5 Tips to Becoming Street Smart (and Maybe Even Cool)

               “Street smart.”  What images comes to mind?  What kind of character or person do you imagine?  Would you consider yourself street smart?  What does it take? 
                Each of us will have a different idea about what it means to be street smart.  Probably most of us will picture character from a movie or other fictional character.  When it comes down to it, most of us probably don’t really know someone that we would normally think of us street smart or savvy.  It is a ‘cool’ idea and something that we tend to idolize in fictional action heroes.
               For some people, being street smart may mean knowing street lingo or slang.  That may work in some drug-induced circles or for undercover police officers, but is that all?  For others, street smarts may conjure up images of Oliver Twist, living on the streets, picking pockets and stealing food to survive.  Someone who knows all the ins and outs of how to survive on your own.
               Many may equate street smarts to the school of hard knocks, literally surviving in a rough and tumble world.  A tough guy always defending himself from thugs or gangs and fighting to stay ahead.  Some may even imagine gang members as street smart.
               Each of these meanings do have some similarities.  All involve an understanding about illicit, illegal or unsavory lifestyles and the things people do to support that life, generally not something the average guy or gal are normally exposed to.  At dictionary.com, street savvy is defined as “shrewd awareness of how to survive or succeed in any situation, especially as a result of living or working in a difficult environment […]”. 
               For our purposes, let’s define street savvy as simply being aware of the potential evil, or threats, around us, identifying the warning signs and most important reacting or responding to the menace.  This idea applies not just to physical threats, but also to frauds.  After all, being aware of a con man’s game is the first step to avoid it.
               Even the most innocent or geekiest of action heroes are successful because they do understand what evil lurks about and how criminals think and act.  Geeky and naïve Peter Parker becomes the street savvy Spiderman with a quick custome change.
               There are five rules to follow if you want to be street smart:
1.      Live as if you are hunted.  If you walked about consciously thinking a saber-tooth is about to pounce on you, you would be much more aware of your surroundings.  In our modern world, becoming dinner for a wild animal is not our biggest concern.  However, having a heightened sense of alertness is always a plus with self-defense and personal safety.  Walking about, being wary of hiding spots or potential ‘ambush’ spots for a mugger or street thug will go a long way for staying out of harm’s way. 

2.     Be suspicious.  Note that I didn’t say paranoid, just suspicious; cautious.  Be wary and evaluate the situation.  Look for warning signs that something is not right.  Being street savvy may mean looking out for #1, at least to an extent.  On the “street” there will be plenty of people looking out for themselves at your expense.  This may mean that you have to delay or stall or ask questions even when someone is asking for assistance – it could be a way to distract you or draw you into a trap.  This applies to frauds or physical threats.  Even serial killer Ted Bundy would approach his victims asking for help, often pretending to have an injury to build sympathy.

3.     If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, it is.  Don’t make excuses to justify a situation that is screaming warnings at you – remember rule #1 – you are being hunted – now survive.  When your questions add up to more questions and your suspicions build, don’t ignore those warnings.

4.     Trust your instincts.  If you get a bad feeling about a situation, individual or scenario then trust your gut.  You may have picked up a warning sign on a subconscious level.  Often our minds are working on a level that we do not always understand.  As a police officer, I learned this lesson (sometimes the hard way).  You learn to trust your instinct and realize that you may realize someone’s intentions based on little signs, such micro expressions, posturing, and body language.  An obvious example is someone clenching their fists and pacing is a sure sign that they are escalating towards a violent reaction.

5.     React.  Do not let fear paralyze you.  We’ve head of fight of flight, but it should be fight, flight or freeze and too often people freeze when facing an unfamiliar situation, especially one fraught with fear or danger.  This starts long before any threats are detected and is an ongoing mental exercise.  In your mind, you should constantly play “what if” scenarios.  Imagine your response if that person walking past in the grocery store grabs yours (or your wife’s) purse from the cart.  What will you do?  What if you are followed to your car in a parking lot; how will you react?  Thinking through different situations and deciding how you will react ahead of time is critical to avoid freezing in an unfamiliar or terrifying situation.
You’ve had your crash course in street smarts.  Now get out there and start living those rules.  And keep reading for ways on how to make these a regular part of your lives.