situational awareness and your spidey senses

If The Situation Doesn’t Feel Right, Then Retreat – Get Out

Filed under personal security. The following advice should be common sense. However, I’ll explain in a minute why it’s important. If you’re in a situation that doesn’t feel right, it’s best to get out. Retreat. Here’s what I mean…

I will give you one example of the type of situation I’m referring to.

Just recently, I was in a Walmart picking up a few things. I had a few grocery items on the list too. So I made my way over to the grocery area. I was walking along the back dairy aisle looking for a block of sharp cheddar cheese.

As I approached the vicinity, among the bustle of activity, I began to hear louder voices standing out from the rest of the background noise. You know how that works, right? We have an internal ‘alarm’ that triggers when something “out of the ordinary” is occurring. If you’re in tune with your own situational awareness, you’ll pick up on it much sooner than most others.

Anyway, as soon as my own ‘alarm’ triggered, I moved my gaze from its search for cheddar cheese – to where those voices were coming from.

Down the aisle a bit, coincidentally where my block of sharp cheddar cheese awaited, two employees were in the beginning stage of a heated argument. At that moment one of them angrily walked off and through a nearby back-door into the stock area – slamming the swinging doors as he went.

I slowed my walk with the carriage, wondering if their spat had ended. I scanned my eyes around, assessing.

Seconds later, the employee came back out and started back in again with the other. Almost shouting. The situation was escalating rapidly. Neither were backing down. The one employee who had walked out obviously changed his mind and went back to re-engage. Uh-oh…

If you find yourself in an escalating environment of potential danger, then get out.

So here’s what I mean, and the advice of this post…

Though my message should be obvious and common sense, most people would tend to stop and gawk at the situation. It’s sort of human nature I suppose. The brain freezes due to an exceptionally out-of-normal experience.

What did I do? Immediately upon realization that this was escalating, I turned my shopping cart/carriage and got out of there. Why? Because I didn’t know what might happen next. Why put yourself in a risky situation where there’s no upside? Instead, there’s only risk. I didn’t gawk out of curiosity. Nope. Got out of there.

As I increased the distance between myself and the arguing employees, I could hear them getting louder. Eventually it ceased. I made my way to a different part of the store to collect a few more items on the list.

After a while I went back to extract that 1-pound block of sharp cheddar. The commotion was over. I got my cheese.

I have been in many other similar situations throughout my life. I’m sure that many of you have examples you could share too.

The simple message is not only tuning your Situational Awareness, but acting upon it. A first response should usually be to remove yourself from the situation. Let the gawkers gawk.

[ Read: Situational Awareness & Background Noise — Use Your Ears! ]


  1. A very timely reminder, Ken! Especially in more populated areas, tensions are running high and a lot of people are on rather short fuses. Throw in the weaponization of portions of society against other targeted members of society, and it’s very wise to stay alert and act quickly to avoid potential bad outcomes. The people in Waukesha were oblivious to the destruction coming their way. In normal times, no one would expect an attack like that. These are not normal times, so a different mindset is imperative.

    1. SoulSurvivor, I vaguely remember something about an incident like that at Mall of America. Looked, but couldn’t find it either, just one site that has a forum post about it which is curiously ‘down for maintenance’. I would absolutely stay away from malls, and have for the last several years. The food courts seem to be a draw for gangs, or just aimless youths looking for something to do. It seems like the incident you’re referring to started that way.

      1. SoulSurvivor,

        Reading your comment, eerily reminded me of a science article I just read yesterday. If one wants to know the kind of tech being baby-stepped into our everyday world, just look at the animal studies. They practice on the animals first, but of course the ultimate goal is always to transfer what is learned over to the human world. I know that’s obvious, but easy to forget as it’s not in the forefront.

        Anyway, article is about being able to ‘flip a switch’ in mouse brains to control their emotions/behavior. I found it here: seek dot rockefeller dot edu/flipping-a-switch-inside-the-head/.
        Wasn’t there some movie about that, too, being able to trip some kind of signal to alter people’s behavior? Predictive programming abounds!

  2. Unfortunately, most people would stand there and pull out there phones to record the interaction, not even thinking of the possibility of them getting caught in something.

    1. Peanut,
      That’s absolutely right! That’s exactly what most do in these types of situations. Thanks for the input.

