A few years back, my son was coming home late, through Highgate.
The part where there are no houses, just trees.
He noticed two big guys coming towards him.
It looked like trouble.
We’ve all been there.
He thought, “I know what’s coming, and it’s unavoidable.
The best thing to do is damage limitation.”
And, in a second or so, this went through his mind.
Try to get in control of the situation.
You can’t be aggressive.
You mustn’t be scared.
So what’s a third option to get them off balance.
How about friendly?
They won’t be expecting that.
The biggest of the two guys said, “Oi mate, gotta fag?”
My son said, “Sure, here you go mate.”
Then he said to the other guy, “Do you want one mate?”
The other guy said, “Er, yeah, ta.”
Then he fumbled and said, “Sorry fellas, I can’t find my matches, I must be pissed.”
And the two guys, normal human reaction, laughed with him.
Then he said, “Alright, see you later, guys.”
And the biggest one pulled out a blade and, almost apologetically, said, “Give us your money, your wallet, your cards, and your phone.”
My son pretended to be shocked and hurt.
He said, “What? I can’t believe you guys are doing this.”
The bigger guy was almost apologetic but, naturally, still insistent.
He said, “Yeah, well, we are.”
So my son said, “Look, the wallet’s got nothing in it except my driving licence, that’s no good to you.”
He waited to let that sink in.
Then he said, “And, be fair, I need some money to get home.”
Everything went quiet.
The smaller of the two guys said, “I feel bad about this.”
Then my son said, “Look, how about if I give you £20?”
He smiled at them.
He said, “You’d be doing me a favour guys.”
And he continued to look hurt and disappointed.
And they agreed, took the £20, and left.
He managed to turn the mugging into them doing him a favour.
What my son had learned was what I learned growing up.
It’s not about who’s toughest, it’s about who’s smartest.
So don’t think with your emotional mind.
Think with your rational mind.
The emotional mind says, you should fight for what’s yours.
Don’t be a coward.
Don’t let anyone take it away.
Even if they’re bigger and tougher and there are more of them.
Fight like a man, and take the consequences.
The rational mind says, hang on that’s stupid.
Let’s manage the situation so that we get the best possible outcome from the range of options available.
Think of it as a bet you’re about to make.
Suppose you fight them, and win (unlikely).
The very best possible outcome is that you walk away with exactly what you’ve currently got.
So the best possible outcome isn’t even great.
What’s the worst possible outcome (the likely one)?
Fighting with two guys, who’ve got at least one knife, isn’t a smart idea.
You could get your clothes ripped, you could get badly cut, you could lose all your money, your phone, plus your wallet with credit cards and driving licence.
Plus maybe an eye, maybe even your life.
So pretty much all the outcomes from fighting aren’t great.
So how else can you get on the front foot and control the situation?
Ask yourself a question.
What would it be worth to get out of a knife fight with two guys?
How much would you be willing to pay not to have to go through the palaver of replacing all your money, your credit cards, and your phone.
£20, would you pay that?
And all this went through my son’s mind in the couple of seconds he was walking towards the two muggers.
And that’s what I was most pleased about.
It’s what Planners and Researchers call mental agility.
That’s what they look for when they recruit people for groups.
Because people with mental agility are ‘opinion formers’.
They’re valuable to us because, if we can appeal to them, it’s the fastest way to get our ads into the language.
Because they think faster they tend to lead conversations.
So these are the people who spread the word.
Mental agility has nothing to do with academic ability.
It has everything to do with street smarts.
The ability to weigh up a situation quickly and choose from the range of options available.
To separate your emotional mind from your rational mind.
As Buddha said, “Act, don’t react.”