What to do when "panic kills more than bullets"

(To Andrea Sapori)

We live in complicated times. I don't think they can be defined as more dangerous than others: they are certainly more complex. 
Information (i.e. the inputs that come to us from what surrounds us) has become very fast, and impacts our lives without literally giving us time to reflect and correctly process the necessary reactions and behavioral countermeasures.

Let's just think about a century ago: to get news of an event that happened even just 300 km from us we waited hours, if not days (censorship permitting), and the images were almost exclusively the drawings of the covers of the Domenica del Corriere. The photos, in the newspapers, arrived only several years later, in Italy in particular (first, as usual, the USA began with Life, Time Magazine, etc.). However, this allowed us to at least try to think, reflect and form an opinion.

The reality we are facing should lead anyone to reflect on the dangers we may have to face: on the street, in a public place, at the stadium, on a means of transport such as a bus, a tram, a train or a plane. Or (god forbid) a school. 
And this is not because "times have changed", the dangers have more or less always been there (statistics in hand), but the information flow available in this regard.

"Our grandfathers and fathers had more ability to react." I hear this all the time and I agree.

What I don't hear explained is the reason for this different ability. I've given myself an answer, or at least I'm trying to give it to myself.
Our grandparents and parents lived through periods that to define as "harder than ours" even sounds ridiculous: the two world wars, the relatively unavailable food (let's say not "so available", everywhere and of all kinds), the lack of antiviral medicines and antibacterials (typhus, cholera, bacterial and influenza epidemics were secreted by the regime of the time), a real difference between classes, the almost absolute lack of any workers' rights and, above all, much much less money around.

However, all this kept people "awake", made them reactive, attentive, ready to immediately and instinctively grasp what "didn't add up" in a certain context, even in one of those which, at first glance, seemed normal.

My father was a Milanese from Porta Romana, born in 1932. A typhoid epidemic struck him at the age of 9 and left him in bed for a whole year. During a crisis he was given Extreme Unction. He remained alive.

The war then arrived in Milan, and this made him a stray cat-child. His parents made do as best they could (I won't add anything else), two older brothers died, some men of the family, enlisted, had already died in Africa and Russia.

One night, while stealing shoes from an English train at the Roman railway station, they shot him (probably with a .303 caliber Enfield, a bullet that is still used today for big game hunting). He was 13 years old.

I often asked him to see that healed hole in his thigh, and to tell me about when he was a child like me. He told me that the worst thing was the lack of sleep, continuing to wake up during the night due to air raid alerts and going to the cellar. The hunger, the fear, the cold, the absurd and stupid violence... but the lack of sleep, he explained to me, was something different, almost hypnotic, which pushed him, night after night, into a state of trance which, done, it turned him into a man at 12 years old. At that point he no longer cared much whether he lived or died. He was simply doing the best he could to survive.

We don't have the slightest idea of ​​what "those times" were, and of their potential effects on the psyche of those who lived them..

I spent 10 years of my life in the Army, of which about 9 abroad, even in "particular" places and in some of these I found the "borders" of our world. Yet, when I think about what my parents and grandparents experienced in those years, day after day, I never cease to be amazed by their ability to resist. Of their resilience.

Today, I look at my children, ages 26 and 18. Regardless of what I think about their relative ability to react, to face danger, one thing is absolutely clear to me: I have to protect them. And I don't have many alternatives, I have to explain to them the value of always being "present to oneself".

One thing needs to be made clear right away: courage cannot be taught!

"Fight or flight" is the ancestral and natural reaction that determines the type of response that has allowed us to survive on this planet, since we have inhabited it more or less civilly. Or die.

What I will try to explain here is that courage is not only used to fight: "courage" is also needed to escape. Only you have to know how to do it well, without becoming the easiest of prey, or the best of targets.

Turning your back to the enemy and running away is (almost) never the best choice to face an attack: the bullet chasing us will always be faster than us. Furthermore, the enemy's attention will be instinctively drawn to a flight, especially a solitary and screaming one.

The surprise effect (not only in the terrorist field) is one of the keys to the success of those who attack: the thunder of a shot, the explosion of a bomb, the attack with a cutting weapon, unexpected events, shock even a veteran trained: let alone a peaceful and unaware civilian!

Then, What makes (or could make) the difference during an attack? Reaction times and self-control. Knowing that, having closed the door of our house behind us, from that moment on we are entering an "unknown territory", in which we could (potentially) encounter various dangerous situations.

I'm not saying that we have to leave the house with a bulletproof vest to go shopping (but don't make this point in the presence of those who were in Paris on the night of the Bataclan), but that a "different" state of consciousness must be activated.