  3. Another good reply! Yes, just because we may carry, does not mean we should also carry a false sense of over-confidence. Unless doing your job as law enforcement, military fighting a war, or unless your civilian life is immediately threatened, best to get the heck outta there, in my opinion.

  4. – Back when I carried concealed for our mutual Uncle, I got a very thoughtful and useful piece of advice along with it. I was told to always remember those LPC’s (Leather Personnel Carriers) would get me out of trouble faster than anything else, and they didn’t require incident reports or other paperwork.

    – Papa S.

  5. it’s best not to go to places like that to start with with. to many mom and pop stores that could use our business.
    stay away from crowds. to go into a wallmart or cosco now is to have a target on your back.

  6. Soul Survivor,

    Absolutely…one of the hardest things for former law enforcement is not injecting yourself into situations where deadly (or any other force) may become necessary.

    “Qualified immunity” given law enforcement officers has been in the news lately with left leaners trying to strip it from them. There’s a reason for this “immunity”…without it, no sane officer would ever run to intervene, or attempt to de-escalate confrontations. Civilians don’t have this protection (fragile as it is) from civil suits (usually brought by the bad guys or by-standers caught up in the resulting violence).

  7. Ken J
    You were right to walk away from that situation. Saw a while ago a shooting at a W/M store not sure where it was located.

    When tempers flare, I have a tendency to put the cart off to the side of an isle and exit the building. There are too many who parities (shoppers & employees) now adays who are short tempered, given the working conditions.
    Add the shot on top of that, it has made me wonder if it could not be exasperating the human genome to lose its control factor. 🤔🙄

    1. I’ve been studying Biology at University, and we did a few weeks on RNA viruses specifically covid 19. Your temper flaring hypothesis may be valid. Covid19 binds to the ACE2 enzyme, which is part of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, it controls how much your blood vessels constrict or expand based on stress, so while clotting is a predictable outcome, I also predict an inability to destress, and or an inability to get stressed. The vaccines bind to this enzyme inhibit your parasympathetic nervous system, so basically, the vaccine should also interfere with the normal body stress management systems.

      In short, the vaccine will mean more people get angry.

      Still, I only got a credit, not a distinction, so what do I know.

  8. Supposedly there is a portion of the brain that analizes situations, judges people, in about 1/10 of a second – the blink of an eye. This portion of the brain is said to have existed since before the Human brain had the ability to reason. Would this mean since before we were fully human?
    Well anyway, this information then travels to another part of the brain where it spends about two minutes doing its own thing.
    Our modern society says we should ignore this survival instinct… it is not polite, that we should not judge, or some such?
    It’s not just humans who have this survival instinct — ever try to swat a fly?
    Then there is that old saying, “I don’t like the cut of their jib.”

  9. Your right Ken, walking away from trouble is the smart action. This conversation reminds me of an event a few years ago. Just two or three days before Christmas. My wife and I were in a “super store” going to the check out from the electronics dept. The way the store was laid out, the register was set up to serve electronics or a main aisle. As the cashier finished the transaction of the main aisle, she turned to do the next electronics customer, well the next guy (with his wife) in the main aisle blurted out to the cashier, “hey we’re next, am I gonna have to slap somebody?”
    Now up to that point I was in the Christmas spirit, but I lost it! I stepped around my wife and said quite sternly “well you can start with me big boy!”. Sorry to say, in my heart I wanted him to make a move towards me, but nope, he turned a bit pale and walked away. I then realized my wife tugging on me and “SHAZAM” I was back in the spirit . . .

  10. Ken:
    A few years ago in a Central Florida Publix, a customer began shouting at the workers behind the deli counter because they were taking too long on the customers ahead of him. The deli was between my location and the check out. Multiple managers were called over the intercom. Lots of people crowded forward but I whipped my cart towards the back figuring in the worst case I could leave through the back. As soon as he stormed out, I checked out without finishing my shopping. You never know when someone might make good on threats.

