Useful tools for navigating life.
Have you ever noticed the difference between someone who warns you about the world by telling you to change your behavior, and someone who gives you tools to navigate the world?
Yesterday I gave a free last-minute self defense workshop, and the subject of creeps came up. You know the kind — the office creep, the one creep in a group of friends, the creep at the local coffee shop. We were talking about how creeps are often a creep only to one person, their creepy behavior covert so only their target sees it and no one else believes it. And we were talking about creeps often find their targets by testing boundaries, first with probing questions, then covert touching or standing to too close, and of course finally by escalating hijinx in creepiness, to see how far they can go before their target cries wolf. I strongly suspect that the real thrill for creeps is not so much what they do, but how much they can get away with.
I found myself thinking of this conversation again this morning and how often I have been told by people throughout my life, “there’s a lotta creeps out there, you gotta watch yourself” or, more to the point, “you gotta watch what you wear/say/do” so you don’t become a target. Change your behavior, your look, your clothes, your speech, who you are, so the creeps don’t find you. Hide yourself, and you’ll stay safe.
You’ll also stay small. Almost invisible. You’ll live a contracted life. Which is what creeps are trying to do to you anyway.
So I have to wonder who is giving this advice: other creeps? recovered creeps? creeps disguised as a family member, a work buddy, a classmate, who are sharing this info with you because you’re not their target?
I don’t know the answer to this question because I’ve never interviewed a creep to find out (I try not to talk to them too much). I do know that a lot of creeps believe that everyone else is just like them, especially among men, hence the warnings.
I think one of the best ways to spot a creep is by this: does the advice someone gives come with the implication that you should change your behavior to stay safe, or does it come with tools and guidance to help you live your life fully?
The favorite tool of the creep (and the narcissist, and anyone on the more extreme parts of the sociopathic spectrum) is the social contract. They know that most people subscribe to the social contract, and will strive to uphold it. They also believe that the social contract doesn’t apply to themselves — it’s for suckers, sheeple, drones.
But they’re not sure about you — where do you fall on the spectrum? So they ask probing questions, they stand too close, they touch. They see how far they can go before you defend yourself over the social contract: will you say something to your group of friends and risk them not believing you, even turning against you, because nobody else has been targeted by the creep? will you risk exclusion from your family, your group, your team, your job to defend yourself? Another way to look at is: how much do you believe you are protected by the social contract and how far are you willing to go to preserve it?
The social contract (the contract that is the very fabric of all relationships, from interpersonal to inter-nations) is not a bad thing. It’s just a thing; it’s our basic human agreement not to be assholes to each other, to the best of our individual abilities.
Just as creeps believe most everyone else is like them, so do the rest of us. And so, someone who is a warm, open, sharing person will believe others are too, and will answer the probing questions of the creep because they don’t believe people are creeps.
There is nothing wrong with people who uphold the social contract; there is something wrong with people who believe they are above it, and that everyone who upholds it is a fool.
And there is something wrong with someone who says “you gotta watch out” for any kind of danger without giving you any further information, who says “stay small so you won’t be targeted” instead of giving you tools to grow strong so you are capable of taking care of yourself.
(If you’re wondering how to identify a creep, listen to your gut. It sounds lame and too cliché, but it’s true: if you get a funny feeling when talking to someone, or just after talking to someone, listen to that. It’s ok to stay away from people that give you that funny feeling, or to keep contact to a minimum and decide not to share anything more with them. If you want to understand more about creeps and the social contract, I highly recommend the book Creepology — I reference it a lot in my classes; it’s short, brilliant read with excellent insight and tools to put to practical use.)