Surviving Hostile Assaults - 3 Guidelines

Dr. Tom Roddy, Founder of Atlanta Resource Foundation on July 24, 2012

The following is an excerpt from Atlanta Resource Foundation Founder & President Emeritus, Dr. Tom Roddy's forthcoming book Wandering Home. It was originally written more than 10 years ago as a letter to friends of the foundation.  

When Anger Stalks

Atlanta 1999. A hot Thursday in July. The temperature reaches ninety-five degrees. At 2:50pm Mark O. Barton starts to get even. He shoots and kills nine people across from my office building, injuring thirteen more. The victims have nowhere to go. They are face to face with an enraged man determined to kill every person he sees who seems to be happy and successful.

For those left behind to think about the implications of implacable anger, I offer these guidelines:

First, make certain anger is not stalking within. Anger has a way of finding anger. It goes after it like a heat-seeking missle, finds itself and wants to destroy itself. When workers in the American Civil Rights Movement went out to face and angry crowd, they were counseled to get rid of any hatred they were feeling. "Pray for those who despitefully use you." It was practical advice, a way of trying to be safer in the face of extreme anger.

Conversely, I have found myself most at risk when I have insisted on acting as a policeman, attempting to enforce my set of rules and regulations on others. Anger, even veiled anger, begets anger.

Secondly, get out of anger's way. Don't try to be a hero. Mark Barton started shooting, and a security consultant said, Run. If you can't run, hide. I've read that marshall arts instructors teach their students to run first and fight only as a last resort, when faced with corporal danger.

Likewise, when I am being tailgated, my wife counsels me not to hit the brake but to exit the scene, even if I have to pull the car off the road. "But I am in front, going five to ten miles faster than the speed limit. I will not be forced to go faster." My rights are not the issue. Getting out of the way of implacable anger is.

Thirdly, when anger is in your face, consider feigning disinterest. A friend who is a psychiatrist asked a group of professional thieves serving time how they picked their victims. Easy. The one who is afraid. Who do they avoid? The one who is disinterested. You can never tell how they will react.

In the movie Saving Private Ryan a group of soldiers argue about whether their captain, played by Tom Hanks, should have ordered an attack on a German sniper machine gun position, when it wasn't part of the mission to save Ryan. Men were lost in the successful effort. While the men argue, Hanks appears disinterested. When urged to do something by one of his men, he responds, "I wonder how the Dodgers are doing? Last I heard...." Not interested.

In 1994, I was walking with my wife and a colleague on the Copacabana Beach in Brazil. I noticed the Southern Cross in the darkening sky and looked up to admire it. At that moment, I was knocked to the sand. A man stood over me with a hunting knife and said, in good English, "Money or I kill you." He had several friends with him.

I started fighting him with my feet and was only saved from being stabbed by my wife who shouted in Portuguese, "The blood of Jesus is powerful. Leave in the name of Jesus!" She turned to me where I was still lying on the sand and commanded, "Stand up and claim the name of Jesus!" I did. She threw her money at the thieves. The wind picked up the bills and blew them away. The would-be robbers ran after the money and kept running. Alexandra was not afraid. She acted unpredictably.

While living in Brazil I noticed a police officer at a busy intersection writing down the license numbers of cars that ran the stop light. He had a motor scooter, and I asked him why he didn't give chase.

First, I will have trouble catching them with that scooter. Second, if I do catch them, they will be mad, and I will be mad. There will be words. They may kill me. I may kill them. It's easier to write down their tag number. When they go to pick up their tag next spring, they will have a ticket and a fine.

As a volunteer at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, I once asked the chaplain which prisoners were the easiest to reform. "Murder one - theirs are crimes of passion." The psycotic killers who could murder without hatred were not likely to change. People who committed a crime of passion could more easily let their feelings go and learn to live in a different way. "Then you have a reformed murderer," the chaplain explained.

When anger stalks, we need to do an internal check on our own anger. We need to become aware of our own aggression. Then if we can, we need to move out of the way. Get off the road. Throw money into the wind. Do not be afraid, for God is our protector and judge.