Social Conditioning & Behavior
© Copyright, 2022 Tim Boehlert
What do you think you understand about the term social conditioning? Did you know that it is both a tool and a weapon? Here’s how it is summarized in Wikipedia:
Social conditioning is the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society. The concept is stronger than that of socialization, which is the process of inheriting norms, customs and ideologies. Source: Wikipedia.org
Can using good manners get you killed? While on the surface that may seem like an absurd question, far too often it is the truth. Criminals in many successful daily encounters are using good manners – yours, against you. Phone scam artists and salesmen rely heavily on this well-known fact. This tool is known and understood by two opposing groups — criminals & law enforcement. Society really only understands one side of the coin, and that understanding is very limited. In fact, it has a tunnel-vision component to it.
Society can be described as a group that adheres to an agreed set of rules, laws, views, and expectations.
Societies construct patterns of behavior by deeming certain actions or concepts as acceptable or unacceptable. These patterns of behavior within a given society are known as societal norms. Source: Wikipedia.org
The tunnel-vision aspect comes into play because of our social conditioning, and despite it. We are raised and also trained in the social sciences by our caregivers, our friends, family, strangers, educators. We spend a lifetime learning and testing the things that we learn along the way. We learn about boundaries, we test those traits and we learn from both the successes and the failures. We make adjustment shifts in our expectations.
We have some specific expectations, the predominant one being that we all play by the same rules. We adhere to these rules without any drastic deviations while knowing that some will color outside the lines. We also have an expectation that that number is very low. What we fail to see and understand is that that behavior is also a norm, for criminals. The reality is that people we thought we knew, which includes ourselves, use this to our advantage when we deem it appropriate to do so.
We fool ourselves that we live in a safe world, that “it probably won’t ever happen to me,” that “those things don’t happen around here.” You might be right. Is it worth the gamble?
Here’s where social engineering can be used as a binary argument. This coin has two sides, tool and weapon. They can be the same thing – ding ding ding!
Criminals use this tool every day as a weapon. They may appeal to your vanity, or your ego – one and the same. They may also take advantage of your inability to color outside the lines. If they think they can do so, and it’s likely they know they can before they even meet you, they will use the tool as a weapon – to overcome your senses. By doing so, they stun your senses and put you into a mental freeze. “How dare you!” In that moment, while your mind is trying to comprehend their audacity, they strike, effectively overwhelming your senses by escalating their attack. It works like a charm. In fact, they use charm as a salvo – appeal to their ego and the victim drops their guard.
There are too many instances where social conditioning fails us – when the rules are not followed is a big one. An example, when someone else makes a scene at the mall, what is your reaction? How does their behavior affect you? Do you feel it’s rude? Would you say that out loud, in front of a large mixed audience, to their face? Be honest. Most of us would not. “Don’t get involved.” is the typical thought, and response.
I wonder why when we approach our car in the mall parking lot that we’d have any expectation of ownership. Is it just because we have the key in our hand? Do you think a criminal knows that? Do you think that he’d respectthat? You both have the same knowledge – but his is that you’re prey.
With the prices of used cars in the current economy, everyone is now a target of opportunity. Even salesmen smell the blood in the water. They have the advantage. It’s a marketplace that has never been seen before – an increase in demand, and a very limited pool of products.
The criminal may approach you in several ways:
“Excuse me, do you have the time?”
“Can you help me?”
Or it might be a physical encounter, closing distance, slight bump, or an all-out assault. No weapons necessary, only social conditioning. They appealed to your desire to be kind, helpful, but they appealed to your inability to be rude.
“Excuse me, do you have the time?”, “Nope, I don’t.” Short, sweet, and to the point. No need to apologize, which is probably how you would have normally stated it.
“Can you help me?”, “I can’t, and please don’t get too close as I’m contagious!” So what, you lied a little.
If they close distance, keep moving past your vehicle, or maybe abruptly turn and face the aggressor, and get very loud! You could also be very rude and push past them before they understand that their tactic didn’t work on this one. If it wasn’t an attack, you can explain your way out of it. You may feel foolish, but so what?
Let’s now look at a crime that occurred this week in NYC. I believe the victim was killed as a result of several failures, but the one that no-one mentions is social conditioning, and how it may have enabled the suspect to gain access to the building and or her apartment.
We share some common expectations, one of which is that our home is a secured space. It’s assumed to be a safe place that contains those things that we deem necessary, valuable, and maybe sacred.
When you live in a ‘secured building’, you have certain rights & specific responsibilities. You have the right to deny building access to anyone that you are either unsure of or that does not belong in that building.
You share the responsibility of being a security officer for that building. By allowing anyone access to the building that does not belong there, you violate the trust of every tenant, and put every tenant in danger.
