Short Shots: Defensive Awareness in Living Color

Cooper’s Color Code can’t help you if you’re colorblind.

by posted on October 21, 2021
In Living Color Lede
Pictured: Undisclosed Location in West Virginia
Photo by author

Knock, knock, knock. What’s that?

For most of us, a midday knock at the door is little more than a mild annoyance. For me, it was an express elevator from Condition White right to Condition Orange—I didn’t stop at Condition Yellow to collect my $200—and that’s because of what may at first seem to be paranoia, unless you were paying attention. In short, Jeff Cooper’s Color Code can’t help you if you’re colorblind.

What do I mean by that? If you haven’t read Jo Deering’s excellent column on the matter, I’ll quote her here: “Jeff Cooper’s “Color Code” system is a way of explaining different levels of situational awareness. The code starts with white and escalates to red, as follows:

Condition White: You are totally oblivious to your surroundings, consumed with whatever you’re doing, paying no attention to what’s going on around you.

Condition Yellow: You’re relaxed, but alert. You’re not worried about anything, but you’re aware of what’s happening around you and are casually scanning your environment.

Condition Orange: You’ve taken note of something that might be a potential problem and you’re keeping an eye on it.

Condition Red: That potential problem has turned into an actual, active threat and you are prepared to take immediate action to mitigate it.”

Notice anything about that color code? You will not find any guidelines or information about what is and is not a potential threat or a reasonable fear. That’s because most of us couldn’t answer the question of “reasonable” at the moment it’s asked. That’s what fear is for. Your fear is individually tailored to you and your circumstances in a way that no codified list could ever be.

Knock, knock, knock. That’s the door.

Why did this send me into Condition Orange immediately? Well, I live in an undisclosed location in West Virginia that is extremely difficult to find using GPS or Google Earth. (What I mean by “extremely difficult” is that Death and/or the IRS could probably find me without asking directions.) Nobody ever knocks on my door unless I’m expecting them. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Therefore, Point Number One on my internal threat checklist. So it was that before I even approached the door, I already had my Remington R1 .45-caliber handgun at the small of my back.

Knock, knock, knock. Is it opportunity?

There he stood, on the other side of the door, a young man with a heavy beard. The expression that crossed his face when he saw me was one of disappointment. That’s strange, I thought. He should be pleased that someone finally answered. Unusual behavior in the course of what should be a mundane transaction caused me to tick Point Number Two on my internal threat checklist.

“Hey uhhh, we’re here cutting trees,” he said, “and we need someone to move that horse trailer so we can reach one. Is that yours?” he asked, gesturing towards the beautiful old farmhouse my landlady occupies. Why would you even ask that, I wondered. If I owned that farmhouse, why would I live in what is clearly a rental property? Things were getting even stranger, so there went Point Number Three on the internal threat checklist.

Knock, knock, knock. That’s fear.

“No, that’s my landlady’s. You will need to deal with her to have the trailer moved. I’m calling her for you now,” I said, displaying the phone in my right hand.

“Oh no, oh we can just leave a note for her,” he babbled, backing away. When he did, I noticed that he wasn’t terribly steady on his feet. Is he drunk, or high maybe? I wondered. At 10 a.m.?

Where are we on the threat checklist now? It would have been Point Number Four, except that there’s the question of why he didn’t think to just leave the note for my landlady in the first place. Why go looking around all the acreage, knocking on doors, trying to see if anyone’s home? Make that Point Number Five.

Knock, knock, knock … not today.

I watched his retreating back as my cell phone purred out its signal to my landlady. He listed somewhat first to port, then to starboard, but he successfully made his way to the cherry-picker that was indeed parked 200 yards away. So the tree-cutting part is true, I mused. Am I being too paranoid? Perhaps I had put too much stock in how tough it is to find my Undisclosed Location. As it turned out, my landlady had a question for the tree-cutter, so with my phone in my hand and my firearm behind me, I walked out to ask it.

And there the Young Bearded Man was, in his cherry picker, cutting the tree he had told me he couldn’t reach. He looked even more dismayed to see me the second time, and had no explanation for the previous exchange.

Was he using the legitimate course of his duties as a cover to “case” the homes on his route for robbery? I’ll never know. Was my presence enough of a deterrent, or did he see my handgun? I’ll never know that either, since I was neither trying to reveal nor conceal the gun. What I do know is that my initial instincts were correct, and that when the color of an encounter changes, I need to be watching very carefully instead of trying to talk myself out of it. Cooper’s color code can’t help you if you’re colorblind.



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