  11. Ken, I could not agree more with the message that “if it does not feel right, get out.” Several years ago, I was in a big box hardware store and had the “feeling” I was being watched. As unobtrusively as possible, I looked around and saw a person BEHIND me, staring right at me. I still don’t know how I could have felt / known that. The way he looked set off the “spidey sense” – I had a really bad feeling about this. I moved to another part of the store near the door and he followed me, starting to speak to me. At that point, I left my cart and went right to my car, got in and locked the door. No sooner had I turned the key than he appeared next to my driver side door. I did not know this person and had never seen him before. I took off in my car. I went back to that store several days later and the first thing I did was speak to the manager, telling him time / date etc so they could check the videos. He told me that several other women were harassed / approached by this guy. I don’t know if action was taken against this person, but I do know that my “feeling” was absolutely right. If I had not gotten to my car before he got to it, who knows what could have happened. BTW I am not some spring chicken and was dressed in jeans & t shirt; per the manager, he targeted middle aged women. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!!

  12. This is a topic where I try to emulate my dog these days. If my dog does not like you, I do not like you or trust you either. Far North brought up the topic of “that part of the brain”. I think that in dogs, that part of the brain is much more highly developed. This allows them to survive and thrive within a pack environment. I still have to train new staff to work on a floor of people deemed: “criminally insane” therefore, I have observed that some people “get it” while many others will never “get it” and will get seriously hurt by waltzing into trouble/ambush or tense situation one day. If I bowed to political correctness, I would not have been able. to do my job on the floor for over 20 years. I call a spade a spade and it keeps me on the floor and out of the realm of management. I can not afford the luxury of ignoring the spidey sense because it is a big part of my job.

    I am glad to see that some one brought up the “other side” of carrying a concealed firearm. You do not ride into the sunset after shooting some one even if you are found to be justified in criminal court. I do carry a lockblade folder on my person when out in town though so the offender has to get bad-breath close for me to pull that. (you will feel it before you see it). I am just another old guy trying to exit the building. Try to stop me and you may end up bleeding out.

  13. I would like to remind those who would choose to stand and fight it out or go down fighting: Even Lance Thomas – the Rolex watch repairman in West Los Angeles closed up his shop and moved away after surviving 4 gunfights at his shop. Things just got too weird for him at that location. Sometimes, it is best to quietly leave to continue life elsewhere.

  14. My past husband the LEO who passed away used to talk about the coming/maturing of the “crack babies”. Children whose souls have not been able to get healthy in the womb, whose parents at best do not give a frick, are just born angry and live angry. Some may become productive members of society, most won’t. You can see the death in their eyes. Look at the eyes of the man who just plowed through the parade. No remorse and will probably never have any.
    Let us add meth babies, heroin babies, fentanyl babies, alcohol babies, and prescription drug babies to the list also.

  15. One thing to add; keep track of exits other than the one through which you entered. Too many people instinctively head for the portal they entered through; most likely the same one everyone else entered through. The downsides of this are obvious; getting trampled or being shot like fish in a barrel come to mind. Remember too that in a larger venue such as a “big box” store or supermarket, the largest, most unobstructed egress is behind those swinging doors in the stock room/receiving area.

    1. Tom MacGyver
      Good reminder. Since Costco has one entrance and one exit for the public but the delivery portal would make a good exit.

  16. Just my opinion but when you carry you need to be even more vigilant on which situation you get into as it could always escalate to you having to pull your weapon and shoot someone which no one in their right mind wants to do. A situation like Ken described is rarely going to come to a point that the subjects are going to cause great harm to each other and if evenly matched so be it. That said I have been in a situation where it was a quite large man screaming at a cowering woman and did intervene and stop him but thankfully with out having to reach for a weapon.

    1. I generally hesitate to insert myself into any conflict, have seen it go very badly for well intentioned people on several occasions, all ending with the good samaritan needing a ride to the ER.
      My latest rub was a a lady from the neighborhood showing up at my door frantic because another neighbor rolled his mower over his lame ass into the gulch by his house, i called 911, he was bleeding and couldnt even sit up and i had no intention of touching him because this guy is an idiot and an asshole on top of that, so now im a SOB to them because i called for EMTs, i get the stink looks and the one finger salute,

      So next time the prick can bleed out for all i care, this guy used to beat the hell out of his wife regularly, and frequently becomes violent because he doesnt regulate his diabetic numbers properly, and the lot of them feel they are the police force in our little neighborhood.

      Yea, so i will keep to myself regardless of wanting with every fiber of my being to help out.

      Stay away from crowds

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