Unfortunately, this happens daily, everywhere. My aim isn’t to place blame, but rather to raise awareness.
A follow-on is any incident whereby an authorized person enters a secured building using an authorized method – let’s presume a key. This person then either pulls or pushes the door open and makes their way inside. And hereis the common mistake. Instead of immediately securing that door, we all assume it will automatically close. We got lazy, our guard was down – because “ah, I’m finally home!” The follow-on person walks in just before that door is secured. Most people don’t/won’t even notice. Many simply shirk their responsibility and don’t care. Their attitude may be that it’s not their responsibility to do security. They may be right, but that attitude might also change their status to prey/victim.
It’s possible that this victim was unaware; it’s also likely that she didn’t want to go against her years of training in the social skills to confront a stranger. Was he a stranger? At 4a.m., would you not notice someone out on the empty street, walking in your direction? It’s possible. Is it plausible that they could gain entry without your knowledge? And again, yes. Could that entry have been prevented? Maybe.
Was she wearing ear buds, headphones, or did she bury her head/attention in her phone… all very bad ideas under these circumstances, but also almost all of the time.
It’s easy to play this mental game – could she, would she, did she? It’s merely a mental exercise called visualization where you play out scenarios in your head. To be good at it, takes practice and imagination. You have to push yourself into some very dark places, tight quarters, places that do exist even despite your inability to see that now.
Everything that’s wrong with this scenario can be found in Gavin de Becker’s, The Gift of Fear, read it and live the lessons between its pages.
Nothing that happens after that unauthorized entry was not due to that failure. The victim’s inability to check and assume a higher level of responsibility, or her inability to color outside the lines of acceptable social behavior, and become very rude let the wolf in the door.
If like too many of us, you believe that the presence of cameras will keep you safe, you need to understand a few things. Don’t be complacent and complicit otherwise.
Most businesses do not invest in the best equipment to keep their properties ‘safe.’
Many of these cameras may not be functional, and are rarely serviced.
No one is likely monitoring those cameras 24/7/365, if at all. Most just sense movement and only record short bursts of activity during that time.
The common belief amongst security experts is that cameras are a feel-good solution, a check box at best, perhaps a write-off for insurance purposes or a liability insurance policy.
Most crime caught on camera is very low-resolution, and unfit to be useful for law enforcement.
Cameras are most useful, after the crime has already occurred… or maybe not so much. You can’t/won’t know for sure.
If available, and functional, they can be used after the crime has been committed. In this case we’ll wait and see.
I feel that the true breakdown happened right at the beginning of the encounter – the victim either allowed the suspect into the building i.e. was too polite to risk being rude by denying access, too afraid to be confrontational, or otherwise distracted.
Denying access was key in how this crime evolved and might have been prevented.
After following her up six flights of stairs, what were her options?
How about SCREAM!!!!!!!!!! Yeah, that would be rude, seeing that it’s 4a.m. and you don’t want to disturb the neighbors, or make a scene with a total stranger. Would it have been effective?
Being rude should have a place in your life. To be an effective tactic, you’ll have to re-condition yourself to pick up and use that tool when it’s necessary. You get to decide when and where that is. You also get to choose how much fuel you apply to that flame. In this instance, full burn was prudent and necessary, and forget the neighbors. That social interaction is off the table at 4 a.m., in a quiet part of town, in a quiet building.
Yes, just be rude, and be very vocal about it. That is dictated by the facts – the entry, the stalking, and the environment. You’re going to make a lot of people very unhappy – but why do you care?
Give yourself permission to wield that tool like a weapon with full-on intent to do some damage.
That follow-on access trick that you now know more about? It is a trick – you are being played when it happens. The predator knows that what he’s doing is wrong, immoral, outside the lines. He also knows about your conditioning. What’s in his favor? – your social conditioning. He knows you have bought into that programming, and guess what? He’s now going to use that against you. He’s going to push your buttons hard, by using every rude skill he has to overcome your inability to be rude. And he will overcome your defenses.
Could she have been rude enough to deny him building access? That’s also not her fault, as most of us would have acquiesced. That is the cold, hard, truth.
Look, if you train, start seriously considering training your brain. Violence typically begins with opportunity. The act of violence starts in the mind. Intent determines how much, how far, etc… These are mental abilities, and have little to do with physical skills that too many use to deny fear. Fear is a good thing, not what is pushed by marketers. If you can’t visualize doing damage to another person, damage that requires very solid intent, then all of the time you’ve spent learning martial arts/self-defense techniques is wasted. Criminals know this. Why do criminals beat many practitioners of the arts? Because they color outside the lines.
Learn to be rude! Who cares what anyone else thinks. Being rude might have saved an otherwise precious life here.
Dedicated to Bev.