A mildly violent event happened near me last night later in the evening: I heard a vehicle keep starting then screeching to a sudden stop, starting and stopping, as it came up the street, and it finally came to a stop and parked right across the street from where I’m staying. I went out on the deck, as I do whenever anything unusual is happening at this hotel where I’m currently staying. I thought I heard a yell or two from the car but it’s muffled so I’m not sure.
After a moment, the driver’s door opens and someone gets out. This person is moving erratically and angrily, and whips open the rear door and then I hear a lot of yelling from a woman, and crying and screaming from a child. The person is now slugging away at someone in the back seat, not just violent hitting like in that video we all saw a couple years back of the woman in the parking lot who was slapping her child. This one was really violent and punching, out of control. Since I only hear a woman and a child, I’m thinking this is some serious domestic abuse here, a mother really punching her child.
It’s one of those moments where you have to suddenly get a feeling for what’s happening, all the aspects of it and of who you are, and make an instant decision. I thought of calling the police first… but I instantly decided this was serious and that if I took the few minutes it would take to call them, all it takes is a few seconds or minutes for a kid to get seriously injured or worse, so it felt more important to just get there and do what I can to stop that from happening, and call the police later if need be.
So I ran down the stairs and across the street, to the back door of this car. Turns out it is a lady, she is now right into the back of the car entirely, scrunched in there and pounding on her husband, I mean really punching at him, totally lost it. She had been driving, and her husband and boy were in the back seat. She’s screaming at him about something, but the husband is responding in low tones and never yells, so I didn’t know there was even a man in the car. The boy is crying and yelling for her to stop.
I see all this at a glance, and I grab this lady and start pulling her out of the car and I tell her to stop this or I’ll call the police. She backs away from the car, still yelling at her husband but not me, and then the husband and boy get out too. She keeps yelling at him but is now not being physically threatening; he is just standing there passively trying to defend his point (we’ll get to that in a moment); the boy didn’t know what to do, he was standing there, then running a little, then across the street, yelling at them to stop, he just didn’t know what to do, really traumatized.
At this point it looked like the physical fighting was over, at least for awhile, so I decided I might as well call the police now because this didn’t look like it was stopping any time soon. They continued, her screaming at him, he being calm, the boy crying and yelling, for about ten minutes, while I watched to make sure it didn’t get violent again, and waited for the police. In ten minutes these people got back in their car and left. Five minutes later the police arrived, but all I could do was give them the car description and tell them what happened. That’s basically the end of this story.
Oh, here’s another detail: these people looked respectable. If it were a worn-out car, rough-looking people, you’re a little less surprised. It was a brand new car, quite nice, the parents were in their late 30’s or early 40’s, middle-aged, and really dressed well in suits, professionally like they were doctors, lawyers. Like upper-middle-class professionals. Their son was also well-dressed, maybe 10 to 13 years old. And what was the fight about? She kept screaming about her husband’s being on the cell phone. He kept saying he wasn’t. She kept screaming that he was lying, and to not be a liar in front of his son, she didn’t want her boy raised around a liar. She kept punching her husband while in the car, and trying to grab her son and haul him across her husband and out the open door.
Now, I’m going to deal with that in another of these mind tools (‘See Your Own Blindness’, coming eventually), the blindness of a person losing all perspective, becoming half insane and attacking her husband, screaming and punching, completely traumatizing her son and not even seeing what she’s doing to her son through her own actions… because she was angry over her husband’s cell phone use and his lying in front of his son.
But with this tool, I’m talking about ME. When this was all over, what was the first thing I did? I debriefed myself. It wasn’t until today, when I was out walking and thinking, that I realized I had done that. And I realized I had done that as long back as I remember, whenever any important event or happening occurred in my life.
Debriefings are used in almost every field. When something happens, an event or a mission or something experienced, it is beneficial for the people involved to afterwards reflect on that event. You reflect on it, talk it out, break it down into its details, try be very neutral and unbiased in understanding its parts, and you try discern what you could have done better, and what you did that worked well. The essence of a debriefing is to nurture some proactive growth; to improve things based on what you learned from this experience, and apply that learning to improving your actions should a similar event happen in the future.
