The dreams are less frequent with time, but they still haunt me.
This dream is real and the stakes were high.
Perhaps our dreams are a message—our subconscious trying slap us in the face.
This one is about indecision.
I probably should have died.
Those are the stakes when you start to pull the trigger.
This stuff makes me uncomfortable to talk about.
In fact, I’m not sure if you can handle it because most pretend this doesn’t happen. But it does and it requires a different perspective on life.
Let me tell you the story.Stick with me and I will connect the dots at the end.
Here’s where it started
“Adam 21, Adam 27, man with a gun. 500 North “U” St. Stand-by for further.”
“Copy. One block away,” I said.
“Adam 21, Adam 27, unknown party reports man with gun in the street. Possibly suicidal. No further.”
I parked in the alley and pulled my AR15 out of my trunk—the civilian version of the U.S. Military’s infantry weapon.
I met my partner in the alley and we said nothing. We had worked together long enough to communicate without words.
We stayed in the shadows and walked toward where he was last seen.
We paused and looked at each other.
Around the next corner, across the street, was supposed to be the man with the gun.
We rounded that corner.
To our horror the man with the gun was sitting under a tree five feet in front of us.
We expected him to be on the other side of the street. It usually works out that way. We lost the chance to hide behind the cars.
With two assault rifles aimed at the man, we ordered him to lie face down.
He ignored us and sat with his hands hidden in a bulky jacket. He looked through us with the 1000 yard stare.
In reality, the rest of the story lasted seconds. Much less than it will take you to read. My dream drags on as well.
This is the turning point.
The point where a decision has to be made. Mine, my partner’s, or the man with the gun.
If you’ve never faced life or death decisions, let me explain how the brain works. First it slows down and processes things like a slow motion movie.
Split seconds seem to pass like minutes. Your brain searches through your memory for a formula to apply to the unfolding scenario. It’s like digging through a file cabinet as fast as possible looking for the instruction manual.
If the instructions do not exist, it starts processing past experiences and indoctrinated messages—both good and bad—right and wrong.
In those split seconds, my mind processed a lot:
I will probably die if I do nothing
He may be unarmed—Who called the police? A neighbor? Maybe the guy sitting in front of me.
Whoever shoots first, lives, the other probably dies. If we wait for the man to pull the gun, we die. It is impossible to react quickly enough. The real world is not like TV.
The OODA loop: In combat the brain must first Observe, Orient, and Decide before it can take Action.
Each of these steps represents time. In a fight, the aggressor is most likely to win. The defender is always behind.
Law suits / Prison—There is not a cop in the U.S. who does not fear lawsuits, internal affairs, and even prison. It’s a bigger fear than death for most cops.
Retreat—Backing up was a bad move. Giving up the dominate position, risk tripping or taking our eyes off him were dangerous options.
This is a lot to process in a fractions of a second.
We repeatedly ordered him to lie down. He continued staring ahead.
Make a decision or I die.
I moved my right index finger from the hard metallic frame of the rifle to the spongy trigger. I started squeezing the slack out of the trigger.
I wondered what was going through my partner’s mind. If I fired first, he’d likely follow instinctively, as would I.
My first instinct was to pull the trigger, but I waited too long evaluating my options.
The man jumped up and into a firing platform. He stood in the Weaver shooting stance, similar to a martial arts position.
He put his hands together and pointed it at us.
I saw the light reflect off of it. I was behind on the OODA loop. My indecision turned me from being the aggressor to the defender.
He leveled it at my face. Only a foot away. It was too late.
I made a tactical error.
What I’m about to share may surprise you. Perhaps shock you. Perhaps you will dislike me, but it is the truth.
Tactically, pulling the trigger long before he jumped up was the right move, but I did not do it.
That is what haunts me.
I would have been legally justified, many would say morally too.
The pacifists would disagree.
No one died that night.
My partner later died in the line of duty, just not that day, so the stakes are real.
The man pointed his cell phone at us. He was committing suicide.
Our indecision saved his life. In hindsight, it is easy to say we made the right choice, but I disagree.
If you have not been in these situations, you will not understand.
That’s not the point.
We were lucky, but a strategy of hope is naïve.
The story has a happy ending, except that occasionally it keeps me up at night.
Your first instinct is almost always the right one.
I have studied hundreds of highly successful people and they tend to have something in common. They take in the available information, process it quickly, and take fast action.
Successful people are decisive.
It is counter intuitive, but it makes sense.
Winners fail often. They fail quickly. That is how they get to the winning formula faster.
Losers are paralyzed processing information. They never make a decision. They are too afraid of making the wrong one.
Indecision almost always leads to poor decisions, or even worse, no decision.
If you are not convinced read Malcolm Galdwell’s book “Blink.” It would be an injustice to summarize it here.
Although it worked out that day, I think I made a mistake—hence the dreams.
Before I retired from law enforcement, my number one job was to survive. Number two was everyone else.
I lost control of that situation by being indecisive. I allowed a crazy person to decide my fate.
We all do this at times. More often than we realize.
There are things we want to do, but we don’t.
Instead we think about them. Deliberate the options. Obsess about the risks. Allow our fears to control our choices.
Most of our fears are irrational, but they control us. We allow the insecure lunatic that lives inside each of us to control our fate.
You are no longer the aggressor when consumed by fear. You become reactive. Behind the curve playing a losers game.
Thoreau was right. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Today is an important day.
It’s the first day of the rest of your life.
Don’t waste it.