Information vs. Experience

By: Jeff Mount

I have a confession to make. I got into an online argument last week. Petty, I know. But I made a comment hoping someone would realize how ignorant their comments were. While I couched it in alternately flowery and technical language, I really had one, overarching goal. I wanted to make someone else look stupid.

Before I plunge further into self-chastisement, let me explain the context. A student at Krav Maga Maryland who was excited about next week’s Active Shooter Seminar shared the advertisement and link via Facebook. The advertisement featured a photo of me performing a third-party handgun disarm. This is one of the main techniques our instructors will feature during the seminar. The student had no other intention aside from sharing exciting, life-saving training that is open to the public. One of his social media acquaintances, however, chimed in with this gem:

I really hope there’s some tactical advantage to grabbing the slide cause all I see is a mangled hand when the gun goes off.

I wasn’t even following the thread. The student, wanting to get an expert opinion, tagged me in the thread and asked me to chime in. I immediately provided an explanation as to the source of this individual’s “confusion”. I ended my comment with this zinger:

Finally, our stress training is tailor made to override ancillary injuries sustained during a violent encounter. Aggression and decisiveness play an integral part in the technique being effective. I would encourage you to actually learn the techniques and train them prior to making a judgment about their effectiveness.

I thought I had addressed the concerns adequately, but the interchange stuck with me. Who in their right mind would make a comment on a technique they had never even seen performed, much less had the chance to train on? I realized my frustration came not from this interaction per se, but rather a disturbing trend I’ve noticed in a variety of arenas. Namely, people feel if they have enough information that it can replace first-hand experience.

Nothing could be further than the truth.

You think you know enough to support a certain political party, or individual politician? My friends who work at both the Capitol and the White House assure me; arrogance, condescension, and disregard for the welfare of others are bipartisan values. I believe them because they have experienced it directly.

While I love watching professional sports, I generally hate doing it in large groups. I can’t stand being in an environment where people constantly second-guess the players or coaches, never considering that they, for instance, have never been hit by an NFL linebacker. Or been hired to wrangle a crowd of bigger, stronger, younger, wealthier, and more popular players, trying to get them to cooperate while being under the scrutiny of hundreds of millions of viewers. I certainly have never experienced anything close to either of those scenarios. I can be disappointed when my favorite team doesn’t do well. But I can’t for a second approach the unbridled arrogance that would claim I know what they should have done instead.

My friend and instructor, Nick Hughes demonstrated this disparity quite well several years ago during a seminar. He was describing the difference between education (information) and experience. He asked the following:

“How many of you have daughters?”

(Many hands go up – Nick picks a larger, stronger male student in the room)

“You sir, how old is your daughter?”

“She’s fourteen.”

“Which would you prefer for your daughter – sex education, or sex experience?”

The point, while a tad off-color, is driven home. We intuitively know the difference between information and experience. At some point, however, with overwhelming access to the former, our culture stopped demanding the latter for credibility.

Both Tom Cruise and Kanye West have recently made headlines by comparing that of an entertainer to that of a police officer, or even a military operator in combat. Many found these comparisons ludicrous and offensive. But it took another actor, one recently tasked with portraying the life of such a military operator, Mark Wahlberg, to voice what everyone else was thinking:

“For actors to sit there and talk about, ‘Oh, I went to SEAL training’– I don’t give a f— about what you did,” he said onstage. “You don’t do what these guys do. You just don’t. For somebody to sit there and say my job was as difficult as being in the military. How f—ing dare you, while you sit in a makeup chair for two hours.”

“I don’t give a s— if you’re getting you’re a– busted,” he went on. “You get to go home at the end of the day. You get to go to your hotel room. You get to order f—ing chicken or steak, whatever the f— is.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Marky Mark hit it on the head.

A culture of entitlement and a myriad of venues to experience faux hardship (that is, experience the benefits of hardship without the hardship itself) may have led to this incessant armchair quarterbacking in nearly every sector of society. I’m not sure. I do know that it offends me to my core. It cheapens hard-fought and hard-won experiences of those who have been there. I hold my own experiences to be unique and valuable. So I must hold others similarly, or I risk being branded a hypocrite.

Back to the gun defense. I’ve personally met and trained with at least seven individuals who have used some form of a Krav Maga gun defense. When I tried to count the number of anecdotes I had heard from reliable sources of individuals using these gun defenses in the field, I lost count past 25. I’ve never heard of anyone injuring their hand performing the technique. Theoretically, it’s possible. But I’d choose actual experience vs. theoretical knowledge any day, especially if my safety is at stake. One thing is certain – no one will ever defeat a gunman by criticizing proven techniques from the safety and anonymity of Facebook.

So, heed these words from Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I believe we are called to an arena of one form or another. We are not all called to strive valiantly in the same arena. There is a wide range of worthy causes for which one can spend him or herself. There are almost as many differing great deeds as there are doers of them. Be sure that, in addition to daring greatly in your own particular arena, that you do not choose the path of the critic for someone else’s.

Rachel Parker