Years ago I was working with local news media outlets across the country in an interesting experiment “luring” grown adults on hidden camera into cars and vans.  At the time, I was working with an investigative reporter for the national media conducting these experiments.  We did so to demonstrate how easily we can all be taken off-guard by someone armed not with a gun or knife, but simply armed with a good story.

Amazingly, of the 200 or so people we set out to lure, all of them fell for the ploys used, whether our would-be victims were male, female, younger, older, alone, or with a friend or someone they were in a relationship with.  But this is far from the most interesting aspect of this experiment as we crossed the country repeating it time and time again at shopping malls and college campuses.

After we successfully lured our supposed victims, the hidden cameras of the reporters were revealed, and our subjects were interviewed as to why they fell for the trap.  Almost to a person, their responses had an uncanny similarity. “I knew something didn’t seem right” or “something told me this wasn’t real” or “I thought this sounded strange”.  Yet for all of their precognitive musings, they still went with us or got into the car.  So what went wrong?

I believe we are born with an incredible gift, a gift that unfortunately we often do not take advantage of enough when confronted with the possibility of either physical or even financial threat — our instincts.

Have you ever been in a situation yourself where something or someone just did not seem as it should?  Have you ever had that nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach regarding a person or place, even though all appearances seemed nice enough?  My guess is that you have, but my question is, “What did you do with that feeling?”  Do not feel bad if your response is “nothing”.  That is the most common response, just as it was with our would-be victims in our hidden camera experiments.  But why is the typical response always “nothing”?  There has to be a reason behind this when our instincts are so obviously speaking to us in such situations, trying to warn us of possible harm or exploitation.

Disconnecting Your Inner Voice

The first reason, I believe, goes back to “nature vs. nurture”.  Obviously our instincts are engaged as our genetically engineered early warning system is activated and we have that feeling, that tingling, somewhere at the core of our being that is at-odds against our intellect which is often giving us a very different response.  We find that our minds, our intellects, chime in with thoughts of “you’re just being silly” or “you’re being paranoid” or “this is just your imagination”.  But even worse is when these words are not only coming from our minds, but sometimes those we are around in the moment — our friends.

This dynamic can even predate your current scenario.  Did a personal or situational premonition ever occur in your childhood where your parents were the ones speaking these words to you?  If so, we are definitely onto something as far as your current condition and disconnect from the instincts.  While nature has gifted your survival instincts to you, I have often found well-meaning parents who actually told their children not to listen to their instincts.  Sometimes this was for the purpose of social graces, and sometimes this was to keep the parents from being embarrassed in front of their friends.  “What do you mean, you don’t want to stay over at so-and-so’s house tonight?”  “Why wouldn’t you want to go to so-and-so’s house and play while I’m at work today?”  “What’s wrong with so-and-so coming over tonight to sit with you while we go out?”  And being a child, what intellectual argument could you offer to their query?  So you, and they, overrode your instincts in lieu of a more acceptable (if not expected) behavior.

Nature was thus silenced by nurture.  And how many times has this been repeated in your life by either family and/or friends?  That’s why so many today do not listen to their instincts.  In too many cases, we have been trained not to listen to them.

Manual Override

The other scenario I have witnessed play out in these experiments is that the story was so good, so compelling, that it actually overrode the natural instincts to question what seemed to be the obvious or innocent.

What if the person before us was pleading with us to help in some emergency?  Their dog has been injured, someone is having a seizure, their baby is trapped in an overheated car and the keys cannot be found?  Naturally, this appeals to our human nature to be sympathetic and lend aid.  What if the person claimed to be some authority figure approaching us in a parking lot with a badge?  Or knocking on the door of our home dressed in a service provider’s uniform trying to find a neighbor’s residence, or a delivery driver asking us to “hold that door/gate” to gain entry into an apartment building?  These scenarios appeal to our human nature to respond to those we assume are in positions of authority or service.  And what of those who approach us who are children, elderly, women, or those who seem to be somehow physically impaired asking for our assistance?  Naturally, such situations appeal to our humanity to lend assistance, especially to those we assume pose us no physical threat without considering that they may not be operating alone.

These are situations in which we manually override our instincts and let our intellect speak for us.  While most of the instances cited above will be as they appear to be, criminals and con artists alike know how effective they are as ploys due to the fact they seem so natural and innocent, if not common occurrences, in our society.  Yet this is where the innocent has been transformed into the insidious.  We believe the stories simply because they are believable.  Even so, there have been people who have successfully navigated such situations and walked away from harm.  The offenders did not attack them, but simply waited for the next victim that would willfully fall for the ploy.

Reclaiming Your Inner Voice

I recall a lady in a television studio audience once asking me, “So how do we get back in touch again with our instincts, and that ‘voice’ you mention?”  My response, I think, surprised her as well as many others there. I simply offered “That’s easy!  Stop asking for other people’s opinion!  That’s probably what got you into trouble to begin with.”

Your voice, your instincts are yours.  You two just need to get reacquainted again.  Practice in the small things and move up to the larger things.  Start where you are at and build from there, but remember there is only one reason that voice has been gifted to you and that is to keep you safe!  Why second-guess what nature so graciously gifted to you for your own safety?  It is worth the time and effort to reclaim your voice and once again begin to trust your instincts.


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McKissack-JeffJEFF McKISSACK is the President of Defense By Design in Dallas, Texas, offering individuals and organizations a realistic and customized approach to modern defense.   He is a contributing writer to several state and national publications including Black Belt Magazine, Martial Arts Success Magazine and Predators.tv,  as well as author of Power Proverbs for Personal DefenseHe is a noted speaker and trainer on the subjects of profiling and threat assessment. Jeff best describes his work saying “I teach you how to spot trouble before trouble spots you.”