It is necessary that the "pay attention", it goes back to being simply the most coherent way of experiencing cities: this alone would be enough to save a good percentage of people (who perhaps would be even better if they picked their heads up from their smartphones every now and then).

I can guarantee that even the subconscious thought "I'm leaving the house, I have to be careful" already provides a certain margin for reducing reaction times.


If we leave the "military" context of these terms for a moment, we can understand their value in every area and context. Reference should also be made to civil synonyms, as long as what they prescribe is applied "in the field".

Discipline is a set of rules to be respected and techniques to be performed. Training means preparing to face a series of situations to the best of one's psychophysical abilities. 
Nothing more, nothing less.

In our case, DISCIPLINE and TRAINING are absolute survival rules which, if also framed in perspective MOTIVATIONAL, they are essential for all of us to find that WILL TO ACT, which is the true path towards SALVATION, implementing those actions, rationally simple and instinctive (much more than you think), which can make the difference in certain contexts.

We all have "weapons" at our disposal that we should learn to know as fundamental. For example, there are two very simple things that we should learn to do right away. 
The first is BREATHE NORMALLYin a dangerous situation. It seems obvious, but it's the first thing that many people "forget" to do, under stress. And if too little (or too much) oxygen reaches the brain, we will lose control of ourselves, and we will no longer have the ability to think rationally and quickly. At that point, we're very likely to do something stupid, like make ourselves easy targets.

We need to give our brain time to THINK rationally and BREATHE it is normally essential for this purpose.

"Panic kills more than bullets"

A veteran once told me: "If you stay calm while everyone around you is freaking out, it's possible that you'll be saved. People do crazy things during an attack or in a dangerous situation. Then very often they don't even remember what actually happened.". Very interesting I would say, one of the most important lessons I have ever learned.

To remain "PRESENT TO YOURSELF" then.

Stay calm: it certainly applies in any context and is the key to correctly and rationally understanding what is happening around us. This will be the other saving weapon to use. Or a lifeboat to get into, if you want.

Unfortunately, very often, "staying calm" is an act that goes against our nature. But we must think that reacting with stupid aggression or with fatal submissiveness are two sides of the same coin, a coin with which we can't afford to pay, at a certain point, the most expensive bill of our lives.

Every human being should have the obligation to differentiate himself on a behavioral level from an animal, whether prey or predator.

Men can be compared to "sheep", or "wolves": if this is true then we may want to be as close as possible to "sheepdogs". It depends on us.


Escaping with your back to the enemy is not the first rescue option to implement (unless you find yourself near a favorable escape route, obviously). Immediately throw yourself on the ground, offering as little "target" as possible. Finding breath and calm (to the best of our ability), realizing what is happening with as much clarity as possible and, if present, taking care of our loved ones by imposing on them the same actions and motivations as us. And, from the ground, crawl and/or roll towards an escape route, or shelter.

It is essential, I repeat essential, move, keep moving crawling and rolling, certainly possibly by moving away but, if we are in the enemy's line of sight, always move, thus becoming a less easy target to hit. We will probably not be dealing with highly trained people, but only with "shooters in the crowd", although unfortunately often equipped with deadly assault weapons for infantry, such as rifles, pistols, and edged weapons.

We gain time which, even if measured in seconds, is like an eternity during an attack. We obviously take for granted the absolute confusion and the almost impossibility of hearing the shots, given the damage to the eardrums, especially in a closed environment. 
If you have already been hit you will be in shock, and then it will almost certainly be over. But if you haven't even noticed it, and it happens quite often, take advantage of it: there's no time to worry about anything other than escaping (in the literal sense of the word).

If we can access a room or a closet (this way we will stop moving...), it should be known for sure that the bullet from an assault rifle, or a pistol, "pierces" doors and walls with relative ease. Stay as low as possible near the base of the wall closest to the side of the door. And don't shout. Every predator is attracted by the screams of panic and fear.

There comes a moment in which our instinct can push us to a reaction, perhaps because it (it, the instinct) has grasped a possibility and we want to put an end to the terror for ourselves and perhaps our loved ones (for example a magazine change or a jammed magazine). terrorist weapon).
If so, aim for the weapon, ALWAYS, not to the terrorist. Prevent the weapon from functioning: the rest doesn't matter. And, if we manage to get hold of it, don't try to shoot us, but use it immediately like a blunt instrument, a stick, a club. It's not about killing the terrorist, but making him prey himself.

There is more to say, but let's stop here. I realize that talking about this topic, trying to rationalize, borders on the paradox. But I feel like it's my duty to try. I can't do more than this at this moment.
Everyone then chooses for themselves the right thing to do.

Breathe, and stay low.

Good luck.

Image: OpenAI