Jungle Wisdom

Dec 14, 2021

The old jungle expression says “if you don’t want to get eaten, don’t look like food.”

It’s as true today as those primitive days when caveman first went searching for something to eat that wasn’t a green, leafy vegetable.

But like the wild animals that occasionally used them as buffet fare, they knew better than to try to make a meal out of apex predators.

Better to share the lesser-able than to find yourself in a fight to the death with something that would find you tasty, too.

Unfortunately, even in today’s “advanced” civilization the rules haven’t changed.

We use a lot of symbolism (sheep/sheepdog/wolves) in defensive training, but the principle remains the same.

Predators aren’t looking for fights, they’re looking for victims.

If you appear alert, aware and able, you don’t much resemble a hapless victim.

Got a refresher lesson this weekend during a shopping trip with the family.

My wife and daughter were walking ahead of me through a parking lot with their purchases. As I came to the car, they told me “a guy across the lot that was making them nervous.”

When I saw him, I realized why.

He was leaning against the slightly open door of what had to be a former (but long-retired) police car. You know the kind. Bad paint job, plain rims, dark-tinted windows, the old spotlight still there, along with mounting holes from the radio antennae and light bar.

As a youngster I’d driven more than one, so I’m familiar with “the look.” Decidedly not sexy, but durable as all get-out. Occasionally, they will run like a proverbial scalded cat.

The dark-tinted cover obscuring a California license plate wasn’t normal.

Neither was the driver. He was holding his head absolutely still, but his eyes never stopped moving. He was acutely aware of everything going on around him despite looking like he wasn’t paying attention to anything. The driver side door was open just enough to let him see anyone who might walk up behind him.

That’s what I call “professional disinterest.” My family had no idea why, but they realized something wasn’t right. They didn’t panic, but they said something.

A few years ago, I’d have wandered over and struck up a conversation. Or I would have asked him if he was waiting on someone. You know, I would have initiated contact. At that point, I’d quickly know if something was wrong.

Today, however, I’m into avoidance, not confrontation. I’m acutely aware that I’m no longer capable of taking on a predator in a frontal confrontation.

Age has taught me there’s no fight as ill-considered as a fair one.

Instead, I simply told my wife to get in her car, start the engine and lock the doors.

Then I walked my daughter to her car and told her to wait until I was on the side of her car closest to “the guy” then she was to back directly out and drive away.

She did.

While walking back from her parking spot to my wife’s car, I kept my eyes directly on the guy. He was was busily not watching what I was doing.

As I got to our car, I opened the door, kept my eyes on him as I got in and we drove away.

He and I never spoke or got within fifty feet of each other.

Exactly the desired outcome. Not all my stories have had such happy endings.

Driving home, a radio news bulletin reported police had caught a robbery suspect. He’d snatched a woman’s purse as she was getting into her car in a shopping center parking lot.

After she fought back, he’d jumped into a car and drove off.

He was caught after police spotted an old police cruiser sitting in the parking lot of a shopping center. He was sitting inside and surrendered without a fight. But her purse, and several other packages were found inside the car.

Here’s the point: you should never ignore the feeling something’s “off” because that just might be the case.

Not looking like food goes a long way toward not getting eaten by opportunistic predators.

Caution is far simpler to deal with than regret.

— Jim Shepherd