I have never actually thought about doing formal debriefings, yet I realized that I have always done them, after events. People freak out, panic, or look on without really thinking. People get involved, run away, call the police. They gossip, tell no one, tell everyone. People retrospect about what they did and they maybe feel guilty about what they didn’t do. To some degree, I think we all debrief a little.
But I debrief a lot. I really tear it down and look for the conclusions. Always have. From this event, for example, I realized a few things, some known and some previously unknown. About a dozen things came to mind, but the most important two: first, that I am still good with making quick decisions within emergencies. I knew this from past events, but it’s nice to know I can still weigh the factors clearly, quickly, make a decision, and act, instead of freezing up in fear or uncertainty. For this event, I felt there was a kid in serious and immediate trouble, so I decided not to wait and call the police first, that I was needed right away. And it reinforced that I can still put myself in harm’s way without hesitation, as I’d proven at times in the past. The second thing that came to mind during my self-debriefing after this incident: I missed a very important opportunity to help someone in a different way. I didn’t even think of helping that boy. I mean, I was initially thinking of going to his aid if he was being hit, but when I saw that he wasn’t, I concentrated on his parents, and then calling the police, while the boy circled around, hysterical and wondering what to do.
I should have turned some attention to him and let his parents alone. I should have gone to him, maybe put an arm around him for a minute, said something sane and caring, been some kind of calm sanity within the craziness that his parents were exploding into his life. I missed that one. And building on that, I might actually have been able to do the same for his folks. But I wasn’t thinking of that then, I was simply riding the situation along, being annoyed by the parents’ infantile behavior, feeling bad for the life this boy had to endure, and generally witnessing events in case of more violence. I’d love to back up and try that all over again, and go to that kid, and then maybe his folks, I possibly could have made a difference in his life, or all of their lives. Really missed that ball, all because I was tired and annoyed and not really having a clear head oriented towards helping these people in a way that is authentic to the inner me.
This is debriefing. You give yourself props for what you did do, figure out what you missed and what you could have done better. Then you’re done. You don’t need to keep reliving the event and telling people about it. It was never formal for me, I never thought ‘I’ll do a debriefing now’ after something has happened. But I’ve always done it, even when I was young. And this debriefing is responsible for a huge percentage of my mind’s growth, my treatment of people, my evolution towards more wisdom and clearer mind, my loving kindness. I don’t beat myself up for not doing things in a different way; I realize that I did the best I could for where my mind and my experience were in that moment, I discern where I could have done things more appropriately, more authentically to the person I want to keep growing into, and – without even making some kind of pledge or self-promise – some part of me decides, internally, to act differently, better, in the next situation.
Some people never do this proactive debriefing of themselves, they just wallow in the event, wallow in the memories of it afterwards, but never actually think proactively about it, breaking it down into its salient parts. Other people do this to different extents. I think most people do it in a fuzzy way, not really digging into it clearly but still vaguely learning some things from it.
But if you begin to notice your own self-debriefing, your productive going-over of events after a ‘happening’, each time you will build more connections, more possibilities, more experiential wisdom. This debriefing has been so essential to my self-growth; and now that I’ve become clearly aware I was doing this, as of today… I know that I will debrief after future events with much more awareness that I’m debriefing, and I think it will strongly accelerate my growth towards clarity.
It will work the same for you, too. Maybe the next time something jarring happens, either pleasant or unpleasant, you may be ruminating on those events afterwards… and realize you are debriefing yourself. Simply the knowledge of the fact that you are debriefing, will itself help clarify your understanding. Your debriefing may become so much more encompassing of the details of what happened… and add to your own wisdom and clarity in the future. Debriefing works for anything that happens in your relationships, family, job, life and health, changes of life, life-altering events, and even small events that you want to work out or learn from.
‘Important happenings’ doesn’t necessarily mean only those events that shake your world; I’ll do a debriefing after almost anything that happens, even if I get momentarily upset at a dog barking. Thanks to the event last night, I’m now AWARE that I’ve been debriefing myself, all these years, after each happening.
Now I do it a little more formally; any little change of thought that takes you closer to clarity, takes you closer to clearing up the problems in your life.
DEBRIEF YOURSELF AFTER IMPORTANT HAPPENINGS