On Being Gray-ish…

Even when you're in an office cubicle, it pays to think like a fox.

I wanted to elaborate a bit on this week’s podcast (6.5.2019) on office preparedness, and before you go forward, check out my good friend Kevin Creighton’s take on the same subject here:


In addition to his being a longtime friend, Kevin and I are usually on the same page, even though he’s a Canadian.

The breath-taking speed of social media means that a good idea can go from “Say, that’s interesting” to “if I hear that one more time I’m going to scream” in about 24 hours. We barely have time to think about the ramifications of a good idea before we/’re hearing it debunked, debased and generally run through the Great Cosmic Shredder of the Internet.

What got me thinking about this is the whole idea of a “gray man.” Simply put, a gray man is one who is flying under the radar, whose focus is one moving through the world with as few ripples as possible. Being gray is currently a thing, but weren’t not going to get to deeply into the weeds on that here.

I always liked the above meme…the fox among the hounds.I’ve always thought that the greatest definition of what is now the gray man came from none other than Neil Young:

He’s a perfect stranger
Like a cross
Of himself and a fox
He’s a feeling arranger
And a changer
Of the ways he talks
He’s the unforeseen danger
The keeper of
The key to the locks

Know when you see him
Nothing can free him
Step aside, open wide
It’s the loner

If you see him in the subway
He’ll be down
At the end of the car
Watching you move
Until he knows
He knows who you are
When you get off
At your station alone
He’ll know that you

Pretty good definition, huh? The first time I heard that song I was in college, and it managed to punch through my testosterone and drug-addled brain. I thought, “I wonder what it takes to be like that…the cross of himself and a fox thing? LOL!
So I’ve been thinking about people who work in offices or in cubicles or anyplace where they might be exposed to workplace violence. Obviously, the worst case workplace is the active shooter, as we have seen recently in Virginia. In more cases than not, offices are non-permissive environments, places where carrying an effective deterrent, a firearm, might well be a firing offense.

Without addressing the issue of carrying a firearm in a non-permissive environment, which deserves a blogpost of its own, I would rather talk about the best way to make sure you have some weapons at hand in a worst case scenario. Those weapons might include knives, OC spray, impact weapons, canes, what have you. On THE BEST DEFENSE our philosophy is that you should always be armed; if you’re denied a gun, then you need to go to the next best — and probably allowable in a non-permissive environment — thing.

First the inevitable caveat, same one I mentioned on the DOWN RANGE Radio podcast…none of these suggestions are best case, but all of them are better than harsh language. In recent months we have seen heroes give up their own lives to stop a shooter. If you have a preplanned strategy and tools in place, should you face this horrific situation you will have more than your bare hands.

Obviously, you want a weapon that can project force as far from you as possible. That probably mandates some sort of OC spray. I have been in offices so non-permissive that OC is listed as a “banned” weapon, but in many plays OC sprays are not mentioned. The second level of weapon is “claws” — a knife, an impact weapon, a cane can’t project force very far forward, but they up your predator rating…claws of any sort are better than bare hands. In a rush attack some sort of claws drastically increase your chances of success.

In addition, there are a bunch of items that you need to have handy — a multitool or plain old boring Swiss pocketknife; a medical kit, tourniquet(s); Israeli bandages or equivalent, some sort of Celox impregnated gauze, scissors, etc. Flashlight(s) and a headband are a must, not to mention seriously helpful in any setting.

Thirdly, you need a way to secure your office door. Go to Amazon and door wedges…they’re dirt cheap. Something goes bump down the hall, you need a way to secure the door shut, and many offices to not have door locks. I actually has a school teacher tell me that door wedges were “forbidden.” I asked her where she kept her purse. “In the locked drawer.” I said well, that’s where you are going to keep the door wedges. If your door has a window, make sure that you can quickly cover it…heck, take one of those motivational/demotivational posters on the back of your door…at least then they have some use. You also need a glass-breaker…if you’re on the first floor and the ballon goes up, exit stage window. You can always pay to have the glass replaced.

Finally, here’s a though…if you are in an office, it’s likely you will be wearing office clothing. That often means those shiny city shoes or heels. If you gotta run, might you be better off with running shoes or hiking boots?

Because I am fundamentally paranoid, and because I never like to telegraph my intentions, I think we should use a touch of gray in making sure these secondary weapons are at hand in the office environment.

So what steps do we need to take?

I like narratives. Narratives are stories, not necessarily true but easily believable. A narrative allows your brain to explain what’s going on with incomplete information. The brain hates blank spots, so much that like some cosmic autofill the brain automatically fills in the missing parts.

A useable narrative explains your “stuff.” I like “hiker” or “runner,” because it allows you to explain why you have a small (or not so small) backpack in your office. A bag allows you to have the tools you need in one place, and if you have to move quickly, it’s a matter of picking up the bag rather than rummaging wildly through your office desk drawers. Secondly, you can throw a backpack on your back — duh! — leaving both hands free. You may need them, especially if you find yourself herding less prepared officemates.

Once we say we run or hike after work, we no longer are the crazy person down the hall…we’re just another fitness fanatic. It also explains the canister of bear spray or the jogger versions of OC — both Sabre and Fox make jogger canisters with hand grips — and the folding or small fixed blade knife. I’d avoid tactical…there is a whole cult of the paring knife these days. A company like Buck Knives are boring as dirt. They also work just as well as their spiffy tactical manly counterparts.

There is no step-by-step plan to cover every individual situation…any violent incident is a chaos system…to many factors are in play for anyone to make accurate predictions. The key takeaway here is the more you think about your specific situation, the more you’re willing to play “what if,” the more likely you are to come out the other side alive.


  1. I like this post, and the podcast from this week, a lot. I myself never worked in an office. I spent over 35 years making steel, in a shop, with molten furnaces and the assorted fun equipment and such that also processed molten steel. The chances of having an invader there were just as great as those of an office, though. Any time people are involved, you can get angry confrontations, with the possible crazy person coming to cause harm.
    The first thing I learned as an 18 year old pouring steel, was to always have an escape route ready, and the ability to run there without consciously thinking about it. I admit that at times, I ran away for no reason, and was laughed at. But I also ran from explosions a couple of times, and because of my always having that mindset of knowing where I could run without tripping, I was able to get away with only minor burns, instead of something much worse.
    Over the years I tried to teach all the new guys that as well. One young man I trained, after I had been there about 25 years, seemed to understand, but didn’t get away quickly enough. He was killed by an explosion when molten steel coated him. I was on another shift at the time, but it was one of those things that never leave you.
    Like the Best Defense show, it is often about mindset, and preparedness, that can keep you alive, when others might not be, due to that old Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared.
    Someday, ask me to give you a link to an article in the LA Times, about the other incident that keeps me up late at night some times.


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