to you, because he’ll provide you with extra stability. The groin and midsection are good targets. If your opponent is bent over, a knee to the face can be devastating.
  • Heel: Stomping down onto the instep or toes can cause a lot of damage to the small bones of the foot, disabling your opponent.

This video runs through the basic targets and weapons in the first 1:20, and then you can watch me beat up my husband Scott for a while.

You might want to try out some of these weapons on a pillow or a soft piece of furniture. Go easy–in a real fight, you’d be willing to damage your fingers a little to get away, but there’s no need to do that when you’re just practicing.

For the rest of the week, take an opportunity once or twice a day to identify the targets on a person near you. If you’re sitting next to someone on the bus, consider: Which targets would be easiest to reach? Which weapons might you use? Try to identify at least three potential targets on their body. For self defense, remember: if you can’t reach the target you want, strike any target. The key to success is to continue striking and causing damage until you can get away safely.

By Friday, you should be much more aware of the options available to you in a physical confrontation, and better able to think strategically about what you’d need to do to escape an attacker. You may also find that this skill helps you in less drastic circumstances. For example, visualizing targets on another person can be a good way to calm yourself down in a tense situation. It will remind you that the other person is really quite vulnerable. Focusing on their vulnerability rather than your own anger can help de-escalate the conflict.

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.

FearLess Fridays, Week Seven: Be Loud


This week, we’re going to work on a skill that’s so simple, you probably spent most of your childhood being told not to use it: Loudness.

Loud noises are disruptive and attention-getting—which is why they are so helpful in a self defense situation. But we’re taught early in life that we shouldn’t be loud. By the time we reach adulthood, many of us are out of practice with this basic tool for self defense.

1. Find a place where you can be loud without alarming the people around you. In your car on the highway might be an option. Or someplace where everyone is being loud: a concert or sporting event. Or anywhere extremely noisy: near a construction site, behind the nice gentleman with the leaf blower, etc.

2. Yell! Try to get at least ten loud yells in, and keep trying to increase your volume. Here are some things you might practice yelling—try at least three of them:

  • “No!”
  • “Stop!”
  • “Go away!”
  • “Leave me (or him/her/us) alone!”
  • “Let go of me!”

3. Don’t scream. Screaming is an instinctive response and most of us don’t need to practice it. We want to work instead on assertive vocal projection that will surprise or intimidate an attacker, and draw attention from bystanders. So use words that communicate specific information, and a lower tone—one instructor I know recommends using “the voice a mother dog uses to tell her puppies they’ve done something wrong.”

In an assault situation, yelling anything at all (or even screaming) is better than silence, because we want to attract attention and help. The words and phrases suggested above are good ones because they let bystanders know this is not a normal, peaceful interaction—that there’s a problem.

For the rest of the week, think about the effect your new loud voice would have in the different environments you move through each day. If you yelled for help at your office, how many people would be likely to hear you? If you had a safety problem in your apartment’s parking lot, how loud would you need to be to alert others? Also, notice situations where loud noises attract your attention. What kinds of noises indicate a problem? What kinds of noises do you tend to disregard?

By Friday, you should have a better appreciation of how much volume you can muster in an emergency. I hope you’ll also feel more comfortable using your voice in a powerful way, and have a few of words that you’ve practiced at full volume, so you don’t have to think about them too much.

Let’s use the next five days to make ourselves safer and more powerful! Check in below in the comments to share how things are going—or Tweet your responses to @SusanSchorn, hashtag #FearLessFridays. You can find all the FearLess Fridays activities on the main page.